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Feb 08 2012

Proving History!

My new book is finally done and available for pre-order at Amazon: titled Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Yes, that’s the one (or one of the two) that everyone has been asking me about. It’s been years in the making, and in the waiting, but we completed its academic peer review, I made all requested revisions, proofed the galleys, finished the index, and it’s all ready to go, at the printer’s being typeset now. It’s being published by Prometheus Books, my first sole-author title with them.

Backstory

This all started long, long ago, four years in fact, when my wife and I were buried under student loan debt and I offered myself up to complete any hard core project my fans wanted in exchange for as many donations as I could get to fund my work. They all unanimously said “historicity of Jesus” and came up with twenty thousand dollars. Which cleared our debt and really saved us financially. It was a huge boon and I am extremely grateful for everyone who made that happen. And I’ve been tirelessly working to make good on the project ever since. I wanted the result to be superb and unassailable, nothing half-assed, but thoroughly researched.

Then I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally fucked the task wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. Very basic things that all scholars pretend have been resolved (producing standard answers constantly repeated as “the consensus” when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul), really haven’t been, like when the New Testament books were written (I blogged about one long rabbit hole I got lost in on that question, as just an example of countlessly many, in my Ignatian Vexation). And the relevant literature, so much of it tantalizingly pertinent, is vast beyond reckoning, over forty years of valuable papers and books, leading to discoveries I never expected (for example, real evidence of a pre-Christian expectation of a Dying Messiah). I’ve personally collected and read over 500 articles and 50 books for this project, and skimmed or read over ten times that number at the UC Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union libraries or via JSTOR and other access nodes.

The end result was that I realized this was going to have to be two books: one resolving the problem of method (because the biggest thing I discovered is that every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked), the other applying my reformed method to the question. That second book will be On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, and it is near completion (spoiler: I conclude he most probably didn’t exist, but that it requires a very deep and detailed examination of the evidence to realize that). The first book became Proving History, which I finished last year and has been going through the usually long production and peer review process at the publisher, and is now on track for a late April release. Yes, there will be e-versions as well as print.

What’s It About?

The promo copy prepared by Prometheus Books is really very good, and describes the book quite well. Basically, it aims at two particular objectives, and one broader objective: (1) to show why the methods used to study Jesus are illogical or inapplicable, and to replace them with a method that is neither; (2) to show why, once we use the correct method, every conclusion reached about Jesus so far is not defensible on any previously championed argument (requiring a total, field-wide do-over); and (3) to use these particular examples to make a general point about the entire field of history: that all valid historical argument is and must be Bayesian, and any methods or arguments that are not, are not logically valid or sound.

Historians will want to read the book even if they aren’t interested in Jesus, because it all applies equally to whatever they study, too. Philosophers will want to read the book, because it makes a groundbreaking contribution to the logic and epistemology of history. Fans of Bayes’ Theorem, and anyone who wants to finally find out what that is and why everyone is getting into it all of a sudden (but has found everything written about it so far to be unintelligible or uninformative), will want to read the book because I designed it as a textbook for people in the humanities and not scientists or ivory tower mathematicians. And Jesus scholars (in fact anyone interested in Jesus or the origins of Christianity) will want to read the book…well, for obvious reasons.

To learn more about all this, John Loftus interviewed me about the book just recently and produced a really good article about it on his blog: An Interview with Richard Carrier about His Book “Proving History”. Loftus was one of the few lucky reviewers who received an early pre-publication draft from Prometheus–which contained the text as it was before it was peer reviewed; in response to that peer review it underwent a lot of improvements and corrections, though nothing fundamental. For those who want a primer on what the hell this “Bayes’ Theorem” thingy is, check out my Skepticon talk from last year: Bayes’ Theorem: Lust for Glory!

Common Questions

Since I am applying a mathematical theorem to the logic of historical argument, it’s often asked what my qualifications are in mathematics, since my primary field (my Ph.D.) is ancient intellectual history (philosophy, religion, and science), and my secondary field (self-taught but professionally published) is philosophy. The answer is, I had the book formally peer reviewed by a professor of mathematics, and consulted with a few other professors of mathematics during its development. I also, of course, researched the hell out of Bayes’ Theorem for this book. My more general qualifications are some 20 or so college semester credits in mathematics and mathematical and engineering sciences, and a career background in electronics and the history of science. But the peer review and consults were more important.

Another common question is how “out of the mainstream” my conclusions are. Actually, in this book, they are fully in the mainstream, with the exception of the groundbreaking idea of structuring the logic of historical argument on a foundation of Bayes’ Theorem, which is in many ways a natural progression of what’s already been going on in expanding the applications of that theorem. I’m just the first expert in the humanities to come along who also loves math and knows enough about it to introduce it there. But the rest of the book’s conclusions simply reaffirm what countless insider specialists have already been saying (and I name and cite plenty of them to prove that), and using Bayes’ Theorem to show why they’re right.

Finally, it is often asked if this book argues that Jesus didn’t exist. No. It is necessary to build that case one piece at a time rather than trying to prove everything at once. This book takes no position on that question, but merely shows how the methods used to argue for his existence are illogical and therefore the question must be examined anew, with new methods, methods that are valid. But lest you think that’s the same thing as proving Jesus didn’t exist, you should know that that would be the fallacy fallacy, the fallacious assumption that if an argument for x is fallacious, that therefore x is false. If the same facts are examined correctly, as for example with my new method, we may yet vindicate the conclusion that Jesus existed. So what the correct conclusion is requires that new look, and that is what I accomplish in my next book.

Final Word to My Benefactors

Earlier this week I sent out an email to everyone who donated $250 or more to fund my research grant, which was overseen by Atheists United. Per my contract with you all, anyone in that golden category has earned free copies of Proving History, and I need to work out where to send them, among other details. But many of those email addresses have bounced, no longer active. So if you are in that donor category, and did not receive my email, then please email me at once ([email protected]) so I can update my contact info and see to it that you get your copies of the book when it comes out in a few months. Even if you don’t want your free copies, please contact me anyway, so I at least know not to keep looking for you.

93 comments

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  1. 1
    Jon of Brisbane

    Excellent. I’m gonna pre-order it.

    Question: Is it better for you if I order through astore.amazon, rather than amazon proper?

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      Jon of Brisbane: Is it better for you if I order through astore.amazon, rather than amazon proper?

      Yes. If you order through my store it’s still Amazon, but I get a kickback, for bringing them the sale. So that would be kind of like a double royalty.

      However, I don’t know how it works abroad (if someone is buying from Amazon.uk, for instance). Presumably I get nothing in that case. But an Australian buying from Amazon US, probably. But doesn’t shipping then cost a brick? (Forgive me, I have no idea how Amazon works down under!)

    2. 1.2
      satanaugustine

      Richard – is this still true if I order the book via Amazon marketplace rather than directly through Amazon? Or do you only get a kickback if it’s ordered from Amazon (using your store of course). I would certainly prefer to contribute some money to you when purchasing the book.

      On a related note, will you be at Skepticon this year, will your book be for sale there, and will you receive a similar kickback if I buy the book at Skepticon?

      One last thing: I know you’ve been asked this repeatedly (why, I for one have personally asked repeatedly), but have you been able to nail down an approximate publishing date for On the Historicity of Jesus Christ?

      That is the book I’m really looking forward to!

    3. Richard Carrier

      satanaugustine:


      Richard – is this still true if I order the book via Amazon marketplace rather than directly through Amazon? Or do you only get a kickback if it’s ordered from Amazon (using your store of course). I would certainly prefer to contribute some money to you when purchasing the book.

      Buy through my store if you want to give me a commission on the sale (and that will be in addition to royalties). I don’t know what the alternative is you are asking about, so I don’t have an answer to that.


      On a related note, will you be at Skepticon this year, will your book be for sale there, and will you receive a similar kickback if I buy the book at Skepticon?

      Yes. Yes. And then some. I earn much more from selling at Skepticon than through any other venue. So yes, if you want to maximize my profits, buy there (or any other live venue I’m at where I am selling any of my books).


      One last thing: I know you’ve been asked this repeatedly (why, I for one have personally asked repeatedly), but have you been able to nail down an approximate publishing date for On the Historicity of Jesus Christ?

      No. But it will definitely be next year.

    4. 1.3
      Thaumas Themelios

      I do not know 100% if this works in the case of Richard Carrier’s set-up with Amazon ‘AStore’, but from my past experience posting links in support of various people, if you include the person’s Amazon Affiliate ID as a ‘tag’ parameter in the URL, that is the technique that has worked best as far as I know. For Dr. Carrier, I am guessing that his AStore ID works the same way, and so I propose that the following URL has a high posterior probability (given the prior probability, our background knowledge, and the available evidence) of giving him the credit for the referral: http://www.amazon.ca/Proving-History-Richard-C-Carrier/dp/1616145595/?tag=supportcarrier-20

      Note, that’s the Canadian link. Adjust according to your local Amazon address. The important part is the “?tag=supportcarrier-20″, including the question mark (?). If there is already a question mark and other “name=value” tags, then remove everything from the first ? to the end of the URL, and replace it with: ?tag=supportcarrier-20

    5. Richard Carrier

      Re: post above, all correct except that it doesn’t work on any Amazon outside the U.S. I don’t have an account with Amazon.ca, for example. So they will just ignore the ID.

