on October 17, 2004
Unfortunately, those who can most profit from exposure to this book are the ones least likely to read it. Lacking a thoroughgoing familiarity with both the Old and New Testaments, the reader will need to keep both a Bible and the OED handy while poring through these pages. Needless to say, those who are best acquainted with scripture will not be easily lured into reading a book which does a remarkable job of unraveling the myth of Jesus. In it, there is a painstaking comparison of Bible passages, particularly the synoptic gospels, and well-documented arguments showing surprising discrepancies and extensive contradictions. But this is no Age of Reason. Price goes beyond picking apart passages by giving explanations about how the various Christian groups-particularly the Jewish Christian vs. the Gentile Christian ones-of the second and third centuries molded the New Testament to fit their sectarian views. Has Price demonstrated that there never was some sort of Christ figure alive and preaching around 30-40 A.D? Not really. But if a Jesus did in fact exist back then, Price has produced an avalanche of evidence to show that an even approximate record of that figure's life is not to be found in the gospels or in the other New Testament writings.
For those willing to wade through the obscurities of truly higher biblical criticism, to bear with Price's peculiar mix of scholarly language sprinkled with frequent colloquialisms and to unravel occasional typographical errors, this book will be a revealing and rewarding experience.
on June 24, 2004
This fascinating, scholarly book dissects the aspects of the Christ myth, searching for an historical Jesus. Guiding us through the birth narratives, early childhood fables, Jesus' time of teaching, his betrayal, death and resurrection, Price finds that the evidence for validity is scant. The most damning evidence against historicity, and clearly outlined in this book, is the fact that every part of the Jesus story is lifted from another source. The idea that Jesus was god, born of a virgin, a miracle-worker, teacher, died on the cross and resurrected is told to us, not in any original words, but by simply cutting and pasting earlier testimonies of other gods and other events into the Jesus narrative. If Jesus really did walk the earth and do all he is purported to do, why did his chroniclers explain him only in borrowed words? Highly recommended reading.
on February 3, 2004
Robert Price is amazing. A true treasure. This is his best work yet. He clearly, steadily guides us through the entire Christian scriptures and shows how nearly everything in them is a plagiarism from either Old testament, Jewish aporcypha, or Greek mythology. He goes through Jesus' "life" story -- exposing it as nearly all myth and fiction as opposed to fact. He goes through the miracles, John the Baptist, etc., etc., and his breadth of knowledge is truly astounding.
What is nice is that he just isn't writing this to debunk and deconstruct. Rather, he helps illuminate much about early Christianity. By sifting through the myth-making, the contradictions, and the plagiarisms, he helps paint a fascinating picture of what the early theological and political struggles of early Christianity must have entailed.
The bottom line is that the story of Jesus is clearly and undoubtedly myth and fiction, and this book is perhaps THE BEST at revealing that. Every pages is loaded with information and evdience. And Price isn't out to prove that Jesus never existed (like Wells or Doherty). He takes a more humble/realistic approach: Jesus may or may have not existed, we';ll never know, but what we do know is that the new testament is clearly fiction/myth. That is beyond a doubt. This book lays it all out.
With scholars like Price, rational, clear-thinking individuals are in good hands. May he continue to produce such erudite, solid, fascintaing, well-articulated and compelling work.
on February 11, 2004
As Michael Turton contrasted G. A. Well's The Jesus Myth with Robert Price's Deconstructing Jesus, so too would I like to contrast two very similar books, Randal Helms' Gospel Fictions with Price's new book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Both of these books have largely the same aim; to show where the Gospel writers got their information from to construct their stories.
As with Wells, the contrast between Price and Helms is stunning. Price is scholar who isn't afraid to tread new ground and to scoff at traditional scholarship. He even goes so far as to say the Jesus Seminar was "too uncritical." Helms, on the other hand, in his deconstruction of the Gospels, rarely strays far from comparisons that can be found in standard introductory texts like Brown's and good study bibles like the Harper Collins or the Oxford Annotated Bible.
Price begins his book with a discussion of the historical criteria he will use to shred the Gospels into pieces. They are three simple criteria; the criterion of dissimilarity, the principle of analogy, and the principle of biographical analogy. Briefly, the criterion of dissimilarity states that we do not have any reason to accept as authentic any saying that has a parallel with contemporary Judaism or Hellenism. The principle of analogy, as we skeptics all know too well, is basically the old Humean position on miracles. And lastly, but certainly not least (Price will make extensive use of this one), the principle of biographical analogy states that we can't accept anything as authentic when it conforms to standard myths and legends. With a discussion of these criteria and their usage by historians, we move on to the next chapter on sources.
