Robert Price on ETDAV Ch. 6

The Jury project has regrettably failed here in continuing to allow a forum for the venomous and vitriolic essays of Robert Price. We have said enough about this subject in our Chapter 8 reply, so we shall allow the issue to rest as it does there; but for those new to Price, here is a sample of what to expect from him, as presented in his introductory paragraph, Jury Chapter 6:

This chapter is typical of Evidence That Demands A Demands a Verdict, in that it presupposes a kangaroo court. McDowell is preaching to the converted. As generally throughout the long history of apologetics, the arguments of the defender of the faith seem not really to be aimed at the outsider in order to overcome his opposition to the faith. Rather, they seem intended to shore up the vulnerable faith of those already within the camp. The old saying that the best defense is a good offense; applies here. The fundamentalist reader, whose faith has either simply been inherited from a church upbringing or embraced in a moment of emotional crisis and repentance, gets the impression as he or she reads McDowell that there must not be much reason for doubt if Josh, like his Old Testament namesake, is eager to carry the battle into the enemy camp. But the battle is by no means headed there. It is more like the Ayatollah Khomeini's use of the American hostage crisis and the futile war against Iraq to divert the attention of his own people from the problems of his government. Apologetics is shadow-boxing.

The entire first half of Price's essay is filled with material like this, and further flagged with polemical designs such as the decidedly unsubtle references to Khomeini and kangaroo courts. I have had neither church upbringing nor emotional crisis; so where do I fit into this generalizing scheme?

And this is only too evident from several factors. For one, McDowell and his brethren everywhere employ the worst kind of special pleading, what Freud called kettle logic. This is the marshalling of any and every possible argument, whether consistent with one another or not, whether cogent on their own or not. All that matters is whether all the guns are aimed in the right direction. I did not break your kettle! It was all in one piece when I returned it last week! And besides, I never borrowed your stupid kettle in the first place! So there!

What needs be said otherwise? Price goes as far as misrepresenting specific Christian positions; to wit:

...how is it that apologetics coaching (e.g., Paul Little's popular manual, Know Why You Believe), usually includes the advice to duck difficult questions by parroting, Say, that's a good question! I'll have to ask my pastor and get back to you. But in the meantime, wouldn't you like to get born again anyway? Anyone who says such a thing is signalling that his mind is already made up and that he does not intend to let any new facts confuse him.

And Skeptics don't ever duck difficult questions? Most people in this world do, but for different reasons. Some aren't intellectually prepared to defend their views on ANY subject - religion, politics, ethics, law, or what have you. Some have closed their minds because they are convinced that they are right and need no further instruction.

By the same token, not everyone can be a Rhodes scholar and know immediately the answer to every conceivable question, and it is illicit to make a blanket accusation of intellectual dishonesty in this regard as Price does. Certainly it is no offense to admit ignorance; and certainly, if one's eternal life is indeed at stake, there is no harm in accepting the free gift of salvation before 100% of your questions have been satisfactorily settled. After all, you can always do as Price has apparently done, and as Dan Barker and others have certainly done - give it back and go your own way.

(Incidentally, having read Little twice, I found nothing that even remotely resembling what Price describes.)

A few things we may note here - as far as the "mind already made up" issue - that is absolutely correct. Hopefully, the whole reason the non-professional evangelist (not apologist) is wanting to witness is because his mind is made up - and why else would you witness?

Now, if the evangelist is doing it out of "duty" - as it appears Price did, as evidenced in his discussion in his book Beyond Born Again, about witnessing in the restaurant and having nothing to say(!), then this would obviously be a problem.

Evangelism is not the same thing as "dialogue" or "debate". The "duck the questions" coaching is in evangelism coaching - not apologetics coaching, and that is a big difference.

Quite simply, Price here has mixed up two different activities - evangelism and apologetics - and his attack simply does not find a mark.

As we approach the specific arguments McDowell uses to demand the verdict that Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God, we will see again and again how he not only constantly resorts to blatant logical fallacies, but also frames arguments that could hardly make sense to anyone but a died-in-the-wool fundamentalist and biblical inerrantist! This circularity is the result of his reliance on the stale apologetics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the Orthodox had mainly the Protestant Rationalists to deal with, a strange breed who granted the inerrant accuracy of scripture but denied supernatural causation!

Stale apologetics? Skeptics are using many of the same arguments used by Celsus in the second century (see my article in the first 2001 issue of the Christian Research Journal), and Price appeals regularly (even in his late work, Deconstructing Jesus) to scholars whose bodies (and ideas) expired decades ago. And how does Price presume to speak for everyone but "died-in-the-wool fundamentalists and biblical inerrantists" regarding what arguments do or do not make sense? Is this not exceedingly presumptuous?

"And So What If Jesus Claimed Divinity?"

I think there is zero evidence that Jesus claimed to be divine, but suppose he did. It is simply false to say none of the others made such claims. We can produce a catalogue of Hindu, Sufi, and Hellenistic holy men who made such claims, not to mention Mizra Ali Muhammad (the Bab) and Hussein Ali (Baha'Ullah), founders of the Babi and the Baha'i Faiths respectively.

Now if we say that we can produce a "catalogue" of men who allegedly did make such claims, then it behooves us to name more than just two. However, as anyone as familiar as I am with the specific gentlemen named above knows - much of my family being adherents to that particular group - no claims to divinity of the type made by Jesus were made by either of those persons. They did, however, attempt to lower Jesus to their level.