  2. 2
    gwen

    YAY!!!Can’t wait to purchase it. I didn’t know people were donating $250 to you to enable this publication.

  3. 3
    Sigmund

    I’m really looking forward to this book. The UK amazon gives a date of May for when it will be available – is that likely to be correct?

    1. 3.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sigmund: The UK amazon gives a date of May for when it will be available – is that likely to be correct?

      Assume the answer is yes. The stateside release date is April 20 (it might drop earlier, but I think that’s the “definitely by” date), and it may take an extra month for Amazon to get stock abroad. But that’s just my speculation.

  4. 4
    Thaumas Themelios

    This is huge, Richard. Congratulations on completing this monumental endeavour! I hope my prophecy about you comes true. :-) I already believe it, myself.

    I can’t wait to read it!

  5. 5
    Ben

    Awesome.

  6. 6
    Josh

    When I was clicking on the link to pre-order the book, in the related items, I saw that Bart Erhman is coming out with a book that apparently argues that the historical Jesus did exist. That book is releasing in mid-late march.

    I’ve thought for a long time that a debate on the historicity of christ between You and Erhman would be a really good debate to see. I know that you two are using two different publishers, so I don’t know how possible this idea actually is, but it seems like the next few months provide a good time for such a debate.

    1. 6.1
      Richard Carrier

      Regarding Ehrman’s book coming in March: Ehrman and I have been in communication over both our projects for quite some time. We disagree on some things, but I expect his book to be the best possible defense of the historicity of Jesus, so I’m looking forward to it. All his books have been superb, IMO, and he does a really good job of not going off the rails, but sticking to what most mainstream scholars would agree with. So if anyone can rescue the theory, it’s him. The problem is that as far as I know he is still using the old methods, which I and several other scholars have proved invalid. So his book may be obsolete before it even hits the presses. And I worry that one of his most likely errors will be to not adequately treat alternative explanations of the evidence. I expect he will do a good job of destroying lame alternatives, and bad arguments (he will be taking on, as I understand it, all the standard names in mythicism today), which I welcome. There are a lot of bad arguments out there and a corrective is needed. But he tends to ignore or slight the exceptions. But I won’t know for sure until I see his final product. In any event, my next book will fully address anything he says that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. Even if he changes my mind!

      P.S. Regarding a debate: IMO you can’t have a debate on this issue because every fact requires expert analysis of some length, and debates simply don’t afford the time. So nothing could be concluded. For example, you could have a two hour debate on just one single piece of evidence: the two references to Christ in Josephus. And that’s just one of hundreds of items that have to be addressed to reach a conclusion on historicity. Moreover, my book arguing against historicity isn’t going to press yet, and Ehrman, for example, couldn’t fairly debate the matter before he’s even seen my book on it (Proving History, remember, does not argue for a position on historicity).

  7. 7
    Richard Dakan

    The book sounds fascinating! I’ll definitely pick up a copy as soon as the Kindle (or whatever e-version) is available.

    I saw that the same publisher has a new book by Bart Ehrman coming out, which is about the historical Jesus. I’ve liked Ehrman’s other books and am interested to read what he has to say. From the description though, I was a little put off by the hard-line tone the book seems to take on people who question the historicity of Jesus, lumping them in with conspiracy theorists seems a little like poisoning the well to me. Do you know anything about it?

    1. 7.1
      Richard Carrier

      Richard Dakan: I’ll definitely pick up a copy as soon as the Kindle (or whatever e-version) is available.

      There will definitely be a kindle version. And possibly other formats. There is a third party company that does it for PB so the launch date of the e-versions won’t necessarily be the same (in the past it has often been many, many months later, which I find annoying, but unfortunately I have no control over that; I might blog again when the kindle edition drops, since I always buy one, to have all my own works in my kindle for traveling reference).

    2. 7.2
      Richard Carrier

      Richard Dakan: From the description [of Ehrman's new book], I was a little put off by the hard-line tone the book seems to take on people who question the historicity of Jesus, lumping them in with conspiracy theorists seems a little like poisoning the well to me. Do you know anything about it?

      His publisher may have skipped nuance in its promo copy in order to generate interest by finessing its market (which are anti-mythers, so playing to outrage is a good PR move), but Ehrman is going to go haymaker on most mythers, for sure. He’s definitely going to piss people off. Whether he will make a distinction between crazies, mere hacks, and more serious scholars, I don’t know. I do know he is not convinced by any of them (and I’m not surprised, since the case has yet to be made properly, by the professional standards anyone like Ehrman should expect), so he will definitely be criticizing all. I just don’t know if he will modulate his tone to each target’s dessert.

      But I have some worries.

      I know Ehrman read Doherty’s monstrous second book but not his original Jesus Puzzle, and yet the latter is a far superior argument for his conclusion, by the standards Ehrman would expect, whereas the second is 90% speculative digression (hundreds and hundreds of pages worth) which is exactly the kind of thing that chaps the hide of professional scholars. So Doherty may have shot himself in the foot with that one, and it may show in how Ehrman treats him. I tried to persuade Ehrman to ditch the second book and read the first, but I might not have been adequately persuasive. We’ll see.

      Likewise, Price does not do a good job of articulating his meta-theory (that there are so many possible explanations fitting the evidence that we can’t claim the certainty scholars have been), and thus gives the impression of constantly contradicting himself by defending several completely different theories, of varying merit. For example, he has even attacked the historicity of Paul, and regardless of what you think of that, such a position is still more radical than merely questioning the historicity of Jesus. Although I know Price does not mean to say that Paul definitely did not exist, but that his existence is at least questionable, but Ehrman might simply conflate everything and conclude Price is a nut job even more extreme than the real crazies, by assuming, for example, that “Paul did not exist” is a premise in Price’s overall case against historicity. That would be a mistake, but it would be a mistake Price must partly take the blame for, having not consistently made his meta-position clear.

      Then there are the targets who I expect will get seriously thrashed, like Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) and Joseph Atwill. I am somewhat confident Ehrman won’t make assumptions like “Doherty agrees with Atwill and Murdock” or even “Doherty’s scholarship is of the same quality,” but he might still lump them together in his bombardment, collateral damage if you will. I have no idea what he will say to establishment scholars like Thomas Thompson (yet I know he and others are on Ehrman’s radar). He might not even be kind to me. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

  8. 8
    minusRusty

    Why the apostrophe S on “Bayes’s Theorem” rather than “Bayes’ Theorem”?

    -Rusty

    1. 8.1
      Richard Carrier

      minusRusty: Why the apostrophe S on “Bayes’s Theorem” rather than “Bayes’ Theorem”?

      Good question. Thanks for asking. Because Prometheus Books’ publishing standards mandate that spelling. I disagree personally (and when I am in charge, I always use s-apostrophe), but it’s their press. In my progressive grammarian’s view, s’s should only be used when the terminal s is indeed pronounced as an additional syllable, “bayz-z”; when the word is only pronounced as one syllable with a terminal z, “bayz,” it should be s’. Although both are acceptable spellings of the word (you will find both Bayes’ and Bayes’s in academic publications even today), generally I only see the latter in England and in stuffy venues that are still in love with the 19th century. The 14th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (sec. 6.30) agrees with me; although I can’t recall what the current 15th edition says. But Prometheus has its ways. They also mandate that I use C.E. and B.C.E. which I also disagree with, but again it’s their press. I have to pick my battles with them.

  9. 9
    Emma Zunz

    Hi Richard.

    Really looking forward to the books.

    “badly argued, fact-challenged versions of the theory”

    This is a quotation from you in the interview. Do you include Doherty in this condemnation? I was under the impression from the review you did years ago that you were quite positive on his theory.

    Could you please spell out for us just how good a theory you think Doherty has?

    Cheers.

    EZ

    1. 9.1
      Richard Carrier

      Emma Zunz: “badly argued, fact-challenged versions of the theory” Do you include Doherty in this condemnation?

      Not in that remark, no. Doherty is at present the best there is (at least, in his original book on this subject; see my remarks up thread a ways). He is actually far and a way better than most. But he still falls short of the academic standards required of experts in the field like Ehrman or myself. I explain this mixed position in my original review. That only pertains to Jesus Puzzle. He has made arguments outside of that that I disagree with more, both factually and methodologically, but I don’t trouble myself with keeping up on that enough to give a fair critique. I’m not interested in writing the historiography of mythicism. I just focus on the one theory I consider most defensible and then see what the best case is for that. That’s time consuming enough.

