Richard Carrier’s New Book on Bayes’s Theorem and the Historical Figure of Jesus

Richard Carrier’s book  Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus is now available for preorder (follow the link).  Here is a snippet of the blurb:

Almost all experts agree that the Jesus of the Bible is a composite of myth, legend, and some historical evidence. So what can we know about the real Jesus? For more than one hundred fifty years, scholars have attempted to answer this question. Unfortunately, the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” has produced as many different images of the original Jesus as the scholars who have studied the subject. The result is a confused mass of disparate opinions with no consensus view of what actually happened at the dawn of Christianity.

In this in-depth discussion of New Testament scholarship and the challenges of history as a whole, historian Richard C. Carrier proposes Bayes’s theorem as a solution to the problem of establishing reliable historical criteria. He demonstrates that valid historical methods—not only in the study of Christian origins but in any historical study—can be described by, and reduced to, the logic of Bayes’s theorem. Conversely, he argues that any method that cannot be reduced to Bayes’s theorem is invalid and should be abandoned.

Skeptical?  Well, you’re just going to have to get a copy and review it yourself.  I plan to do just that.  Read some thoughts from Richard about it and find out the backstory here.

One very positive trait about Richard is that he is great about responding to critics.   A good example is the exchange I highlighted between McGrath and Carrier back in my November Biblical Studies Carnival.  Richard Carrier called attention to research he has been doing on the ancient Jewish position of an expected dying messiah. James McGrath responds and also posted up this comment on Carrier’s blog. Responding to the comment on his blog, Richard Carrier returns with this and also replies on James’ blog. James replies.

I know that many of my colleagues around the Biblioblogosphere are cautious about Carrier’s work because he is a vocal atheist (much like Hector Avalos) and he is a mythicist.  But I would state that the weight of a scholar’s work is in their arguments.  Carrier is a credible scholar, with a strong background of the socio-cultural challenges of the period of early Christianity, he is highly proficient in Greek and Latin (minored in Greek, I believe, and worked with one of the more prominent papyrologists at UC Berkley), and as far as competence goes, his work speaks for itself.

Hopefully I’ll have a review posted soon.

3 Responses

  1. I’ll be interested to see your review. I like the idea of bringing a more scientific approach to history, but skeptical of the use of a formula like this, you know what they say about computing, garbage in garbage out, so my fear is every one will find that Bayes’s theorum proves whatever their position is.

  2. Snippet? That’s not a snippet. That’s a blurb. Do get your facts right! I like the fact that Bayes’ obliges anyone interested in researching the origins of Christianity is obliged to acknowledge the difference between our supposedly having a “fact” about Jesus and our actually having a “story of a fact” about Jesus!

    The difference is, well, of some significance, and it is easily recognized and resolved in other areas of ancient history. HJ studies remain the exception in this field.

  3. You’re right, it’s a blurb. Silly me.

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