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OHJ: The Ramos Review

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.Continuing my series on early reviews of my book On the Historicity of Jesus, today I am writing about the detailed review by F. Ramos. If you know of reviews I haven’t covered by now (or follow-up segments of reviews I did cover), please post them in comments (though please also remark on your own estimation of their merits).


This review is by a person of unknown interests and qualifications. It is an extraordinarily long Amazon review (well over 10,000 words altogether), by someone named F. Ramos (who even continued their review in comments on another customer review, but that I address there). Since Amazon reviews can be edited after the fact, I will be commenting on the version that existed originally (which I have saved for reference). I have no control over whether anything in it subsequently changes.

Ramos’s review is largely disingenuous and often makes false claims about the book, and covertly defends Christian fundamentalism throughout. For example, he often asks rhetorical questions as if I had no answer, without telling readers that those questions are answered in the very books he is referring to. He likewise often implies the book doesn’t address something, when in fact it does. And when he does that, he offers no response to what the book actually argues. Meanwhile the evidence throughout his review reveals he is a Christian fundamentalist who can’t abide the conclusion that Jesus didn’t exist and needs to rationalize his way out of it, in the face of an extremely tight argument against him. Indeed, he cannot even abide the notion that the Gospels aren’t true accounts of Jesus!

Let’s see what I mean…

  • …we can tell that Bayes’ Theorem can be used to justify anything from Jesus did not exist to Jesus resurrected – is this a reliable method for use in history? Everyone can decide as they wish.

This is true of every method whatever, even standard deductive logic. Any method can be abused and misused. That is not an argument against the validity of the method. I specifically pointed this out in Proving History (hereafter PH), pp. 67, 79-80, and most specifically p. 305 n. 33. Accordingly, this is not a useful remark. Any more than it would be to say “we can tell logic can be used to justify anything, because e.g. the Kalam Cosmological Argument, so is logic a reliable method? Everyone can decide as they wish.” It’s all the less sensible given that I demonstrate that all other historical methods are actually covertly Bayesian…so there actually isn’t another method to use in history. This is it. (See PH, chs. 4 and 5.)

Ramos similarly ignores my discussion in PH about the very issue he raises that data in human history is poorer than in most sciences. I explicitly point out that such uncertainties can in fact be modeled mathematically and dealt with soundly. Indeed, much of PH is about exactly that. For example, just for starters, see PH, pp. 64-67, 85-88, 105-06. Indeed, the only question is whether we are dealing with uncertainties in a logically sound fashion. And that actually requires Bayes’ Theorem. I also make exactly the point he does: that the survival of records from antiquity can be expected to be very poor, so we can’t over-rely on the absence of records to make an argument: On the Historicity of Jesus (hereafter OHJ), pp. 290-93, 306-08 (this also cuts both ways: pp. 275-77, 349-56). Accordingly, I assign no value to the mere lack of documentation for Jesus (OHJ, “[odds of] documentary silence = 1/1,” p. 357). Ramos doesn’t mention this.

Ramos also falsely claims Proving History “bypassed” the academy and peer review. In fact, it was formally peer reviewed by a professor of biblical studies and a professor of mathematics. On the Historicity of Jesus was formally peer reviewed by numerous professors of biblical studies, and was published by a major respected academic press in biblical studies.

  • Unfortunately, though this book is 696 pages long, it does not use Bayes’ Theorem at all except in the very last chapter (which is very short) and the calculations there are very few indeed.

This is impertinent and misleading. Every chapter includes and concludes with its role in the final Bayesian analysis (just look at the entry for “mathematics” and “Bayes’ Theorem” in the index, pp. 690, 683). And I explain why I don’t litter the book with gratuitously more than is needed: OHJ, p. 65 n. 13 (see also pp. 240, 509). As I explain throughout PH, historians don’t need to litter their books with mathematical formalisms to be correctly using Bayesian argumentation (e.g., PH, p. 67). Particularly as humanities majors are terrified of math and need a more palatable easing into it. Hence I said (PH, p. 64):

I will use numbers and formulas sparingly and simplify everything as far as I possibly can. In historical reasoning, this works well enough because we never have and thus don’t need the advanced precision scientists can achieve… But that doesn’t change the fact that the logic you always use when evaluating claims is inherently mathematical.

Ramos can hardly be “shocked” that I would do in OHJ exactly what I said I’d do in PH. Instead, he characterizes OHJ as somehow doing the opposite. That’s disingenuous.

  • …when any numbers are crunched out, should anyone trust them or believe them as being reliable or useful for predicting an outcome on a historical question? One of the biggest problems with his methodology is that it lacks predictive scope and verifiability/falsifiability – once a value is generated, how would we “confirm” if it really is accurate or not?

This is even more disingenuous. Indeed, it is outright dishonest. For I explicitly answer both questions in the book. Most explicitly, OHJ, pp. 601-06 and 617-18. Elsewhere, every time I assign a number, I explain on what basis I have selected it, and what it would take to change it. I already discussed how debate then should proceed if we have a dispute over what numbers to enter in PH, pp. 88-93 (a section actually called “Mediating disagreement”) and 208-14 (a section actually called “RESOLVING DISAGREEMENTS” in bold capital letters), both of which are cited for exactly this purpose in OHJ, p. 618 n. 15. It is disturbing to me when a reviewer of a book ignores the actual contents of the book and gives the impression that it doesn’t answer key questions (when in fact it does) and proposes this falsely claimed failure as a defect of the book.

  • In his book one can see much of how he…dismisses nearly all the evidences available, excludes evidence (like indirect archaeological evidences which could buffer the sources he assumes are myth), [and] how his metaphysical naturalistic and even Humean biases influence much of his conclusions overall.

This comment is the first clue that Ramos is a Christian fundamentalist, and therefore catastrophically unreliable as a reviewer of this book (OHJ, p. xii). An atheist would not cite “naturalistic bias” as an actual bias: because methodological naturalism is actually fundamental to sound historical method, as other Jesus historians explain (they even developed the Criterion of Natural Probability in an attempt to convey it: PH, pp. 177-78; see also my discussion of the Smell Test, PH, pp. 114-17). Anyone who says otherwise is the one who is irrationally biased–rejecting vast quantities of background evidence, and thus becoming as much a pseudohistorian as creationists are pseudoscientists. I am thus explicit in rejecting Christian apologetics and supernaturalist theories as not properly belonging to serious academic discussion (OHJ, pp. 14, 30, 507, 617-18). Similarly, “Humean biases” is a catchword in Christian apologetics–it means “he doesn’t buy miracles,” something no atheist would offer as an objection. Atheists also know that Hume has actually been revised into sound form on Bayesian terms (PH, p. 310 n. 18).

So when Ramos claims OHJ just “dismisses nearly all the evidences available,” we can read his hyperbole to actually mean it “demonstrates with sound arguments and correct facts the uselessness of nearly all the evidence available, but which fact I can’t bear to accept so I am going to deny it and pretend the book just dismisses the evidence ‘out of hand’ [sic] without even an argument, because the truth is scary.” (See OHJ, chs. 7 and 8 for which evidence counts and why.) Likewise when he claims OHJ “excludes evidence (like indirect archaeological evidences which could buffer the sources he assumes are myth),” we can now know what he really means is that it “correctly explains that no archaeological evidence actually supports historicity over myth, but that can’t be, it just can’t be, so I am going to claim the book just excludes it, and not even mention the reasons it gives for it being irrelevant, because those reasons are scary.” (See OHJ, pp. 24 and 257-58, w. notes 6-8.)

  • …his hyperskepticism and propensity to dismiss available evidence on Jesus while being very conveniently lenient on non-Jesus figures (Alexander the Great and Socrates come to mind from the book) doesn’t help his case and is kind of disturbing since it looks hypocritical and double standard often (raise the evidential expectations incredibly high on Jesus’ record and lower it incredibly low for everyone else).

Note what I actually present for Alexander and Socrates (OHJ, pp. 21-24, 289-92). There is no plausible way to claim I am misrepresenting the extremely well-documented fact that the evidence for them is vastly better than we have for Jesus. Indeed, as I there explain (twice!), if we had the same evidence for Jesus, the historicity of Jesus could not be doubted. What is telling is that elsewhere Ramos lets slip that he thinks the Gospels are the same as eyewitness accounts written by the disciples of Jesus immediately after his death. That pegs him as a Christian fundamentalist. Indeed, in the same discussion he also tries to defend the historicity of Moses and all other Biblical Patriarchs (using common fallacies in Christian apologetics, and dismissing the entire mainstream consensus in the field), and in his main review he even implies he accepts the authenticity of the book of Daniel–practically a litmus test for Christian fundamentalism. I should also point out that Ramos again appears to deceive by implying that I “raise the evidential expectations incredibly high” with Alexander and Jesus, when in fact in both places I explain why it can be reasonable to expect we wouldn’t have as much evidence for Jesus as we have for them. (Of course, we still don’t have it.)

So Ramos’s accusations of hypocrisy and a double-standard are clearly based not on the actual content of the book, but a disturbing misrepresentation of the book, which in fact says quite the opposite of what he claims. The evidence for Alexander and Socrates really is vastly better. And yet I did not argue this implies Jesus didn’t exist. Ramos similarly continues with dishonest claims like that OHJ “assumes” the Gospels are myth, when in fact it extensively demonstrates this (so much so that some reviewers have complained that I spent too much effort proving so obvious a point: see OHJ, pp. 387-509). He even claims it’s false that “little to no extra-biblical references can be found until several decades after Jesus’ death,” yet I cannot fathom what documents he could possibly mean to cite as contradicting that statement–a statement I am pretty sure is universally agreed upon by every expert in the field, suggesting Ramos might even be way out in the wild fringes of Christian fundamentalism. Ramos also claims I must be wrong about Jesus because I’m an atheist; when of course, we know it’s more likely the other way around (OHJ, p. xii).

He also tries to tone troll me for being too “confident/arrogant,” without giving a single example of what he thinks counts as such. Christians always say this about atheists. What they mean is we have very certain facts, and conclusions logically follow with extremely high certainty from them. Facts and conclusions Christians can’t abide. So rather than our certainty being justified (as in fact on those points it is), they have to delusionally convince themselves that it is instead just overconfidence and arrogance. Without his citing any examples to check, we can’t know which camp Ramos is in: a critic with a point, or a delusional Christian trying to deny obvious facts. But the evidence so far is trending only one way.

  • [Summary of Contents]

Ramos then proceeds at length to just summarize the content of the book, more or less accurately, with minimal commentary. His few critical remarks in there are nevertheless again disingenuous. His attempt to claim historical reasoning isn’t Bayesian and PH not peer reviewed and that the Old Testament is a reliable historical record and the evidence for Jesus and Socrates is the same I already addressed above. But he also now claims that the parallels between Romulus and Jesus are “general enough to fit any bill really,” yet he fails to adduce a single example (much less shows that “anyone” would fit it), and one can only wonder what example he could possibly have in mind…that wouldn’t just further prove my point (OHJ, pp. 56-58; likewise pp. 225-29, which is based on peer reviewed literature in the field, e.g. Richard Miller’s piece in the Journal of Biblical Literature). Ramos is thus sounding a lot like a Christian apologist.

