The latest book by author, historian, and philosopher Richard Carrier is On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014). This is the second book of a two volume set, the first being Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Prometheus Books, 2012). The first volume sets out to explain and defend the use of Bayes’s Theorem to test certain historical claims, in this case the historicity of Jesus. The second volume utilizes Bayes’s Theorem to test whether or not there is any truth to the historical Jesus.
On the Historicity of Jesus has a total of twelve chapters. The first chapter is an Introduction of sorts. Richard Carrier lays out a brief summary of the debate between historicists and mythicists. In chapter two he lays out the minimal historicity of Jesus he proposes to argue against, and in chapter three he proposes the minimal theory of myth that he will defend. Chapters four and five lay out the background knowledge and historical and political context in which Christianity developed. These are the facts that Carrier plugs into his Bayesian calculations throughout the book, and are referred to often throughout the chapters. In chapter six, other mythical figures throughout history are discussed in order to provide a proof of concept for the proposition that Jesus was also a mythical figure. Chapters seven, eight, and nine take a detailed look at the alleged evidence for the existence of Jesus. In these chapters the bible is scrutinized for any factual information we can glean about any historical Jesus: discussed are the ancient historians of the period who could have mentioned Jesus, but are for some reason silent on the issue. The book of Acts is investigated for any factual information about Jesus. In chapter ten, this over 100-page chapter analyzes the Gospels for any evidence of myth-making. Carrier puts forward a very convincing case showing the many parallels between the Gospels and other literature of the period, demonstrating the authors’ likely intent to invent stories by borrowing content from other sources. Similarly, in chapter eleven, Carrier takes a close look at the letters of Paul for any evidence of Jesus and concludes that the only Jesus Paul knew of was a celestial Jesus who lived and died “in space,” in the heavens, and was later revealed to the chosen apostles.
The entire book was well organized and expertly written. I own all of Richard Carrier’s books and it is my opinion that this is the best one he’s written so far. The massive bibliography alone (42 pages worth) demonstrates the amount of time and research that went into this book and it shows.
I was also pleasantly surprised that the paperback version of the book was very sturdy and did not flop around like many of the other large paperbacks I have read. The pages, binding, and printing were all solid. It’s a very nice book overall.
In the end, after surveying a dizzying array of facts, Carrier argues that the likelihood that Jesus was a historical figure is highly improbable (at most only a 33% likelihood). It’s my opinion that he has set out a solid case for his position that should be heavily debated among scholars. And who knows. Perhaps Carrier’s theory will stand the test of time and become the scholarly consensus? Only time will tell. All I know is that the historicists have one hell of a case to deconstruct.