List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus

Now that my new book On the Historicity of Jesus has finally become available, for convenience I will be collecting here links to all the responses I’ve published to defenders of the historicity of Jesus. So this article will be continually updated with new entries, and I will keep the order alphabetical by last name of the scholar responded to (when I know it). I have also sorted them into generic debates, and responses to my books specifically.

If anyone sees responses or reviews (in print or online) to my books on this topic (On the Historicity of Jesus or Proving History), please direct me to them in comments here. Please also remark upon any merits you think the response has (or if you think it’s rubbish). I won’t bother replying to all of them. But I’d like to keep a running collection in any case.

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Replies to Generic Defenses of Historicity

Akin, Jimmy (conclusion: argues by assertion rather than evidence).

Bermejo-Rubio, Fernando (conclusion: thoughtful, but circular, and argues from credulity).

Casey, Maurice (conclusion: grossly illogical, probably insane).

Craig, William Lane (conclusion: dishonest and illogical Christian apologetics).

Crook, Zeba (conclusion: good effort, but doesn’t quite get there).

Crossan, J.D. (conclusion: only two premises, one factually dubious, the other illogical).

Ehrman, Bart (conclusion: makes major factual and logical errors, then lies about it).

Goodacre, Mark (conclusion: relies on premises he didn’t know were false).

Horn, Trent (conclusion: gets the text wrong, flounders on weak arguments).

MacDonald, Dennis (conclusion: muddled and not well thought-out).

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Replies to Criticisms of Proving History

Antony, Louise (conclusion: doesn’t understand math).

Brown, Kevin (conclusion: standard Christian apologetics).

Fisher, Stephanie (conclusion: didn’t read the book, lies about it; doesn’t understand math; probably insane).

Ian of Irreducible Complexity (conclusion: pedantic; retracted all substantive criticisms).

McGrath, James (conclusion: didn’t have much to criticize; and what he did, got wrong).

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Replies to Criticisms of On the Historicity of Jesus

Covington, Nicholas (conclusion: poses a methodological question, answered in the book).

Hallquist, Chris (conclusion: makes horribly embarrassing mathematical mistakes).

Lataster, Raphael (conclusion: valid concerns, already dealt with in the book).

Ramos, F. (conclusion: dishonest and illogical fundamentalist apologetics).

Rosson, Loren (conclusion: almost persuaded, remaining objections addressed).

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Progress Report for My Project Donors

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.Six years ago I put out a call for benefactors to fund a research and writing project to help me cancel my student debt. I said I’d do whatever my donors asked for. You unanimously said: the historicity of Jesus. For that project I raised $20,000, with the generous help of Atheists United (which made it possible for each offer of support to be a deductible charitable donation). It led to the production of Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. And now the project has reached it’s completion, with the publication of On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (that link will be updated when it becomes available on Amazon).

To all my donors: Thank you so much for helping fund my research and writing of both books. This will finally bring to completion a years long project. And now, it’s done! The publisher has informed me that On the Historicity of Jesus has been printed and will begin shipping in a few weeks. It may appear on Amazon within a month. So if you don’t want to wait a month or two more, you can buy (pre-order) direct from the publisher and get your copy within a few weeks I expect (although see my caveats about that here), otherwise you can wait for it to become available on Amazon, to see if Amazon offers a better deal.

To all my donors who did not receive my email earlier this week: Many of you did not respond to my last progress report, in which I asked about relief from my final obligations owing to the high cost of stock from an academic publisher. If you donated at a level high enough to earn a promise of free copies, please email me right away and let me know if you still want to receive your free copies, and if you want only one or two (or more, if you were owed more), and what address I should send them to (and whether they should be signed). The less you ask for, of course, the less I suffer financially. Because, this being an academic press, the wholesale author price even for softcover (which is certainly all I can afford) is enormous ($24.50…that’s not the list price, that’s what I have to pay). So I would greatly appreciate a reduced request. Some donors were incredibly kind enough to waive their free copies altogether. That was a great help. Note that I will also only be receiving my own stock a month from now. So if you are claiming free copies, they might not arrive to your address until the end of August.

Whatever you decide, thank you again for all your support. These books would not have been written but for it. This is what private patronage can accomplish, in an age when academics is largely controlled by universities.

Knitting Fans, Behold Some Awesome Ancient Roman Tech!

There’s this guy, you see, who knitted his way to a solution to an infamous problem in Roman history. This might be a bit premature (since academic journals haven’t weighed in yet), but I am persuaded that the mystery of the ancient Roman dodecahedrons has been solved. And why I’m persuaded affords a handy example for teaching how Bayesian reasoning works in making good historical inferences.

A What?

Photograph of a bronze dodecahedron recovered from the ancient Roman Empire, described in the text.I suppose I should begin by explaining what a “mysterious ancient Roman dodecahedron” is. It’s not just any dodecahedron from ancient Rome (I’ll show you an unrelated example shortly), but a very peculiarly consistent oddity that no one has been able to explain (mainly because no writing survives mentioning it). It’s a common object. Some hundred or so have been found, originating in the 2nd century A.D. and spanning a couple of centuries afterward. But only in France and northern and eastern Europe. It’s weird looking. And has peculiar features. Some are of stone manufacture, but most are cast bronze.

