Lataster on the Historicity of Jesus Being a Debate Among Atheists

Cover of Raphael Lataster's book Jesus Did Not Exist, A Debate Among Atheists, with Richard Carrier. Shows an annular solar eclipse.Raphael Lataster, an Australian doctoral student in religious studies, has published a book recently, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate among Atheists, examining the debate over the historicity of Jesus by focusing only on what atheist and agnostic experts are saying, and not Christian believers—regarding the latter as too biased to consider; since any good arguments they have should be as convincing to experts who aren’t believers anyway, so really we should only be looking at the debate among atheists.

It’s a good point. Unfortunately, atheist academic monographs defending historicity don’t exist. The only two so far written this century, by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey, were neither published by academic presses, nor underwent any formal peer review. But Lataster works with what the academy has given him. And so he surveys the merits of those two books anyway. And compares them with mine, On the Historicity of Jesus, which was published by an academic press and did pass formal academic peer review. His own result is historicity agnosticism. And a lot of serious criticism of how the academy has handled this debate, judging by the only two books it has produced so far in defense of what the academy often claims should be so well demonstrated as to be irrefutable.

I was commissioned to write a foreword and afterword to the book, and to read the manuscript and provide any advice I had towards its improvement or the correction of any obvious errors or omissions. Lataster operated independently. He did not necessarily heed all of my advice. Whatever remains in the book is now his responsibility to defend. But I will make some comments on the matter below. In particular, I discuss in his book’s afterword what I expected critics will attempt to do, like attack its tone rather than its content—or lie about its contents. That process has already begun… [Read more…]

Groovy Video Companion to A Better Life

Logo for Chris Johnson's A Better Life (video and book)I just watched Chris Johnson‘s new documentary, A Better Life. The book was already fantastic. Beautiful photography, great interview excerpts, of both famous and everyday atheists with remarkable stories. The video companion lives up to it. This is a must-have addition to anyone’s collection of films documenting atheist thought and experience. When Chris took interviews and photos for his wonderfully plush coffee table book, he also shot beautiful high quality video. And here he stitches the best bits of his interviews together as he explores how atheists find meaning in life without religion, and how and why they left their faiths. And let me tell you, his interview subjects are some awesome gets. From renowned philosopher Patricia Churchland (and her dogs!) to beloved writer and actor Robert Llewellyn (Kryten from Red Dwarf, among a great deal else). And more (Cara Santa Maria, A.C. Grayling, Julia Sweeney, A.J. Johnson, Daniel Dennett, and beyond).

Bart Ehrman on How Jesus Became God

Cover of How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.In this latest book from Bart Ehrman we get a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, he is back in form writing a good popular book on a subject often misunderstood by the lay public. In How Jesus Became God, Ehrman demonstrates that Jesus was worshiped as a god from basically day one. The notion that High Christology developed later, false. On the other hand, I am starting to see a trend in his writing now, wherein he gets right anything he simply culls from existing scholarship and distills for public understanding, but doesn’t always get right everything he tries to add of his own or off the cuff. And the problem with that is that lay readers won’t know which is happening, and thus can’t always trust what he says.

The best rule I can advise is, if Ehrman cites scholarship for a statement he makes, he is at least telling you correctly what that scholarship says (which itself may be wrong, but not by any fault of Ehrman’s). If he doesn’t cite any scholarship for a statement he makes, he might be wrong and you should aim to double-check before relying on it. The rest you have to figure out from the merits of his logic, judging from premise to conclusion. And sometimes that’s solid. Sometimes it’s not.

The rest of this review breaks that down, the good and the bad, into the Devil’s details. [Read more…]

Critical Review of Maurice Casey’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus

Cover image of Mauruce Casey's new book About Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?So far only two contemporary books have been written in defense of the historicity of Jesus (nothing properly comparable has been published in almost a hundred years). They both suck. Which is annoying, because it should not be hard to write a good book in defense of historicity. And to be “good” I don’t require that it be successful, or convincing (though I would welcome that!), just worth reading, honest, accurate, informative, well-organized, well-sourced, giving mythicism the best shot possible, and being as self-critical as anyone would want mythicists to be. But alas, what we have are two travesties.

