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The first word that comes to mind when reading Dr. Robert M. Price's opus "The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts" is "massive." It is a massive undertaking, a massive amount of research and a massive volume of writing, comprising over 1200 pages. With TPNNT, Price has produced a book that could literally serve as a weapon in the pummeling of logic into the human mind. To review properly such an enormous and effective endeavor could in itself constitute the pursuit of a lifetime. Having said that - somewhat in jest - I have nonetheless put pen to paper to provide a proper analysis of a worthy effort.

There can be little doubt that Dr. Price is one of the leading luminaries in New Testament studies, bringing with him not only an impressive amount of erudition but also a fresh perspective of an old and festering dilemma, which is the probable condition of the New Testament prior to the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD/CE. Price does well to start off his exegesis of some 54 early Christian texts, both canonical and non, with a discussion of Christian bishop and Gnostic "heretic" Marcion (c. 110-160 AD/CE), as it is universally accepted that Marcion was the first producer of a "New Testament" canon. Indeed, in between Price's impressive translations of these texts, as well as in the footnotes, appear nuggets of material that help fill out the overall thesis of the work: To wit, the pre-Nicene New Testament essentially originated with Marcion, as was related in ancient times. This fact I also asserted in The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (1999), following the scholarship of other individuals over the centuries. Using virtually entirely different sources, including foreign-language sources as well, Price comes to the same logical conclusion. Why? Because this fascinating area of study is evidently more widespread and these facts more well known than mainstream academia lets on.

When these facts are clearly understood, it becomes abundantly evident that, rather than representing a free-flowing transmission of mystical and divine origin, the New Testament is a highly contrived text worked over numerous times for the specific purpose of establishing iron-clad dogma and doctrine. Fortunately, with this Marcionite recognition, the deconstruction and resurrection of the NT is all downhill from here, which is, of course, not to say that Price doesn't have his work cut out for him in disentangling centuries of intricately and often badly woven webs. Knowing such facts, one is struck by the gargantuan responsibility of possessing vision clear enough to see the project both as a whole and in its myriad details as well.

I did find myself perplexed at Price's definitive statements as to what Marcion thought, felt and believed as he created and circulated the first New Testament, particularly since we do not possess any original writings of the man in which he thus expressed himself. In my own studies, I did not gather several of the impressions Price did regarding Marcion, particularly since the pertinent data are not composed of Marcion's own writing and words but constitute reportage from his detractors and enemies. Hence, we are on shaky ground as to what Marcion truly thought, felt and believed. In any event, although I am uncertain as to these speculative conclusions, I was intrigued enough to let the evidence brought to light by Price speak for itself. Naturally, the pursuit is quite fruitful, as Price immediately steps into risky territory by making numerous other definitive statements that turn the orthodox history of the formation of the canon on its ear.

First of all, while discussing the non-canonical Christian texts that were presumably considered in some circles also to be divinely inspired, when Price emphasizes that the history of the formation of the New Testament canon is underestimated in importance, he is not exaggerating. For example, upon inspection the various Nag Hammadi texts must not be dismissed merely as the weird rantings of some bizarre Gnostic sect, as they were evidently as "orthodox" as any others prior to the decrees of Pope Athanasius of Alexandria in 367 AD/CE. These texts, then, must be factored into what constituted early Christianity, not just as examples of Gnosticism or even as "Gnostic Christianity." The fact that they were hidden indicates their concealers were squarely considered part of the Christian church and only "heretical" if they had belligerently retained these texts. Many of Price's conclusions, such as that the canonical Gospel of John itself was likely a Gnostic text, will come as a surprise to some, but such assertions are based on logic founded upon the evidence, not on irrational and prejudicial belief with no scientific basis. Concerning John's gospel, Price writes: "As for the vexing question of gospel authorship, we may immediately dismiss the claim that it was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus." (p. 667)

Other of Price's more interesting and surprising conclusions appear under the section exploring the date and authorship of the Gospel of Mark, concerning which Price states:

"Like the other gospels, Mark seems to come from the mid-second century CE. Probably the crucial piece of evidence for dating the book is the Olivet Discourse, or the Little Apocalypse as Timothee Colani dubbed it, constituting chapter 13 of the gospel. It appears to have been an independent apocalyptic pamphlet circulating on the eve of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Mark picked it up and made it part of his text; but which destruction and which temple were portrayed? As Hermann Detering has shown, the warnings of dangers and dooms outlined in the text fit better the destruction of city and temple during the Roman campaign against the messianic King Simon bar-Kochba in CE 136 than in CE 70 as is usually assumed. This means that Mark has absorbed an earlier document that already stemmed from the third of the second century CE." (p. 69)