Another example like the one above, this one lacks the grooves mentioned in the text.Some typical examples (one from Wikipedia, another from the Birmingham Musem) are shown to the right. Each is a twelve-sided hollow object, the sides generally symmetrical (an isohedron, so it looks a little like a twelve-sided die, something old-school role-playing-gamers will recognize), but every side has a circular hole in it, and the holes are different sizes, but the pattern of sizes (the sequence and arrangement) is the same on every object, even though the size of the object (and thus size of the holes) varies considerably, from kind of tiny (one and a half inches total diameter) to about the size of what would have then been a large adult fist (a little over four inches). The holes also sometimes have a sequence of parallel carved rings around them (sort of like gutters or guidelines in the face of the object), but many do not, so these appear to be a decorative flourish (a typical accent found in Roman tech of the time, where common utilitarian objects can be prettied up with some artsy flourishes like that).

But importantly, every corner of these objects has a solid knob sticking out of it, a bollard narrower at its base than at its tip (many of these just look like attached spheres), for twenty knobs in all. This most of all prevents the twelve-sided die analogy from quite being right, that plus the fact that the holes being of different size means each face has a different weight. They also aren’t inscribed with anything…a fact that is far more crucial to determining their purpose than you might at first think.

Just search “Roman dedocahedron” in Google Images and you’ll find dozens of examples. And yet…

[Read more...]

Bread and Roses: Help Support the Fight for Freedom in Iran

Maryam Namazie, a renowned voice for the freethought movement worldwide and our colleague here at Freethought Blogs, has been running an online television news program for audiences interested in, and those engaged in, the long fight for political freedom and justice in Iran. With episodes in English and Persian, it’s a well produced and valuable service, especially to many in Iran, but also across the world. But their equipment is aging and they need to get new stuff. They are short of their June 16 fundraising target. So please see if you can give any little amount you can spare, and spread the word in case others can, too. Namazie’s full explanation (and how to donate, and see the show) is on her blog here. Check it out!

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P.S. Some of you may object to Namazie’s politics, as I somewhat do, although they aren’t Soviet, and her video program is about promoting freedom, not Stalinism. I think we can all support that objective, and let Iranians democratically decide how to organize their society as long as basic freedoms are guaranteed. That’s what she wants. And it’s what I want. And it’s what this video program can help make happen. It certainly gives some justified hope and recognition to political dreamers and dissidents in Iran, and to ex-pats the world over who would like one day to go home.

Appearing Near Phoenix for SSA West

The Secular Student Alliance’s Western Regional Conference is coming up, this June 20-22 (Friday-Sunday, 2014), in Tempe, Arizona, near Phoenix (details and registration and everything here). And I’ll be there. Some of my books will be for sale the whole con. And I’ll be around all weekend. But I’ll also be giving a talk on Practical Logic: Making Your Group More Effective, presently scheduled for Saturday the 21st from 5:30pm to 6:00pm.

Description:

Being logical isn’t just for debunking religion. It’s also useful for improving your group’s ability to work together, solve internal problems, and achieve external goals. Dr. Carrier will summarize several important tips on how to do that.

And as in past years there will be tons of other awesome talks and workshops of a consistently useful nature. Events will be held in the ASU Memorial Union at 301 E. Orange Mall (Tempe, AZ).

Chris Hall on the Changing Face of New Atheism

There is a marvelously well-written and timely piece at Alternet by Chris Hall: Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris Are Old News: A Totally Different Atheism Is on the Rise (tagline: “It’s absurd to think these white males represent all organized atheism”), which has gotten enough attention to be picked up by Salon, there titled: Forget Christopher Hitchens: Atheism in America Is Undergoing a Radical Change (tagline: “Having a conversation about atheism today by talking about Hitchens and Dawkins proves you aren’t paying attention”). It’s a great read.

I’m especially glad to see this getting articulated so well and so publicly, as it corroborates a point I had made over a month ago in correcting a misperception of New Atheism in a work by Crossley. It’s also an example of the success of the ideals behind Atheism+ (the label just hasn’t been useful–except as a shibboleth for identifying the awful and the ignorant). We’ve helped make New Atheism more diverse and more sensitive to the issues and concerns of groups other than just old, white, wealthy, Anglo-American men. And it also demonstrates the need for continuing to fight for that cause, showing we still have a way to go to get all the way there, not least because, as Heina Dadabhoy commented on Facebook just recently:

The comments from atheists on the Alternet/Salon piece on diversifying atheism where I was quoted yesterday are already far more numerous & nasty than the ones I received from Muslims on the NYT piece in which I was featured.

That other piece she means, an excellent and positive coverage of the Women in Secularism conference, and ex-Muslim women involved in it (Leaving Islam for Atheism, and Finding a Much-Needed Place Among Peers), also appeared in a major mainstream media source (the New York Times), written by seasoned journalist Mark Oppenheimer (my more avid fans might remember him as the reporter who also exposed the Antony Flew scandal with my assistance some years back, which famously annoyed William Lane Craig).

