Offering a defense of something as fringe as the swoon theory requires a certain sort of fringe mindset, one that is not ashamed to make wild, speculative statements with enough gusto to act as though they were fact. It also requires not knowing a great deal about the arguments. In his defense of the swoon theory, Price engages none of the serious medical data (such as we engage here) and thus already disqualifies himself as a reputable source on the subject. His tactic instead is his usual “reading between the lines” in the New Testament, where he chooses to say some passages are reliable (those he needs to be true) while others were either interpolated or are misinformed (those he does not want to be true).
The chapter begins with some quite harmless recitation of the history of the swoon theory, and its origins among Protestant Rationalists. We are certainly in no need of being convinced that their arguments were quite as bad and as contrived as Price’s are. The one point worthy of comment is where Price deigns to argue via analogy that it is illicit to extrapolate from available facts that the Resurrection is the best explanation for the evidence we have. In this Price shows a lamentable lack of knowledge of the procedures of evidence, particularly how circumstantial evidence is used to build a case. His analogy to the Emerald City of Oz is the sort of defense Johnny Cochran built out of Colombian drug lords; Price’s own explanations would do Cochran proud.
For example, the common response to how the others heard of the Resurrection when the women were told to remain silent is the simple idea that the silence was never intended to be permanent, and obviously was not meant to be read that way since Mark is telling us the story. Price opts for a Colombian drug lord explanation: Mark “is the omniscient narrator”. However, his only evidence for this is sorrowful to the point of Jeremiac lament: He has no idea how otherwise Mark could know what was said by Jesus in Gethsemane (see here -- he considers this one of his best clues, which speaks for itself!), or what took place in the Sanhedrin (see here, atop). These are stale arguments that have been answered repeatedly, Price’s unidimensionality notwithstanding. There is no need to invoke an “omniscient narrator” explanation; it is gratuitous. However, Price seems to be most apt at leaving “gratuities” everywhere he goes – though I’d estimate it to be more in the sense of a cow in a pasture than a diner at a fine restaurant.
His first address to Metherll is classically exemplary: Price submits that we can’t assume that what the Gospels report is accurate, and we also can’t assume that Jesus underwent what was typical of a crucifixion. The ghost of Cochran applauds mightily as Price abuses the strictures of Collingwood to fill in the blanks with his own contrived history, for which he requires no evidence himself: He assumes the Gospels are accurate when he needs them to be, otherwise, they are not; and he assumes that Jesus was treated atypically when it suits his purposes.
Price seems aghast that someone would suggest that his hyper-skepticism would render newspaper accounts never believable, for he replies, that is his point: He was been misquoted by newspapers several times. Well, one is inclined to think Price himself is playing the victim role too much, but I too have had newspapers misreport things, so let’s acknowledge the point for the sake of argument and make it harder: If we adopted Price’s methodology, then no source, not even Price himself, could ever be believable. This would include for example excellent Civil War histories by modern professional historians with doctoral degrees. Price’s constant begging for exceptions, and inconsistent use of his source material, speaks for itself as a desperate ploy of one who has decided ahead of time what he wants to see He makes much of eg, Jesus expiring ahead of expectation (Mark 15:44) and takes that as a clue to the swoon theory. But why should we? Has Price shown that the early expiration is odd enough in the history of crucifixions that we ought to suspicious? Has he engaged the medical evidence for how crucifixion affects the body? (No, of course he hasn’t.) And why is it that he deigns to take Mark 15:44 at face value, while rejecting John 20:25? The only reasoning he offers is, “because that’s what I need to be true.” Price is not being a critical historian in any sense of the word: He is being a slick-mouthed Johnny Cochran who inserts a drug lord wherever he needs one.
It will do Price no good to play the victim routine and assert that it is merely “dogma” to give the documents the benefit of the doubt – and not give any credence to his ruthless speculations. He needs to provide good arguments -- not just throw hay in the air. His further attempt to validate his Gethsemane routine might make excellent vaudeville, but does poorly as scholarship and critical thinking: His appeal to how “Christian readers” read this story as a type of Isaac (who went free – hence, he supposes, a support for the swoon theory!) fails to explain how and when this typology was recognized, and thus, why it should even be relevant – if “Christian readers” saw this typology hundreds of years later, so what? And since when does Price give any credence to typology, anyway? None, actually; in Ch. 10 he waves it off as nonsensical creativity. So why is he so intent on allowing a parallel to be forced now ?
Price’s further appeal to the alleged ”irony” of those who mocked Jesus from the cross and told him to come down from it doesn’t make a great deal of sense either. The mockeries reflect the normal shaming of deviants in an agonistic society; there’s also no less “irony” in a Resurrection than there is in Jesus being drugged from the sponge, which in any event, per our medical consultant in the linked article, reflects a pharmaceutical fantasy on Price’s part, perhaps not the only one he has had in the course of composing his theories.
