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Carrier, Bayes Theorem, and Jesus’ Existence

As most of you know, I’m pretty much staying out of the mythicist debates. That is for several reasons. One is that the mythicist position is not seen as intellectually credible in my field (I’m using euphemisms here; you should see what most of my friends *actually* say about it….) – no one that I know personally (I know a *lot* of scholars of New Testament, early Christianity, and so on) takes it at *all* seriously as a viable historical perspective (this includes not just Christians but also Jews, agnostics, atheists – you name it), and my colleagues sometimes tell me that I’m simply providing the mythicists with precisely the credibility they’re looking for even by engaging them. It’s a good point, and I take it seriously.

In that connection I should say that I can understand how someone who hasn’t spent years being trained in the history of early Christianity might have difficulty distinguishing between serious scholarship that is accepted by experts as being plausible (even when judged wrong) and the writings of others that, well, is not. But experts obviously don’t have that problem, and the mythicists simply are not seen as credible. They don’t like that, and they don’t like it when it someone points it out, but there it is.

The other reason for staying out of the fray is that some of the mythicists are simply unpleasant human beings – mean-spirited, arrogant, ungenerous, and vicious. I just don’t enjoy having a back and forth with someone who wants to rip out my jugular. So, well, I don’t. (They also seem — to a person – to have endless time and boundless energy to argue point after point after point after point after point. I, alas, do not.)

 

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Comments

  1. maxhirez  November 7, 2013

    How did you get sucked into them far enough to write DJE? Was that a publisher’s suggestion or did it really seem like an argument worth preempting?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2013

      Yeah, it was my idea. I had been asked so many times about it, I thought I should just write it up.

    • toejam  November 8, 2013

      As someone who, this time 2yrs ago, had basically zero understanding of the history of early Christianity, I was very much in the position of agnosticism towards a historical figure. I didn’t really know where to begin, which sources to trust etc. to answer such a question. Bart’s book definitely helped me see the flaws in many of the standard mythicist arguments floating around, and it also persuaded me that the hypothesis that there was a historical figure is far and away the best working hypothesis out there (even if I still can’t say with *certainty* that he did exist). So even if Bart did get sucked into the debate, I think he’s helped educate a heap of people in the meantime. And that can only be a good thing.

  2. judaswasjames  November 7, 2013

    BArt,

    There’s no need to resort to complex math to show that the New Testament is not history. One of your own, someone who makes a living in the field, Dr. Robert Eisenman, has already shown it. Acts 8 is an antiSemitic remake of Josephus’ Ant. Book 20, chapter 2 >
    http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-20.htm
    and is merely the poster child for many other fantasies in the New Testament. His ‘New Testament Code’ and the Pauline invention of blood salvation in 1 Cor. 11:25 is key to revealing the false teaching of Christianity.

    Not to ‘engage’ knowledgeable amateurs is one thing, but to marginalize one of his stature as your peers have done is inexcusable. I can read, and his case that Paul is merely rebutting James at Qumran in the Scrolls Pesherim, and not documenting anything someone named “Jesus” taught is compelling and fascinating. His work inspired my work looking for the evidence of James in the Betrayal after he tied James to Judas in Acts 1 and “Joseph Barsabbas JUSTus”, the filling of the “office” of epicsopate (not apostle), and the “headlong fall” that ‘Judas/James’ takes in Clement’s Recognitions LXX. Why can’t we move forward with this? Because scholars are busy protecting their livelihoods.

  3. simonjc5423  November 7, 2013

    Do you recommend anyone that has critiqued Craig’s use of Bayes Theorem?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2013

      I don’t know if anyone has done it in print, but I imagine you could find someone on the web. (The people who responded to me did so privately via email; they weren’t trying to publish anything on it)

  4. GokuEn  November 8, 2013

    I saw your debate with William Lane Craig and I was puzzled with his argument from probability. Could you perhaps explain roughly how the proof was *suppose* to work and why it doesn’t?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2013

      It all has to do with the inputs; see the link I provided from R. Joseph Hoffman

      • DMiller5842  January 27, 2014

        In fact in the debate, Craig did not substitute any values into the formula…. forcing him to do so would have demonstrated to all present that he was in error.