I already exposed all the egregious errors of fact and logic in Bart Ehrman’s sad armchair failure at this. Which evidently provoked him to repeatedly lie about what happened, which I then also documented. I consider him disgraced as a scholar. If you have to tell lies to save face, rather than admit a mistake and do better, you are done in this business. Or certainly ought to be. Anyway, I’ve already summarized that sorry story, with links and summaries (Ehrman on Historicity Recap).

Now we have Maurice Casey’s book defending the historicity of Jesus, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (T&T Clark, 2014…if you want to spend less or have a searchable text, it’s also available on kindle). It’s hard to compare the two books. Ehrman is at least a talented writer and mostly coherent thinker. In Jesus, Casey is neither.

The best way to describe this book is to imagine a rambling weirdo running into a grove of orange trees with a hammer and in a random frenzy smacking half the low hanging fruit, and then beating his chest and declaring proudly how the trees are now barren. Indeed. This book consists of a wandering, disorganized stream-of-consciousness of half-intelligible pontificating that very much reminded me of Eric Jonrosh. Except Jonrosh was eloquent. Indeed, the first two chapters almost read like a junior high schooler’s meandering rant on a sleepover, a total he-said-then-she-said gossip fest, where for long bouts all he does is clutch a fluffy pillow and trash talk people and obsess over Stephanie Fisher, while waiting for his friend’s mother to bring the smores. You might think that surely I am being unfair. No. Seriously. Read it.

(And BTW, when I say obsessed with Stephanie Fisher, I mean obsessed. He references or quotes this wholly unpublished graduate student seventeen times. He also copiously fawns on her in his Preface, which by itself would have been sweet.)

Here I’ll first summarize my more in-depth take on the book in a few more paragraphs, then catalog some common themes that render the book simultaneously amusing, insufferable, and useless, then analyze its contents in greater detail. Those who don’t want to labor on through the more detailed analyses may be satisfied with only the following summary…

[Read more…]

Komarnitsky: Required Reading on the Resurrection of Jesus

Cover of Doubting Jesus' Resurrection by Kris Komarnitsky, subtitle "What Happened in the Black Box," tagline "An Inquiry into an Alternative Explanation of the Christian Origins," second edition, dark brown cover with a black box in middle in 3D aspect with a question mark on it and an arrow moving into it from the left with the words "Jesus Crucified" and an arrow moving out of it to the right with the words "Resurrection Belief."Five years ago Kris Komarnitsky produced a well crafted book, Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? He has now extensively revised and updated it for the second edition, and that new version is now available, taking into account developments and new publications in the field, as well as newly examined comparative evidence that sheds light on why naturalistic explanations of the resurrection belief and empty tomb tales make far more sense than anything else. The big news is that it’s free on kindle this weekend (possibly only in the U.S.). [Update: apparently only Saturday; there will be another free offer on some future Saturday.]

Even though Komarnitsky is an amateur historian, his book is well researched and actually required reading on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus. I consider it an essential item to include on your reading list if you ever plan to debate that topic, formally or informally. He makes his reasoning clear and cites sources and scholarship, so you don’t have to rest on his authority. Anything you want to use from his work you can adapt to the purpose, and cite the underlying evidence and scholarship directly. I don’t agree with everything he concludes or assumes, but one of the merits of the book is that you can decide for yourself. He provides the evidence and reasoning, and doesn’t expect you to take him at his word.

I have often cited his book in my own work. And I was sufficiently impressed by it that I wrote the following promotional statement on its behalf:

Rare is it when a lay author puts in the effort of wide research, gathers the references to every point together, interacts with the leading disputes, and offers something soundly argued that hadn’t been so well argued before. Komarnitsky does all of that and presents a surprisingly excellent demonstration of how belief in the resurrection of Jesus could plausibly have originated by natural means. Though I don’t always agree with him, and some issues could be discussed at greater length, everything he argues is plausible, and his treatise as a whole is a must for anyone interested in the resurrection.