      To be clear, I expect Ehrman, and in Kuhnian fashion, most experts, will resist a true theory far longer than is warranted, sometimes even to their deaths; but they will still acknowledge a contender even when they disagree with it, and being so acknowledged is what makes you a member of the academic community–there is hardly any one of us, Ehrman included, who is not defending at least one theory all of our peers have not bought into yet, so being in that situation is no mark against you, as if it were, it would be a mark against every expert there is in the field. But even that requires meeting a certain standard of parsimony (on the one hand) and extensive citation of evidence and scholarship (on the other). Of course, you also have to know what you are talking about, but IMO Doherty pretty much has that (even what mistakes he makes are comparable to those I’ve found in major players in the field; we all make them from time to time). By contrast, lousy mythers are just reincarnations of Kersey Graves.

  10. 10
    Josh

    Richard,

    Thanks for your comments regarding the possibility of a debate. Perhaps there is still the possibility of some kind of discussion or something like it after your second volume is published.

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      Josh: Perhaps there is still the possibility of some kind of discussion or something like it after your second volume is published.

      Yes. Ideally, a well-structured written debate, either online or in a series or special issue in an academic journal, or an edited book. Indeed, I would like to see more of that in general, not just on this topic.

      (For example, I am pretty well convinced Mark Goodacre is right and there was never any Q source; he has answered his critics far more ably than they have answered him; so a controlled written debate between him and any worthy opponent would be of inestimable value to the field; indeed, I would love to moderate that.)

  11. 11
    Richard Dakan

    Thanks for the details, Richard. I look forward to reading your books, Ehrman’s new book, and your responses to each other’s work!

  12. 12
    piero

    April? I want it now! And I want it know, I said!

    (*This should be spoken in the tone of voice of Robert De Niro’s Al Capone*)

  13. 13
    piero

    @minusRusty:

    Why the apostrophe S on “Bayes’s Theorem” rather than “Bayes’ Theorem”?

    Circumvent the pesky apostrophes altogether and use the neo-Latin convention: “the theorem of Bayes.”

    In any case, when I was learning English, I was taught that for plurals ending in “s” only the apostrophe was required (students’ union), but for singular names ending in “s” you had to add “‘s” (as in “Saint James’s Park”, or “Bayes’s theorem”), except in the case of renowned historical (or non-historical, as the case may be) figures such as Jesus and Moses (Jesus’ heart, Moses’ laws). It took me a while to learn it: don’t change the rules on me, please; I’m too old to relearn them.

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      piero: It took me a while to learn it: don’t change the rules on me, please; I’m too old to relearn them.

      Oh, don’t worry. :-) This is one convention that I don’t think really matters very much. It’s not like if I write Bayes’ or Bayes’s either one will confuse anyone. So it actually doesn’t matter, really. I just prefer efficiency. Why add a letter when it’s not needed? As a writer, one less keystroke is what I go with.

  14. 14
    garyfletcher

    I’m a little confused. A few years ago I took a course that used Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, as the textbook. I thought it was well written and argued and yet now you seem to be telling me that the methods described are “not logically valid or sound” (unless he was using Bayesian methods and I don’t know it). Yet the methods really seemed like common sense, the best you could do with the scant materials at hand. It’s hard to imagine that all those methods have suddenly become invalid, especially since they only indicated probabilities, not certainties. Since Ehrman disagrees with you on the historicity of Jesus, all the while knowing about your project to prove Bayesian methods the only valid ones, perhaps he’s not convinced. Indeed, I’ll be looking forward to your book to see how convincing you are, as well as the reception of your book by other historians. Right now I’m sure you understand why a certain skepticism is lurking about…

    Gary

    P.S. Loved your Sense and Goodness Without God.

    1. 14.1
      Richard Carrier

      garyfletcher: A few years ago I took a course that used Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, as the textbook. I thought it was well written and argued and yet now you seem to be telling me that the methods described are “not logically valid or sound” (unless he was using Bayesian methods and I don’t know it).

      This is actually a good example of what I was talking about earlier above: I suspect Ehrman hadn’t even read the literature on evaluating the criteria (he may have by now; I don’t know if he updates editions of his text), e.g. Porter, Theissen, Allison, Hooker, and many others have all written this up in academic venues. In fact, everyone who has become a specialist in the methodology and published a book or article on it has come to the same conclusion. But if no one even bothers to check the literature on “what experts are saying about the methods” you’ll never know any of this literature exists. And that’s the sitch now.

      I was astonished when I read the Jesus Seminar’s handbook on methodology [Finding the Historical Jesus: Rules of Evidence (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2008)] and it didn’t even cite much less address any of the articles pertaining to the subject of method that had been published even by then (zero, zilch, nada, none). Even Porter and Theissen’s books were out for years by then. No acknowledgment or even response. It’s as if it didn’t even occur to the Jesus Seminar to even check the literature on methodology in their field…even when writing a book about methodology in their field!

      What’s to be done about this? I honestly don’t know.

      Yet the methods really seemed like common sense, the best you could do with the scant materials at hand. It’s hard to imagine that all those methods have suddenly become invalid, especially since they only indicated probabilities, not certainties.

      Then you should read my book. Or indeed any book on the method of criteria written in the last fifteen years. They all say nearly the same thing. My book merely collects it all in one place and adds to the pile on.

  15. 15
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I offered myself up to complete any hard core project my fans wanted in exchange for as many donations as I could get to fund my work. They all unanimously said “historicity of Jesus” and came up with twenty thousand dollars.

    CwF+RtB FTW!

    Then I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally fucked

    That’s pretty damn clear by now, and the arguments against that assessment have been really piss-poor.

    Congratulations on getting this beast to press.

  16. 16
    InfraredEyes

    I’ve preordered my copy, it sounds very interesting.

  17. 17
    john

    It is interesting how your continual evaluation of your own work – groundbreaking, superb, unassailable, etc. – is so far out of line with the – or any – actual academic view of it. I’ve never read any academic articles citing your work in that manner.

    How do you explain that? Why is academia ignoring all your unassailable groundbreaking work?

    1. 17.1
      Richard Carrier

      john: How do you explain that? Why is academia ignoring all your unassailable groundbreaking work?

      As I have discovered in my research for these two books, academia ignores most books in this field (as well as most articles even in peer reviewed journals). I was astonished to find that most NT scholars today have never heard of Thomas Brodie, for example, or had never read a lick of Dennis MacDonald, or knew anything about even half the articles I discussed with them–and those were articles in peer reviewed journals (I have two of those coming out later this year myself, BTW, academic articles in major journals that are indeed groundbreaking, and passed peer review precisely as such).

      The reason is, as I said in the blog, information overload: there are too many books and articles coming out every year that it is actually physically impossible for any NT scholar to even know of them all, much less have read them all, and much, much less write a review of them all. Thus, the books that get reviewed tend to have big money behind them (like a major publisher) or a major player (like an academic press), and even then the books that get reviewed often still don’t get noticed–because there are so many reviews, no expert can even read all of those!

      It’s worse for articles, owing to there being so vastly more of them. My articles coming out this year, for example: no one is even going to know of them, because no one just reads all the academic journals (most journals are never read at all), unless someone specifically looks for those articles. A good scholar will, but only when they search databases for a specific topic they are working on or want to find out about–but only if they specifically do that will they discover anyone’s articles on those subjects, not just mine. And many scholars aren’t on Santa’s good list. For example, the Arabic testimonium Flavianum was refuted years ago (turns out, it’s a translation of Eusebius, not Josephus), yet most experts who write on the subject even now don’t know that, because they don’t bother spending the hour it takes to track down and skim all the latest work on every topic or claim. And that’s for articles–books and chapters in books tend not to be indexed in databases at all.

      It’s certainly a problem. Zindler’s presentation at Amherst in 2008 was actually an attempt to propose a solution to that problem (every expert is aware of it; this isn’t a new lament), but as I noted then, his solution costs too much money, so no one will fund it. I have no alternative to recommend. Word of mouth and buzz have to be created. That’s pretty much it. There’s no magical solution.

      As my current book (Proving History) was formally peer reviewed, I will be making a special effort (in addition to those my publisher will make; they have more money, resources, and infrastructure for this sort of thing than I do) to get academics aware of it. Indeed, if you give me five names in academia whose opinion you deem significant in the field, I’ll see to it they get copies on their desks by end of May.

  18. 18
    HP

    Bayes’s would be consistent with the Chicago Manual of Style, which is standard for U.S. book publishers. There are other standards (APA, AP, etc.) for other publishing formats, like academic works or magazines. It’s arbitrary and conventional, but it saves a lot of time that could otherwise be spent publishing more books.

    On a more general note, as a skeptic I’ve gotten increasingly interested in history and historiography. When you want to make generalizations about human nature and culture, history lets you distinguish between things that are parochially true (i.e., true in a particular time and place, such as 20th. American style guides), and things that are, potentially, universally representative of human nature.

