The Chapter 5 interview with John McRay is about archaeology and the New Testament, and we learn at once that Price is still living with the misinformed presumptions he had as an evangelical. He asks questions like, “Who’d have guessed Davidic Jerusalem was only a crossroads with a gas pump?” Who would have been surprised by such information unless they added more to the Biblical text than was warranted in the first place? Apparently, Price is still feeling the pain of having his additions to the Biblical text rubbished, the ones he should never have had in the first place. Perhaps the reason he does not see “evangelical apologetic literature” coming to grips with such things is that it is only he and a few other people who had erroneous notions turning Davidic Jerusalem into New York City to begin with.
The main subject in any event is New Testament archaeology, but as it happens Price spends very little time on archaeology, and when he does, he is offering nothing new. He is still bemoaning the lack of evidence for synagogue “structures” in Galilee, thinking that archaeology has shown the Gospels (and Josephus!) wrong for saying they were there. We corrected Price on this ages ago, noting that a “synagogue” was not a building, but any gathering of ten men in any place – a home, out of doors, on the roof, in the middle of the air even. Price has apparently been stung by a similar answer, for he notes Gospel references to “synagogues” and muses that, “None of these sounds right to me if we try to substitute ‘private gathering’ or ‘lawn party,” though who is saying precisely that is not explained. What is being said – by me and certain scholars, at least – is that a “synagogue” is a meeting that could have been had anywhere -- on a “lawn” or in a private house; apparently Price is confounding location of the gathering with its purpose.
Price vaguely alludes to passages that refer to a “benefactor bank-rolling the construction of a synagogue, or of the religious peacocks angling for the podium seats...or the flogging of heretics” and says, “I just can’t imagine the evangelists were thinking of anything but discrete synagogue buildings.” Price’s distinct lack of imagination isn’t a good argument. Seats can be had out of doors or in a private setting just as readily as anywhere else (and the “podium” idea is Price’s own imagination as well); the same could be said of floggings. Only the “benefactor” matter has any pull, and that occurs in Luke 7:5, referring to a benefactor of Jews in Capernaum. There, the consensus is that although there are ruins of a synagogue that may or may not date precisely to the time of Jesus, there is also evidence of a prior synagogue building on the same site which would date to the time of Jesus. (See for example here.) Price’s idea that the “evangelists simply assumed things had been as they were in their own day” is simply groundless.
The next several pages Price spends promoting the theories of Rene Salm, the Nazareth mythicist. That Price would promote such careless, dishonest work speaks for itself; it speaks further that he did not bother to consult with serious scholars of archaeology before accepting blindly and at face value, the renditions of Salm, who is merely a musician and a mental-health professional, along with the unqualified assessments of Frank Zindler. See more on that issue here.
Price next denies the relevance of verified historical accuracy in the NT as a marker of general reliability, supposing that “historical method” (as he parlays it) provides no vindication for other reported acts like healings or other miracles. But the methods of Price and his own Skeptical fellows speak for themselves in terms of the dishonesty of this remark: Inevitably, if Luke or some other NT author gets some detail wrong, this is immediately pounced upon as proof that they were not eyewitnesses; that they were gullible, or ignorant, or uncritical; therefore, why should we trust their accounts of miracles? The Skeptics cannot have it both ways. They must either acknowledge that these accuracies place a heavier burden on the Skeptic to deny historicity (Price falsely frames the argument as that we think such accuracies prove that miracles “must therefore really have occurred”), or simply throw a standard test of reliability – both for historians and for courts of law – out the window.
Ironically, Price is willing to grant that in rabbinic materials, accurate information about place names and landmarks could “percolate down through the ages” and still be accurate in later documents. But this he wants for the sake of arguing that it need not prove an eyewitness tradition. Actually, it does, and Price has cut off his rabbinic nose to spite his New Testament face: Those rabbinic accounts would have begun with an eyewitnesses’ testimony, and if Price is willing to grant that such details can be passed down accurately, then he has just thoroughly undercut his own skepticism in other chapters regarding the accurate transmission of oral information, and in the Gospels: Now, even if he gets the late date he wants for those, he has just admitted that their details are able to remain accurate, and he shows that he needs to do more than he has done in far too many cases – merely dismissed accounts as late.
Price also commits the standard error regarding John 9:22 which we cover here.