Hindu holy men, of course, claim to be God by using a different concept of God that makes them, the rocks, the trees, even the cow manure a manifestation of God - aka pantheism. Since Price does not name any Sufis or Hellenists, I cannot investigate that particular claim. But Price does take the issue in this direction:

My guess is that your average apologist, thinking that it is some advantage to his case to attribute to Jesus unique claims, will want to quibble at this point, perhaps urging that al-Hallaj or Baha'Ullah was presupposing a rather different God-concept than Jesus would have. For, e.g., a Pantheist or a Monist to claim to be God; is not precisely the same thing as a monotheistic Jew claiming to be God. But this, too, is question-begging.

It's question-begging, is it? Comparative religions study would say otherwise. Let's see what it is that Price identifies as "question-begging" -

First, it is to assume that we know what God-concept Jesus held! The apologist implicitly supposes Jesus to have been an Athanasian before Athanasius. He must have held the same opinions on the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity that the apologist does! Fundamentalists, even fairly sophisticated ones, tend to have an anachronistic and essentialist view of the history of dogma that envisions no real evolution of theology. No, the eternal verities were once and for all delivered unto the saints, and so Jesus must have believed it, too. Again, this is the thinking of a party-line spin doctor.

Actually, Price himself begs the question by assuming up front that "the eternal verities" were not so delivered in some fashion - as the church would say, through the words of Jesus and the Apostles themselves. He misrepresents the so-called "fundamentalist" view, which willingly grants that there was an "evolution" in the understanding of theology - where we part ways is in the assertion that evolution created the theology, whereas Christians would say that our understanding "evolved" (or better, "grew") towards a goal that was already in place before we arrived.

There was also, in line with this, the fact of "progressive revelation": The New Covenant in the OT, and the Body of Christ in Paul are examples of truth revealed at specific points in time. Why Price chooses to portray even sophisticated apologists in this caricature escapes me.

At any rate, this commentary about "assumption" of what God-concept Jesus held is quite misguided. Even outside evidence recorded in the New Testament - which Price apparently does not accept as valid - in a Jewish milieu, it is fairly reasonable to assume, historically speaking, that Jesus held to a Jewish concept of God, even if we do not accept His divinity; and thus, anything acceptable within the Jewish socio-theological context is not unreasonable to have been seen as held by Jesus.

Price has obviously forgotten the general fuzziness in the OT relationship between YHWH and the Angel of YHWH, between YHWH and His Word, between YHWH and His "instantiations," and between YHWH and His Messiah. The concept of the deity of other agents in the OT was a tension in Jewry at the time of Jesus, so there is no reason for assuming some monolithic monotheism at the time, and the Trinitarian doctrine of Athanasius can easily be seen to be terminologically the same as the discussions of YHWH and the Name and Metatron in the Rabbinics (and of Wisdom in the pre-NT period; see Chapter 2 of my book The Mormon Defenders for further information).

It is not anachronistic at all; indeed, to assume a neatly specified view of the essence of God on the part of 1st century Jews -- that would preclude trinitarianism -- would be misguided.

It is simply ahistorical to assume that there is no continuity between pre-Christian Jewish thought and Christian Greek thought. As Bauckham (God Crucified) and Hurtado (One God, One Lord) have shown, we had a common core of folk in the NT who formed that bridge. Price has assumed a simplistic view of Jewish theology (without warrant, and against the obvious facts of theological diversity in the times of Jesus -- Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Christians, etc.) and a radical discontinuity between that thought and later Christian statements (without warrant, and against the obvious facts of consistent appeals to OT scripture in the Fathers).

Now of course, beyond all of that, we may speculate as some people do that Jesus travelled to India and became a pantheist (as in the Gospel of Thomas), or to Egypt and became a worshipper of Osiris, or to America and became an adherent of Quetzalcoatl. But there is absolutely no evidence to prove any of these assertions, and they run counter to every shred of available evidence that we do have.

Second, it does not occur to the apologist that if a man did think himself to be God on earth, it would no longer be so clear that he was in fact a monotheist! Jews and Muslims certainly do not deem incarnationism compatible with monotheism. Again, the apologist implicitly assumes a whole intricate conglomeration of theological constructions, in this case blithely equating trinitarianism with biblical monotheism, something that, while it might be true, is not obvious enough to be taken for granted at a controversial point.

First, we have here a false dichotomy: it is not "simple vs. intricate system" but "simple vs. complex" -- "complex" can be either intricate and detailed (later thought) or fuzzy/implicit/confused (pre-reflective thought, such as 1st century Jewish "pluri-unity" in God.

Second, Price begs the question again by implicitly assuming that the "theological constructions" did not find their sources legitimately.

For responses to Price's material on the Trinity, check here.

Price continues:

And so what if Jesus were the only religious founder to claim to be God? Would that make it true? Was Gautama necessarily the only man to have gained Buddhahood just because he alone said he was? A unique claim might be false. A claim often made might just as easily be true in one case and false in all others. Uniqueness just doesn't make any difference.

Not in and of itself, no. But it would make it a serious claim, which is McDowell's entire point if he is making any at all; and actually, it might constitute evidence. The implication of being a religious founder with a wide following would be that your claims were accepted by a very wide set of people: the more people, the more varied the different "evaluation" schema.