Ramos also complains that my definition of crucifixion is too broad, yet fails to mention that in fact my definition fits the way the word was actually used in antiquity, and I don’t merely claim this, I demonstrate it (OHJ, pp. 61-62)–it is the definition used by Christian apologists (and scholars aping them) that is anachronistically too narrow. Indeed, I cite recent, extensive peer reviewed scholarship supporting me (Gunnar Samuelsson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity, published by Mohr Siebeck in 2011). The fact that Ramos doesn’t tell his readers any of that, but pretends I am the one just making unsupported assertions tells you all you need to know about the reliability of his review. It’s all the more pathetic that he doesn’t seem aware that I hardly make any crucial use of this fact in the book. Thus, he was terrified by a fact he didn’t like, so much so he had to lie about it being incorrect, even though he could have safely ignored it since it isn’t even an essential point in the book.

Ramos also complains that finding any kind of mythotypes is invalid altogether (even though it’s based on established peer reviewed literature in the field) because we “ignore the fine details of accounts which really set all of them apart,” as if he didn’t read p. 167, n. 29 where I made fun of people like him because their argument would compel them to deny that Westside Story was based on Romeo & Juliet because “look at all the differences!” That’s just fallacious Christian apologetics. The differences are irrelevant to the point. The similarities remain improbable without influence. And Ramos presents no actual argument otherwise–he just insists it’s not true. Like Luke Skywalker insisting Darth Vader can’t possibly be his father because, you know, That’s Impossible. (For the actual truth of the matter, see: OHJ, Elements 46-48, pp. 222-30, likewise pp. 45-47, 97 n. 72, 56-58, 390-95, and Elements 11 and 30, pp. 96-108, 164-68; see also PH, pp. 131-34, 141.)

  • the Rank-Raglan hero-type model…Carrier does not establish…is a rigorous or reliable measure for determining myth since there are purely naturalist myths as well like false naturalistic accounts that would score low with this model.

This remark is almost unintelligible. But if an above-half score on the RR criteria were not a reliable indicator of myth, then we should find many historical persons meeting that condition. That none do is therefore an objective fact we must take into account. The criteria being broad or arbitrary makes no mathematical difference (OHJ, pp. 231-32, 244-45). Denying objective facts is the popular pastime of Christian fundamentalists, however. Mentioning that lots of people score some of the items has no bearing on that fact. By Ramos’s reasoning, it should still be just as common for historical persons to score as high as Jesus. That it is not (despite 15 people fitting that condition), is what is relevant. And yet, while Ramos expresses his annoyance that I actually point out that Mithradates and Alexander the Great just fall short of scoring high enough to count, I actually allow that between 1 and 4 persons scoring high enough do indeed exist. So he doesn’t even understand that I am actually including the assumption of historical persons meeting the high-score condition. He has no case to make for a higher number.

  • [Carrier] merely assumes that religious people make things up all the time with their heroes (without providing a positive case for this assumption let alone clear undisputed examples pertaining to the Jewish or Christian scriptures or verified motivations if such was the case).

This most pegs Ramos as a Christian fundamentalist. He had also just insisted Daniel and Moses were real people, and that Daniel is a genuine treatise by Daniel, and complains that I don’t agree, even though I am merely granting established mainstream consensus in the field–in other words, I am meeting the requirements of peer review. In fact (contrary to his deception here) I actually extensively support the point that “religious people make things up all the time” by extensively citing examples and extensively citing, even multiply quoting, abundant mainstream peer reviewed scholarship (this is, in fact, Element 44, OHJ, pp. 214-22; I even elaborate on an infamous example, pp. 387-89; and amusingly Ramos unwittingly admitted to another example in his agreeing that Christians forged the Ascension of Isaiah).

It is pretty typical for a Christian apologist to be faced with an extensive and vast positive case, backed by the citation of dozens and dozens of peer reviewed monographs and articles, and then declare that the claim was made “without providing a positive case.” Seriously. (He later even says this is an “assumption” of mine; again as if I did not in fact extensively document it as the mainstream view.) It is likewise telltale of a Christian fundamentalist to covertly dismiss that entire case by implying the mere fact that Christian fundamentalists “dispute” the findings of mainstream scholarship means that those findings should be dismissed. “Teach the Controversy” really means “please replace all the facts with our dogma instead.” This is not sound or sane argumentation. This is delusional fundamentalist argumentation. Ramos’s opinions in this matter are thus extremely unreliable.

  • [Bayesian reference classing] looks dubious because “reference classes” pretty much would have to be modern imagined subjective abstractions on historical cultures, which will lead to reification and putting modern biases on historical cultures which did not share our biases and ways of thinking – very dangerous since Carrier is prone assert something is myth very easily due to his metaphysical naturalistic worldview which does affect the final results of course

I don’t think Ramos actually understands what the word “reification” means. The facts in this case are all real. There actually, in actual concrete fact, are no known historical persons in the set of all persons to whom were attributed more than half the Rank-Raglan attributes. That there is a set of such persons is also an actual concrete fact (I list them and cite the documentation for them, OHJ, p. 231). Ramos does not explain how any modern bias affects my analysis here in any way (or anywhere). He’s just sure it must, because, well…just because.

Sorry, you can’t argue by assertion. You have to actually prove that my argument is undermined by such a bias. You can’t just insist that it is, somehow, somewhere. Because you want it to be? Or desperately need it to be? Those aren’t valid reasons.

Note that I extensively discuss how to work with the problem of adjusting reference classes to avoid modernizing bias in PH, pp. 229-56. Whereas by Ramos’s reasoning, no historical knowledge about antiquity is even possible…because we could only construct false modernizing pictures of it. Clearly he is desperate here, so desperate he is willing to throw all historical knowledge under the bus, just to save his precious baby Jesus.

Note also Ramos’s bagging on my naturalism…more evidence he is a Christian fundamentalist. He later insists that even though I document that visions in all other religions are obviously explained by the psychology of dreams and hallucination, I should have allowed that Christian visions are not thus explained but alone are genuine. Only a Christian fundamentalist would attempt such an egregious fallacy of special pleading. (Really, the moment anyone starts arguing that Christians were having real experiences of an actual celestial Christ, “therefore Jesus existed,” you have already departed all rational debate.)

  • [Carrier's] complaint is that “Jesus” looks too coincidental (though this is odd of him since Jesus was a common name).

This is disingenuous because in fact I explain why it remains odd even though it is a common name. I even mathematically quantify the problem: OHJ, pp. 239-44 (esp. p. 242). Evidently Ramos would prefer readers not know that.

  • [Carrier] asks if the evidence for Jesus is as strong as say the evidence for Caesar Augustus (this comparison is bad for the same reason Carrier says comparison with Alexander the Great is incorrect, but looks like he didn’t notice that he was contradicting what wrote in Ch. 2).

This would be a valid point if the passage he is referring to didn’t in fact say:

That’s why we need to look at the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Is it as strong as the evidence for the existence of Caesar Augustus? And even if not that strong (and we already know it isn’t, as I discussed in Chapter 2, §2), is it still strong enough to make historicity more probable than ahistoricity, no matter what Rank–Raglan score Jesus has?

So here, Ramos appears to be deliberately misrepresenting the book, so as to claim a contradiction exists in it that does not. Such dishonesty further discredits him as a reviewer.

  • Carrier thinks there were 20 significant interpolations in the NT but he does not list them here.

Because it’s not controversial. Only fundamentalists would deny it. (So, guess what that means.)

I actually list the twenty (a definite undercount) in my peer reviewed article, “The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44,” Vigiliae Christianae (2014), which is awaiting publication, but a pre-print is available in Hitler Homer Bible Christ (see HHBC, p. 383).

  • [Carrier says] “a worshiped savior and celestial demigod” [is less likely to be historical than just any other person claimed to be historical, but that] assertion is bogus since it makes no sense that Jesus would have a lower probability than anyone else at all unless you have a metaphysical naturalist bias as the reason for lowering the probability a priori – association fallacy.

That sentence is largely gobbledygook. But the intent I think is to say that surely it is naturalistic bias to say that a celestial demigod is less likely to exist than an ordinary person. Which only a Christian fundamentalist would argue.

Ramos is confused as well as wrong. That fewer celestial savior gods exist than actual people is not only true (so he is indeed wrong to claim otherwise), it remains true even if naturalism is false. And I don’t mean by absolute count, but by rate, i.e. most persons claimed to be celestial savior gods (e.g. Dionysus, Osiris, Zalmoxis) don’t exist. Even if Christianity is 100% true. Thus Ramos is screwing up a basic mathematical concept, because the consequences of correctly understanding it are scary: see PH, 244-45, where I address exactly the error he is making here (as if I were psychic!), and ironically explain that validity requires objectivity, the very thing Ramos is abandoning here, by refusing to be objective about his own religion.

His confusion goes even beyond that. Because the point I was making was not that actual celestial savior gods don’t exist (all non-delusional people agree with me that they don’t, and OHJ was only written for the non-delusional). But that persons claimed to be celestial savior gods typically don’t exist. Thus, for one to be a historical person is actually unusual. And unusual = infrequent and infrequent = improbable. I realize this is a painful lesson for a Christian fundamentalist. It physically hurts their little brains. Surely it can’t possibly be true? But alas, it is.

  • Interestingly the famous historian Thucydides existed while Socrates was alive but never wrote a thing on him.

Laughably, this is supposed to argue that either Socrates didn’t exist (even though we have several other contemporary references, and the probability of a mention does not entail a mention everywhere–this is basic logic, people: OHJ, p. 518 n. 13), or we can always expect authors not to mention people they know (therefore their not doing so proves nothing). But this completely botches the whole concept of making a sound argument from silence (PH, pp. 117-19). We only have one text from Thucydides, on a single war in which Socrates played no significant role until after the year the book ends with, so we have no reason to expect Socrates to be mentioned there. Wikipedia nails the point:

Thucydides omits discussion of the arts, literature or the social milieu in which the events in his book take place and in which he himself grew up. He saw himself as recording an event, not a period, and went to considerable lengths to exclude what he deemed frivolous or extraneous.

His book then cuts off in the middle of the year 411. The involvement of Socrates in the trial of the Generals of Arginusae, an event we would expect Thucydides to cover, took place in 406. Sooo…guess what? Do you know what happened when Xenophon continued Thucydides’ unfinished account of that war all the way to that trial? Oh, that’s right. He mentions Socrates.

  • Carrier assumes that if Jesus existed and was famous, that the followers would have wanted to write more on him and preserve many more documents on him than we have today [but] this makes no sense since there is no reason to assume that people would have been interested in writing “all” the little things about Jesus’ 3 year ministry + not all sources did survive time … [etc.].

This is disingenuous to the point of actual dishonesty. Because it fails to mention that I say exactly the same things (throughout OHJ, chs. 7 & 8). And Ramos is not just failing to mention this, he is giving the deliberate impression that I don’t say those things, when in fact I do. That’s called lying. A Christian fundamentalist who spits on his own ten commandments: that’s a hypocrite.

I actually conclude the absence of these texts and documents does not argue for the non-existence of Jesus. For exactly the reasons Ramos lists. (Although I do point out that this may be an over-generous concession–by pointing out exactly what is different between Jesus and Socrates regarding survival of records: among which is the fact that the Church of Socrates didn’t come to rule the whole Roman Empire and decide which documents to preserve. And yet I still do not let that affect my conclusion.)

  • 1) Christians were not the only ones who controlled textual transmission of ancient texts and 2) if Christians were forging, why not change their own texts to fit with other historians? Its less work to correct mistakes in the NT rather than chasing all the numerous manuscripts (histories, satires, commentaries) and deleting “supposedly” embarrassing omissions relating to Jesus, if such a thing even existed. This wide censorship conspiracy idea just looks too absurd.