Greta Christina has made a similar observation: she gets far more, and far worse, hate mail (complete with threats and vile abuse, and persistent harassing) from atheists than from Christians. And she wrote an infamous angry tirade against religion that was wholly uncompromising (Why Are You Atheists So Angry?) and is actively helping atheists come out and challenge religion (Coming Out Atheist), two definitive works in their respective subjects, so she would normally be the poster child for evil among the Christian community. Yet, they pretty much leave her alone. Now, it’s pretty much only the godless anti-feminists and anti-social-justice nuts who attack, and all too often in terms worse than any Christian ever did.

I’ve witnessed the same: I used to get threats of hellfire and menacing and harassment from theists; now I haven’t had such an email or blog comment literally in years. What I do get is abuse and harassment (albeit on a vastly smaller scale than any woman in the movement I know) from atheists…who think I’m ruining movement atheism by calling for it to be more diverse, treat women better, and to care about shit. I’ve seen the email inboxes and comment queues of numerous fellow women in the movement, and they are getting this consistently far more often and far worse.

I have been calling on my fellow atheists in the movement for years to denounce this and no longer give a free pass to such behavior. It’s an attempt to drive women (and in some cases gays and minorities) out of the movement. It’s an attempt to bolster white male superiority. Because reasons. Fuck that.

Viva la revolution.

Another Humanist Running for Congress in a Red District!

Photo of Barbara StockerCheck this out. And give her some help if you can. Barbara Stocker, an atheist and dedicated humanist, is running for US Congress…in Missouri! She’s the Democratic Candidate for the 8th Congressional District, and will be first on the ballot, the only woman against a field of three conservative men, and the only progressive in the race.

Stocker is a retired scientist (having worked in safety and environmental health for major corporations) and a “believer in a government that works for the people,” defending “Social Security and Medicare, cooperation in Congress, and investment in infrastructure.” She’s pro-growth for the economy, anti-austerity for the government. She is interested in protecting or promoting good regulations, and eliminating burdensome ones. And she has made a special point of concern for improving every aspect of how we treat our veterans.

Stocker has also been an active member of several freethought organizations, having published with the Council for Secular Humanism and the International League of Non-Religious and Atheists and participating in the Rationalist Society of St. Louis, where she accepted an award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union on behalf of the Atheist Centre (of India) at an Atheist Alliance International convention. She has also represented AAI at meetings of the Coalition for the Community of Reason. So she’s no idle humanist.

Find out more (and how to donate to her campaign if you are keen) at StockerinCongress.com (see also her campaign Facebook page). There may be many ways to help (e.g. as a campaign volunteer, podcaster, etc.), so if that sounds interesting, you can contact her there. I blogged about another progressive atheist candidate running for Congress in a conservative district in Arizona earlier this year (and his campaign could use help, too…he, too, has a remote but plausible shot at winning). Let’s hope this is a trend. The mere fact that they made the ballot is a sign of progress. Eventually, if we keep supporting them, atheists will actually start getting elected, too.

Brief Note on Pre-Ordering Historicity of Jesus

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.On the Historicity of Jesus is expected to be out by the end of June. I have not received a firm confirmation of that; it all depends on how much time the publisher takes to do a print run and distribute stock. I am reasonably sure it can’t be much later than that (I think worst case scenario would be end of July).

The publisher, Sheffield-Phoenix, located in the UK, is offering an opportunity to pre-order the book, in either hardcover or softcover (note the enormous price difference: $35 soft, $95 hard; this is typical now in academic publishing). You can do that at the publisher’s website, where you can also get a look at a description of the book and its extended table of contents.

But I must issue a word of caution. I was not going to blog the book’s availability until Amazon was offering a pre-order. This is because Amazon typically gives the best prices (although they in part do that by abusing and exploiting workers, something worth concern). Although you can pre-order from England now, direct from the publisher, not only does that mean you have to pay full list price (Amazon sometimes can undercut that; we’ll have to wait and see to find out if it does in this case), but also shipping (which you can often get waived for purchases through Amazon). And I can’t guarantee it will be faster. Amazon is vastly more efficient than most publishers, and though you’d think a publisher would fulfill its own pre-orders faster than it can deliver stock to Amazon and Amazon distribute its own pre-orders from it, one should hesitate to bet against Amazon. The only thing counting against it is that Sheffield distributes in North America through the Society of Biblical Literature, so that could produce enough of a delay in getting stock to Amazon US that Sheffield can beat its shipping and handling velocity, even crossing the sea.

Maybe none of this will matter. Pre-ordering through Sheffield might be the fastest way to get a copy in hand, even for people in the Americas. And it might not be significantly more expensive. I don’t know. So I just want my readers to be aware that I can’t promise either. And though sometimes sales direct through a publisher give an author a double royalty (this is the case for several of my other books), this is not the case here. So it won’t likely affect me either way.

Update: Amazon is now showing separate order pages for the hardcover and the softcover. Last I looked (and this can constantly change) they are offering a slight discount only on the former, but free shipping on both.

Offering Classes on Historical Method and the Historicity of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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