Price’s first chapter is about the Blomberg interview on the reliability of the Gospels, and much of what is covered here is the same as what I cover in Trusting the New Testament (and here on the site) relative to the authorship of the Gospels. It will be no surprise that Price doesn’t bother with an epistemology of authorship that resembles anything used by scholars on other ancient documents; instead, invoking his privilege as an alleged “critical historian” Price simply creates rules for determining authorship out of thin air, that is, when he bothers to use any rules at all. Most of the time it is simply a case of Price smelling something he thinks is rotten and then proclaiming loudly that it must be the Gospels; but this is again a case of Price perfuming an elevator with his personal odeur and then trying to blame someone else for it.
Price begins with a negligible complaint that he thinks the answers given by scholars like Blomberg are just the same as what used to be given by the likes of McDowell. As a longtime critic of McDowell, that is news to me; it seems more likely that Price is using the same logic he uses to collapse Jesus into a twin of Attis: Blomberg and McDowell are alike because they both provide answers with the intent to show Christianity is true. In terms of depth and detail of argument, there is simply no comparison; not that it matters anyway who repeats what, since an argument’s validity or lack thereof is not determined by such circumstances. Price as usual is simply ill-resistant to starting his speechifying without an appropriately decorated bucket to be dipped into the poisoned well.
When we get to Gospel authorship, starting with Matthew, Price descends into the usual cow-eating-grass portraiture with a reflection that perhaps evil orthodoxers suppressed valid alternate opinions that Matthew was written by someone else; evidence is not considered needed or necessary, which makes it all the fairer should we wish to speculate that American Atheist Press is hiding the fact that The Case Against the Case for Christ was written by Rocky J. Suyhada of the American Nazi Party. After all, Frank Zindler of American Atheists would have a good reason to want to cover that up, so we have a right to be suspicious. In any event Price can cite no actual alternate opinions, save that he seems to think Marcion didn’t believe Luke wrote Luke, but that Paul did, but he doesn’t document where it is said that Marcion believed this, and I have seen no such speculation offered anywhere.
Reaching further into inanity, Price cites fellow conspiracy lunatic Robert Eisler’s as saying that “Papias sought to account for apparent Marcionite elements in the Gospel of John by suggesting Marcion had worked as John’s secretary and scribe and added his own ideas to the text.” This idea from a 1938 text is not mentioned by Blomberg not because he wishes to hide some great secret, as Price implies; it is not mentioned by Blomberg because it is lunacy. Eisler’s contention that Marcion was John’s scribes is not based on a direct statement of Papias (eg, “Marcion was John’s scribe”) but is based on an idiosyncratic reading of an anti-Marcionite prologue, which Roger Pearse has reported as follows here:
The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John while still in the body, just as Papias of Hieropolis, the close disciple of John, related in the exoterics, that is, in the last five books. Indeed he wrote down the gospel, while John was dictating carefully. But the heretic Marcion, after being condemned by him because he was teaching the opposite to him [John], was expelled by John. But he [Marcion] had brought writings or letters to him [John] from the brothers which were in Pontus.
Eisler suggested that the original of this text had Marcion as the scribe for John, but that is the pure fancy of one who, like Price, governs his historical epistemology based on conspiracy-mongering rather than evidence. Price is thus reporting some fringe lunatic view as though it were some certified mainstream finding that Blomberg was stubbornly and judiciously ignoring because he couldn’t face the facts.
Price also notes that some ascribed John to Cerinthus, though he fails to note that this attribution came from the anti-Montanists, who disliked John’s Gospel and were reckoned heretics themselves. In any event Price makes no effort to deal with the usual evidences to determine authorship.
I am perhaps less inclined to grant weigh to the contention, noted by Blomberg, that some Gospel author attributions (Luke, Mark) are unlikely because they were given to minor names. As I say in TNT, however, responding to the very position Price replies with: “At this point, of course, some will argue that Mark was chosen as author precisely because he was unknown, like those selected for the late apocryphal Gospels. However, most (even Kümmel) agree the attribution to a non-apostle adds weight to the argument that Mark was the author.” It’s not the heaviest piece of data; it’s more of a supplement to what we have according to standard rules for determining authorship of a document.