Since each person would bring their own set of "truth criteria" and ways of evaluating claims, a wide range of followers (as opposed to only a couple of scores of Texans or Peruvians, say) would imply that you passed muster in a much wider range of judgment tests. For a world religion, this would mean that your claims held up under the evaluation schemes across cultures, economic strata, educational strata, etc.- and IF your claims were especially outrageous - "I AM GOD" (!)-- as opposed to something less outrageous (e.g. I am a saint, a guru, a wise man, a prophet, etc.) then foundership of a world religion would actually mean more than foundership of a religion in which your claims were NOT SO outrageous (e.g., Buddha).

So, while Price argues (not entirely) correctly that uniqueness makes no difference, he does NOT thereby give us sufficient reason for ignoring Jesus' claims.


For material realted to Price's arguments about Jesus speaking with authority, see here.


A Look at Some "Contradictions"
Meldau infers from the fact that no statement on record features Jesus saying, Wait a minute, I'm afraid I misspoke there..., that Jesus' teaching was completely consistent. If it was self-contradictory, then his (supposedly) never correcting himself becomes more of an embarrassment than an endorsement. And the gospels do have Jesus contradicting himself on various points..

Let's look at these one at a time -- we've made these links for some:

Critical scholars, whom McDowell judges to be agents of Satan...

Agents of Satan? Where does McDowell say that?

...also assume that Jesus was a consistent thinker, but this causes them to try to sift the things Jesus actually may have said from the plainly contradictory sayings later attributed to him by various factions of the early church. Refusing to entertain this approach, McDowell and his colleagues leave us with a Jesus who may be quoted on either side of any debate, as the history of Christian theological disputation has shown again and again.

Or things they think the early church invented, or ways Jesus allegedly contradicted himself, based on a pre-conceived and flawed ideology of their own. But since Price's list of "contradictions" from Jesus turned out to be fairly weak, and he provides no specific examples of "theological disputations" (nor demonstrates, for that matter, that Jesus' words were being followed faithfully and honestly by each side in the alleged disputes) - for now at least, there is nothing that can be said. He is also begging the question here, assuming that the statements cannot be harmonized - which position would actually require him to treat and dispose of all suggested harmonizations.

The Trial on Trial

Jesus' trial is the next subject for examination. For our full research on this issue, please see our article. All we shall leave here is a few minor comments.

The supposed authority cited here is one "Judge Gaynor, the accomplished jurist of the New York bench" who rules that the real complaint against Jesus at his trial was blasphemy, his "making himself God." Why McDowell thinks a modern New York judge would necessarily have any expertise on the procedures of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin in the first century is beyond me. The level of argumentation here and throughout Evidence That Demands a Verdict is on the same level with that whereby Paul Galey "demands the verdict" that Mr. Kringle is really Santa Claus in the movie Miracle on 34th Street.

Holding a copy of ETDAV in front of me, I find nothing indicating that Gaynor has been granted the status of "Sanhedrin judicial expert" by McDowell. Gaynor is merely said to "take the ground" that blasphemy was the charge, based on what is written in the Gospels.

Of course Price would object to this also, but the point is that McDowell has in no way, shape or form made the sort of assertion about Gaynor that Price suggests.

Again, my point is that the facts are anything but clear, whereas they would have to be crystal clear to serve McDowell's purpose. You see, scholarly New Testament criticism can afford to live with uncertainties, unable to decide between possible theories. But apologetics demands a verdict. It is not scholarship at all, but propaganda. If you want a secular analogue to apologetics, don't look to the work of historians.

Well, considering that eternal life may be at issue here, I would say that a verdict on one or more of those "theories" one way or the other would be a pretty good idea. But I personally have no problem dealing with uncertainties. Indeed, I am fascinated by the innumerable and divergent opinions of critical scholars, many of whom refute and contradict each other unawares, but between them offer ideas that can be analyzed and synthesized to arrive at a conclusion. Uncertainty, if nothing else, leaves the gap open for whatever you personally might believe, and eliminates grounds for outright rejection of the inerrantist viewpoint.

But further than that, I cannot agree with Price's requirements at all. First, it is very clear what the situation is -- the situation around the trial was complex, confusing, irrational, and subverted. Clarity about confusion (i.e. the political vagaries and interactions surrounding Jesus, Priests, and Pilate) does not mean we are confused about a clear situation.

Second, "confusion" over a myriad of details in exegesis is par for the course, whether in exegesis, history, theology, whatever - "crystal clear" is not required at all; just "converging lines of evidence" would be adequate as a "historical detective." Price has placed an impossible standard on the world's back, as unrealistic as it is unwarranted.

Third, Price does not seem to be aware of the vast array and spectra of uncertainties that exist in apologetics -- even amateurs know (and admit) the different evidential weight accorded to, say, Tacitus and to Mara Bar Serapion. Price has again over-glossed and stereotyped apologists.

Apologetics builds on the work of historians, as well as literary studies, exegesis, logic, etc. - it is not supposed to be pure "history," and technically speaking, apologetics IS a secular thing anyway. It is simply defense of a position -- ANY position -- and it is used by Price in Beyond Born Again; it is used by ecological movements (and most would not consider their passionate arguments to be "propaganda"), and by impassioned secondary groups in our culture. This attempt at "guilt by disassociation" fails due to a strawman view of both apologetics and history (for much historiographical writing IS apologetic or semi-apologetic in nature).

