Proving History

Proving History

Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Book - 2012
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Random House, Inc.
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.

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.

Book News
An American scholar of ancient history, Carrier has written widely about Christianity. Here he begins a two-volume inquiry into whether a case can be made that Jesus never really existed as a historical person. In this first volume, he resolves the central issue of how to test such a claim, indeed any historical claim. This methodological discussion should interest any historian, he says, not just those interested in the Jesus question. In the second volume, he tests the proposal that Jesus originated as a mythical character in tales symbolically narrating the salvific acts of a cosmic being who never walked the earth. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: New York : Prometheus Books, 2012
Description: 340 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
ISBN: 9781616145590
Branch Call Number: 232.908 Car


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Jun 29, 2014

Dry but absolutely fascinating. Bayes Theorem is a very clear, step-by-step way of investigating claims which is going to have major impact on science and history.

Sep 27, 2012

A valuable book, but not an easy read. He evaluates the criteria that historians use to justify their conclusions. The main thrust of the book is to persuade historians that Baye’s Theorem is the best way to evaluate historical evidence. This can get tedious for non-historians. But there are sections accessible to the non-historian, and well worth reading. The purpose of the book is to lay the ground work for his upcoming book “On the Historicity of Jesus Christ”. I am very much looking forward to that book.

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