This new revised edition is even better. The improvements are substantial and more than warrant buying the new edition even if you already have the old one. Others have similarly been impressed by it, including Robert Price, even the infamous James McGrath. With fourteen customer reviews on Amazon it still averages five out of five stars (I must conclude the fundamentalists haven’t noticed it yet, so as to give it bad marks for no sound reason as they often do).

The basic thesis Komarnitsky explores is not to examine all the plausible natural explanations for the evidence, but to focus on only one coherent explanation and see how well even just that one theory holds up against the Christian alternative. He is aware that other explanations exist that are also far more plausible than the supernatural, and that this makes his ultimate conclusion (that Jesus did not really rise from the dead) even more probable (since the probability of that equals the sum of the posterior probabilities of all plausible alternatives, of which his is only one, so if even his is more probable than the supernatural, the supernatural is far less probable than even the converse of that).

One of many major improvements in the second edition is his adaptation of the anthropological work of professor Simon Dein of Durham University, who also endorses Komarnitsky’s book, and in the process explains this aspect of the new edition:

In this book Komarnitsky provides a compelling and convincing account of how the early Christians came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Building on my own research and documentation of a modern-day Jewish movement that rationalised their dead Messiah would resurrect from the dead, Komarnitsky argues clearly and concisely that the same basic cognitive process could have given birth to the Christian resurrection belief two thousand years ago. This book contains a wealth of biblical and social scholarship, and it is an important contribution to the study of early Christianity.

In addition to drawing on well-documented analogs like that, this book also surveys cite-worthy evidence regarding burial customs, legendary growth rates, and a great deal else. Even veteran experts will find it a handy source of references and ideas.

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.


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!

Hey, Free eBook! Christian vs. Atheist Intellectual Cage Match

Cover of the book God or Godless.Today (and today only!) you can get a free eBook, containing a written (and thus carefully thought-out) debate between an Atheist and a Christian. John Loftus (an atheist with two masters degrees, in theology and philosophy, who studied under none other than William Lane Craig) and Randal Rauser (a Canadian evangelical with a doctorate in philosophy) engage in an organized back-and-forth debate on twenty topics in the book God or Godless: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.

You can, of course, buy it in print [here]. But this very day (July 1st) a special is on for the kindle and nook editions [although, it appears, only in the U.S. and select other countries]: if you grab it today, the book is free [see kindle and nook]. If you prefer the more generic eBook format, you can get that for free, too, at a Christian vendor [here]. (Although if you missed today, it’s still available on all three platforms for cheap through the end of the month).

Loftus and I have worked together on projects in this field over the years and he made use of my work and advice for some of the positions he takes. But overall, what you get here is what my blurb for the book says:

This is a fascinating and sometimes humorous intro to twenty common debates between atheists and theists. You’ll find countless rambling and confused versions of such debates online. But here you will find a clear, concise, well-written exchange on each. Keeping it short, the authors can’t include every point to be made, but they make a good show of where each side stands on these questions and why. If you want to continue these debates further, start with this.

Indeed, this book is an excellent starting point for any of the twenty debates included. I’d recommend starting any debate online, for example, by having both sides read the corresponding mini-debate in this book, and then continuing from there. And if you just want some ideas for how to debate these topics in general, or even to help you think about them in building your own philosophy of life, this book is well suited as a primer for the task. Even if you don’t think either side is making the very best possible defense of their position, it’s even a useful task to think through how you’d do it better, since both are representative of some of the best approaches. So even then it’s a good place to start.

