Dunn on Price (5)

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by Neil Godfrey

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

  1. an instance of Dunn saying that Price “ignores” evidence that he does not ignore at all but discusses explicitly
  2. 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
  3. where Dunn argues that the Bible’s claims of supernatural appearances are evidence for the historical Jesus
  4. 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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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “Dunn on Price (5)”

  1. Haven’t you heard Neil? All mythicist arguments were debunked long ago. Therefore, Price’s arguments can be completely refuted simply by invoking the consensus of scholars and making some disparaging remarks.

  2. Yeh, well. When I first read Dunn I had no interest in bothering with any response at all. Everything he and a few others say can be summed up just as you say, and recently reading an old publication by Arthur Drews I find he can describe the same type of response being the standard way back then. Nothing has changed.

    This is a tedious little series of posts, but it’s probably better to have on record an attempted demonstration of this than no response at all.

  3. Parable of the 12 heavenly chalkboards

    What is a common analogy for a permanent decision?
    “Written in stone.”
    What could be more permanent than that?
    How about written in stone in heaven (in other words, for eternity.)
    And what kind of a stone is the most solid, permanent, and unchangeable?
    Perhaps a foundation stone?

    The Book of Revelation written by the Apostle John, chapter 21 verse 14 says… “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostle of the Lamb.”
    Nothing about a “13th Apostle” or an “Apostle of the Gentiles”…. Hmmmm…..

    Parable of the 12 heavenly chalkboards

    Imagine “Wackyjesus” in “Wackyheaven”, built on the foundations of 12 chalkboards:

    “Matthias, you should have developed your skills in writing and public speaking. Your name never appears in the Bible after your appointment as the 12th Apostle in Acts 1. [erase erase erase]

    Actually, the same is true for you Thaddaeus, after you were appointed. You should have hired a PR firm to promote your name and make if famous. [erase erase erase]

    Of course, you both are specifically mentioned in Acts 6:2. “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together.” And this is before Saul/Paul is even mentioned. But let us not confuse the issue with facts. Paul did a much better job of marketing himself, and he wrote about himself hundreds of times. Share of voice equals share of mind. And most Evangelical pastors who read the Bible spend most of their time listening to the voice of Paul, so they become “like Paul.” But I digress…

    James, we had a good run. I didn’t think King Herod would knock you off so quickly. [erase erase erase]

    Oh well. Wow, they’re dropping like flies. Now I’ve got 3 slots open. I’d better buy a case of chalk and some more erasers. I’ll have to change the names on these 12 chalkboards hundreds of times in the next couple of millennia.

    I guess I had better plan ahead, and save a slot for the last Pope, Francis. And the head Mormon Apostle. And I need to save a throne for my mom, or she’ll be mad. And one for Muhammad too. Who needs truth in relationship, when I can quickly get market share, and totally dominate the market, through mergers and acquisitions?

    And one throne for that other guy named Peter. When he was younger, he used to have the great theological insight about territorial spirits and wrestling with dark angels. What was his last name? Begins with a consonant. Sounds almost like he was in the personal transportation industry back in “sword and sandal epic” days… “Peter Charioteer?” Maybe not. This isn’t the “fullest” description of him, but it’s full enough. Anyway, I should save a throne for him too.”

    So what is the application of this parable?
    Beware of the NAR whale – it’s really a killer whale with a man-made horn strapped on top. The only place in the New Testament that mentions anything like “Seven Mountains” is Revelation 17, “seven hills on which the woman sits.” (The Great Prostitute, that is.) Rome is the city that sits on seven hills, the perfect place for Peter the Roman, the New World Pope for the New World Order, to replace the original Apostle Peter in the apostate church of the Antichrist.

  4. Which is the most important?
    Jesus was asked twice, by two different men, the same basic question about which is the most important or greatest commandment in the Law. Here is how Jesus answered that question:

    “One of the teachers of the law… asked him [Jesus],
    ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “ is this: ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than THESE.” [Mark 12:28-31, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18]

    …an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”

    Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.” [Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18]

    But in contrast with Jesus, Paul the Pharisee didn’t know the greatest, most important, first commandment according to Jesus. Paul made up his own rule. Paul wrote:
    “The entire law is summed up in a SINGLE command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14, Leviticus 19:18]

    And again, Paul wrote:
    “He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this ONE RULE: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Romans 13:8-10, Leviticus 19:18]

    Jesus said it’s TWO commandments, with the greatest, most important, first command to
    .1) first, love God with everything you’ve got, and
    .2) second, love people.
    Paul said no, it ONE commandment- to love people.

    This is very similar to The Beatles- “All you need is love. Love is all you need. Love, Love, Love.” (In other words, the second commandment, the love of man, without the love of God. Love as me, myself and I define love to be, and continuously redefined by sinful men.)