Thus, the suggestion arises that the gospel of Mark - considered by many to be the earliest of the canonical gospels - must have been composed after the destruction of 135 AD/CE. In supporting this late dating of the canonical gospels, Price cites various anachronisms within Mark, such as "the depiction of synagogues scattered throughout Galilee when in fact they seem to have been largely confined to Judea before 70 CE..." (pp. 69-70)

Dr. Price further makes the startling but logical connection between the "heretic" Marcion and the evangelist Mark. In his association of Marcion with Mark, Price comments:

"We may also note the clear Marcionite tendency of the gospel, with its unremittingly scathing portrayal of the disciples of Jesus as utter failures to carry on the Christian legacy. Indeed, it is not unlikely the subsequent choice of the ascription 'Mark' reflects the name of Marcion, the early-to-mid second century champion of Paulinism." (p. 70)

It is interesting that the word for "Mark" in Greek is "Markos" and in Latin "Marcus," the latter being the name of "three leading Gnostics," one of whom is depicted by Church father Adamantius (4th cent.) as a Marcionite defender. Moreover, in his "Dialogue" Adamantius concurred with the assertion of early Church father and bishop Papias (fl. c. 130 AD/CE) that the evangelist Mark had never heard or been a follower of Christ. (Catholic Encyclopedia, "St. Mark")

After discussing the connection and confusion between the New Testament characters Simon Peter and Simon Magus, Price clarifies this suggestion of a Marcionite derivation for the gospel of Mark:

"This need not mean that Marcion the Paulinist was himself the author of the present gospel, but it very likely does preserve the memory of the Marcionite/Gnostic milieu in which it was written. A better candidate for authorship would be Basilides, a Gnostic who claimed to be the disciple of Glaukias, interpreter of Simon Peter, unless this too was a confusion with Simon Magus/Paul." (p. 70)

This theory of Mark being a product of the early Gnostic Basilides (fl. c. 120-140 AD/CE), rather than Marcion himself, may explain why Marcion's Gospel of the Lord differs from that of Mark, possessing more of a connection to the gospel of Luke. Indeed, several scholars and researchers over the centuries have posited that, rather than Marcion having "corrupted" Luke, as was charged by Church fathers such as Irenaeus (fl. 180 AD/CE), the author of Luke interpolated and edited Marcion's gospel. In another surprising move, after discussing a possible root text for Luke, an "Ur-Lukas" that possessed the same function of its more famous cousin "Ur-Markus," Price mentions research demonstrating a possible authorship by the early Church father Polycarp (69-155 CE). (p. 498)

Hence, Price shows that the canonical gospels date from a much later era than is currently believed, from the mid-second century in his analysis - and that their authors were in no way eyewitnesses to the events, apostles or disciples of apostles, as they are purported to be. These facts are not only singularly astounding to the average person but, after examining all the evidence, they clearly represent the only sensible starting point from which we may progress in order to discover who really wrote the gospels.

Price thus lifts the New Testament puzzle out of its current historical milieu, where it has always been ill-fitting, and places it smack dab in the next century, where it fits much better. A few things are still out of joint, but unraveling such a phantasmagoria as the NT has always proved itself too much for any one individual, no matter the intelligence or erudition.

In reality, despite all the wishful thinking of conservative Christian scholars and writers, the fact will remain that the canonical gospels do not clearly emerge in the historical/ literary record until after the Marcionite New Testament around the middle of the second century, a fact that I have discussed in detail in my books The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold,Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled (2004), and Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ (2007).

As concerns his impressive and significant translations of the texts that make up the pre-Nicene New Testament, Price employs an innovative and clever technique of translating the words "God" and "Lord" as, for example, "Adonai" and "El Elyon," so as to distinguish between God and Jesus. (p. 72) Moreover, Price's writing is witty and engaging enough that what could be deemed a dull subject matter becomes more interesting to many, especially specialists in New Testament history.

In the final analysis, Dr. Robert Price's translations of the pre-Nicene New Testament are important and worthy of study by all parties interested in the history of the New Testament, New Testament scholarship, and subtle but germane meanings associated with the "original" texts as best they can be reproduced.

