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Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Hardcover – April 24, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"[C]arefully exposes what happens when sound methodology meets biblical studies. . . . Proving History is a brilliant lesson in the proper proportioning of belief to evidence. Even minimal attention to Bayesian probability theory reveals just how much of Jesus scholarship confuses ‘possibly true’ with ‘probably true.’ The only miracle Richard Carrier has left to explain is why so few appreciate that extraordinary claims require extraordinary support."
-Dr. Malcolm Murray, Author of The Atheist’s Primer

"Carrier applies his philosophical and historical training to maximum effect in outlining a case for the use of Bayes’s Theorem in evaluating biblical claims. Even biblical scholars, who usually are not mathematically inclined, may never look at the ‘historical Jesus’ the same way again."
-Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of religious studies, Iowa State University, and author of , The End of Biblical Studies

About the Author

Richard C. Carrier, an independent scholar with a doctorate in ancient history from Columbia University, is the author of Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith; Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed; and Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. He has also contributed chapters to The End of Christianity, edited by John W. Loftus; Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth, edited by R. Joseph Hoffmann; The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, edited by John W. Loftus; and The Empty Tomb: Jesus beyond the Grave, edited by Robert Price and Jeffery Lowder.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616145595
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616145590
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Richard Carrier is a published historian and philosopher, specializing in the philosophy of naturalism and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome. He's a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard with a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in History and Classical Civilizations, and a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University. He has written extensively for the Secular Web and in various periodicals and books, and discussed his views in public all over the country and on TV.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Book Fanatic TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an amazing book by Richard Carrier. It is important to note that this book is not a book on whether or not Jesus was a historical person. Dr. Carrier is writing a second book to follow up this one called "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ" that will address that question. He does touch on the subject somewhat in this book, but the purpose of this book is to lay the theoretical groundwork for the next volume.

The present volume argues, and argues quite persuasively that historians should employ Bayes's Theorem in their work and of course that includes work on the historical Jesus. Regardless of what you think about that subject, if you are a thinking person, I think you should read this book. If you care about how we know what we know and how likely your beliefs are to be correct you should read this book. In that regard it is excellent. It does have a fairly narrow focus but that focus is on something that has incredibly wide application.

I'm just a lay person interested in science, history, and philosophy among other things. I'm not a professor or specialist in any relevant fields. I found this book an incredibly helpful guide to rigorous thought. This book is definitely not for everyone. Sometimes the author talks too much, but the points are valid and you just need to work through them. This is not light reading, although it is written in a way to be accessible to intelligent readers. You must be willing to put in some work if you are not already well versed in the theory.

I can't wait for the follow up volume where Dr. Carrier actually applies all this to the subject of a historical Jesus. I've now read several of Carrier's books and seen him on some video clips. He's a very articulate man and always seems to have something brilliant to say. I admit that I'm a fan.

Highly recommended to serious readers.
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57 of 67 people found the following review helpful By C. Murphy on April 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first became interested in studying the historical Jesus for myself, I decided to get a quick overview of modern scholarship by reading The Historical Jesus: Five Views. What I quickly came to realize after reading only a few chapters is that the study of the historical Jesus is a mess. Not only is there almost no consensus on who the historical Jesus was but there seemed to be very little hope of resolving these differences in any sort of objective or scientific manner. While present-day Jesus scholars have attempted to develop criteria to evaluate what bits of data actually go back to a historical Jesus, as Carrier notes, "the concept of Jesus we're supposed to believe existed is actually getting more confused the more people study it (p.12)." Enter Richard Carrier's book.

Carrier does not set forth a view of the historical Jesus in this volume. Rather, his goal is to "present a new method that solves the problem... so progress can finally be made in the field of Jesus studies (p.15)". His new method is Bayes's Theorem (BT). One need not be an expert in mathematics or even statistics to follow along in the book: a basic understanding of multiplication, division, and fractions will suffice. However, even if your eyes tend to glaze over once Carrier begins to plug in some numbers in the formula, he still adequately conveys conceptually the arguments he is defending.

The main arguments that an amateur reader like myself can take away from Carrier's work are the following:
1) Contrary to what some (most recently, Bart Ehrman) say, history IS a science.
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66 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Dr Alexander Youngwurz@ on April 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Carrier wastes no time before describing the moribund state of current historical Jesus studies. He cites various analyses which conclude that the recent `method of criteria' fail to produce a consensus. "The entire field of Jesus studies has been left without any valid method". The reason being either invalid criteria, invalid application or a `Threshold Problem' involving the number & weight of criteria and their significance.

THE CONSEQUENCE of this FAILURE is the current multiplicity of plausible Jesus types which abound in the literature. Carrier cites Jesus the Jewish Cynic Sage, Rabbinical Holy Man (or Devoted Pharisee, or Heretical Essene, etc.), Political Revolutionary, Zealot Activist, Apocalyptic Prophet. Messianic Pretender, as well as many other more exotic contenders.
"When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned."
THE SOLUTION is the application of Bayes's Theorem (BT).

In WHY HISTORY REQUIRES EXPERTISE, Carrier describes four stages of historic analysis. Textual, literary, source and only last, is historical analysis proper. He then sets down a set of 12 core epistemological assumptions. THE AXIOMS OF HISTORICAL METHOD and discusses them in turn with some illustrative examples mostly derived from ancient times. These are then followed by 12 RULES OF HISTORICAL METHOD which are simply stated without individual comment.

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