    Here’s a trivial example: Many skeptics assert that fundamentalist Christianity is indistinguishable from social conservatism. But I personally remember when Jimmy Carter’s fundamentalist Christianity was held up by 70s social conservatives as a reason why he shouldn’t be elected President (who can forget the infamous Playboy interview?). And Carter was arguably the most progressive president of the 20th c. So, obviously, something’s screwy with any essentialist argument re. evangelical Protestantism and conservatism.

    In a larger sense, of course, there’s the issue of orthodoxy versus orthopraxy as the defining feature of general religiosity. And there, the long view of history tends toward orthopraxy, contra many FTBers I otherwise respect. And let’s not even get into separation of church and state, whose history is written in hundreds of years’ worth of blood and gore, long before it was enshrined in the US constitution. (And let’s not confuse the issue any further by bringing up the principle of laïcité enshrined in the constitution of the Fifth Republic.)

    The more I dig into history and historiography, however, the more arbitrarily it seems to me that a selected subset of contingent events are grouped into a coherent narrative, while others are ignored or dismissed. Who determines which contingent events are relevant to a line of historical inquiry, and on what basis?

    So, I’m probably more interested in the application of Bayesian principles to the writing of history in general than I am to the question of the historicity of Jesus. (For the record, I think the answer is somewhere between “composite of several historical figures” and “deliberate appropriation of Hellenic mystery cults in a Hebraic prophetic context.)

    1. 18.1
      Richard Carrier

      HP: The more I dig into history and historiography, however, the more arbitrarily it seems to me that a selected subset of contingent events are grouped into a coherent narrative, while others are ignored or dismissed. Who determines which contingent events are relevant to a line of historical inquiry, and on what basis?

      Actually, there are already two very good answers to exactly that question, one that deals more with how historians actually work, and the other with how they actually think: Trachtenberg, The Craft of International History, and Gaddis, The Landscape of History. Both are superb, and if you are getting into serious reading on the subject at all, these are musts.

  19. 19
    Enkidu

    Congratulations!

    As you are the only person who has explained Bayes’ Theorum in a way I could understand (via Bayes’ Theorum: Lust for Glory) I will certainly buy your book, Kindle version, when it comes out.

    Will it be available through your site? and will you still get a top up, if I order it there?

    1. 19.1
      Richard Carrier

      Enkidu: Will [the kindle version] be available through your site? and will you still get a top up, if I order it there?

      I’ll look into that. There is no way to pre-order a kindle book. But when it does come out I’ll see what Amazon allows me to do as far as setting up sales points for kindle.

  20. 20
    Jon of Brisbane

    I successfully ordered through your store so as to give you the $$ bonus – you most definitely deserve it! :-)

    The Aussie dollar is slightly stronger than the US at the moment, so it’s not that expensive, just another $9.98 for int’l shipping. Total $26.25.

    In fact, books are *so* expensive down under that it’s actually often cheaper to order through Amazon, even with the int’l shipping charge. Crazy, huh?

    P.S. How does one code on this comment template?

    1. 20.1
      Richard Carrier

      Jon of Brisbane: P.S. How does one code on this comment template?

      I think above the comment entry box it shows you what HTML codes it allows, which you just type in as raw code along with your regular text. Basics are there, like I for italics, B for bold, and A HREF=”urlhere” for hyperlinks, each in angle brackets for the opening tag, and then /I or /B or/A in angle brackets for the closing tag.

  21. 21
    Rieux

    Bayes’ Theorem: Lust for Glory!

    Ooh—an obscure and witty Monty Python reference.

  22. 22
    Sili

    Sorry, I ordered through .co.uk, because otherwise I’m gonna get hit with hefty fees for the import.

    1. 22.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sili: Sorry, I ordered through .co.uk, because otherwise I’m gonna get hit with hefty fees for the import.

      No worries! I still get my royalty.

  23. 23
    Sili

    Incidentally, you have an extraneous http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/255/ on your links to astore.amazon.com/supportcarrier-20/detail/B001718O90 &c.

    I recently started listening to Price, but I’ve had to drop him again. I don’t know if he just likes being obstinate and going against the mainstream, but he demonstrates such gullibility on the subject of AGW, defending it with appeals to authority, that I have no choice but to question his judgement and intellectual prowess, despite wanting to agree with him on Mythicism.

    1. 23.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sili: Incidentally, you have an extraneous http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/255/ on your links to astore.amazon.com/supportcarrier-20/detail/B001718O90 &c.

      Where? Do you mean in the comments thread? Because I’ve checked the blog post several times and all the links are good.

      I recently started listening to Price, but I’ve had to drop him again. I don’t know if he just likes being obstinate and going against the mainstream, but he demonstrates such gullibility on the subject of AGW, defending it with appeals to authority, that I have no choice but to question his judgement and intellectual prowess, despite wanting to agree with him on Mythicism.

      I’m sorry, I don’t know what AGW means.

    2. 23.2
      John Haigh

      AGW means anthropogenic global warming, i.e global warming primarily caused by mankind adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

  24. 24
    Steve

    I already have it pre-ordered on Amazon. I can’t wait to read it!

  25. 25
    Thaumas Themelios

    Haven’t read all comments, so hope no one beat me to it, so…

    As I have discovered in my research for these two books, academia ignores most books in this field (as well as most articles even in peer reviewed journals). …

    It’s certainly a problem. … I have no alternative to recommend. Word of mouth and buzz have to be created. That’s pretty much it. There’s no magical solution.

    Actually, yes you do! Bayes’ theorem itself. Although, it’s a long-long term solution, not a quick fix.

    Think of it from the reverse direction: Where does the information overload come from in the first place? Too much ambiguity. Too much room for speculation. Each historian develops their own pet theories based on their own researches, but there’s no way to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to unify similar theories into a single simpler one.

    The reason is, as I said in the blog, information overload: there are too many books and articles coming out every year that it is actually physically impossible for any NT scholar to even know of them all, much less have read them all, and much, much less write a review of them all.

    Ultimately, in the long term, that’s what Bayes’ theorem promises to provide: A way to filter the real information from the background noise. As the Bayesian approach becomes more popular, historians who don’t pay attention to it are going to end up falling by the way-side as their pet theories are recognized as background noise. In the end, there will be less overall information overload because there’s less overall information to process.

    And each historian won’t need to review all the reviews, because Bayesian analysis will tend toward building consensus among specialists in their sub-fields, and so the reviews will all start to point toward one version of history, and thus they can be trusted more by non-specialists.

    1. 25.1
      Richard Carrier

      Thaumas Themelios: [It’s certainly a problem. … I have no alternative to recommend.] Actually, yes you do! Bayes’ theorem itself. Although, it’s a long-long term solution, not a quick fix.

      True, if historians all became Bayesians (and follow my other recommendations in chapter two of Proving History, which outlines many other “best standards” in the field), then progress would ensue over time toward increasingly correct conclusions.

      However, the problem is deeper than just the proliferation of ambiguity. There is actually a vast quantity of data, which is not dismissible but in fact important. It is not possible for one person to be aware of all that data; but it is also not possible for them to be fully aware of all the data they need to be, either–unless it is assembled in one place, organized topically, and easy to find and access. And not just raw data, but data analyses as well.

      For example, a piece of information will get analyzed, say, ten different ways, but if experts looked at it all they would (most of them by far) conclude with one analysis that was closest to correct and reject the rest as no longer worth the time it takes to read them. But this has to actually be done, so someone like me can go and look up “where we currently are on that datum.” If it hasn’t been done, then I have to do it. But there are millions of data points like that. I could never do this if I lived a thousand lifetimes (just do the math: ten papers times one million = ten million papers; if I read one paper a day, that’s ten million days, or 27,397 years).

      And that’s the problem. We need a database with all the data in it, and the current, properly-reached consensus, on each data point, so that scholars can go and get up to speed on the data they are working with (no one scholar can know all the data; but they can research all relevant data pertaining to whatever question they are asking, and in fact a database like this would make that far easier to do). And if something new happens (something new is discovered about that data; an error in the latest best analysis is found; etc.) it will get plugged in to that database so it will show from them on out to anyone who checks it (as opposed to getting missed and remaining unknown to virtually everyone in the field).

      But we don’t have such a database, and no one is ever going to build it. (Yet, as Zindler showed, we do have these databases in every other science.)

      The result is that to do work like mine, it takes years of obsessive and frustrating research, and even then I won’t have been able to take into account everything, just enough that anything else brought up is unlikely to change the overall conclusion much. This will be particularly clear in my next book, which has two chapters devoted to “necessary background knowledge” (amounting to nearly two hundred pages) in which most of what’s there is unknown to most biblical scholars and yet essential to answering any questions about the origins of Christianity. But even in Proving History I have collected information that somehow most scholars have remained unaware of; and if they remain unaware of my book, they will remain unaware of all that stuff, too. The only solution is to get them to read my book (or else all the books I read in order to produce my book; although one of those tasks is vastly easier than the other, which is the point of writing books like this in the first place). Hence, buzz, word of mouth. What else will work? There is no database that will ever contain my book in a way that almost anyone who needs to find it ever will (which is precisely why none of the other books I cite have been much noticed either). Sad, but true.