  5. staib  November 8, 2013

    Fascinating. I had no idea people were attempting to use Bayes for things like this.

  6. gmatthews
    gmatthews  November 8, 2013

    I completely get what you’re saying. I also would not like to have to try to have intelligent discourse with someone who was disposed towards visceral, irrational rambling. On the other hand most people are gullible and only interested in sensation and that’s what these mythicists offer: sensationalism. By remaining aloof from this fray though the mysthicist’s agenda is served: no one who knows any better disputes them because those who should, think they are above it.

    Why don’t we have good, truthful programming on the History Channel and the like? We’re inundated with marathon sessions of “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel where Professor “I don’t know therefore: aliens” tells viewers that aliens were responsible for every great ancient feat because ancient man was too stupid to engineer greatness. The Animal Planet runs episode after episode of “Finding Bigfoot” and National Geographic has some sort of drive-by shooting fascination with the weirdness that is Simcha Jacobovici and every hare-brained idea that he comes up with.

    Why? Viewers eat this stuff up and we have a generation (those who actually bother to pay attention) that believes Sasquatch is part of the animal kingdom and Noah’s ark is sitting on a mountain in Turkey.

    As I said, I get where you’re coming from and you’ve personally done more to make a stand for truth than any other academic I know of, but I think more should do the same. Otherwise, the gullible public-at-large just becomes more gullible and the mythicists become more emboldened from the lack of opposition.

  7. ncovington89  November 8, 2013

    “My point here is that if the *same* theorem can prove both that Jesus was raised from the dead *and* that he never existed, well, there may be a problem with the proof.”

    Other methods of historical epistemology, like “inference to the best explanation” can also yield different conclusions from different people. I don’t think this indicates that there is a problem with bayes theorem itself (or with inference to the best explanation itself), rather, the root of the problem stems from disagreements over how well and how much a historical theory explains, and over other matters like how inherently plausible a theory is. For example, people who think the aliens built the pyramids argue that their theory explains a number of facts and that therefore it is correct. The trouble for them comes not from the principle of inference they use (inference to the best explanation) but because they (a) create evidence based on false statements about history, (b) ignore facts that pose tremendous difficulty for their theory (no historian ever mentions aliens building the pyramids, which is rather odd given that people wrote about the construction of the pyramids), among many other problems I could name.

    When it comes to Jesus mythicism (be it Carrier’s version or anyone else’s) I think the real achille’s heel for it won’t be bayes theorem (or any other mode of inference). The whole debate will simply come down to what the facts are and how we ought to explain them given the historical context. Mythicists may have the facts wrong or they may have left out some important part of the larger historical context (what bayesians call ‘background knowledge’) that nullifies their case.

    Likewise, I think the same thing can be said about Craig and Swinburne. It’s not the method that is at fault, it is that they “have the facts wrong” in some cases (i.e. they call the empty tomb a “fact,” when it is highly disputable whether there ever was an empty tomb) and that they ignore the larger context of what we know about history and how the universe operates (as far as we can tell, most miracle claims just aren’t true, which damages the plausibility of their case severely).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2013

      The difference is that this is not a historical method but a mathematical demonstration — and in theory, mathematical “proofs” should yield mathematical “results,” and in theory there should be “no disputin’ the math”!

      • ncovington89  November 8, 2013

        Bayes’ theorem is kind of like syllogistic reasoning (premise – premise – conclusion). You’ve got to have good premises to generate a reliable conclusion. Philosophers who hold wildly different views both use syllogisms to argue for their position — And getting different conclusions doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the syllogism (which is logic and might not be expected to produce contradictions!) because the different conclusions are the result of different premises, not the result of anything inherently wrong with “premise – premise – conclusion” reasoning.

