On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt
The assumption that Jesus existed as a historical person has occasionally been questioned in the course of the last hundred years or so, but any doubts that have been raised have usually been put to rest in favor of imagining a blend of the historical, the mythical and the theological in the surviving records of Jesus. Carrier re-examines the whole question and finds compelling reasons to suspect the more daring assumption is correct. He lays out extensive research on the evidence for Jesus and the origins of Christianity and poses the key questions that must now be answered if the historicity of Jesus is to survive as a dominant paradigm. Carrier contrasts the most credible reconstruction of a historical Jesus with the most credible theory of Christian origins if a historical Jesus did not exist. Such a theory would posit that the Jesus figure was originally conceived of as a celestial being known only through private revelations and hidden messages in scripture; then stories placing this being in earth history were crafted to communicate the claims of the gospel allegorically; such stories eventually came to be believed or promoted in the struggle for control of the Christian churches that survived the tribulations of the first century. Carrier finds the latter theory more credible than has been previously imagined. He explains why it offers a better explanation for all the disparate evidence surviving from the first two centuries of the Christian era. He argues that we need a more careful and robust theory of cultural syncretism between Jewish theology and politics of the second-temple period and the most popular features of pagan religion and philosophy of the time. For anyone intent on defending a historical Jesus, this is the book to challenge.
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contrary to Carrier's assertions that christians "need" Jesus to be historical, there are many christians and many different kinds of christianities that don't need Jesus to be historical. much of the meaning of the (supposed) Jesus' teachings, carry genuine ethical weight whether from a historical Jesus or from those who (supposedly) made it all up. the idea of treating with dignity all people despite religious differences, the idea of caring about the poor and needy, the idea of not self aggrandizing, the idea of not using religion as a front to cover up one's inner corruption, all of these teachings that are attributed to Jesus, are good and true whether or not Jesus said them or not. these teachings can be found in similar forms in other than "christianity" anyhow. I don't need Jesus to be historically true, but I do need historians and historical investigation to be responsible and credible.
Carrier however is a trip. he writes in the opening sections of his book that "History concerns not what scholars subjectively think must have happened but what the evidence allows us to claim actually did happen" but then he goes on to spend a whole book, telling us the numerous (supposed) problems with the data, but then based upon that problematic data, telling us what "really" happened as per his theory. uh Richard?, is that what you THINK must have happened, or is that what the evidence allows us to claim ACTUALLY DID happen? uggh. page after page of conjecture, posed as historical conclusiveness, as Carrier smugly thinks he's slammed the gavel down. aye aye aye. what a blockhead. yes his book is heavily footnoted and has the appearance of a scholarly tome, i stress the word appearance. but in actual substance, it is conjecture upon conjecture strung together and built with strawmen. he smuggles in poor and unbalanced reasoning, by throwing in lots of cited sources, as if citing lots of sources means he fairly assesses the many issues these sources all deal with in the ways they may or may not be used to make the case Carrier tries to make.
basically his overall point is that the person Jesus wasn't even a real person at all, in any sense. he was simply made up by some 1st century folks, by some combination of visions, imagination and concepts of the 'gods' from their mythical culture. now there can be little doubt that the earliest Christians portrayed Jesus in many mythological ways (see David Litwa's book Iesus Deus), and Carrier rightly points out some of this, but Carrier goes overboard by putting the cart before the horse.
If there is strong evidence to show that Jesus was not even a real person at all in any sense, then fine, we should strive for historical honesty and integrity and go with the evidence. the problem with Carrier's "evidence", is that it consists of so much of his conjecture, his "take" on the data. data which by his own explanations, are very hazy and problematic. but then he goes on to suggest that his "take" on it all, is the historical truth. one could arrive at this only when you don't know the difference between eisegesis and exegesis, and only when you slant much of the data to support your own agenda, and only when you leave out other important data and other relevant perspectives on the data, could you then arrive at Carriers "conclusions". in other words, he is an apologist for his cause as an "avid defender of a naturalist worldview", see further below. page after page of Carrier ranting on with his own conjecture of the flimsiest kind, Carrier's handling of the data is twisted, skewed and stunted, this becomes apparent when double checking other scholars he refers to and when checking other literary accounts he refers to. and it especially becomes apparent when checking the "scriptural" passages he quotes, as he often eisegetes passages instead of exegetes them. I was very disappointed to discover that he often gives less than an
The reviewer who calls this a "poor book" is in sheer raging denial. Who is being arrogant here? I'd say it's this person who snidely dismisses Carrier's slam-dunk case while offering virtually no rebuttal.