  26. 26
    Sili

    Where? Do you mean in the comments thread? Because I’ve checked the blog post several times and all the links are good.

    Yes. Sorry for being unclear.

    I’m sorry, I don’t know what AGW means.

    Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    1. 26.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sili: [I’m sorry, I don’t know what AGW means.] Anthropogenic Global Warming.

      Oh, okay. Yes, I knew that; I thought you were talking about some sort of Jesus myth thing. Context confusion.

      The fact that Price is a Bush-voting Republican isn’t immediately relevant to his work as a scholar. If we’re going to start discounting scholarship because of a scholar’s political party affiliation, we’re pretty much tossing out objectivity as a relevant value; hello Stalin and McCarthy. Price has a PhD in biblical studies; he has no relevant degrees in the sciences (much less climate science); nor has he spent his life studying science and philosophy. So his being mistaken on climate science can hardly bear on his competence as a biblical scholar.

      I concede that what you mean is that this calls his judgment into question (and to an extent I agree); but a good scholar will make the basis for his judgments clear so you can evaluate them independently of each other (so if he fails at that, judge him for that). Besides, since mythicism actually goes against the grain of the Republican party line, that conclusion actually goes against what one would normally expect to be his bias (unlike climate science denial, which is Republican Party Dogma 101).

      Just saying.

  27. 27
    Ed

    In the past, you’ve expressed some gripes with Prometheus Books’ business model (how it pays its authors). Are you basically staying with them due to previous commitments? (If you don’t mind me asking. I know it’s not a perfect world.)

    1. 27.1
      Richard Carrier

      Ed: In the past, you’ve expressed some gripes with Prometheus Books’ business model (how it pays its authors). Are you basically staying with them due to previous commitments? (If you don’t mind me asking. I know it’s not a perfect world.)

      They’ve been somewhat responsive to my past critiques. Time will tell. But they’ve improved their author relations a bit (apparently precisely because of my public complaining). And I am hearing from other authors (and I can confirm in my case) that they have at least bumped their standard contract to what appears to be the industry minimum (still, that’s the industry minimum; so if you are in the market as an author, shop around first, or if you can, procure a literary agent and have them sort it out; but agents don’t typically take on academic writers, we’re left on our own in the industry and have to fend for ourselves).

      Prometheus still assigns royalties from net and not list, and I still regard that as dodgy (no other publisher I know does that), but I will report on what that actually means after I get a few years of quarterly statements from them. Possibly it means they are actually offering me half industry minimum, and thus I got scammed. But I won’t know until I see actual figures. Possibly everything will work out grand and I’ll be entirely happy.

      Prometheus still complains that I talk openly about the contracts they offer authors, but they need to learn that it is immoral of them to attempt to conceal information from people they are negotiating contracts with. There is no fair competition if authors don’t even know what the actual bids are for their work and can’t compare offers from different companies. Publishing’s “old boy” rule that you can’t simultaneously submit manuscripts to multiple companies is a classic example of gaming the system against authors (it basically eliminates the basic function of a market: the ability to shop around). Literary agents know how to game the system back, because they will tell their authors what contracts publishers offer, from ample experience, and thus they know who is offering the better deals, and can press companies for better contracts using that information, but for authors whom literary agents won’t touch (authors of small-quantity niche-market and academic monographs), that “balancing” feature is not available. So publishers are acting immorally if they try to take advantage of authors without agents (that’s classic exploitation of the weak), knowing full well authors with agents are getting the information that other authors aren’t. Honest businesses should treat us the same and give us the same information. In other words, they should compete in the market, and not try to avoid competition.

      So a publisher’s standard baseline contract should be public information, and they should state how their contract compares to the baseline contracts at all their major competitors. Some authors will be able to negotiate better-than-baseline contracts (authors with fame to trade or a particularly hot property to sell), but everyone needs to know what the starting offer is. Anything else is just an attempt to cheat the system–and in a way totally against the interest of authors. Like any other unionized worker, authors have to protect our interests against exploitation by employers, and talking openly about how publishers behave and what contracts they offer is how we do that. For a publisher to oppose that is nothing more than an attempt to avoid the consequences of their behavior. And no honest good can come of that.

  28. 28
    Steve

    I recently read Alan Dundes’ “Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore” and am currently reading G.A. Wells’ “Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity.” I’m very curious as to whether you have any opinions on either of their approaches and conclusions.

    Also, do you foresee applying the Bayesian method to other world religion founders, such as Buddha, Zoroaster, and Mohammad?

    1. 28.1
      Richard Carrier

      Steve: Alan Dundes’ “Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore” and…G.A. Wells’ “Cutting Jesus Down to Size.”…I’m very curious as to whether you have any opinions on either of their approaches and conclusions.

      Holy Writ is solid work but I have found it is not very useful. The basic ideas in it are correct. But application is the issue, and it’s light on that. For example, as a folklorist he knew that the “game” the soldiers play with Jesus in Mark is a real, actual game, which evidently goes back thousands of years. That’s an example of why we need to pay attention to folklorists, who catch things others miss. But what’s the relevance of this discovery? I can’t fathom it. So this is also an example of why sometimes knowing this information is not always “useful.”

      I do not read Wells enough to give him a fair critique. He is kind of like a tertiary source, i.e. just repeating what secondary sources [actual experts] have already said (so I just go to those sources directly), and when he slips into directly analyzing evidence himself, he gets enough wrong that I don’t deem him worth my time (not egregious errors or tons of errors, mind you, just enough to put him at the end of the line as far as works demanding my attention). But books like Cutting Jesus Down may be great introductions for laymen, insofar as he isn’t really saying anything radical, but just repeating the experts themselves. However, I would sooner recommend books in Ehrman’s opus, e.g., Jesus Interrupted, which is superb, reliable, perfect for laymen, and by an expert square in the field.

      Do you foresee applying the Bayesian method to other world religion founders, such as Buddha, Zoroaster, and Mohammad?

      I will not. I am not trained in the relevant literature and languages. But someone could.

      I suspect, however, that it would only verify agnosticism, because the source situation is vastly worse for those figures than it already is for Jesus (and the source situation for Jesus already sucks, and that right royally). I am not sure about Buddha, but I don’t think we have anything close to his time (the sources everyone cites for him are centuries late); I haven’t thoroughly checked, though. Zoroaster I know has zero sources until many, many centuries after he was preached (the preservation of Persian texts has been dismal compared to Greco-Roman). And Mohammed is a big problem: not only because Islamic countries for a thousand years or more (and some still) have had little concept of the importance of preserving textual antiquities or producing critical editions of ancient authors (largely a religious thing: they don’t want to find out about their documents what the Christians have found out about theirs; denial is easier to live with), but also because there weren’t many such texts to preserve in the first place (e.g., so far as I know there was never any collection of Mohammed’s personal or administrative letters, nor those of anyone who knew him, or of anyone within a century of him). But I could be wrong (I’m not an expert in Islamic textual history). There could also be all kinds of interesting things in the libraries and museums of Arabic countries, that no one does anything with for lack of access (Western scholars aren’t generally welcome) or fear of the repercussions (it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie). But you’d have to ask an expert in medieval Arabic literature to really know how much of all that is a problem, or what we might actually have on Mohammed (whether manuscripts or texts) that can be dated near to his time.

    2. 28.2
      Roo Bookaroo

      A little late to comment, but anyway, here it is:

      Richard Carrier says, about G. A. Wells:
      “I do not read Wells enough to give him a fair critique. He is kind of like a tertiary source, i.e. just repeating what secondary sources [actual experts] have already said (so I just go to those sources directly), and when he slips into directly analyzing evidence himself, he gets enough wrong that I don’t deem him worth my time (not egregious errors or tons of errors, mind you, just enough to put him at the end of the line as far as works demanding my attention). But books like Cutting Jesus Down may be great introductions for laymen, insofar as he isn’t really saying anything radical, but just repeating the experts themselves.”

      I am not exactly sure that this is a fair assessment. It sounds more like Carrier having never taken the trouble to get acquainted with Wells, perhaps for having wasted so much time on reading the mammoth outpourings of Earl Doherty.