        The “Garbage in, Garbage out” principle applies to Bayes’ theorem just as it does to the syllogism all methods. If the numbers you plug in are wrong, the conclusion will be junk.

        Bayes’ theorem was logically proven by Rev. Thomas Bayes, and so I don’t think it can be disputed. The real trouble with unreasonable conclusions that some folks try to use Bayes’ theorem to prop up isn’t that they use Bayes, it’s that they use the wrong numbers (analogous to questionable premises in a logical argument) to generate their conclusion! I’ll give you an example: In “The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” ed. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, there’s a chapter that uses Bayes’ theorem to demonstrate the resurrection. The authors of that chapter state that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, the odds of us having the resurrection appearance traditions are one out of ten to the thirty ninth power. **If they had the odds straight on that issue,** I don’t think many people would resist their conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead (I certainly wouldn’t). The problem I have with their argument isn’t the abstract logic behind all of it, it’s the numbers themselves: I think the chances of the evidence existing without Jesus being raised are vastly better than they estimate: hallucinations of the recently deceased aren’t bizarro occurrences that happen only in extremely rare situations, they happen to a very large percentage of grieving relatives, for instance (just google “grief hallucinations” to find the statistics and you’ll see what I mean) and there are other fairly common psychological phenomena that could have played a role in producing resurrection belief, none of which are as rare as “one out of ten to the thirty ninth power.”

  8. ben.holman  November 8, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Though I agree with you that Jesus existed, I think Carrier shut Hoffmann down in his review. You know that just within the last few years RJ has endorsed the Mythicist Hypothesis as a credible option, right?

    http://ec.libsyn.com/p/8/7/9/87963b4ddf8cbd5d/POI_2007_06_15_Joseph_Hoffmann.mp3?d13a76d516d9dec20c3d276ce028ed5089ab1ce3dae902ea1d01c0843fd8ca5eb243&c_id=1846066

    Take a listen to 14:13-16:15, and 22:44…

    Obviously, it sounds like RJ’s changed his mind since this podcast. Nevertheless, it was a real scholar in very recent history taking the hypothesis seriously. So, surely RJ couldn’t think anyone totally bananas for holding that view. Thoughts?

  9. toejam  November 8, 2013

    One way to look at it: If Christianity died out in the 3rd or 4th century, and the only remaining scrap of attestation for Jesus that came down to us was Tacitus’ brief mention, that alone would probably be enough to assume historicity. And yet there’s so much more. While I can’t rule out the *possibility* that there wasn’t a historical figure, it really seems like a bit of a stretch. Jesus’ historicity starts become obvious when you turn the question away from “Did Jesus exist?” and instead focus more on “How did Christianity arise?”. From that ever-so-slightly different angle, I think the hypothesis of a historical Jesus (whether it’s the Jesus of yourself and Dale Allison etc., the Jesus of Crossan and Borg etc., or the Jesus of Brandon and Aslan etc.) is the most evident, mundane and explanatory answer – the sign of a good working hypothesis.

    • judaswasjames  November 8, 2013

      Your standard for acceptance is pretty low. Tacitus and Suetonius are sketchy attestation at best with word order problems from the Latin and Christus/Chrestos and all. It has to be hearsay — about his followers, not anything concrete about Jesus. The followers may have been misled by Paul and the church as the real Christians were in Qumran where they were all killed, including the real savior, James the Just. Jesus has James’ words in his mouth in Hegesippus, via Eusebius: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hegesippus.html
      That’s why *I* personally believe Jesus was invented. That and the parallels to John the B’s birth and death narratives. Luke also has John in prison when Jesus is baptized. Something is not right with the gospel story. I think it is mostly fabricated with just enough facts like Pilate to make it acceptable. Living Mastership was taught by whoever was the Master of the time (John 9:4 C. Sinaiticus).