His first claim is false. Christians (throughout the Middle Ages) were the only ones who controlled the textual transmission of nearly all the ancient texts we have. The exceptions are extremely few and thus insignificant (some scientific texts preserved by Muslims; some rare and extremely limited finds like the Dead Sea Scrolls; etc). See Element 21, OHJ, pp. 146-48 (as well as comments on pp. 351-53). I document a huge number of examples throughout chapter 8 of curiously missing texts, and note how all of what instead survives aligns almost perfectly with the interests of Christian orthodoxy of the 4th and 5th century, a patent impossibility to have happened by chance. I also document numerous examples of proven doctoring of texts (as I noted earlier here). And contrary to Ramos dishonestly guffawing at a “wide censorship conspiracy,” I actually explicitly explain in OHJ that no conspiracy was required for this (pp. 276-77; cf. p. 290, 303, 305, 609). By not telling you I say that, Ramos is effectively lying to you.

His second claim, meanwhile, is simply unintelligible. I cannot fathom what alterations to the texts he actually has in mind. It sounds like he is saying the Gospels cannot contain any errors or contradictions among them, because if they did later editors would have fixed them all, therefore the Gospels must be completely inerrant. That is a delusionally ridiculous argument, of course, and I hardly need convince any sane person of that. (On the problem of deleting embarrassing things, see my detailed coverage in PH, index, “Criterion of Embarrassment.”) Otherwise, obviously it’s easier to scratch a passage than to try and sneak one in that emulates the original author’s style and context, so Ramos was evidently hoping we wouldn’t think his assertion through.

  • [Acts]

Ramos confusingly tries to argue against my chapter on Acts (OHJ, ch. 9) by picking at a single detail (that it contains miracles), as if I had argued that that single detail ensures an entire source is fiction. Since I never make such a silly argument, either Ramos was so enraged by this point he failed to read almost the entire chapter, or he is again lying. I never argue that “source contains miracle stories” = “entire source is fiction.” My argument for Acts being fiction is based on a large number of criteria being simultaneously met, only one of which is “includes events too improbable to have really happened” (which is not restricted to miracles: OHJ, pp. 364-67, 394-95; PH, pp. 114-17, 177-78). Ramos doesn’t even seem aware that that was the argument. He accordingly fails to reply to it or comment on my actual argument in any fashion.

The only other arguments he has here are: (1) a repeat of his error in thinking differences in two stories eliminate any possibility of influence between them (the Westside Story fallacy); and (2) his insistence that the parallels I find in the literature can all be explained as expected without positing fiction, but he does not show this for any single case (he doesn’t even mention one), so it is just an assertion–a typical assertion for Christian apologists, who love to insist they can prove something, but then never do, and when asked, never can. This is basically just delusional gainsaying, and not a legitimate criticism of any intelligible kind. And (3) that he totally expects Acts to completely forget about Pontius Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, and Jesus’s entire family, but here he betrays no understanding of the actual argument I make as to why that’s weird in this case (he tries to argue from the example of Spartacus, but that case is not in any sense analogous), and accordingly the book already refutes him (OHJ, “The Mysterious Vanishing Acts,” pp. 371-75).

It’s worth pointing out that in that last case, as in a few others noted above, we have Ramos engaging in “black and white thinking,” i.e. he can only understand something as true or false, known or unknown. He cannot comprehend the notion of a frequency or a probability. Thus, Acts can only be 100% true, or is total fiction. And the disappearances of supposedly extremely important people from history is either totally 100% expected or “proves” Jesus didn’t exist. In actual fact, neither is the case. I allow an 80% probability that those disappearances would be found in Acts if historicity is true (OHJ, pp. 374-75, 386)–which means I am actually agreeing with Ramos (because 80% means “probably” their disappearances are expected–just not wholly expected, but that requires nuanced thinking about ambiguity and uncertainty, a cognitive ability fundamentalists typically lack). I personally think it’s much less likely, and give a lower bound of 20% instead of 80%, although that still allows a 1 in 5 chance of these vanishings if Jesus existed. And in my final calculation, I use both values (ceteris paribus, on the 80% assumption, Jesus has a roughly 1 in 3 chance of existing; on the 20% [and all other lower bound estimates], roughly 1 in 12,000).

That is clearly too nuanced for Ramos to comprehend.

  • [Gospels]

Ramos makes the same mistakes in his commentary on my treatment of the Gospels: Westside Story fallacy; claims everything can be explained, but presents no actual explanations of anything; and cannot grasp any nuance, ambiguity or matters of probability. The idea that certain markers make it more probable that a story is a myth can only be comprehended in his mind as saying those markers guarantee that a story is myth: black and white thinking, which is not in my book, but is clearly the mode his mind is stuck in. Consequently, he is not responding to the argument of the book. Indeed he just gainsays me repeatedly and gives no actual examples of any alleged errors I made. And he doesn’t even seem to acknowledge what my arguments are (e.g. why Luke-Acts is not trusted–by most mainstream historians now, not just me). His commentary here is thus essentially useless.

  • [T]he worst odds [Carrier gives] is 0.008% so he is certain that there was no historical Jesus.

Not quite. What I actually say is (OHJ, pp. 600):

I am reasonably certain there was no historical Jesus. Nevertheless, as my estimates might be too critical (even though I don’t believe they are), I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the probability is better than that. … [and] when I entertain the most generous estimates possible, I find I cannot by any stretch of the imagination believe the probability Jesus existed is better than 1 in 3.

Elsewhere I have explained that 1 in 12,000 is not as certain as Ramos seems to think. You would not get into a car that had a 1 in 12,000 chance of exploding…so 1 in 12,000 is not a very high level of certainty. But then, we’ve seen his brain is burdened with a black-and-white cognitive bias, so he apparently cannot comprehend shades of certainty like that.

  • …there are way too many arbitrary assumptions injected into stuff like “prior probability” … and of course the arbitrariness of “consequent probabilities” …

Ramos fails to realize that if this is true, then all of his own arguments are likewise invalid–because he routinely depends on his own assumptions about prior probabilities (every time he says something is normally likely or unlikely, he is assuming a prior probability) and consequent probabilities (every time he says the evidence is what we do or don’t expect on any theory, he is assuming consequent probabilities). So if those are arbitrary, his every argument is arbitrary. So much for that, then.

This is a typical Christian apologetic tactic: to try and avoid the conclusions of sound logic by insisting the premises are always arbitrary. Without actually demonstrating that any of them actually are. In actual fact, none of this is arbitrary: it is all soundly reasoned and defended; he is confusing subjective and uncertain with “arbitrary,” but those are not at all the same thing (PH, pp. 66-67, 81-85). Just as this is a stupid way to respond to sound deductive syllogisms, it’s a stupid way to respond to Bayesian syllogisms. Which could be entirely reconstructed as standard deductive syllogisms. So any argument against the applicability of Bayesian reasoning to a matter, is actually an argument against the applicability of any logic at all to a matter (PH, pp. 106-14).

Because nothing can ever be argued for without assuming it has a sufficiently high prior probability and a sufficiently higher consequent probability. Any argument–literally any argument you make for any claim x (when it is logically possible for x to be false)–is either unsound or invalid, unless it stands on premises about the relevant probabilities. And once you realize that…you are admitting Bayes’ Theorem describes all sound empirical reasoning.

  • Though he accuses historicists of filling in gaps with speculations and asserting mere possibilities, Carrier does the exact same things throughout the book.

He gives no examples.

I guess he couldn’t find any.

He instead goes on to insist that when document A just repeats what document B says, then document A makes what document B says more likely. That is insane. But maybe it makes sense to a Christian fundamentalist. The fact is, as all honest historians agree, evidence has to be independent to count, and you have to know it is independent to count it (OHJ, pp. 254-56). Just repeating a claim does not increase that claim’s likelihood of being true. At all. And when you don’t know a claim is true, you don’t know a claim is true. Ignorance does not generate knowledge.

FOX News notwithstanding.

Perhaps Ramos doesn’t understand that you can’t just claim some other oral or independent source exists–you have to actually have evidence that it does, and that that is what a document got its information from. If you can’t demonstrate that, then you are violating one of the most basic principles of honest inquiry: possible does not mean probable (Axiom 5, PH, pp. 26-29; to see what ad hoc assumptions then do to the priors: PH, pp. 80-81, and index, “gerrymandering”).

  • One often wonders if mythicists would believe in the existence of Socrates, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, the original Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), Zoroaster, Confucius, Homer, Epicurus, Democritus, Leucippus, Spartacus, Zeno, Aesop, Muhammad, Apollonius of Tyana because these folk tend to get off easily … I actually wonder what Carrier would conclude on these people if he had performed the same analysis as he did in this book.

This complaint is funny. Because it proves he didn’t actually read my book very carefully: I actually explicitly say Aesop was probably not historical (I have to conclude Ramos doesn’t know how to use an index, but hey, for those who do, OHJ, index, “Aesop”). Whereas I have a whole section on why the evidence for Socrates establishes he almost certainly existed (I’ve already discussed how Ramos distorts my account of that; but again, index, “Socrates”).

Pythagoras may well not have existed. I’d assign it a 50/50 prior, because he is such a mythic figure and it is curious that he wrote nothing and no contemporary evidence exists nor anything we’d normally account reliable. I don’t know any evidence that tips it much either way after that. And many historians of antiquity are fully comfortable with the idea that Pythagoras didn’t really exist. Likewise Homer. In fact the widest consensus right now is that Homer did not exist. Certainly his epics were written over a period of several centuries, as assumptions within the texts show they were started in the bronze age and finished in the iron age, so they cannot have been written by one man. Hippocrates is attested by two contemporaries who knew him (Plato and Aristotle), so we’re already well past what we have for Jesus; we also have things he himself wrote; etc. So I have no problem concluding more probably than not there was a Hippocrates. Although unlike Ramos, I certainly don’t require there to be. I’m quite comfortable with the possibility that Hippocrates was invented the same way Aesop was.

Likewise all the others.

What is weird is that Ramos thinks we’d consider it a scandal if his list of people didn’t exist. To the contrary, the scandal is that in mainstream academia experts on those men are all comfortable with and openly entertain the possibility that they didn’t exist, yet we are supposed to be terrified to treat Jesus exactly the same way–even though the evidence for him is no better, and often worse. (The only exception I suspect is Epicurus, the only one he lists for whom the evidence is too strong to doubt; but that’s precisely because what we have for him, we don’t have for Jesus.)

  • [Whining]

Ramos concludes by whining about how mean I am to say that Christian apologists are unreliable and delusional and their opinions no longer matter to honest scholarship. Truth hurts.

And that’s it. Ramos has no other arguments against OHJ. I think it’s safe to dismiss his review as a dishonest, disingenuous, illogical and contra-factual Christian fundamentalist winge.


For a complete list of my responses to critiques of OHJ, see the last section of my List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus.


  1. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    I am only about halfway through at the moment. But Carrier’s Christianity actually makes a lot more sense from a theological point of view than the received version.

    The idea of God becoming man being God always struck me as nonsensical gobbledegook. And to make matters worse it then becomes three for the price of one as the holy spirt is shoehorned in.

    The received version of Christianity has been filtered by a major cataclysm and redactions by four separate sources. First there is the destruction of the temple and diaspora after the first Jewish war. This gave rise to Roman censorship which would in turn lead to Jewish and Christian self-censorship. After a while the surviving Jewish and Christian sects would insist that the censored versions were canonical. And then when Constantine makes Christianity the state religion another round of state censorship.

    Looking into the origins of Christianity makes me suspect that the modern fad for paganism might prove more than just a fad. Man creates God in his own image, not the other way around. As social structures have changed, so has the image of God. In prehistory we have the fertility cults and the notion that the survival of the tribe depends on correctly propitiating the right Gods. Then as civilization takes hold God becomes the axiom on which monarchy is built. There is a heavenly hierarchy with God at the top and this must be mirrored on earth. When science started to offer a more complete explanation of creation and nature, the Christian God has become less and less likely. Salvation through belief looks more like clerical trick to discourage people from asking awkward questions than a likely activity of a creator God.