Price’s own idea for how Matthew got to be the attributed author of his Gospel involves a convoluted explanation that because it was clearly a teaching gospel, someone at some point made a pun between the word “mathetes” (disciple) and the name Matthew, and this somehow became universally adopted. Well, by the same logic, then, Price’s own book became tagged with his name because someone realized that the price of letting Christianity succeed was ruining our society, and Robert was added because – the name meaning “fame” – American Atheist Press wanted to assure everyone that Price was a famous dude who deserved attention. “Critical history” can be a lot of fun at times. Of course we should ignore the fact that “Matthew” was a known and used name in the first century; which means that anyone named “Matthew” obviously did not exist since their name could be turned into a pun. (Actually, we can use this point to argue that Matthew the former Levi chose the name himself because he wanted to indicate himself as a new “disciple” par excellence of Jesus. It never occurs to Price that what some anonymous “editor” could think to do, Matthew himself was just as capable of doing.)
In turn Price speculates that Luke and Mark were attributed to subpar persons because of their subpar quality compared to Matthew. Well and well again: Now we know why so many American Atheist books are attributed to Frank Zindler. Clearly attributing them to a person with such a funny sounding name was a way of indicating that books by people like DR. ROBERT PRICE were of better quality. He also stumps for the usual bravado from Bultmann that John underwent Gnostic editing, a position which is far out of date thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls, but as elsewhere, Price refuses to offer any actual arguments, preferring to take Bultmann for granted. Nor does he seriously engage the evidence for Gospel authorship as we do in TNT. He rejects the equation of Matthew and Levi, for no other reason than that Mark and Matthew never explicitly equate the two; apparently Price needs a pencil a mile thick to connect the dots on that one, whereas suspicion, “critical history” and a pencil with a microscopic point is enough for him to suppose that Marcion was the author of John. Some consistency from Price would be helpful at this point, but we aren’t holding our breath.
In what follows, much of Price’s critique assumes Marcan priority over Matthew, something we dissent fromagainst both Blomberg and Price, and doubt Price will have the will to argue about. Hence we need not examine each of Price’s claims individually on this subject, though it is worth a note that he is still plying the same old misreading of Mark 10:18 as though Matthew “improved” the responses. Maybe one say Price will come up with something that wasn’t stale when Bultmann was sucking on a pacifier.
The allegation that Blomberg is a “scissors and paste historian” who does not “ask his ancient authors to justify their claims” carries with it a certain presumption that Blomberg has not done this justifying work in the background of his studies, simply because he has not reached the conclusion Price agrees with. I rather doubt that this is the case; not that it matters, since Price’s own methodology is to scissor and paste with inane speculations as opposed to ancient documents. Price’s supposed “cross-examination” of Papias and Irenaeus regarding Matthew’s authorship is a case in point. His chief objection is that Papias “does not seem to describe our Gospels of Matthew and Mark,” though he once again apparently needs a pencil a mile thick to make the connection: Papias does describe Matthew as a Hebrew (or Aramaic) document, yes, so it is obvious he cannot be speaking of Matthew in the Greek version we now know, but how hard is it is draw the conclusion, based on external testimony, based on the equation of the two by writers like Eusebius, and based on the likelihood that the first documents of a Jewish movement would BE in Hebrew or Aramaic, that Greek Matthew is an in-line successor to the document Papias references? This is a simple view in accord with all the evidence and circumstances. Price’s fancy that Papias was actually referring to some other document has no basis in evidence, and also simply assumes gratuitously that writers like Eusebius were ignorantly supposing that what Papias said had relevance for Greek Matthew as a successor of the earlier version.
