Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 3 - Responses to Price

We now come to the four responses to Price's essay which argued that the historical Jesus did not exist.

James D. G. Dunn's first sentence summed up my initial reaction: "Gosh! So there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus' doings and teachings are a later myth foisted on an unknown, obscure historical figure." (94) Luke Timothy Johnson hit the nail on the head by noting that "Price gets Jesus to the vanishing point by the simple expedient of denying all the evidence that makes him visible." (89) Furthermore he said it is hard to respond to Price "due to the difficulty of demonstrating the presence of an object to someone who insists that whatever you bring forward as evidence cannot count." (91) Along the same lines Dunn said he becomes irritated with Price because "he ignores what everyone else in the business regards as primary data and his readiness to offer less plausible hypotheses to explain other data that inconveniences his thesis." (96)

Both Darrell Bock and Johnson fault Price for too quickly dismissing the evidence from Josephus. Surprisingly though his harshest critic on this score comes from Crossan. He says, "Price's comment, 'Let me leapfrog the tiresome debate over whether the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic' is not an acceptable scholarly comment as far as I am concerned." (86) Crossan further argues that the hero typology that Price points to with Jesus "no more negates his historical existence than the similar investment for Augustus negates that emperor's historical identity." (85)

All the responders raised objections based on material that Price ignores or dismisses. As Bock says, "Analogy plus dissimilarity is what is commanded, but the search for other criteria was dismissed." (100) In the hands of Price, Bock argues, the criteria has the same tone: "heads I win; tails you lose." (100) Dunn says the fatal flaw with the Jesus myth boils down to this: "the improbability of the total invention of a figure who had purportedly lived within the generation of the inventors, or the imposition of such an elaborate myth on some minor figure from Galilee. Price is content with the explanation that it all began 'with a more or less vague savior myth.' Sad, really." (95)

One of the most poignant points was made by Crossan. He asks, what is lost if Jesus is merely reduced to the level of a parable? He responds, "only the incarnation . . . Only, in other words, the heart of Christianity itself." But the apostle John did not say, "God so loved the world that God sent us a story." (86) Now Crossan does not understand the incarnation in the same way as evangelicals but his point his very well stated.

Each response was done within the span of five pages. The uniformity suggests this was a limit placed by the editors rather than this is all they could think of to say. But I will say they managed to make some very good points, and some came with quite a sting, in that limited amount of space. Each of them focused on different elements of Price's essay with minimal overlap. If the remaining essays and responses can maintain this level of interaction then this volume will be everything I expected and more.


Paul said...

Thanks for this review, Louis. I heard Price debate Blomberg a few years back (at Univ of Colo/Colo Spgs) on the historical reliability of the resurrection. Price had the same tactic, viz., dismissive attitude. It was obvious (to me at least) that Craig B. was slightly disturbed because it seemed that he could not get through. Nevertheless, Craig brought ample evidence and gave many skeptics much to think about.

With the remarks by others contra Price, I'm wondering why he was chosen as a contributor? I wonder if Bart Ehrman would have been better.

Louis said...


I wondered about why the editors chose him as well. Ehrman would have made for an interesting choice but he's not as extreme as Price and if they were looking for an extreme position they certainly found it in Price.