I have posted a review of R. G. Price’s book , Deciphering the Gospels — proves Jesus never existed, arguing for the Jesus of the gospels being an entirely literary invention on Amazon. At the time of this post it has not yet appeared but I expect it will be processed and published soon. I have posted a copy of what I wrote below.
Meanwhile, I have been persuaded I should also do my own review of Richard Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus. It’s a big book and the review will be lots of work so it won’t be completed by tomorrow but it is in the “to do” basket.
Here is what I wrote for amazon on Price’s book:
Although the author is not a professional scholar the content of this book by R.G. Price has been deeply and competently researched and in substance holds its own with any scholarly publication. It is presented in an easy to read colloquial style.
The “deciphering” in the title does not refer to any secret code but to a comprehensive, easy to follow presentation of how much each of the gospel narratives (focusing principally on the first written gospel, Mark) owes directly to Jewish or Old Testament scriptures. It is a common view among believers that traces of Old Testament passages in the gospels are there to “prove” that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies. Price, however, demonstrates that these OT allusions are far more common than many of us realize and that the gospel stories of Jesus have been guided and driven by those OT passages. So deeply and thoroughly shaped by the Old Testament stories, prophecies and psalms is the first gospel, Mark, that Price is able to very reasonably argue there is no left-over room to think that those stories owe anything to oral traditions or independent stories of a historical figure.
Not only does Price demonstrate the way the Jesus narratives have been molded by OT passages and themes but he gives readers a very plausible motive for the first gospel having composed the story it did. Written in the wake of the Jewish War of 70 CE the first gospel (“Mark”) follows those stories and prophecies in the OT that speak of the failure and destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (despite the work and miracles of the prophets). The gospel appears, as a result, to have been written as a lesson to Jews who have been defeated by the Romans and lost their temple: the Jesus figure has been created as a literary device to tell an allegorical story of how the Jews brought destruction upon themselves.
Drawing upon the work of several scholars Price further shows that the Jesus in the first gospel has been modeled on the apostle Paul. For example, we know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that he had a complex relationship with leaders of the Jerusalem church, Peter, James and John, so much so that he found himself at times in conflict with them for their failure to grasp the full spiritual meaning of his gospel. Compare Jesus’ close but also strained relationship with three leaders by the same names. Price identifies many passages that the Gospel of Mark appears to have derived from Paul’s letters.
Price adds some interesting new insights into the development of the later gospels (Matthew, Luke and John) and I was particularly intrigued by his explanation for certain distinctive differences between John and Mark and how in the anti-semitic Gospel of John the leaders of the Jerusalem church (up until the last chapter that many scholars believe was a subsequent addition) suffer far more severely than they do in Mark.
There are some areas where I have reservations about Price’s interpretations. Price alludes at one point to the arguments of Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier that Paul believed Jesus was crucified in the heavens and though I agree that this is a possible reading of the evidence, not only Pauline but also of related early texts such as , I do suspect that the evidence also allows for the heavenly spirit Jesus to have descended in fleshly form to earth for a very short time to be confused with another person on his way to crucifixion and be crucified in his stead, on earth. But this is a disagreement that is not central to Price’s argument. I also had some difficulty with Price’s suggestion that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke drew independently from a different version of Mark than we have today and think a better explanation is that Luke (really did) use and rewrite Matthew’s stories for different theological agendas.
On the other hand, I found Price’s argument for that thorny passage in Galatians where Paul claims to meet the “brother of the Lord” to be one of the more refreshingly persuasive explanations I have encountered. I now set it alongside my own view that the key passage was unknown until the late second century as one of the best accounts for it.
Concerning the title with its word “proves”, I know some people object that one cannot “prove” a figure did not exist. But that is clearly not so. Scholars have indeed proved that the William Tell of Swiss legend did not exist, for example. That’s because all the details of the myth are so completely explained as borrowings of other myths and the historical setting of the William Tell story does not change that fact of origin. Price has shown, I believe, that all the elements of the first gospel stories of Jesus are cogently explained as literary adaptations of passages from the Jewish Scriptures, along with allusions to Paul’s own life and teachings. And that’s where the whole story began.
As the creator and primary author of the Vridar blog I have posted in depth critical engagements with scores of scholarly works on Christian origins and several on the Christ Myth theory, and can commend Price’s book for its knowledge of the relevant content and range of views on these topics, and also for its very easy to read presentation of the arguments.
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121 thoughts on “Review of R. G. Price’s book on the Christ Myth theory — and a review of Richard Carrier’s to come”
This is very interesting. Jesus’ desperate cry from the cross would seem to suggest the Jesus character thought something very wrong was happening. Ehrman comments that “In Mark Jesus appears to be in shock, is silent the entire time, seems not to understand why this is happening to him, up to the end, when he cries out asking God why he has forsaken him. And then he dies, never having received an answer.” This could be interpreted along the lines of Price’s thesis (I haven’ received the book yet).
I look forward to the review/analysis of Carrier’s book.
If that’s what Bart Ehrman reads into the narrative it is fiddle faddle! 🙂 The Gospel of Mark is not a modern psychological exploration of characters. I propose we read Mark in its context of similar literature from which it clearly draws. It is an apocalyptic narrative drawing upon apocalyptic themes throughout. Long periods of silence are a feature of such writings, as is the climactic shout when God intervenes in judgment.
Even if we don’t buy the scholarship that reads Mark as apocalyptic narrative we still have the motif of the silent innocent suffering servant and the wilderness shout of declaration of good news.
I think Jesus being terrified is a theme in Mark (such as with the desperate prayer in Gethsemane for God to let Jesus fulfill God’s plan without Jesus having to suffer/die).
It’s not a theme in Mark. That’s one scene. The next scene shows him anything but terrified.
It is odd that Jesus goes from being terrified to being calm. Dr. Robert M Price speculates that the reader might have been meant to understand the Gesthemane prayer was answered.
