[Editor’s Note:    I recently answered a question about R. G. Price but, not knowing his middle name, thought the question was about a different critic of Christianity named Robert Price.  Interestingly, the positions of the Robert Price and of R. G. Price are actually fairly similar.  Nevertheless, I am a bit embarrassed and apologize to this gentleman that I made such a silly error.  Here is my answer to his question.]


Excuse me, I was not talking about Robert M Price, I was talking about R.G. PRICE!  Your recent article about Robert Price is a straw man response to my request for you to respond to an article from rationalrevolution.net. please look at the article!


Again, sorry for the first answer.  It was not completely orthogonal to your question, as the debate over the historical reality of Jesus is questioned by both Prices, but let me respond to the rationalrevolution.net article.  I did, by the way, look at the article the first time, just so you know.

I believe that the evidence that Jesus was a real person is overwhelming.  The nine non-Christian authors who refer to him from the first 150 years AD are sufficient, on their own, to support this.  Tacitus did not make up Jesus, and neither did Josephus or Suetonius or Pliny the Younger or the writers of the Babylonian Talmud.  They had no interest in creating or supporting a myth of a person who was to eventually overturn both the empire and Judaism’s place as the dominant monotheistic religion in the empire.   Besides, although we can legitimately debate whether all the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus by the New Testament authors are indeed actual factual deeds done by and actual statements said by Jesus, to dispute that an actual person existed behind the movement known as The Way or the people known as the Nazarenes is downright irresponsible.  There is a reason the movement was known as the Nazarenes—it is because an actual person was born in that actual town of Nazareth who was the leader of this group. To think differently requires strange thinking in my opinion.   Let us add to this the fact three of the four gospels were written by the 60s AD.  This was less than forty years after Jesus died.   Perhaps as many as half those who had ever heard Jesus speak (or not speak if this was all a fantasy of a bunch of men desperate to create this false religion) would still have been alive.  This includes those who heard this man and did not agree that he was the Messiah.  The idea that no one would have stepped up and informed the disciples of Jesus that he did not exist is hard to support, to say the least.  We have Papias and Polycarp, both of whom knew people who knew the apostles.  Polycarp knew John himself (unless he is lying, in which case we need a reason that he would lie about this).  The idea that Polycarp, who died for his belief, would have been duped into believing in a person who literally did not even exist defies reason.   We can debate whether Jesus did in fact raise from the dead, but what cannot reasonably be debated is that the very early church did in fact believe he raised from the dead, which means that they believed he lived, obviously.   If this “myth” were to be created 200 years or perhaps even 150 years after the time when he was supposed to have lived, that people could be duped into believing an a non-real person might just possibly be believable, but to propose that people whose writings we have (such as Paul, whom all accept to have written Romans and 1 Corinthians, or Polycarp or the writer of the Didache or the Letter of Clement of Rome, both of whom wrote about AD 100) are from people who were duped into believing in a person who literally never even lived is not only unreasonable, but it defies reason to a very great extent—so much so that it borders on deliberate deceitfulness.

Now, I cannot respond to all the things stated in this article, as I only have a few minutes here, but let me hit on just a few.  I will copy and paste the questionable claims and give a response to the claims one at a time.

Someone called James was likely the leader of this movement. This was a small explicitly Jewish cult that had little significance and was not widely known.

This is not a reasonable statement because Paul, who even the skeptics admit wrote Romans and 1 Corinthians and Galatians, said that Peter was the head of this group.  James became the leader of the church in Rome by the 70s, as Josephus himself reports, as he describes the nature of his death, but in the 40s and 50s, no reasonable scholar that I know of doubts that Peter was the dominant leader of the church.   What is the evidence that Price has to oppose the evidence of Galatians 1:18 that Peter was the head of the church?  Price provides literally no evidence to support his speculation.  And by the way, this letter by Paul, which even the skeptics agree was written by the actual person Paul, tells us that the James Price refers to is in fact “the Lord’s brother.”   It is this same “Lord’s” brother who Josephus reports being martyred in Jerusalem in AD 62. (Josephus, Antiquities 20.9)   Here is the quote from Josephus which, as far as I know, no serious scholar questions to be legitimate:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

Josephus the historian, living at the time of these events, but certainly not a Christian, says that Jesus was a real person and that his real brother was killed by the real high priest Annas.   Yet R.G. Price says that Jesus is not a real person “beyond a reasonable doubt.”   This statement by Price is downright irresponsible!

Jesus was not an actual human being.

