Monday, July 02, 2012
Discussions on The Christian Delusion: 13, Overview of Section 4 and Chapter 10
Previous members of this series are here: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12
Overview of Section 4, Why Jesus is not the Risen Son of God
The three essays in this section are the least scholarly and the most vitriolic I had encountered in the book to that point. Dr. Price writes essentially pure invective, and summarizes with a statement that is either patently untrue, or else almost tautological. Dr. Carrier, who we shall meet again later, is a historian of the first century who appears to have little or no knowledge of the history of first century Palestine or of the historical scholarship concerning it. As a substitute for any rational discussion he provides assertions and rhetoric. Dr. Loftus continues his efforts with a focus on Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. In this matter he, I, and many other scholars agree. It is on the apparent failure of Jesus’ predictions to come true that we diverge. Dr. Loftus wants to hinge all of Christianity on the success or failure of Jesus’ prophesies. Interestingly enough, there is a section in the essay that is really quite good, providing an overview of the history of Christian apocalypticism.
Jesus: Myth and Method by Robert M. Price, PhD[i]
From the outset, I will state that I am not a believer in the divinity of Jesus. However, I have put considerable time into the study of the historical Jesus, and unlike many evangelical atheists, I do believe he was a historical person, who did indeed preach in first century Palestine, and was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish establishment. I would go so far as to state that Jesus was a son of God in the same sense that we are all children of God. If one accepts the ideas in a very large body of anecdotal evidence[ii], it is possible that Jesus was present at times among his followers in an immaterial form after his crucifixion.
Dr. Price begins by defining Christian apologetics in a very restrictive and untrue manner. He considers the task of Christian apologetics to be “one of retrenchment. It wants to turn the clock back on [biblical and textual] criticism and in effect to learn less [italics in original] about the Bible, to undo all that critics consider progress.”[iii] This may be his perception of apologetics, but I strongly disagree. Apologetics has the defense of Christianity as its purpose, but that does not mean undoing progress but rather carefully examining progress for validity and then showing how Christianity does indeed fit with the new information. Its primary purpose is revalidating Christianity not devalidating the attacks on it, though that may sometimes be a legitimate activity. Dr. Price also states that he is focusing on evangelical [or fundamentatlist] apologists, not all apologists, yet wants what he says to apply across all apologetics.[iv]
Apparently this essay is meant to be a counter to the apologetic book by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Greg Boyd.[v] As such I found the first five pages to be an almost incoherent screed arguing against miracles as a proof of divinity. Or rather that is what I think Dr. Price is doing. Dr. Price claims that Eddy and Boyd are arguing that they can believe a miracle story that has no naturalistic explanation because it is written in the Bible.[vi] If this is a true representation of Eddy and Boyd, then it is circular on the face of it, with the Bible inerrancy being presupposed before anything is discussed, thus Jesus divinity is also presupposed. This removes any pretensions of historical debate, and substitutes simply, “I believe.”
The invective in this essay is so strong, and personal (as much so as any I have ever seen in a supposedly scholarly work), that I question whether Dr. Price has read Eddy and Boyd correctly in some instances. This writing is reminiscent of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens at their worst, substituting his interpretation of the authors he is attacking and using rhetoric not logic to make his points. He even accuses them of false motives with phrases such as “pull another fast one.”[vii] Dr. Price might be more readily understood and his arguments more telling were he to quit using rhetoric as a substitution for logic and debate. His constant sneers, insults, and sarcasm get in the road of actually understanding what he is trying to say. This goes so far as to give the impression at one point that Dr. Price is all but accepting the Gospels as being written concurrently with the life of Jesus, which as a historian he cannot believe.
Dr. Price’s final paragraph implies something that is not particularly true:
“One may render the following verdict on the case the authors have made on rehabilitating the historical reliability of the Synoptic Gospels: Nice try, but no good.”
The question is, does Dr. Price consider there to be no historical material in the Synoptic Gospels, which flies in the face of the last two centuries of historical work to find what is and is not historically reliable, or is he simply trying to say that the Synoptic Gospels cannot be taken at face value, which any decent scholar will acknowledge?
[i]Price, Robert M., “Jesus: Myth and Method” in Loftus, John W, ed., The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, Prometheus Books, New York (2010) p. 273
[ii] Guggenheim, Bill and Judy, Hello from Heaven,Random House, New York, 1997
[iii] Price, Op. Cit. p. 273
[iv] Ibid, p. 273
[v] Eddy, Paul Rhodes, and Boyd, Greg, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Baker Academic, 2007
[vi] Price, Op. Cit. p. 278
[vii] Ibid, p. 279
Labels: The Christian Delusion