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Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed

Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed

Book Description

Not the Impossible Faith is a tour de force, dissecting and refuting the oft-repeated claim that Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world unless it were true. Dr. Carrier surveys a whole range of topics regarding the origin of Christianity and its cultural context, demonstrating that its success has entirely natural explanations and nothing to do with whether its supernatural claims were true.

Though framed as a detailed rebuttal to Christian apologist J.P. Holding (author of The Impossible Faith), Carrier takes a general approach, answering many questions on the history and sociology of the ancient world, making this a valuable work for understanding the religion and society of that time. Along the way, many questions are answered, such as: How did Christians approach evidence? Was there a widespread prejudice against the testimony of women? Was resurrection such a radical idea? Who would worship a crucified criminal? And much more.

Even if you have no interest in the refutation of an already dubious Christian apologetic, you will find this book both fascinating and illuminating. Written with occasional humor and an easy style, thoroughly referenced, and with many entertaining “gotcha!” moments, Not the Impossible Faith is a must-read for anyone interested in the origins of Christianity.

Extended Contents


The Dark Horse Rides…9

The White Knight Responds…10

Dark Horse Dead in the Water…11

1. Who Would Believe in a Crucified God?…17

Precedents and Distinctions…17

How Converts Differed from Critics…24

How Things Really Looked…31

Many Expected a Humiliated Savior…34

Conclusion 44

2. Who Would Follow a Man from Galilee?…51

Two Key Problems…51

Getting the Context Right…53

A Working Class Rabbi…55

The Galilean Connection…63

The Gospel of John…66

Holding Steps into a Trap…71

The Role of Messianic Prophecy…74

Why a Virgin Birth?…76


3. Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible?…85

The Popularity of Resurrection…85

Defending the Zoroastrian Connection…90

Debating Zalmoxis…100

How the Pagan Mission Changed Christianity…105

Jewish Background…113

Was There a Better Idea?…116


4. Was the New Always Bad?…129

5. Who Would Join a Moral Order?…135

Pagans Are Moral People Too…135

Christians Aren’t Perfect Either…139

The Appeal of Communism…140


6. Who Would Join an Intolerant Cult?…147

The Popularity of Intolerance…147

First: Statistics…148

Second: Systemic Failure…151

Demons & Elite Corruption…152

Managing the Family…154

A Stigma of Atheism?…156

Which Is It, Jews or Judeans?…157


7. Was Christianity Vulnerable to Disproof?…161

General Argument…161

The Problem of Differing Research Paradigms…164

The Problem of Luke’s Methods as a Historian…173

First Example: Luke on Paul’s Trial…187

Holding’s Argument Backfires…192

Second Example: Luke on Agrippa’s Cause of Death…197

Public Miracles & the Problem of Finding Witnesses 201

Summary 209

Conclusion 211

8. Who Would Want to be Persecuted? 219

The Social Foundations of Martyrdom 219

Paul and Tertullian 225

Where Holding Gets it Wrong 230

What Hebrews Actually Says 236

Where Holding Gets it Right 240

Conclusion 242

9. Was a God Incarnate Always Repugnant? 247

Incarnation Among the Jews 247

Incarnation Among the Gentiles 252

Conclusion 254

10. Would Groupthinkers Never Switch Groups? 259

Getting it Backwards 259

What Do Malina & Neyrey Really Say? 261

How Christianity Fits the Malina-Neyrey Model 273

Malina and Neyrey on the Role of Revelation 281

Lack of Evidence for Holding’s View 285

Conclusion 291

11. Did No One Trust Women? 297

There Is No Evidence Women Were a Problem 297

The Testimony of Women Was Trusted 300

Why Mark Places Women at the Empty Tomb 312

Conclusion 317

12. Did No One Trust Illiterate Laymen? 323

13. Would the Facts Be Checked? 329

Boiling away the Hyperbole 329

The Conversions in Acts 332

The Evidence as Reported in Acts 341

The Indications from Early Apologists 352

Conclusion 364

14. Who Would Follow an Ignorant Savior? 369

15. Who Would Follow an Executed Criminal? 373

16. Were Christian Teachings Too Radical? 375

Fallacies Galore 375

Misrepresenting Malina—Again 378

Conclusion 382

17. Did Christians Encourage Critical Inquiry? 385

Holding’s Bogus Evidence 385

Method as Revealed in Paul 388

Survey of Passages Relating to Method 391

The Bankrupt Methods of J.P. Holding 397

The Last Ditch 401

Conclusion 403

18. How Successful Was Christianity? 407

Assumptions 407

Numbers: What the Texts Say 410

Numbers: What the Experts Say 42

With Whom Did Christianity Begin? 429

The Rise of World Christianity 435

Conclusion 440

Extended Contents 449


“This book is a fascinating look into early christian history and at the dishonest tactics Christian apologists use. Highly recommended!”

Nicholas Covington

“As a former evangelical fundamentalist Christian I was humbled in reading this book. So many of the ‘assumptions’ I accepted from popular Christian apologists are based upon nothing more than shoddy historical research. I lost my faith in the bible as ‘divinely inspired truth’ due to things I learned in Cosmology. However, for a while I still didn’t know what to do with Jesus and the resurrection. ‘How did this belief system just pop out of nowhere?’ It just so happens that Richard Carrier is a scholar in the field of history from this time and sees right through these arguments that once led me captive. I was impressed by his knowledge of the subtleties of thought and customs that would make certain arguments that seem strong by todays standards, completely worthless. But this is what happens when one has a proposition (like the historicity and resurrection of Jesus) that they want to prove and defend; they scour ancient sources, lifting convenient quotes, while ignoring details that would weaken their efforts. I recommend this book to anyone interested in really getting to know the truth about Christian origins. This book has only made me look forward with even greater anticipation toward his forth coming work: On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.
– mackey

“I was not expecting much from this book. In the introduction we learn that this book was the product of an internet debate with J.P. Holding. I typically do not expect much from internet debates, even when I’m one of the debaters. But I was pleasantly surprised. This book is a careful and scholarly consideration of the question of whether the historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at all necessary to explain the growth and ultimate success of Christianity.

“Carrier takes his lead from points of Holding’s argument by heading each chapter with a question raised (e.g., “Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible?” “Did No One Trust Women?”). In the course of responding to these questions we get an erudite examination of many lines of evidence of relevance. Carrier weighs in on the historical reliability of the Gospels, comparing them with the methods of critical historians of antiquity. He considers with considerable care the likely demographics of Christians in the first century. He reveals the prevalence of resurrection stories in ancient times, both within Judaism and within the wider Greco-Roman world …”

– Richard W. Field

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