"On John 10:30
Attention shifts now to a pair of verses in John's Gospel in which Jesus supposedly claims to be equal to God. One is John 10:33, where the enemies of Jesus say he is making himself God. The other is John 5:18, where they say he is making himself equal to God.We see here a good example of a universal tendency in fundamentalist apologetics to take at face value the opinions of the opponents of Jesus in the Gospel of John. I marvel that, of all the voices in the gospel, that of the stone-throwing haters of Jesus should be considered the most fundamental for understanding him! One might as well argue that Jesus was a glutton and an alcoholic (Matthew 11:19) and that he was in league with Beelzebul (Mark 3:22), was a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48), out of his mind (Mark 3:21), that he proposed offering himself as the main course at a feast for cannibals (John 6:52), that he thought he was physically older than Abraham (John 8:57), that he proposed to rebuild Herod's temple in three days (John 2:20), or that like Superman he had descended bodily from the sky (John 6:42), all examples of what the enemies of Jesus think of him or think he is claiming.

Looking beyond the excess, we see that all of these negative charges represent fundamental misunderstandings of Jesus' purpose and identity - and in the case of the verses from John, a denial of Jesus' identity as God incarnate, presumed to be false, and therefore a blasphemy. It is not the content of the accusations that we accept; it is the character of their response. We exegete their response and polemic, just as we would exegete the response of a Nicodemus or of a Peter.

It is not the simple fact that they understood Jesus to be claiming equality with God, it is how they got there, how Jesus responded, and so on until the end of the passage. It is the interaction as revealing the issues and controversies that we are interested in. (Again, if this were not a claim to divinity being made, and the writer of John had simply created this out of the whole cloth without fundamental basis, would not Jewish readers say, "Hey, Jesus isn't claiming to be God there!"?

And as for this being the "most fundamental" citation - actually, one of the main issues in Christ's self-understanding is how He meant His claims. The only real way to know how he used the words is to see (1) how He supported his claims (e.g. refs to OT passages, miracles); (2) how He USED these claims in arguments (i.e. 'because He is Lord of the Sabbath'); and (3) how those around Him understood those claims as native users of the language and theological "culture" (i.e. blessing Peter for his insights; authorizing the healed man to "believe" in Him in John 9.36ff).

We are not, therefore, dependent on any one leg of this tripod, but linguistic interaction (such as in John 10) can be very, very useful. Accordingly, this passage is not ever remotely the "most fundamental"--the best theological statement is that of Paul's in Philippians 2.

In every case, surely, the point of the gospel writers is that Jesus' opponents have woefully misunderstood and caricatured him. This is made clear in the case of the John 11 passage from the simply fact that Jesus issues a rejoinder to their accusation that he makes himself God. He does not say, You got that right, folks! Rather he shows how Psalm 82 does not hesitate to apply the very honorific gods to those who were merely readers of scripture, whereas he makes for himself a more modest claim, that, in that he is God's chosen envoy, he can be called God's son. Is not Jesus here presented as correcting the way his hostile hearers misunderstood his language about sonship? McDowell quotes another apologist as saying, Jesus did not try to convince the Jews that they had misunderstood him. But that seems to be precisely what John has him doing in John 10.

The "seems" is incorrect even in context. Regarding the claims that Price selected, first of all:

Finally, notice that in John 10:39, the would-be stoners don't accept the "explanation" as a backpedal, but as an affirmation - they try to seize Jesus again.

We should recall, in addition, that it was not only the opponents, but also His followers that misunderstood -- indeed, so much of Jesus' ministry was aimed at crafting a correct view of the Kingdom and King. But this argues against Price. If someone describes themselves as earlier being confused about Jesus, then there is an implicit assumption that they are now better-informed.

And on the other hand, the landscape is not quite that bleak -- we have notable confessions by normal folk--Nathaniel, John the Baptist, Peter, Mary, the Samaritan woman, various healed people and worshippers-that show that His claims were not THAT unintelligible.

Price then offers an exposition allegedly demonstrating a dramatically increasing tendency for Jesus to call God 'Father' as we move from earlier to later gospel source documents. He writes that In Mark we find but 3 instances, 4 in Q, 4 in the material peculiar to Luke. In the uniquely Matthean material we suddenly jump to 31, and John is practically off the scale at 100!

This analysis, however, rests on the dubious form-critical presumptions that Q existed as an actual document; that Mark was the first Gospel, and that John was written much later than the others. Moreover:

...The massive later use of this language makes the nature of it clear even in those strata of the gospel tradition where its presence is more modest: it is theological language about Jesus only subsequently placed in his own mouth. I ask any apologist to be honest with himself: wouldn't you really find this the most natural way to read the evidence if you weren't just trying to get out of a tight spot?

In a word: No. Form criticism, in its most radical incarnations, is dependent on special pleading and arbitrary criteria, and is, again, based on the presumed existence of documents like Q for which we have no direct evidence, and violates sensible rules of literature. This is not to say that it is ALL bad; nor is it meant to impugn those who use it with the best of motives, like Jeremias did. The various types of Biblical criticism offer us many useful insights, but all too often treat the Bible like an animal being subject to vivisection, allowing speculation and numbers of sources to grow to the point of unreasonableness as ever-newer and more radical theories are propounded, and treating books of the Bible in ways that no one would dare treat any other work of literature.

Higher incidences of specific word choices in allegedly "later" literature does not "make the nature of it clear" at all. It is much more natural to read the evidence (if we grant it) that its later popularity was due to its truthfulness, usefulness, or ability to explicate the mystery of Jesus better than "rival" terms -- present popularity does NOT imply anachronistic efforts by editors at all.