There is a strain in Price’s analysis that doesn’t have to do with mythicism, but rather another type of rethinking of the Gospels. He tries to argue the Swoon (Scheintod – Seeming Death) Theory, among other things, may have been hinted at in the earlier stages of the Gospels, even though it was subsequently redacted out.
First, Price points out that the desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Heb. 5:7). The willingness of Jesus to die, like Isaac’s, is what answers future Israel’s sins, not the actual death. Moreover, Pilate wondering that Jesus had died so quickly perhaps was meant to suggest Jesus was not dead, but merely drugged by the odorous liquid soaked cloth that was raised to Jesus’ mouth before he passed out. Perhaps Jesus in Mark originally demonstrated his divine Sonship, not by being resurrected, but by escaping death. Maybe the mocking of Jesus by the Sanhedrenists (Mark 15:32) to come down from the cross is pure irony because Jesus would in fact do that. Mark 15: 43-46 seems to echo the account of Josepf bar-Mattias successfully (in part) petitioning Titus to take his friends down from the cross. Matthew adding the detail that Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb may have been originally put there as motivation for graverobbers to break into the tomb, like in Chariton’s “Chaereas and Callirhoe,” and Xenophon’s “Ephesian Tale.” The common theme would be robbers breaking into the tomb to find the revived Jesus licking his wounds. Lukes account of the corporeal appearance of the supposedly dead Jesus (providing evidence to his disciples that it was really him) seems to echo a similar scene when Apollonius asks his friends to touch him to prove that it was really him and not just a ghost. The point in the Apollonius story, as perhaps the original intent of the Luke story, was not that Apollonius had returned from the dead, but rather was never really dead in the first place. John probably had a problem with all of this and so added the details that Jesus was nailed to the cross and stabbed through the ribs, emphasizing that he had in fact died. This is all laid out, including more alternative theories, in Price’s chapter 9 “Explaining the resurrection without Recourse To Miracles” of John Loftu’s “The End of Christianity.”
One possibility Price doesn’t address is that Jesus trusted God to answer his prayer in Gethsemane, and so became calm, but finally realized on the cross no help was coming.
If you mean the scene where Jesus is apprehended by an armed mob, he is only whining and essentially trying to wriggle himself out of the situation by lying he was only teaching in the temple, while we know he was robbing the money of the money changers. So he was a robber.
And now he knows the game is over and the disciples too and they flee of course.
I think his silence after this episode can be safely construed as the submission to justice, authority and force of arms. And then again it is satire, all done in the best possible taste.
Your assumption that classical authors could not delve into the psychology of their characters is in my humble opinion also fiddle faddle, the philosophers of those times were very interested in the subject and the author of Mark shows tendencies to attribute to Jesus the powers of mind reading all the time.
Martin, have you read any novellas of the time? Have you read any studies about them? My claim that the Gospel of Mark is not an exploration of the main character’s psychology is certainly not an “assumption” as you put it. If you read ancient epics and novellas you will see descriptions of psychological states but none rise to the sophistication that Bart Ehrman appears to suggest.
What literary signals do you find in the Gospel of Mark to support your interpretation? I think they are hard to find.
As for your assumption that Jesus was “robbing the money changers” of presumably legitimate income, you have indeed gone way beyond the text and replaced it in your imagination with yet another modern construct that finds no support in any of the words one actually reads.
Literary analysis is a vital tool. But it only works when it is confined to the reading of the text being analysed, and with comparisons with other texts that appear to have been available to the author.
Alas, you are blind to the obvious. Every child hearing the temple cleansing story for the first time has visions of money rolling over the floor and the mob of poor followers crawling over the floor trying to get some. I did as a child and the teacher of course putting me straight, but I didn’t buy it and at least some of my little comrades didn’t either, but in the end teacher must be right, right? The text even gives you the clue Jesus told them not to carry other stuff through the premisses, just meaning only take the money! Den of robbers, théy are the robbers.
I am curious what literary signals you require, if the story is made up of all kinds of clever jokes and the hero is doing scam after scam outsmarting local yokels and even local representatives of authority and doing pseudo miracles even he himself is embarrassed of, but nonetheless propagated as such by the yokels and his dumber than dumb disciples who as his assistants believe the bullshit themselves? When in the big city where the real authorities are, his ruse ends; don’t play with the big boys. I am so tired of people who think this story can only be a comedy if it follows closely some sort of template of known comedies of the time, just read the story at it’s own merit.
If there’s a theme in Mark it is that Jesus is set on going to Jerusalem to die and those who oppose that idea he calls Satan. His astonishment and distress in Gethsemane adds to the drama of the sacrifice he is about to face. The reader knows he went to Jerusalem for the express purpose of being crucified. When at the moment in prayer to God he suddenly is faced with the horror of what he is about to undergo he does not flinch or try to escape. He accepts the inevitable (there is no way out, as he prayed) and goes out to meet those coming to arrest him. That’s not the terrified response of a fearful person overwhelmed with some sort of sense of having failed. That’s Ehrman reading a historical psychological person into the text. The figure of Jesus is doing everything according to scriptural plan and apocalyptic drama.
I would also argue that Jesus’s “march” from Galilee to Jerusalem (where upon his death the temple curtain is torn) is meant to mirror the march of Vespasian from Galilee to Jerusalem to sack the temple.
Very good review, Neil. I just finished Price’s book and found it exceptionally good with some unique observations that are not seen in other mythicist books. I see from one of Mr. Price’s comments here that he is working on another book, and I look forward to reading it as well.
Thanks, I look forward to reading it. I thought you did an excellent job in both research and reasoning in this book. Very readable as well. You made some observations about Mark that I have seen nowhere else and argued your case very well. Neil’s review is now posted on Amazon.
Good luck with that. Nietzsche claimed that the whole “desire for truthfulness” that resulted in western science was the result of “Christian value sentiments.” Jung wasn’t much in disagreement.
Popularizers of ‘rationality’ tend to willfully forget that Humean skepticism was as much a critique of the blatantly shallow naivete if Cartesian Rationalism as anything.
This is Robert Price, I presume?
Glad to hear you will be reviewing Carrier in full 😉
No, not Robert M Price.
