Chapter Four: Edwin Yamauchi's Interview
Before one parrots the ludicrous dictum of C.S. Lewis that the Johannine discourses bear no resemblance to ancient, non-historical genres, one owes it to oneself to read the Gnostic and Mandaean revelation soliloquies abundantly quoted in Bultmann's commentary on John, something I rather doubt any apologists take the trouble to do.
I have indeed read those soliloquies - and Lewis was right in his assessment. The closest literary parallels in the Bible to the Gnostic and Mandean revelation soliloquies is found in the Psalter - not in the Gospel of John. The highly mystical character of the soliloquies, the patterning, and tone, are quite unlike the historical genres - just as Lewis surmised.
But even beyond literary grounds, Price's position has a number of problems. Research since about 1940 has had a new and broader base through the texts published by Lady Drower, and as a result of the beginnings of differentiation of strata within the Mandean texts, scholarship has reached the common opinion that the Mandaean religion, or at least its roots, belongs in spatial and temporal proximity to primitive Christianity and either developed out of gnosticizing Judaism or at any rate engaged in polemical exchange with a syncretistic Judaism.
Simply put, John could not have been influenced by the preserved Mandaean writings, so that there is no question of John's ties with Mandaean or even proto-Mandaean circles. But the often-observed similarity cited by Price of John to the Mandaean concepts actually points to the conclusion that the Mandaean writings are late, modified witnesses for a Jewish Gnosticism which was formed on the edge of Judaism and which is assumed to be the intellectual background of John. A careful interpretation of John shows that he utilized, in an emphatically anti-Gnostic way, the Gnostic language take over by him (cf. 1.14; 3.16; 17.15; 20.20).
Or, as one set of authors puts it:
Quite apart from considerations of dating (all but the first of these are attested by sources that come from the second or third century or later), the conceptual differences between John and these documents are very substantial. Moreover, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and their subsequent publication has show that the closest religious movement to the fourth gospel, in terms of vocabulary at least, was an extremely conservative hermetic Jewish community...Whatever parallels can be drawn, it is now virtually undisputed that both John and these movements (other specifically Palestinian movements) drew their primary inspiration from what we today call the Old Testament Scriptures...
Words such as light, darkness, life, death, spirit, word, love, believing, water, bread, clean, birth, and children of God can be found in almost any religion. Frequently they have very different referents as one moves from religion to religion, but the vocabulary is a popular as religion itself. Nowhere, perhaps, has the importance of this phenomenon been more clearly set forth than in a little-known essay by Kysar. He compares the studies of Dodd and Bultmann on the prologue (John 1:1-18), noting in particular the list of possible parallels each of the two scholars draws up to every conceivable phrase in those verses. Dodd and Bultmann each advance over three hundred parallels, but the overlap in the lists is only 7 percent. The dangers of what Sandmel calls parallelomania become depressingly obvious. [INT.CMM, 159-60]
Finally, I would like to add that it is an interesting commentary on how seemingly disconnected Price is with modern scholarship, if he is still using Bultmann on this topic.
Price does nothing to counter any of this in terms of argument, but does —despite his denigration of CFC as one long “argument from authority” – appeal to his own authority in agreement, Kurt Rudolph, and nothing else; the counter-appeal to the parallels to DSS literature is merely waved away as orthodox scholars sticking to what they find more comfortable. Actual arguments are conspicuous by their absence.
Price does attempt an answer to one of Yamauchi’s points, that the Mandeans forged a false connection to John the Baptist as a way to avoid being persecuted by Muslims who would have more respect for them as a “people of the book.” Price says he “doesn’t buy this” because it “does not begin to explain the strange business of glorifying John and vilifying Jesus” as the Mandeans did; he says rather that a situation in which there was “polemical rivalry between Christians and Mandeans” is preferable, hence he wants to move the whole of the Mandean movement back a few centuries – in contrast to serious Mandean scholarship and all hard evidence.
However, simply because Price’s imagination is limited is not a reason to ignore hard evidence and arbitrarily push Mandean origins back 100+ years to suit his own polemical purposes. It might not occur to Price, in any event, that the “vilifying Jesus” aspect is just as intelligible in the Islamic age: Christians, seeing that the Mandeans were pulling a fast one by absorbing John illicitly, would naturally deny the connection, leading the Mandeans to respond in kind by vilifying Jesus. This is perfectly intelligible as a form of challenge-riposte between the two groups.
Price objects, “why risk the ire of Muslims who consider Jesus the sinless, virgin-born Messiah and prophet of Israel?” But it apparently escapes him that the Mandeans vilified Jesus right in front of the Muslims’ noses anyway, even according to his own alternate history fantasy, so obviously they knew the risk and took it anyway. They already did the very think Price is trying to say they would not do. That Price cannot see this quite obvious point is rather peculiar.
Regarding the horrible textual evidence for the Mandean scriptures which would allow us to date them any earlier, Price refers back to his flawed reasoning in Chapter 3 regarding absence of textual evidence, a courtesy that in any event he’d never extend to the New Testament; we’ll deal with that argument in that chapter.
Josephus: Longer Passage. An apologetic for the usefulness of this passage will acknowledge that it has been influenced by scribal interpolations and justify those portions deemed to be authentic. Price declines to engage these arguments – one perceives that he is not capable of doing so, certainly not to the level of scholars like Feldman, Thackery, and Meier – and instead opts for well-poisoning tactics, as he observes what he calls the “rich irony” of “apologists” who, he says, allegedly “scream ‘Foul!’ if a critic proposes interpolations in scripture without the benefit of first- or second-century manuscript evidence.” Price is simply displaying poor sportsmanship here, for he provides no example of any apologist or scholar actually using such a simple dismissal. Rather, what is called “foul” is critical proposals that use horrible arguments for interpolations apart from manuscript evidence. To propose an interpolation apart from hard manuscript evidence requires good evidence otherwise. Price is aware of this, for he himself recognized the need to provide such arguments in his case for the creed of 1 Cor. 15 as an interpolation. Nevertheless, his arguments for this were, quite simply, appallingly bad. (See relevant chapter in Trusting the New Testament.) In any event, Price does nothing to invalidate the value of the longer passage in Josephus, as he refuses to even engage the issue honestly.
Josephus: Shorter Passage. Price opts for a desperate counsel in which this text was altered, originally having referred to some other Jesus. He has no manuscript evidence, of course, and provides no argument or reason why anyone should believe that this happened. His wishful thinking does not constitute an argument.
Tacitus. Price alludes to his treatment in a previous chapter; he apparently used two arguments, which we have previously answered here . In brief:
He says that Tacitus was not a contemporary of Jesus. But Tacitus was not a contemporary of a great deal of what he reports, and no serious historian makes an issue of this or denies his accuracy on this account. Rather, they look at Tacitus’ ability as a researcher and historian, and on that account, he is regarded as excellent, and the best the ancient world had to offer. It is Price’s burden to explain why Tacitus is not reliable enough to be trusted as a historian to report events earlier than his time. Certainly Price is not going to object that Civil War historians of today are bogus because they didn’t live in the 1860s.
He suggest that Tacitus was just reporting what Christians believed in his time, which also goes against every scrap of evidence we have concerning Tacitus’ critical and historical ability. Once again, Price cannot simply throw doubts into the air and hope that they land on something.
Thallus. I myself make no use of this citation, but readers may find the article here of interest.
Yamauchi also apparently made a very brief ”impossible faith” sort of statement; the reader will find it of interest that Price attempted his own failed response to my more developed form of the argument. There we also discuss the means by which the word was spread, particularly in the response to Carrier.