Offering Classes on Historical Method and the Historicity of Jesus

I am still teaching the science and philosophy of free will this June (that class starts next week; you can register here). But now my courses for July and August are also open for early registration (and there is a limit on how many students I take on per class, so they might fill up; I will offer them again next year).


For July (and this in preparation for August) I will be teaching a course on historical methods: Thinking Like a Historian: Historical Methods, Practice and Theory (details and registration here). Description:

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Proving History. Illuminated stained glass Jesus in darkened room as peered at through a cross cut-out in an iron cathedral door. Title and author name below.Learn how to question and investigate claims about history. Study not only the logic of historical reasoning and argument, but also a lot of the practical tips and tricks real historians employ to test and check claims. Learn the particular skills of skeptical and critical thinking about history. Primary topics: Best practices among historians; historical methods as modes of reasoning (both criteria-based and Bayesian); examples of flawed reasoning and bad arguments in peer reviewed history journals and monographs (and how to spot them as a layperson); and what to do to critically examine a claim using both immediate heuristics and procedures for more labor-intensive inquiry.

The required course text we will be working through chapter by chapter is Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, but I will be providing additional readings and discussion across several fields and subjects in history (the focus won’t be wholly or even mostly on Jesus; that will just be a working example).


For August (and this will benefit from having taken the preceding course in July) I will be teaching a course on the historicity of Jesus: Questioning or Defending the Historicity of Jesus (details and registration here). Description:

Cover of Richard Carrier's book On the Historicity of Jesus. Medieval icon image of Jesus holding a codex, on a plain brown background, title above in white text, author below in white text.This course discusses the best arguments for and against the historical existence of Jesus (as the putative founder of Christianity), and we will proceed step-by-step through ways to approach them and evaluate them. Working from the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed, taught by the author himself, you will learn how to distinguish good arguments from bad, and about the background and context of the origins of Christianity as a whole. This is the best opportunity to ask Dr. Carrier, who holds a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University, all your questions about his controversial research and the historical(?) figure of Jesus. Main issues to cover: understanding the complex background to the origins of Christianity (unit 1, OHJ chs. 4, 5, & 7); comparing the competing theories of how and why Christianity began (unit 2, OHJ chs. 1, 2, & 3); understanding the Gospels and Acts as mythology and whether historical facts about Jesus can be extracted from them (unit 3, OHJ chs. 6, 9, & 10); and exploring the arguments for and against evidence for a historical Jesus in the authentic Epistles of Paul and literature outside the New Testament (unit 4, OHJ chs. 8, 11, & 12).

The required course text we will be working through chapter by chapter is On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, although I will be providing additional readings (such as from defenders of historicity). That is expected to be available by the end of June, and you might want to order it as soon as that, so as to be assured of having it in time for the course (I will announce on this blog as soon as the book can be ordered or pre-ordered). Unfortunately there will not be an electronic copy in time for August, but I have an option for the visually impaired (so if you can’t read a print book, just write to me once you register, to inquire about an alternative).


I should note that technically mine is not “the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed” if you include Thomas Brodie’s recent book from the same press, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, although that is actually a memoir of how he came to that conclusion, and not an organized argument for it (e.g. he does little to address defenses of historicity or offer an alternative theory of the origin of Christianity). See my review.



  1. says

    Hi Richard,

    I think there may be a connection between the story of the crucifixion and the Buddhists explanations of some of the hells:

    Using quotes, look up this in google —

    “That is two hot iron spikes are sent through his two palms, and two other hot spikes are sent through his two feet and the fifth hot iron spike is sent through his chest. On account of this he experiences sharp piercing unpleasant feelings.”

    Somewhat of a vague connection, but it would support the myth argument.


  2. Jim Reed says

    When you say “why we might have reason for doubt”, does that mean we can’t say for sure we have reason to doubt, but we might?

    • says

      The publisher insisted on that wording. Their thinking is that I am making a proposal for examination, and that it can’t be considered certain until several other experts are likewise convinced by it. In other words, the “we” means those who haven’t read the book yet, and it’s politely not assuming the outcome of their doing so. Kind of a British thing, really.

    • says

      Only in respect to peer review (by definition, all peer reviewed monographs meet peer reviewer requirements as to wording and content…otherwise peer review would be meaningless). But nothing I objected to (good peer review improves a book, and I had good reviewers).

  3. mark taylor says

    Hi Richard

    I was going to order OHJ last night but thought I’d hold off to see if there is anyway I could trouble you for a signed Hardcover? Alternatively how long into the foreseeable future will you be visiting the land of Oz?

    Thoroughly looking forward to this latest offering.

    Kind regards,

    • says

      If you mean Kansas, that could happen within a year if you lobby the nearest-by atheist/secular/humanist organization to bring me in to give a talk and Q&A and sell and sign this book. My requirements are here, and note the paragraph about sharing costs with multiple orgs to do multiple events in the region. Otherwise, there has been talk of getting me into St. Louis sometime this year (which if that happens I’ll blog it), so depending on how far a drive that would be…

      I would recommend you buy the hardcover on your own, though, and just get me to sign it when you do find me near enough by. The hardcover will be very expensive, so I won’t be selling it myself (I can’t afford to venture the cost, even at wholesale discount, since sales at that list are unlikely to be good). You can pre-order it direct from the publisher now (and thus see how expensive it is; you might change your mind and buy a softcover), but I don’t know yet if that will be the best deal (see my comment here).

    • mark taylor says

      I was far to ambiguous for my own good, alas I was meaning Oz as in Australia. I’ll hold off on the publisher for the moment and try Amazon and see what eventuates in that regard. If Australia isn’t on your radar any time soon, I’ll have to see if the future can bring me state side for a conference.

    • says

      Oh. Right. My mistake! I forgot about that use of the term.