The first chapter is a whirlwind of discussions about the primary source material historians have to work with when reconstructing the life of Jesus. The discussion goes from form criticism, the creativity of the evangelists, the dating of the Gospels, the synoptic problem, and even when to date the historical Jesus! Probably the most interesting, at least in my opinion, is what Price has to say about the dating of the Gospels. Price points out that the conventional dates are the product of the Christian apologetic agenda. All we can say for certain is that Mark was written after the destruction of the temple, based on the `Little Apocalypse'. This make it the earliest possible date, not the most probable date. And he points out, if Mark 13 is prior document taken over by Mark, as some scholars believe, this pushes the likely date of Mark's Gospel back even further! Price also briefly mentions the possibility, argued by Hermann Detering in The Journal of Higher Criticism that Mark 13 doesn't refer to the destruction of Jerusalem at all, but the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE.
The rest of the chapters read much like Helms' book, except much more radical. While Helms is usually is very careful in pointing out the borrowing, even going so far as to quote the Septuagint and point out the similarity in vocabulary, Price is much more daring in any comparison he makes. No doubt, some of the comparisons might strike the reader as forced, but this is not usually the case because of Price's hyper-critical eye. One instance in particular was when Price was discussing John as the Elijah figure. As was pointed out by Helms, Mark's description of John seems to be taken from 2 King 1:8. But is it that simple? No, says Price. He points out that Zechariah 13:4 says similar garb was the standard for any prophet. So which passage does Mark have in mind for his readers?
Price is too radical even for mythicism. Throughout this book, as was the case with Deconstructing Jesus, Price points out many possible historical roles that Jesus could have played, and points out historical parallels to substantiate the point. But Price will ultimately have none of that, showing how these scenarios have no historical weight because they're derived from the Gospels, which are historically worthless. I suspect, with his new book, Price will emerge as the new champion of Jesus Mythicism.
on February 9, 2004
Robert M. Price plays Van Helsing. The Historical Jesus plays Dracula. We see the careful preparations. Every detail in Latin and Aramaic. We feel the stake going into the heart. We hear the weeping of millions of pious saints. It is as it was.
At the end, the historical Jesus melts into air, into thin air (which is as good as being swept up by a cloud, as Luke does to his Jesus character). As Kant raised his hammer to smash Medieval theology, in "Critique of Pure Reason," Price raises his hammer on every page to smash modern apologetics disguising itself as critical scholarship.
Price writes like Frederick Jameson with warmth, insight and fantastic scholarship. The reader alternates between laughing at his wistful analogies -- Judas identifying Jesus is like the police needing someone to identify Elvis -- and being impressed by the wealth of his knowledge, seeming to relate every gospel passage to multiple Greek, Roman, Jewish, Egyptian and other ancient sources.
People who have been reading the literature in the field of Early Christian History will know from his other books, like "Deconstructing Jesus," that Price is one of the most brilliant opponents of the Christian Matrix. This book may well be his most powerful and delightful.
on November 18, 2007
The 2003 book "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?" by Robert M. Price is a brilliant & scholarly exposé on the origins of the Christian new testament gospels. While many gospel believers view the gospels as having been written by eyewitnesses (Jewish) to events that allegedly occurred during the first century CE in Roman-occupied Palestine, it is far more likely that the gospels were written by people who never witnessed any of the events that they wrote about. First, it is clear that the gospels were written many decades after the events allegedly occurred (no earlier than the last part of the first century CE to well into the 2nd century CE) since the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and again in 132 CE. Thus, the gospels could not have been written before 70 CE (and possibly not before 132 CE) since Jesus allegedly makes a dire prediction that it will be destroyed. Further, given that there were no synagogues in Galilee until after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, Jesus could not have preached in one as the gospels claim with the temple intact. Next, it is clear that those who contributed to them were influenced by non-Jewish beliefs, including Zoroastrianism and Mithraism. Ironically, the Pharisees, often viewed by Christians as Jesus' main rivals, had incorporated various Zoroastrian beliefs into their views of Judaism including the notion of Satan (based upon Ahriman, the anti-god of Zoroastrianism), a vast angelology, the notion of an end-time deliverer (who, for many of the time was Mithras) and a pronounced Light versus Dark dualism. The Sadducees (a rival sect of the time) had rejected all these Zoroastrian & Mithraic concepts (including the belief in an afterlife), but they were pivotal to the development of Christianity. Belief in Mithras, who was venerated as long as ago as 1500 BCE in India as the son of a deity, was popular among Roman soldiers for being the slayer of a bull, but was also believed to have been born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave and had been visited by shepherds that had been alerted by angels of the divine baby's birth. December 25th is a popular birth date for many sun gods worshiped in the first century CE and corresponds to the rising of the constellation Virgo on the horizon, as well as being close to the winter solstice.