R*.G. Price, who is posting comments on Vridar (*Richard, I think)
It’s intriguing to think of Jesus as a stand-in for Paul, but so far I am not convinced.
Yes, Mark’s Jesus (like Paul) had trouble with Peter, James, and John, so there’s a parallel there. On the other hand if the author of Mark was from the Pauline camp, it wouldn’t be surprising if he made those three look bad, since they were Paul’s greatest rivals.
But I haven’t read the book yet. I hope there are better arguments than this one.
R.G. Price is not to be confused with Robert M. Price. There’s even another Price that has written a mythicist book I believe. Must run in the gene line.
Thank you Neil for a wonderful review. To clarify, R. G. Price is NOT Robert M. Price 😀 BTW, Robert M. Price is also working on a review, and should be posting it shortly as well, and he’s very amused about the similarities of our names.
I agree with Neil, that many things people have claimed to be themes in Mark really are not, and furthermore, what many people have claimed to be themes or patterns in Mark are actually the result of the literary allusions. Some of the “schizophrenic” nature of Jesus and the narrative has to do with the fact that the narrative is a running series of literary allusions, and to tone of the narrative changes as a result of the underlying passages upon which the narrative is built.
Anyway, thanks again so much.
Where is RMP posting his review?
On the reviews page of his main site I assume, but I’m not entirely sure.
To touch on a few things:
Regarding the “brother of the Lord” passage. I actually did consider the possibility that the phrase was a latter addition, indeed it kind of looks like one, but I didn’t find any scholarly support for that and didn’t want to go out on that limb. I think it’s defiantly plausible that is was a later addition and Paul didn’t write it, I was just playing it safe. And regardless, the rest of my analysis on that issue still stands anyway, the main point being that it’s very clear that none of the other early writers thought that the James Paul met was a literal brother of Jesus.
Regarding the issue of whether Paul thought Jesus was crucified celestially, while I did argue that position, and do think it likely, you may not have noticed my cop-out at the end of the chapter where I say that Paul may have viewed Jesus as having made appearances on earth, but even if so, those appears weren’t set in real history, they are just vague ideas similar to how the Greek gods were discussed as having traveled back and fourth between the heavens and earth.
Something that neither you not RMP brought up, to my surprise (because I thought it was a big deal :p) was my assessment of the Eucharist. IMO that’s a really critical passage in Paul’s letters to address, and I think I’ve handled it well. I actually thought it would stand out more. I believe, and I may be mistaken here, that RMP has suggested that the Eucharist in Paul is a later interpolation, while I’m suggesting that it was not.
The other issue that I think deserves attention, which you did allude to, is how I’m basically saying that the misinterpretation of the literary allusions by the early Christians is de facto what led to the adoption of the religion by the Roman empire. I’m presenting my thesis not only as a proof that Jesus never existed, but also as an explanation for why Christianity rose to dominance, and showing that the two things are connected. I’m saying that the misinterpretation of the literary allusions is the whole reason that the Romans thought it was proven that Jesus was truly divine.
Oh also what did you think about the explanations for the locations of Galilee and Nazareth?
You may have already answered this question in the book, which I haven’t seen yet: what do you think of the idea that Paul’s Eucharist was based on an older ritual in Mithraism (according to Plutarch, as I remember)? Paul’s supposed home town Tarsus was a center of Mithraism, and it’s likely that he encountered it at some point.
RMP called the Eucharist ritual a Marcionite addition to rebuke the Simonians, who had turned the community meal into an immoral free for all. So that would place it early to mid 2nd century in his view. He also cites Loisy, who puts it ~140.
It seems unlikely to me that a Marcionite would venerate flesh and blood in this manner, the body of Christ being either imaginary, or of a celestial, angelic-like substance which couldn’t really die. Personally I think it might be a later addition (consider the Didache’s completely different description of the ritual, with no flesh and blood, as an earlier form), but not by Marcionites.
I doubt it’s a later addition. The reasons are explained in the book, but the wording between the version in 1 Cor 11 and GMark is almost identical, which fits the pattern of how Mark borrows from Paul’s epistles, and there are other examples of borrowing from 1 Cor in GMark. So, IMO, it had to be present when GMark was written. Also, when you really look at the wording, it is written in Paul’s style using his language IMO. I think a later redaction would have more clearly put the passage in the Gospel context, and would likely have made the passage closer to the version from Matthew. As I note in the book, the passage bears resemblance to a passage from Romans as well.
When do you think G.Mark was written?
As per usual: 70-80 CE, probably more like 72-75 CE.
What do you think of the propositions/arguments of Joseph B Tyson, Jason Beduhn, Markus Vinzent, and Matthias Klinghardt that some or all of the synoptic gospels arose via or after Marcion or Marcionism?
It’s possible that Luke and John may have been written after Marcion, depending on when exactly Marcion lived, which I’m not totally sure of. I’m pretty sure all the canonical Gospels had been written by 150 CE.
I haven’t read the propositions of those that you cited, I’d have to dig into them more. As for Mark, however, no, I don’t think Mark had anything to with with Marcionism and probably not Matthew either.
Why exactly? The more I looked at G.Mark’s use and manipulation of “The Abomination of Desolation” prophecy from Daniel, the more it seemed crafted after the Bar Khokva War and the events that led to it; it’s fit to the First Revolt are much looser. I can’t think of any other datum we might have for dating.
#1 The timing. The Bar Khokva revolt is way too late. There is evidence for belief in a human Jesus by the late first century, that had to come from somewhere. Also there is significant evidence that Gospels existed by the late 1st century.
#2 The temple was destroyed in the first war, not the second (or third) war. Much of the narrative revolves around the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 CE.
A late dating has all kinds of problems, not the least of which is accounting for so many other developments. What I’m proposing is that GMark is the source of all biographies of Jesus and the inspiration for every narrative about him and the very concept that Jesus was a person. This has to have happened early, to account for such developments in the 1st century.