    Science can’t prove the non-existence of God but science can establish that the probability of certain types of God existing is vanishingly small. We have empirical proof that ripping people’s heart’s out to stop the Gods from turning old is unnecessary. We have empirical proof that the Gods grant victory to the side with the biggest best and mostest guns and not the most pious. We have empirical proof that if there is a God that either he used evolution as the mechanism of creation or he is the most colossal dick planting fake evidence and then torturing those who are taken in for all eternity.

    The most important result from science is that there is empirically no requirement for priests as intermediaries. If God can grock Quantum Mechanics to achieve his desired macro effects he certainly doesn’t need a male eunuch wearing a dress as his intermediary.

    Which is why I think neo-paganism will likely outlive Christianity.

    • says

      The idea of God becoming man being God always struck me as nonsensical gobbledegook.

      Do note that no mainstream scholar thinks that’s what Christianity originated with–all (except fundamentalists) agree that was a later development. Bart Ehrman’s latest book How Jesus Became God covers the standard mainstream view and refines it even further (I only disagree at the point that he starts talking about what Christians thought when Jesus was still alive; since I don’t think that ever happened). It is much closer to what I develop in OHJ. So I’m actually well within the gamut of mainstream views on that.

    • Phillip Hallam-Baker says

      Totally agree that it was a late development. I didn’t mean to imply that it was the starting point. My point was that it was the sort of nonsense that had to be invented to save the appearances.

      From the point of view of demolishing Christianity, Christ myth theory is actually a non-starter because it makes a heck of a lot more sense than the rubbish that was invented to explain away the problems. The notion of salvation through belief in a savior not yet born always seemed to be pretty miserable to me. “Hey Socrates, you are a cool dude and al but you are condemned to live in limbo for eternity because you were born too early” WTF!

      I went to a CoE school where the bishop was the chair of the board of governors. So we had scripture once a week (actually a legal requirement in the UK). It strikes me now that much of what we were taught as ‘history’ was in fact ex-post facto reconstructions of what people concluded must have been true for the gospels to make sense.

      In particular we were told that Roman citizens had the ‘right’ to be tried in front of the emperor which always seemed to be a rather unlikely right given that the position of emperor was a very recent innovation when Paul went on trial, Claudius was only the fourth emperor and we know that neither Tiberius nor Caligula would have spent much time. A governor held imperator, they had the same authority as the emperor himself within their jurisdiction, so did consuls. There was no need for the emperor to be involved and no possibility one person could hear every appeal.

      Ancient Judaism was held to be absolutely identical to modern orthodox Judaism. And somehow the folk who stayed behind during the babylonian captivity were the ones who lost their way and abandoned the true faith, not the folk who went away and came back.

      We were also told that the duplication of the feeding of thousands miracles was an editorial error which is obviously bunk given that Mark is doing Moses times two.

    • Phillip Hallam-Baker says

      OK so just finished the book. Some thoughts.

      First off Carrier’s argument makes much better sense as theology and appreciation of the gospels than mainstream Christianity. Nobody ever bothered to tell me about the chiastic structure. Which now looks to be something of a tell right there.

      Secondly, yes historians need to learn how to use Bayes like reasoning to get to some sort of rigor. But I still think that the real value comes from being forced to learn how to phrase questions in an objectively rigorous fashion rather than the numbers that come out the other end.

      Whether Jesus was historical or not, it is very clear that we don’t need one to explain Paul and much easier to explain Paul without.

      It is pretty easy to see how a Jewish sect that was preaching that the temple sacrifices were no longer necessary would be (1) unpopular with the authorities before the siege of Jerusalem and (2) very convenient for continuing Judaism after the destruction of the temple. In fact you might well expect there to be a Jesus boom in the wake of the temple destruction as Peter’s cult predicted it (or could easily claim to have) and have a ready made explanation for why it is no longer necessary.

      The main case against would be that that mythicism fits too well. After all any case can be made if there is a claim of falsified evidence. But that is mistaking the argument which is not that the evidence is falsified.

  2. Ben Wright says

    His sentence:

    “Bayes’ Theorem seems to work better in the natural sciences than history because there are more certainties in natural phenomena since we can observe those more directly than the fragmentary and overwhelmingly incomplete historical record, which is unobservable.”

    tells me that he knows cack-all about either statistics or the natural sciences. I don’t think anyone needs to wade through the rest of it after that.

    • Antonio says

      Indeed. I am quite astonished that so many critics do not understand that using mathematics over natural language does not fundamentaly change the mode of reasoning that logic already dictates, and that it does not inject unwarranted precision into the argument. In our context, it just forces you to state what you already think unambigously. After all, Richard stressed this fact many times over.

  3. Robert Jones says

    What a feast! A superb (yet again!) rebuttal to the usual arguments regurgitated by Christian fundamentalists.

  4. jamessweet says

    He instead goes on to insist that when document A just repeats what document B says, then document A makes what document B says more likely. That is insane. But maybe it makes sense to a Christian fundamentalist.

    Heh. Maybe they need to spend more time editing Wikipedia. It’s really something when you witness a “fact” being conjured out of thin air by the following process:

    1) An editor to Wikipedia adds a particular piece of rumor or myth as if it were a fact. Because of the self-policing nature of Wikipedia, this “fact” will soon be removed as lacking any sort of reliable citation, but before it does…
    2) Some writer for a mainstream news outlet, being on a deadline and all, grabs the aforementioned “fact” from Wikipedia and repeats it in her article, without citation.
    3) The “fact” is eventually caught and removed from the Wikipedia article, because it has no mainstream corroboration — the process works! (It seems at first…)
    4) Another Wikipedia editor re-adds the “fact”, this time citing the mainstream news article from (2). Although the “fact” originally came from Wikipedia, the author of the article has not preserved that information, so there is no way of knowing that for sure. Now that the “fact” has a “reliable source” to back it, it is considered true for the purposes of Wikipedia, and remains indefinitely.

    A new fact has thus been conjured out of thin air!

  5. busterggi says

    Wonder where Ramos stand on the historicity of John Frum and Tom Navy? We’ve excellent testimony to them having existed by his standards.

  6. says

    On a similar note, I got into an argument with McGrath over Ehrman’s new book and he let slip that he apparently believes that the Patriarch Jacob, Joshua the high priest and Messiah ben Joseph (ostensibly shortened from Sefer Zerubbabel, not the govenor since I was talking about ben Joseph) were all historical figures.

    There is one clear instance in the Prayer of Joseph in which a human being who was presumed to be historical, Jacob the ancestor of the Israelites, was thought to have pre-existed as an angel.


    Your continuing to pretend that Zerubbabel and Joshua are unlikely to have been historical figures is pure dishonesty on your part, especially when you have not even tried to offer a case for that view.


    As far as I can tell, all those figures are considered either mythical or we have virtually no information on them to presume historicity.

    • says

      I haven’t studied Zerubbabel’s existence (as a putative author); and I am unaware of any evidence of there being a Messiah ben Joseph as claimed in the Zerubabbel sefer, but note the Zerubabbel sefer is about supposed events centuries after the original Messiah ben Joseph doctrine appeared (in the Talmud). And he can’t have been written about centuries before he existed; maybe someone later claimed to be him, but that wouldn’t be the same thing really. So his certainty here does seem excessive. But it’s not unthinkable that the first high priest of the second temple really was named Jesus ben Jehozadak. On the other hand, if he means Jesus (Joshua) the conqueror of Palestine existed, then he’s way out in left field on that one–all mainstream experts agree there was no conquest of Palestine.

    • says

      And the Patriarch Jacob was clearly mythical as well right? (At least I think Thompson disproved the historicity of the patriarchs as a whole). I think that actually adds to mythicism since Ehrman’s proposal of Jesus originally as an angel would parallel with the mythicism and angel origin of Jacob.

      Before he did say Jesus ben Jehozadak although I’m not sure we have enough evidence either way.

  7. gshelley says

    On balance, I think you are probably correct and this review is down to malice rather than incompetence. I had wanted to be charitable, but the complete misrepresentation of what you wrote it very much at odds with the occasional in depth (for a review at least) discussion.

    His defence of the gospels, for example, certainly strikes me as that of a Christian. I had thought he linked to ann alternate book, that argued they were reliable history, but don’t see it any more, so it was wither deleted, or someone else wrote it…

    “[here Carrier is being awkward since numerous sources don't do this stuff in such a rigid fashion either (i.e. anonymous inscriptions in Middle Eastern cultures come to mind - many histories come to us as anonymous sources, yet is that a good reason to dismiss them?) and looks more like excuses than actual reasons for assuming the Gospels are ahistorical. Did the ancients have a standardized way of doing history? Nope. They didn't even have unified learning centers like universities (these emerged in the late medieval period). Roman and Greek schooling was not uniform and all cultures had different ways of doing their histories (oral, parables, writing, sayings, etc). Also his quick dismissal of Luke's Gospel, even when it clearly meets some of his expectations of good historical research, is telling of how wishy washy Carrier can be. Historiography was not as rigid in the ancient world as modern historians think it should have been - sources varied from various genres and even Carrier uses many sources (Homer or Plutarch or philosophical)that are spurious genres to build his arguments. Seems somewhat hypocritical to expect this amount of information for any given source when the nature of historical evidence is always full of holes.]“

    I also found myself unconvinced by the “I loved his previous books, but this one was not up to much” type claim right at the end

  8. RyanM says

    …we can tell that Bayes’ Theorem can be used to justify anything from Jesus did not exist to Jesus resurrected – is this a reliable method for use in history?

    Unfortunately, though this book is 696 pages long, it does not use Bayes’ Theorem at all except in the very last chapter (which is very short) and the calculations there are very few indeed.

    So he criticizes your use of Bayes’ Theorem, because he thinks it’s an unreliable method that can be used to justify anything, but then goes on to complain that you didn’t use Bayes’ Theorem enough throughout your book.

    Fundamentalists are weird……

  9. adamk says

    The historical record is unobservable? Do people go blind when they direct their eyes at the Nag Hammadi documents?

  10. Jim Reed says

    This is a general comment, not about this Ramos review that doesn’t seem worth commenting on.

    OHJ is full of useful information, but I think you are always overly favorable to historicity in all of your probability estimates. Of course you already said that in each chapter. I think I see why you wrote at as you did from the point of view of a peer reviewed historical text that includes all the details. I have a small concern about your definition of Minimal Historicity. From a theological point of view, I would add one more point.

    4. This same Jesus was the Jesus of at least parts of the new testament canon.

    What if there was a first century preacher named Jesus with a group who looked at him as a Messiah?

    You show the epistles of Paul were based on the old testament, and theological concepts, and visions. Not on this historical Jesus even if he existed. You show the gospels were written for political and theological and ecclesiastical reasons, and made up the Jesus stories, and so they were not based on this preacher Jesus even if he existed. The rest of the new testament canon, Acts and Revelation, are too crazy to bother with, so none of the new testament canon is based on this theoretical human Jesus, even if he existed. This makes minimal historicity seem more like an impossibility than an improbability.

    This is theologically important because if there is a possibility that Jesus was historical, Christians have all they need. They will take that possibility and use it, and the rest (miracles and second coming, etc.) are just a matter of faith, and they have unlimited faith. I am not a historian, but this is just my opinion as an amateur theologian.

    • says

      This same Jesus was the Jesus of at least parts of the new testament canon.

      That would be superfluous, since it is entailed already by my items 2 and 3.

