Proving History

  • by Richard Carrier
  • Narrated by Richard Carrier
  • 13 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

No leap of faith required

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.
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- carl801 "Old Soldier"

Worth the Challenge

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.
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- Elizabeth M. True

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-29-2014
  • Publisher: Pitchstone Publishing