As Mr. Price describes in the "Introduction" to the book, there are several tools used for textual criticism for examining authenticity. They include history versus the gospels, the criterion of dissimilarity, the principal of analogy and the principal of biographical analogy. As to history versus the gospels, there is no archaeological evidence that any synagogues existed in pre-70 CE Galilee. They only came into existence after Pharisees & scribes went there following the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. This also comes into play with statements allegedly made by Jesus that were clearly written for a Gentile audience, including the alleged Great Commission that should have precluded any controversy for Peter to preach to the gentile Cornelius (Acts 10-11). The criterion of dissimilarity is simple: there is no reason to accept that a saying attributed to Jesus is authentic if it has any parallel in contemporary Judaism, Hellensim or the early church. For example, can the gospels claim that Jesus specified what is the "greatest commandment" when Rabbi Hillel had previously said the same thing? Or, for another example, are we to believe the nativity story of Jesus as presented in the gospels is authentic when it is so strikingly similar to other nativity stories, including that of Mithras? The principal of analogy views that all historical and scientific judgments are probabilistic, provisional and tentative because they are inevitably based upon analogy with contemporary experience. When reading the various miracles stories in the gospels of faith healings, raising the dead, walking on water or feeding thousands with nothing, one is expected to unquestionably believe that such actions were the result of the supernatural. If so, then why not also believe in various medieval tales of werewolves and weeping statues? Regardless of how much one believes in the authenticity of gospel miracle stories, one would be hard-pressed to find a Pentecostal meeting today where similar miracles are occurring. Hence, if there is high probability that something could not happen, there is high probability that it did not happen. The principal of biographical analogy examines the relationship of the gospel stories about Jesus with other mythical & legendary hero stories. The gospels are highly suspicious in this way since there is nothing in them that doesn't conform to the typical mythic hero archetype.
Using a vast number of references, Mr. Price demonstrates that the origins of the Christian new testament gospels are more a description of the politics that was occurring in the first & second centuries CE within early Christian communities and not what Jesus actually said or did. It was much easier for someone to increase the potency of a particular point of view by attributing it something that Jesus allegedly said. Thus, many sayings attributed to Jesus in the new testament gospels were more a reflection of what the authors wanted to impress upon others and not necessarily what he actually said. Ultimately, the view that prevailed and evolved into the Christianity of today is the Pauline view. Thus, did a historical Jesus (after his alleged resurrection) actually send the disciples to preach his gospel to Gentiles and (ultimately) reject Jewish traditions, or did a group of Pauline Christians not interested in following Jewish traditions have greater sway over what was written in the gospels?
Whether or not a historical Jesus ever existed will probably never be known, but the historical battles that occurred in early Christianity are preserved in the gospel writings, which is what the gospels appear to be more than anything: what early Christians wanted people to believe, and not necessarily what actually happened. Thus, the gospels cannot be viewed as being either historical or authentic in spite of how many people have chosen to believe what is written within them, but how closely do believers actually read what is written in the gospels? If Jesus actually repudiated his Davidic lineage in Mark 12:35-37, then the lineages written in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 that claim a Davidic heritage for him are clearly wrong. Further, each of these lineages (both supposedly the lineage of Joseph) are completely different and include individuals whose offspring were condemned from ever sitting on the throne of David. If Jesus said "Verily I say unto you, there shall no sign be given unto this generation," (Mark 8:12), then all of the various miracle stories written in the gospels must be rejected as being inauthentic. If Jesus only became the messiah after his resurrection as indicated by Romans 1:4, Acts 2:36 & 3:36, then any messianic claims attributed to Jesus before his crucifixion cannot be authentic. If Jesus renounced all apocalyptic speculation with signs (Luke 17:20), then the so-called Olivet Discourse (or Little Apocalypse) as written in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21 that was riddled with signs was clearly said (written) by someone else. The "Good Samaritan" parable (Luke 10:25-37) and the Great Commission could not have been given by Jesus when he is also attributed to having said "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and set foot in no village of the Samaritans" (Matt. 10:5).
Overall, I rate the very thought-provoking 2003 book "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?" by Robert M. Price with a resounding 5 out of 5 stars. The descriptions contained within this review are but a meager sample of the depth & breadth of the detailed information & analysis contained with Mr. Price's book.
Robert Price is a very talented scholar and worthy of our attention. Having heard him on a radio interview where his breadth of knowledge regarding his understanding of the veracity of New Testament historical accuracy was on ample display, I very much looked forward to reading this book - my first read of Price. While I was impressed with the wealth of source material used to back up many of assertions and the volume of assertions made; this book is also a flawed effort. However it's nothing a great editor couldn't have fixed.
Mr. Price could greatly increase his sales of books with an editor that guided Mr. Price to write shorter paragraphs, always back up assertions with evidence, and delete or edit those sections of the book that lacked a line of logic, either rational or empirical, from the start of an exegesis to his conclusion.
