Chapter 2 is a relative monster in which Price offers vagrant commentary on eight “tests” described by Blomberg when checking historical documents. It’ll be convenient to offer our reply in eight corresponding sections.
The Intention Test. Price confuses this one from the get-go; the intention test was brought up to answer any sort of odd claim (I hear it now and then) that ancient writers had no interest in recording true history. Price somehow (actually, given his record, “how” is not a necessary question) confuses this with some sort of test showing that ancient writers always knew how to discern true reports from false ones. Thus he rings up what he thinks are incredible reports from Josephus and Luke to prove, so he thinks, that these guys were uncritical stooges unable to report anything as simple as a cow mooing without turning it into a report of the same cow flying to Tahiti in a supersonic jet. That’s misplaced in two ways.
First, of course, Price is up to his usual Humean schtick:
”Luke doesn’t report outlandish stuff.”
”Oh yeah? That report of Jesus walking on water sure is outlandish!”
”Because I say so, that’s why! Isn’t that enough????”
No, not really. But it’s all the “argument” Price offers when it comes to explaining why these things are not for real. Prince Price of the Jungle would have thought ice was “outlandish” 200 years ago, remember.
Second, as noted, Price has confused the purpose of the Intention Test. What it means in this context is that Luke, Josephus, et al have every intention to record real history. That they may or may not have got it wrong is not the issue at hand; the issue is what they thought about reporting actual events. Here Price would have to reply, “Luke didn’t really think Jesus walked on water because…” if he was interested in an intelligent rebuttal.
One more thing to note is that Price has cut off any possibility of reporting an event like Jesus walking on water, if it actually did happen in space-time. As such his historical epistemology is merely contrived (this is what he calls “critical”).
After a few paragraphs of the usual bad-tempered psychoanalysis we’ve come to expect from Price when he’s short on actual arguments, we get to a related issue of whether the early church contrived prophetic words from Jesus and put them in the mouth of the earthly Jesus. Much jabbering ensues before we get to anything that remotely resembles argument; no need to address it all, as it is mostly Price showing that he is still wearing his Freddy Fundy Underoos again: E.g., “Aren’t evangelical Christians committed equally to taking whatever they find between the covers of the Bible seriously?” No – that was Price in his fundy days, not anyone I know. If Price took, e.g., 1 Kings 16:11 as “seriously” as he took Matthew 5:10, I can see why there were obvious reasons for his outstanding failure as a personal evangelist. All of that, anyway, is in service of some notion that it shouldn’t matter to Christians whether Jesus said “boo” on earth or through some prophet; this after Price just got done from the other side of his mouth making a big deal over how Luke and Josephus allegedly gave us history on steroids. So is it a big deal, or isn’t it? Would it matter to Price if I ring up Shirley MacLaine and have her “channel” him giving instructions in the pursuit of bestiality as a lifestyle? If he “doesn’t get it” now, he will then.
One obvious point made about this debate is Paul’s distinction between Jesus’ teachings and prophetic “words” from Jesus in 1 Cor. 7. Price calls this a “bogus apologetic” because it “completely begs the question” that “Christians always distinguished prophecy from historical Jesus quotes.” No, sorry, it doesn’t: It uses our available evidence to reach a conclusion. If Price thinks it will help to have a temper tantrum to replace the evidence he does not have that Christians did NOT make such distinctions, he is sadly mistaken. So might Johnny Cochran say: “Your evidence, Marcia, begs the question that O. J. always had the same blood type. How do you know a Colombian drug lord didn’t have the same DNA?” If Christians who did not make the distinction existed, Price needs to prove that they did – not merely assume it (beg the question).
It might be added that Price, still apparently bewildered, confuses the point of Blomberg’s argument re 1 Cor. 7. It is, as I have put it, “if Paul could just drop into a creative ecstasy, why would he not ‘dive in’ and bring out a word from the risen Jesus?” This is in contrast to the fact that when he does have a “command from the Lord” he dips into what comes from the written tradition we have. Price’s further objections are addressing the wrong argument.
Price also wonders why Paul didn’t make use of Matthew 19:10-12 for the situation in Corinth. Well, a little exegesis of both situations goes a long way to saying why: Jesus is addressing a situation that has to do with service in the Kingdom, whereas Paul is addressing a situation that has to do with a local ecological crisis (see here). Typical again of his fundamentalism (and his parallelomania with pagan copycat figures), Price sees the word “marriage” in both passages and thinks they’re twins (when they’re actually third cousins).