      • toejam  November 10, 2013

        The fact that there is ‘something not right’ about the gospels, isn’t reason enough to say he didn’t exist IMO. I read the gospels like I read Scientology.com’s website story of the life of L.Ron Hubbard – full of exaggeration, misunderstanding, developing legend, and on occasions, outright lies. But it’s still based on a the cult’s historical charasmatic founder. That’s not to say Jesus was a charlatan like Hubbard, but only that it’s not uncommon for cults to re-write their origins by way of exaggerating the story of their original founder after his death. Yes, Tacitus and Suetonius could just be hearsay. But again, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a branch of truth to their hearsay. If you and I were writing a history of the 20th Century, we might well include a small reference to Hubbard, despite not being eyewitnesses and being a generation or two removed from him. But I’d like to think that my knowledge of Hubbard wouldn’t be so quickly dismissed by ‘Hubbard Mythicists’ of the future.

        • FrankofBoulder  January 24, 2014

          toejam,
          Excellent comment. Good points!

    • ExMech  November 14, 2013

      Tacitus mentioned “Christus”, not Jesus. he thought the title WAS the name (hence Latinizing Christos instead of translating to Unctus-> Christos->Meshicha), and so we can conclude that Tacitus never saw any actual records, and received the information from Christian sources. What is striking, however, is that Philo made no mention of Jesus. He wasn’t that far away (300 miles at best) and considering Philo’s position int he Jewish community assuredly kept up on the news from Jerusalem. Not a peep.

      One concern though is the consistent dismissal of the “mythicist” position all the while recognizing scant evidence (hearsay from centuries after regarding letters fraught with pseudeopigraphy as well as outright altering of manuscripts) and conceding that Jesus only “probably” existed. This doesn’t sound like true scholarship by scientific or historical method.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  November 15, 2013

        I’m not as bothered about Philo. I don’t see why he would know about an uneducated lower=class apocalyptic preacher in Galilee. Of course if Jesus were doing all those miracles I suppose word would get around. But I don’t think he was.

        • ExMech  November 15, 2013

          My thinking would be that Philo was directly involved in all Jewish affairs, defending the Jews of Alexandria against Greek propaganda to Augustus, no less. Considering how the trial of Jesus is described, and the “assault on the merchants” in the Temple (unless it’s accepted that this story is mythical), the discrimination (riots, executions, ghettoization) of Jews in Egypt, one would think that news of a Meshicha had at least reached his ears at the least by a caravan carrying news or even by believers themselves… if there were an actual apocalyptic preacher.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 15, 2013

            Yes, my point is that we can’t ask “Since Jesus as described in the Gospels is not mentioned by Philo, doesn’t that cast doubt on whether he lived or not?” because the prior quesiton is whether the Gospel portrayals (of his life, miracles, shutting down of the temple cult, trial, etc.) are accurate. If they’re not accurate (they’re not) then Jesus did not make the enormous splash on Jewish society that the Gospels indicate he did. And if that’s true, there’ be zero reason for Philo ever to have heard of him…..

  10. ktn3654  November 8, 2013

    As it so happens, I am finishing a PhD in the theory of probability. I may not be recognized as a world-class expert on the subject, but I may be able to contribute some useful thoughts here.

    Anyway, I agree with you that the Bayesian approach cannot produce precise numerical values for the probability of historical events. So we’re not going to get a definite probability of Jesus’ existence that way. I do think, however, that the Bayesian framework can still be useful in a more qualitative way.

    The basic Bayesian idea is that we have some set of mutually exclusive hypotheses H1, H2, and so on. We assign some initial (“prior”) probability to each of those hypotheses. We then make some observation O. There will be some conditional probability P(O|H1), which is the probability of observing O given that H1 is true. Likewise for all the other hypotheses. These conditional probabilities are called the likelihoods. Bayes’ theorem then allows us to move to a final probability P(H1|O), which is the probability that a hypothesis is true given that O has been observed.

