Friday, October 17, 2008

Appearing in Amherst

It's now official: The Jesus Project launched by R. Joseph Hoffmann under the auspices of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) will hold its first academic conference this December in Amherst, NY. Though I'm not an official member of the Project, I've been in communication with Hoffmann about it since the beginning, and I will be one of the speakers this December, along with Hoffmann, Gerd L├╝demann, Robert Eisenman, Dennis MacDonald, James Tabor, Hector Avalos, David Trobisch, Robert Price, and many others.

The official Jesus Project website is still under construction, but for those who may have "heard things" there is an old but useful update by Hoffmann on the hiccups in launching the Project. But it's in full steam now. The aim of the project is to seriously evaluate the evidence for the historical Jesus, without prejudging the conclusion for or against historicity, and this year's inaugural meeting is titled "Sources of the Jesus Tradition: An Inquiry."

My talk, "Bayes Theorem for Beginners: Formal Logic and Its Relevance to Historical Method," will conclude the Saturday "Evidence and Methods" section (the last of three speakers between 9am-11:30am) on December 6 (I meant to say "Relevance to Historicity Criteria," since that's what I'll discuss, but the submitted title is accurate enough). Roundtables and talks run from the eve of Friday the 5th to noon on Sunday the 7th and include many very intriguing subjects, mainly about methodology and how to use our sources. That's much of what my book is about, so I shall get to preview and discuss with scholars some of my book's material and get a feel for what others are doing on the same topics.

This is a formal academic conference, so attendance is by paid registration only, and like other academic conferences, it's expensive--though about half what I've seen to be typical, it's still beyond the means of most ($175, plus another $95 to get all the meals). It will be held at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. I assume you can get more information (including a registration form) by mailing a query to CFI (CSER) P.O. Box 741, Amherst, NY 14226-0664 or calling the Center
(at 1-800-818-7071) or sending a fax (to 1-716-636-1733).

11 comments:

bibleblunders said...

As an atheist, I must say it seems like a waste of time for so many talented minds to be examining the question of whether Jesus really existed. Wouldn't it be better to put our efforts into discrediting the religion instead of the man who supposedly started it all? Since Christianity has very little to do with Jesus (and much to do with Paul), and since you will never convince the fundamentalists that Jesus didn't exist, I cannot see that such a project would have any positive outcome, except from a purely historical point of view, but certainly not from a religious one.

evtujo said...

I will pray that your tutorial on bayes ends up on the web so that I may learn from the master. Hmmm... but if my prayer comes true, how much should I adjust my assessment on the likelihood of the efficacy of prayer? I won't know until I read your tutorial I guess. :)

Pikemann Urge said...

Bibleblunders: "discrediting the religion"

Interesting point, but you don't need to be an academic to do that. But indeed, just because Jesus existed doesn't mean ipso facto that the religion is true or worth anything (I think it is but that's my $0.02).


The historicity of Jesus - or anyone - is a matter of facts, not personal viewpoints or philosophy. More or less.

It certainly doesn't matter whether he existed if you don't believe in the religion. But finding out as much as we can always helps to open our proverbial eyes.

If you've been in a cave for a long time it hurts to come out into the light, but it's worth it in the end!

Besides, if our conclusion is that Jesus didn't exist (or that we can't know) then it's one more serious point one can make in public discourse.

What's the point of 'discrediting' a faith if you have no material to discredit it with? But instead of discrediting Christianity, we should put it in its proper place. Only then can it be understood.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

I'm trying to decide if this is worth breaking the bank on...

Loren said...

I think that it's important to try to resolve such issues, to try to set the record straight, if nothing else.

I think that the Jesus Christ of the Gospels was largely mythical, if not entirely mythical.

Just1SillyGirl said...

Isn't this (conference full of historians in an old New England town) how most RPG campaigns start? May your sanity stay intact.

On a more serious note, I'd love to know how this jesus project will effect your specific writing project..? are there synergies here?

Cheers

Richard Carrier said...

Bibleblunders said... I must say it seems like a waste of time for so many talented minds to be examining the question of whether Jesus really existed. Wouldn't it be better to put our efforts into discrediting the religion instead of the man who supposedly started it all?