A section is then devoted to the Lukan census issue, a matter we have deferred to Glenn Miller on for some time now; see our own minor contribution here. (Much of this stuff was also known long ago -- see for example here.) As for Price, suffice to say that (as the articles show) he is far behind the scholarship on the issue, and is also seeking such desperate counsels as that the story of Krishna influenced that of Jesus here (the documentary evidence just won’t stand behind that, and neither will scholars of the Hindu religion, as Mike Licona has shown). It is also an irony that Price, after having just told us how little accuracy matters to showing a document is by an eyewitness, nevertheless continues to act as though it is important by objecting that Luke is in error on the census. Like we said, Price, like many Skeptics, wants to have it both ways.
Price’s next objection has to do with the timing of the ascension, a matter we have resolved here. The problem yet again is that Price is still reading texts with his retained fundamentalist glasses, and still cannot mature past the idea that ancient historical accounts were not crafted for a chronology-obsessed Western mind.
It is amazing (and a testimony to Price’s blind trust in the authority of radical critics) that he quotes Reimarus as objecting that Luke has crammed 3000 people into a room at Pentecost. The last numeric reference is to 120 persons (1:15), and where Reimarus got the idea that 3000 were in the room is perhaps best found at the bottom of a bottle of liquid stimulants. Even so, Price ought to be aware that his comments regarding “absent-minded story telling” reflect a graphocentric, modernist form of bigotry. What he sees as “absent-minded story telling” reflects rather what happens when a modern, literate reader comes across literature that is primarily designed to be presented to an audience attuned to oral presentations. Like Bultmann and other form/higher critics, Price mistakes the artifacts of oral presentation for mistakes in literary craftsmanship. It would never occur to Price that units in the narratives were originally presented independently as oral units; rather, he assumes that Luke et al were writing consecutive narratives from the beginning.
Price’s next sortie is to object that it is proven that the speeches in Acts as “Lukan compositions.” But his appeal to Dibelius is full of yet more gross presuppositions of the sort common to form/higher critics unable to think in more the one dimension. Dibelius notes that the various speeches of Stephen, Paul, and Demetrius “are concluded in a similar way.” It would never occur to such critics – since they are very much out of touch with the contexts that governed this social setting, and too intent in imposing their own – that the speeches are similar in form because the same basic principles of rhetoric were taught to all. It would also never occur to Dibelius or Price that there was nothing extraordinary about a speaker being interrupted by listeners (see especially Shiner’s work on this). That was the nature of an oral-aural society. Finally, it would never occur to a higher critic that in any event, Luke would of necessity be selecting from a much larger roster of events, so that he would easily be able to present each speech in the same format -- something his readers would welcome, as it would make his content far easier to remember. But that does not signify that Luke merely created his speeches out of thin air.
So likewise, Haenchen’s claim is nonsensical that the judges would certainly have interrupted Stephen rather than let him go on with all that Jewish history. What escaped Haenchen was that the judges were not modern, deadline-obsessed Westerners as he was, who would have no patience to sit by and listen to a speech. In reality, because Stephen was reiterating, for the bulk of his speech, points with which the judges agreed and for which they would have held unusual civic and social pride, interrupting is the last thing they would do. They would not tell him to “keep to the point” – they would relish what they heard! Price is simply unable to get out of his mold of a modern person who will react to an extended speech by checking his watch to make sure they are not missing Bonanza.
Price next comments on the trial of Peter and John in Acts 4, and it is hard at times to decipher a coherent objection for his comments. He notes that John here is a “wordless shadow” but what is the point of saying so? Has Price conducted a survey of ancient historical dialogues and found that invariably, named persons always have at least one or two words to say, and so John’s “wordlessness” somehow indicates ahistoricity? If Price wants to show that there’s something wrong here, he needs to prove that there is something wrong, not merely act as though his own perceptions govern what is normal. Price also wonders why the Sanhedrin seeks to suppress the truth; it is not, as he supposes, that they are “a gang of Satanists” but that it is a matter of personal honor: The Resurrection of Jesus amounted to a reversal of their public judgment, and to that extent was a significant detraction to their personal honor ratings.
Then Price wonders of the note that the leaders feared the people’s reactions, and quotes Baur’s argument that if the people were so feared, then Peter and John would never have been arrested in the first place, especially not after doing a miracle. There is a reason why Baur’s scholarship is most often left in the 1800s, and this is a perfect example of why: He displays the common inability of the radical critic to think in more than one dimension. Those in authority undoubtedly had at times to make unpopular arrests, but let’s face it, they had the weapons, and the people didn’t. Not only so, but the arrest occurred in the temple precincts, a place where most people would be hesitant to shed blood and risk profaning the place. The nature of the arrest was tactically sound. Finally, the reactions of “the people” would take time to foment; no one was prepared at just that moment to fight back, and nor would they unless some outrage were performed that inspired instant action (which we see no evidence of here). Baur in his time (and Price now) are simply too inured as members of the comfortable leisure class to envision the give and take that would have occurred in an entirely different social setting.
