Historicity Course This July

Want to study the best case for and against the historicity of Jesus? Want to pick my brain about that for a whole month? CFI has asked me to teach another online course on that very subject this July (that’s right, just three weeks from now) entitled Did Jesus Exist? Navigating the Debate. You can read about and register for this course at the CFI Institute website. Tuition varies from $30 to $70 depending on your status. You will also need a copy of my book Proving History (so if you don’t already have one you should buy one now or as soon as you register, since Amazon shipping can take a week, unless you pay more for faster delivery). Unfortunately Prometheus still hasn’t come out with any electronic versions of the book yet (that’s still in production apparently). But Amazon is selling the hard cover at a cut rate price (I still get the same royalty so it doesn’t affect me).

In this one-month online course I will help you examine the methods of historians, their relationship to the leading theories about the historical Jesus, and the available evidence both for and against his existence, and teach you how best to evaluate arguments on either side (including how to check facts, spot fallacies, and avoid bad arguments).

Week 1: The methods of historians and how to tell good history from bad.

Week 2: The evidence for the historicity of Jesus and its context and value.

Week 3: The most credible theories of the evidence (supporting historicity and not).

Week 4: The best criticisms and responses to those theories.

I have taught online courses for the CFI Institute before, on Naturalism and the Origins of Christianity. The process is basically this: on your own time you complete the assigned readings each week (which will include not just assignments from the course text but also special materials, such as articles, lectures or videos, provided for free through the online course interface), answer each week’s assignment question in an online forum, and ask any questions you want in that forum by starting new threads there, then we move on to the next week’s topic. Everyone’s behavior is expected to be professional and in the service of learning.

Obviously with only one month, and one week per topic, we won’t be able to get into thorough detail on everything, but you can get a lot of questions answered and learn a lot about how to approach this debate more informedly afterward. I will also be providing students a short precis of the argument I will make in my next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ (in the third week of the course), which we can discuss the merits of over the last two weeks of the course.


  1. Metaphysical Ham Sandwich says

    I’m in. Would you recommend finishing Proving History before the course starts?

    • says

      Sure. Reading it (or getting started reading it) in advance will give you a head start (the first week will have the most reading from PH required, so getting a jump will definitely be a help). Just note that chapter six isn’t going to be assigned (and ten pages in chapter four will be skipped, the section containing the logical proof, which won’t be relevant to the course).

      With PH out of the way, you’ll have more time to read the supplementary materials and class forum discussions. And then you back go back to PH whenever you need to revisit something.

  2. Aaron Ross says

    Richard, taking such a course from you seems like a complete waste. Your agenda is clear, and I much prefer Professors (and of course you aren’t a Professor) who at least give some effort to be objective.

    I think Bart Ehrmans courses available soon through DVD would be much better.

    • says

      It’s ironic seeing someone respond to a course designed to be objective (with half its time devoted to examining the case for the contrary conclusion) by accusing me of not giving any effort to be objective.

      BTW, I myself recommend Ehrman’s video courses (they are decent introductions to the current consensus). If you can afford them. IMO, you’ll get more information per dollar buying a set of books, however (e.g. Van Voorst, Theissen & Merz, and Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted for the pro, and Jesus Puzzle, Gospel Fictions, and Proving History for the con; for more advanced reading, see my complete recommendation list).

      But you can’t ask a video questions. Nor will a video check and improve your work when you do assignments.

    • swb says

      Do you honestly believe that ANY professor who has no apparent public bias on the subject he professes — or worse, actually self-claims to be “unbiased” — is, in fact, actually any less unbiased than one who does profess a bias? In my eyes, such a professor is simply a liar. Even someone whose view seemingly rests in between two extremes (i.e. superficially seems “unbiased”) tends to wrestle with maintaining that position by adopting tendencies toward discounting more radical interpretations out of hand in favor of traditional explanations.

      I would assert the opposite point made in this comment — any teacher whose bias is NOT obvious to the student is simply hiding it and, thus, will necessarily be a poorer professor by making it that much more difficult for the student to fully learn a topic completely.

      The key to learning is not finding supposedly “unbiased” know-it-all sources, but rather, to learn everything one can from those that best represent the different camps involved (which implies that obviously biased instructors are likely going to be better professors) — and then come to one’s own conclusions about which camp and body of evidence you find most convincing. I would think most people here would agree that Richard, as the representative from the Jesus is myth side of the historicity question, is a damned good resource for that side, and thus, will likely make an excellent instructor on this topic — because of his biases, not in spite of them!

    • Aaron Ross says

      Aw, quite kidding around, Richard. Bart Ehrman explains in the last chapter of his book that the Mythicists have an axe to grind.

      And of course you are one of them. I haven’t followed the latest closely enought, but if you are still playing coy about what the findings in your next volume will be I can tell everyone right now.

      Your conclusions will be for Mythicism, right down the line.

      You know, I know it, and so do your commnters.

      The fact that you get agitated during lectures and start throwing out curse words and epithets demonstrates your emotional involvement.

