Category Archives: Robert M. Price


The Dark Side of the Bart Ehrman-Robert Price Debate

by Neil Godfrey
I was in the audience and I was irritated with Ehrman repeatedly interrupting Price during the latter parts of the debate. He also laughed at Price and dismissed him for not accepting Pauline authorship of Galatians.Adam G Vigansky

I am sure Adam Vigansky was not alone. I have read several similar comments. I was also somewhat saddened with Ehrman’s repeated interruptions of Price’s responses to his questions. I thought, “Well, it’s a debate, and debates are adversarial, and this is Bart Ehrman’s ten minutes to use as he wants. But it’s hardly a genuine scholarly exchange of views and I would prefer a respectful hearing of each side prior to challenges being raised.”

I have also read many comments expressing disappointment that Bob Price did not challenge Bart Ehrman more. I felt the same way at the time but in hindsight I have become more philosophical about that. Ehrman was cutting Price off, interrupting him. Why bother trying to engage such a person in a rational discussion? The other party has demonstrated that they are not truly listening but rather are on the look-out for opportunities to jump in and object. We have all had experience with people like that.

That Ehrman chose to turn away in mocking laughter at Price’s views on Paul also told us we were not witnessing a scholarly exchange. It also told us a lot about the limitations of current biblical studies and how even awareness of the history of the debates and controversies in their field have apparently been largely lost and forgotten (as distinct from having been answered and rebutted).

I did the very best I could to communicate some rather difficult ideas in simple terms that were compelling and persuasive. As it turns out, only about half the audience (I asked at the outset) came into the debate convinced that there never was a historical Jesus. The reality is that I will never convince someone like that in a thousand years. . . . .

I also thought that Bob was a little more technical in his 30 minute talk, and that a lot of people may not have understood the nuance and impact of all of his arguments. I’m just guessing about that. I thought he made some interesting points that were absolutely worth discussing. Bart Ehrman

With these words Bart Ehrman reveals his condescension towards mythicists and his distaste for even wanting to hear out the arguments. He is very out of touch with his audience. He fails to realize that many of us are totally frustrated with his “simple terms” of argument because we really do understand and know far more about the arguments of the academy than he can bring himself to admit. Has he really read an Earl Doherty book? Or Rene Salm’s? Or Thomas Brodie? His response to Frank Zindler’s question also testified to the arrogance of his refusal to engage with the arguments that mythicists make, his disdain towards the thought of even acknowledging that those arguments do indeed grapple with the “rather difficult ideas” that he assumes are beyond the ken of his audience.

Bart further demonstrates just how far out of touch he is when he guesses that Bob Price’s talk would have been beyond the comprehension of the audience. He seems to be indicating that he has no idea why Robert Price is so popular and such a draw-card for the audience. He seems to be assuming that Price’s arguments are so complicated that no-one could really appreciate them — but hey, he already says mythicists are a pretty dumb and ignorant lot. And now he is saying that he is quite prepared to believe they follow Price without having any idea what he is talking about!

Then again, given that Bart himself finds it laughable that any scholar could doubt Paul wrote Galatians . . . one does have to ask who it is who has no idea what he is engaging with.

I think Bob Price is right. These guys need to be answered, but as for any attempt at exchange of ideas or real debate? Why bother!



Conclusion: Ehrman-Price Debate #3

by Neil Godfrey

This post concludes my notes on the Milwaukee Mythicist sponsored debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price. It is based on notes I took as I listened, and since I have not listened to this part of the debate since, I cannot check my notes for accuracy or to add any completeness. Perhaps some readers will find it useful to compare René Salm’s notes. BE = Bart Ehrman and RMP = Bob Price.

There were two ten minute sessions for each of BE and RMP to question the other and this was followed by a Q&A with the audience. I have coloured the topics addressed in BE’s ten minute sessions red, and those in RMP’s blue.

I have inserted my own comments in blocked off sections.

BE did not elaborate and explain how it is that we can know of the existence of Caiaphas and Josephus, or actually compare the evidence for these figures, its provenance, type, authenticity, etc, with what we have for Jesus. A discussion of historical methods requires whole posts. (See Historical Facts and the Unfactual Jesus, also Methodology; Sources; Historiography)

How do we know what happened?