Again, this claim is not supported by Price by a single actual statement of anyone from the first century, whereas we have Josephus who lived in Palestine in the 30s-70s AD who thinks quite differently.  A non-actual human being does not have a brother named James.  Josephus would know as he lived in Israel when the murder happened.

 Belief in a “real life Jesus” arose solely from the Gospel stories themselves. 

This statement is not only not true, it is strongly counter-factual.  I keep mentioning Josephus, but his is not the only example.   Paul was a very smart man, a Pharisee and a disciple of Gamaliel who was converted to the Way somewhere around AD 40, as is common knowledge to scholars.  Is Price going to propose that Paul was duped into giving his entire life over to a person who had supposedly died only ten years before, when he was able to meet hundreds of people who swore to his face that they had met him.  Were they all lying?  Paul said (in a book even the harshest critics agree was written by him around AD 55) that there were more than 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection (never mind the tens of thousands of eye-witnesses to his ministry) in 1 Cor 15:6.  Paul tells his readers that they should ask one of these 500 for themselves.   Is he counting on all of them keeping up this massive conspiracy to pretend that this person lived when most of them knew that it all was a total lie?  Can we believe this in face of the fact that all faced imprisonment and death for this belief?   Really????   Remember that Paul wrote these words about the hundreds of eye-witnesses to the resurrection before this supposed “myth” Mark was even written.  Price’s claim that Mark was the first to propose Jesus was a real person defies the evidence and it defies common sense.

the so-called twelve disciples. These stories were themselves a mix of concocted fiction, mythology, and urban legends. Indeed many of these later stories, written by former pagans, incorporated elements of local pagan mythology.

Forgive me, but it is really hard to listen to this kind of statement.  What is his evidence?  What “urban legends”?  Was there even such a thing as an “urban legend” in the first century?   What are his examples of “local pagan mythology” being incorporated into the book of Matthew or Luke?  Does he have any examples, or is he simply flinging mud around?   Is he going to propose that Peter and John never lived?  Was Paul simply making up these people when he wrote about them? Why would he do this?  What reason would he have to invent the existence of Peter when his readers would immediately know that he was making up stories?  Besides, we know the names and we have the writings of people such as Papias and Clement of Rome and Polycarp who tell us that they knew people who knew Peter and John and other apostles.  Are these people simply lying?  Sorry, but I need a reason for them to lie.   This claim is utter nonsense.  Worse, it is devoid of evidence and he literally does not even give a single example to support this contention that the book of John, for example has incorporated pagan mythology.  What chapter and verse does he have in mind here?

For example I would say that we actually know nothing more about Peter, a key figure in early Church “history”, than what was recorded in the letters of Paul, and it’s highly doubtful that “Peter” had anything to do with the founding of the Church in Rome or that he even lived beyond the early 1st century. Peter was, most likely, simply a follower of James, whom Paul had associated with in Jerusalem in the early 1st century and really played no role whatsoever in the development of the religion beyond whatever role he played in the small Jewish cult’s activities in Jerusalem. The “Peter” of importance to “Christian history” is just a fabrication based on the Gospel narratives.

OK.  Now one might hope that Price would have some evidence to support this contention. Does he?  No he does not.   He is simply stating opinion and literally not backing up this opinion with a single fact.   How can we take this seriously?

The idea, however, that Christians were heavily persecuted during the first few centuries of the religion’s history is highly dubious. The reality is that if Christians were in fact heavily persecuted the religion would likely never have gained prominence. The stories of widespread Christian persecution during the first through third centuries are later fabrications that were concocted largely after the religion had actually gained dominance.

Is he kidding?   So we are to ignore the decrees of Decius in 249 to destroy the churches and arrest the bishops of the churches in every city?  The Novatian sect of Christianity formed as an aftermath of this massive persecution.   And what about Pliny who asked what to do with the Christians who were arrested (in his letter of 112 AD to Trajan).  There is a mountain of evidence for persecutions under Severus, Commodus and many others.   Have some Christian writers at times exaggerated the evidence for persecution during certain times?  I suppose so, but this statement by Price is an outright falsehood.   I could give many many more references to pagans who mentioned the persecutions of the Christians.   Is Price proposing that the martyrdom of Polycarp is a fabrication?  “The reality” is that the Church grew in spite of much persecution.

I still have not gotten into the body of arguments that Price uses.  I have  only, so far, critiqued the unsubstantiated statements he uses by way of introduction.

The author of the story called the Gospel of Mark was a follower of a Pauline ministry (whether he had any real direct knowledge of Paul is impossible to say), who likely became disillusioned with the cult after the First Jewish-Roman War of 66 – 73 CE and the sacking of Jerusalem. 

