My Online Course on the Bible Starts Tomorrow. Join in. Learn Cool Stuff!

How screwed up are the manuscripts of the New Testament? What aren’t Christian preachers and apologists telling the public? How can you know when they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes about what’s in the Bible…or if they even know they are reporting the facts correctly?

How can you tell which Bible translation is the most honest for any given passage?

How have books been transmitted to us from the ancient world two thousand years ago? Is their text reliable enough to trust? Why? Or why not?

Do the Gospels really disagree on when Jesus was born? Do modern Bibles really contain known forgeries? Has the Gospel of Mark been doctored after the fact?

Answers to those questions, and more, will be covered in this course.

But what questions do you have about the New Testament? Like about its formation and transmission, its survival and accuracy, how it’s translated, what Christians claim about what it says. Or any question in the subject of New Testament studies, or the study of Greco-Roman texts generally.

This is your chance to ask an expert and get as full a response as you want, with as much follow up as you want, within the month of February. So join this class and take advantage of it!

Only one course text is required (and you can get it on kindle): my anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

See you there!

Join My New Course This February: Intro to Biblical Scholarship on the New Testament

Starting February 1 (2015) I will be teaching an online course, Introduction to Biblical Scholarship on the New Testament. Click that to register.

The required course text (which students should purchase as soon as possible) is my personal anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ (available there in print or kindle). We will use its contents as springboards for learning and discussing all manner of issues related to textual, historical, and literary analysis in New Testament studies. All other course materials (articles and/or video lectures) will be provided for free, including research papers by various scholars we’ll discuss, and excerpts from critical scholarly editions of the Bible in the original Greek (and no prior knowledge of Greek will be required), public online tools, and other readings and resources. And that’s not all…

Official Course Description:

[Read more…]

I Am on Wired Magazine’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Logo for the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, the title in 3D letters floating in a 1950s style cartoon version of outer space and Saturn.Bible scholar Robert Price and I were asked about our thoughts on the movie Noah on the Geek’s Guide to the Universe podcast, sponsored by Wired Magazine and hosted by David Barr Kirtley.

The episode (108) first features an interview with author Christopher Moore, who has been rewriting and merging Shakespeare tales from the perspective of different characters in them. This guy does a lot of interesting research for his fiction, and discusses that and how it led to the form of his latest book, The Serpent of Venice, a bizarre comedy-monster-bondage-erotica-horror novel blending Othello and the Merchant of Venice…not kidding, you might want to listen to this half of the show. They also touch on a lot of other things, like the aesthetics of hiding political values in fiction. They even talk about the Noah story a little (between minute 38:40 and 42:10), because Moore wrote Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (which the host says is taught in seminaries, although that seems odd).

Our panel starts at 42:52 and goes a little over an hour from there. We laugh a bit and talk about everything Noah. Whether it was a good movie. How far it deviated from the Old Testament story. Where on earth the changes came from, or what the point of them was. What myths are for and how best to react to them. Why Christians who repudiate the film might be showing their true colors a bit more than they intend. You’ll get all kinds of info and analysis from both of us on how the writers of the film took genuine germs of ideas from the apocrypha and Talmud about the Noah tale and expanded them with their own creative additions. Want to know why there are rock monsters? Or why Noah is a militant vegetarian environmentalist? Or where the idea of that exploding crystal came from? Or where on earth they got the idea of Methuselah burning a million soldiers to death by shoving a sword in the ground? Or how the film is actually more Christian than the Bible story itself? Sci-fi and fantasy geeks will be especially amused.

We also ponder what the aesthetic point might have been behind various decisions the filmmakers made (director Darren Aronofsky, who co-wrote with Ari Handel), and compare how they treated this story with how other films treat mythical tales that are safely pagan (and thus no one notices or cares when they change everything). We even touch on the criticism that went around (like Greta Christina wrote about a while back) that the casting might have been a tinge racist.

Near the end (starting around 136:41) we go a little into my work on Bayesian method and the historicity of Jesus, and an unusual new project Robert Price is involved in that is well worth learning about, and whatnot. Check it out!