    The inputs to the theorem, then, are the prior probabilities and the likelihoods. The nice thing about the approach is that you can keep on applying it as new observations come in. So you will wind up with some final probability P(H1|O1&O2&O3…), which is the probability of hypothesis H1 given observation O1, and observation O2, and observation O3, and so on. Furthermore, after making enough observations, the prior probabilities will tend to “wash out.” That is, the final probability will be quite insensitive to your choice for the initial probability.

    Hoffman seems to think there is some sort of problem in applying the approach to hypotheses about the past. I think I can unequivocally say he is mistaken about that. I am not merely stating my own personal opinion here; it is the general consensus among theorists of probability. If probability is understood as rational degree of belief, then past events can have all sorts of probabilities and we are free to use any valid theorem of the probability calculus to help us evaluate those probabilities.

    The problem, rather, is that the prior probabilities and the likelihoods are both impossible to evaluate, or even to give rough estimates for. Let the two hypotheses, for example, be “Jesus existed” (H1) and “Jesus did not exist” (H2). Those two hypotheses are certainly exhaustive and mutually exclusive, so there’s no problem on that score. The prior probabilities P(H1) and P(H2) are, respectively, the probabilities that Jesus did or did not exist–as considered without regard to any more specific evidence on the matter. The Bayesian approach allows us to be quite vague about those probabilities, so it is reasonable to set both of them equal to one-half. It’s when we try to deal with the likelihoods that the approach really breaks down. Let O, for example, be our observation of what some ancient manuscript of Mark says. To apply Bayes’ Theorem, we will need to know P(O|H1), i.e. the probability of the manuscript having been produced given that Jesus existed. We will also need to know P(O|H2), i.e. the probability of the manuscript having been produced given that Jesus did NOT exist. Clearly, there is no way to precisely evaluate those probabilities. Maybe we can make rough estimates for them based on some sort of subjective “gut feeling.” It is even possible that the estimates made by well-informed experts should carry some substantial weight. But if we’re going to take that path, we might as well just directly estimate the probability of H1 and H2 in light of all available evidence. Taking the Bayesian approach just amounts to detour.

    How do I think Bayesianism can be qualitatively useful, then? I think it can help us to zero in on which pieces of evidence are most critical. When people disagree about some large hypothesis, applying the Bayesian approach can help identify which pieces of evidence matter most to the overall disagreement. For example, let O1 be the observation that early Christians circulated a gospel expressly acknowledging that Jesus “could do no deed of power” in Nazareth (Mark 6:5, NRSV). Maybe you think it is extremely unlikely that the followers of a purely mythical messiah would make up a story about his powerlessness, while it is extremely plausible that if Jesus was real he would have little effect on those who had always known him as merely a humble carpenter. Then you would assign a very low value to P(O1|H1), while assigning a high value to P(O1|H2). That would amount to significant (albeit not overwhelming!) evidence in favor of hypothesis H1, i.e. that Jesus did exist. Carrier might respond that P(O1|H1) isn’t as low as you think, or maybe that P(O1|H2) isn’t as high, or both. You could then debate this particular issue. As it happens, I think you’d have by far the stronger position in such a debate; but the methodological point is that the Bayesian approach offers a way of isolating particular pieces of evidence and of thinking about how much weight they carry. The approach is not an alternative to the usual criteria of historicity (embarrassment, and so on); rather, the approach offers one way of formalizing those criteria.

    More generally, I think it’s a mistake to use expressly probabilistic reasoning only in contexts where we can evaluate probabilities precisely. Even when a meteorologist says there’s a 30% chance of rain tomorrow, that is not an objectively precise number. It is an estimate, and producing such estimates always involves an element of art. You may not be prepared to assert there is a 97.349% chance of Jesus having existed, but it is clear you do think the probability is considerably greater than 50%. By using the Bayesian framework, we can see which pieces of evidence have been most important in leading you to that conclusion.