Next, Price displays as proof that Christians did channel Jesus and put words in his mouth on earth – the fact that Gnostic heretics did so! That’s rather amazing. By the same logic, we can use what Biblical scholar Richard Pervo got caught doing as evidence that there’s more to (ahem) Price’s editing of volumes like “Lewd Tales” than meets the eye. Sorry, but no, not even that far, actually: This wasn’t a case of Gnostic getting “prophetic” words and putting them in the mouth of Jesus on earth; rather, this was a case of them thinking they had a more clear window on what happened in Jesus’ time. In other words, they didn’t take Jesus’ words as received in ecstasy and put them in the mouth of the earthly Jesus; rather, they thought they were channeling genuine historical reports of what Jesus did say while on earth. Price yet again can’t seem to grasp a simple distinction like this: Even false prophets like Helen Schucman were not attributing “heavenly Jesus” words to “earthly Jesus” -- they always preserved the earthly-heavenly dichotomy, or never violated it. (On the side, if he thinks this is what people think they are doing when they put up billboards with cutesy sayings of Jesus, he’s more out of touch with reality than we might expect.)
We’re not done yet with Test 1, though actually, we’re still listening to Price hammer away at things that have nothing to do with it as his Rant-o-matic plunges ahead unhindered. It’s another good point that if the church was inventing sayings of Jesus, it sure missed the boat by not inventing stuff to handle certain church controversies like roles for women in ministry. Price says this is thought of as the “trump card against form criticism” but that’s not quite right. It’s a trump card against the specific notion that the church invented sayings for Jesus, not “form criticism” as a whole. Form criticism is, admittedly, more complex than just that, but the sum of the whole isn’t much better than any one of the parts, including this one. In any event, Price’s “answer” to this is to ignore the argument and turn everyone’s attention to his new carnival barker’s outfit, consisting of pieces of paper inscribed with places where he thinks the church DID do such a thing. How many places though? Er...he’s got those so far wrong he may as well be wearing the clown suit instead of the barker’s outfit.
His first pick is…wait for it….Mark 7:14-19, about the eating of food that isn’t kosher. (He also picks a saying from the Gospel of Thomas [!] but why he thinks we should care about heretics did is not explained.) So why’s that put into Jesus’ mouth and not an actual saying? Well, it sounds like Romans 14:14 knows about it. Okay. So why’s that a proof that it was made up for Jesus, rather than Paul alluding to Jesus? Uh….well, it also sounds like Galatians 2:12-14. Um, problem. The subject there isn’t “whether Gentile converts must eat only kosher food.” The real problem is described here and Gentiles eating kosher isn’t even on the map. It’s all about whether Gentile converts are ritually pure, and more importantly, not retaining bad social habits that imply that the Gentiles are still a bunch of “d*** dirty apes,” as Heston might say. Did Jesus say “boo” about such a thing? No, not in Mark 7 or anywhere else. Rip. There goes Price’s shirt.
Second pick: Legitimacy of a mission to the Gentiles. Price first tries to shimmy the focus a bit to say that the “sticking point” was having to eat Gentile food as a travelling Jewish missionary. Well, no, it wasn’t: The “sticking point” was one of ingroup-outgroup anthropology, of suggesting that those “dirty apes” in Gentileland would be allowed to share in the blessings (gasp)of Jewish eschatology. The Jews counted themselves an exclusive club, and nothing Jesus is recorded as saying or doing has any bearing on this. Price appeals to “Great Commissions” and healings of Gentiles, but that won’t fill the bill: What was critical here was depth: The bad guys thought the Gentiles would just get the dribs and drabs; even guys like Namaan the Syrian might get a crumb once in a while, but that was all. The good guys said, no, the Gentiles will be admitted as full share partners in the Kingdom. THAT is something Jesus is never shown addressing for the church. RIP. Well, there went Price’s pants.
Last: Table fellowship with Gentiles. Price changes the subject again, supposing that he can get away with pointing out that Jesus was shown dining with sinners, and that was an end-around that we were supposed to “get” as it showing it was okay to dine with Gentiles. After all, Price says, we’d expect the writers to know that they couldn’t have had Jesus ACTUALLY dining with Gentiles in Palestine and “plausibly” addressing the issue that way.