FtBCon 2: Bible Study (or Taking the Bible Seriously as Fiction: A Read-Along)

At noon today, California time (2pm Central) I’ll be drinking fine scotch, while teaching the people about the literary weirdness of the New Testament, in Bible Study (or Taking the Bible Seriously as Fiction: A Read-Along). Please grab your bible, tune in, and read along with me. (The link to the video feed is the “Official Session Page,” down the right margin of the Lanyrd event page.) I will not be taking questions during the show. But any questions you do have, post them here, and I’ll get to them all eventually (but please heed my comments policy).

Here is a select reading list for anyone who wants to dive further into this kind of thing:

And for beginners in New Testament Studies:

Enjoy!

FtBCon2: Free Online Conference Next Weekend!

Remember when we had this amazing free online conference one weekend last year, with dozens of talks, panels, and speakers, that people all over the world could watch live? And ask questions in real time. And watch the recorded events ever after on YouTube. Well, get ready. Because we’re doing it again–in precisely one week.

Our complete calendar for the weekend of January 31 to February 2 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) will be finalized and go live over this weekend. As will our complete list of speakers and panelists (and its huge! and spans the globe!). For both speakers and schedule, bookmark our page on Lanyrd and check it tomorrow night (as a backstage planner, I can tell you that we’ve scheduled over 30 talks and panels throughout the conference, featuring over 80 speakers and panelists altogether). For everything else, bookmark FtBCon.org and also check that Saturday night.

(We will also have a YouTube collection of everything that you can view if you miss the live events, facilitated by our own Miri Mogilevsky; right now over there you can view all of last year’s talks and panels–you can also read up on last year’s event here and peruse its Lanyrd page here. This year will be organized similarly, and have a similar diversity of topics.)

Last year I attended many of the talks and panels as a viewer and it was awesome. I gave one talk myself, on “What the Military Taught Me about Feminism.” This year I’m doing one talk and one panel, and helping facilitate and introduce a few more (including panels featuring members of the Secular Student Alliance, The Black Freethinkers Network, and the Filipino Freethinkers…who will actually be streaming in live from the Philippines!). [Read more…]

The Star of Bethlehem: The Definitive Takedown

Cover of Aaron Adair's book The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, showing a star to the left, the milky way as viewed from earth to the right, part of an astrological horoscope to the bottom right, and the stock bible image of the magi on camels in shadow at the bottom.An astrophysicist has just done a bang-up job debunking the Star of Bethlehem and its affiliated fawning scholarship. All in just 155 pages (in fact, really only 128 if you skip the appendix, glossary, and bibliography). The author is Dr. Aaron Adair. The book is The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View (also available on kindle). Like any responsible amateur, he sought the help of historians, classicists, and specialists for composing his sections on the literary and historical arguments, and for translating the original Greek (even though he has some competence in the language himself). His research was exhaustive. His key arguments fairly conclusive. He explicitly sets aside many eye-rolling side-debates like dating the death of Herod the Great, yet even then he mentions them and his reasons for not delving further into them. And his command of the astronomical arguments is, of course, unmatched, being directly in his field of expertise.

I was one of the experts who advised him on the project and I got to read an advance draft and was very impressed with the result. Hence you’ll see my promotional blurb on the book’s cover. I wrote:

Well researched, scientifically reasoned, elegantly concise, this book will long be required reading on the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. Full of fascinating historical facts, and better informed and more careful than any other book on the subject, this should be on the shelf of everyone interested in that legendary celestial event.

True that. His bibliography alone is of great value. Scientists will find the book especially heartwarming. Historians will as well. It even taught me a few things. In the foreword by astronomer and science writer Bob Berman, for example, I learned something I hadn’t even thought of, an example of Christianity seeping its way even into popular astronomy education. Berman writes…

[The Star of Bethlehem] has been a staple of holiday planetarium shows since the 1930s…[and my] very first column, published in Discover in December 1989, was a two-page spread about the Star of Bethlehem. Basically I summarized the various “explanations” shown to the public during planetariums’ annual “Star of Wonder” shows, then noted that Planetarium Directors–I’d interviewed quite a few–were well aware that each was impossible. Nonetheless, the shows remain popular, and have become such a tradition in and of themselves that no one seems bothered by such make-believe science being annually offered to the public.