By that argument, historians should close shop and stop researching and debating any issue that doesn't advance some current social cause. Not a good idea. It is no more a waste of time for ancient historians to hold a conference debating theories of Jesus than to hold a conference debating the facts surrounding Trajanic property tax measures. If it's interesting to us and advances knowledge in the field and our understanding of ancient history, what's the problem?

I have zero interest in what fundamentalists think. I'm interested in what my colleagues in ancient history think. I'm interested in what the facts are, what methods we should be using, what theories are viable for major developments in Roman history (even in general, but especially those developments that continue to affect us).

Evtujo: It will not appear on the web, no. If they publish the conference papers, it will end up in print there, but it will otherwise only appear as material in my forthcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.

Just1SillyGirl said... Isn't this (conference full of historians in an old New England town) how most RPG campaigns start? May your sanity stay intact.

Well, you never know. I only have 48 points left. But my mythos score of 37 might help avoid the worst. That and my sawed-off shotgun, wad of electrical tape, and Bind Dimensional Shambler spell. Of course, that was back in 1927. My guy in the 80's already died from an explosion of 200 pounds of black powder stuffed in a hoard of Dr. Pepper cans hidden in the door panels of a Jeep Cherokee, in a failed attempt to prevent Astur from eating the Southwest. But that was awhile ago. And not in New England.

On a more serious note, yes. There are synergies here.

Ben Dench said...

Bibleblunders said... I must say it seems like a waste of time for so many talented minds to be examining the question of whether Jesus really existed. Wouldn't it be better to put our efforts into discrediting the religion instead of the man who supposedly started it all?

I couldn't disagree with you more. Nothing would "discredit the religion" more quickly, deeply, and thoroughly than discovering that the man who it is about never existed in the first place. Christianity is not like Buddhism--where the focus is mainly on the philosophy and not the man. If we discover that Jesus never existed, it would be a crushing blow to Christianity. Forget what fundamentalists think--if the population in general accepts this as the reality of the situation, Christian fundamendalism will become a thoroughly isolated and dying movement. It's hard to convert people when they reject from the outset your opening premise.

Richard Carrier said...

I think there is hyperbole on both sides here. I do not believe the evidence is sufficient to establish beyond any doubt that Jesus didn't exist, even if it is sufficient to make that probable. So I don't think the project can have anything like the decisive impact on Christianity Ben Dench is hoping for. Of course, if a consensus of experts develops that the historicity of Jesus is questionable, that won't bode well for the Christian mission. But it won't end it. After all, evolution is far more decisively established, and yet it doesn't seem to have had an overly great effect on Creationism.

On the other hand, I think Bibleblunders is engaging in black-and-white thinking when he suggests that by some of us studying this question, none of us are dispatching the religion on other grounds. Obviously we have plenty of brilliant minds engaged on every angle. Nothing is being neglected. But the fact is, for my part, I'm pretty much done with Christianity--I've refuted it so thoroughly, to engage it any more would sooner be a waste of time than the other way around. There are still some mysteries and live debates in the matter of Deism vs. Naturalism, but that's far and away from Christianity, and I spend plenty of time on those issues anyway.

But my interest in the historicity question actually has nothing to do with debunking Christianity. So in fact, both of you are on the wrong track here. Most talented minds are engaged on scientific and historical questions entirely unrelated to religion, yet surely they are not "wasting their time" just because they aren't debunking religion. My interest in the historicity of Jesus is a straightforward interest in the associated facts and methodology in my professional field (ancient history). I'm simply interested in the subject as a historian.

Hence I'm not writing a book on this to debunk Christianity any more than my next book about ancient science has the aim of debunking Christianity. Although the latter partly does to an extent, as will my historicity book even if one disagrees with its main conclusion--since both books will contain a lot of material that will decisively refute cherished beliefs about the Christian religion, such as that the Gospels do not belong to the genre of myth (On the Historicity of Jesus Christ Chapter 9) or that Christianity was conducive or necessary to the development of modern science (The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire Chapters 4, 5, and 6).

Mr.Bip said...

Where do I find "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ," which you reference in one of your replies?

Richard Carrier said...

That's the "forthcoming book" I'm currently "writing," as mentioned in earlier comments above.