      A better introduction to Wells would be going back to his very first books,

      1971, The Jesus of the Early Christians: A Study in Christian origins. (362 pp. Pemberton; First ed.)
      1975, Did Jesus Exist? (250 pp. Prometheus, 2d ed. 1986)
      1982, The Historical Evidence for Jesus. (265 pp. Prometheus)

      followed by the two major ones:
      1996, The Jesus Legend (foreword by R. Joseph Hoffmann; 320 pp. Open Court)
      1998, Jesus Myth. (350 pp. Open Court)

      If this proves too much reading, a nice overview of Wells’s key themes can be found in his 4 articles on the Secular Web, shown at
      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/g_a_wells/,

      – Earliest Christianity (1999), a nice, short summary of key points.
      – G. A. Wells Replies to Criticisms of his Books on Jesus (2000) – especially Rev. Neals.
      – A Reply to J. P. Holding’s ‘Shattering’ of My Views on Jesus and an Examination of the Early Pagan and Jewish References to Jesus (2000)
      – A Resurrection Debate: The New Testament Evidence in Evangelical and in Critical Perspective (2000)

      Also of interest could be:

      – Alvar Ellegard – Theologians as historians
      http://www.sciecom.org/ojs/index.php/scandia/article/viewFile/1078/863

      as Ellegard presents a variation on Wells’s basic thesis.

      Both Wells and Ellegard have a distinct advantage on Doherty: they write a much more concise and clear English, and they are much more fun to read.
      I am seduced by Wells’s clarity, unshakeable honesty, and absence of pretensions at being the great pundit of Christian studies. He took the time to develop his views over 40 years of constant polishing.
      Doherty’s sublunar mythical figure of Christ seems a bit extreme, with two short quotes on the “rulers of the age” to balance his enormous edifice, compared with Wells’s more gentle sketch of Jesus, compatible with more passages of Paul’s epistles.

  29. 29
    Sili

    (For example, I am pretty well convinced Mark Goodacre is right and there was never any Q source; he has answered his critics far more ably than they have answered him; so a controlled written debate between him and any worthy opponent would be of inestimable value to the field; indeed, I would love to moderate that.)

    Ooooh? Are there any good, popular books on Q for the layman? I just picked up MacDonald’s book on Mark’s use of the Odyssey after reading your review, and I find it fascinating reading.

    1. 29.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sili: Are there any good, popular books on Q for the layman?

      Yes. The Case Against Q. Written for experts, but a layman won’t get lost.

  30. 30
    gshelley

    I guess I’ll end up buying both, as they do look interesting

    I’m apprehensive about Ehrman’s book, as I have heard him talk about the Jesus myth on podcasts, and he was very dismissive, essentially going the “The evidence that Jesus was real is so overwhelming that the issue is completely settled among serious scholars route”

    Which, to be honest, does not seem tenable, no matter which side you eventually come down on, but if he is writing a book rather than an offhand comment, hopefully he’ll look more at the evidence

  31. 31
    David Gerard

    “Hence, buzz, word of mouth. What else will work? There is no database that will ever contain my book in a way that almost anyone who needs to find it ever will (which is precisely why none of the other books I cite have been much noticed either).”

    Do you anticipate interest from the skepticsphere? Prometheus would be fools if they didn’t pump up the controversy angle. The scholars will know you know your stuff, the skepticsphere can trumpet the book far and wide, the churches will absolutely shit … someone might even read the book in between denouncing it.

    1. 31.1
      Richard Carrier

      David Gerard: Prometheus has tended to be afraid of controversy. That’s not smart marketing, as you note, but I don’t run the company (although things might change; this might be a Kurtz-legacy behavior). For example, they refused to let us title The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave what we wanted, which was simply Jesus Is Dead (a factually honest statement, not only in itself, but of the book’s thesis), because (apparently) that was too offensive or something. Instead, their choice was terrible in more than one respect (see here). Whereas with the original title I already had people waiting who said they would buy the book simply because of the title, one of them so they could put it on their desk at work to counteract the Jesus stuff their coworkers paraded. It would have gotten attention, it would have accurately described the book, and it would have generated just enough outrage to get the book more widely noticed without actually being offensive (after all, honestly, what’s offensive about saying what we believe, that Jesus Is Dead?). Anyway, I’ve heard similar stories over the years about marketing decisions there (and we had similar struggles over the titles for Christian Delusion and End of Christianity, which Loftus had to fight protracted battles for). I’ve also heard all this was Kurtz’s influence, but that’s only an unverified rumor.

  32. 32
    Sili

    The fact that Price is a Bush-voting Republican isn’t immediately relevant to his work as a scholar.

    I didn’t know this until now, so it hasn’t factored in to my assessment. But thanks.

  33. 33
    Pierce R. Butler

    Richard Carrier @ # 13: … establishment scholars like Thomas Thompson …

    Link = 404 foo (on my system, anyway).

    1. 33.1
      Richard Carrier

      I think I’ve fixed all the hyperlinks in comments that I could find. If I still missed any, let me know what comment has the broken link in it and I’ll get to that one, too.

  34. 34
    Pierce R. Butler

    Sili @ # 45: Are there any good, popular books on Q for the layman?

    I recently bought (but have not yet read) Burton L. Mack’s The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins (Harpeer Collins, 1993).

    Dunno how it compares to our esteemed host’s recommendation in # 47, but Mack is usually clear, meticulous, and mostly lay-friendly.

  35. 35
    David Gerard

    Richard – well, let’s hope for decent sales and a paperback then!

    1. 35.1
      Richard Carrier

      David Gerard: Richard – well, let’s hope for decent sales and a paperback then!

      Prometheus doesn’t do hardbacks anymore (the recession; it was a reasonable way to cut costs). So this will be out in paperback only (same as Delusion and End). That’s fine by me, as it makes the book more affordable to everyone. At any other company I’d lose on royalties (traditionally hardbacks give a higher percentage), but since Prometheus offers the same contract regardless, it’s no loss to me.

      [It looks like PB has gone with hardcover for Proving History after all. See below. And they do double royalties on hardback.]

  36. 36
    David Gerard

    Richard – OK, so like most authors you’ll need to be doing the heavy lifting with your fans :-)

  37. 37
    Reginald Selkirk

    Prometheus doesn’t do hardbacks anymore

    That helps to explain the very affordable price. Someone should let Amazon know, they have it labeled as hardcover.

    1. 37.1
      Richard Carrier

      Reginald Selkirk: Someone should let Amazon know, they have it labeled as hardcover.

      You know what, I did not notice that until you pointed it out. That’s not likely an error, since it would come from the ISBN paperwork filed by Prometheus. And now that I look at the list price, that’s in the ballpark for a hardcover (PB’s standard softcover list is $21; hardcover $28). This would mean they have gone back to their pre-recession rollout and it will be a hardcover after all! This may be one of those “the economy is improving” signs.

      I hope this is true, because I just checked my contract and I was wrong: if they decided to do this, then I do get a double royalty. And in that case their contract is industry average, not industry minimum, and thus a much better deal for authors, FYI (they just don’t contractually guarantee which type of book they will release).

  38. 38
    Will

    Richard, I think a while back u mentioned difficulty in getting your first volume of the two volume set on historical method and Jesus peer reviewed by Religious Studies scholars. Did that end up changing? If not do you think the second volume will be more palatable to humanities scholars? just curious.

    Also, are you planning on doing a review of Ehman’s upcoming book “Did Jesus Exist”? I would love to see your scrutiny of his work. thanks.

    1. 38.1
      Richard Carrier

      Will: Prometheus has already optioned On the Historicity of Jesus Christ (and it’s best to do both volumes through the same publisher anyway), so whether I could have landed it at an academic press is moot now. My problem wasn’t finding peer reviewers (Prometheus did that without trouble, as did I, albeit informally, before I even went to a publisher). It was finding publishers who even wanted to look at it (much less peer review it). That is, they all deemed it merely from the query letter as not being suited to their publication interests (the usual explanations: we don’t have any editors qualified to handle a topic like that; we only publish x and your book isn’t x; etc.).

      Regarding Ehrman’s book, yes, I will definitely be reviewing it here.

  39. 39
    Steve

    “Regarding Ehrman’s book, yes, I will definitely be reviewing it here.”

    Awesome! This looks to be a good year for Jesus Mythicism/Historicity.

    I’m wondering if the meme has spread enough that we’ll start seeing mentions of it on TV? I could see National Geographic attempting it.

    1. 39.1
      Will

      I agree, this year is going to be very interesting for those of us with an interest in the subject of mythicism and hitorical Jesus studies. That would be great to see it get that kind of airplay (National Geographic doc, etc.)… but my impression is that it would probably needs some time to be engaged seriously by the larger academic community before such a thing could happen. And I think Dr. Carrier’s upcming books are going to be the first serious presentation of the mythicist theory to academia, which may get the ball rolling in that direction.. I think the releases of both Ehrman’s new book and Richard’s volumes may be the point of first contact between academia and mythicism that could touch of the wider engagement. that’s my opinion anyway. :-)

    2. Richard Carrier

      Will: I agree, this year is going to be very interesting for those of us with an interest in the subject of mythicism and hitorical Jesus studies. That would be great to see it get that kind of airplay (National Geographic doc, etc.)…

      Oh, please no. NG (like History Channel or any network whatever) would screw it up royally, going for ratings (networks, HC) or trying too hard to dumb everything down (NG) and not fact-check anything correctly (they’d let scholars just assert things without checking if what they said is even true, or as certain as they represent; they would show scholars arguing against each other, but not check to see if either side is actually in the right). I have never seen a TV documentary handle Jesus studies in anything remotely like a way worth anyone’s watching. And if they can’t handle mainstream Jesus stuff well, how on earth are they going to handle something as esoteric as this? If anyone approached me to do this I would be very skeptical and expect the worst. Perhaps PBS could do it; I’d have more confidence at least that a PBS production would take scholarship and fact-checking seriously.

