How Best to Question–or Defend!–a Historical Jesus: Online Course in April!

Register now for my online course on the historicity of Jesus! It starts again next month: learn the best arguments pro and con (so not just my case against it, but also the best arguments and evidence for it), as well as the cultural and historical background of the origin of Christianity (invaluable knowledge no matter what you believe about Jesus). How could Christianity begin without a Jesus? Find out!

This is the best chance to get a thorough look at the whole historicity debate of the last decade, and get to ask a Ph.D. expert in the field all the questions you ever had about it.

We’ll go through my book On the Historicity of Jesus chapter by chapter and discuss its contents, and look at some additional resources and challenges. By the end, you’ll be able to converse informedly about all the main issues in the debate: what the best evidence is for the historical Jesus, why it can be questioned and how, and how you can decide for yourself whether theories without a historical Jesus are better or not. You will also have the opportunity to ask me all the questions you want, challenge me with all the arguments you’ve run into, and otherwise pick my brain on all the related issues you think important.

And of course, what I don’t cover in this course, probably isn’t true or usable. So this is a chance to see what stands out as reliable, amidst all the bad arguments for Jesus being mythical that infest the internet. Want to be inoculated against the “fake news” in the mythicism debate, so you can only stand on good arguments and not bad ones, and aren’t fooled into believing what isn’t well founded? This is the course for you!

Sign up! Questioning or Defending the Historicity of Jesus begins April 1 (suitably April Fool’s Day!) and goes one month, covering four units, one per week. There are no timed events so you can do the readings or post questions or engage in the forum discussions whenever you want, any day and time that suits you. All the course materials, including the discussions, stay available for you to consult or download for an additional month after that.

The only course text you must acquire (if you don’t already have it) is my book On the Historicity of Jesus. Everything else will be provided. For a more complete course description, and how to register, visit the course announcement page.

2 comments

  1. John MacDonald June 12, 2017, 3:49 pm

    I just wanted to make an observation about the book “”Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015).” Carrier sums up a core aspect of the prior probability of his position in the afterword to the book when he writes:

    “It must be acknowledged that unlike most average people in antiquity, Jesus belongs to several reference classes that more commonly contain mythical people than historical ones … Worshipped dying-and-rising savior gods. Conveniently exemplary counter-culture heroes. Tragic god-kings. Suffering righteous holy men. Angels. Pre-existent creator beings … It must be acknowledged that all of the non-existent dying-and-rising savior gods, conveniently exemplary counter-cultural heroes, tragic god-kings, and suffering righteous holy men, were all placed in earth history somehow and somewhen, often with whole biographies. Not one was left without this development. Whether they actually existed was never relevant to this outcome … It must be acknowledge that these two facts entail Jesus is more likely to be non-existent, like them. Not certainly to be. But more likely. Because that is true of all the others: most dying and rising savior gods placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most conveniently exemplary counter-cultural heroes placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most tragic god-kings placed in history with biographies are nevertheless mythical; most angels and pre-existent creator beings are mythical … We cannot privilege Jesus. If they are most likely to be mythical, he is most likely to be mythical (Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015), pp. 417-418).”

    Carrier commits such a glaring non sequitur here it is a wonder the God of Logic didn’t have an aneurism when Carrier wrote it, lol. It is irrelevant that Jesus fits into these reference classes, because while this might suggest he was mythical, it just as easily might suggest that Jesus was being interpreted as being greater than figures like Moses and Dionysus, and so it makes sense that there would be some legendary material added to his biography. Think about it! If you were telling stories about a man who you thought was terrific beyond words, would you talk of him in terms of being a normal average guy, or better than the best heroes you know of?I think what people need to come to realize is that Carrier’s appeal to fantastic sounding math is just a show with no actual conceptual rigor standing behind it. Whether other non-existent beings belong to a certain reference class is not evidence that Jesus was non existent, since there is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why an historical Jesus would have such legendary embellishment. It certainly isn’t evidence in favor of the contention that Jesus didn’t exist.

    Reply
    1. You have the logic wrong. You are confusing binary reasoning with probability reasoning. The question is not whether Jesus can have gotten mythologized that way. The question is how often does that happen. Hence you get a frequency. We want to know the frequency. I totally allow it could be as you say; repeatedly and explicitly in OHJ. But that’s useless knowing. What we want to know is how likely is it what you say (as opposed to what happened to everyone else in that same reference class).

      Do you have evidence of the frequency being any different than I find on the a fortiori side? For example, I allow that exactly what you propose happened, happened to numerous members of the classes Jesus is in; and thus I fully allow it may have happened to Jesus. But I find it happens only at most 1 out of every 3 times. There is no evidence it happened to anyone like Jesus more frequently than anyone else in the class. So, your contrary theory is already in the math. Fully accounted for. The only way to get a different conclusion, is to show data that the frequency of what you suggest, is higher than 1 in 3 for people mythologized in the ways Jesus was.

      Hence, you need to have evidence it did. Like, actual data. And it needs to be of several persons (more persons than I already allow; you do not seem to know how many persons I counted as having been mythologized exactly as you suggest; you don’t even seem aware that I already suggested what you suggest; in other words, it looks like you didn’t even read my book and have no idea what it’s argument even is).

      You also clearly don’t understand Bayesian reasoning. Because you have in this comment bizarrely assumed the prior probability of historicity is the actual probability of historicity. My book clearly explains it isn’t. But any book anywhere explaining Bayesian reasoning will set you straight: the prior is not the posterior. The posterior probability that Jesus is different from most members of his class is determined later by evidence (Chapters 7-11 of OHJ). The prior is solely the prior odds, before looking at evidence Jesus existed specifically (Chapter 6). It is not the probability Jesus existed. Thus, when I find from his reference classes that Jesus has prior odds of being historical of 1 in 3, that is not the probability Jesus existed. For the latter, I end up with a probability near enough that, but that’s because the evidence balanced out that way, not because the prior is the posterior.

      You do not seem to know the difference.

      Reply

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