Regarding Mark and Papias, Price digs into his crypt and exhumes David Strauss (by now, he stinketh worse, as Price might say), who made an argument that appeared to have been composed while on psychiatric medication:
On the whole, it would appear that when Papias explains the want of order in Mark from his dependence on the lectures of Peter, who may be supposed to have testified of Jesus only occasionally, he intends to refuse to his narrative the merit not only of the right order but of any historical arrangement whatever. But this is as little wanting in the Gospel of Mark as in any other, and consequently Papias, if we are to understand his expression in this sense, could not have our present Gospel of Mark before him, but must have been speaking of a totally different work.
I have read this several times and can still see nothing that resembles a chain of logic or evidence. But it appears that Strauss made the common error (noted by the classicist Kennedy) of misconstruing Papias’ statements about Mark not being composed “in order” as referring to the final product, when it would actually refer to the initial collection and compilation of notes (per the usual way of creating an ancient document). Strauss, being too much of an anachronism to think that works were composed in any other way than all at once, assumed Papias meant the final product, and observing that Mark as we have it seemed orderly, therefore assumed Papias couldn’t be referring to Mark. There are reasons why Strauss is not cited as an authority in peer-reviewed journals and scholarly commentaries: He had no idea what the heck he was talking about 99% of the time. (See more here.)
Continuing to diss Papias, Price deems him unreliable because of the old “he said Judas got so fat” canard. Here Price is simply once again the victim of his own retained fundamentalism: Read Papias here like a Redd Foxx routine (“he’s so fat he has his own zip code”) and suddenly the problem disappears. Price also objects that Papias attributed to Jesus some words from the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, though actually, all that is in common are a couple of images of the sort that are just as readily derived in both cases from Old Testament imagery; or else, why not say that the Apocalypse borrowed from what someone read in Papias, especially given the relatively poor evidence for this document (see here)? But to ask Price to argue according to actual evidence would be too much to ask.
Not done with Papias yet, Price disputes whether he would have even written anything at all since he said he preferred oral tradition to books. That’s rather an anachronistic argument; Papias is expressing a preference that was common to everyone in that world, including literate people who put down their comments about this in writing. For more on this subject, see the oral tradition section of TNT.
Finally, Price objects that Papias has “nothing to say of Luke,” which is presumption; all we know is that he was not quoted about Luke. He merely dismisses the testimony of Irenaeus as gotten from Papias, a point I answered in TNT:
Some object that Irenaeus was merely copying what was said by Papias, whose work he knew, and so his testimony can not be considered independent...However, this is a gratuitous assumption. Simply because Irenaeus knew of Papias’ work does not mean that Papias was his sole source of knowledge for this information. The same argument could be made concerning virtually any other writer or reporter of information, with just as much credence. Irenaeus also offers more information than is available from Papias (as quoted by Eusebius), which suggests an independent investigation or more sources of information.
The parallelomania speculativa continues as Price supposes that Irenaeus simply made up the idea of Luke as a scribe for Paul was just copied from the idea of Mark as a scribe for Peter, as though Irenaeus had no idea before and made it up on the spot. Why, again, we should accept this hypothesis is not explained, and “Robert Price says so” is not an argument. Why not then also say that the idea that Price got a doctorate is false, based on the idea that Craig Blomberg got one? As it is, since the use of an amanuensis was as common (even among the literate) in that day as Price’s beard hairs, “this looks like that” is an even more foolish line of reasoning to reject what Irenaeus says.
Irenaeus is then dissed for unreliability based on a couple of supposed muffs; by that account Price ought to have been packed away years ago; how about him changing his mind about Acharya S? Apparently with Price you are not to be trusted unless you record is spotless, but as it is, he can’t even accuse Irenaeus well, he appeals the old ”he sais Jesus was 50” argument, and a very odd argument regarding what Irenaeus says of the number 666 being in Rev. 13:18. Irenaeus saus, “this number is placed in all genuine and ancient copies, and those who saw John face to face provide attestation.” Price remarks in surprise, “The Asia Minor presbytery weighed in collectively on a matter like that?” Well – no. And it’s hard to see how Irenaeus is saying such a thing there, either; how is the collective presbytery the same as “those who saw John face to face”? I can’t see how either.