      Ehrman is messed up too, but he doesn’t hate Christians quite as much. LOL!

    • says

      Aaron Ross:

      Nice backtrack. Now you have completely changed what you were claiming, to the point that it is now a non sequitur.

      Bart Ehrman explains in the last chapter of his book that the Mythicists have an axe to grind. And of course you are one of them.

      That’s an equivocation fallacy. You switched from “mythicists with an axe to grind” to “mythicists.” I am indeed one of the latter. I am not, however, one of the former.

      I have no axe to grind. I was an atheist activist and writer for years before I thought mythicism was even plausible, and I had to be convinced it was by evidence and argument.

      I see no use in mythicism as an argument against Christianity, because Christianity could just revert to its original teaching: that Jesus really did die and rise in outer space and reveal this in visions. This would be unacceptable to fundamentalists, but then fundamentalists reject most factual realities anyway. For example, evolution refutes fundamentalist Christianity, too. But it would be false to claim I am convinced by and defend the truth of evolution “because I have an axe to grind.” I am convinced by and defend the truth of evolution because the evidence confirms it, more than amply. That it also just happens to refute fundamentalism is then why I am not a fundamentalist and why neither should you be. So, too, mythicism–although to a vastly lower certainty (I have consistently maintained that mythicism is only more probable than historicity, not certain, e.g. I once noted that historicity could have as much as a 1 in 5 chance of being true on present evidence).

      The fact that you get agitated during lectures and start throwing out curse words and epithets demonstrates your emotional involvement.

      Emotional involvement in the truth is irrelevant to whether it’s the truth.

      If you can’t grasp that, you are truly a lost boy.

    • Jim Christensen says

      The Jesus Puzzle and Gospel fictions were not written by men with scholary credentials in the area…its a little amusing to put them up against Ehrman.

    • says

      Gospel Fictions was written by a fully qualified professor of Biblical literature with a Ph.D. in literary analysis (Randel Helms; taught biblical literature and other subjects for the English Department at ASU, now emeritus). The Jesus Puzzle was written by Earl Doherty, who has a B.A. in history and classics. So yes, they do have scholarly credentials “in the area.”

      My opinion of Doherty’s work is nevertheless mixed (as my review demonstrates), and thus I don’t “put him up against Ehrman,” I only ask that people compare what Doherty actually says and how he documents it, with what Ehrman claims he says and does–because a Ph.D. is not a guarantee of honesty, logical validity, or accuracy of representation, which is why plenty of biblical studies Ph.D.s come up with theories more ridiculous than any mythicism, like Eisenmann or Allegro.

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      I see no use in mythicism as an argument against Christianity, because Christianity could just revert to its original teaching: that Jesus really did die and rise in outer space and reveal this in visions.

      Wait, wait … are you saying that Christianity’s original teaching was that Jesus died in outer space, or do you just mean that he rose in outer space?

    • says

      J.J. Ramsey:

      The only plausible mythicist thesis is Doherty’s, which holds that Jesus, like Osiris (in the esoteric teaching), both died and rose in outer space (and then in visions revealed this to an elect few, explaining that God had already promised it would happen, in hidden messages in scripture). See my Review of Doherty. By analogy, Jewish legend (as recounted in the Life of Adam) held that Adam was buried in outer space (in the very third heaven that Paul or some colleague of his got to visit in 2 Cor. 12).

      Obviously if Jesus was believed to have died on earth from the start, then mythicism is false (or at least, extremely improbable). Since then there would be some actual Jesus whose death spawned the movement.

  3. d(thunk) over d(MQG) = SQRRAWK! says

    Very interesting. My summer’s going to be lazy, and your course would be informative, at least after your interesting talk at FTF. I need to get the book first, though.

  4. Landon says

    If I weren’t finishing my dissertation right now, I’d totally take this. As is, my committee chair would murder me with a chainsaw if she found out. Rightly so, mind you.

    Hope you do it again next year.

    BTW, Aaron Ross, I doubt you’d accuse a professor who had a well-researched, well-supported theory about, say, the social causes of the Civil War or, I dunno, the authorship of the plays of Shakespeare to having “an agenda” if that person taught a course laying out the case. Of course, that person would have an agenda – to argue his or her case as well as possible. The only people who might have a problem with that are the ones who don’t want to see a well presented argument for those particular conclusions.

    • says

      Jim, Landon’s post you point to only takes me to task for calling Christians irrational and for calling specific instances of my own work a “tour de force.” That’s not the same thing as having a low opinion of my work.

      And for the record, yes, Christians are irrational. That’s why they are Christians. (The only exception are uninformed Christians, hence the relevance of a Christian becoming informed yet remaining a Christian: that is not possible without relying on logically invalid reasoning, which is what being irrational means.)

      As for saying that I aimed to make certain of my chapters “a tour de force on the subject,” I meant it: I tried to make them so thorough, complete, tightly argued, and well-documented that “I doubt I’ll ever have to write another” in making the case. Landon simply considered that to be immodest.