    • ncovington89  November 8, 2013

      You might be interested in reading Richard Carrier’s book “Proving History” on this subject, as he and you seem to be in substantial agreement, though he examines a very large number of objections to applying Bayes’ theorem to history. It’s a good read, regardless of whether you think Carrier is right or wrong on the Jesus historicity issue (he does not defend his Jesus mythicism in that book, just Bayesian history and an examination of current historical criteria in light of Bayes’ theorem).

  11. KungFuJoe  November 8, 2013

    Carrier perplexes me, sometimes. On the one hand, he makes very interesting, and very valid points– whether I agree with the conclusions he draws from them or not, these contentions do deserve some thought and response. Unfortunately, for every good point he makes, he’ll drudge out an absolutely ludicrous assertion, as well: his insistence on Bayes Theorem, his argument that Paul didn’t think Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person, his claim that Philo displays a pre-existing belief in a cosmic being named Jesus, et cetera.

    Carrier would be much more convincing if he simply stuck to attacking confirmation bias and perceived issues with historical methodology.

  12. fishician  November 8, 2013

    I listened to that debate with Craig and I thought his use of Bayes theorem was the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in a debate or serious discussion, ever! Just make up whatever probabilities fit your purpose and then use those to prove your point. Nonsense! You can use the same logic to prove the story of Joseph Smith and the Book or Mormon, or the validity of the Koran, or the existence of leprechauns. But I’m sure it sells to those who are desperate for “proof” of their beliefs.

  13. Wilusa  November 8, 2013

    Tee-hee – the mathematics are way over my head, but even so, I noticed a logical omission even in *Hoffman’s* example of the use of Bayes Theorem! In determining the probability of rain marring “Marie’s” outdoor wedding, he didn’t account for differences in *how long before the event* the meteorologist was predicting it. Five days, three days, one day? I’m guessing every one would yield a different degree of probability.

  14. Pofarmer  November 8, 2013

    I listened to your debate with Craig. I must say, when you told him “What you are saying is theologically true, but it isn’t historically true” or words to that effect, I thought that it might be one of the better lines in any of the debates I’ve listened to, and it’s quite a few.

  15. Fearthemunky  November 8, 2013

    Regarding Swinburne’s use of Bayes Theorem, Carrier long ago noted that certain aspects of Swinburne’s use of it was demonstrably formally invalid, which was flabbergasting considering Swinburne is considered an expert on Bayes Theorem. So it’s important to note that just because somebody makes a Bayesian argument it doesn’t automatically entail that their conclusion is correct.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2013

      Yup, true. And Carrier of course would *have* to say that Swinburne mis-applied it, otherwise, well, Jesus really *can* be proven to have been raised from the dead!

  16. Sblake1  November 8, 2013

    Ok, well… My math skills are weak and I found Dr. Hoffman’s article to be entertaining but I had trouble completely following it. So – I gather that the theorum can be used for real world events like the wedding hypothesis but for historical events the theorum has to be altered to the point where it is no longer useful. So, in effect Carrier creates his own theorum which is based on Bayes? Is that right? Or am I still missing something? I gather from Dr. Hoffman that the way Carrier uses the theorum that almost any outcome can be manipulated. So, if my premise is that the Battle of Agincourt never happened and is just a fictional event I could manipulate Bayes to support that? Is that right? Sorry, this is odd and confusing – but still kind of interesting. Thanks… SBD

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2013

      Hoffman’s view is that the degrees of probability you put into the equation (the moon is as likely to be made out of cheese as it is likely not to be) will determine the probabilities that the equation yields.

  17. judaswasjames  November 8, 2013

    I guess Bart really is ignoring Mythicists. I can prove Luke is not recording history, but that evidently has no bearing on his veracity. Whatever. We’ll just have to go around ‘scholarship’. It hasn’t led us out of the NT quagmire yet, anyway, in 1900 years.

  18. judaswasjames  November 9, 2013

    Bart,

    You say that we should hear what some of your friends say about Mythicists. What do they say? I’d like to know.