Briefly addressed then is the time needed for legendary accrual, and I would probably not have used Alexander the Great as an example the way Blomberg did. But Price leaves that topic almost at once to discuss the date of Mark. Here, we won’t find anything new, though Price’s obsessive focus on Mark 13:30 and how it errs is pretty well dashed to pieces on the rocks by a preterist exegesis (which Blomberg probably would not appeal to). He appeals to his fellow in imagination, Colani, who wrote an item for Price’s vanity journal claiming that Mark 13:30 was added later; his proof is that verse 32 answers the question of verse 4, showing that 5-31 were added in later. In this Colani is simply ignorant of how to read an ancient text. I will appeal to a similar idea by analogy:
I will offer one more example, from Herzog's newer book Prophet and Teacher [129f]. Here is the passage of concern:
Mark 7:1-15 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 5Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. 14And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: 15There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.
Bultmann wondered why the question in v. 5 was not being answered until v. 15 and thus claimed that the "artificiality of the composition is clear as day." But Bultmann was simply unaware of the form in which challenge and riposte was performed. In such conditions, an immediate and direct answer to the question was the last thing that would be offered, for to put it in modern terms, it would be like dignifying your opponent by implying that his question deserved an answer.
As Herzog notes, in this setting, the "proper riposte to a hostile challenge is not to answer the question but to attack the one who asked it, and this is exactly what Jesus does. Where the modern reader finds discontinuity, the ancient reader finds continuity."
Although there’s no riposte in Mark 13, it’s not hard to suppose that some similar principle is at work: In a nutshell, it simply wasn’t required for a teacher to immediately answer a question, Colani’s anachronistic expectations notwithstanding.
So Price’s late date for Mark is argued on nothing more than this. Matthew he dates later partly because of his belief in Markan priority and Matthew’s use of Q, which is a “dogma” he remains content not to “interrogate.” Since that is so we consider any argument of his that relies on such a premise (such as his appeal to Nau) completely answered. Apart from that there is not much to be had in the way of argument. I do not know where he gets the reading that Matthew has Jesus command “Gentile converts” to keep the law; I have seen such arguments from legalist cultists but never from a serious scholar. Since Price does not deign to exegete the text that he thinks says this, there’s no way to answer further.
Not much is said worth a reply otherwise. Mere declaration is all Price offers about Matthew being filled with “legendary embellishments” (other than the implied, “they’re miracles” canard). He supposes, borrowing from Overman, that titles like “abba” and “rabbi” and the use of the “seat of Moses” were not around in Jesus’ time. I have never taken such arguments seriously and never will: If this were Philo rather than Matthew, it would be taken as evidence that Philo records the first such usages.
Strauss is exhumed yet again for a return to Luke; he makes yet another incomprehensible argument lacking any sense of evidence or logic, namely that Luke’s preface shows that he “appears not to be aware of any Gospel immediately composed by an Apostle,” though why this is so is not explained or exegeted from Luke’s text. The same preface is also used to deduce that Luke could not have been a companion of an Apostle, though again, this is not explained by Strauss, merely asserted as though it were painfully obvious. It’s not, though perhaps if we smoked the same things Strauss did, it would be.
Then Strauss is again called on, to explain that “Irenaeus’ description of a Lukan writing down of Paul’s preaching would fit Acts better than Luke.” It’s not clear, again, why Strauss thinks this, but we can sort of get the hint that he’s acting a little Doherty before Doherty, and thinking that the epistles represented what Paul preached. They don’t.
Next: A huge point for dating Acts (and Luke) early is that Paul’s death is not mentioned. Amazingly, Price, who takes the silence of the Markan women as eternally permanent, deigns to argue that Luke’s silence shows that he was aware of Paul’s death and intended to write about it; or maybe, he says, Paul’s death was so well known that it was taken for granted – which is the sort of argument he didn’t seem to appreciate when endorsing Earl Doherty’s nonsense. As Price decides what side of his mouth to speak out of on this point, we’ll note our own comments from TNT which answer what else Price has to offer:
In response, it may be objected that:
Luke desired to appease the Romans, and that is why he doesn’t mention Paul’s sentence. This does not work as an objection, since Luke readily reports Jesus’ execution at the order of a Roman governor.