      My impression is that it would probably needs some time to be engaged seriously by the larger academic community before such a thing could happen.

      Yes, very much so. I concur.

  40. 40
    Will

    I know this is off topic on this thread.. but I just heard the Jacoby debate you had recently. Nice work my friend!

    Any more debates scheduled for the near future? For what it’s worth, I have to agree with u that written debates are much more effective at hashing out the ideas, so I would love to see more of those too. Actually, I think a written debate between you and Craig could be quite constructive because then u would actually have time to address all of his points so that he cannot get by on mere technicalities of the verbal debating format.

    1. 40.1
      Richard Carrier

      Will: I just heard the Jacoby debate you had recently. Nice work my friend!

      Thanks. We’ve been working on getting the full video up. And that just happened, so I’ll blog about it later this week (that delay’s the only reason I haven’t mentioned it before; I was waiting for the video).

      Any more debates scheduled for the near future?

      None booked.

      I think a written debate between you and Craig could be quite constructive because then u would actually have time to address all of his points so that he cannot get by on mere technicalities of the verbal debating format.

      I agree. But that’s precisely why he’ll never debate me that way. He knows he’ll then lose. Because none of his tactics will work there. He’ll have to be judged on the complete facts and carefully exposed logic. And I suspect he secretly fears allowing that ever to happen.

  41. 41
    Steven Carr

    From a very quick skim through of Bart’s new book, it seems very poor.

    First impressions could be wrong though.

    I predicted that Bart Ehrman would address zero of Earl Doherty’s Top 20 silences.

    Did my prophecy come true? I would have to look more closely to be sure of that.

    I also prophesied that people would pay a lot of money to read Bart point out that in Galatians , Paul talks about ‘the brother of the Lord’, and this would be called the ultimate proof that Jesus existed.

    From an admittedly very quick skim through some of it, the book seems very high on rhetoric and very short on argument.

    My first impressions could be wrong though, but it is interesting that Bart wrote peer-reviewed articles questioning the identification of Simon Peter and Cephas, and can now write that they are ‘of course’ the same person, even though he himself wrote scholarly articles arguing that they may very well not have been the same person.

    Should he hide his own views from the readers of this book?

    You can guess what many sentence begin with.

    ‘Nearly all critical scholars believe that….’
    ‘Nearly all critical scholars agree that…’

    ‘…the view of the vast majority….’

    ‘Few critical scholars take that view….’

    ‘… in the judgement of most critical scholars….’

    There is an awful lot of argument from authority.

    I suppose Bart had to pad out the book with a lot of other stuff once he had pointed out Galatians 1.

    But more careful reading is needed than my quick skim through the selection available on the web site.

    1. 41.1
      Richard Carrier

      Steven Carr: I predicted that Bart Ehrman would address zero of Earl Doherty’s Top 20 silences.

      Thanks for the heads up. I haven’t received my copy yet.

      I am less concerned about this particular omission (if you mean extrabiblical silences), since those silences aren’t a threat to minimal historicity (MH). I’m even considering cutting my own “silences” section from On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, since the effect it has on the probability of MH is so small it’s washed out by my margin of error.

      Unless you mean silences in Paul. Then yes, I would expect at least an apologetic for that in Ehrman (the “they weren’t interested” or the “they didn’t come up” excuses for example; but to just offer them generically without addressing Doherty’s very specific rebuttals to them would indeed be a methodological failure on Ehrman’s part).

      I also prophesied that people would pay a lot of money to read Bart point out that in Galatians , Paul talks about ‘the brother of the Lord’, and this would be called the ultimate proof that Jesus existed.

      Sure. Because that’s pretty much all they’ve got. No, seriously. It’s the only good argument for historicity. And by “good” I mean in terms of the logic of evidence: if that line were missing, the probability of historicity would plummet precipitously. Which entails that its presence greatly increases the probability of historicity. That does not entail it makes historicity probable, since “more probable” and “is probable” are not synonymous (a point I already made in Proving History). But nevertheless, he has to lean on it.

      My first impressions could be wrong though, but it is interesting that Bart wrote peer-reviewed articles questioning the identification of Simon Peter and Cephas, and can now write that they are ‘of course’ the same person, even though he himself wrote scholarly articles arguing that they may very well not have been the same person.

      Can you list those articles here? I hadn’t heard he’d done that, so I’d like to look those up.

      Should he hide his own views from the readers of this book?

      How do you know his views haven’t changed? He did write a whole book on the historicity of Peter and Mary et al. Have you consulted what position he took in that?

      There is an awful lot of argument from authority.

      Which is fine…when the authorities are using valid methods. It just so happens that very often they are not. As Proving History will demonstrate.

      Even valid but hyperbolic appeals to authority can be logically correct if worded right. For example, textual critics themselves admit a lot of uncertainty in their conclusions. Thus one can say “the vast majority agree that x” while still that same majority actually says “probably x” not “certainly x” which allows room for x to legitimately be false. But, even then the probability that x is false is small, which means any theory that requires x to be false is going to drop in probability, precisely because of the expert consensus. There is nothing invalid about that. It’s a correct assessment according to the logic of evidence.

      The problem is when the expert consensus is itself invalidly generated. So whether he appeals to any instances of that requires examining when and where he leans on it.

    2. 41.2
      Thaumas Themelios

      I’m even considering cutting my own “silences” section from On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, since the effect it has on the probability of MH is so small it’s washed out by my margin of error.

      Just an idea that popped into my head:

      On the other hand, including that portion of the argument in order to show that some arguments against historicity are logically valid, but too insignificant to make a difference to the probability, would be a good way to show people that some arguments are simply far better than others. For example, if some mythicist/historicist is spending a lot of time arguing over this, then their time would be better spent on the more significant probabilities.

      Though it may not be crucial to your own argument, it can still be useful as an example of what not to waste one’s time on. Also a good example of how Bayesian conditional probabilities work out in practice. Again, just a thought.

    3. Richard Carrier

      I agree in principle, but my issue is page count. If I have to cut forty or a hundred pages, that’s the kind of stuff first under the axe.

    4. 41.3
      Thaumas Themelios

      Of course, makes sense. I didn’t think of that.

      What scientists sometimes do in such cases is that they might merely make mention of a side-argument like that, and include the final results as a single data point in a table, e.g. ‘Significance of factors affecting the mythicist argument’. You can eliminate the detailed argument, perhaps saving it for a future article or chapter somewhere, but simply include the data point: Argument from silence of extra-biblical sources: +- 0.01% or something to that effect. Again, just a thought. I guess I’m returning to it because I would have expected the effect to be larger, and so if I read your book and all mention of the argument was removed, I might think, “Darn, looks like he missed something.”

    5. Richard Carrier

      Thaumas Themelios: I guess I’m returning to it because I would have expected the effect to be larger, and so if I read your book and all mention of the argument was removed, I might think, “Darn, looks like he missed something.”

      Oh, no worries there. I will at least state and explain why it is excluded, so you will know why it’s not present.

      The main reason is that there is a minimal historicity thesis in which Jesus was not popular or famous enough to gain any attention from anyone but a tiny ragtag cult expecting the world to end at any minute. On that thesis, we should expect no extra-biblical evidence (it has a likelihood, i.e. a consequent probability, of approximately 1). The consequent probability of this same observation on myth is nearly the same, i.e. there is always some nonzero probability that someone would notice and write about it, no matter how trivial the matter, whereas on myth this probability is zero, so there is a slight difference in probabilities, but it is smaller than any reasonable margin of error and therefore makes no discernible difference to the result. Therefore this evidence makes no relevant difference to the final probability.

    6. 41.4
      Thaumas Themelios

      [Ah yes, the minimalist hypothesis. Of course, that makes sense.

      Just another question, again. Sorry. :-) ]

      I presume, however, that you have other factors which reduce the overall probability of the minimalist case (e.g. I might try to argue that such a minimalist hypothesis makes the likelihood of all of the stories about Jesus unlikely, since such an unremarkable fellow would very likely be rather … unremarkable.) Plus the prior for that hypothesis would be pretty low, I imagine.

      However, that’s only comparing H1 (mythicist) vs. H2 (minimalist). But for non-minimalist hypotheses (H3, H4, …), then the argument about silence becomes an important and relevant factor, does it not?

