James Lindsay on the Historicity of Jesus

Philosopher James Lindsay (not to be confused with CFI Director Ron Lindsay), author of God Doesn’t; We Do has written an interesting piece about my book, On the Historicity of Jesus, but tangentially, i.e. he isn’t reviewing the book but responding to the way some people might use it. See Why I Really Don’t Care If Jesus Existed or Not.

Notably I have long agreed with his overall thesis: objectively, the historicity of Jesus is no more important than the historicity of Socrates, and is really only an interesting question in history. It’s not an earth-shattering thesis in counter-apologetics. It would be only if we had smoking-gun scale evidence against historicity, and we don’t, due to the paucity of evidence survival and its hugely compromised state (OHJ, chs. 7 § 7 and 8 § 3-4 and § 12; also chs. 4, Element 22, and 5, Element 44). For example, if Christianity were based on the belief that a flying saucer was found at Roswell and alien bodies recovered from it and autopsied by the government, the evidence against that even having happened would certainly be exhibit A in any refutation of Christianity. But we have in the Jesus case nothing like the survival of evidence we have in the Roswell case. Hence I’ve made the point before: Fincke Is Right: Arguing Jesus Didn’t Exist Should Not Be a Strategy.

My interest in it is because I’m a historian, whose specializations include ancient religions and the origins of Christianity, I was paid with a research grant to study the issue, and the way Christian dogma and faith beliefs have infected even secular study of the subject is a serious issue long overdue for a correction. Exactly as happened for the Patriarchs: Christian dogma and faith beliefs infected even secular study of that subject until a serious corrective effort was launched in the 1970s which has resulted in what is now a mainstream consensus among non-fundamentalist experts that the Old Testament Patriarchs are mythical persons who almost certainly never really existed. Christianity was not thereby overthrown. But the shift was nevertheless necessary to maintain the respectability of biblical history as an honest profession. The same is now true of the debate over the historicity of Jesus, as even historicity advocate Philip Davies has said.

The end result has been, I believe, a lot of increased clarity and discovery concerning many issues in the origins of Christianity, and not just the target issue of how certain we can be that Jesus was even a person. Readers of my book will notice that every chapter has wide utility for counter-apologetics without even having to mention much less affirm the non-existence of Jesus; you will recognize a lot of cherished Christian apologetical shibboleths being demolished there, and the citations of sources and scholarship extremely useful to anyone taking them on. But even apart from counter-apologetics, our understanding of ancient religion, ancient culture, ancient politics, and earliest Christianity, is significantly advanced and made more coherently clear by the effort. Which is as it should be. That’s a historian’s job.

So some corrections are still warranted to Lindsay’s analysis.

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OHJ: The Ramos Review

Cover of Richard Carrier's book On the Historicity of Jesus. Medieval icon image of Jesus holding a codex, on a plain brown background, title above in white text, author below in white text.Continuing my series on early reviews of my book On the Historicity of Jesus, today I am writing about the detailed review by F. Ramos. If you know of reviews I haven’t covered by now (or follow-up segments of reviews I did cover), please post them in comments (though please also remark on your own estimation of their merits).

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

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

Let’s see what I mean…

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On Bart Ehrman Being Pot Committed

I shall continue my series on early reviews of On the Historicity of Jesus next week. But for the weekend I’ll just post a little embarrassing bit about Bart Ehrman I’ve just not found a spot to fit it in until now. Bart Ehrman has so far been refusing to engage with my book or its argument, and instead just complains about being criticized, without ever responding to any of my more serious criticisms, in a most suspicious and conspicuous fashion. And since my last commentary on this, he has avoided ever responding to me, until this April…sort of.

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OHJ: The Covington Review (Part 2)

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.Last week I did a series on early reviews of my book On the Historicity of Jesus. If you know of reviews I haven’t covered, post them in comments (though please also remark on your own estimation of their merits).

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One of those early reviews began a series by Nicholas Covington. Last week I commented on part 1. Here is my commentary on part 2, which deals with Paul’s reference to James. More to come. Here I’ll just comment item by item. But those who want to can skip all the commentary and go directly to my two-paragraph summary.

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OHJ: The Hallquist 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).

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One of those early reviews posted is by Chris Hallquist (at The Uncredible Hallq for Patheos), a notable atheist author who has a master’s in philosophy from Notre Dame. His review is billed as only “initial thoughts” and therefore might be revised or expanded in future posts. If so, I’ll blog those and add links at the bottom here (please let me know if he blogs again on the subject so I can do that). For now, here is my commentary on what he has posted so far.

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OHJ: The Covington Review (Part 1)

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).

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One of those early reviews posted is by Nicholas Covington (at Hume’s Apprentice of SkepticInk), author and blogger, with a strong interest in counter-apologetics, naturalist philosophy, and historical argument. He is blogging his review as a series, and so far only parts 1 and 2 are available. I will post more as he does. But here is my commentary on part 1, on a question of method. My commentary on part 2 will go live July 7.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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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