      Yes, unlikely to ever get there, unless some group or conference gets together the cost of airfare to bring me out. I’m otherwise an easy get: booking info here.

      As I’ve said before to many in Australia, the best you can do is try lobbying a national atheist or secularist or humanist org in Australia to bring me out–indeed, you can mention that several can team together to share costs, and I can tour among them (see booking page for details on that possibility), and definitely if any major conferences start getting organized there, you can do what you can to nominate me as a speaker in their line-up.

      Really, airfare is the only significant barrier. That, and some org that can afford it being interested enough.

  4. Kris Rhodes says

    If one buys the print version in June, will there be anyway to get access to the ebook version for free or at a discount afterwards? I know some publishers have such programs going on…

    • says

      Probably not. This is an academic publisher. Academic publishers typically aren’t advanced enough to even figure out how to do that.

      I don’t know for sure that’s true in this case. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

  5. Jeremy L says

    “I will announce on this blog as soon as the book can be ordered or pre-ordered” – OHJ is already available for pre-ordering on the Sheffield Phoenix website – got my order in last week!

    • says

      I’ve been mulling whether that counts. The pre-order option on Amazon was what I had in mind. Although you can pre-order from England direct from the publisher, not only does that mean you have to pay full list price (Amazon sometimes can undercut that; we’ll have to wait and see to find out if it does in this case), but also shipping (which you can often get waived for purchases through Amazon), and I can’t guarantee it will be faster (Amazon is vastly more efficient than most publishers, and though you’d think a publisher would fulfill its own pre-orders faster than it can deliver stock to Amazon and Amazon distribute its own pre-orders from that, one should hesitate to bet against Amazon; the only thing counting against it is that Sheffield distributes in North America through the Society of Biblical Literature, so that could produce enough of a delay in getting stock to Amazon US that Sheffield can beat its shipping and handling velocity, even crossing the sea).

  6. Jim Reed says

    I have to wonder how broad the question should be? Was there some preacher in first century Galilee who might have said some of the things in the gospels? If it is possible, then believing he said what is in the new testament and worked the miracles is really just a matter of faith. Narrow the question a little and we might get somewhere. If we just consider Paul we might be able to get beyond the “There Might be Doubt” stage.

    Was Paul’s Christianity about a man who lived 20 years earlier who was a divine savior who was said to rise from the dead, or was his Christianity about a divine Christ in heaven figure who was revealed to Paul in visions and in passages from the old testament? If it was about a man who recently lived and was thought to work miracles and rise from the dead, that would be a big deal, and Paul’s religion would surely look to this man and his miracles and teachings more than to the Christ figure found in scriptures. If Paul’s writings are not dominated by this man who had recently lived, then there was no human man who was the basis of Paul’s Christianity. Then you can go on to all the other OHJ debates knowing Paul didn’t talk about AHJ. The gospels would be from a later era and be based on an unknown oral tradition that was different from the known written tradition of those earlier writings of Paul.

    I guess my question is is the HJ question framed as something that can be answered, or is it framed as something that can’t be completely answered, and would the Society of Biblical Literature be happier if the question had to be left with some doubt.

    • says

      I can’t speak for the SBL.

      But the issue of how to define the competing hypotheses I tackle in detail in chs. 2 and 3 of OHJ (ch. 2 entirely on the hypothesis of historicity and what the minimal possible claim to that would be).

  7. Slimy Man says

    I second the notion of one of the previous posters here, which is that it would be great to see you in Australia if / when an opportunity arises for you. I always hate seeing good scholars being underpaid when charlatans like Ravi Zacharias and – dare I say, though to a lesser extent – William Lane Craig have no problem making projects happen. Yours is a side of the Jesus story that people should be hearing.

    In terms of the online courses you’re offering, I was about to sign up for the course on ‘Thinking like a Historian’, but just wanted to ask what the nature of the course is. Is it a series of downloadable e-lectures, or will the course be in the form of live-streamed lectures, Q & A sessions, forums, and such? The site I was on did not provide many details. I am currently completing a degree, and so committing to streams with set times and such might be difficult for me.

    Ps: tried to get a few things on your Amazon Wishlist, but a few of them seem not to be purchasable as Wish-list items from some reason (no idea what the problem is). Which particular text would be of the greatest use to you in the immediate sense?

    • says

      Well that course started weeks before you posted, but I will teach it again (probably once a year).

      But in answer to your question, it’s a collection of readings (occasionally videos), all of which you can review on your own time, and then a series of course questions each week (each week has a topic / goal), which you can answer or ignore (lots of people just do the readings/viewings, and sit back and read the discussions that ensue on the class online forum). You can also ask questions. Students discuss their answers and questions in the forums for all to follow, but my role is to comment and answer as much as I can. So you get to pick my brain, and get my thoughts on your assignment answers (my aim is to make sure you understand the material and concepts as best you can, and answer all the questions you may have). That is all standard text bulletin board, so you can visit and participate and pick up where you left off at your leisure.

      The upshot, it’s all on your own schedule and time, and you can participate as much or as little as you want.

      P.S. Some items on wishlists might be out of print or no longer available. I just haven’t purged my list in a while.

    • Slimy Man says

      Ah, I must have misread the information on Thanks, I’ll keep an eye out for that course if you decide to run it again next year.

      Ps: it’s not that they’re out of print (it lets me send the books to my address), it just says that certain items cannot be sent as Wish-List gifts. Never had this problem in the past, but perhaps something to bear in mind.

    • says

      it’s not that they’re out of print (it lets me send the books to my address), it just says that certain items cannot be sent as Wish-List gifts. Never had this problem in the past, but perhaps something to bear in mind.

      Hmmm. Interesting. That’s a new one. I have no idea how Amazon decides that.