All in all, I enjoyed reading "The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts," as, again, in addition to Price's intriguing rendition of the NT texts themselves, the book possesses gems of interesting data in the commentaries and footnotes along the way. I was also pleased by the unusual "bibliographic essay" at the end - particularly since Price mentions me and my book Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled:

"Acharya S ('Suns of God,' 2004) rehabilitated the older approach of boiling all mythology down to ancient sun worship and astrology as the only way of accounting for the global, ancient, spontaneous occurrence of the same mythemes, rituals, and symbols. It must have been a way of representing something everyone could see, not needing to borrow from other cultures. (p. 1179)"

While this synopsis of my work could use clarification, I appreciate the nod, Bob - and thanks also for the rest of your hard work in "The Pre-Nicene New Testament."

--D.M. Murdock is an independent scholar of comparative religion and mythology, and the author of The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold,Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled,Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ and Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection. Raised a Christian, she has been studying Jesus mythicism in multiple languages for some 20 years.
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on December 12, 2006
Price has produced a massive volume with a jaw-dropping revelation on every page. He includes plenty of non-canonical works from early Christianity, including some -- like the Book of John the Baptizer -- that one rarely finds in print. But it is Price's own translations of familiar New Testament texts that make this book such an eye opener. Not beholden to any theological agenda, Price lets these texts speak for themselves, and what they say reveals the incredible diversity of early Christian thought. For just one example, his translations of the Pauline epistles reveal them to be full of docetic and gnostic references that led Tertullian to dub Paul "the apostle of the heretics." Price's footnotes often show how Gospel stories derive from Old Testament or pagan prototypes. If you're interested in early Christianity or the textual basis of the world's largest religion, you've got to have this book
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on January 30, 2007
This is a collection brimming with information. The translation of the texts is superb. It is a great help that doubtful sections (possible interpolations or redactions) are given in italics. Footnotes are placed strategically and provide a very illuminating commentary on the text. There is a survey of higher criticism of the Bible at the end that is very helpful to the reader. A reader of this book can see the influence of Greek and Egyptian thought on these new testament texts. In all, this is a very satisfying and informative read.

However, staunch Christians will most certainly not like this book.
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on June 14, 2008
"Indications that..." "If..." "Seems to have..." "Perhaps influenced by..." "Pretty much..."

These are the words that flood this dense volume of texts. Price lays out 54 texts which includes the traditional NT documents, other famous documents such as The Gospel of Thomas, some lesser known documents and recreations of other tentative documents such as The Gospel of Marcion. This is obviously the summation of a lifetime of labor. Fascinating. Brilliant. One worth owning.

However...

Every source possible has been included here in deconstructing these texts. The problem here is that it begins to sound conspirational. Here are some snippets (out of context, certainly, but the statements alone indicate quite clearly where this is going...).

"The sayings included here are the ones appearing in al-Ghazali's Revival of the Religious Scienes, a twelfth-century Sufi work. There are indications the author may have derived all of these sayings from a source with earlier Christian roots. If the historical Jesus were a Cynic, this is the sort of thing he would have said." (p. 49)

How is a twelfth-century Sufi work Pre-Nicene?

"Like the other gospels, Mark seems to have come from the mid-second century..." (p. 69)

"Literally, "the word" perhaps influenced by the Stoic doctrine of..." (p. 79)

"In the present hypothetical reconstruction, we may see [the Gospel of Hebrews] as in a glass darkly, but we are seeing it. From our rather substantial evidence, we can be sure it must have looked pretty much like this." (p. 180)

He recreates a Gospel of Marcion and then lays out his reasons for believing that Galatians is primarily a Marcionite document. "Marcion wrote only what we read as chapters 3-6. The first two chapters, in their first form, were added...by Marcionites as a rebuttal to the story in Acts, which attempts to co-opt Paul, and with him Paulinists (Mariconites, Encratists, Gnostics), for Catholic Christianity." (p. 317)

Here are the footnotes from the Gospel of John (which, he hypothesizes, may be of Pauline or Marcionite authorship) which really provide an overall view of just how far-reaching the "sourcing" of the New Testament can be.