Finally, Price’s appeal to two victims who did survive crucifixion neglects the point that the two victims referenced in Josephus had the benefit of being nursed – and a third person died even so. Of course, we assume Price will call those “dogmatic” who insist that it is impossible that there should have been a squad of EMTs hiding in the tomb of Joseph to take care of Jesus when he was placed there. (Price also appeals to the absurd ”Joseph was a fake character” thesis while he is at it.) The bottom line is that nothing Price offers has so much as a shred of evidence to deserve the title of “historical reconstruction” – the sort of construction Price does here would be most immediately found in the instruction manual for a set of Lincoln Logs.
From here Price once again reaches back to Pilate’s surprise at Jesus’ death as some sort of “first shoe” which drops a clue; but his reasons for doing so are typically one-dimensional: He cannot see the point of such a thing being made note of unless the swoon theory has merit. Once again, Price’s poor imagination isn’t a good argument. As already noted, he has nothing to show that Pilate’s surprise was because it was that unusual for a man to die early from crucifixion. Perhaps it happened 1 in 100 times; that’s enough for Pilate to be surprised, but far from enough to go deviating off into Price’s Swoon Fantasy. If perhaps we could say, “unprecedented in Roman history,” Price might have a leg up, but even then, that would be a stretch: The surprise would most likely have to do with the fact that Pilate expected his professional executioners to have been more careful to be sure that a crucifixion victim was beaten and hauled off on “just right”, not so much that they would die; for the point of crucifixion of course was to prolong the shame as long as possible. In any event, Price’s desperate counsel that the Gospels “do not suggest that Jesus was that badly damaged” and that perhaps (contrary to all evidence of the Gospels, and normal Roman practice) he was excepted from the normal preliminaries of flogging, is so comic that if Price’s life is ever made into a movie, it seems quite likely that Jim Carrey will play the starring role. (Flogging of course was used as a status degradation ritual to initially destroy the honor of the victim; suggesting that maybe they skipped this part would require so much more than Price’s, “well, maybe they did, just for my convenience” theorizing.)
Price then briefly appeals to a standard canard which we have addressed thusly before, regarding whether Jesus carried his own cross or not:
Matthew says that Simon was met "as they were going out" (Matt. 27:32). Mark says Simon was just "passin' by," and they forced him to carry the cross (Mark 15:21). Luke says Simon was drafted "as they led (Jesus) away." (Luke 23:26)…it is well-established that it was the custom of the Romans to have the prisoner carry his own cross, and that they would have no compunction about forcing bystanders to do whatever they pleased.
The obvious implication is that Simon was drafted at some point after the procession to Golgotha began, probably from among the massive crowd of Passover pilgrims, and the scenario above about John gives us a reasonable explanation for him not mentioning Simon: If John stayed behind to plead with the high priest, the last thing we would have seen was Jesus leaving the area, carrying the cross.
So once again, Price does his best Marty McFly imitation as he refuses to think “fourth dimensionally.”
On the other hand, I am not sure what to make of Price contrasting Metherell’s idea that “a nail in the wrist” would have induced unbearable pain with the Gospels’ report that Jesus’ fellow crucifixion victims were speaking on their crosses. Of course, ancient people were rather more hardy than we were, and much more accustomed (especially in an agonistic society) to shrugging off pain, whereas it appears from Price’s latest public photos that his latest and greatest pain has been missing the last 150 crullers from the Krispy Kreme box. I don’t think he has any place to object in terms of what a crucifixion victim might or might not be capable of. I certainly know of no medical or historical evidence that speech would be impossible for such a person.
Price then quickly and conveniently disposes of pesky passages like John 20:25 as “subsequent additions to the text”; such things as textual evidence are apparently considered unnecessary when “Danger -- Historical Reconstruction” signage is posted. He hints at one argument with John 19:34-5, saying, “Verse 35 has them verify what they already knew in the previous verse. Which was it? Was his death plain to them or not?” Apparently Price has missed the words of Quintilian about this very subject: "As for those who die on the cross, the executioner does not forbid the burying of those who have been pierced." A redundancy? Perhaps so, but also a further bit of humiliation, far from beyond the conceptions of honor and shame. Really, making sure of death was not the only point here; there is no need for Price’s omnipresent redactor (who appears to have been clever enough to control the textual tradition universally, but not clever enough to have simply deleted the verses from which Price draws his hints).
There’s not much need to be more specific from here. Price hints that perhaps something was stolen from the stories of Apollonius of Tyana, which deserves about as much credence (see here) as the swoon theory. The rest is simply yet more hypothesizing of convenience using Price’s omnipresent redactor as a tool. Price’s appeal to the possibility of grave robbers waking Jesus has its own problems, which we’ll look at in a forthcoming chapter of Defending the Resurrection.
Price closes, after all this stomping mercilessly around for the swoon theory, by washing his hands cleaner than Pilate would: “I am presenting no theory of what happened to [Jesus]; I do not think, given the present state of our sources, that we will ever know.” Price’s historical epistemology is frankly such a disaster area that for all we know, Rome didn’t actually exist either; the city we think was Rome was actually called Bithlomania, and all of Tacitus’ works are heavily interpolated to hide the fact that it was mostly famous for Swedish massage parlors. Price’s railing about presupposing the accuracy of the Gospel accounts will not hide the fact that he has yet to fulfill the burden needed to show that we should not grant the benefit of the doubt.