Much to my surprise, it was quite a busy summer with a lot of time spent travelling between events. Everyone settling into the back-to-school routine has afforded me a little break and I've been catching up on my non-magical reading and there has been some really interesting stuff which I wanted to share. It's hard to imagine a book title designed to raise more eyebrows than Hitler Homer Bible Christ. Then again, it's hard to imagine ways to spice up peer-reviewed academic literature so the book gets off to a solid start.
When I was a teenager, one of my intellectual heroes was Richard Feynman (strange child I was, I know) and through his writings, I inherited his disdain for the social sciences in general and philosophy in particular. Richard Carrier is one of those slowly but surely helping me get over that. There are also few things in life sexier than a snarky skeptic who backs up his arguments with actual academic research. Two of his earlier books, Proving History and Sense and Goodness without God are among my favourite books which I've read in the past few years (strange adult I am, I know).
If you hadn't guessed from the title, or subsequently inferred from the subtitle, the book is a bit of a mishmash covering a range of topics. Personal highlights for me were those works which examine passages in old books ranging from Hitler's Table Talk (that would be the Hitler component of the title), the Gospel of Matthew (that would be the bible component... one of them) and Tacitus (that would be the Christ component) identifying specific passages which don't belong. I've heard Richard Carrier's talks (Youtube is a wonderful place) and I've often heard the results of those papers mentioned solely in terms of their conclusions but it was really enlightening to actually see the process behind that lead to those conclusions. It's wonderful to have the curtain pulled back like that and Carrier puts a lot of effort into making sure that the material he produces is accessible to a lay readership.
One particular eye-opening remark in one of the essays is that professional historians don't trust history produced before 1950 (or use it sparingly as a guide to further first hand research). The admission that generations of historians weren't doing it right leads me to understand why someone like Feynman (born in 1918) would have the view he had. And Carrier is actively trying to reform the field (basically what Proving History was all about) which inclines me to like him even more.
I'll sit and wait patiently for his latest (On the Historicity of Jesus) to become available electronically since my bookshelves are bursting at the seams.