Somewhere either towards the end of Bart Ehrman’s opening presentation or at the beginning of his subsequent allotment of ten minutes to question Robert Price, Ehrman made the following point on the relevance of extant contemporary sources for determining the historicity of ancient persons:

Where do our external (non biblical) sources mention Caiaphas, the most influential Jew of the day, or Josephus? The non-mention of Josephus doesn’t show he didn’t exist.

In responding to Price (RMP), Ehrman (BE) rejected RMP’s argument that scholars pare away the miracles from the gospels to find the historical core. RMP had said stories of the miraculous were said to be beefed up retellings of more mundane events, but BE said that’s not the methodological approach of scholars.

I think BE was implying the use of various criteria of authenticity, e.g. the criterion of embarrassment as the reason we can accept the baptism of Jesus as historical.

Rather, BE insisted, they evaluate every story, e.g. the baptism, to determine its likely historicity. They don’t simply remove the miraculous elements.

Who were the “archons” who killed Jesus? Earthly or heavenly authorities?

Next point against RMP was the claim that “archons” killed Jesus. BE pointed to Romans 13:3 to show that the term archon refers to earthly rulers.

RMP’s point is valid, but it could be coupled with other places where archons definitely means spiritual powers and other accounts of the crucifixion in Paul to undermine the dogmatism of the historicist view.

RMP: but Paul says these earthly rulers should be obeyed because they are there for your good, so he would not be identifying the crucifiers of Christ with archons who do good.

BE: What Paul is saying is that yes, the same kinds of authorities who killed Jesus should be obeyed and you should not do anything to upset those authorities or you risk suffering punishment as did Jesus.

The role of gnosticism

Rejecting arguments because of the date of the author is hardly a valid scholarly method. We would prefer to see the arguments from published criticisms of Schmithals. RMP’s points in his opening talk made a lot of sense.

In response to RMP’s discussion of gnosticism, BE insisted that gnosticism belonged to the second century and cannot be used to build a picture of pre-Christian times. BE also dismissed Walter Schmithals (whom RMP had referenced) as now dated, from the 1950s.

Why question the historicity of the empty tomb?

RMP asked BE how he came to not believe in the historicity of the empty tomb.

We ought not begin with the presumption of historicity or nonhistoricity in any text. The genre, provenance and external witness to the narrative ought always take priority. Resorting to details of contrary customs is not a strong argument by comparison.

BE replied that it was standard Roman practice to leave crucified bodies on crosses and later toss them in a shallow grave.

The Evolutionary model of Christianity

RMP asked BE what he thought or Burton Mack’s model that Christianity did not begin with a resurrection big-bang but with many disparate communities with different ideas eventually coalescing.

What scenario is the more probable?

BE’s question is a form of question begging. To ask which of two options is more probable implies that both options are on the same playing field, both are either in the real historical world, or both are in a certain fictional world, etc.

BE addressed RMP’s discussions in his book (The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems) about probabilities. We have no references in our sources about the activities of a Joshua in outer space. We don’t have stories about Jesus in outer space in the New Testament. All our references always speak of Jesus on earth. Is it not more probable that Jesus was on earth and not in outer space?

Again, we have many accounts of Jews crucified by Romans and no accounts of Jews crucified in outer space. Paul does not talk about Christ in outer space. So again, where lies the probability?

RMP replied that Colossians and 1 Corinthians do speak of a heavenly Christ.

Again, on probability and the baptism of Jesus. BE criticized RMP’s sourcing ideas to the influence of Zoroastrianism. Why is it more probable that the baptism is based on Zoroastrian concepts than to a historical baptism by John the Baptist?

BE continued: Mark was not Jewish, he was not a Jew, so he doesn’t use Zoroastrian influences. RMP: Zoroastrianism was built into Judaism at that time. read more »


Ehrman-Price Debate #2: Price’s Opening Address

by Neil Godfrey

The following is a write up from notes I took at the time of my first listening to the debate supplemented by a second listening earlier today. So there will be more detail than in with my summary of Ehrman’s opener. If anyone thinks I have been unfair to Ehrman then let me know and I may even decide to listen to him again too and add more detail to that post. Or be more certain and fill out details yourself!