But in fact, the most "natural way to read the evidence" is as it stands in the Gospels. The "vivisection" of the virtually "seamless robe" of the gospel texts (increasingly authenticated as whole literary units by redaction and literary criticism nowadays) is as unnatural as you can get. Again, we have NO textual data to support division; we have no examples of Sayings-sources; we have NO evidence of early textual modifications; no original or later copies of Q to pass around the academic community. By the simple law of parsimony--what Price is trying to use here--the gospels should be taken as they occur first in the manuscript history: as the holistic literary products that they are.

...the fundamentalist Targum variously marketed as The Living Bible, The Way, Reach Out, The Book, etc., shows a number of instances where paraphraser Ken Taylor apparently thought Jesus was being a bit too coy about his own messianic claims. Taylor regularly substitutes for the Son of Man phrases like the Man from Heaven or the Messiah. He even makes Jesus say, I am the Messiah in John 4:26! By contrast, in the Greek text of the gospels, or even in a straight English translation like the New American Standard Bible, there is no such explicit self-identification.

Since many scholars, including some non-Christians (such as David Flusser), believe that "Son of Man" and "Messiah" are the same, and would merely be equivalent to "Man from Heaven," the LIV at that point is merely mirroring one branch of critical scholarship - a non-fundamentalist, non-Christian branch, we would add - as is its right and prerogative. As for John 4:26, I don't have the NASB handy, but it certainly seems explicit enough. True, as we indicate elsewhere, to have outright said, "I am the Christ/God/Messiah" would have been unacceptable within the socio-historical constraints of first-century Judaism, not to mention confusing; but a subtly explicit proclamation as in John 4 would certainly have held water, and also would have fit in nicely with the theological motif of God confirming others' witness to Him. Some have also pointed out that in Samaria, where expectations of the Messiah were not so politically-oriented and were more teacher-oriented, Jesus could afford to be a little less "coy" about His proclamations.

Apologists love to quote John 10:30 as a clear declaration by Jesus of his faith in Chalcedonian Christology: I and the Father are one.If Jesus (or, as I should think, the evangelist) so clearly and unambiguously, conveyed by these words the Christological orthodoxy of the fourth and fifth centuries, it is hard to explain why it took so many centuries of debate for the churches to settle these very issues!

Why? Because there were discussions of WHEN and HOW Jesus and the Father were one, and numerous (and inevitable) attempts to syncretize favorite, cherished, yet obviously incompatible views with the Christian belief system. This is simply another false dichotomy and stereotypical argument, as well as an oversimplification of the disputes and the reasons for them. Evangelicals know all about theological development in both Testaments; we do not have a problem with this. We use biblical theology to "unpack" a text, and we watch the developmental revelation and refinement in the biblical text--as we are given historical markers therein.

We do not have to postulate a history of "invisible" textual development; we have enough data from the text itself to date transitional and formative events/disclosures (e.g. the New Covenant in Jeremiah; the Forerunner in Malachi). Anyone who argues dogmatically that the substrate or elements of Chalcedonian theology cannot in any way be present in the words of Jesus is simply making an assertion without demonstrating its worth or warrant.

Besides, the classic (and perfectly "Jewish") argument by Jesus in Matt. 22:41 is a perfect example of an argument too clever for the later church to have invented(!), yet it survives as a perfectly indigenous Jewish theological problem in the OT.

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 disconneted Price is with modern scholarship, if he is still using Bultmann on this topic.

However, the hydra-head of heresy, thus momentarily raised up, sinks back into the abyss as soon as we read on, for John's Jesus, as if sensing the need to prevent apologist and Patripassian alike from going astray (not that it did any good in the long run!), immediately qualifies his statement (and thus renders it uselessly vague for Christology): Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words which I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me. Paul says the same sort of thing of every believer, and no one thinks it implies that all believers are incarnations of God.

Presumably Price means the "Christ-in-you, you-in-Christ" passages, but let's talk about Patripassianism for a moment. It is also called monarchianism, and Sabellianism. This heresy first appeared in 190 AD and was advocated by Theodore of Byzantium; it was later taken up in the 3rd century by Sabellius - hence the latter name. This heresy rejected the idea of the Trinity, and regarded Jesus as a mere man endowed with the Holy Spirit.

Patripassianism is actually rather easily countermanded. First, it is so late (190 AD) that it obviously cannot reflect the teaching of Jesus or the Apostles.

Second, it cites the verses cited above - John 14:10-11, by the way - as though they existed alone, and ignores John 10:30. And this is how heresies get their start: somebody emphasizes one part of the Bible and excludes another in order to get the desired, often predetermined result. By themselves, verses 14:10-11 could support either the Athanasian or the Sabellian creed. In the total context of John, indeed the whole of the Bible itself, the latter application is impossible.

Much is made both by apologists and by pious New Testament critics like Joachim Jeremias (whom, for his other opinions, despite his tender piety, McDowell would see as roasting in Gehenna)...

Indeed? Unless Price is able to produce a direct quote from McDowell, viz. "Joachiam Jeremias is roasting in Gehenna because of his opinions," along with a catalog of the opinions in question, then this commentary deserves no credence. As it is, having read the Jeremias book under discussion here [JJ.CMNT], and others, I see no reason to say one way or the other where Jeremias is presently spending eternity. If he believes what he taught in the books I have seen, then I expect I shall see him again as a brother in Christ. That he held to unjustifiable opinions re: form criticism and the like would be quite beside the point; he took extremists on both sides equally to task.

