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

Good Book, Difficult Format

Would you listen to Proving History again? Why?

"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.


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- Erin Branscome

Book Details

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