    In essence, it is also the same principle as what Eve did in the Garden of Eden, forgetting about the Tree of Life, which is the first tree in the middle of the Garden, and instead referring to the second tree as “the tree that is in the middle of the garden.” [Genesis 3:3 & 2:9 2:17, 3:24]

    Kind of like the Pharisees with Jesus, who were pushing the false idea that we can consider ONE commandment in the Law, alone in isolation, to be “the greatest commandment in the Law.”

    Or like today, false teachers in the Chrislam – Purpose Driven – Seeker Sensitive – Emergent – Liberal – Ecumenical – New Age – world church movement pushing the false idea that the ONE RULE is “Loving God and Neighbor together.”

    The Lord God Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Son of Yahweh the Most High God of Israel, said:
    “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.”
    Not one. TWO.

    Sometimes, Paul was wrong. Jesus is always right. I’m following Jesus.

    Here are answers to 2 common objections:
    .a) What about the so-called “Golden Rule”?
    Jesus spoke the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, including 7:12. Jesus didn’t make PART of this one verse out of context into “The Golden Rule” or “one rule.” Jesus did not use the term “Golden Rule,” it’s simply a tradition of men. The sentence begins with “So” in the NIV and Amplified Bibles, and “Therefore’ in the NASB and King James Bibles, which ties 7:12 to the previous sentences. So 7:12 cannot stand alone as One Commandment.

    .b) What about the so-called “Great Commission”?
    Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, including “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus never used the term “Great Commission,” it’s simply a tradition of men. Yes I agree it’s a commandment given by Jesus, it’s not optional, and it applies to us today. We need to carry this out, with our own God-given abilities and talents, using the skills, and circumstances we have. But we don’t need to put words in the mouth of Jesus, we can let Jesus speak for himself, and we can listen to Him – and obey Him.

    Evangelism is part of the Second Commandment given by Jesus, to Love people. Evangelism is not the most important commandment, and it isn’t the entire Second Commandment. So if our priorities are “The Great Commission and the Great Commandment,” we have our priorities upside down and confused, and we are not listening to the voice of Jesus. Never mind what Paul said. Let’s listen to the voice of Jesus first, and get our priorities straight.

    The people who will protest most loudly against this truth are the modern “Pauls:” traveling evangelists, speakers, writers, abusive absentee mega-church pastors, Crusaders, and self-appointed “apostles” like Paul, who find it “profitable” to “be like Paul” rather than follow Jesus the Jewish Messiah.

  5. Matthew Perri:

    I’m sure Neil will answer this himself soon and he may choose to answer it differently from me or with something similar.

    It doesn’t need a historical Jesus for the bits you’ve quoted. They’re taken from the Jewish Torah anyway.

    Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One is straight from the Torah. And actually, by saying it, Jesus shot down the Trinity in one swoop. The Jesus who said that wouldn’t have been Trinitarian. In Jewish culture, this whole phrase is the most important of Jewish prayers, the Shema Yisroel.

    The rest? Gee, simple breakdown of even the basic TEN commandments…Love God…Love your fellow man. Although if you wanted to add in Moses’ own laws, it’s still a breakdown into the two major themes of even Mosaic Law.

    Then again, the Jesus saying this could easily be Samaritan, too, because the Pentateuch is common also to the Samaritans.

    Still doesn’t need a living, breathing Jesus. Nor even a Jewish one. And it’s not even “new.”

  6. George,
    Yes, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. He was quoting the Torah, the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law. We agree.

    I see you quoting Paul the Pharisee all over, as if Paul’s personal letters are ‘the Word of God.” They are not. Paul was just a missionary who was selfish, greedy, didn’t know very much (but thought he did) and had an attitude problem, and a hugely exaggerated sense of his own importance, like Muhammad and Hitler. Unfortunately, many people believed Paul about many things that were wrong.

    [sing it to the tune of “Rapture” by Blondie]

    I’m Boss Paul, the Pharisee
    My hypocrisy’s plain for the world to see
    I travel the land and travel the sea
    to make a convert who is just like ME

    “All have sinned” – we know that’s true
    but it never means ME – it only means YOU
    My sins are all theoretical
    “I’m the worst of sinners”- but don’t ask where

    To be more like Jesus is what some strive
    except for me – I’ve already arrived
    I’m the perfect model since the road to Damascus
    What were Paul’s sins? Don’t ask us!

    I justify everything I do
    If I testify about myself it MUST be true
    I’m the only man in all history
    whose testimony doesn’t need two or three

    If I did something it MUST be right
    Don’t use the Scripture to shed any light
    Don’t do as I say, do as I do
    and then you can be a Pharisee too.

    1. No more comments on the question of Paul’s apostolic legitimacy, please. This is a question for theology, not historical methods or institutional bias, and has nothing to do with the point of the post.

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