Doherty places Mark closer to 90 CE so it coincides with what may appear to be the earliest evidence for persecution of Christ followers — another theme throughout the gospel. If I recall correctly you rightly point out that many of our stories of early persecution are fiction, but Mark does nonetheless stress the likelihood and necessity to expect persecution. Comment?
You may also have mentioned the evidence in your book so please accept my apology if I am not recalling it right now, but can you outline what you see as the evidence that the Gospels existed by late 1st century?
This is replying to your reply to my first question; the reply button there has gone awol.
Evidence for belief in a human Jesus and the date of G.Mark are two different things. There probably was a relatively widespread belief in a human Jesus well before Mark. You probably need that for G.Mark to be mistaken for a true story rather than allegory. I’ll repeat myself: all ‘true’ prophecy is retrospective; the use and manipulation of “The Abomination of Desolation” prophecy from Daniel fits/predicts events in the Bar Kokhva War more closely than those of the First Revolt. Hadrian erected statues on the Temple Mount, just as Epiphanes erected statues; the War radiated from Modi’in just as the Maccabean Revolt did. In the original those Zealous for the Law were urged into the hills and TO war; Mark alters this to urging those for Jesus into the hills away from the Zealots and OUT of the war. The Bar Kokhva War was triggered by the erasure of all chance of the Temple being rebuilt by human hands. The usage ticks more points and fits better. Absent other argument, therefore G.Mark is probably later than Bar Khokva. I’m open to having my mind changed but you have to present evidence and an argument for that. Vague statements don’t wash.
Thank you, I am very much looking forward to your book, which is on order!
My own view is that Mark was written a bit later than that (maybe a generation), using oral stories and written sources (many which we don’t have) from before the war. Some of this information was from Paul, but also came from other pre-war apocalyptic preachers whose lives had begun to be forgotten, thus their stories became easier to appropriate. Two writings which are fairly well dated – Revelations and Pliny’s letter to Trajan – don’t show any awareness of Markan writings, or the firm idea of a historical Jesus.
” Two writings which are fairly well dated – Revelations and Pliny’s letter to Trajan ”
I’m a weird, one, I guess. I think Revelations is actually the base of the story. It tells the Astrological story that Paul and the Gospels go on to embody.
Revelation may well be a pre-gospel work, or at least versions of it. Also, just because a Gospel may have been written at a certain date doesn’t mean it was immediately well known at that time. Indeed it’s reasonable to think that it could have taken decades for the Gospel narrative have become universally known among Jesus worshiping communities.
As for Trajan, he’s just some guy interrogating Christians. He didn’t do any independent study of the material. Trajan’s knowledge is whatever he was told by the Christians he was questioning. And again, there is no reason to think that whatever Christian community he was dealing with necessarily was aware of the Gospel narrative, even if already existed. Maybe they were maybe they weren’t, but Trajan isn’t concerned with who Jesus is, he’s just concerned with the actions of the cult.
Where do you get Simonians from? Oh yeah, right: later, even dodgier, Xtian legend. Robert Price seems to never have met a daft theory he didn’t like sometimes! Honestly, he needs to be a bit more discriminatory.
The best I could say of Roger’s theory is it is perhaps possible. Probable? No.
Others have made the same cop out, G. A. Wells for instance. “Once Upon a Time” is still fairy tale though.
I don’t address that directly, however I do note that while Paul claims to be passing on a revelation that is unique to him, it is the type of ritual that would likely have older origins. I do also, in a later chapter, talk about the fact that what Paul was preaching seems to be a mix of Mithraic type mystery religion and Jewish apocalyptic beliefs. My main point is that I think Paul actually wrote the passage in 1 Cor 11, and that his presentation of the material is that of a revelation about the sacrifice of Jesus, not the betrayal of Jesus. In other words, in Paul’s version, he’s really describing the night of Jesus’s planned sacrifice, which was turned into a betrayal by the author of Mark when Mark copied the passage into his story.
If I recall correctly the actual Greek is “handed over”, or “delivered up” if you want to be fancy and archaic; not “betrayed”. That is just another instance of the Markan narrative being read back into the far earlier epistles and other documents.
If you accept a historical Jesus and more or less the Gospel “biography”, one of the things you are left with is an over-complicated “suicide-by-cop” conspiracy theory. There are several instances of not-messiahs reenacting parts of the Moses/Joshua cycle in Josephos; but those individual were expecting to prompt Yahweh’s intervention with ritual; they did not set out to get themselves deliberately tortured to death! If Jesus were a real person and the Passion really happened, you’d have to admit the man was an out and out loony.
I am reading the RG Price’s book and my judgement is positive, too.
My only reason to doubt is that his paradigm doesn’t allow for Mark be written as reaction against rival Gospels where Jesus is not the son of the Jewish god. In this alternative view, what, in Mark, Price would define the irony of Jews crucifying themselves by crucifying Jesus, is really a reaction against the irony of a previous gnostic Gospel where the Jews crucify the Jesus’s earthly clone representing the same Law of the god creator. Hence the titulus crucis, for example, was the redactor’s trace meant to secure the readers that the victim was really the Jewish Christ (or the Barabbas episode was meant to secure that the real victim was really the Jewish Christ and not the marcionite Son of Father). Clearly this alternative view is more and more complex and speculative insofar has to assume a lot of interpolations theologically driven. In this sense, Occam Razor gives simply any reason to RG Price’s view on the matter.
But the doubt is there, at any case.
Not allowing for something we have zero,double-nought, blank, sod-all evidence for is a serious failing. /s
Thanks for the review. I was not aware of this book and it seems it would be very worthwhile for me to read.
This coincidence of surnames is going to cause a *lot* of confusion…
At least the Prices have different first names, unlike the Carrolls who managed to both be Seans! https://laboutloud.com/2010/01/episode-40-being-sean-carroll/. At least they had the good sense to work in different fields 😉
I am looking forward to the Carrier review.
I just wanted to share this “gem” from Richard Carrier on his blog today entitled “What’s The Harm? Why Religious Belief Is Always Bad:” Carrier writes:
I’m sort of at a loss for what to say …
I’m not sure if Carrier is going to review it or not. I’ve sent him a copy, but haven’t heard from him.
