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104 of 133 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched and scholarly, September 18, 2011
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This review is from: The Case Against The Case For Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel (Paperback)
I feel a bit odd writing a review of Robert Price's book. After all Robert Price's book is basically a review of Lee Strobel's book, so what I'm writing here is essentially a book review of a book review.

At any rate, here it goes:

It's actually quite a good and well researched book; however it takes longer to read through it than the average 258 page book because of Price's writing style. You see when Lee Strobel wrote his book, "The Case for Christ" it was a feel good book that was short on facts and long on fluff. It was easy to digest because there wasn't much there for your brain to do. It was rather a lot like watching a Saturday morning cartoon.

Reading Robert Price's book is a lot more like sitting in a university classroom and listening to a lecture by a highly respected university professor. Every page is filled with well researched facts and scholarly detail. Robert Price quite obviously put A LOT of work into writing this book. He takes every feel-good talking point that Strobel's Christian apologists used in "The Case for Christ" and he uses careful research, analysis and cold hard facts to tear the Christian talking points to shreds.

An excellent example of this is on pages 127-128:

"McRay is like the Hebrews enslaved by Pharaoh, only he is enslaved to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. If the Hebrews had to make bricks without straw, McRay is grasping at straws without straw. This ancient decree is much too weak a reed to pull him out of the quicksand. Can he really not see the difference between what Gaius Vibius Maximus commands and what Luke describes? In the one case, tax-payers who are currently staying elsewhere must return to their homes, their official addresses, for enrollment; otherwise the IRS would have to go looking for them. But in the second case, Luke posits that the Roman government might, for some unguessable reason, direct their subjects to sign up for tax collection where they do not live, but where their remote ancestors lived a full millennium before!

Even if we felt we could swallow a camel of such volume, there are gnats aplenty at which we could strain. For one thing, the census Luke posits (2:1), levied at the command of Caesar Augustus, is unknown to any historian of the period. This is exceedingly strange, given the meticulous documentation of the era. (Moses of Chorene says this census had been carried out in his homeland of Armenia, but he wrote in the sixth century CE and was a Christian, perhaps trying to harmonize the biblical account by reference to some local census, much as apologists for Noah's Flood try to connect it with geological 'evidence' of local flooding in the same region.)

Matthew and Luke both place Jesus' birth in the reign of Herod the Great, a client king of Rome. His was a satellite state of the Roman Empire, like Poland or Czechoslovakia before the break-up of the Soviet Bloc. At this time Palestine was not yet officially a Roman province, so it could not have been included in any taxation of the empire proper. After the inept Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, was deposed, Judea did become a part of Rome, ruled by the Roman governor of the province of Syria. The governor Quirnius did conduct a census as Luke says (Luke 2:2). But this census was carried out in 6 CE, a full decade later than Luke supposes here and no one had to return to their ancestral homes. Neither Quirnius nor anyone else governed Judea as a Roman territory while Herod the Great still lived. But there were Roman governors of Syria, which did not yet include Judea.

The apologist Sir William Ramsey tried to get rid of this contradiction by gratuitously positing a previous term of Syria for Quirnius on an earlier occasion. What led him to think this? Not much (other than a desire to vindicate Biblical accuracy, that is). All Ramsey discovered was an inscription saying Quirnius had been honored for his aid in a military victory, and Ramsey gratuitously guessed that Quirnius' reward had been a previous tenure as governor of Syria. Besides there's no room for it. We know who occupied the post in Herod's time, and it was not Quirnius. As Tertullian tells us this post was occupied successively by two men, Sentius Saturnius (4-3 BCE) and Quinctillius Varus (2-1 BCE).

Luke also knew quite well (Acts 5:37) that when Quirinius did tax Jews, in 6 CE, it was an unprecedented outrage among Jews, who responded by rebellion at the instigation of Judas the Gaulonite, issuing in thousands of crucifixions all over the Galilean hills. This shows that Roman taxation of Jews could not be taken for granted a decade earlier, no matter who we imagine conducting it."

Robert Price's entire book is like this. He doesn't just shoot one or two holes in the claims of the Christian apologists, he uses facts, logic and deductive reasoning to shoot HUNDREDS of holes in the claims of people like Blomberg and McRay until finally Lee Strobel's book lies in tatters at our feet.

Unfortunately, those who can most profit from exposure to this book are the ones least likely to read it.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 12, 2012 1:14:55 PM PST
For a scholarly treatment of this issue from the Christian conversative side see http://www.christianthinktank.com/quirinius.html.

Posted on May 2, 2012 4:32:56 AM PDT
Malcolm says:
That quote you give is almost identical (if not identical) to a quote from one of Price's other books, "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man." Without even looking it up, I recognize some of those sentences (e.g., "Even if we felt we could swallow a camel of such volume, there are gnats aplenty at which we could strain" and "We know who occupied the post in Herod's time, and it was not Quirnius"). It seems that he has just recycled some of his material from other books here.

Posted on Jan 10, 2013 1:11:45 AM PST
History_Buff says:
What about Lysanius of Abilene? Going from the faded memory of my study of ancient history, scholarly skeptics tore into this Luke fella for putting Lysanius in charge of this Abilene place...and there was no such evidence for it. If the skeptics had had their way...there would have been a book burning of Luke's letter for sure! "Grab your torch & pitchforks"!!

Funnily enough, hard archaeological evidence showed up at a new dig some years later, proving that there was a "Lysanius of Abilene" and no one brings the topic up anymore. But that's archaeology for you - they don't set up a library record of solid artefacts for us to find to prove this or that. It's a crap shoot!

As for McRay being "enslaved to biblical inerrancy" - he very well may be - would Price perhaps be enslaved to prejudice much?

And as for Strobel's book being "short on facts & long on fluff" - that's what's called "a popular or easily accessible read for the average punter". From memory, Strobel's bibliography listed many more academic books that readers could purchase if they wanted to go deeper. So your comment is unfair.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 25, 2014 2:26:42 AM PST
J. Blair says:
Facts? That quote about MacRay is not based on "facts" but on speculative analogies. Price's book is full of stuff like that, presented as "fact".
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