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Proving History

Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus
Narrated by: Richard Carrier
Length: 13 hrs and 4 mins
Categories: History, Ancient
4 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

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. Almost all experts agree that the Jesus of the Bible is a composite of myth, legend, and some historical evidence. So what can we know about the real Jesus? For more than 150 years, scholars have attempted to answer this question.

Unfortunately, the quest for the historical Jesus has produced as many different images of the original Jesus as scholars who have studied the subject. The result is a confused mass of disparate opinions with no consensus view of what actually happened at the dawn of Christianity. And this uncertainty is not unique to the historical study of Jesus. The problems related to establishing the reliability of historical criteria apply equally to any historical analysis of the persons and events that have shaped our lives and the beliefs we hold dear.

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.

©2012 Richard C. Carrier (P)2014 Pitchstone Publishing

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Profile Image for Erin Branscome
  • Erin Branscome
  • 21-08-2015

Good Book, Difficult Format

Would you listen to Proving History again? Why?

"Proving History," as a book, is excellent, and I highly recommend it. While it's the opening volume in Richard Carrier's examination of the historical Jesus, it stands alone as a text on the philosophy, study, and practice of History, itself. I would recommend it to any student of history, whether amateur enthusiast or academic, regardless of an interest in the subject of Jesus' historicity or Biblical Studies. I wouldn't be surprised if this book, or excerpts from it, became required reading in History classes across the board, and as a student of History, I would recommend a copy of "Proving History" as a reference on the shelf of anyone at all serious about the subject.

All that said, as an *audio* book, I found it lacking. This is not a criticism of Richard Carrier's performance; he continues to narrate his own books better than many professional voice actors. His diction is clear, steady without being monotonous, and generally, I find that he brings an enthusiasm to sections which could easily be very dry. No, the fault lies with the book itself. The material covered is complex and dense, and while an effort was made to try and explain verbally what was communicated in the text with pictures, symbols, and numbers, I still found it very difficult to follow--and I'd both read the book previously, and listened to several lectures by the author on the subject. I really don't think there's any way to make it into a good, stand-alone audio book, without re-writing large portions of the original (though I'd strongly disapprove of such a re-write because of my great admiration for the book itself.) Likewise, I'd be against abridging the book and taking out the more difficult passages to communicate verbally, as they are integral to understanding the book as a whole. Ultimately, I think this is an audio book best enjoyed in conjunction with a text copy of the book to read.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • carl801
  • 28-09-2014

No leap of faith required

Richard Carrier's book is more about the application of Bayes's Theorem to history in general than it is about the historical Jesus specifically. No doubt, many people are put off by the idea of using mathematics to separate what is likely true about the past from what is not, but what is our knowledge of things past if it is not fundamentally uncertain? Personally, I like Carrier's approach. It gives a consistent formality and structured process to determining what most likely actually happened, given all of our evidence, while taking into account the presence of uncertainty. Carrier says over and over again that it will not work if historians are not honest with themselves and with their colleagues. I suspect that at the root of opposition to this approach is that its use requires facing down our biases, never an easy thing to do.

I am neither a historian nor a mathematician. This book was not easy for me to plow through, but it was worth the effort. My white board is covered with forulae that I'll be thinking about some time to come. I look forward to Carrier's next book.

The reader did a very good job, in spite of the fact that a lot of the text was equations and formulae.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Elizabeth M. True
  • 15-07-2014

Worth the Challenge

This is a great intro to Bayes's Theorem, although for me the audio version made it pretty challenging to keep up with the pace of the narrator while trying to create a mental picture of the theorem and it's various iterations given for different applications. I did stick with it though and am glad I did. I'll be buying a hard copy as well. Looking forward to to ear-reading the 2nd volume On the Historicity of Jesus.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Janine White
  • 08-11-2017

Alphabet soup

This is a very interesting subject, read as well as could be expected. Unfortunately, the extensive equations are difficult to under

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Vincent
  • 12-05-2015

Excellent work!

Clearly explained, well spoken, can't wait to read the next volume. 99.9% probable you will love it.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Olivia Page
  • 02-01-2015

Informative, but tedious

If you understand Bayes' Theorem, don't bother with this book. Dr. Carrier is using this text to explain the usefulness of Bayes' so that he doesn't have to spend time explaining it in the following book on the actual historicity of Jesus. He does touch on a few interesting points here, but the examples are all used to teach Bayes, not discuss the Bible.

All in all a good reference book to physically have, but listening to 12 hours of the same repetitive content is...tedious.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthro006
  • 01-09-2019

Statistical overload

I like Richard Carrier's writing and have read several of his books. However, I got this as an audiobook based on his prior writing and didn't realize that it was HEAVILY filled with statistics around Bayesian analysis. There are too many instances of recitation of statistical formulae and calculations to actually enjoy much of the writing because I couldn't visualize the math. In fact, I couldn't keep track of some chapters because listening while driving proved completely unworkable. I would strongly recommend the written version of this book but avoid the audio unless you can easily picture complex formula and numerical calculations while considering probability weights in your head.

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  • Anonymous Ed
  • 10-03-2019

awesome!<br />

Be patient. Reread to understand these concepts if necessary. I'll listen to this several times.

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  • vidar lystad johansen
  • 23-10-2018

A good defence of bayes theeorem

Another easy to follow and well researched book, well performed and should be interesting for any reader of history

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Profile Image for Matthew D. Dwyer
  • Matthew D. Dwyer
  • 19-10-2016

Excellent, but complex of the 2 pt series

Richard Carrier is one of the smartest people I can think of. Dedicated to knowledge, truth, and the logical implications of evidence whilst remaining kind, Carrier is an example of what an intelligent, upstanding human can look like.
If nothing else he teaches us how to think soundly and makes a great case for the reassessment of how we go about historic studies. This book is fantastic; it's more about method, whereas pt 2, On the Historicity of Jesus, delves deeply into the implications of that method and if Jesus' narrative holds up to scrutiny.

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  • SKY LIGHT
  • 10-10-2015

This is Mostly Technical. Read his other books!

What would have made Proving History better?

It's difficult to see how this could be improved as it is certainly a detailed piece of work, but much more suited to those who need to understand the technicalities of Bayes's Theorem.

Would you ever listen to anything by Richard Carrier again?

Yes, I've already listened to all his other Audio books, and they are excellent.

What does Richard Carrier bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Richard's tone and enthusiasm for his work is clearly evident.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Boredom.

Any additional comments?

My lack of interest in this particular book is no way a criticism of Richard or the quality of his work. Indeed, it is clear that all his work is of the highest quality, but this book is just too technical for me. All his other books are excellent, and, for anyone interested in the field, 'On the Historicity of Jesus' is essential reading!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • G. T. Dyson
  • 29-06-2014

Not much fun

Would you try another book written by Richard Carrier or narrated by Richard Carrier?

No

What was most disappointing about Richard Carrier’s story?

he spent hours saying basically the same thing

What didn’t you like about Richard Carrier’s performance?

A+C+D-true H = A lot of bored confused people

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Proving History?

Most of it

Any additional comments?

Boring

0 of 4 people found this review helpful