It must be added here, too, that Price does not accurately report Jeremias' information. (See this essay.) This is part of a continuing process where Price has shown a lack of in-depth knowledge of the apologetic position, of the exegetical options about the key texts, and about the changes in NT scholarship over the past 20 years. This lack of understanding of Jeremias in particular fits into a disturbing pattern of lack of attention to detail, or even an inability to understand the issues of the discussion.

See here for comments on the Garden of Gethsemane.

Virtually all the rest of McDowell's sixth chapter is taken up with defending what no one challenges: that various New Testament writers believed Jesus Christ was a heavenly being come to earth. That McDowell can for a moment imagine that such scripture prooftexting even begins to address the objections of nonbelievers shows once again that he really has no intention of engaging them. He is simply a cheer-leader for fundamentalism, preaching to the choir.

And that Price can dismiss so abruptly what remains in the sixth chapter of McDowell's is quite telling. The rest of the chapter includes the Son of Man title, and Jesus' presumption to forgive sins - elements of Jesus self-understanding, not expressions of beliefs by others.

-JPH

Sources

  1. INT.CMM - Carson, D.A., Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
  2. JGD.EJ - Dunn, James G. D. The Evidence for Jesus. Louisville: Westminster, 1985.
  3. RF.FNC - Fuller, Reginald. The Foundations of New Testament Christology. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1965.
  4. JH.MG - Hick, John, ed. The Myth of God Incarnate. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977.
  5. JJ.CMNT - Jeremias, Joachim. The Central Message of the New Testament. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1965.
  6. JJ.NTT - Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1971.
  7. LM.FBC - MacDonald, Lee M. The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995.
  8. JCO.WD - O'Neill, J. C. Who Did Jesus Think He Was? London: E. J. Brill, 1995.
  9. HS.PP - Schonfield, Hugh. The Passover Plot. Shaftesbury: Element, 1965.
  10. BW.JQ - Witherington, Ben. The Jesus Quest. Downers Grove: IVP, 1995.
  11. NT.WWJ - Wright, N. T. Who Was Jesus? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.

Special thanks go out to Glenn Miller for his extensive contributions to this essay, including large sections of comments which I have incorporated without significant alteration.

Appendix: Literary License

In his chapter on the Resurrection, Price appeals thusly, attempting to show that the gospels are legendary in character:

Stories of the physical reappearance of Jesus to comfort or command his followers would also fit into this pattern. Ovid records this appearance of Romulus, after he had ascended from the battlefield.
Proculus Julius was coming from the Alba Longa; the moon was shining, he was not using a torch. Suddenly the hedges on the left shook and moved. He shrank back and his hair stood on end. Beautiful and more than human and clothed in a sacred robe, Romulus was seen, standing in the middle of the road. He said, "Stop the (Romans) from their mourning; do not let them violate my divinity with their tears; order the pious crowd to bring incense and worship the new [god] Quirinus."... He gave the oder and he vanished into the upper world from before Julius' eyes."

There would be many problems with comparing this to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus: Single vs. many appearances; extremely short vs. extended duration; number of people appeared to; the lack of tactile contact (i.e., Jesus encouraging the disciples to touch His hands and side, etc.). But let us turn to the matter of purely literary comparison.

It is only by literary misapprehension that Price can assert that this text is "strikingly reminiscent of the gospel accounts." This account is filled with over-descriptions that drop hints that the author is not recounting an eyewitness event: The bits about the hair standing on end, the superlative description of Romulus. These are not the characteristics of "straight reporting," and are the sort of thing that is quite lacking in the Gospels.

Here is another attempt by Price, using material concerning Apollonius:

This young boy would never agree to the immortality of the soul. "I, my friends, am completing the tenth month of praying to Apollonius to reveal to me the nature of the soul. But he is completely dead so as never to respond to my begging, nor will I believe he is not dead." Such were the things he said then, but on the fifth day after that they were busy with these things and he suddenly fell into a deep sleep right where he had been talking.... he, as if insane, suddenly leaped to his feet... and cried out, "I believe you!" When those present asked him what was wrong, he said "Do you not see Apollonius the sage, how he stands here among us, listening to the argument and singing wonderful verses concerning the soul?... He came to discuss with me alone concerning the things which I would not believe."

There are many problems with the comparison, too, not the least of which are the sort we have mentioned in the linked essay. But on a strictly literary basis, we again see over-description: The intense emphasis on the boy's actions ("as if insane"); the boy's enthusiasm. This, again, is the character of fiction.

Price's next attempt is a little more detailed. He writes:

Montgomery, Stott, Lewis, and others point to the "vivd detail" in the narratives as proof of eyewitness authorship. A favorite text adduced in this regard is John 20:3-8, "[an] eyewitness account in a vivid, yet restrained, passage [which]... records the visit of Peter and John to the tomb"(Anderson). "The account [John] gives of this incident... bears unmistakable marks of first-hand experience."

To help out here, let's look at the passage (NIV):

John 20:3-8 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

Price then says, "I invite the reader to open his New Testament to this text and compare it to a passage from Chariton's Chaireas and Kalliroe, a fiction novel written probably in the first century B. C. It concerns a girl, mistakenly entombed alive, who has been removed by grave robbers."

