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."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-03-19
- Reviewer: Staff
The author of this dense and complicated volume is an independent scholar, a self-professed nonbeliever, and author (Why I Am Not a Christian) and editor. However, he comes to his subject as very much agnostic on the subject of whether the man Jesus actually existed. He observes the chaos that surrounds Jesus studies and insists that inconsistencies in the Bible, and the sparseness of extra-biblical evidence, make this search difficult. Carrier takes a unique approach: he uses a widely admired statistical formula to determine, based on observable evidence, the likelihood of historical events having occurred. He begins with a fairly cogent explanation of Bayes’s theorem, and proceeds to plug in the variables and draw conclusions based on the results. The author makes no effort to dumb down the study. The result is a book that will appeal to academics and scholars, but not to the common reader. He promises a second volume. Perhaps this next book will be less abstruse and more accessible to the general reading audience. (Apr.)