Did you get that? The whole issue here has been that Christians lacked such a sense of critical historical consciousness that they swiped words of the “heavenly” Jesus into the mouth of the “earthly” Jesus. But from the other side of his mouth, Price wants to argue that the Christians were so conscious of Jesus’ contexts on earth that they had to make sure they added verisimilitude to the sayings they swiped. While he makes up his mind…there go his paper Fruit of the Looms. Yipes.
In reality, table fellowship with “sinners” is like that with Gentiles in only the broadest sense: One has to do with issues of moral association which cause ritual impurity, while the other has to do with ethnic, ingroup associations. The sinners could repent and be clean, but the Gentiles could not. And Price might have forgotten that under his rubric, it would hardly be difficult to have had Jesus accept a dinner invitation from, say, the centurion.
After this it doesn’t get much better. Price thinks the role of women in the church is covered by Luke 10:38-42, where he somehow (by wizardry Harry Potter would be proud of) reads this passage as saying women should limit themselves to serving the Eucharist (as Martha serves dinner) and live a “stipended, celibate life as ‘widows’ and ‘virgins’ “ as Mary did. If you think that’s an exegesis that would make a cult member proud, wait until you catch the next one: Speaking in tongues, according to Price, was addressed Jesus here (apart from Mark 16:17, which he admits is not valid):
Matthew 6:7 In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
That’s imaginative enough as is, but as the context makes clear the issue here is not intelligibility of words but amount being used. Price cuts off the last part of the verse when he offers his own idiosyncratic translation.
And that’s Price case for a “prophetic arms race” in which folks fabricated sayings of Jesus. It’s pretty sad, isn’t it?
The Ability Test. Not sad enough. Price next gets into the subject of ancient orality, and he shamelessly plugs the notion that it was no better than the game of “telephone.” Having done far more and better research for this, I know better. (See some of that info here.) My answers to all of Price’s (few) points are there and I won’t repeat myself; Price is too far behind on the scholarship to be a respectable voice on the matter.
The Character Test. Basically this is a burden of critics to prove that the authors of the NT were dishonest in their reporting. Unperturbed by the category distinction, Price reads off a few examples of apostolic bad behavior, but the only actually instance of dishonesty he can dig out is Peter lying about knowing Jesus. Okay, so we can argue that Peter might be the sort who would lie….if he had a bunch of Temple guards in the area who could turn him into coleslaw and have him crucified. Was that happening when he wrote 1 or 2 Peter, or dictated Mark? Probably not. Aside indeed from his reformed character (which Price admits is a factor that’d be appealed to, but merely dismisses as part of his pursuit to win the Golden Begged Question Award), for which we need not even appeal to the Holy Spirit, despite Price: Even humanly speaking such a turnaround is far from out of the question.
As for all else, Price digs out bad temper and hypocrisy, but can’t seem to find any indications of dishonesty, especially in reporting historical events. So that means we can use Price’s fondness for editing “Lewd Tales” as proof that his reporting as a scholar is worthless, correct? I thought so.
But anyway, since he can’t find actual instances of dishonesty, Price decides he may as well invent some. Noting that events like the multiplying of loaves are not found in sources like Josephus (yes indeed, reporting stuff like that would have been a good way for Joe to keep his head, writing under Vespasian’s patronage), Price says that “the public is not said to ever have witnessed spectacular scenes like this one…” and maybe that was to cover the lie that they never happened.
Say what? The public never saw these things? Who was fed with all the bread and fish, a cluster of 5000 orangutans?
Next posed lie…not sure. Price offers some sort of thing about how maybe Elijah did appear, not as John the Baptist, but in person, but only appeared to four people. Who thinks that is an explanation, I don’t know. Maybe Price was the one and only person who thought this when he was a Christian. Then: The old canard about Mark saying the women stayed silent, which we answered in another chapter closer to that subject, though we might add that despite Price, Mark is not “explaining why no one had ever heard of the Empty Tomb story until his late date.” Such “explaining” is not in Mark’s text, period; it’s a theory contrived from Price’s gratuitously late dating of Mark, plus his gratuitous rejection of an empty tomb referenced in Paul (1 Cor. 15 – or maybe his gratuitous arguments that the creed is a late interpolation, which he alludes to later, and which we respond to in detail in Trusting the New Testament). There’s a lot of gratuities around here, but Price is the one who needs a tip.