    I was just on a chat blog on Amazon with a guy who claims Tacitus mentioned Jesus. I read the passage and see “Christus” – not “Jesus”. Tacitus could simply be inferring the name, not knowing of “Jesus”. Christians, I find, do these leaps routinely. When I examined Doherty and Godfrey’s response to your “DJE?” at Vridar, I saw that you do it, too. Their points really did seem stronger than yours. If your case is solid, then you should have no qualms about engaging Mythicists. I am still open on the question, but must say, leaning heavily to their side, not yours. This is a monumentally important question, and the stakes are very high indeed. Please reconsider and engage them. If ‘Judas’ really is a fictional creation (Paul didn’t know of him or his absence at the Appearances), and many have said so, not just me (Spong, Maccoby, Eisenman, others) what does this do to ‘Jesus’? Two of the most famous quotes of Jesus, “Father forgive them …” And, “You will see the Son of man coming with Power and on the clouds of heaven” were spoken by JAMES, according to Hegesippus, and it must be early, since only Luke has the former and all three have the latter, indicating another source. Luke uses “Lord, forgive them” twice, actually: once on the cross, and once in the Acts 7 stoning of fictional ‘Stephen’, also a stand-in for James, per Eisenman.

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hegesippus.html

  19. Keith Collura  November 10, 2013

    Dr Ehrman:

    As you mentioned in one of your radio interviews, Carrier has a new book coming out laying out his argument about Jesus never existing. He said he had it peer-reviewed and it wasn’t by Robert Price because I asked him. I was wondering if you would still consider reading/critiquing his book?

    Also, as pointed out by yourself and many others, you have a unique skill in conveying scholarly work to the layperson such as myself. Now that we have someone to bridge this gap and we’ve all enjoyed your books I really hope you reconsider your position about critiquing these scholarly arguments (of course to a certain extent). Your colleagues who’ve claimed you’re giving too much credibility to mythicists haven’t established a re-pore with the layperson like you have thru all of your books and they don’t seem to have the same skill as you have in relaying this info to everyone. There are plenty of world-renown experts out there in the scientific field debunking claims for the general public, which is fantastic. I just hope you reconsider your position on this because I’ve enjoyed your work/debates in the past and I look forward to many more.

    Thanks for your attention on this matter.
    Keith

    thanks!
    keith

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 10, 2013

      Nope, no plans of reviewing the book. (I should stress that publishing something that is peer-reviewed does not mean that it’s widely thought to be “right”; every one of thousands of books/articles published in reputable presses/journals every week are peer-reviewed!)

      • Keith Collura  November 12, 2013

        Aaahh come on, you can’t tell me O’Reilly’s book couldn’t be worth a read before Carrier’s 🙂

        I didn’t know that about peer-review, thanks….

  20. Wilusa  November 10, 2013

    No knowledge of math here, but I can’t imagine how anyone could have concluded through “probabilities” that Jesus really rose from the dead.

    To begin with, they’d be considering a once-in-all-of-history miracle. A very slight probability of that, but I’ll concede there’s a slight possibility.

    That slight possibility is lessened by the fact that people in Jesus’s day were gullible, much more likely than we’d be today to accept a false claim that someone had been raised from the dead.

    It’s lessened still more by the fact that some of Jesus’s followers believed in a coming change in which *all* the virtuous dead would be restored to life – so they’d think he represented the “first fruit.”

    But for me, this is the deciding factor. As I see it, if he *was* raised from the dead, there’d be *an enormously high probability* that he’d make dramatic, undeniable public appearances, to prove it! March into a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Confront Pilate, too – accompanied by men who could swear they’d seen him dead and buried. Let people – very publicly – try to kill him again, say, by thrusting knives or even spears into him, to prove it couldn’t be done. Go to Rome, and demonstrate his invulnerability before the Emperor! If he was really “divine,” he’d *want* to create a sensation that would convince even future generations. Otherwise, what would be the point of doing it?

