What do I think of Ross Hickling’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
One of the most popular figures in atheist apologetics on the internet is Dr. Richard Carrier PhD. (For those seeking clarification, that’s the unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from SkeptiCon, Richard Carrier.) He’s most noted for being one of those rare scholars in the field who actually holds to and defends the idea that Jesus never existed. Fortunately, a Christian scholar has decided to pay attention to Carrier’s claims since they’re so prolific among internet atheists and put them to the test.
With his background in law enforcement, Hickling assesses Carrier’s claims according to the rules in our American courts today and the traditions they’re founded on for examining evidence to see if they measure up. Spoiler alert! They don’t. If Hickling is correct, Carrier’s case would not hold up in a court of law.
In each area, Hickling will present the claims of Carrier and then have those claims cross-examined by Christian scholars and apologists. He will also go with other scholars who have made relevant claims provided they are claims in the field. Hickling will then argue that the Christian case does measure up and defeat the claims of Carrier. This is done in three parts.
The first part is with the narratives of the resurrection themselves. In this, Carrier looks at claims of contradiction and says that the accounts do not add up so the claim should not be taken seriously. Hickling looks at these claims wisely avoiding any discussions of inerrancy. He points out what is necessary for a contradiction and how in a court of law, stories that appear contradictory are accepted because different witnesses see and say different things. Sometimes it can be different sources, different experiences, or differences in a story the accounts are being used to tell.
The second part deals with dying and rising gods. In this, Carrier claims that the Christians stole the idea from the culture around them and turned Jesus into a dying and rising god. Hickling chooses four candidates to look at which include Inanna, Osiris, Romulus, and Zalmoxis. Hickling goes back to the original sources on these and shows the vast differences that exist.
Not only that, he shows that the early church and the Jews were very guarded about their religious beliefs and did not want to mix them with others. He also shows that there is no evidence that these groups were interacting in Palestine or that the apostles, including Paul, ever went to the pagans to borrow beliefs from them.
The final part is on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Carrier presents any number of claims to show that they were hallucinations. Hickling interacts with medical experts who specialize in hallucinations to show that the claims of Carrier don’t measure up. He also brings up other kinds of hallucinations Carrier doesn’t even mention.
In addition, he brings in data about the empty tomb and the martyrdom of some of the apostles that can be established, largely focusing for the latter on the work of Sean McDowell. Hickling contends that Carrier’s claims of what would cause a hallucination for the followers of Jesus doesn’t match up. This also includes one I enjoy interacting with particularly, guilt.
Hickling’s work is quite good. If there was more I would like to see, I would like to see guilt explained further seeing as I don’t think internal guilt was something that the ancients personally experienced. I also do hope that someday Hickling will turn his eye towards Carrier’s book arguing that Jesus didn’t exist. It would be great to see a thorough and scholarly takedown of such a work.
Either way, Carrier has been out there for quite awhile, but there’s a new sheriff in town with the know-how of legal evidence on his side. Hickling makes a good case and I would like to see him and Carrier interact someday on the data to see how such an exchange would go. All those on the internet who treat Carrier like the be-all and end-all of New Testament and historical Jesus studies need to look at this work.