There’s a short bit about 2 Peter being a forgery with the usual sub-standard arguments that have been answered 5000 times. We have our usual reply linked. Price then dallies into other forgeries in Christendom like the Donation of Constantine, as if this proves that any other document was forged. Remember what we said about that kind of reasoning: Richard Pervo. Robert Price. Both New Testament scholars with fringe ideas…now thus both proven child porn collectors. Right?
It’s still pastiche party time. Allusion to the idea of Simon the Zealot as a member of the Zealot party? No thanks, been there and it’s wrong. (See about ¼ down.) Variation in apostolic names -- here, about 2/3 down, for Thaddeus, but who the heck is arguing that Nathaniel was Batholomew? And what exactly is Price arguing when he poses questions like, “Who was this Andrew?” So if I rummage through Tacitus and ask stuff like “Who was this Piso?” does that make me a brilliant scholar who has proven that the Annals are bunk? Apparently he thinks questions like these prove that “none of them are historical.” How? I don’t know, we never see anything like an argument explaining it. Price says that the fact that Peter is frequently a “literary foil for Jesus” who always has to be corrected proves that records about him aren’t historical. Well, then, the fact that I’m always having to correct Price – play Buddha to his Ananda – proves that there’s nothing historical about Price either. (Really, does Price think that there were no dim-witted people in need of correction in history?)
The section closes with a treatise on martyrdom, and as readers know from my impossible faith thesis I don’t use this argument the standard way. In any event you can see there how, for example, his comparisons to Joseph Smith fall flat, and how his own response to the martyrdom point fails.
The Consistency Test. Price regales Blomberg’s assessment of the gospels as independent witnesses with vague platitudes for “basic source criticism and redaction criticism,” as well as the usual Marcan priority/Q canards with which we are neither impressed nor amused. There’s a lot of bombast from Price about how the contradictions have never been solved, but hauls out on one, the answer which says that Luke produced Mary’s geneaology while Matthew offered Joseph’s. No, that won’t work, he says, because, “imagine someone claiming Davidic, Messianic credentials for a would-be king if all he could produce was the lineage of an adoptive father!” OK – I just did it. It would work just fine. Adopted sons had the same rights as natural ones; this canard is merely borrowed from Jewish anti-missionary polemics, which for some reason forget to look into the nature of adoption rights in the ancient world before making this argument. Seems like Price forgot his “interrogation” skills again.
The Bias Test. Pretty much, Price declines to weigh in on this one way or the other, and goes off on some tangent about how allegedly disturbing it is that God kills people like Ananias and Sapphira, though if you’re looking for more than argument by outrage you won’t find it. He also says it isn’t hard to “posit” reasons for people to make stuff up, which we can certainly agree is true based on his writings. Thankfully, he didn’t say that it wasn’t hard to come up with good reasons, which would be untrue, as his arguments (and his appeal to the wacky ideas of Derrett) indicate.
The Cover-Up Test. Or, the criterion of embarrassment as some say; things that are recorded that seem embarrassing are likely to be true. Once again though, Price bows to his favored idols of “form-criticism” and “redaction-criticism” and replies that this one doesn’t pan out because Mark was rewritten by Matthew and Luke to resolve embarrassments. It’s amazing how much weight Price places on that Marcan priority canard, but as our linked series shows, it is a weak reed.
That means we really don’t need to answer in more detail, but just for chuckles, let’s consider a couple of instances. Price calls Mark 13:32 “damage control” but that’s based on a dispensational eschatology; preterist eschatology makes that a non-problem, since there is no “failed prediction” to cover for. Then there’s where Price thinks Luke is somehow covering up the “problem” of how John the Baptist’s followers “began denigrating Jesus as their own guru’s inferior” by having Jesus “baptized during a flashback relegated to a subordinate clause, almost leaving the reader to think that he had been baptized by unknown persons after John’s arrest! You have to read it carefully to void that impression.”