Unlike Bart Ehrman Robert Price (RMP) did choose to address the opposing arguments as had been set out by BE in his book Did Jesus Exist? as well as making his case for mythicism. His presentation was written out and read aloud. Being a tightly prepared written speech it seemed to be packed with considerably more detail than BE’s delivery and certainly required more intense concentration to absorb the detail and each point of argument. Ehrman’s spontaneity and speaking without notes was far more dynamic and emotionally moving. So another reason for the greater length of the Price presentation here is, I am sure, the consequence of Price conveying far more detail than Ehrman.

Another stark difference between the two presentations worth noting is that Ehrman spoke dogmatically while Price conceded ambiguities in the evidence and spoke of what paradigm makes most sense to him given the various alternatives given the inability to definitely prove what we would like to be able to prove.

Regularly RMP quoted BE’s words as points requiring responses.

A Modern Novelty?

The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. (Ehrman 2012, p. 96)

RMP is not so sure and cites three ancient indicators: read more »


A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 4: Excursus on Marcion, Valentinians, and the Pauline Letters

by Roger Parvus

I have devoted my two previous posts to the part of my hypothesis that concerns the Pauline letters:

  • The earliest parts of the original collection of Pauline letters were written between CE 50 and 130 by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander.
  • Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only.
  • But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.

But at this point I expect that those who have read Robert M. Price’s book The Amazing Colossal Apostle are wondering: What about Marcion and gnostics like Valentinus? Didn’t they or their followers contribute something to the Paulines? Or, at least, weren’t they the targets of some of the proto-orthodox interpolations in the letters? Price would answer “yes” to these last two questions. His hypothesis is that:

The Pauline epistles began, most of them, as fragments by Simon (part of Romans), Marcion (the third through sixth chapter of Galatians and the basic draft of Ephesians), and Valentinian Gnostics (Colossians, parts of 1 Corinthians, at least). Some few began as Catholic documents, while nearly all were interpolated by Polycarp, the ecclesiastical redactor who domesticated John (as Bultmann saw it), Luke (as per John Knox), and 1 Peter, then composed Titus and 2 Timothy. (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 534)

One immediately noticeable difference between our hypotheses is that I hold, as argued in the previous post, that the original letters to the Ephesians and Colossians were written by the Simonian Menander, not Marcion or a Valentinian. To me, the passages that Price sees as Marcionite or Valentinian in these letters can just as plausibly be identified as Simonian. The theological development present in them is nothing that could not have already occurred within Simon’s communities in the generation after him, and thus before either Marcion or Valentinus are thought to have been active. Forty years—say, from CE 60 to 100—seems like plenty enough time for that development. And if so, the proto-orthodox interpolations could have been inserted with Simonians in view.

The proto-orthodox reworking of the letter collection could have been a fait accompli by the time Marcion and Valentinus went to Rome in the late 130s.

To illustrate my point, let’s consider some specific instances.


Price, in his commentary on Ephesians, writes:

The first anti-Marcionite interpolation we can detect is in verse 1:7a, “the one by whom we have received release through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses.” In Marcionite soteriology, the death of Jesus was a ransom, manumitting the enslaved creatures of the demiurge, not a sacrifice for sins. The same problem occurs in 2:5 where another insertion, “even with us dead in trespasses, vivified us along with Christ—and by his favor you have been saved,” attempts to correct Marcionite belief. Verse 2:1 likewise contains an anti-Marcionite interpolation, “then dead in your trespasses and sins.No one was in trouble with the Father for having transgressed the commandments of the demiurge. (pp. 444-445 — Bolding added)

In regard to verse 2:5: I have already explained in my previous post how I would account for the realized eschatology expressed by “vivified us along with Christ.” This is not a doctrine the proto-orthodox interpolator would have added. It is rather a teaching of Menander that the proto-orthodox redactor allowed to remain in the text because it was rendered harmless by other offsetting insertions. Nor do I see the words “and by his favor you have been saved” as an interpolation. As already noted in my first post, Irenaeus clearly says that salvation by grace was a teaching of Simon of Samaria.