The twenty questions debated (alternating between the philosophical and the biblical) are (1) the meaning of life, (2) whether early Biblical Judaism was actually monotheistic, (3) the reason to be moral, (4) whether the Bible promoted child sacrifice, (5) the value of religion in respect to science, (6) whether the Bible justified genocide, (7) whether theism or atheism explains the universe better, (8) whether the Bible promoted slavery, (9) whether human reason and knowledge require God, (10) whether the Bible is sexist, (11) whether love can exist without God, (12) whether the Biblical God cares one whit about animals, (13) whether even atheists “just have faith,” (14) whether the Biblical God was scientifically illiterate, (15) whether the power of music can prove God exists, (16) whether the Biblical God was a lousy prognosticator, (17) whether any miracles are real, (18) whether God is an incompetent creator, (19) the resurrection of Jesus (of course), and (20) whether God is an incompetent redeemer.

All interesting questions to see hashed out this way. Each side makes their case, then gets a short rebuttal, and then a quick closing statement, before moving on to the next. And today, you can get an electronic edition for free (links above).

A Well-Deserved Nod to Aviezer Tucker

Front cover of Aviezer Tucker's book Our Knowledge of the PastAfter I published Proving History a reader said I should check out Aviezer Tucker’s book Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography, since it appeared to back up the entire core thesis of my book. I am amazed and ashamed that I did not discover this book sooner. It must not have been indexed well in databases, since my searches for Bayesian historiography did not discover it. I just finished reading it, and while I wait for more opportune times to blog on other issues coming up, I thought I’d post a little about this.

Tucker is a prominent and widely published philosopher (see his bio and cv). We have at least two things in common: we both did graduate work at Columbia University, and we both think historical reasoning is fundamentally Bayesian. As some might know, the subtitle of my book is Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, and though the study of Jesus is its principle example, the overall thesis is that all history is Bayesian and all historians should learn Bayes’ Theorem and how to apply it to their own thinking to improve their reasoning, research, and argumentation.

Tucker makes the same argument. His approach is deeper and more philosophical, more about making the point that historical reasoning is already Bayesian, and that this explains everything from consensus to disagreement in the historical community. My book makes that argument, too, but is more about the practical application of this conclusion, and providing tools and advice for how historians can make use of Bayesian reasoning to improve what they do. Tucker delves more deeply into philosophy and probability theory and as such his book is essentially an extension of my sixth chapter (which goes into more depth on points made earlier in my book).

That’s why I regret not having known of his book before now. It’s a great shame that Proving History does not cite it, and I am writing this review now to redress that gap. OKP provides solid support for the core thesis of PH, and is the first book I know that makes the case I do (and thought I was alone in making). Others had discussed Bayes’ Theorem in the context of historical reasoning, but always skeptically or inconclusively (e.g. see PH, p. 304, n. 28). Tucker appears to be the first to understand that in fact historical reasoning is Bayesian, and to argue the point explicitly. It thus provides another foundation (and independent corroboration) for my main conclusions. It was also a prestigious peer reviewed academic work, published by Cambridge University Press in 2004 (I had my book peer reviewed as well, but my publisher is less known for that).

Owners of Proving History might want to pen Tucker’s name and book title into the margins somewhere (it should certainly have gotten a nod in note 3 of chapter four, on page 306, and probably in my discussion on page 49 as well, perhaps where I mention the precedents of applying Bayesian reasoning in law and archaeology).

The leading merits of OKP are that Tucker grounds you in the history of historiography and philosophy of history, he treats in greater detail the issues of historical consensus and disagreement (with many erudite examples), he addresses several leading problems in the philosophy of history, and he cites and adapts debates and discussions of Bayesianism in the philosophy of science and applies them to history the same way I do (only he again in more detail): by demonstrating that science and history are fundamentally the same discipline, only applied to data-sets of widely differing reliability.