Oh really? Seems to me you have to read it like someone on psych meds to GET that impression. Apparently Price managed to “void” his memory of Luke’s very long speech by John; anyone who thinks “others” might have baptized Jesus needs to ask themselves where these “others” are and where their speeches are – “in Price’s fevered imagination,” seems to be the best answer. As for being reduced to a subordinate clause, that’s a fairly hilarious one: Luke’s “subordinate clause” describing Jesus’ baptism takes up 44 words in Greek, while Mark’s takes up a comparably astonishing 53 words; most of the extras come from Mark sparing space to tell us how Jesus “came from Nazareth in Galilee” to be baptized, which obviously reveals Mark’s subversive agenda against the Judean tourism industry. Given that Price finds it easy to spend 100-200 words at a time complaining about scholars being nothing but Sunday School teachers, it seems he badly needs a lesson in interpretation of statistics. He also thinks John doesn’t mention Jesus’ baptism at all, which seems a fairly goofy reading in light of John 1:31-33. There John the Baptist says he was sent to baptize precisely to reveal Jesus to Israel. So how thick a pencil does Price need to connect the dots here? Does he think John is saying, “I was sent to baptize so that I’d be there when Jesus walked by on the river bank and the Spirit came down on him”? Is this the sort of genius that the study of “form criticism” will grant you?
I’ll close with a note that I do think that in some cases, the criterion of embarrassment isn’t that big a deal. Things like statements of self-humility, in the agonistic social setting of the Biblical world, would not be as uncommon as we might find in our own social world. On the other hand, it takes a lot more than assertion to argue such inanities as that Mark was actually Marcion, an enemy of the disciples, which is why he depicts them as goofballs. Price is simply reaching desperately for any and all theories that he can throw against the wall; it also takes a lot of nerve to say that such wacky ideas come from “close scrutiny of the text itself.”
Corroboration Test. No need to dig deep here, Price just hauls out all the usual stale breadcrumbs about how worthless the secular references to Jesus are; see my encyclopedic treatment for an answer to each and every one of ‘em. See also here for the idea that Luke borrowed from Josephus.
The Adverse Witness Test. No hard row to hoe here either, as Price just wiffles up with the usual line that the Gospels were written very late, therefore there was no one alive to act as adverse witnesses to them, blase squase. Does he provide any epistemic tests of authorship? Nyet. But he does manage to argue that the Toledeth Jeshu is from “early centuries” (see here), once again proving that granting special privileges to documents you like any denying them to those you hate is one of form-criticism’s most enduring legacies.
Next up, Price relies on the “ancient people are stupid” canard to argue that it doesn’t mean anything that Jesus’ opponents admitted he did miracles. We do agree that the main issue was a tit for tat kind of thing, but nevertheless, as the example of John 9 illustrates, we don’t need for these to be early CSICOP members for the validation to occur. Rather ironically as well, Price, who grants the Toledeth Jeshu so much authenticity, from the other side of his mouth says that we can’t accept a third-century Rabbi’s witness to Jesus doing miracles because he was “way too late” to be an independent witness. Huh? This from the guy who said in Deconstructing Jesus that Muslim sufi traditions may have more accurate info about Jesus than the Gospels? In any event, as with his reply to TIF, Price remains without cognizance of the honor-shame dialectic that would have fostered precisely the sort of challenges to Peter, et al that Price thinks would not have occurred. (As an aside, it is a little silly to suppose this can be compared to, “How did Mithraism get off the ground unless plenty of people witnessed the god slaying the celestial bull?” Has Price not read that this WAS witnessed, by millions all over the Empire, in the form of the precession of the equinoxes?)
In between ranting and things we need not dispute, Price can’t resist horning in with the “Jews stole resurrection from the Persians” canard which we have a chapter coming on in Defending the Resurrection, or you can see our response to Richard Carrier, Ch. 3, here (Special Editions). He also hauls up an objection we have answered before on Acts 8:1, here.
The chapter closes with a rant about how Price knows of no NT scholars who came to faith through study. Well, I’m not a scholar, but that’s where I entered the Kingdom at any rate, which is probably why Price can’t stand the sight of me. On the other hand, Price is proud of scholars who left their faith, but if I were him, I wouldn’t be – the ones I know are either fringe loonies (like him, or Avalos, or Allegro) or couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag (like Koester, Funk, and Crossan, and Price, too). There goes that bad fruit tree sprouting again.