    • says

      I should just point out to Jim that the individual whose message he is replying to (“Landon”) is not me. He did not write that blog post, I did. And I still believe what I wrote there, but as Richard points out, that’s not to say that I think his chapters are bad. I just don’t know many people in academia who would say such things about their own work.

  5. says

    This is one of many times I wish the electronic version was already available. I ordered the physical version as soon as I read about the course but since I live outside the US, it seems I’ll be getting the book on the second week of July.

    • says

      Eight out of twelve chapters are done (as in, ready for peer review and publication), the twelfth is boiler plate (summarizing the other chapters and the conclusion, which I’ll write last), and the other three are half completed (each one is at least half done). I will have it all finished and in peer review before the end of this year. Production timeline from there can be as much as six months (depends on how long the peer reviewers take; production pipeline at the publisher is typically three to five months, but we can start that process before peer review is completed). So expect publication sometime next year.

  6. Bob Carlson says

    Your complete recommendation list includes The Jesus Puzzle, which I have read, but not Jesus: Neither God nor Man, which I haven’t read. Do you have reasons for not including the latter?

    • says

      Yes. JP is well organized, concise, sufficient, and accuracy-efficient (meaning, it has a low rate of significant error or speculation-dependency). You don’t really need to read anything else.

      JNGM is disorganized, verbose, inordinately long, and accuracy-inefficient (it has an extremely high rate of speculation-dependency, and I worry also it may have a higher error rate simply by statistical inevitability given its page count and number of digressions not central to the thesis, but I have not vetted it the way I did JP so I can’t rightly say).

      Basically, 80% of JNGM you don’t need to read and could well be false without consequence to the central thesis. So why read it? I see it as a massive appendix to JP. You should perhaps read JNGM if you have questions unanswered by JP and want to know what Doherty’s thoughts are on those ancillary issues (which are mostly a bunch of peanut gallery objections to things he argued in JP). But I regard that as mostly feeding trolls. There may be some value in JNGM insofar as it adds to the documentation provided in JP, but it doesn’t always do that, and there is no efficient way to find out (e.g. if you find some point in JP inadequately documented, where do you go in JNGM to find out if he has improved the documentation of it?).

      So I don’t generally recommend JNGM. That doesn’t mean it sucks. There are a lot of secondary books I don’t include as among my “top” recommendations. That list is really intended to be “these are the number one things you really need to have read to count yourself informed,” and not “this is everything there is that’s worth reading.”

  7. gwen says

    I was about to ask if it was out in e-format, but the previous post answered my question… :(

  8. Patricia, OM says

    Richard – I have bought two of your books, and enjoy them a great deal. Unfortunately I am now a widow on a VA Death Pension & simply put, I can’t afford the general tuition and book, is there some way I can lurk?

  9. Dave Bruemmer says


    I think it’s commendable that you take the time to answer these internet trolls like Bart Ehrman errrr Aaron Ross (lol j/k). Seriously though, I do enjoy when these [inappropriate expletive deleted] come at you like they do, and end up taking the collar. Keep fighting the good fight. 0-for-2 Aaron [unwarranted insult deleted]. Sucks to be you.

    • says

      Note to all: I approved Bruemmer’s post only to present an example of what I think is inappropriate commentary.

      The material I did not delete is appropriate, and expletives are okay when they are appropriate or suited to the case, and defended or defensible, but are otherwise not. For example, “idiot” is rude but at least suited as a comment on one’s intelligence, competence, or lack of insight, so if that is what you are commenting on, it passes the “suitability” test, and if you back that comment up with evidence (or a reference to the evidence), I’ll allow it, though I dislike it, since that at least passes my commenting policy (as long as it’s not gratuitous). But “douchebag” is a comment on one’s character and behavior and treatment of others, which is entirely a different thing, and only suitable when in fact you are talking about one’s character or behavior or treatment of others, and have evidence to back up that verbally-described assessment.

      But insults that have no relevance to the discussion are wholly out of line and can get an entire comment deleted. For example, commenting on one’s romantic life in response to their taking a position in a scholarly debate is simply not appropriate and will not be allowed here. I can be mean and rude, but even I draw the line at gratuitous incivility.

      (Don’t infer anything from my examples about what Bruemmer said. I may or may not have chosen wholly different examples than he used. My examples are meant to illustrate general principles.)

  10. Raymond Briggs says

    Hi Richard-
    today is the 1st of July and I was wondering when the historicity of Jesus course will start.I paid my money, have an autographed copy of Proving History and am ready to go. Have I missed something?
    Incidentally we met and talked (probably more than you wanted to) in Ashland Oregon recently.

    thanks, Ray

    • says

      Are you not logging in to the site and participating? The first course assignments were posted and introduction forums ready by July 1. I work on weekdays (so I joined in on July 2) but I had already set everything up to get you started even if you logged in July 1. The course is proceeding.

  11. Raymond Briggs says

    What site do I log in to? I must have missed an email or something but I thought I would be sent the information I needed by email.