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).

Grief Beyond Belief Now Online

Grief Beyond Belief, a support group for nonbelievers dealing with the loss of a loved one, has now launched its official website. They are no longer just a FaceBook group! Check them out. Look over what they do, and see if there is any help they need. And spread the news. There are a lot of us who would want to find a site like that, and the resources it provides, but might not know it’s there.

Time to Submit Your Proposals for #FtBConScience This August

Are you a hard core godless activist, or working for or a major supporter of an atheist, secularist, skeptic, feminist, humanist or similar group, program, or organization? Or just a bona fide expert on something and want to share information with the godless community? Then this is an opportunity to promote your group or cause as shamelessly as you want. FTBCon has been very successful multiple times now with its free online conferences for the godless community. They draw an audience from around the world and are a great opportunity for atheists worldwide who can’t afford or aren’t able to attend in-person conferences.

We are looking for proposals for talks or panels. So, if you have a speaker (or speakers) you can arrange to give a presentation, live, to the public worldwide, online (from the comfort of their own home, or wherever), don’t miss out. And we’re interested in all sorts of topics, ranging from the arts to social justice to traditional stuff like philosophy, religion, activism, and more (you can look at past conference schedules to see what I mean).

This time we’ll be running FtBConscience on August 22-24 (2014).

We’ve put up a procedure for submitting proposals. And we would like you or your organization to have the opportunity to get in on the action.

If you come up with an idea for a panel of speakers or solo speaker that you can arrange and make happen, please submit your idea in the manner explained through the link below. You can use a panel or talk to promote your organization or cause as much as you like (we have no problem with your being shameless about it). We will handle most of the tech side of getting it on air (we use Google Hangout, so on your end, just good internet, decent computer, headphones, mike, and webcam are all you need, or rather all your speakers need; all events are broadcast live, and recorded for future viewing as well). We will also work with you for getting it on the schedule and advertised and described on our websites.

We might not be able to accept all proposals. And proposals must meet certain quality and values guidelines to be considered. Deciding what we’ll host is at our discretion. But if you’re serious, share our values, and have a good idea, it can’t hurt to ask.

If you are interested, or want to know more, read the following linked post, courtesy of Miri Mogilevsky…

Submit Proposals Before July 22

Appearing in San Francisco, Seattle, Alabama, Fargo, Austin, Sacramento, and All Over Western Canada

I have a lot of appearances coming up all over the country. Check it out…

(1) I will be discussing my new book On the Historicity of Jesus and selling and signing copies for my first time ever in San Francisco, California, Saturday the 26th of July (the publisher has confirmed my order of private stock and promises it should arrive in time). I don’t have the exact where and when yet, but good odds it will be the same time and place as my last talk (only this time on July 26, of course).

Note that I can only afford to procure and sell the softcover edition. The hardcover is prohibitively expensive for almost anyone (even me, and I get an author discount). But of course any copies you acquire yourself and bring to the event I’ll sign (indeed, I’ll sign anything you bring, even if not this book). And there should be enough time that if you order now you’ll have it then (see links for buying it through the publisher or Amazon, and the pros and cons of either, here). I mention this because several people have asked me about doing that.

(2) I will be speaking on or possibly debating the historicity of Jesus at this year’s Atheist Alliance of America conference in Seattle, Washington. They haven’t finalized the schedule so I don’t know which day of the conference I’ll be on, but I’ll be attending the entire con, which will be this August 7th-10th (2014). There will be many other great speakers as well, and receptions and banquets and a trip to Mt. Rainier (the schedule’s outline so far is here). Also stuff for kids (so parents might find this conference especially suitable). See the con’s front page online (link above). I hope to help the conference’s book vendor to stock copies of On the Historicity of Jesus (although see italicized note indented above).

Addition:

(2.5) I will be appearing in St. Louis, Missouri and Carbondale, Illinois several times in September: Thursday the 4th, Friday the 5th, Saturday the 6th, and Sunday the 7th. Details here.

(3) [Update:] I will be speaking on the evolution “controversy” in Dothan, Alabama on Friday the 12th of September for the Southeast Alabama Freethought Association. 7pm at Troy State University. Details here.

(4) I will be speaking at Zeteticon in Fargo, North Dakota, the weekend of September 13th-14th. I spoke at their first con a few years ago (before they got a catchier name). I’m eager to see how it’s grown. Other great speakers will be featured. I will be discussing, and selling and signing copies of On the Historicity of Jesus (see italicized note indented above).

(5) I’ll be debating the historicity of Jesus in Abbotsford, BC (Canada), on or about the 20th of September. I hope to be selling and signing copies of On the Historicity of Jesus in conjunction with the event (that will depend on working out trade details with Canada and the venue; see also italicized note indented above). [Update: Details and tickets here. And due to cross-border trade difficulties no books will be sold. So please buy in advance online or elsewhere and bring your own to be signed.]

Addition:

(5.5) The day after that I will be in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) discussing arguments for and against the resurrection of Jesus, for the Society of Edmonton Atheists. That event announcement is here. But keep an eye on their front page for forthcoming details (like the where and when). That’s Sunday, September 21 (2014). See the note about books for the Abbotsford entry immediately above.

