For your information, I know Robert Price personally. We sponsored a debate with him several years ago in which he took the position that Jesus was not even an actual person, or if he was, virtually nothing said about him in the gospels is true. We treated him with respect and courtesy. Unfortunately, a few months later he treated me with disrespect when a student decided to publicly malign what I had taught at Harvard University. Price’s position here is a fringe position. It is not taken seriously in the academic mainstream–even by other atheists and non-believers.
Two things: First of all, he is just plain wrong in his claim that there is no non-Christian reference to Jesus in the mid-first century. There is a gentleman named Thallus. We know of Thallus from a third century Christian historian named Julius Africanus. Thallus wrote a three-volume treatise of world history in the 50s AD. In discussing the darkness at the time of the resurrection of Jesus, Julius Africanus mentions that in the 3rd book of Thallus’ history, he mentions the darkness and calls it an eclipse of the sun. Africanus believes that Thallus is wrong—that there was no eclipse at that time. Whether or not this source proves the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion is debatable, but it does support the idea that even non-Christians were aware of the resurrection as early as the 50s AD—at about the time the first book of the NT was written. It also supports the claim, not necessarily of the darkness having occurred, but of the darkness having been claimed and believed by the Christians.
So, Price is just plain wrong in his claim. But let me make point number two.
Even if Price were right, which he is not, his point would be an extremely weak one. We know almost nothing of events in the Roman world from the first and second centuries. Actually, we know even less of the Romans world in the third through fifth centuries! If you want to find out what was going on in the Roman province of Africa or of Cilicia at this time, you will find almost no information. You might be able to find out who was the procunsul over the area, but would learn virtually nothing about what the common people were doing or the lives they lived. Judea was literally at the farthest end of the Roman empire. It is entirely possible that the Roman authorities heard nothing of Jesus, or very little about him until the Christian church started to grow in Rome and throughout the empire. What were the people in the province of Brittania doing in the first century? What were the names of the local leaders? We simply do not know. Jesus was a major figure in Judea in the late 20s AD, but it is not at all clear why Roman writers would mention Judea. Even if they did, we have almost none of what was written in ancient times. It is hard to exaggerate how little we know from this time. The gospels are an exception to the rule in that they record in considerable detail the lives of ordinary people on the fringes of the Roman empire in the 20s AD.
Also, Price is very wrong in his contention that there is no evidence from this period of the life and actions of Jesus. There is Thallus, but there are also Paul, Peter, John, Matthew and Luke. Price is implying that Luke flat out lied. What would his purpose in lying have been? Mark knew all the eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus. He wrote about Jesus within 30 years of his execution. People do not forget such things in 30 years! He lived under threat of death at any time. Why would he create a complete and utter fabrication–a story that was probably going to get him killed! Price does not deny that what Josephus or Tacitus said in their histories, yet in the biblical histories, he totally discounts everything they say, and then he gives us no logical reason to believe that these are all lies. By the early second century, several Roman historians were writing about the Christian church. Pliny told the emperor that the Christians were living exemplary lives. Is there evidence that Price can provide to support his unfounded claim that these Christians were telling big, fat lies about their leader? This is not logical. It is not reasonable. I would argue that it is not even rational. Yet, that is what Robert Price does.
As far as I know, no serious scholar denies that the apostle Paul was a real person. Does Price propose that Paul, an extremely well-educated Pharisee, was completely deceived about Jesus–that he was deluded into thinking that Jesus was a real person? This is nonsense. You would do well to completely dismiss this bogus charge by Mr. Price. We can legitimately and reasonable debate whether Jesus did in fact walk on water, but what we cannot legitimately debate whether he lived, was an important religious teacher, and that he was crucified in Jerusalem.