OHJ: The Rosson 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.This week I am doing a series on early reviews of my book On the Historicity of Jesus. If you know of reviews I don’t cover by the end of the first week of July, post them in comments (though please also remark on your own estimation of their merits).


One of those early reviews posted is by Loren Rosson III (at The Busybody), a notable librarian who is well-informed and well-involved in the biblical studies community. Interestingly, he compares my book to another that I have on my shelf (literally right behind me as I type) but have not yet read, arguing that Mohammed was also mythical: Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist? (which I’ve been told by all accounts is the best book on the subject; but don’t ask me my opinion on that topic, I have not examined it).

Rosson’s review is thoughtful and well stated. He is fair and accurate even when critical. That’s a good sign that one is not engaging in motivated reasoning nor has emotional or ideological blinders on. His review is also overall positive, and only focuses on his disagreements because they are more interesting to him (as one should expect).

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OHJ: The Lataster 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.A variety of early online reviews have appeared of my new book On the Historicity of Jesus (including Amazon reviews, to which my responses, if any, will appear there in appended comments). I will blog a series on them this week. If you know of any reviews I don’t cover by the end of the first week of July, post them in comments (though please also remark on your own estimation of their merits).


One of the early reviews posted will be published in the Journal of Religious History later this year, by Raphael Lataster, a doctoral student in religious studies and a historicity agnostic. His review is accurate and positive. But he states one criticism:
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On the Historicity of Jesus Now Officially Available in Print

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.Many already know, but for those who still haven’t heard, it’s no longer on pre-order: you can now buy On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, either direct from the publisher or (often at a discount) through Amazon (and other booksellers, so if you want to support your local bookstore, you can place an order with them). I get an additional commission if you buy through my Amazon store (which has many other recommended titles as well).

I’ll announce ebook and audio editions as they come, but expect that to be many months from now. I am negotiating deals for both. But with that and production, I hope to have the ebook edition out by the end of this year, and the audiobook by then or early next year. Eventually I will list all options here.

I will also compile responses to critics here as time goes on. And I will be teaching online classes each year using this book as a course text. The first of those will be this August (so if you want to take that, order the book now so you will get it in time), with a preparatory course on historical methods preceding that (so, this July, and that begins next week as of this posting).

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.


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).


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).


Replies to Criticisms of On the Historicity of Jesus

Covington, Nicholas (conclusion: poses good questions, is mostly persuaded).

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).


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).


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


Ottawa Historicity Debate: A Commentary

Video of my debate with Zeba Crook (an atheist professor of New Testament studies) on whether Jesus historically existed is now available online as Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth? A Discussion with Zeba Crook and Richard Carrier (produced by AtheismTV). I announced and discussed that here. But now you can watch the debate itself. The AV quality is not very good, but it’s manageable. As I note in the video, there was no way to respond to every point made, for want of time. Indeed, by the time I got to state my first rebuttal, I had to answer thirty minutes of Dr. Crook in just ten minutes. But I think both sides got to state their best case, and left the debate where further discussion is needed but at least moved beyond a lot of the usual sidetracking nonsense.

I shall place here below, and expand, what notes I had jotted down as the debate went on but didn’t have time to get to at the podium, including some comments on Dr. Crook’s final closing, which left loose ends unfinished, since he only at that point had any opportunity to respond to my rebuttal (at which point, he had five minutes to answer my ten, putting him at the disadvantage). Those notes I wrote in my own kind of abbreviated shorthand, but here I just spell them out in full sentences, with connecting sentences and whatnot (so don’t imagine I wrote all those words as-is during the debate; I captured those ideas in a much more abbreviated notation). Some of those notes will repeat what I said in rebuttals, some will expand on them, and some will be things I didn’t have time to talk about.

Certainly ask questions in comments here about anything you didn’t find resolved in the debate, or any arguments Crook made that you think I overlooked or didn’t adequately address (especially things that came up in Q&A, since I didn’t write notes then). But please first read the commentary below. It may already answer your question. In which case I’ll just tell you to read it.


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Appearing in Sacramento Area…with David Fitzgerald!

Next week I will be in a double header with David Fitzgerald discussing different aspects of the historicity of Jesus. The event is Thursday night, May 29 (2014), at UC Davis (in the Sacramento area, California), brought to you by the Agnostic & Atheist Student Association. We will also be selling our books and taking Q&A.

I am writing this from the jungles of Costa Rica, on an iPad, so with considerable difficulty the best I can do is just link you to the event’s Facebook page where you can get all the details: The Historicity of Jesus with Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald. Please help them out and RSVP there if you will be going.

It will be entertaining!

On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up?

Here’s a request to those keen to see my next book: since I am nearing completion of my subject index for On the Historicity of Jesus (the scripture index is long since finished and submitted), and the publisher wants to release it in June (at that link you can also see the book’s description and a detailed table of contents), it occurred to me that it couldn’t hurt to ask everyone who is interested: what would you look up in the index to such a book? Don’t worry whether I’ve already thought of it. If you are keen to, just list anything in comments here that you would expect, or hope, or want, or need to be there. And if you know anyone interested in this book, let them know to come here and weigh in if they want to.

For the purposes of this post only, all I want in comments are words and names you’d like to see in the index (or attempts to describe such, if you aren’t sure how something would be indexed). No other questions or commentary, please. I have plenty of other posts on the subject where those can be submitted. Thanks!

On Evaluating Arguments from Consensus

I have often been asked how we should evaluate arguments from consensus. That’s where someone says “the consensus of experts is that P, therefore we should agree P is true.” On the one hand, this looks like an Argument from Authority, a recognized fallacy. On the other hand, we commonly think it should add weight to a conclusion that the relevant experts endorse it. Science itself is based on this assumption. As is religion, lest a religionist think they can defeat science by rejecting all appeals to authority–because such a tack would defeat all religion as well, even your own judgment, since if all appeals to authority are invalid, so is every appeal to yourself as an authority (on your religion, or even on your own life and experience).

And yet, it is often enough the case that a consensus of experts is wrong (as proved even by the fact that the scientific consensus has frequently changed, as has the consensus in any other domain of expertise, from history to motorboat repair). And our brains are cognitively biased to over-trust those we accept as authorities (the Asch effect), putting us at significant risk of false belief if we are not sufficiently critical of our relying on an expert. It’s only more complicated when we have warring experts and have to choose between them, even though we are not experts ourselves.

So what do we do?

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