As Tucker says in his central chapter (ch. 3, “The Theory of Scientific Historiography”), “I argue that the interpretation of Bayesianism that I present here is the best explanation of the actual practices of historians” and that “Bayesian formulae can even predict in most cases the professional practices of historians” (p. 134), and he gives good brief explanations of prior probability and likelihood (what I call consequent probability) in the context of historical thinking, and uses real-world examples to illustrate his point. His chapters 1 and 2 cover the background of the philosophy and epistemology of history, and remaining chapters apply the results of chapter three to address three major debates in that field: explaining disagreement among historians (ch. 4), resolving questions of causal explanation in history (ch. 5), and exploring the limits of historical knowledge and method (ch.6). He then wraps it all up with a conclusion (ch. 7). There is also an extensive bibliography and index. Throughout his book, Tucker aims to refute postmodernist and hyper-skeptical approaches to historical knowledge, and in that regard makes a good supplement to McCullagh (whom I do cite in PH).

For me, the most notable facts are that we did not know of each other, yet we independently came to the same conclusion that all historical reasoning is fundamentally Bayesian, and Tucker is a well-established philosopher and his book is by a major peer reviewed academic press. Both facts add weight and authority to my overall conclusion in Proving History. And that’s always nice to have.


Zindler-Price Anthology: Contra Ehrman

Frank Zindler and Bob Price have edited their own anthology of “responses” to Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? For this project Zindler bought the rights from me to include a special summary edition of my blogging on the same subject (see Ehrman on Historicity Recap). This anthology is now available through American Atheist Press as Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? (also available on kindle).

The rights to my contribution were procured through a single-payment contract, so I won’t be getting any royalties from the sale of this book (if you want to buy it and still want me to get a cut, then you can buy it through the above link, which is to the respective sales page in my Amazon store, where I get a kickback on any sale). I also had (and have) no editorial control over this book or its publication. My contribution does contain some new material not included in my blogging, but the most important addition (quotations from the Egyptian Pyramid Texts) will be included in my next book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, and the rest is pretty much already what’s available online (either in or linked from Recap), although I made various improvements in wording throughout.

I required a disclaimer to be included (in the Foreword generally and in the first paragraph of my chapter specifically), since I do not endorse much of what gets said elsewhere in this book. I was sure of this even before I read it, but having at last read it I can now confirm my expectation was correct. In fact, I consider much of it terrible. But it is fair enough to say that each chapter represents the best of what you can expect from each contributor of late. So if you want to see what each mythicist author is most often like in their manner of argumentation and quality of research, this is the anthology for you, although at 567 pages from disparate authors, it can be a challenge to get through.

That’s the sum of it. But those who want to know more can read on… [Read more…]

Brodie on Jesus

Cover of Brodie's book "Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus"Last month I completed Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery by Thomas Brodie (Sheffield Phoenix, 2012) and have only just now found the time to review it here (I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had internet access for most of the last two weeks–buried in the moors and quaint villages of England–sorry about that!).

In this book Brodie (a major biblical scholar) drops a bombshell: he has been convinced that Jesus never existed as a historical person since the 70s. Only now (in this much-anticipated book) has he felt free to say so publicly, and explain the path of discovery that took him there. This book is as the subtitle says: a memoir. It isn’t really a good book for arguing his case. In fact, it’s terrible at that. Consequently, I cannot recommend this book to anyone who wants to see a good case for Jesus not existing. You simply will not be convinced by his treatment of that here. All it does do is explain, autobiographically, the steps that took him to this conclusion, with some brief outlines of the kind of arguments he could perhaps gin up if he were to do a full-force defense of the thesis.

However, even were he to write that hypothetical book, I still don’t think he’d have a case. Not that there isn’t a good case for the conclusion (that Jesus probably did not really exist historically as the Gospels claim). Rather, I think Brodie has come to that conclusion invalidly, from a rather weak series of arguments. Cover of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical StudiesOthers will complain of his theology, as he attempts to argue in Beyond that he can still be a good Catholic (and a member of the church hierarchy) even if he believes there was no historical Jesus. His attempt to make sense of that is nonsense, IMO, worse even than the dubious “have it both ways” theology of the Episcopal skeptic, John Shelby Spong. But I really don’t care about that. That’s for the superstitious goons at the Vatican to argue over. Atheists can be satisfied with the gut punch to all such kinds of hyper-liberal reasoning in Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies (which smartly treats and refutes both conservative and liberal attempts to rehabilitate the bible as anything but awful ancient woo).