I will refrain from comment on his post.
I meant I am looking forward to Neil’s review of Carrier’s book.
• Is it possible to compare and contrast the work of Price and the work of Thompson?
Müller, Morgens. “Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus” in T.L. Thompson and T.S. Verenna, eds., Is This Not the Carpenter (Equinox, 2012), 117-118:
You’ll be able to do that soon (hopefully). I’ve already read RMP’s review of my book. I’ll post it here as soon as he puts it up.
Here is RMP’s review of Thompson’s book: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/reviews/thompson_messiah_myth.htm
Once RMP’s review of my book is up you can compare the the reviews.
My book is quite a bit different from Thompson’s, and most scholars for that matter.
While both of our book have some common themes and concepts, my approach and examples are much more direct IMO. Also, the way I approached this whole book is unorthodox. Indeed, even self-pushing was difficult because the way I wanted the book done was outside of conventions. I use a LOT more direct quotes in this book than most (indeed I am paying a decent sum to use so many quotes from the NRSV) and I highlight relationships in a very direct way making it clear exactly what I’m talking about. This, and the fact that I think the relationships I draw attention to in the book are really important ones that solve actual questions and address many of the biggest disputes in Biblical scholarship. I went straight for the red meat, not dallying around with side issues and obscure passages. I tried to basically take head-on all of the most well known and widely believed passages in the Gospel of Mark and explain them in clear direct ways that don’t require any squinting or doubt about the interpretation.
Also, Thompson’s work, like many such works, relies much more on “themes” and “patterns” that we are told by the scholar must be important. My book just lays the obvious parallels right out. I talk far less about themes and patterns and whatnot and just say, look here, Passage A copies from Passage B, see > and show the passages with highlighting. After reviewing a dozen such cases, and having a list of dozens more, the point is kind of made.
I think my book is actually almost 40% quotes, and when I first submitted it, it was closer to 50% and I had or really argue to even let me publish it at all with so much quoted material. But the point of my book isn’t for me to go on about stuff, its to show the evidence. A big part of why I did it that way honestly was due to my lack of credentials, so I wanted the material to speak for itself, but I think its works well anyway.
This is pretty much what, if I have my druthers, I say to any Christer: “Can’t. You. Bloody. Read?” It is pretty obvious what is going on even with the deliberate obscuration of the actual Greek in most translations. I like you approach very much, good luck to you.
Thompson is using a much broader brush and reading the themes and motifs found in the gospels in the context of the ancient tradition of the entire “Middle East”. Price is zeroing in on Mark’s indebtedness to the OT.
Which is more ignored:
• T.L. Thompson’s work on Near Eastern concepts replicated in the Hebrew Scriptures.
• D.R. MacDonald’s work on mimesis in the New Testament.
Ignored by whom? I have no idea. Today I was reading a new scholarly publication that cited MacDonald and his thesis. Tomorrow I may read something else citing Thompson. I don’t care or think it the least important who ignores anyone’s work (it depends on their area of interest for a start). All that matters is the actual arguments and evidence. I have seen several very good ideas be bypassed for years before someone picks them up and sees their value. Such happenings often tell us more about the politics and power-plays and social dynamics of the academy than the worth of the actual ideas.
Beware the fallacy of the prevalent proof, as historian David Hackett Fischer wrote back in 1970.
By the way, both Thompson and MacDonald have been responsible for some very major developments and new areas of research taken up by growing numbers of academics.
I really learned a lot from Dennis MacDonald’s recent book: “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides.” Freke and Gandy also explore the possible relationship between the NT and Euripides’ “Bacchae.”
That the life of Jesus was based loosely on the life of Paul I think is clear. Paul was a wandering sage with followers, was mistreated and misunderstood and ultimately abandoned and martyred much the same as Jesus. (Paul could also have been martyred at the same time as two other believers, his fellow prisoners, Aristarchus and Epaphras.) But of course this broad sweep applies to all the gospels. When we look for actual evidence of direct borrowing from Paul there is only, as far as I am aware, one passage and that is not in Mark but in Matthew. This I take as further evidence that Matthew was written first and also while Paul was still respected within the church before his abandonment near the end of his career. (2 Timothy 1:15) The passage in question is Matthew 5:11 and it comes from 1 Corinthians 4:12-13. This was also the first letter written by Paul (which can be shown from internal evidence). I used to think that the gospels were written after Paul has passed off the scene but now I suspect that at least Matthew was written in the early stages of his career while he still had some standing in the church, otherwise why would he be quoted? Paul never quoted the gospels because he regarded them as “Jewish myths” (Titus 1:14 etc). For my discussion of the borrowing in Matthew, see “Jesus quotes Paul” at http://www.religionfreeworld.org/articles/
Timothy and Titus weren’t written by Paul.
How do you know Titus and Timothy were not written by Paul?
How do you know Paul was martyred? That is just supposition that lead to legend. As to the deutero-Paulines, that is consensus scholarship based on language use, word counts, etc. You won’t realise this from a translation but in the Greek it is pretty easy to work out that seven of the epistles, though heavily edited and interpolated, are most probably the work of a single author and that six are most probably the work of different, later, authors. The Christologies and Church practices are different; more developed; and evolved in the direction of later orthodoxy for instance.
So Paul’s ideas didn’t evolve? Paul never got it wrong and changed his mind? The argument it seems to me is circular.
Look, you can tell the difference between Stephen King and Bram Stoker by their use of language and what they are writing about, the same goes for Paul and those who were later writing in his name. This is not controversial, it is mainstream scholarship – unless you are a fundamentalist Christian or are otherwise invested in being ignorant.
Sorry but I must disagree. The early church were pretty good at spotting fakes eg 2 Peter and many many other documents. And they believed they were genuine. The trouble is many moderns don’t understand Paul and what he was about and what motivated him. They dismiss all the evidence that doesn’t fit their preconceived ideas. That is bad scholarship in
my view. Also if that is your position you need to explain the so-called fakes. So who wrote them, when, where, why and how did they get them accepted? After Paul was dead? I don’t think you understand the problem of passing off fake documents as genuine in a very suspicious religious world. Paul signed his letters and had reliable friends carry them. He didn’t just stick them in the post!