      This makes minimal historicity seem more like an impossibility than an improbability.

      Impossible is just a byword here for extremely improbable.

      But that only follows if you agree with your characterization of the epistles of Paul. The complication is that Jesus scholars don’t. So they have to be shown why they should. But even then they might have a hard time kicking the habit of seeing the historical Jesus behind Paul’s every remark, as if they didn’t realize that is something they are importing into the text, not something that is objectively there.

      This is theologically important because if there is a possibility that Jesus was historical, Christians have all they need.

      As the book explicitly states, I don’t really care what Christians think. I’m only interested in what really happened. They really aren’t interested in that (despite their insistence to the contrary). They are only interested in what they want to have happened. So they are no more worth listening to on this matter than Young Earth Creationists are on what formed the Grand Canyon.

  11. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Regarding jamessweet’s post, the discussion at of Randall Munroe’s “Citogenesis” cartoon mentions the following example:

    We will probably never know the book or author Randall mentions in the title text, but there is a nice similar story about the former German minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. His complete name contains fifteen names/words and reads: Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. An anonymous user added one more (Wilhelm) to the German Wikipedia, just the evening before Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was presented as the new Federal Minister of Economics and Technology on February 10, 2009. The next day many major German newspapers published this wrong name (translation of But the joke doesn’t stop there, because that minister was later found guilty of plagiarism, which resulted in the revocation of his doctorate and eventually his resignation as Minister of Defence, on March 1, 2011.

    Given the nature of the internet and the limited time I have to investigate its authenticity, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that this story is bogus, but it does seem plausible.

  12. E says

    This is a rant not a critique. You didn’t get your cookie and now you are mad. You wonder why anyone doesn’t take you or your work seriously it’s because you act like a 12 year old sociopath. No one wants to feel like they are going to be killed because they disagree with you.

    • gshelley says

      It’s both.

      Anyone who has spend years writing a thoroughly researched detailed book would be frustrated when someone completely misrepresents it in a review,especially when the review is long enough and apparently thorough enough that the unsuspecting reader would think it an honest review of the actual content.

      Even with that, the above response actually cites Ramos review repeatedly, and compares its dishonest claims against what the book actually claims and the arguments actually used. And he only covered a portion of the review – I quoted a section earlier where Ramos tried to defend the gospels and claimed that Luke should have been considered history by Carrier’s standards and this wasn’t addressed. It could easily have been, the book explains clearly why Luke doesn’t qualify as a good historian (or even a historian), but if every false claim was addressed, it would have been three or four times as long.

  13. Bryan Smiley says

    Dr. Carrier (Richard),

    I have a question (not a challenge) that I’m asking because I don’t know the answer. My question:

    Once a person uses Bayes Theorem to determine a calculated probability for an event where there are non specific variables (unknowns), isn’t the reliability of that calculated probability uncertain until tested via actual experience?

    I’m just starting to read your book, “Proving History,” about your using Bayes Theorem to determine a probability for the historicity of Jesus. I am not an expert on probability and statistics. I’m just asking. And here’s why I’m asking:

    I have previously read about Dr. John Pina Craven’s use of Bayes Theorem in naval search theory in how he located a missing hydrogen bomb in 1966 off the coast of Spain and then submarines lost at sea. Then I saw where William Lane Craig used Bayes Theorem in his debate with Bart Ehrman and Craig determined a 99% probability that the resurrection occurred…which certainly seems ridiculous.

    Somewhere along the way, I either heard or thought, while Bayes Theorem may allow a person to calculate a probability the way Craig did, it doesn’t tell me that his underlying assumptions (probabilities Craig assumed in the beginning) are relevant or reasonable until he is able to verify the result…which he cannot do in the case of the resurrection. Craven, on the other hand, did have actual experience in confirming his result…thus showing that his underlying assumptions were relevant and reasonable.

    I can guess that you don’t agree with my position, given that you wrote a book using Bayes Theorem to create a probability for an event you can’t test…that Jesus was a historical person.

    Maybe you address this in your book, but I’m impatient for an answer or explanation…so I thought I’d ask.

    Thank you,


    • says

      isn’t the reliability of that calculated probability uncertain until tested via actual experience?

      In history, “tested via actual experience” = “tested against surviving evidence.” Read Proving History, pp. 45-48.

      Craig determined a 99% probability that the resurrection occurred…which certainly seems ridiculous.

      It is. But not because Bayes’ Theorem is ridiculous. Rather because Craig is ridiculous. Analogously, the Kalam Cosmological Argument is also ridiculous (equally Craig’s fave). Yet its method is straightforward syllogistic logic. But obviously the problem is not with logic…

      Bayes Theorem may allow a person to calculate a probability…[but] it doesn’t tell me that his underlying assumptions…are relevant or reasonable until [one] is able to verify the result…

      Welcome to history.

      Your analogy to finding a missing object is the problem. You can’t ever “verify” a historical claim the way you can a claim about a missing object. We don’t have time machines. So all you ever get is a probability that a claim about history is true. Sometimes, and ideally, that claim is highly, highly probable (so much so it can be treated as virtually certain). Sometimes it’s only merely probable. And so on. And that’s it. That’s all you get to know.

      Thus, what Craven actually could prove is that Bayes’ Theorem works. Now that we know that, we don’t have to look for the missing object: when the method shows it’s 99% likely to exist in location A, then we don’t have to check to know that…we know it will be there 99 times out of 100. Possibly this is the 1 in 100 time it’s not there. And that’s just the fact of it. We can’t say anything more than that.

      This is not because of Bayes’ Theorem. This is because history is in the past. It’s an inherent limitation of history itself. No method can escape that.

  14. Bryan Smiley says

    I’m guessing that I’m answering my own question by saying:
    The principle of your method is that you get a bunch of experts to debate and roughly agree on the underlying assumed prior probabilities, and from that you use Bayes Theorem for a calculated result…
    If, over time, applying the method to multiple historical events, there’s a positive correlation between the method result and well established history – then the method is proven to be consistent and reliable?

    Another comment, have you ever read about Chaos Theory (non linear dynamic systems) and considered whether the evaluation of historical events can be classified as a non linear dynamic circumstance? Lots of variables, small changes in initial conditions (prior probabilities) leading to large changes in real results? This ‘sounds like’ it could be that. Just throwing that out there.

    Thanks again, Bryan

    • says

      You don’t have to do 1 and 2. Bayes’ Theorem is already proven.

      So what we do is show that a scholar cannot deny the prior probability of h is between A and B, and the consequents likewise between C and D, and so on, and then we can show that given that a scholar cannot deny those things, that same scholar must admit the posterior probability of h is as those facts entail.

      The only way a scholar can escape the conclusion is by revising their priors or consequents. But if to do that they have to make ridiculous statements, then we know their conclusion is equally ridiculous.

      Thereby we can determine when scholars are being logically consistent, and when they are being ridiculous.

      And that’s pretty much all we need to know.

      P.S. No, nonlinear dynamics have nothing to do with the probability of h given e and b. A nonlinear dynamic explanation of events can itself be an h. But then it is subject to Bayes’ Theorem in the same straightforward way.

    • Chuck Messenger says

      You write:

      Your analogy to finding a missing object is the problem. You can’t ever “verify” a historical claim the way you can a claim about a missing object. We don’t have time machines. So all you ever get is a probability that a claim about history is true.

      A counter-example comes to mind (one of many – but I’ll attempt to describe this one). I’m thinking of cases where historical theories were able to be tested. Forgive any lack of accuracy – I hope the gist of what I’m saying is reasonably accurate.

      Consider the Viking sagas, written c. 1000?? and preserved over the centuries (orally, for much of that time, I think). Originally, the mainstream historical theory was that the sagas were myth. However, over time, several critical events recounted in the sagas were shown to be factual (e.g. remains of a Viking settlement in Canada). As a result, the Viking sagas are now, as a whole, seen in a more historical light.

      So it’s not that historical theories can’t be tested. They can be, and regularly are. But I think your point was that we can’t decide on which ones to test.

      Still, in principle, over a long enough period of time, we should gather sufficient real-world tests of Bayesian methods, so that we can measure their effectiveness.

    • says

      Just note that that still isn’t the kind of verification being proffered as an analogy. Even in that case we are still just looking at evidence after the fact to infer what caused that evidence. We still can’t verify that our causal theory is true by directly going back in time to observe the cause as it occurs.

      (Otherwise, I concur with your example, it’s kind of the whole point I make in PH about the ontology of historical claims; I also discuss the rare cases of future verification in new evidence of past conclusions, but historians are not usually that lucky. But even then, again, it’s just more of the same. It’s still not direct verification of the conclusion.)

    • Chuck Messenger says

      What I had in mind was: an assumption was made that the sagas were myth, just based on a sort of surface appeal. Could a more finely thought-out Bayesian analysis have made the case for historicity of the sagas? What would such a case look like?

    • says

      I’m not sure what you mean, but the case you describe would model like this:

      e1 & b1 = evidence and background knowledge at time 1 (t1) = b2
      e2 & b2 = evidence and background knowledge at time 2 (t2)

      {b2 includes e1 and b1 becayse after getting a posterior probability out of e1 and b1, e1 has become a component of b, and b1 remains included in all future calculations, there just might be new background knowledge added on or transforming it}

      P(myth|e1.b1) = low
      P(myth|e2.b2) = high

      So at time 2, new evidence (e2) was applied using the posterior probability at t1 as the prior probability at t2, and the resulting updated posterior probability ends up higher than was known before.

      This is the effect of acquiring new evidence.

      The same would apply to, for example, “lost object” searches, and the lost Malaysian flight afforded good examples: they ran a Bayesian analysis on the data available at start and selected an area to search that was most likely to contain it, but then new satellite data arrived, and when that data was input into the Bayesian analysis, another area became most likely to contain it, so the search was moved.

      Of course, the history of science is full of examples of this happening.

    • Chuck Messenger says

      What I’m trying to suggest is that, had historians in the 60’s (or whenever) made use of the kind of sophisticated Bayesian reasoning process you advocate, they would perhaps have been able to see that the sagas were more historical than had been assumed. In the context of your formulas:

      e1 & b1 = evidence and background knowledge at time 1 (t1) = b2
      e2 & b2 = evidence and background knowledge at time 2 (t2)

      P(myth|e1.b1) = low
      P(myth|e2.b2) = high

      (I think you have the low/high reversed here)

      I’m only referring to e1 and b1. I’m suggesting P(myth|e1.b1) would (arguably) have been lower had more sophisticated Bayesian reasoning been applied, complete with probabilities. We’d have:

      P(myth|e1.b1) = high
      P'(myth|e1.b1) = lower

      where P’ is the more-sophisticated estimate. When the concrete evidence, e2, comes along, the Bayesian estimate P’ proves to be more accurate than the non-Bayesian (“gut”) estimate P.

      Granted, as you say, all historical reasoning is Bayesian. So what I’m talking about is sophisticated Bayesian reasoning, where you really break down the myth hypothesis into its components.

      I’m proposing a thought experiment. And at the same time, I’m trying to argue that historical P(x|y) estimates can be tested – you just have to be patient.

  15. E says

    I apologize for my immaturity, Richard. I get upset when I know you would be taken a lot more seriously if you didn’t degrade the view of others. What really ticked me off is that you call this guy a “fundamentalist” in a derogatory way when really there is no evidence for this at all. It’s easy to critique a review on Amazon given the space limitations, and the fact that it’s just that your book is huge. It’s an amazon review, not a refutation in a peer-reviewed journal in Biblical Studies. So, claiming victory over an amazon view is not that impressive at all.