My interest is in this book’s value toward advancing the historicity debate. Assessment: it unfortunately won’t. It’s one merit is its honesty, and its setting an example that one major well-qualified expert does not deem the notion of Jesus’ ahistoricity to be implausible or out of bounds. I cannot say it adds to any argument from authority. Since his case is invalid in my opinion, his being a proponent of ahistoricity does not itself support ahistoricity, only its respectability. Why? Well, he rests on one non sequitur and one false premise.

The non sequitur is common among myth proponents: the Gospels are obvious contrived myths, therefore Jesus didn’t exist. The premise is true (many have well proved it already, but I will marshal the best evidence in my book on this next year). But the conclusion does not follow. Brodie also does not make a very good case even for the premise in this book, though I know he can. His treatment in The Birthing of the New Testament does a better job of that, albeit flawed in the same ways MacDonald’s Homeric argument is: the case is made with enough strong arguments, but those are buried under many weak arguments, so people tend to dismiss the whole thesis because of the latter, not taking proper note of the former. But in any case, if you want to see the best case for that, Beyond is not it. I don’t think he will convince anyone with what’s presented here. It’s possible I’m too jaded, though, and that the material in Beyond will be fresh and intriguing enough to someone not already familiar with the Brodie thesis.

Meanwhile, the false premise has to do with his treatment of the Pauline epistles. Really the only evidence for historicity there is is a scant few obscure passages in the Pauline epistles (e.g. references to “brothers of the Lord”), so they are really the most important evidence to deal with, and he deals with them almost not at all. In fact, his answer to them is to declare them all forgeries, and Paul himself a fiction. Brodie makes no clear case for this conclusion, and what arguments he does have are fallacious (e.g. the letters have certain features that forged letters sometimes share–except, so do authentic letters), and the position as a whole is too radical to be useful. Not that it hasn’t had serious defenders before this. But it constitutes a whole additional fringe thesis one must defend successfully first, before one can use it as a premise in an argument for the ahistoricity of Jesus. And I am skeptical that that can really be done (see my comments here and here). Certainly none of his arguments in Beyond are convincing on this subject.

To be clear, Brodie’s view appears to be that the authentic Paulines were written in the early first century by Christians who would have known the original apostles. So he is not advancing the Detering thesis, for example, that they are all mid-second century forgeries. But he doesn’t explain how their contents can still make sense within the context of a non-historical Jesus. In fact, Brodie presents absolutely no theory of Christian origins at all. And that is perhaps this book’s most decisive failing. You simply cannot argue successfully for ahistoricity without testing a theory of Christian origins without Jesus against the best (i.e. most defensible and least speculative) theory of Christian origins with Jesus.

So, methodologically, this book is just as unsound as Ehrman’s book arguing the contrary (which is rife with fallacies cover to cover). Does it have any merits? As autobiography, it is very informative. As a précis of why he believes what he does, it’s adequate, just not persuasive. His treatment of the presumption of an oral tradition behind the Gospels is spot on (no one has summed it up quite so well in so short a space: pp. 115-19, cf. also p. 156). His rebuttal to Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? is over-brief but on point (pp. 226-31). And he has sound opinions on the criteria used to defend historicity (they suck: p. 157) and the extrabiblical evidence (they prove nothing: pp. 16-68; I disagree with some of his premises here, but his conclusions follow all the same, e.g. here you will find the best argument that Josephus doesn’t matter even if everything he says is authentic). And there are occasional gems (e.g. he has an intriguing thesis as to why Jesus was mythically construed to be a carpenter or the son of one: pp. 159-60; and his conclusion of Josephus is eminently quotable: “it is not possible, in any reliable way, to invoke Josephus as an independent witness to Jesus. Unreliable witness cannot be used to condemn someone to death. And neither can it be used to assert that someone lived.”).

But these do not constitute enough of a merit to warrant recommending this book to most readers, who will not much benefit from it, I’m sorry to say.