I do agree with Price that some tampering has occurred in the three verses in question. Specifically, I agree that the references to forgiveness of sin and trespasses have been added. These belong to proto-orthodox soteriology which put forward the death of the Son as an expiatory sacrifice or atonement for sin. But I’m not convinced these insertions were made to combat Marcionite belief. They could just as plausibly have been added to correct Simonian error. For ransom soteriology was not created by Marcion. In the extant proto-orthodox heresiological writings, the earliest figure to have a ransom soteriology attributed to him is Simon of Samaria.

priceParvus1Simon taught that he was in some way inhabited by the Son who had previously appeared to suffer in Judaea. And as a new manifestation of that Son, he had come in search of his lost First Thought, Helen. He came in order to free her from the world-making angels who, by holding her captive, had prevented her from returning to her home above. The moment of her actual release from that captivity was apparently tied by Simon to his purchase of her from a brothel:

She [Helen] lived in a brothel in Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, where he [Simon] found her on his arrival… And after he had purchased her freedom, he took her about with him… For by purchasing the freedom of Helen, he thus offered salvation to men by knowledge peculiar to himself (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19).

Thus it appears that, because the salvation of Simon’s followers from this world and its makers was modeled on the salvation of Helen, theirs too was sometimes referred to as a purchase, ransom or redemption:

The dissolution of the world, they [Simonians] say, is for the ransoming of their own people (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19; my bolding)

Notice that the “ransoming” here is not a payment that will be made when the world is dissolved. It is not a payment made to anyone. It is simply release from this world. And from its makers, as comes through in the parallel passage of the Against Heresies:

Therefore he [Simon] announced that the world would be dissolved and that those who were his would be freed from the rule of those who made the world. (1, 23, 3)

The sense, then, of “ransom” appears to be release from those who keep one from returning home. That being the case, I would retain “the one by whom we have received release” in Eph. 1:7a as authentic, but reject the remaining words of the verse (“through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses”) as an interpolation. The purpose of the interpolation was to make to make the “release” look sacrificial and expiatory much along the lines of so many passages in the proto-orthodox Letter to the Hebrews.

The use of the word “blood” in the interpolation had an additional proto-orthodox benefit—an anti-docetic one. A real sacrifice requires real blood, not the mere appearance of it. So connecting the “release” with blood also counters Simon’s teaching that the Son of God, at his first entry into the world, had merely appeared to be a man and merely appeared to suffer. But note again how there is no need to see Marcion as the docetic opponent targeted by 1:7a. He was not the first Christian docetist. The proto-orthodox heresy-hunters give that distinction to Simon of Samaria. read more »


Early Christ Myth Theorists on Paul’s and the Gospels’ Jesus: ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ ch. 6 continued.

by Neil Godfrey

When starting this post I had hoped it would complete my discussion of Robert M. Price’s chapter, “Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?” in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’. This was meant to address Price’s reasons for thinking that the gospel narratives of Jesus — or any stories of an earthly life of Jesus — first made their appearance well into the second century. I have sometimes argued the same, but Price does so from a quite different perspective (drawing on what we know of Marcion and early Marcionism) from anything I had considered.

Before getting into Price’s argument some background was necessary. Unfortunately or otherwise, that background turned into a substantial post of its own, so here it is now. Price’s arguments for a second century creation of the gospels will have to wait. This post continues Price’s comparative study of early mythicist views of the relationship between Paul’s letters and the narratives of Jesus found in the gospels. Regardless of the date of Paul’s letters, this has long been the foundation of the Christ Myth theory.

As I pointed out in the first post on this chapter, Price discusses the views of today’s pre-eminent mythicists, G. A. Wells and Earl Doherty, noting their preference for the orthodox view of the Pauline epistles. That is, that they are written by “the genuine” Paul and thus belong to the middle of the first century, well before the gospels were penned.

It is now necessary to look at the earlier arguments for sake of comparison, as Price does.


Paul-Louis Couchoud

Paul-Louis Couchoud

Paul-Louis Couchoud accepted the genuineness of Pauline letters “at least in their shorter, Marcionite editions”.

He argued that Marcion penned 2 Thessalonians and Ephesians (known originally as Laodiceans) , but also that he wrote the first gospel — after the Bar Kochba revolt (133 c.e.) — and lived to see other gospels expand upon his.