"...a Gnostic term for the Godhead." (p. 670, note a)
"This sounds Marcionite or Valentinian." (ibid, note b)
"The Samaritan woman stands for Helen, consort of Simon Magus, herself a Samaritan mystagogue who claimed she incarnated the Epinoia of God, as the fallen Sophia of Gnosticism" (p. 677, note u)
"A piece of doceticism..." (p. 678, note b)
"The text clearly presupposes a belief in reincarnation..." (p. 684, note p)
"Note the Gnostic/Marcionite repudiation of Jewish scripture." (p. 686, note t)
"Docetism again..." (p. 688, note e)
"I.e. El-Osiris, whose worship was centered in Egyptian Heliopolis, "City of the Sun," equivalent to the Hebrew Beth-Shemesh ("House of the Sun") or Beth-Anu ("House of On"). "On is a short form of Osiris, the dying and rising God of Egypt." (p. 689, note f)
"The motif of writing in the dirt recalls Plato's Meno dialogue..." (p. 693, note s)
"...a well-known Stoic maxim." (p. 694, note y)
"This is pure Gnosticism..." (p. 695, note a)
"This is outright Marcionism..." (p. 696, note d)
"This sounds like a subordinationist gloss..." (p. 699, note z)
"A counter-correction in favor of Patripassianism..." (p. 700, note a)
"This is pure Gnostic/Marcionite soteriology." (p. 704, note q)
"This rings of Marcionism..." (ibid, note r)
"Both barrels of Patripassianism!" (p. 706, note b)
"Verses 10-11 sound like clumsy and pedantic Christological backpedaling..." (p. 706, note c)
"A Gnostic/Ismail'i/Druze doctrine..." (p. 707, note g)
"Verses 34-35 appear to be an anti-docetic gloss..." (p. 714, note a)
"The episode is borrowed from a story about the vegetarian sage Pythagoras, son of Apollo..." (p. 717, note p)

Wow.

This book is densely loaded with every possible theory out there. If you want one compact volume of all that the harshest of critics of traditional Christianity have to offer, this is your book. There is nothing like it out there. The bibliographic essay in the back is an amazing testament to Price's heroes of scholarship (this volume is worth reading for this chapter alone).

Caveat emptor. Price is clear on his agenda the goal of which is to shake the New Tesament "loose from the mummy-bands of familiarity" (p. xxv). He is going it alone.

"I might have invited other scholars to join me in preparing translations for these books, but I decided not to because I wanted my own distinctive viewpoint to be reflected throughout the whole collection. In my experience, committee translations tend to be dull and safe. I wanted neither." (p. 1188)
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on January 16, 2007
Dr. Price tries to complete the picture of the first century with his Pre-Nicene New Testament. This book puts together all the books of a particular school of commentators in one place. Some of the books are not readily available any other place. Others are completely new reconstructions based upon good scholarship. I highly recommend this book to the open-minded. Those with set opinions need to stay away.
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I am a newcomer to New Testament scholarship, I've just started reading up on the history of early Christianity. I give this book five stars because of its scope and ambition, and because the controversial views it puts forward should, I believe, be considered even by those of faith.

That being said, Price really takes aim at the entire New Testament. A reading of his bibliographic essay at the end of the book makes it clear that his views -- expressed in introductory essays and footnotes to the translated texts that make up the body of the work -- are not new. But they were new to me, and my review is written from that standpoint.

Over and over again, we read how the books of the New Testament were not written by basically any of those whose names are on the texts. Most Pauline letters are pseudoepigraphical, although Price does seem to hold out the possibility that one or two may actually stem from Paul at least in their earliest form. The Petrine letters were certainly not by Peter (actually this seems pretty clearly true). Same with the gospels, and other epistles.

Price even strongly suggests in a couple of places that Jesus may not have existed, but was instead a construct designed to fulfill early scriptural references, for example in 1 and 2 Kings. He also makes a comment to the effect that the Epistle of Barnabas -- one of the books that didn't make the final cut for the New Testament -- was written later than many of the other epistles. He deduces this from the fact that Barnabas indicates a familiarity with stories of Jesus as a miracle worker -- which only emerged with the Gospels, and were, by implication, not part of early Christian tradition, according to Price!

This would mean the first generation of "Christians" (not yet by that name) in about 30-60 or 70 A.D. did not recall or portray Jesus as a miracle worker. And let's face it: that is basically saying that Jesus did not, in fact, work miracles -- that the miracle stories were made up and added in later.