    • says

      If you think the truth is degrading, there’s something wrong with you, not me.

      Otherwise, if you act ridiculous and get ridiculed for it, that’s the social consequence of being ridiculous. You can’t ride through life avoiding all the consequences for your behavior.

      As to Ramos being a fundamentalist, I listed quite a lot of evidence for that, contrary to your claim that I didn’t.

      That being a fundamentalist is ridiculous is common knowledge to those of us who live in reality. That over half the world laughs at fundamentalists might be uncomfortable for fundamentalists, but it’s the deserved outcome of being ridiculous. Which they chose to be.

      And now, that you think “space limitations” limited what Ramos could say is one of the most ridiculous things so far said here. His review is copiously long even by blog standards, and he bypassed every limitation on space Amazon presented.

      Meanwhile, if you are not impressed by Ramos’s review, then you are preaching to the choir. That it is not at all impressive is precisely my point. As is the fact that it is dishonest, illogical, and factually inaccurate. Although several people thought he was being honest, logical and accurate and thus were being misled. I have corrected them.

      So by agreeing with me you are just scoring the goal for me.

    • says

      You may not have noticed the repeated dog whistles that signify a fundie, but it was quite obvious to the rest of us. I’ve never heard anyone talk about “naturalistic bias” who wasn’t a fundie of one stripe or another. Just because he didn’t flat out admit to being one, doesn’t mean the evidence isn’t there.

      E.g. If a person tells me to “hold fast to the iron rod”, I don’t need to be told that they’re a Mormon. Anyone who has a clue knows what’s up. How we use language reveals a lot about who we are.

    • says

      Also defending the historicity of Moses, the authenticity of Daniel, the exclusive reality of miracles and visions for only Christians, using a phrase (even a concept) like “Humean bias,” assuming the Gospels are equivalent to eyewitness accounts, denying that Christians ever forged anything or made anything up, and denying there are any interpolations in the New Testament.

      I mean, seriously.

  16. Gaz says

    Lol, next time use lube before sodomising someone’s ill-informed / illogical arguments. I tried to read his whole review, but after having read Proving History I found it hard to believe how little he knew about the methodology you were using. Nice rebuttal.

  17. Bruce Grubb says

    I must say I am impressed. Ramos review is IMHO for all practical purposes in the TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) category but you took the time and addressed it. I’ve done most of the work on the “Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ” over at Rationwiki and *I* found Ramos’ review way too long and detailed.

    I find it interesting that he skipped Rudolf Bultmann entirely. I should point out I. Howard Marshall in his 2004 _I Believe in the Historical Jesus_ more or less used the same two criteria as the two ways Jesus could be historical and way back in 1909 Remsburg stated “Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.” So the whole Reductive vs Triumphalist issue has been known for a long time.

  18. Bryan Smiley says


    Thank you for replying. I know you’re busy.

    It sounds to me like you’re saying what I’m thinking – but you’re using more technically accurate language than I am.

    I accept that Bayes Theorem is proven. But we also know that Bayes Theorem is subject to misuse and that creating prior probabilities that are ‘bogus’ leads to a posterior probability that is also ‘bogus.’ Garbage into Bayes Theorum creates garbage out of Bayes Theorem.

    What’s new is your application of it to predict the likelihood of historical events. What I define as ‘methodology’ is the overall structure of your method in applying Bayes Theorem to determining the likelihood of historical events. Your ‘methodology’ contains the steps of creating prior probabilities (by experts) and using ‘multiple expert review and analysis’ to determine that each prior probability is both relevant and reasonable.

    By ‘bogus’ I mean the assumption of prior probabilities that are 1. relevant and 2. reasonable. In William Lane Craig’s case – in his debate with Bart Ehrman – Craig’s trying to determine a posterior probability for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m assuming that Craig’s performing the mathematics correctly, but that his prior probabilities are ‘make-believe’ and so his posterior probability is also ‘make -believe.’

    What I think I’m seeing is that you’re depending on the methodology to provide:
    a. better structure than currently exists
    b. organizing the analysis and review of the prior probabilities and the posterior probability (the result) to be more reasonable.

    In the case of Dr. John Craven, when he was looking for lost objects at sea, (a hydrogen bomb, Spain, 1966, and, later, lost submarines), Craven asked his experts to predict (experts’ best guess based on their experience) where they thought the lost object went and then used Bayes Theorem to assign a posterior probability to the locations on a grid…and then they began searching. As they searched, they reviewed and revised the calculations taking into account where the lost object was not found. The eventually found the lost objects, which validated the methodology as being a reasonably accurate predictor.

    This is where I see your methodology being different from John Craven’s…Craven was able to locate the objects lost at sea – thus verifying his methodology was reliable (thus verifying his experts were creating prior probabilities that were both relevant and reasonable).

    So I’m trying to imagine how applying Bayes Theorem to historical events is going to provide verification similar to Craven’s verification. Craven found his lost objects. Historians can’t necessarily ‘find’ historical events.

    What I think you’re telling me is that your overall methodology relies on review by experts to provide ‘verification’ of the prior probabilities and the posterior probability.

    Thank you.


    I don’t want to cause you to spend time on someone or get frustrated with someone who doesn’t have the necessary understanding of Bayes Theorem and is only a layman trying to pull this together at a general level.

    • says

      …we also know that Bayes Theorem is subject to misuse…

      But so is logic. So is statistics. So is, in fact, every method whatever. So that’s not a useful observation.

      It’s pertinent only in the same sense as in all those other cases: know the method so you can check that it is being used properly and not being abused.

      Your ‘methodology’ contains the steps of creating prior probabilities (by experts) and using ‘multiple expert review and analysis’ to determine that each prior probability is both relevant and reasonable.


      By ‘bogus’ I mean the assumption of prior probabilities that are 1. relevant and 2. reasonable. In William Lane Craig’s case – in his debate with Bart Ehrman – Craig’s trying to determine a posterior probability for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m assuming that Craig’s performing the mathematics correctly, but that his prior probabilities are ‘make-believe’ and so his posterior probability is also ‘make -believe.’

      I can’t recall what he did in that case. I’m more familiar with the McGrew argument (whose likelihood estimates are based on straightforwardly false claims about the ancient world…hence it’s peudohistory).

      But I do know that Craig likes to play tricks with priors, e.g. he mistakenly claims that winning a lottery is an extraordinary claim and therefore when someone claims to have won, it should have a high prior of being a lie (he might not actually believe that; he thinks anti-supernaturalists are committed to believing it). But that’s the wrong probability. The reference class is “claims to have won a lottery” : how many claims in that class are lies, and how many are true? That is your prior. The probability of winning a lottery is not relevant (it’s not wholly irrelevant, because it is implicit, but only in conjunction with other factors, like rate of lying about lottery wins; I discuss this in Proving History, ch. 6, using lotteries and poker hands as analogies).

      The point being, this is an obvious abuse of sound logic. It would be just as obvious, and just as much an abuse, using an Aristotelian syllogism as a Bayesian equation.

      What I think I’m seeing is that you’re depending on the methodology to provide:
      a. better structure than currently exists
      b. organizing the analysis and review of the prior probabilities and the posterior probability (the result) to be more reasonable.

      More precisely:
      b. organizing the analysis and review of the prior probabilities and the consequent probabilities (the competing likelihoods) to be more reasonable.

      (the posterior follows necessarily from the priors and consequents, so generally one isn’t concerned about vetting that, except in the basic sense of just checking someone’s arithmetic)

      But yes: historians are already making arguments with implicit priors and likelihood ratios. By exposing those assumptions to the light of day, we can actually examine and criticize those choices.

      The eventually found the lost objects, which validated the methodology as being a reasonably accurate predictor.

      Note that what all they really did was find it faster than a random search.

      That vindicated not BT (which was already vindicated by being a formally proven theorem) but Craven’s inputs.

      So I’m trying to imagine how applying Bayes Theorem to historical events is going to provide verification similar to Craven’s verification. Craven found his lost objects. Historians can’t necessarily ‘find’ historical events.

      We aren’t trying to find hidden things. We are trying to ascertain how probable x is if we believe y and z.

      We aren’t attempting anything more than that.

      And that’s what historians always and only ever do, whether they use BT or not.

      So BT is not a new way of doing history. It’s just the correct way to do what historians have always done.

      Historians have no other way of doing what they do.

      Consequently their results are never anything more than that: the probability that x, when y and z.

      Therefore, it is logically necessarily the case that the only way to dispute that probability for x, is to dispute the probabilities being assumed for y and z. So when they can’t be disputed (or cannot to any extent that significantly changes our assessment of x as true or false), that’s the end of it. Nothing else can be said. The end result: “the conclusion that x is most likely true(/false) cannot be disputed.” Because the premises that entail that conclusion cannot be disputed.

      Of course, that means a lot in history is uncertain…because often the only premises (priors and likelihood ratios) that cannot be disputed are those with very wide margins of error. So if your goal is a conclusion that cannot be disputed, you often have to settle for a conclusion that is uncertain. Then what cannot be disputed is that it is uncertain.

      Whereas when we are certain about some x in history, it will be because of a y and z that cannot be disputed, which entail a probability for x that is extremely high. (I give examples in PH.)

    • DrVanNostrand says


      I saw a Craig-Ehrmann debate where Craig tried to haul out a Bayes-like analysis to prove resurrection. As I recall, Craig’s argument was essentially based on a presuppositional belief in God.
      1. God exists and can do anything
      2. A bunch of people claimed that a man claiming to be the son of God died and was resurrected
      3. Therefore, it’s much more likely, given the “evidence”, that the son of God was actually resurrected than that it was some great conspiracy.

      There are too many obvious flaws to list. Off the top of my head, his argument would justify belief in nearly all dying and rising gods/demigods whose followers claimed resurrection. The “evidence” he uses are the gospels and many of the largely discredited non-Christian sources you have studied extensively (He basically claims that Jesus was historical, was executed, and his tomb was found empty are nearly certain historical facts). He conveniently ignores the fact that religious groups make claims of death and resurrection all the time, even now when such claims are easily debunked.

      His Bayesian reasoning was complete shit. However, I think that actually demonstrates one of the values of this kind of analysis. It forces dishonest hacks like Craig to make his ridiculous assumptions much more transparent.

    • says

      [Readers should note that I don't think "presuppositional" is being used in this last comment in its technical sense (presuppositionalism is a specific form of theology that I think Craig usually avoids).]

      Yes, I seem to recall his Premise 1 (God can do anything) is how he tries to pretend the resurrection has a high prior, by accusing anyone who says it has a low prior of “naturalist bias.” That is either dishonest or profoundly awful reasoning (as many people know, my vote is for dishonest). I show why in The Christian Delusion, pp. 291-99 (esp. 298-99), with further support in Proving History, pp. 114-17.

      And I do think his case for a likelihood ratio favoring resurrection depends on the argument “miracle or conspiracy,” even though that’s a false dichotomy (just as “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” is a false trichotomy) and isn’t even correct (we have confirmed the existence of countless conspiracies; we have not confirmed the existence of even a single miracle, much less of comparable magnitude; so the priors heavily favor conspiracy even if that were the only option; and conspiracy explains all the evidence, so the likelihoods are either equal or even favor conspiracy: indeed, they favor it, because “miracle” entails predictions that aren’t fulfilled: The Christian Delusion, pp. 307-09, and indeed The End of Christianity, pp. 53-74; whereas “conspiracy” makes unique predictions that are fulfilled: e.g. The Empty Tomb, pp. 353-57).

  19. Michael Macrossan says

    “You would not get into a car that had a 1 in 12,000 chance of exploding …” You wouldn’t even like it if the brakes failed 1 in 12,000 times. If you used the brakes 50 times a day you’d be expecting a failure before the year is out.