A note of correction: Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God [69] notes that this is an "earliest" date; some date this work to the second century, and "the majority reckon that it belongs to the middle or the second half of the first century." But to take up Price's invitation:

Chaireas was guarding and toward dawn he approached the tomb.... When he came close, however, he found the stones moved away and the entrance open. He looked in and was shocked, seized by a great perplexity at what had happened. Rumor made an immediate report to the Syracusans about the miracles. All then ran to the tomb; no one dared to enter until Hermocrates ordered it. One was sent in and he reported everything accurately. It seemed incredible-- the dead girl was not there.... [When Chaireas] searched the tomb he was able to find nothing. Many came in after him, disbelieving. Amazement seized everyone, and some said as they stood there: "The shroud has been stripped off, this is the work of grave robbers; but where is the body?"

From this, Price concludes:

I am not suggesting that John or the other evangelists used this novel as a source. I mean only to show that vivid descriptions of empty tombs and abandoned graveclothes prove nothing about "eyewitness authorship" since we find them also in an admitted work of fiction.

Once again, however, Price's inexperience in literary matters is apparent. Vivid descriptions are one thing, and by themselves are indeed evidence of eyewitness testimony; but when paired with certain literary devices - which, again, are absent in the Gospels - they tell us something quite different. The over-emphasis on Chaireas' mood (not just "shocked," but also "seized by a great perplexity") is a literary device designed to build up suspense in the reader; so is the inserted phrase, "It seemed incredible," supplemented by the emphasis that nothing was found.

In contrast, John offers no such words. If John had been reporting a fiction, here is what we would expect the passage to look like:

Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, running as the wind would blow; but the other disciple's exuberance was the greater, so he outran Peter, and it was he who reached the tomb first. He bent over, his heart pounding in his breast - what had happened? He looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but fear overtook him, and he did not go in. Finally Simon Peter, who had been behind him all this time, arrived and went into the tomb, pushing his bedeviled counterpart to the side. He, too, saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. "There is no body here!" Peter cried aloud; "What have they done? Or could this be that which our Master foretold, that He has been raised again on the third day?" At first his companion could not believe; but finally, he also went inside, and saw what Peter did. His eyes started from his head; and he found himself unable to deny it: "Yes, Peter, it has happened, just as the Teacher said. He has been raised from the dead!"
Sometimes a biblical story may simply read like a legend. We feel we are no longer on terra firma. Of course this is subjective, but not completely so. In fact those who defend the complete historical veracity of the gospels often appeal to just such a subjective judgment by C. S. Lewis who "pulled rank" as a literary critic.

Price then quotes Lewis:

If he [the biblical critic] tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour... I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, myths, all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this [i.e., like John 7:53-8:11].

This, I believe, is the "ludicrous dictum" that Price refers to earlier in this chapter - and while he may regard Lewis' judgment as "subjective," he does so as one who is himself not credentialied in a literary field.

But how about the gospel tale of the coin in the fish's mouth (Matthew 17:24-27)? Not only may it strike the palate as decidedly legendary in flavor, but one may even compare it to another of the same vintage...
Matthew 17:24-7 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

This strikes Price's palate as "legendary in flavor"? A legend would have something like Peter or Jesus striking the tax collectors blind (cf. - the infancy gospels), or the fish spitting the coin at Peter. As it is, we aren't even given the punch line of Peter catching the fish. Aside from the providential miracle, there is nothing extraordinary or fictional here - either factually or in a literary view -- tThere are even types of fish that will swallow bright objects like coins.

On the other hand, let's look at this story, which Price regards as being of the same "vintage":

Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath had in his vicinity a certain Gentile who owned much property. Soothsayers told him, "Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath will consume all your property." So he went, sold all his property, and bought a precious stone with the proceeds, which he set in his turban. As he was crossing a bridge the wind blew it off and cast it into the water, and a fish swallowed it. [Subsequently] it [the fish] was hauled up and brought [to market] on the Sabbath eve towards sunset. "Who will buy now?" cried they. "Go and take them to Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath," they were told, "as he is accustomed to buy." So they took it to him. He bought it, opened it, found the jewel therein, and sold it for thirteen roomfuls of gold denarii. A certain old man met him and said, "He who lends to the Sabbath, the Sabbath repays him." (B. Shabbath, 119a)

More than any other passage used by Price so far, this one is loaded with clues that say, "fiction": A character named "Joseph-who-honors-the-Sabbath;" an unnamed yet wealthy Gentile antagonist who is for no obvious reason afraid of Joseph Sabbath, and gets what he deserves (he is archetypal); a jewel worth 13 roomfuls of gold; an unnamed old man who just happens to come in out of nowhere and say the right thing at the right time...this is the stuff of legends.