Price is claiming that Mark probably had no direct information about Paul.  This is an amazing proposition, given that Paul took this same Mark on his first missionary journey around AD 45.   A recent find of a funerary mask from Egypt shows that the Gospel of Mark was already in general circulation in the 80s AD and that there was at least one copy which was used to the point of being recycled in paper mache to make the mask in the 80’s. This implies that Mark was written, let us be very conservative here, at least by AD 70, which would give it sufficient time to reach general circulation in the 80s and to find a used-up manuscript in a funerary mask.   The idea that Mark was written by someone who was disillusioned by an event which probably happened after he wrote is a dubious proposition.   We know from a consensus of scholars that Paul was either the most influential person in the churches by AD 60 or at the very least one of the most influential, yet Price is prepared to speculate that Mark may have had no real knowledge of him.  Where is the evidence that Mark was a disillusioned Jew after the sacking of Jerusalem, when Mark has Jesus predicting this fall in prophecy (Mark 13:9-23), providing a Christian explanation of this fall?

Much of the story called the Gospel of Mark follows the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and 2 Kings. In fact I would call the story of Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings the primary template for the Gospel called Mark. The story of Elijah and Elisha was popular and would have been well known to a Jewish audience. The borrowing from this story was intentionally quite overt.

By the way, I agree with Price that Mark uses Elijah to a significant extent.   It is because the actual person Jesus and also John the Baptist fulfilled much of the messianic expectation which was attached to Elijah.   However, given that the crucifixion of Jesus is a historical fact (Babylonian Talmud, Tacitus, Paul, and many others), in what sense was the crucifixion, obviously the most important event in Mark, “borrowed” from Elijah?    How is the story of the twelve apostles borrowed from Elijah or Elisha?   Does this author believe that Paul reported the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus before AD 60 (as all scholars I know of agree) because of literary illustration in Mark which were written at least twenty years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (according to Price)?  This thesis literally makes no sense at all.  It would not stand up for an instant in front of true scholars, even if those scholars were skeptics of the miraculous.

Then Price goes into his thesis, which is that, for example, everything told about John the Baptist is a creation of pure fancy—a total lie and fabrication—created as a fiction so that the readers will recognize Elijah in John the Baptist.   There are two possible interpretations of the data.  Either 1. This is merely an allusion or 2. John the Baptist actually wore such clothes.   I will agree that both are possible, but Price acts as is this is proved by his “data”, but the only data is the similarity.   I think a more reasonable interpretation of the data is that John was aware of his relationship to Elijah and chose to dress like him.  Either that or possibly God, as a sovereign over this universe, caused both to behave in a similar way.   Price requires that Mark be a liar and a member of a huge conspiracy to foist this lie on the growing Christian community.  My explanation requires simply that Mark is reporting what he either saw himself or heard that someone else saw.  Price might be right, I suppose, but it certainly does not mount to the level of proof of his thesis, especially given the comments I made above.  Let me say this.  Unlike the examples above in which Price is just plain wrong, in the particular case of the data about John, I will grant that Price’s proposal is not unreasonable.  It does at least make some sense, and I want to acknowledge this.

As we continue through the article (which I will not do at this point, as I have already spent much time on this), Price continues to make charge after charge of literary allusion.   My general response is going to be that, if we do not make the mistake of presupposing that prophecy cannot be real, then in general, a better approach is to call these things in the Old Testament prophecies, prefigures or foreshadows of the actual events.   I suppose Micah 5:2 could be an allusion to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but it is more likely that Luke is not lying and that  he did his homework, as he claims to have done, and that Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem.  If so, so much for the literary allusion.   Is Zechariah 11 an allusion or was Jesus actually betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver.  Given that some of those present in the room when this event happened were still alive when Mark wrote his gospel, I believe it is no mere allusion.  The gospel writers would have been foolish to report factual claims which were lies when the eye witnesses to these events were still alive.  Is the reference to crucifixion in Psalms 22 an allusion or is it a prophecy?   I believe it is a prophecy, not an allusion because I know from more than one source, including Jewish, Roman and Christian that he was crucified.   The premise of this article is that these are all allusions, but in many cases the evidence moves in a very different direction.

Let me do this.  Can you find two or three specific claims in the article by Price you want me to respond to?   I have given a fairly detailed response to perhaps 10% of the article, but to respond to the whole thing is too much to ask me.  So, I will put the onus for continuing the discussion back on you.  Here is my specific request.  Please choose two or three very specific examples from this rather long paper that you feel particularly deserve response from me and I will happily do that for you.

I hope this helps.

John Oakes


Comments are closed.