Luke’s literary intention is simply to show how the commission to preach the gospel in “Jerusalem, Judea, and to the uttermost ends of the earth” was fulfilled by the Lord, so the arrival and preaching of Paul at Rome is more than a fitting ending for his literary purpose. This argument can then be taken a step further and defeated. First, there is the idea that a sub-theme of Acts is the “equality” of Peter and Paul -- the vindication of Paul's apostleship; so, how better to demonstrate this than to end with both martyrdoms in Rome? Second, if Luke's readers knew that Paul had been martyred, then he has ended Acts in the worst possible way for inspiring confidence and commitment in his readers. Ending the work on an “upbeat” note, when it is known that Paul went on to be executed, is like writing a biography of a soldier who went heroically to war, in order to exemplify and encourage patriotism, and omitting the fact that he was killed in action. If you knew this, would you appreciate the patriotic sentiments? An author would be practically required to report the death and do so in a patriotic light; otherwise readers would consider the work to be propaganda
Price also appeals to reputed “parallels” between Jesus and Paul, but these are the usual case of parallelomanics illicitly expanding terms and collapsing down situations to force parallels, or making too much of commonalities. For example, Price notes that both Jesus and Paul were “arrested in connection with a disturbance at the Temple.” The words “disturbance” and “in connection with” are vague generalizations which cover over the vast differences in the nature of what happened to Paul and Jesus. An exercise exposing this sort of reasoning can be found here.
Summary information is then provided on a group of fringe scholars who date Acts to the second century, and some of the positions they took. Since no actual arguments are forwarded, there is nothing that can be answered; suffice therefore to refer the reader to TNT for further information; we’ll just touch on a couple of points as exemplary.
Price again engages parallelomania between Paul and Peter in Acts, noting that each one is shown doing the same thing, such as healing a paralytic. My answer: So what? I agree that Luke was showing that Peter and Paul were on equal terms. But given the actual ability to heal people, why is it so hard to believe that both might encounter a dead person in need of being raised, or paralytics? Does Price think dead people were in short supply in the first century? Does he suppose that in this age prior to decent health care, there might not be a fair supply of persons with paralysis among Rome’s 70 to 100 million people? Is that what Price calls “critical history”? If so, what does one have to smoke to become a critical historian?
One other point we’ll note: Price says Acts seems to “deny [Paul] the dignity of the apostolate,” apparently ignoring Acts 14:4, as well as the fact that “apostle” would hardly be seen as a proper noun at this time. Paul IS denied the “dignity” of being one of the Twelve, but that is simple historic fact; Price in any event is confusing the two categories. I’ll also add that Price is again here speaking out of both sides of his mouth: He has just argued that Acts is trying to make Paul and Peter out to be equals, as a way to bring together Pauline and Petrine factions (whose existence is merely imagined out of thin air), and now he argues that Acts is also denying Paul equality with Peter. Perhaps Price should call us when he makes up his mind which side of his mouth we should be listening to.
Price next turns to the efforts of Hans Conzelmann, whose reading of the eschatology of the New Testament led to further theorizing; under our own preterist eschatology, Conzelmann’s theorizing is rendered moot, based as they are on the alleged disappointment of early Christians; so likewise Price’s further arguments based on the same premise: There is no “replacement of horizontal with vertical eschatology,” for it was all “horizontal” from the very beginning. One peculiar point is that Price says that Luke is the only Gospel that “speaks of people going to heaven or hell as soon as they die.” Since that was the normal view of pre-Christian Judaism, there is no reason to suppose that any other Gospel viewed the matter any differently.