But now let us look in the other direction - at Bible accounts that Price suggests have legendary elements, and why he suggests that they do. Again, from his book:

If when we compare two versions of a story, the second known to be a retelling of the first, and find that the second has more of a miraculous element, we may reasonably conclude we have legendary (or midrashic or whatever) embellishment. The tale has grown in the telling. This sort of comparison is common in extrabiblical research and no one holds that it cannot properly indicate legend formation there. [35]

Let me state, first of all, that the sources cited by Price in his footnote are NOT by literary scholars, and so are no more qualified to make such judgments than Price is. The judgment in question involves a host of assumptions: Which of the two stories is indeed later; the genre of the stories; internal clues (tone, style, etc.) - in short, it is rather more complicated than Price and his sources imagine. But now to the specific example used by Price:

...let us suppose that Mark's account of Jesus walking on the sea (Mark 6:45-51) is an accurate account of a real event. When we read Matthew's retelling of the incident (Matthew 14:22-23) suddenly it seems that Peter, too, walked on the waves. It is hard to imagine that if this really happened Mark could possibly have omitted it. On the other hand, Matthew's motivation for expanding the story is not far to seek: Peter functions as the prototype of all disciples. When he takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to sink. Even so, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

This grants Matthew a degree of literary sophistication that borders on the conspiratorial. And this is another matter: Skeptics must ascribe a level of literary, artistic, and theological genius to the evangelists that is incredible - they were not eyewitnesses, but were clever enough to design their accounts as though they were; they created theological motifs that were astounding to the most subtle degree.

But to the specific: What of Price's claim that, "It is hard to imagine that if this really happened Mark could possibly have omitted it"? This is false, as may be shown from the social context of the ancient world. If Peter was the mind behind Mark, then it is quite understandable why this story was omitted: Within the honor-shame and limited-good society of the NT world, to make such noteworthy claims of one's self would have been deemed offensive. "Humility" of this sort was the order of the day for the people of the NT world and we should not be surprised at all if Peter left out his own miraculous performance and chose not to highlight places where he did things that the other disciples did not do.

Price also applies this analysis elsewhere:

...though we believe miracles can and do happen, we might find certain conceptual or chronological problems in a particular story that would lead us to classify It as a legend. One example might be the feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves (Mark 8:1-9). Let us assume that the previously told miraculous feeding of the five thousand with five loaves (Mark 6:35-44)actually occurred. This makes it not less difficult but more to believe that it happened again as recorded in chapter 8, because each time the disciples are said to be equally astonished when Jesus announces his intention to feed the vast crowd. One can understand the disciples astonishment the first time, but the second? How dense can they have been? The suggestion is attractive that one of these stories is simply a second version of the other, with a few details and numbers altered.

One wonders why, if Price thinks that Mark was senseless enough to do something like THIS, why he can not think that the disciples would have been too senseless too realize immediately that Jesus could pull off the same sort of miracle twice.

But there is no need to even go that far. The disciples' astonishment is indeed apparent in the first story, where they are said to remark (collectively) on the prohibitive cost of feeding the crowd (6:37). But there is little sense of astonishment in the second story, where they only remark (again, collectively) on the remoteness of the location (8:4) - an understandable initial reaction, even if you have seen it done before.

But truly, there is much more happening here. In both cases, we have an intentional literary device designed to let Jesus move the story. The disciples are not individuals, but a collective, a block that plays straight man to Jesus. Their replies are not to be taken as ipsissima verba, nor even necessarily as vox.

An Old Testament example of a miracle story whose conceptual difficulties imply its legendary character is that of Samson's killing of the thousand Philistine soldiers with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:14-17). Are we to imagine the thousand Philistines lining up to be killed one by one? No one, no matter how supernaturally strong, could resist and overcome the simultaneous onslaught of a thousand men. The same difficulty occurs in the case of the seventy men of Bethshemesh who dared peer inside the Ark of the Covenant and died (1 Samuel 6:19-21): how many could have looked inside at once? Did the rest clear away their fellows corpses and then take their turn to look, knowing the same fate must await them? In the case of the Samson story, there is even more reason to believe we have a legend. It concludes with the note "and that place was called Ramath-lehi," that is "the Hill of the Jawbone," a name easily understood as originally deriving from the topography of the place, but here reinterpreted with the aid of an exciting etymological legend. No one is saying that God could not miraculously endow someone with superhuman power (or that he could not miraculously destroy those who look at forbidden things) but the difficulties of the stories as stories properly lead us to doubt that God did these things as reported in Judges and II Samuel.

In a few words: No, they do not. Price is not doing justice to the dimensionality of the stories being told. Where are we told that "the thousand Philistines lined up to be killed one by one" or that Samson "overcame the simultaneous onslaught of a thousand men"? This is not what we are told happened in either case. We are told that a thousand men were killed - period.

Now aside from the possibility that there is a scribal error of the sort we often find in the OT where numbers are concerned that increased the number form 100 to 1000 (some manuscripts say that 50,070 were killed in the Ark incident), how does Price know that no amount of strength would suffice? Has he been through something like this before?

Who says that the Philistines attacked all at once? How could they? No more than 5 or 6 could get hits in at a time, for you can only fit so many people in so much space.

Where does it even say that all 1,000 were there at the first instant? Where does it say that they were soldiers? There is simply not enough data to dismiss this story out of hand.

As for the second: No one thinks that all 70 men looked inside at the same time, or that they lined up to accept their deaths. No, the 70 were more likely to have been a like-minded group of people who decided to get together and look inside the ark in turn, once it was opened - and so they gathered around like any curious crowd, maybe drawing lots to see who would go first, while the ringleaders opened the Ark.

The net of this is:

  • The Bible accounts we have examined do NOT have the literary characteristics of legends. The Skeptic will have to insist that some sort of "literary conspiracy" was at work to make these accounts LOOK LIKE they are genuine - and that involves an entirely different set of problems.
  • If Price wishes to usurp the place of Lewis and other literary critics, then he needs to show a far greater degree of sensitivity for the techniques involved in literary criticism.

    -JPH