Indeed.

Beyond that, however, I find this book of value not just because it will teach you a lot of cool things about history and astronomy with an economy of words, nor only because it has a great bibliography and is the go-to resource now for discussing this subject, but also because in the process of addressing astrological theories of the Star account, Adair deftly demonstrates a point I had long made myself but never had the time to demonstrate: ancient astrology was so wildly inconsistent and diverse that any astrological theory of either Christian origins or biblical accounts is probably beyond any possibility of demonstrating.

And this is relevant to the historicity debate. Not because proving the star account was a wholesale myth (and was inspired by no actual natural or supernatural event), as Adair does, entails or even implies Jesus didn’t exist (a historical man can have such myths spun around him easily enough), but because it shows why every Jesus mythicist who attempts to make an astrotheological argument for the origins of Christianity and (especially) the construction of the Gospels is just engaging in a Rorschach inkblot test. There was no consistent symbolism or system of allusions in ancient astrology, so any attempt to use one (or cobble one together) is just another multiple comparisons fallacy run amok.

That doesn’t mean astrotheological theories are necessarily false. But it does mean none can be proved even probable on present evidence, so the whole attempt should be abandoned.

To understand why, Adair’s book is a must-read. And that’s on top of all the other reasons I’ve summarized. So if any of this is your thing, check it out!

Atwill’s Cranked-up Jesus

Joseph Atwill is one of those crank mythers I often get conflated with. Mythicists like him make the job of serious scholars like me so much harder, because people see, hear, or read them and think their nonsense is what mythicism is. They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

Note that I have divided this article into two parts, the second (titled “Our Long Conversation”) is something you can easily skip (see the intro there for whether reading it will be of any interest to you). So although this post looks extraordinarily long, it’s really that second part that gives it such length. You can just read up to the beginning of that section though. You don’t have to continue beyond that to get the overall point. [Read more…]

Historicity News: Notable Books

This is the second of three posts covering news in the historicity-of-Jesus debate (for the first see Thallus et Alius). I recently finished reading the latest books by John Crossan and Dennis MacDonald. They inadvertently support the mythicist case with their latest arguments (despite making some weak, almost half-hearted arguments for historicity), and are worth taking note of. I don’t have time to write a full review, but here are some observations of interest to the historicity debate… [Read more…]

Historicity News: Thallus et Alius

I have a slew of things to report. I was thinking of doing some book reviews, for example, but I am not going to have the time. With my England trip coming up and my push to hunker down and finish On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, I will have much less time for blogging over the next two months. So I’m just going to summarize some things of late, including a new publication of mine, new books by others, and major events in the field, over the course of three posts.

First, my peer reviewed paper on Thallus has just been published (my paper on Josephus is soon to follow). The full citation is Richard Carrier, “Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8 (2011-2012): 185-91. [It was available online, as part of Volume 8, as a downloadable PDF, but only until it appeared in print]. The conclusion is that Thallus never mentioned Jesus in any capacity, and must therefore be removed from all lists of authors attesting to Jesus. In fact, we have what is certainly a direct quotation of what Thallus said in Eusebius: that in the year 32 “the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell.”

If anyone wants to update Wikipedia’s article on Thallus to quote and/or cite this peer reviewed article, please feel free. It currently quotes my very old online essay on the matter; whereas the new paper is not only peer reviewed, but contains additional arguments confirming the conclusion, improves various points, and skips over unnecessary digressions.

Second, in yesterday’s post “Understanding Bayesian History” I responded to a scientist’s critique of my book Proving History, and he posted a well written reply in comments there, which I much appreciated and to which I have responded in kind, and that exchange makes a lot of things clearer, especially as to my objectives in writing PH and how to improve upon it, and regarding what his concerns actually were. I consider this a model of constructive dialogue, so it’s worth looking at.

Next I’ll report on two new books I’ve read that relate to the question of historicity.