(6) I’ll be one of the two featured speakers for this year’s Bat Cruise in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, September 27 (they have more details here). I’ll be sharing the podium, and the cruise meet-and-greet, with Chris Johnson, who produced the fantastically gorgeous book A Better Life. This is an annual do put on by the Atheist Community of Austin. I will be discussing, and (if the venue allows) selling and signing copies of On the Historicity of Jesus (see italicized note indented above).

(7) As usual, I will be tabling at the Freethought Day Festival in Sacramento, California, this year on Saturday the 11th of October. I will also be attending the fundraising reception the night before (Friday the 10th). The whole festival is increasingly awesome and a must to visit. Full details here. Lots of speakers, entertainers, tabling by numerous groups and vendors, food, the whole deal.

NOTE: I shall be selling and signing copies of On the Historicity of Jesus (see italicized note indented above), but I also plan to liquidate my inventory of marred stock. Take note. That means I’ll be selling tons of copies of Sense and Goodness without God, Not the Impossible Faith, Why I Am Not a Christian, and (yes!) Proving History (and more) at scandalously dirt cheap prices. The downside is they are all (mildly) cosmetically defective in some way. The upside is that I’m selling them all for just $2 (Why I Am Not a Christian), $5 (all other softback titles) and $10 (Proving History). The copies I’ll be selling of Proving History only have damaged dust covers. The books themselves (it’s a hardback) are in top condition. Consider buying several copies of various titles to give to churches, libraries, charities, friends, enemies, or just to enjoy reading them yourself at very little cost. Help me clear it all out without a total loss!

But do note that I will not be selling On the Historicity of Jesus at discount. It’s brand new and expensive for me to stock. So it will be sold at a regular in-person rate (probably $30, which will be lower than the publisher’s list price, and for now it looks like even lower than Amazon’s).

(8) Then I will be touring Western Canada between October 14th and 20th. Exact details are still in development (I’ll blog more when I know more). But the plan is to have me speak in Regina and Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), then Kelowna (BC) and Calgary (Alberta), for four events in all, in that order. Most likely I’ll be discussing my new book On the Historicity of Jesus, which I shall try to sell as well (that will depend, again, on working out trade details with Canada and the venues; see also italicized note indented above).

[Update:] My Canada tour has now been worked out. I’ll first be attending a fundraising dinner in Regina, SK, the evening of Tuesday, October 14 (details and how to get tickets here). Then at 6pm Wednesday, October 15, I’ll be having a fun and fascinating on-stage discussion with Dr. William Arnal, Department Head of Religious Studies at the University of Regina. We’ll be covering the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the meaning and nature of myth in antiquity (details here). My second talk will be “How do History and Science Prove or Disprove a Religion?” at 7:30pm, Thursday, October 16 at the J.S. Wood Library (1801 Lansdowne Ave) in Saskatoon, SK (the venue is on the lower level and unfortunately, I hear, is only accessible by stairs). There will be an informal pub meet afterward. Then I’ll be in Kelowna, BC discussing the historicity of Jesus at 7:30pm Friday, October 17 (details here, tickets here; this will be at the French Cultural Centre, which I assume is the one at 702 Bernard Ave, Kelowna, BC V1Y). And the next day I’ll be doing an extended morning Q&A and a fundraiser lunch (that’s Saturday, October 18), but those details are still to come. Last but not least I’ll be doing two events in Calgary, AB. First a fundraiser brunch on Sunday, October 19 (details and tickets here), then at 2:30pm (same day) I’ll be speaking again on “How do History and Science Prove or Disprove a Religion?” at the Ten X Nightclub (details and tickets here). CFI Canada has undertaken a lot of labor and expense bringing me up and around Western Canada for this, so do please attend any of these you can, and support them with donations wherever possible. It’s a really great educational effort they are undertaking, and I’d like to see them encouraged to do more like this. Some venues will be selling my book On the Historicity of Jesus and some will not. If you happen to notice they are, it would be great if you bought them, because they acquired that stock at their own expense, and the proceeds will help offset their costs for the events as well.

Additions:

(8.1) I will be appearing at several events in Southern California now between this October 22 and 27. I’ll be in Orange County during the week, San Diego that weekend, and Ventura the next Monday. In OC and SD I’m debating the historicity of Jesus. In Ventura I’ll talk all about that. Details will launch by Friday.

(8.2) I will be appearing in Chicago in early November. Details here.

(8.3) I will be appearing in Ohio in December. Details here. (I’m also on TV that month; same link.)

(9) And of course I hope to be returning for Skepticon this November (21st to 23rd). Details are still in development. I’ll definitely blog about it when I know more. But for those unaware, that’s held in Missouri, traditionally Springfield.  [I’m not on the roster for Skepticon this year.]

If any more dates open up, I’ll add them here (plus remark on the addition in comments).

Why I Love Dadabhoy and Rad

I tool around the atheosphere at least a bit each week and see and read lots of cool stuff. This week two unrelated things struck me. This is where I gush about two of my favorite artists and thinkers, who achieve awesome without a Ph.D.