Go and read the standard secular scholarship. That Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus have been known to be pious forgeries for getting on two hundred years, if not longer. Even those accepted as genuine have been extensively meddled with; many of them look like they are parts of several letters edited into one; many of them contain clear interpolations demonstrably a lot later than the letters they are found in. There also respected and serious scholars that have and do argue that ALL the Pauline corpus is fake; though they are very much a minority. You are on the wrong website to be so naive about the New Testament.
@Paul George In my book I note that I have identified 23 parallels between the letters of Paul and GMark, and I show about 10 of them as examples. So, the evidence for borrowing from Paul by the author of Mark is really overwhelming. Also the evidence that Mark was written first and Mathew copied from Mark is overwhelming as well.
Mark is an improvement on Matthew. It is more believable. It smooths over the discontinuities in Matthew and elaborates the stories which they have in common. The troublesome parts it omits eg the genealogies. It pretends to be more primitive. It fooled people in the first century and still fools people today. Remember these books were written with one aim in mind, to persuade people to believe and they got better at it as time went on.
Read Didache, that is “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, it is clearly Matthew without the plot. G.Matthew is Didache and G.Mark conflated, and combined with a birth narrative. Matthean priority only works as a problem of closed logic.
The Matthean connection with the Didache has often been assumed/casually made and repeated, but other scholars (e.g. Aaron Milavec) present a pretty good case to establish its independence from Matthew. I find myself siding with them.
Alan Garrow thinks Matthew used the Didache after most its component parts had already been assembled https://www.alangarrow.com/didache-and-matthew.html
First argued at length in 2004? Seriously? I thought I gave NT scholars scant enough respect as it was! 🙂 The obvious similarity occurred to me long before that. I might even have picked it up from Wells when I was a teenager. That and that it was more likely G.Matthew derived from in part from Didache than Didache wouldn’t mention at all that its teaching came from Jesus as attested in an already existing Gospel. Like if you left out of Didache what was in Matthew there wouldn’t be much than half left if that.
I’m not clear what you are saying here. Of course it is independent of G.Matthew if it was written first. Probably similarly to seemingly every other topic in this benighted field if you put a dozen scholars in a room they would come up with at least a bakers dozen different theories. Especially if it runs contrary to a plain reading, you’d better have damn good grounds for your theory is the line I usually take. There are lots of examples of Jewish texts being reworked into Xtian texts and examples of text that didn’t originally have Jesus in them being reworked into having Jesus do the speaking; one more isn’t unexpected.
Have you reprised Milavec on here? On the face of it this is another NT dog that won’t hunt but I’m open to having my mind changed.
It will be icing if you have but I’ve found him on Academia.edu: lots to go at!
Till I get around to that little project you might like to run ahead and finish testing before I do the following dogs I have waiting for me:
But Matthew 5:11 is clearly borrowed directly from Paul.
“I now set it alongside my own view that the key passage was unknown until the late second century”
I hadn’t seen this.
Link to an article?
A Wikipedia contributor (not me BTW) tried to add the following content to Wikipedia::Christ myth theory § Arguments § The Gospels are not historical records:
• This added content was reverted with the comment: “rv to version before addition of self-published material”.
Haha, yes, that was posted by me, and then quickly reverted…
But yet, stuff like Freke and Gandy’s work is cited, oh boy…
Wikia hosts wikis with the following pages/articles:
• “Christ myth theory”. Religion-wiki.
• “Jesus as Myth”. WikiPagan.
You could create a wiki, e.g. “Deciphering the Gospels-wiki”.
See “Comparison of wiki hosting services”. Wikipedia.
And it would also be a good place to post quotes, e.g.: Brodie, Thomas L. (2012). “epilogue: Bart D. Ehrman’s ‘Did Jesus Exist?'”. Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. Sheffield Phoenix Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-1-907534-58-4.
I don’t think Tim and Pete are editing Wikipedia articles to include their own materials though! Let your book get traction and then others will add it to the Wikipedia article when it is sufficiently well known. Banging your own drum here is one thing; doing it on Wikipedia is another kettle of fish!
Mr. Price, I’ve not bought your new book yet, but I plan to do so soon – does it make any difference whether I order a copy from your website or Amazon? (Not sure if it would affect your income or sales tracking numbers?)
Otherwise, I wanted to say how much I appreciate the information you provide freely on your website (http://www.rationalrevolution.net/, for those who are unaware). And even though you provide them freely to read, I did buy copies of two of your books a while back (Jesus-A Very Jewish Myth and The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory) just because I think they’re great resources to have on hand for all the scriptural cross references you provide (along with this publication by Robert M. Price — http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm).
@Booker Hi Booker, thank you for your support. It doesn’t matter much where you order from. I get more money if you order from my website, Amazon takes a huge cut. On the other hand, sales numbers on Amazon are more important, so I’d say order from Amazon. The books are cheaper from my site, but then you have to pay shipping (unless you get an e-book). But however you get a book, putting reviews on Amazon is hugely helpful 🙂 If you order from Amazon there should be a copy sold by Amazon with prime shipping. I see that sometimes the one sold by Amazon, which is cheapest doesn’t show up first.
Thanks so much
Very good, I’ll be ordering a copy from Amazon shortly. I think I read a while back that you were based in Boulder — is that still the case? I’m a fellow Coloradan myself.
That’s not where I’m from, but I am doing a presentation on my book there later this month.
Will it be open to the public? If so I’d love to attend.
And like most Coloradans I’m “from” somewhere else myself, but I’ve lived here 20+ years so this is home. 🙂
I mean I don’t live i Boulder. Look on the Boulder Atheist meetup, you can find it there. It’s open to everyone.