Price sees here a potential acceptance of the possibility that one could write “Pauline” letters that contained no hint of an historical Jesus even though one was aware of a narrative of such a Jesus. But Price also concedes that in this case there was little opportunity for biographical references to Jesus to appear in a letters that were written in direct response to, or as commentaries upon, earlier letters (1 Thessalonians and Colossians.) read more »


The historical Jesus in Paul? For and (mostly) Against

by Neil Godfrey

Robert Price includes a packed selection of arguments commonly raised to affirm Paul’s awareness of the teachings of Jesus along with the counterarguments. Little of this is new to many readers, but it seems appropriate to list the details as a sequel to my previous post that covered the main thrust of his argument in his chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’

But first, I’ll cover the evidence he piles up in response to two reasons often given to explain why we don’t find explicit references to Jesus’ life and teaching in the letters. Price is collating these from G. A. Wells’ The Jesus of the Early Christians. (As Earl Doherty has further noted, the argument becomes even stronger when it is realized it applies not only to Paul’s writings but to the entire corpus of New Testament epistles.)

Jesus’ biographical details were irrelevant to the matters that happened to arise in occasional letters

Although I have encountered this assertion many times I have never seen it demonstrated. Without demonstration the statement becomes a mere brushing-aside of a serious question.

On the other hand, one readily finds cases raised that do support the counter-claim. Price several the following from Wells’ early book. It’s easy to make a list of these here as I do below, but that is only for the sake of information. What really counts is some way to test the alternative hypotheses. Before reading the list it is a good idea to do two things.

  1. One, think through what one would expect to find in the data IF there were oral traditions making the rounds that relayed what Jesus was supposed to have said and done.
  2. Two, think through what we would expect IF sayings were imputed to Jesus by various churches to add authority to their customs or teachings. (This was the conclusion of form critics like Rudolf Bultmann.)

In other words, ask what each hypothesis predicts we will find. It’s a while since I’ve posted on Richard Carrier’s Bayesian theory and when I resume (I still hope to resume posting on his book) the next post will discuss the importance of testing the hypotheses that oppose your own. The best way to strengthen your own argument, Carrier points out, is to demonstrate the inadequacies of those of your opponents. (This, by the way, is one reason I am slow on the uptake with theories of Christian origins that are heavy on proofs or arguments for their own point of view but almost totally ignore alternative explanations. Think of the caricature of the boy who looks only for hints that a girl likes him but ignores all evidence that points to a different state of affairs.)

So it always pays to be slightly more generous to the arguments for the side you are against if you want to demonstrate their comparative inadequacy to your own. Of course, there is always a risk that you’ll end up not being quite so dogmatic for one point of view as when you started, but life is full of risks.

The following points are from Price’s/Wells’ list. Presentation and commentary are my own. read more »


Last or Least: Was Paul the Last Witness or an Aborted Fetus?

by Tim Widowfield

Lost in translation

Apostle Paul (Ubisi icon)

A bald Paul holds a red book. (Image via Wikipedia)

One of the nice things about learning Greek (and I count myself as a beginner, a perpetual student of the language) is discovering controversial translations that you’d never know about otherwise. One example you probably already know about is whether Paul meant “betrayed” or “delivered over” in 1 Corinthians 11:23. Only by reading the later gospels into Paul’s words would we be convinced that the loaded term “betrayed” is a better translation of παρεδίδετο (paredideto, “he was delivered up or handed over”). There’s even a hint at Paul’s meaning by his word choice earlier in the verse. Paul writes:

I indeed received (παρέλαβον/parelabon) from the Lord that which I also delivered (παρέδωκα/paredoka) to you that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was delivered over (παρεδίδετο/paredideto) took bread . . . (my translation)

So something was delivered to him by the Lord, which he in turn delivered to them about Jesus when he was delivered over (to the Romans or the Archons). In other words, we have three pairs of delivery-reception events. Yet nearly every English translation says that Jesus was “betrayed” on that night. Why? Well, they don’t publish these books for people like you and me; they publish them for people who already know what the Bible is supposed to say.

Untimely born?

On the basis of sheer weirdness 1 Cor. 11:23 can’t hold a candle to 1 Cor. 15:8 in which Paul caps off a confession of post-resurrection appearances with his own eye-witness testimony.

And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (KJV)

This translation masks an unusual word — ἐκτρώματι/ektromati — which refers to a miscarried fetus (ektroma). The untimeliness of the birth does not refer to lateness, but to being born too soon, and presumably means that Paul was calling himself some sort of monster. However, his meaning is far from clear and has long been the subject of debate.

read more »