Price dates the Gospels all very late -- references to the destruction of the Temple, for example, offered as evidence they were composed after the actual destruction of the Temple in 70. Kind of a biblical chicken-and-egg problem. Price dates John well into the 2nd century.

The skeptical themes recur over and over. For example, the introduction to the Epistle of Barnabas suggests Barnabas (who appears in Acts and some of the Pauline letters) was not an actual person, but another literary construct, this time representing the watchful eye of the Jerusalem church over Paul's controversial mission to the Gentiles.

Paul, meanwhile, is at one point portrayed as someone who had his own cult to rival that of the Christians, and was only later pulled into the Christian camp by unnamed "redactors" who changed his ideas around and co-opted his followers into Christianity. This includes but is not limited to the idea I had already read elsewhere that Paul was really the nasty "Simon Magus" portrayed in Acts. Apparently, Paul was cited until the mid-2nd century as the "apostle of Marcion and the apostle of heretics", according to Price. He makes frequent references to postulated "redactors" who are said to have changed the texts around to suit their own ideological bent.

The texts themselves are often highly speculative. Price "reconstructs" the Gospel of Marcion, which no longer exists. He also plugs the well-known gaps in many Nag Hammadi texts. It seemed like he let us know when he was reconstructing, but other reviewers with more knowledge of the original texts have commented on his faulty work here -- something I don't feel qualified to do. I did feel I had to take the book with a large grain of salt in many places, however. At the same time, I found an informed attempt to reconstruct texts helpful in terms of making the meaning and context of the texts clear for the layman (me).

With all its faults and speculations, why the five stars? Because it is a work of enormous scope and real intellectual power. I had not heard these viewpoints before, and here they are presented in a real tour de force. It also assembles in a single volume a wide variety of texts with an alternative, critical view of their meaning. One of Price's changes that I like, for example, is his translations of familiar Gospel references to the "law" (as in Matthew's admonition that not one bit of the law will change...) to "Torah". This makes sense to me, although again I am not a scholar.

Whether you agree with the views expressed here or not -- and they will indeed appear "blasphemous" to the devout -- they need to be considered and answered rather than rejected out of hand. Even if half of Price's views are true -- and considered in historical context, most of his propositions are not outlandish at all -- the implications for the New Testament and religions founded upon it are profound.

At a minimum, Price's book strengthened my view that early Christianity was a real jumble of different faiths and viewpoints that only congealed into something vaguely resembling what we have today sometime in the 2nd century. Trying to sort it all out and arrive at an objective intellectual "truth" about what really happened and about the life of Jesus is all but impossible. That remains a matter for faith, or the lack of it.
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on September 1, 2007
To those willing to look, it is clear that there is much more to Christianity than meets the eye: deeper truths, darker secrets, and a magnificent history that has re-emerged only in recent centuries. Dr. Robert Price is one of the leading voices of reason when it comes to seeing and understanding this larger picture, and his brilliant "The Pre-Nicene New Testament" contains not only the myriad texts and translations that any student or scholar will appreciate, but also brief, contextual introductions and descriptions of the historical landscape that make this complex work accessible to real people like me. I wish I'd had this book when researching "A Secret of the Universe"! It would have saved me countless hours, since as far as I know, it is the only such comprehensive attempt to create a plausible, pre-Nicene anthology of the disparate expressions of Christianity that dominated the early centuries of the common era.
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on October 23, 2007
Whether you are a student of pre-Christian history or just a layperson with a passion for Christian writings this is a valuable resource.
Dr. Price's newest work proves an excellent and reliable source for these texts and much of the history behind them. As usual Dr. Price documents and references with impeccable detail revealing his scholarly training. Easy to read, clear and concise, it will make a great addition to any bookshelf. My copy has already become well used, place marked and often referenced.
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on December 22, 2008
One can't say enough good things about the scholarly erudition of Dr. Price! Here he gives us his own translations of some canonical and apocryphal early christian texts. His command of the material renders the documents and accompanying essays a priceless well of neglected information and ignored perspectives! One gets the benefit of Dr. Price's extensive acuity as he brings his vast accumulation of knowledge and open-mindedness to the translation and analysis of important christian texts. Kudos on a colossal achievement!!
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on April 25, 2016
I really appreciate all of the work R. M. Price put into this magnum opus of New Testament study. Modern people take it way too much for granted what books are in the New Testament, but Price shows that there were at least twice as many "books" available to the early church. It's fascinating to see how much was left out of current bibles.
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