First the Rad

I have always been very impressed by Cristina Rad’s vlog. It’s pretty much the only one I watch (so I was very sad when she went on hiatus). This was not because all the others suck, of course, but because I have so little time to spare for that luxury, and I always know hers will be a virtuoso performance that I’ll learn something from. Rad’s work is always smart, informed, thoughtful, meticulous, and funny. And for her, constructing a video is art. And as an artist, she has an admirable talent that sometimes just leaves me in awe (I suspect most people just take her editing and design and informal scripting for granted, and don’t notice how clever it is, and how hard it would be for most to do well, and how above the curve for the medium it is, without fancy tech).

Photograph of Cristina Rad speaking at a conference, in front of a transparent podium, with a high end microphone attached, all against a black background, with long curly reddish hair pushed back and stylish jacket; she gestures to make a point.One thing I also love most in life is when someone makes an argument better than me. So all I have to do is point people there, confident it covers all bases, and I have no more work to do. They have all their ducks in a row, they hit every point, they anticipate every objection, they actually researched the matter, and they nail every fact and step of reasoning, leaving nothing more to be said. And they do it so tightly and engagingly you want to follow it all. And you are kind of in awe at how well the point is made. Matthew Ferguson’s take-down of the 10-42 apologetic is an example: something I wanted to argue but never found the time, yet not only did he do all the work of researching and composing it, he also did it better than I would have. It was a great day.

Cristina Rad also does that for me a lot of the time. And she did it again this week.

You may be tired of the whole Elliot Rodger debate, having read a zillion things on it already. That was one reason I never weighed in on it: others here at FtB and Skepchick and beyond already said everything there was to say, and I didn’t feel like there was anything more I could contribute of any quality. But I still had some thoughts on the matter. When Jaclyn Glenn went on her rant over it, and then notpologied for it, I immediately had arguments in my head against what she was doing, but I failed to think of any useful or productive way to articulate them.

Well, guess what. Cristina Rad just produced a response to Glenn that is everything I was thinking and more. She argues the case I had in mind, but way better than I would have. And it’s a paradigmatic example of Rad’s genius, as a communicator, editor, researcher, thinker. And artist (though this video has a more straightforward style). You definitely won’t be bored with this one, no matter how much Elliot Rodger stuff you’ve mulled through by now. Definitely watch her video. It’s packed with good information and analysis and insight. Not a second wasted. And it’s a pleasure to view and listen to: ELLIOT RODGER: MADMAN vs. MISOGYNIST (a response to JaclynGlenn). And hey, she’s a starving artist, too, so also upvote it if you deem it worthy. I believe you will.

Thank you, Cristina Rad. You are awesome. Don’t ever stop doing what you do best!

Then the Dadabhoy

So, while still being impressed by that, I noodled around the atheosphere some more, and almost right away happened on the latest by one of my favorite bloggers, Heina Dadabhoy. I also have so little time to spare for reading blogs that I have to be incredibly selective there as well. Dadabhoy’s blogging is always so well written, concise, witty and smart, and always teaches me things, something I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about, often both, that it always bears reading. I was struck by how paradigmatic an example of all that her most recent entry was, just like Cristina Rad’s latest vlog was for her. And that in a one-two punch in one sitting, by pure chance. So I’m praising her here, too. I’m sure you can cope.

Photograph of Heina Dadabhoy in a cute black peasant dress, looking thoughtful and happy in a power pose, with her short, lovely, curly dark hair and light brown skin (her family hails from India).I’m talking about Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation. I thought maybe it would be a quick but deserved winge about the fallacious trope of claiming atheists must be more moral than Christians because so few prisoners are atheists, maybe by calling up the usual problem with that: that declarations of faith are often highly motivated, and thus hardly indicative of honest belief, in a prison environment dominated by patriarchal Christian authorities. You pretty much need to be a Christian (or of some “God-fearing” faith) to get parole, or good treatment. And you are a captive audience to Christian evangelization (which gets favoritism from the authorities far over any hypothetical humanist evangelization there could have been but obviously totally isn’t). And you are in a population under extreme stress, poverty, and despair, whose everyday welfare is frighteningly unpredictable–a toxic mix of conditions so suited for causing religious belief that a sociologist could hardly design better conditions for it, short of a theocracy. So how on earth can we draw any conclusions about the population outside prison from underrepresentation of atheism in prison? That’s case enough, I thought.

Well, Dadabhoy surprised me. She didn’t go there (though she could have). She came at it from a completely different perspective, one also obviously correct, which adds a great deal more understanding to the problem, yet that I had not really thought much about before. And she expresses it in an amazingly brief, thought-and-information packed way. And even has time for a few related, context-clarifying digressions. Wow.

Thank you, Heina Dadabhoy. You are awesome. Don’t ever stop doing what you do best!

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 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).

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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. [Update: This case likewise shows how Bayesian reasoning can incorporate new facts so as to change what’s likely: experts in the comments to this article subsequently persuaded me that a full accounting of the facts in my Bayesian model does not get as positive a result for this thesis as I had initially thought.]

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…

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