  20. Ron says

    You mentioned in this article this reviewers claim that the book of daniel was authentic.. I have encountered the claim by apologists several times that the existence of daniel in the dead sea scrolls disproves the position that it was written in the 2nd century BC.. how would you respond to this?

    • says

      The DSS were stashed in Judea and date all the way to the mid-1st century, the youngest Daniel fragment dates c. 50 AD, and the oldest no earlier than 125 BC. That a book written in Judea in 165 BC would be among them, and span that date range, is not even remotely surprising, especially as it was at the time one of the most crucial and popular new apocalyptic texts of the era (see OHJ, Element 7, pp. 83-87). This is like being surprised by finding a bunch of Books of Mormon in a stash of Mormon documents a generation after the Book of Mormon was written. Ancient books were often reproduced and disseminated quickly, especially deliberate nationalist propaganda written specifically for the purpose of being disseminated quickly (like the book of Daniel).

      It would have been useless had Daniel not been disseminated to every major area of Judea within a year of its production, since it was written like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense: as a morale rallying treatise in the course of the war with Antiochus, and it was clearly written before the war ended–which is why we know it was written then, because it gets wrong how the war ended but gets right details of how the war began–so it had to have been widely disseminated within a year or two (too rapidly to “fix” it after the war ended). We can expect dozens of copies were produced within months of its completion, and spread exponentially from there.

      If upon its completion ten copies were produced in the course of a month and spread across the country, and ten more copies were made from each of those over the course of a year, within one year and a month there would be 100 copies of Daniel in Judea, enough for several copies to be in every library of any significant size in the whole of the country. Now imagine forty more years of copying and disseminating. That gets us to the oldest copy we have in the DSS. Which may have even been the exemplar some of the others in that library were produced from (note that the scroll fragment count is not the count of copies: many fragments came from the same copy).

      How one can thus be surprised at any of this is beyond me.

  21. Giuseppe says

    Hi Richard,
    I find very non persuasive, even poor, all the rewiews against OHJ that I have read until now on the net. Then this frustrating situation prompts me to attempt a personal ”proof” of Historical Jesus, while I continue passionately the reading of OHJ. To begin, I apologize for my English.

    I agree with Covington when he says:
    The only way I think a historicist could destroy this argument is if they showed…
    …if the story only made sense as symbolism about a real historical figure and not a celestial being like Carrier proposes.

    And I am impressed from this Godfrey’s review about a book of Tom Dykstra on the relations between Paul and Mark (a book that I securely will read). In particular, when he says:

    Dykstra introduces his argument by pointing out how curiously uninterested the author of the Gospel of Mark is in the contents of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus is said to teach with authority and crowds are said to be impressed with his teachings but exactly what he taught in the synagogues or to those who crowded around to hear him in a house is left unsaid. Jesus does teach a lot of parables warning hearers of the consequences of not believing the gospel but the content of that gospel, the detail of what they must believe, is never stated. About the only teaching Mark’s Jesus is said to have delivered is little more than “Keep the commandments”.

    Those words have greatly impressed me, and I ask you if it’s possible to expect a scenario of this kind on the mythicist theory? I would say not at all, at least prima facie, but I desire to listen your opinion, before.

    The ‘proof’ would be something of this:

    1) Mark is 100% pure fiction: behind any ‘episode’ there is only a theological point. Nothing of historical. (evidence is conclusive)

    2) Mark is Pauline. For each theological point behind any ‘episode’ of Mark, that same theological point is derived very probably from Paul and his theology. (evidence is conclusive)

    3) in Mark, Jesus is said to teach with authority and crowds are said to be impressed with his teachings but exactly what he taught in the synagogues or to those who crowded around to hear him in a house is left unsaid. This ”episode” implies only one unique allegorical & theological concept: that every earthly doctrine, even if done with authority, even if made by Jesus himself, does not deserve more attention than the esoteric message revealed from the risen Jesus (i.e., the message of Mark, i.e. of Paul).

    4) by virtue of point 2, the theological concept described in point 3 is derived probably in Mark from Paul.

    5) Then it’s not more ad hoc to suppose that ”Paul did not mention Jesus because he did not want” (and then, to suppose it a priori doesn’t require to halve the odds of the historicist thesis with respect to mythicism: fifty-fifty). In fact, even the Pauline Mark deliberately chose not to reveal the contents of the teaching of Jesus (historical or not that teaching), leaving it vague and vanishing.

    6) Then in this way it’s explained the sound silence of Paul about a hypothetical historical Jesus.
    Since even the
    Pauline Mark did not want to break that silence (although he had already made ​​mention of a Jesus on Earth) then it becomes more plausible that Paul also neglected Jesus in accordance with a precise theological address: the risen Christ had to eclipse totally every memory of the historical Jesus.
    The conclusion is that if even Mark wanted deliberately to not remember the historical Jesus (preferring to historicize the Christ of Paul giving it a Non-Life in Judaea), then that man is lost forever. But he existed.

    What do you think? This is an other fallacy of possibiliter ergo probabiliter? Thank you for every possible correction of any kind.


    • says

      Read what I show is the case about Mark in ch. 10 of On the Historicity of Jesus. Likewise what I say about that argument about Paul in ch. 11. Those chapters will dispel all of this. Mark is not doing what this theory proposes (the point of ch. 10); and it’s simply improbable that Paul would have been doing what this theory proposes (the point of ch. 11).

  22. says


    I’m nearly done with OHJ and it is excellent. I’m very excited about the responses and the ensuing debate it will create.

    Prior to reading your last two books I read Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? and I agree with your comments about it. I was not impressed with the book at all. The few arguments that seemed persuasive to me at first glance turned out to be not so good after reading both your blog comments on the book and OHJ.

    Since you’re collecting reviews of your book I thought you might like to know that David Marshall has posted a brief response:

    Let the face palming commence…


  23. Giuseppe says

    Hi Richard,
    I arrived until chapter 5 and I like very much reading OHJ. Only a thing about p. 53-54 about the alternative (and not probable) Christ Myth theory for which Jesus Christ ”began as a political fiction”. You tell that this is the theory of R.G. Price (not the same academic scholar Robert Price) for which, according to OHJ, the point 1 of your definition of minimal mythicism (”Jesus Christ began as a celestial deity”, p.53) would be false (a fact which would prevent explain the evidence in the epistles).
    But I have read this from Price and I do not see where he explicitly distances himself from Doherty’s thesis regarding the Epistles (even if it’s true that about Gospels his theory is only possible – and plausible -, but not probable).
    Did I miss something on the exact Price’s view about the Paul’s Jesus?


    • says

      No. Certainly, one can retool the idea to fit either historicity or the Doherty thesis. And indeed, I discuss the political aspect of the Gospels’ fictions myself in ch. 10. What I am referring to in ch. 3 is any attempt to claim political fiction itself as the origin of Christianity, i.e. without embracing what I list as minimal mythicism. Price may indeed support the political fiction idea as an adjunct to the Doherty thesis. In which case he is arguing for what I call minimal mythicism and not political-fiction-as-origin. But that isn’t what he argues in the cited books. (Although to be fair, he doesn’t really fully develop a theory of Christian origins there, just of the Gospels, so it’s more what is left to the imagination.)

  24. JOHN LILE says

    Richard, I wasn’t sure what to think of your initial assessment of Ramos, thought it might be a bit premature, but I still felt like something wasn’t right about him. I found out a bit more what is motivating him. Once he signs his name in the comment section as Franklin Ramos. On Amazon, here are two reviews of his you’ll find out a bit more about what is driving him. He seems like a fairly nice guy, but he doesn’t give atheists credit for much of anything. For the low crimes rates in nonreligious parts of Europe, he claims instead it was their theistic ancestors that should get the credit. Here are two of his reviews:
    Fossils and Species that Show Little or No Evolutionary Change in Millions of Years of Existence?, March 27, 2009
    What Are Atheists Like? – Global Sociological, Anthropological, and Historical Data on the Religious Diversity in Atheism, November 27, 2010
    And from that, here are a few of his comments in these two reviews:
    “Theism has just been a rare belief through most cultures through time. Beliefs that lack gods are the norm – except for maybe the past century.”
    “I am definitely a theist and I definitely do believe that life does evolve, but not as is commonly perceived. However, I am not that different from young earth creationists or intelligent designers in terms of the emergence of life.”
    “I do believe that God did design all creatures, but some of work was done by partial design and tho other by natural means.”
    “Atheists do have their own religious sects, often times under humanism or activist organizations which cater to their adherents.”
    “The dogmatism of American active atheists makes them quite close minded and even unreasonable on any evidence that would lead them to believe in the traditional God.”
    “Northern European Countries (NECs) and other Europeans have some great ratings world wide today (as a result of the labors of their theistic ancestors), but many other atheistic nations throughout history and even today such as Russia, China, Albania, Cambodia, Cuba, Vietnam, and a grip of other countries (a bunch are from Asian countries) are not as fruitful and have pretty dire qualities of life compared to the Northern Europeans in terms of livelihood – and yet they are also “atheist” nations.”
    “One thing is for sure. Since I have grown up around gangsters and drug dealers and drug traffickers, I have friends who are Cops, and even work literally right next to a Los Angeles Country Corrections Facility – American criminals are extremely secular and are some of the most irreligious people you will ever meet.”
    There is a lot more. From what I’ve read, US prison population figures show that 93% of inmates are theists. I wouldn’t say this makes theists more criminal prone, only that it reflects pretty much the US population. But Ramos thinks they are pretty much all secular.
    Richard, fixing to go do some more wading of his reviews and comments, because there is a lot more of this. Meanwhile, I can’t tell you how much this household has appreciated your book. I’ve lent your book out to two different people now, and another has decided to get their own. And we really love this blog. I’ve loaded up on Thompson, Brodie, and another of your works. We appreciate all of your recommendations. Words can’t express how much gratitude this household is indebted to you. And the debate with you and David Marshall just brings smiles to all of our faces. On that debate, when a questionnaire asked David about C.S. Lewis, I thought somebody was going to have to pick his jaw up off the floor, talk about a deer in the headlights moment. By our count, he had about three of those such moments. I think I would have rubbed his nose in it a bit more, but sure thought you were a class act the way you let him off the hook on that.
    We wish you and your family all the best, John.

  25. anonymousbob547 says

    Thank you, Richard, for your precision dissection of Ramos. It is truly reaffirming every time I read your water-tight logic. You make it look so easy and obvious–it is your gift. Like AA, I am very much looking forward to what you have in store for David Marshall. I am perplexed by his claim about the number of births necessary to sustain the population based on your actuarial numbers from the gospel era in particular, and hope to see you respond. His Amazon review has 17 pages of comments at latest count.

    • says

      Marshall is a bit of a loon. He constantly argues against established science with feigned incredulity. He used to deny that the law of large numbers entails the infinite monkey theorem. Even though that’s a well established fact. Now he is claiming to know better than actuarial tables for actual existing countries today (many third world nations show the same averages as ancient Roman grave studies), developed by actual professional demographers. I cite my sources. For him to pretend to know better than actual scientists using actual real data is just laughable. Why does anyone take him seriously anymore?