  21. Matt7  November 10, 2013

    Another old adage is confirmed: “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

  22. SHameed01  November 11, 2013

    What is the EARLIEST source where Jesus’s name is mentioned BESIDES that of the New Testament?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 13, 2013

      I suppose Josephus and/or 1 Clement, both around 95 CE (before the final books of the NT were written).

      • judaswasjames  November 13, 2013

        But Josephus is suspect. Right? Christian interpolated.

      • Keith Collura  November 13, 2013

        Dr. Ehrman:

        I thought you mentioned in a lecture that the earliest mention of Jesus outside the bible was an inscription approx 120CE?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  November 13, 2013

          Nope, don’t think so! 1 Clement is 95 CE or so; and I don’t think there is an inscription mentioning Jesus around 120 CE

  23. gavm  January 13, 2014

    bayers therom is a marvellous thing, but does need to be used properly. carrier and craig are both smart guys but cant be trusted to not spin things into a biased view point. it was a cheap shot by craig to use it in the debate with you because its one of those things one knows is probably wrong when seeing it but its hard to know exactly why on the spot. craig can be a bit low like that which is ironic for a jesus loving Christian

  24. SHameed01  April 20, 2014

    How would you respond to Dr. Carrier’s argument of Jesus being a celestial being who people saw in supernatural visions and that this was the belief of the earliest Christians and that the concept of an earthly Jesus came afterwards?

  25. btdavis6876  November 8, 2014

    Another excellent post, Dr. Ehrman! Carrier goes to great lengths in ” his use the theorem to advance his own ideologically driven view on the (non)historicity of Jesus.” It’s hard not to come to the conclusion upon reading his blog posts that he desperately wants to believe Jesus never lived. When comparing his arguments to those of critical scholars (both Christians and non-Christians), they are unconvincing, weak and biased. Yourself and scholars such as Geza Vermes, John Meier, EP Sanders, Paula Fredriksen, Dale Allison and John Dominic Crossan make Carrier look like a complete amateur. Keep up the good work (from a liberal Christian!)

  26. btdavis6876  November 8, 2014

    Thank you for mentioning the fact that many scholars in the field aren’t Christians! Some atheists (not the kind and open-minded ones) like to whine about how scholars are virtually always Christians and Christian apologists. I’ve told some of them to actually look into that claim and they will see that there are plenty of Jews, atheists and agnostics in the field as well. I even provided names of non-Christian scholars such as Ludemann and Casey, but there’s no getting across to overly-biased individuals (whether hostile atheists, conservative Christians, etc.)

  27. marcrm68
    marcrm68  April 30, 2016

    While I have learned so much from your books, Carrier’s arguments are very compelling…after reading, I can’t even get through your new book because I keep asking myself what’s the point if there may not have even been an oral tradition… The pagan, and old testament traditions in the story of Christ are frankly overwhelming. Mathematical probabilities aside, your position seems untenable…

    • Bart
      Bart  May 1, 2016

      You’re welcome to think that! If you read my book Did Jesus Exist? and really think he did not — then I can’t help you much!!

      • marcrm68
        marcrm68  May 2, 2016

        I have read Did Jesus Exist, and many other of your books, I’m a big fan…but not a scholar. The fact is that we just don’t have enough evidence to make a final judgment whether Jesus existed. Both sides of the argument are fascinating, and I don’t think there is a greater question to be answered… I am hanging on every published word from you titans of scholarship… I do really think that Dr. Carrier has made a very serious case against Jesus’s existence, and I would love to read your next book that attempts to refute his arguments in much the same way that Lataster trashed your book. I have the highest respect for you Dr. Ehrman, but there has been a gauntlet thrown down…please pick it up!

  28. marcrm68
    marcrm68  May 3, 2016

    I’m going to have to start watching professional wrestling then to get my thrills, lol… No problem, and congratulations on getting a millwright hooked on this stuff, it’s all your fault. My old lady can’t even stand me anymore! No need for you to respond, just know that your books have changed my life, and for that I thank you Dr. Ehrman!

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