Price then hints at a late second-century date for Luke based on the idea that Luke shared the “agendas” of certain second-century apologists who sought to refute heresies. Apparently Price believes that heresies didn’t exist until January 1, 101 AD, and that before that, there would be no reason for Luke to depict the Twelve as “guarantors of the orthodox tradition of Jesus.” No, there is certainly no way that, as Christianity emerged into the syncretistic environment of the Roman Empire, it would ever run into any problems with “heresy” until the second century had its turn. As we know from the example of the Mormon church and its splinter groups, it takes at least 75 years for a good heresy to crop up. (I am being facetious of course. See here.) To put it in a nutshell: Price’s indication is that Luke must be dated later because there would be no occasion for him to show the apostles as tradition-minders earlier. Not only is that a naïve understanding of the syncretistic environment in which it emerged (and didn’t Price go all on elsewhere about how much early Christians changed things like eg, how resurrection worked, spiritual vs physical?), it also fails to recognize that in a collectivist society, persons like the apostles would rapidly emerge as guarantors of the ingroup’s repository of wisdom; it would not take 100+ years for such a view to come to fruition.
The next several pages are a motley collection of ideas that seem in many cases to have no coherent purpose, and in many cases are simply expansions on Price’s ridiculous notion that there’s no way that the Apostles could have been recognized as tradition-guardians so early. A few comments otherwise:
Critics, however, miss a very subtle point in this verse. It does not say that the Apostles were not persecuted; it only says that they were the only ones who did not leave Jerusalem. [Bck.BAPS, 428-9] This does not mean that the rest of the Jerusalem church was not persecuted, and it does not even necessarily mean that the Apostles were not persecuted.
One of two options is possible: Either they were persecuted, and they decided to withstand the pressure; or, they may indeed have escaped persecution - in that regard, Witherington [With.AA, 278n] observes that we cannot apply here the modern notion of "kill the head to destroy the body". Even if they were despised, holy men who were able to perform miracles, especially healing miracles, might be left alone out of awe or respect.
It is perhaps significant, in this light, that while Paul reports in his letters that he persecuted the church, he nowhere says that he persecuted the Apostles.
Price presents no specific arguments for his view, though, so not much more can be said; he goes on to make similar assertions, none of which he actually argues, so not much can be said of those either save our own counter-assertions. The alleged “supersession” [sic] of the Temple in Stephen’s speech is nothing extraordinary for the first century; try Jesus’ own eschatological discourses, as well as the Essenes –or maybe don’t, since Stephen doesn’t even mention the Temple in the first place; that was the charge of his opponents.
The argument that because eg, Tertullian says that Christians do not eat blood, that the Decree must be an “after the fact” effort of “apostolic legitimization” is simply Price starting with his theory of Acts as a late document and mashing the facts into line. His one argument to the opposite effect is that Tertuallian et al never trace these prohibitions back to the Decree, which is simply yet another case of a low-context reader misreading high-context documents (see here). Price’s implied demand for a specific reference to the Decree is simply arbitrary and out of touch with the expressive realities of a high-context society.
John is next, and we see the usual canard asking about why John is different from the other Gospels; the solutions we have here are not in Price’s window, and he is also oblivious to the strength of the divine claims in the Synoptics (see series here). Price’s notion that Jesus considered the “Son of Man” someone other than himself (and from there, his premise of “development”) is simply silly (see article on that title, and see “miscellaneous” article on forgiving of sins – Price’s efforts on the “Son of Man” title are, to put it mildly, pathetically marginal considering the amount of study that has been done on that subject). The hub link also contains material on the validity of finding Trinitarian thought in the claims of Jesus, as well as the use of the “I am” verbiage (it isn’t Exodus Price needs to look at for a precedent). I do think some of Blomberg’s choices for proof texts are not the best that could be had, but Price is still far behind the times in any event. His treatment of Mark 10:17-18 is particularly badly out of context (see here).
So ends Ch. 1, and it is something of a tragic effort, as Price has spent so much time on diversions that his chapter ends up looking like something his dog spat out after eating Price’s entire library of theologically liberal and fringe books.