There’s a brief reference to the angel who appears to break Peter and John out of jail as ”surely a literary dues ex machina” although why this is “surely” so is not explained, other than that, apparently, Price is a materialist, although an objection is also presented from an 1875 commentator (again, there is a reason this stuff is now left in the 19th century: "rationalists" of that time had poor thinking skills as well as poor scholarship!) that it must be a mythical story because no one says anything about the angel when Peter and John are arrested again. As usual, higher critics are stuck on their low context, graphocentric beams: They are expecting every single detail to be reiterated, when rather it would only be the most important that would be, at most; and the raising of Jesus (Acts 5:30) was a far more relevant point than, “an angel broke us out of jail.” We may have little doubt that the miraculous escape was mentioned in the actual historical trial; but expecting Luke to make mention of it again is simply misguided, the product of a low-context cultural supposition that Luke is writing to entertain us.
Price also denies the historicity of Gamaliel’s speech, though his reasons for doing so are typically one-dimensional. First, he objects that the rest of the Sanhedrin didn’t listen to Gamaliel, and flogged the apostles, as if indeed even a visionary leader’s advice were always followed to the letter by lesser authorities. But while flogging was often deadly, it was also fairly routine, so it’s hardly any mark against historicity for Luke to have reported such a thing.
Second, Price supposes that all of the speech is stolen from either The Bacchae or Josephus, the latter being a case of Price picking up on the usual Skeptical error Miller discusses here.. Price is apparently aware of this or a similar answer, but has no actual answer in reply; he merely waves it off in a note as “not historical criticism” – which is an apparent code phrase for, “not simply accepting what those who call themselves ‘critics’ say at face value.” We’re not to treat the Bible as inerrant, but the critics do deserve such reckoning: And once again, be sure and remain one-dimensional in your thinking, never taking into consideration such things as how common the name “Theudas” was in that time.
As for the Bacchae bit, it seems that Price has no conception that ancient people believed in gods, and that warnings not to contradict their will were a dime a dozen; they’re all over the Old Testament, for example, and historically, there’s hardly any reason why Gamaliel would not issue a similar warning. Luke did not need The Bacchae to come up with the idea; Price’s idea that Gamaliel’s words are “plainly based” on those of Pentheus is nothing but a contrived and vain imagination, mere “parallelomania” at work. Why not instead see in his words an allusion to the acts of Balaam, or to Pharaoh? Did Price suppose Jewish history had no examples of people fighting against God?
Finally, Price calls on Mason’s points re parallels in who Luke mentioned in common with Josephus, a matter we have addressed here. It may not occur to Price that no one knew the actual name of “the Egyptian” as he would hardly be going around introducing himself to authorities; perhaps Price envisions such rebels wearing nametags. Either that, or he might not be aware that reference to the rebel as “the Egyptian” was meant as a dishonoring insult, his actual name being purposely ignored.
Price’s next effort, drawing parallels between the stories of Ananias/Sapphira/Stephen and Ahab/Naboth/Achan, might simply be dismissed as parallelomania, and I have little doubt that some of it from his source, Brodie, would amount to that: Some of the examples Price lists (eg., Achan appropriated booty, as did Ananias and Sapphira) are the familiar tactic of collapsing down descriptions to a least-common denominator to achieve a forced parallel, while others simply reflect common practice (eg,it would be normal to stone someone outside the city limits; that would preserve ritual purity within the city) and yet others are simply inane cases of “transvaluation” made up when the evidence itself does not cooperate (eg, Ahab tearing his garments is paralleled to Paul watching the clothes of the stoning mob!). The mania continues as Price does the same thing between Paul’s conversion account and The Bacchae/2 Maccabees.
However, even if the parallels hold, Price is insensate to the methods whereby actual history could be reported using clever allusions to past history. Our explanations on these points have been made answering Dennis MacDonald and Randel Helms -- the critics can pick their poison.
In the end, Price ends up saying almost nothing about archaeology, preferring to change the subject to literary techniques, for the most part. However, in both cases Price is badly behind the times when it comes to the scholarship, which is to be expected when one believes that the likes of Baur remain useful authorities. Price speaks of “childlike credulity when it comes to what this ancient book says,” but it is apparent that in his case, the credulity was simply transferred from one place (the Bible) to another (higher critics). He has failed to realize that the time of his own naivete is not over.