  26. anonymousbob547 says

    Thank you for the reply. I have no doubt about your sources or what you say about Marshall. I have a purely academic curiosity about the actuarial math, so I looked at the table you just cited and threw it into a spreadsheet. I multiplied the right two columns together to create a new column–the fraction of the total population in that age range that dies every year. I then summed that new column to get 14% of the total population dying each year. So to maintain a steady (assumption) population, the women of child-bearing age must replace 14% of the population each year. I get 42% of the total population being between the ages of 15 and 40, and therefore 21% of the total population are women of child-bearing age (15 to 40–assuming 1 of every 2 people being a woman). So if you are a woman of child-bearing age, the odds are roughly 2/3 (14% / 21%) that you will have a child every year during that stretch, which means on average a woman living to 40 would bear 16 children (25*2/3). You can slice the age range differently (15 to 35 or 15 to 30 even, for child-bearing age), but it still works out to be around 15 – 16 children for any woman living through the entire child-bearing age range. So Marshall would seem to be correct about this. But I don’t think it proves anything for him, nor is it difficult to conceive that this could well have been the case, especially with no birth control.

    • says

      I think you’ve done the math wrong. You need to use the middle column (the latter column is per year-group, not per year, for example). I also don’t know where you get your odds of a birth per year from that table. It says nothing about that.

      Here is a proper approach: suppose there are 30 million women and 30 million men, for 60 million people. The middle column of Frier’s Life Table tells you 48% of that population (and thus 48% of the women) are of childbearing age (between 15 and 45). So we have 14.4 million women who have to replace 60 million people. That’s an average birth rate of 4.2 children per woman. That’s not unusual in third world nations most similar to ancient conditions.

      (This means an average of 2.2 per mother, or more than half, of all children born do not have to survive to childbearing age for population stability. Which is as the table indicates. As the third column shows–when read correctly–43% of those born are dead before childbearing age, i.e. 15. That’s why life expectancy at birth is 21, but shoots up to 48 for anyone who survives childhood.)

  27. anonymousbob547 says

    Richard, if I understand correctly, you are suggesting that knowing what fraction of a stable population is made up of child-bearing-aged women is enough to tell you how many babies each woman must have in her lifetime. That is not correct. The last person I want to support is David Marshall, but try this thought experiment. Imagine an idyllic, stable population where everybody lives to a ripe old age of 100 and then dies of old age. There are 100 million people, so every year, 1 million people (aged 100) die, and 1 million new people are born to replace them. This population would be exactly evenly distributed from 0 to 100, so the fraction of child bearing women (15 to 45) would be 30 million / 2 = 15% = 15 million. By your logic, these 15 million women would have to replace 100 million people and therefore would need to have 100/15 = ~7 babies per woman. But that is not correct. You have to think of it in terms of a per year birth rate. The 15 million women of child-bearing age must produce 1 million babies per year (replacing the 1 million 100-year olds who die). That is what keeps the population stable. Therefore, each woman need only have 1 baby every 15 years, or 2 per her child-bearing years, which is exactly what you’d expect with a stable population where everybody dies of old age. The woman replaces herself + one male. (You can choose any child-bearing age range and the problem comes out the same–2 babies per woman.)

    Unless I’m badly misinterpreting Frier’s table, which I don’t think I am, I stand by my math: by multiplying together the values in the right two columns of Frier’s table and then summing all those terms (e.g. 4%*36% + 10%*24% + 11%*6% + … 0.3%*68% + 0.1%*99.5% = 14%), I get the fraction of the total population that die each year and therefore the fraction that needs to be replaced to maintain a stable population. Clearly a 14% annual death rate is much higher than my idyllic 1% annual rate hypothesized above (not inconceivable, though, for ancient times), and that 14% must be replaced by, as you state, 24% of the population (fraction of population who are child-bearing-aged women). For a woman living through those entire 30 years, she must, on average, produce (14/24)*30 babies = ~17 babies. The only questionable number for me is the 14%–whether I am calculating that correctly. If you get a different number, state what you think it is and why, but then you need only plug it into the calculation: (x/24)*30 to get the expected number of babies per woman (who lives through the entire child-bearing age range).

    • says

      Look, I am basing my statements on actual demographic science, by actual demographic scientists. You seem to be denying science from the armchair, because you don’t understand their math. The table (last column) is not per-year, but per year-group. You’d notice this if you tried working out how the average life expectancy (column 2) is generated by the mortality rate (column 4) for the starting age (column 1). You also aren’t even remotely doing the right math.

      Let’s start with an analogy.

      America has a population of about 300 million. Approx. 113 million are between 18 and 44. So about 62 million women who can bear children, over a span of 26 years. The number of people in America who die each year is about 2.5 million. Therefore we need 2.5 million births per year. In a 26 year period that’s 65 million babies. Or approx. 1 baby per woman of childbearing age.

      Let’s go backwards. The ancient Roman Empire had a population of about 60 million. For approx. 14.4 million women who can bear children, over a span of 30 years. I estimated the average replacement rate is 4.2 births per such woman. That works out to 60.48 million births per 30 years or about 2 million births per year. In a 30 year period that’s 65 million babies. More than the 60 million population to be replaced. That means the death numbers are about the same (2 million die per year), which means the death rate in ancient Rome was four times higher than in modern America (2.5/300 vs. 2/60 = 1/120 vs. 1/30).

      So if you want to test this with the table, use the correct math:

      For any five year period (because the death rates in column four are per year-group and the table is mostly in five-year groups):

      Year 0-1 => 60 million x .04 = 2.4 million => 2.4 x .36 = 864,000 deaths => sum: 864,000 deaths
      x 5 = 4.32 million deaths for five years

      Group 1-5 => 60 x .1 = 6 => 6 x .24 = 1.44 million deaths => sum: 5.76 million deaths
      Group 5-10 => 60 x .11 = 6.6 => 6.6 x .06 = 396,000 deaths => sum: 6.156
      Group 10-15 => 60 x .11 = 6.6 => 6.6 x .05 = 330,000 deaths => sum: 6.486
      Group 15-20 => 60 x .1 = 6 => 6 x .07 = 420,000 deaths => sum: 6.906
      Group 20-25 => 60 x .09 = 5.4 => 5.4 x .08 = 432,000 deaths => sum: 7.338
      Group 25-30 => 60 x .08 = 4.8 => 4.8 x .09 = 432,000 deaths => sum: 7.77
      Group 30-35 => 60 x .08 = 4.8 => 4.8 x .11 = 528,000 deaths => sum: 8.298
      Group 35-40 => 60 x .07 = 4.2 => 4.2 x .12 = 504,000 deaths => sum: 8.802
      Group 40-45 => 60 x .06 = 3.6 => 3.6 x .14 = 504,000 deaths => sum: 9.306
      Group 45-50 => 60 x .05 = 3 => 3 x .17 = 510,000 deaths => sum: 9.816
      Group 50-55 => 60 x .04 = 2.4 => 2.4 x .21 = 504,000 deaths => sum: 10.32
      Group 55-60 => 60 x .03 = 1.8 => 1.8 x .25 = 450,000 deaths => sum: 10.77
      Group 60-65 => 60 x .02 = 1.2 => 1.2 x .33 = 396,000 deaths => sum: 11.166
      Group 65-70 => 60 x .01 = 0.6 => 0.6 x .41 = 246,000 deaths => sum: 11.412
      Group 70-75 => 60 x .008 = 0.48 => 0.48 x .53 = 254,400 deaths => sum: 11.6664
      Group 75-80 => 60 x .003 = 0.18 => 0.18 x .68 = 122,400 deaths => sum: 11.7888

      (the numbers after that become insignificant and dwindling additions)

      So we have approx. 12 million deaths per five years.

      That’s approx. 12 / 5 = 2.4 million deaths per year.

      Just about what I said.

      So back to the first analogy:

      The A.R.E. had a population of about 60 million. Approx. 14.4 million are between 15 and 45. So about 14.4 million women who can bear children, over a span of 30 years. The number of people in the A.R.E. who die each year is about 2.4 million. Therefore we need 2.4 million births per year. In a 30 year period that’s 72 million babies. Or approx. 5 babies per woman of childbearing age. Again, roughly comparable to many comparable third world countries.

      And 2.4 deaths per year is an overcount, because the total per-five-year death count of 12 million is actually an over-count by about 2 million, due to rounding up the digits in the rates on the table. That’s why the better method is to use the one I started with. Which notably gets pretty much the same result.

  28. anonymousbob547 says

    Okay, I get it. The only point you really needed to make was that I misinterpreted column 4 in your source. Other than that, I think we are in violent agreement. And I do think I can be forgiven for misinterpreting the numbers in column 4 since the numbers in that column are not the “rough chance of [a person that age] being dead by the end of the year,” as it says in the column heading, and which is exactly how I interpreted them. They are, instead, the chance that a person that age (the age listed in column 1) will not live to the age listed in the next row (of column 1). If I’d studied the examples below the table more carefully, I’d have figured that out. Everything else I did was equivalent to what you did in your most recent post–just plug your annual death rate into the formula I gave. The annual death rate you got is 2.4 million / 60 million = 4% (rather than my mistaken 14% number). Putting the 4% into my formula: (4/24)*30 = 5 babies per woman. Exactly what you got with your recent post.

    And I don’t think you can blame me for being confused by the apparent reasoning of your August 25th reply (14.4 million women must replace the population of 60 million people and therefore must have 4.2 babies per woman), since 60 million was not only your hypothesized population number but also just happened to be, approximately, the entire population death rate over the 30-year child-bearing range for women–which is the much more relevant number that you neglected to mention / explain.

    I’m not sure I understand the last paragraph in your recent reply. “…due to rounding up the digits in the rates table…” Which digits in which column? Why would the digits be consistently rounded up? Was there an explanation of this in the source? I would think rounding errors would average out unless there is some other bias in the way the values were collected / reported.

    Either way, it’s not that big of a deal. Now that I understand the meaning of column 4, I agree with you–Marshall’s estimates in his Amazon review comments are way off. Your source predicts ~5 babies per woman–an entirely reasonable number. Thanks for taking the time to reply to my posts so that I could make sense of the table.

  29. anonymousbob547 says

    Thanks for moderating out my last post (Aug 28?) and giving me a chance to defend myself. Big of you. I have to say, Richard, I’m a bit disillusioned. Rather than giving me any credit for my analysis being correct other than a completely understandable and relatively minor misinterpretation of one column of data, and rather than explain that error in a helpful way that I could understand, you attacked me for being not “even remotely” correct and provided your own almost completely redundant analysis, taking a couple cheap shots in the process. It’s not a very self-confident person that does that kind of thing. But okay, that’s you, I guess. I’ll probably still buy OHJ when it comes out on the kindle because I do think you’re an excellent historian, analyst and writer, but you could use some lessons in being nice. Oh well, maybe I caught you on a bad week. Good luck to you, just the same, and thank you for your work in your field.

    • says

      When you say something that contradicts established science, your first hypothesis should be that you’ve gotten something wrong, and then endeavor to find out what that is. I can’t help you if you drop that procedure, and I’m left to do it for you.

    • says

      Richard has always had the policy that every post goes into moderation and only comes out when he has personally cleared it. This means that if he’s traveling or whatever, he may not be able to clear your posts as quickly as you might like. It doesn’t mean that your post has been deleted. This is all explained in the Comments Policy, at the top of every page.

      This policy is somewhat inhibiting of discussion, but on the other hand, it puts a stop to a lot of nonsense. It’s a trade-off.

    • says

      Yeah. As explained in my comments policy, although I’ve had a recent hardship keeping up lately due to travel.

      But it has indeed been extremely effective at destroying trolls. Ratio of serious commentary to trolling is better than almost 20 to 1 now. Most of them no longer even bother. Because they know they will have wasted their time and no one will ever get to see anything they write. While if they get approved, they get pwned immediately (a fact one even once complained about: by always posting his comment immediately with my reply, he accused me of violating his free speech, which was the funniest thing a troll ever said to me).

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