Anyone with an interest in historical methods, how historical knowledge can be justified, new applications of Bayes's Theorem, or the study of the historical Jesus will find this book to be essential reading. Almost all experts agree that the Jesus of the Bible is a composite of myth, legend, and some historical evidence. So what can we know about the real Jesus? For more than 150 years, scholars have attempted to answer this question.
Unfortunately, the quest for the historical Jesus has produced as many different images of the original Jesus as scholars who have studied the subject. The result is a confused mass of disparate opinions with no consensus view of what actually happened at the dawn of Christianity. And this uncertainty is not unique to the historical study of Jesus. The problems related to establishing the reliability of historical criteria apply equally to any historical analysis of the persons and events that have shaped our lives and the beliefs we hold dear.
This in-depth discussion of New Testament scholarship and the challenges of history as a whole proposes Bayes's Theorem, which deals with probabilities under conditions of uncertainty, as a solution to the problem of establishing reliable historical criteria. The author demonstrates that valid historical methods - not only in the study of Christian origins but in any historical study - can be described by, and reduced to, the logic of Bayes's Theorem. Conversely, he argues that any method that cannot be reduced to this theorem is invalid and should be abandoned.
Writing with thoroughness and clarity, the author explains Bayes's Theorem in terms that are easily understandable to professional historians and laypeople alike, employing nothing more than well-known primary school math. He then explores precisely how the theorem can be applied to history and addresses numerous challenges to and criticisms of its use in testing or justifying the conclusions that historians make about the important persons and events of the past. The traditional and established methods of historians are analyzed using the theorem, as well as all the major "historicity criteria" employed in the latest quest to establish the historicity of Jesus. The author demonstrates not only the deficiencies of these approaches but also ways to rehabilitate them using Bayes's Theorem.
©2012 Richard C. Carrier (P)2014 Pitchstone Publishing
Richard Carrier's book is more about the application of Bayes's Theorem to history in general than it is about the historical Jesus specifically. No doubt, many people are put off by the idea of using mathematics to separate what is likely true about the past from what is not, but what is our knowledge of things past if it is not fundamentally uncertain? Personally, I like Carrier's approach. It gives a consistent formality and structured process to determining what most likely actually happened, given all of our evidence, while taking into account the presence of uncertainty. Carrier says over and over again that it will not work if historians are not honest with themselves and with their colleagues. I suspect that at the root of opposition to this approach is that its use requires facing down our biases, never an easy thing to do.
I am neither a historian nor a mathematician. This book was not easy for me to plow through, but it was worth the effort. My white board is covered with forulae that I'll be thinking about some time to come. I look forward to Carrier's next book.
The reader did a very good job, in spite of the fact that a lot of the text was equations and formulae.
I'm just a Twilight Sparkle looking for her Rainbow Dash.
"Proving History," as a book, is excellent, and I highly recommend it. While it's the opening volume in Richard Carrier's examination of the historical Jesus, it stands alone as a text on the philosophy, study, and practice of History, itself. I would recommend it to any student of history, whether amateur enthusiast or academic, regardless of an interest in the subject of Jesus' historicity or Biblical Studies. I wouldn't be surprised if this book, or excerpts from it, became required reading in History classes across the board, and as a student of History, I would recommend a copy of "Proving History" as a reference on the shelf of anyone at all serious about the subject.
All that said, as an *audio* book, I found it lacking. This is not a criticism of Richard Carrier's performance; he continues to narrate his own books better than many professional voice actors. His diction is clear, steady without being monotonous, and generally, I find that he brings an enthusiasm to sections which could easily be very dry. No, the fault lies with the book itself. The material covered is complex and dense, and while an effort was made to try and explain verbally what was communicated in the text with pictures, symbols, and numbers, I still found it very difficult to follow--and I'd both read the book previously, and listened to several lectures by the author on the subject. I really don't think there's any way to make it into a good, stand-alone audio book, without re-writing large portions of the original (though I'd strongly disapprove of such a re-write because of my great admiration for the book itself.) Likewise, I'd be against abridging the book and taking out the more difficult passages to communicate verbally, as they are integral to understanding the book as a whole. Ultimately, I think this is an audio book best enjoyed in conjunction with a text copy of the book to read.
This is a great intro to Bayes's Theorem, although for me the audio version made it pretty challenging to keep up with the pace of the narrator while trying to create a mental picture of the theorem and it's various iterations given for different applications. I did stick with it though and am glad I did. I'll be buying a hard copy as well. Looking forward to to ear-reading the 2nd volume On the Historicity of Jesus.
Underhand's chief engineer
If you understand Bayes' Theorem, don't bother with this book. Dr. Carrier is using this text to explain the usefulness of Bayes' so that he doesn't have to spend time explaining it in the following book on the actual historicity of Jesus. He does touch on a few interesting points here, but the examples are all used to teach Bayes, not discuss the Bible.
All in all a good reference book to physically have, but listening to 12 hours of the same repetitive content is...tedious.
The author doesn't seem to like his subject much, and he quarrels with all of his colleagues. By applying statistical likelihoods to the Jesus story, he pretty much concluded that it was all extremely unlikely. Which is not surprising in the least.
A good historian would try to explain how Christianity managed to overtake the Roman Empire, when it's central documents were so spurious. Perhaps there were other forces at play? We'll never find out with Bayes's Theorem. It takes a historian, not a mathematician, to shed light on (and maybe explain) the rise of Christianity.
The books seems to be an atheist's attempt at arguing Christianity into non-existence. What I learned instead was that the early Christians must not have cared very much about the historical accuracy of their scriptures, because they could have easily gotten to the bottom of the historical Jesus in the first few centuries, while the Empire was still intact and memories were fresh. Early Christians didn't seem to care about that. There must have been something else going on, and I doubt very much that the spread of the religion was due to the charisma or marketing talents of the Palestinian peasants who were Jesus' followers & apostles.
I did learn a few new things, like Judas Iscariot is probably not a name, but rather a type of person-- a Sicarii Jew, or ancient Jewish assassin, such as the Maccabees. And in that sense, Jesus could be a stand-in for the Temple that was destroyed by the Romans, who were incited by Jewish insurgents. In other words, the insurgents betrayed the temple when they incited the Romans to destroy it.
Maybe if you are an Atheist and you want to be reassured about your wisdom, you will like this book.
As an author myself, dyslexic, and ADD, I need something that grabs me. Non-fiction on things of interest to me, educates, & titillates.
the author was a bore
It was all about him and how he is the best and why his opinion is the only one that counts
I was so looking forward to what I thought was going to be insight and educational
Never got past the first chapter...He's like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory
no, just to him
boring and self serving
don't waste your money or brain matter.
"This is Mostly Technical. Read his other books!"
It's difficult to see how this could be improved as it is certainly a detailed piece of work, but much more suited to those who need to understand the technicalities of Bayes's Theorem.
Yes, I've already listened to all his other Audio books, and they are excellent.
Richard's tone and enthusiasm for his work is clearly evident.
My lack of interest in this particular book is no way a criticism of Richard or the quality of his work. Indeed, it is clear that all his work is of the highest quality, but this book is just too technical for me. All his other books are excellent, and, for anyone interested in the field, 'On the Historicity of Jesus' is essential reading!
"Not much fun"
he spent hours saying basically the same thing
A+C+D-true H = A lot of bored confused people
Most of it
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