      Again, I’m only returning to this topic because the silence argument seemed to me to be quite important in the overall debate (from what I’ve read, myself, and from The God Who Wasn’t There, for example), and it’s one of the things that was both surprising and convincing for me. I’m not intending to argue with you here; I’m very confident you’ll have done an excellent job. I’m only returning to it because it seems curious to me and I’m wondering how you’ve resolved it.

      Cheers! I’m getting more excited, just thinking about it! Can’t wait to read it.

    7. Richard Carrier

      Thaumas Themelios: I might try to argue that such a minimalist hypothesis makes the likelihood of all of the stories about Jesus unlikely, since such an unremarkable fellow would very likely be rather … unremarkable.

      This is an even more significant an insight than you might think. But yes, the Gospels, for example, must be largely legends, if minimal historicity is true. This does create a conundrum: either rapid legendary development in the gospels was not only possible but definitely occurred, or minimal historicity is false; if minimal historicity is false, then the scale of extra-biblical silence is improbable (and thus argues against historicity altogether); so the only way to escape that result is to retreat back to minimal historicity, which entails rapid legendary development in the gospels (and all that that then entails; e.g. you can no longer argue in favor of historicity that rapid legendary development in the gospels is impossible or unlikely, since on minimal historicity its probability must be nearly 100%, as otherwise minimal historicity is false; Catch-22, engage).

      Plus the prior for that hypothesis would be pretty low, I imagine.

      If you mean non-minimal historicity’s prior is low, yes, arguably it would be. But I will not be exploring that, because minimal historicity is the only defensible theory of historicity (as the bulk of mainstream scholarship agrees, which fact actually sets non-minimal historicity’s prima facie prior at near zero; apologists like to ignore that fact when they cite “the consensus,” but my book is not going to address Christian apologetical theories, only mainstream secular ones).

      I’m only returning to this topic because the silence argument seemed to me to be quite important in the overall debate (from what I’ve read, myself, and from The God Who Wasn’t There, for example), and it’s one of the things that was both surprising and convincing for me.

      This is one of the problems with mythicism in general: this is only surprising to non-experts; to historians of antiquity, we find it strange that anyone finds it surprising, since 99.99% of all the people we study are less attested than Jesus, yet no one doubts their existence. When I get to defending mythicism I have to dispense with bad inferences and correct even arguments like these.

      However, there is a truth behind the error, and that lies in the separation between the Jesus of “Christian apologists” and the Jesus of “mainstream scholarship.” People tend to conflate the two. But that’s the error. When you focus on the former, then extra-biblical silence is inexplicable and therefore a powerful argument. But having thus eliminated the former thesis, you have the latter thesis still remaining. You therefore have not even argued for mythicism at all, but just minimal historicity. The error lies in confusing that step with stepping all the way to mythicism.

      The movie The God Who Wasn’t There could be said to commit this mistake, by ignoring completely secular reconstructions of the historical Jesus (in which most of the Gospels is granted as legend). But it’s still rhetorically correct in eliminating the Christian Jesus, and insofar as that’s the movie’s point, it is not in error. But if someone confused that argument with “Jesus definitely didn’t exist in any sense at all,” you’d be exceeding what the film proves. That’s why it is titled the “God” who wasn’t there, and not “some obscure rabbi who spawned a tiny fringe cult wasn’t there.”

    8. 41.5
      Thaumas Themelios

      Thanks, Richard. Good points, all.

      The distinction you make between the “Christian” Jesus and the “minimal historical” Jesus is very important, and I’m going to try to remember to make that point the next time the topic comes up. If you haven’t already (I know, you probably already have; I’m just sayin’), I would highly encourage you to at least make that point/distinction prominent near the front of the book, perhaps as an ‘aside’ to the lay audience who would be just as surprised as a life-long atheist such as myself that ‘the consensus’ in mainstream history is by far and away the minimalist perspective at best.

      I’m thinking of the likely reactions from theists and apologists, both mainstream and scholarly, who would almost certain *jump* at the chance to misinterpret your argument and perhaps then conclude: “Look! Even Carrier himself discards the argument from silence!”

      Understanding the distinction you made clearly in your reply above, such a conclusion is as preposterous as concluding that Darwin thought the eye too complex to have evolved (which can only be ‘argued’ by quote-mining of the most egregious kind). However, without that distinction clearly laid out for the lay audience (whom I know are not actually your primary target), then that faulty conclusion might end up at least having the appearance of merit, simply due to the common-place conflation of the two Jesuses.

      Again, I have read lots of your essays, and I have no worries that this book will be anything *other* than a magnum opus. Probably my concerns are unfounded. I guess I was just surprised at your original comment about cutting the stuff about the silences. Your response made complete sense to me, though. Thanks!

      “Catch-22, engage.”

      Make it so. ;-) lol

    9. Richard Carrier

      Thaumas Themelios: I would highly encourage you to at least make that point/distinction prominent near the front of the book…

      Oh, no worries. It’s a prominent theme of the first chapter.

      I’m thinking of the likely reactions from theists and apologists, both mainstream and scholarly, who would almost certain *jump* at the chance to misinterpret your argument and perhaps then conclude: “Look! Even Carrier himself discards the argument from silence!”

      Oh, they will do that anyway. Quote mining is common practice. You should expect it, and expose it wherever you see it (because exposing it discredits them as unreliable, which means when they do this, they are just handing you a rhetorical coup).

  42. 42
    Steven Carr

    We can assume that Bart no longer agrees with the Bart who produced a peer-reviewed article questioning the identification of Cephas and Peter.

    That is not the main point.

    Bart uses such identification as part of the ‘two key data’, and says ‘of course’ they are the same person.

    Just like you refer back to your previous work, Bart ought to let his readers know that he once questioned their identity, and tell his readers what led him to the belief that ‘of course’ he was wrong to do so.

    If the case for some of the ‘two key data’ is so cut and dried, why did Bart himself once question it?

    Readers of the book will never know, never even know there were such questions, and come away with the impression that this part of the ‘two key data’ is unquestionable, even though the author of the book they are reading once questioned it himself.

    Naturally, I am only working from the preview, so my remarks are provisional until the book is out.

    1. 42.1
      Richard Carrier

      Steven Carr: If the case for some of the ‘two key data’ is so cut and dried, why did Bart himself once question it?

      That’s a valid point. I would have to read his original case. Can you send me the citation?

  43. 43
    Victor

    It looks as though my copy has shipped from Amazon, delivery date of 3/20. Released early to coincide the Bart’s book?

    1. 43.1
      Richard Carrier

      No, just a coincidental result of production going faster than projected (they allow a lot of time for delays at various stages, e.g. if we took longer to get through proofs and drafts, so their first “release” date is deliberately set at its expected maximum rather than its average likelihood; I think we finished editing a month ahead of schedule).

  44. 44
    Will

    Richard, I remember at one point you mentioning an upcoming article in an academic journal about the Jesus passages in Josephus and the state of their authenticity. Will the substance of that article be included in one of the 2 upcoming volumes on historicity of jesus and methodology? I assumed it would but i just wanted to make sure.
    Also, do you think that Dr. Ehrman’s book on historicity could be an opening for your work to finally push a valid mythicist hypothesis into more mainstream scholarly discussion? I think it’s great that your first volume and Ehrman’s are being released at nearly the same time. It seems to me that this could be a great opportunity for a more mainstream engagement of the issue. What do you think?

    1. 44.1
      Richard Carrier

      Will: Will the substance of that article be included in one of the 2 upcoming volumes on historicity of jesus and methodology?

      It will be summarized in the second volume.

      The article itself is “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200,” Journal of
      Early Christian Studies
      20.4 (Winter 2012). (i.e., it will appear in this year’s Winter issue.)

      Also, do you think that Dr. Ehrman’s book on historicity could be an opening for your work to finally push a valid mythicist hypothesis into more mainstream scholarly discussion? I think it’s great that your first volume and Ehrman’s are being released at nearly the same time. It seems to me that this could be a great opportunity for a more mainstream engagement of the issue. What do you think?

      I agree, although my book out now is not a direct counter to his, it is merely different as to what we say about method. My next book will be the direct answer to his. So there will be some delay between them. But his publication will at least open the window to scholars taking the debate seriously, as long as I present a methodologically respectable argument. And thus that is what I am striving to do.

  45. 45
    Kwame Ajamu

    Are you familiar with Joe Atwills work, and if you are what do you think of It, and your book not the impossible religion, I am still looking for any writings that you can name where philo used the term “Celestial Jesus”.

    1. 45.1
      Richard Carrier

      Not the term, the concept. See Not the Impossible Faith pp. 250-51. But if you can’t acquire or afford that, an earlier draft of the same chapter (whose text was revised for the print edition, so I consider it obsolete, but if you have no other recourse) is here. Yes, I am familiar with Atwill’s work. It is untenable.

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