Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, and professing Christian, James McGrath, has written in his review of Price’s chapter, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point”, in The Historical Jesus: Five Views, the following:
Crossan rightly highlights that Price’s statement that he will simply skip the matter of the Testimonium Flavianum is “not an acceptable scholarly argument as far as I am concerned”.
It is outright dishonesty to suggest Price “simply skips the matter of the TF”. Price in fact discusses his scholarly views of the TF, and cites a number of scholarly references supporting his view and where readers can explore his arguments in more depth. Price also explains why the evidence for the TF is less conclusive than other evidence he proceeds to discuss.
(I expand on these and other points in my two-part review — Part 1, Part 2 — of McGrath’s so-called review of Price’s chapter. The point of this post is simply to highlight as brief notes the extent to which at least one scholar will go when faced with mythicist arguments. See the fuller reviews for the details.)
McGrath also writes:
For instance, is it possible that early Christians went through the Jewish Scriptures, choosing a story here, a turn of phrase there, and weaved them together to create a fictional Messiah? Certainly – as are all other scenarios. What is never explained is why someone would have done this . . .
This is a double lie. Price nowhere argues that early Christians weaved scriptures to “create” a fictional Messiah. Price explains at some length the evidence for the evolutionary process of the emergence of the Jesus myth, and how scripturally-inspired narratives accrued over time to an entity that was known long before scriptural narratives were attached to him. It is a dishonest misrepresentation for someone as intelligent and scholarly as an associate professor to misrepresent Price as arguing that a group of people “created a fictional Messiah” out of scriptures.
The second lie in this statement of McGrath’s is that Price never explains why someone would have created fictional narratives about Jesus. Price in fact writes the better part of a page in a brief chapter explaining the motives and reasons that very likely were the reason for this development. He also cites other scholars whose work supports his own case.
Another outright falsehood is McGrath’s inference that the parallels between the Jesus narratives and those in the Old Testament are nothing more than the sorts of generalities we find in common among stories and lives everywhere: people rise to power, they marry, they reign, they die. McGrath fails to address a single one of Price’s actual parallels which would prove McGrath’s claim to be nonsense. Price’s parallels conform to scholarly criteria for literary borrowings. McGrath likes to boast he can use criteria to dig out historical facts, but he will not touch it when it can also demonstrate the fictional character of his so-called facts.
Another unscholarly falsehood — or is it just plain ignorance? — is his inference that if Jesus mythicists reject the “criteriology” and “methods” used by biblical scholars to decide the historicity of Jesus, then to be consistent they must also “expect there to be nothing left of our historical knowledge of anyone”. McGrath has no right to call himself an historian if he really believes that the evidence and what we know about other ancient historical figures is no more secure, or acquired by the same methods, as for historical Jesus studies.
He similarly falsely claims that the mythical trappings associated with Jesus are of the same order as mythical trappings associated with Alexander the Great. But he also claims to have read Price’s chapter that demonstrates that this is not so, and he avoids any mention of Price’s real argument.
When McGrath argues that Price merely shows what is possible instead of what is probable (another falsehood that McGrath can only sustain by hiding Price’s actual arguments!), McGrath curiously fails to spell out the scenario he believes trumps all mythicist ones and is the most plausible of all possible explanations:
A failed prophet who was rejected by his fellow Jews as a demon-possessed fake, or a weirdo who spoke in bizarre metaphors that meant little to them, or who preached completely unrealistic ethics, or at very best was John the Baptist or one of the prophets risen from the dead, was condemned as a criminal insurrectionist along with other bandits. After his execution, a miniscule band of devotees (who also had never understood him while he was alive), went out and converted those same Jews by the thousands — and even gentiles by more thousands — convincing them that this man was indeed a divinity like no other, one to be worshiped alongside the very God Most High himself, and before long was even to be acknowledged as the one through whom the whole universe was created and continued to be sustained. And having turned around and believed all this of this crucified mortal whom they had little regard for while alive, they devoured letters from supposed eyewitnesses who never once found reason to refer to a single narrative event of his life!
And the reason Jews don’t eat pigs is that they believe they can fly and so will never be able to catch them.
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