The objective of this book to collect all the information of Jesus - his birth, childhood, baptism, miracles, sayings, etc., primarily using the New Testament Canons but also using some Gnostic source material and analyze this data to understand what we know for certain about Jesus. Essentially this book is a status check on where we are regarding the historicity of Jesus.
Mr. Price uses the criterion of dissimilarity approach, as he should, to deconstruct many NT stories as non-historical legends or myths, usually to great effect. The story of Jesus counting 153 fishes and how this was part of the Pythagorean legend was a new one I hadn't heard before and illustrative of how Price uses this approach to deconstruct many of the NT's claims regarding the life of Jesus. However, I believe there are times where Mr. Price is stretching to match similarities, making this reader suspicious that Mr. Price carries a large chip on his shoulder relevant to any historical relevancy to NT writings.
I also believe Mr. Price didn't go far enough in distinguishing which layer of Q he was referring to. He treats Q as one source document when current scholarship shows strong evidence there are three layers to Q; with this reader thinking the earliest layer of Q actually may contain the sayings of Jesus as filtered through a human author who witnessed Jesus personally or was no more than two degrees of separation from Jesus. From this perspective I would have expected more evidence from Price when he attempts to deconstruct Q1 material and agree little evidence is required for disqualifying Q2 and Q3 material. Instead Mr. Price discounts all equally without making a case for why we should discount Q1 material, again making me suspect that Mr. Price wants to deconstruct a little too badly. However, this usually happens regarding minor events rather than large events (virgin birth, time-point for Bible's claim of divinity, resurrection) where Price's deconstructive efforts are spot-on.
I look forward to reading more from Price; hopefully with a more over-bearing editor.
"Jesus Seminar" alumnus Robert Price says that each verse in each gospel - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - falls into one of the following categories: paraphrased (or verbatim) from an Old Testament, mythological, or legendary prototype; fabricated in order to make a theological point; or a mixture of both. Yawn...we've heard this before. But then the message begins to gel: just possibly - no, probably - Jesus himself was fiction.
Scrolls used in early Christian churches were written many years after the fact by writers who were not there and were not left any resources in the form of written records. Meanwhile, Christianity was formulated - differently by different groups - among the primitive and mythogenic influences of the era. The earliest books in the canon were the letters and the first gospel was Mark. They were widely distributed before the orthodox version of Christianity solidified - and the other three gospel writers had to deal with "mistakes" of the less-developed theology of Mark.
Whether or not Jesus was a historical figure, it is obvious that the New Testament was written to make history match evolving and competing theologies. The authors of Matthew, John, and Luke had their work cut out for them as they tried to fix (independently) the parts of their theology that Mark had gotten wrong. Irreconcilable differences were inevitable.
Mark 12:35-37 dismisses the Davidic descent of the Messiah. If these words were really said by Jesus, Matthew's and Luke's (different and irreconcilable) genealogies tracing Jesus back to David are untrue. In any event, the geneologies are through Joseph, not Mary, but Joseph is not the proposed father.
Romans 1:4; Acts 2:36, 3:26 state that Jesus became the Messiah as of the resurrection. If these verses are true, all references claiming messiahship during his ministry are in error.
These are only a couple of examples among thousands presented in this book. When Price applies current scientific principles of historic research to the New Testament, he finds an astounding lack of reliable material. Some of his conclusions are a stretch, but most are very clear. This is a very scholarly book representing a lifetime of research by our author - highly recommended. Have your Revised Standard Version Bible handy.
on December 19, 2006
I have read many books on the New Testament, but this my favorite. It was so interesting that as soon as I finished it, I started over and reread it. Price attempts to reconstruct how the New Testament was written. His basic premise is that little of the material in the Gospels and Acts is historical. He goes into meticulous detail explaining the various sources that the authors most likely used to invent the details of the lives of Jesus and his disciples. A lot of what he says is necessarily speculative (more than he's willing to admit). But based on my research, Price gets closer to the truth than any of the other major writers on this subject. He has a dense, yet easy-to-read writing style, which I like. He crams more information into one paragraph than some writers can manage to put in several pages. One minor criticism of the book is that he doesn't expand some of his ideas enough. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to get the real story behind the New Testament.
on August 27, 2006
Robert M. Price's book is both easy and fun to read as well as being very informative on biblical scholarship. He clearly lays out the fallacy in reading the gospels as history. The problems I had after reading the scriptures several times was the very fact that I was supposed to accept them as history. It was comforting to know that I was not imagining the inconsistencies and contradictions as being critical.
If you accept the gospels as history, this book may enlighten you as to this error. If not, it will still provide you a better understanding of the early Christian communities and what the scriptures conveyed then. A great addition to biblical scholarship, although more critical then most, I recommend to both people who accept history as passed down by the institutions and those that are concerned enough to learn the details that often escape conventional education.