On another note, in thinking about it more, I think the best way to summarize my book is:
Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed fundamentally disproves the “oral traditions” hypothesis at the foundation of modern biblical scholarship and shows that every biography of Jesus is based on a single fictional story.
perhaps: every putative biography of Jesus is in fact pseudobiographical—based on a single fictional story.
Do you feature the version of Mark; beginning the story with John the Baptist and ending with women running frightened from the empty tomb? If so, you should also highlight in the summary that this “short” version omits almost the entire traditional biography of Jesus.
Good review, thanks 🙂
I see something missing in paragraph six of your review :
“…related early texts such as ,”
Off to read the book on Kindle – can’t wait for paper, missing the mental plane party.
Oh damn — thanks for picking up that “such as” dangler. I had meant to return to add to it in the original but….
Excellent work R.G. Price.
A good selection of arguments, clearly presented, and coherently marshalled into a convincing argument.
I think your key phrase ‘literary misunderstanding’ expresses it well, and also rebuts the silly notion that a mythical Jesus necessarily meant a hoax or conspiracy.
PS. You could get maybe together with Dr Robert and collaborate on the mythical Jesus (YouTube rap videos?), perhaps calling yourself ‘We R Price’, or the obvious but ironic ‘Priceless’ 😉
I agree lending weight to the conspiracy possibility is ridiculous. If anyone hasn’t seen it, here is a video, the relevant part starting around 1:10:41, where Dr. Carrier claims the conspiracy theory that Paul’s lied about seeing visions of Jesus is a reasonable interpretation of the historical evidence:
– I have no faith in Carrier’s abilities to assign probability/likelihood to determine whether historical events probably happened.
Do you think it unreasonable to think it reasonable that Paul lied about having visions of the risen Jesus? If so, why? People have been known to lie about many things with religious relevance, and lying about mystical visions is easier than, for example, lying about having golden plates from an angel. I am not saying that I believe that Paul lied, but it may be possible to create an interpretation of Paul as a liar/religious scammer, like Alexander of Abonoteichus as reported about by Lucian of Samosata.
In Dr. McGrath’s words,
But there are reasons to mistrust religions and religious institutions; see, for example, the phenomenon of “Lying for Jesus”.
Generalisations such as that by McGrath only muddy the waters. Best to address specifics rather than blow smoke like that.
Vision were revered in antiquity. As were new theological narratives and stories. Jörg Rüpke says that in Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, Feb. 2018.
““Christianity” is presented as a second-century confection. The heretic Marcion is credited with writing the first gospel, inspiring the reaction that we call the canonical Gospels. Any knowledge of Peter and Paul’s death is dismissed as pure myth. Paul is a figure mainly constructed as a totem of identity in the later second century.” https://www.amazon.com/Pantheon-New-History-Roman-Religion/dp/0691156832
The correct link for that quote is from a review – https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/08/pagan-piety – not the Amazon one
I have a grammar mistake in my above comment. I should have written “Paul” not “Paul’s”
(Paul’s works – as in being an abbreviation of ‘Paul has’.)
Further to other points, we don’t know the motivations for the Pauline texts and their various messages, though, of course, they frequently refer to Paul writing to and evangelising to Gentiles (and admonishing some for following others).
We don’t really know when they were written, so we don’t know under what circumstances they were written; and we also don’t really know when the gospels were written.
Thank you. I’ve kind of been on a mission to rescue mythicism from itself, in a sense. There is definitely good scholarship among mythicists, but there is a lot of bad scholarship as well and total nonsense, and I think it’s important to address that nonsense and get the field on a reasonable track. This is an effort to do that. My earlier self-pub, Jesus – A Very Jewish Myth address this issue even more directly, i.e. the issue of calling out bad scholarship.
– Just using our background knowledge, is a conspiracy theory generally a good approach to reconstructing the evidence?
Surely it depends on the evidence John ?
Conspiracys do exist, people do conspire – history is full of such.
This term ‘conspiracy theory’ has become a weapon to bash anyone who disagrees with the official story, when we have seen that the official story is often complete bullshit.
You’d probably be aware where the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ comes from ?
Not that I’m pushing any conspiracy theory here – just trying to clarify the way this term is used to stifle criticism.
Because if Paul lied about seeing a vision of Jesus, that is not a conspiracy, is it ?
A conspiracy is an agreement among multiple persons to commit a crime.
So Paul’s lie is not a conspiracy.
Characterising it as such is a perfect example of how this term is used to incorrectly smear anyone who disagrees.
Calling something a ‘conspiracy theory’ has come to mean it is :
“crazy nonsense that I reject because it differs from the official story”.
People make false claims about religious visions all the time. But you are trying to deny that basic fact by claiming :
1) Paul’s lie is a conspiracy,
2) conspiracy theories are wrong.
Both false arguments.
One conspires with oneself (comes to an agreement with oneself) to mislead. Anyway, there is not one shred of evidence Paul lied.
To Quote what I wrote elsewhere: Paul’s letters must be seen in the context of his effort to control a factitious religious movement and collect money from them. In this context Paul may have lied in order to increase his credibility among his followers. The money could have been for his enrichment only.
What is that answer meaning?
I suppose you would say the “Alien Cover Up Conspiracy” explanation is a good, reasonable alternative to the “Crashed Balloon” explanation? This is basically what Carrier does when he explores the “Paul Noble Lie” explanation as a reasonable alternative to the hypothesis that Paul simply had a vision – See Carrier’s discussion about Paul and noble lies beginning at time 1:10:41 in the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=1w3ppNIm41U . His ability to assign probabilities to determine the likelihood that an event happened historically simply are not to be trusted.
This again? Are you sure you grasp the concept of conspiracy theory?
Noble lie is orders of magnitude more probable than alien crash landing, and that’s only one of many reasons why one is a conspiracy theory, and the other is not.
