Continuing a series of responses to Dunn’s response to Price’s chapter on Jesus mythicism. (See Historical Jesus: Five Views for all related posts.)
It is quite “interesting” to regularly run across remarks in web-land about how “spot on” Dunn’s criticism of Price’s chapter is, and how so many “fully agree with everything Dunn says.”
I can only imagine most readers who say these sorts of things never read Price’s chapter and Dunn’s together. Or if they did, they are swayed by Dunn’s status as a scholar — and their own eagerness to find anything to rebut a Christ-Myth argument — to swallow everything he says and forget the many many instances where Price’s own words belie so much of what Dunn writes.
In this post I look at
- an instance of Dunn saying that Price “ignores” evidence that he does not ignore at all but discusses explicitly
- an instance of Dunn leading readers to think Price resorts to ad hoc claims of interpolation to sidestep contrary evidence, when in fact he does not
- where Dunn argues that the Bible’s claims of supernatural appearances are evidence for the historical Jesus
- and where Dunn even manages to argue that the absence of a detailed description for a supernatural appearance of Jesus strengthens the case for the historicity of Jesus against Jesus mythicism.
Dunn protests against Price claiming “that the New Testament Epistles do not evidence a historical Jesus.” (p. 101)
Where is the proof of this claim? Look at what it ignores. The Last Supper tradition (called a possible interpolation by Price but Paul did not write this tradition) is assumed in practically all early Christian communities, not just the ones that originated due to Paul’s preaching (see the four Gospels, Jude and even the Didache). It also shows up in the practice of memory of the church. (p. 101)
Dunn’s mischievous misleading misstatements
Dunn is being a little mischievous here. Far from ignoring the Last Supper tradition, this is the one detail Price does acknowledge in the Epistles:
Paul seems to know of a Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, at which he instituted the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-26), but this is a weak reed. (p. 63)
Instead of addressing Price’s argument for this reference being “a weak reed” on which to hang evidence for the historical Jesus, Dunn for some unclear reason says Price “ignores” this information! (One begins to see a pattern here in outright denial of, not just failure to address, Christ-Myth arguments. James McGrath uses the same tactic of simply falsely stating that Price does not address several points that he does indeed address.)
So it is worth repeating here — and correcting another curious misrepresentation by Dunn in the process — what Price’s arguments are apparently don’t even exist according to Dunn.
Note in the quotation from Dunn above that he claims it is Price who calls the reference to the tradition of the Last Supper in Paul’s writings “a possible interpolation”. The obvious implication is that Price is being found guilty of sweeping away evidence that contradicts his theory by resorting to calling it an interpolation. So it is instructive to compare what Price actually wrote:
One the one hand, for reasons having nothing to do with Christ-Myth theory, some have pegged this piece of information as an interpolation.
Price footnotes Jean Magne, ‘Les paroles sur la coupe,’ in Logia: Les paroles de Jesus – The Sayings of Jesus: Memorial Joseph Coppens, ed. Joel Delobel.
He could have added Winsome Munro arguing the same in Authority in Paul and Peter: The identification of a pastoral stratum in the Pauline corpus and 1 Peter, as he does elsewhere (The Pre-Nicene New Testament). (Anyone interested in Munro’s arguments might find my summary of them here of some use.)
So Price’s reference as one possible view of the Last Supper passage is hardly an ad hoc cop out from the scholarly debate as Dunn would lead readers to suspect.
But Price does say much more about an alternative reading of the passage by another well-known scholar assuming it is NOT an interpolation. Yet Dunn has strangely said Price “ignores” this passage.
On the other, suppose Paul did write it; Hyam Maccoby argued that in 1 Corinthians 11:23 we see Paul comparing himself with Moses, the one who receives material (in this case, cult law) directly from Adonai and passes it on to his fellow mortals. In other words, Paul does not mean he has received this tradition from other mortals who were present on the occasion, or even from their successors, but that, in human terms, the Last Supper pericope originated with him. He would have first apprehended it in a vision [Maccoby, Paul and Hellenism, 1991, pp. 92-3], much as the nineteenth-century mystic Anna Katherina Emmerich beheld in a series of visions the “dolorous passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,” including “lost episodes” that made it into Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. On Maccoby’s entirely plausible reading, we would actually be seeing the beginnings of the historicization of the Christ figure here. (p. 64)
The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 11:23
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread. . . .
Recall Paul’s insistence elsewhere that he did not receive the gospel from men, but from Christ himself. Mythicists have pointed this out, and made very similar arguments about the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:23. Price’s reference to Maccoby demonstrates that the mythicist interpretation is quite capable of standing on its own merits independently of any mythicist hypothesis.
Dunn, on the other hand, says Price “ignores” this passage in Paul.
The resurrection appearances as evidence for the historical Jesus
If Price can argue that the Epistles leave us no evidence for a recent historical figure, Dunn can respond to this claim by pointing to a passage in Paul speaking of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Peter and others.
What do we say about the resurrection tradition Paul defends in 1 Corinthians 15? This tradition gives little evidence of having been made up since it mentions appearances to Cephas (Peter), and yet there is no detailed, “created” story of such an appearance. This is an amazing fact if the church was indeed making up things as easily as Price suggests. (pp. 101-2)
I suppose it logically follows that if someone was really resurrected from the dead then he must have lived a life before that. So if you believe in the resurrection of Jesus along the lines of the Gospel narrative then, yes, I suppose you are entitled to argue that he also lived historically as per the Gospels. I was under the impression, however, that appearances of the supernatural were kind of ruled out of historical evidence by the principle of analogy. (See one or two earlier posts in this series where this is discussed.)
I don’t think any mythicist particularly disputes that certain Christians experienced visions or inner convictions of the heavenly or spirit Jesus. So I’m not sure how Dunn’s argument is meant to knock out mythicism.
But one of the most bizarre points of Dunn’s argument here is that he is arguing that the absence of a surviving written description of the “resurrected Christ appearing to Peter” is evidence that Christians were not making up such stories. Therefore the passage in Paul was not “made up”. And therefore, it seems, this is somehow inferred to strengthen the case against Jesus being a myth. So by some convoluted process Dunn has managed to argue that the less evidence we have for a supernatural appearance of Jesus to Peter, the stronger is our case for the historical Jesus. (Or am I missing something here?)
Recapping a point from earlier posts
Someone reading this apart from the context of my earlier discussions on Dunn and Price may be thinking of several other passages not covered here and that are often pulled out as evidence that Paul makes many references to Jesus. I won’t repeat those here, except to invite anyone who does think that to check the archive linked at the opening of this post to see what both Price and Dunn do acknowledge about the references to Jesus in the epistles.
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