The difference is that for Rosewell’s debris, one proposed explanation (crashed alien spacecraft) requires much more in the way of assumptions, many of which contradict physics or common sense (faster than light travel, ability to send spaceship to Earth but inability to pilot it without its crashing, etc.). In contrast, neither proposed explanation for Paul’s claims requires such stretching of belief. People have visions (in dreams or otherwise), hold them to be significant, and tell other about the visions and the visions’ alleged meanings – commonsense explanation. But people also lie to other people for a variety of reasons, sometimes lying so convincingly that other people come to believe that the lies are true. The question that I ask you is why are you so convinced that Paul was honest? Are you taking his claims to honesty at face value? Are you believing that his letters reveal a temperament fundamentally different from a religious liar, such as L. Ron Hubbard, Alexander of Abonoteichus, or Joseph Smith?
What Carrier asks you to do is not blindly accept his estimates but to engage with his argument. If you don’t agree with his probability estimates then he asks you to propose your own. See page 617 of OHJ:
You continually raise a misinterpretation of Carrier’s words about conspiracy theory but Carrier himself explains that some technically rational explanations are in fact of such low probability that any estimate given them must be close to zero.
Compare another event that Carrier addresses, one with “an astronomically low” probability:
There is a difference between a “rational” explanation being a promising explanation and one whose probability is “astronomically low”. The point of Bayes is to weigh different hypotheses against each other: one hypothesis to explain the evidence is a conspiracy theory. That can be called a rational explanation because it does not require supernatural intervention etc. One should consider the evidence and alternative hypotheses for explaining the evidence and if one does so, one would normally find that the probability of the conspiracy theory explanation is too low to be taken as likely explanation.
No-one who has read Carrier’s works can seriously suggest what you seem to be implying Carrier says about conspiracy theories.
I can understand people not liking Carrier as a person and having a vendetta against him personally but I try to assess the real meaning of what he is saying and the strength of his arguments without that sort of emotional bias interfering.
Besides, I don’t think Carrier expects anyone to simply accept or trust his arguments uncritically. You are very welcome not to trust the probabilities he assigns this and that, but as I quoted above, he simply asks you to argue for your own probabilities. That sounds fair enough to me.
But what probability does Carrier assign the “conspiracy theory” explanation for Christian origins? You don’t trust his ability to assign probabilities. Does he suggest a conspiracy theory has a 50% or more probability?
Now it’s a conspiracy to mislead oneself ?
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
It seems you have redefined ‘conspiracy’ to mean :
“disagreeing with John’s faithful beliefs”.
Are you claiming that an alien space ship crash landing on earth,
is about as likely as a person lying ?
Wow. Such nonsense :
We have all seen people lie many times.
We have never seen an alien space-ship crash land on earth.
• Is it possible to compare and contrast the work of Price and the work of Chumney?
Chumney, David (2017) [now formatted]. Jesus Eclipsed: How Searching the Scriptures Got in the Way of Recounting the Facts. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1-5441-2558-9.
• What similarities exist per the work of Price (2018) and Stéphane (1959) ?
Godfrey, Neil (13 October 2018). “Jesus, from a corpse hung on a tree to a man slain on a cross”. Vridar.
• A Fletcher quote that is applicable in spirit to Price′s work.
Fletcher, Richard A. (1999) . The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. University of California Press. p. xi. ISBN 978-0-520-21859-8.
• A similar thought, perhaps?
Sandmel, Samuel (1972). Two Living Traditions: Essays on Religion and the Bible. Wayne State University Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-8143-1460-9. “[Per the disciples] I allege that Mark regards them as villains.”
R. G. Price,
What are your thoughts on Michael F. Bird’s view of gMark having a High Christology, some of his points may align with your work?
• “Bart Ehrman Michael Bird Debate 2016 @time 00:59:16”. YouTube.
Maybe. This stuff is still so confused and mixed up. He’s still talking from a bunch of misguided assumptions.
Right now I’m working on an analysis of Virgil’s The Aeneid and other forms of Roman prophetic literature. I think there are many similarities between gMark and The Aeneid. I don’t mean any kind of direct influence, I just mean that I’m putting Mark into the genre of The Aeneid. There are big differences, of course, in that gMark is not a poem and gMark is in Greek, not Latin, but fundamentally gMark is on the same wavelength as The Aeneid. I’ve wavered as to whether I think gMark was written “as fiction” or not. I think this becomes a very intractable question when we really get into Greek and Roman literature because there are many stories that defy such a classification, The Aeneid arguably being one such story itself.
But essentially, in The Aeneid Virgil obviously makes copious use of symbolism and poses many questions to the reader. The story is written on multiple levels, with varying interpretations based on your understanding of the symbolism. Virgil uses his knowledge of augury throughout the story to provide a whole different dimension to the story, with a whole different level of interpretation. A reader who knows the lore of augury is given many signs and messages throughout the story that foreshadow events, identify characters, and act as guideposts to deeper meaning. Yet the story also functions in a different way for those who do not understand augury.
The writer of Mark uses all these same techniques, but instead of augury he uses the Jewish scriptures. Essentially Mark uses the Jewish scriptures the same way that Virgil uses augury.
Now lets keep in mind that Virgil was, and still is, considered perhaps the greatest Latin writer of all time. He was a literary genius. “Mark” is comparable to Virgil. I’m not saying Mark is Virgil, to be clear, I’m just saying that Mark is a literary masterpiece written by someone who must have been a very accomplished writer. This was certainly not his first such story.
So much of the debate about Mark is so off track it’s not even worth considering. I get what Bird was saying, but he’s still coming at the topic from the typical, and entirely misguided, Christian perspective with assumptions about existing community and existing ideas that have no real basis in fact. I know we’ve discussed this to death, but “biblical studies” is fatally flawed by deeply held assumptions about early Christianity that derive from the Gospels. They are incapable of actually approaching the Gospels without assumptions derived from the Gospels. They can’t put the Gospels aside and start with a clean slate of comprehending the Gospels in a world in which none of the information from the Gospels is present. They can only interpret the Gospels in the context of their own narratives, which is useless. Even when they try, as Bird was sort of trying to do, they fail at it.
Price presents his current views: “Marcan Priority and the Pauline Collection – R.G. Price”. YouTube. History Valley. 15FEB2023 @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srDvhXanXHg