AS285: Dr. Robert Price on Jesus Mythicism, Part 1

Today we are talking to Dr. Robert Price about the historicity of Jesus.  Dr. Price is a former Baptist minister and current Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on this topic.  In this episode we talk about Jesus as the Mythic Hero Archetype and combination of multiple themes from the dying-rising god stories of the day.

Price will be at the Mythinformation 3 Conference to debate this topic, and don’t forget to come see me there as well!  

16 thoughts on “AS285: Dr. Robert Price on Jesus Mythicism, Part 1”

  1. The same problem I had with the Jesus as a historical figure argument, came up and this. The default position should be the null hypothesis. So unless you have good evidence to prove he existed your position should be nonexistence. Dr. Price is correct.

      1. Do you start an argument from the null or positive position?

        Something other than the Bible would be nice. It seems the hunt for Jesus started with the affirmative. Do we assume Bigfoot is real until proven not real? There’s plenty of evidence from Bigfoot researchers that they think is credible out there.

        If my view wipes other people from history in fine with that, we shouldn’t be assuming people existed and then working backwards.

        1. “Do you start an argument from the null or positive position?”

          But we aren’t starting from a null position. We have several sources that say this person existed. They are both Biblical and non-Biblical and all are from within decades of when he is supposed to have lived. That’s more than we have for any analogous early first century Jewish preachers or prophets and much more than we have for most ancient figures.

          “Something other than the Bible would be nice.”

          We have mentions in Tacitus and Josephus for Jesus. And you’re ruling out the gospels and epistles why, exactly? They are ancient sources like many others. Because they are biased? All sources are biased to some degree, especially ancient sources. Because they attribute supernatural events to him? Ancient sources do that for prominent figures all the time.

          ” Do we assume Bigfoot is real until proven not real?”

          No, but mainly because a exobiological primate that no-one has ever captured or reliably observed is highly unlikely. A Jewish preacher as the source of a sect that various people said was founded by a Jewish preacher is not unlikely at all. It’s would actually be far more unlikely that this *didn’t* happen given the evidence we have.

          “If my view wipes other people from history in fine with that”

          Since you still haven’t established why you’re ruling out the texts that later found their way into the Bible and haven’t defined what evidence would be sufficient to accept he most likely existed (since historians can’t and don’t deal in “proof”) it’s hard to say how many other people you would be wiping from history. I suspect it’s a great many. And this seems to be because you aren’t interested in a rational analysis of what is likely and are only interested in an emotional desire to dismiss the historicity of Jesus in any way possible.

          1. Those 2 sources you mention don’t seem to be all that rock solid. You keep bringing them up like there are no questions about their authenticity.

            “And this seems to be because you aren’t interested in a rational analysis of what is likely and are only interested in an emotional desire to dismiss the historicity of Jesus in any way possible.”

            If your going to keep assigning motives to my position like I really care if Jesus existed your just ignoring the many times I said I don’t care. It’s like having an argument with a true believer for any other cryptozoological creature. When I don’t agree they start assigning motives to why I don’t accept the flimsy evidence they present. Try sticking to the argument and not talking about me.

            Why don’t you tell me what exactly you disagree with Dr. Price on in this podcast, so I can go evaluate that? That would be the logical thing to do if you are interested in convincing me that your position is superior. Insulting me isn’t working.

          2. “Those 2 sources you mention don’t seem to be all that rock solid. You keep bringing them up like there are no questions about their authenticity.”

            There are some questions about how much of the Bk XVIII reference is authentic, but the consensus is that it is an authentic mention with some later Christian additions. The Bk XX mention is virtually universally accepted as authentic, however, with the exception of a brief argument against it (in a footnote) by Tessa Rajak in 1983 (rejected in a detailed response by leading Josephan scholar Louis Feldman) and an article by anti-Christian activist and Jesus Mythicist Richard Carrier, which has been cited by no-one at all since its publication.

            The Tacitus passage is accepted as authentic by all modern scholars. Back in 1967 Erich Koestermann wrote an article arguing that the “Chrestiani” in this passage was actually a reference to Jews, but it doesn’t seem to have convinced anyone at all and no-one holds this view today. Since then the only article arguing against the authenticity of this passage that I know of is, again, by anti-Christian activist and Jesus Mythicist Richard Carrier. And, again, his article has been cited by absolutely no-one and has convinced no-one in the field.

            So the only people who seriously argue against the authenticity of the Bk XX reference in Josephus and the reference in Tacitus are online enthusiasts, bolstered by two lonely and uncited articles by Richard Carrier, who has something of an agenda here. I tend to stick with the overwhelming consensus of scholarship rather than uncited and unconvincing articles by an unemployed “independent scholar” who has an obvious axe to grind.

            “If your going to keep assigning motives to my position like I really care if Jesus existed your just ignoring the many times I said I don’t care.”

            You seem to be going to some effort to “not care” about this, given your repeated replies and objections. But if you really have no emotional investment in it then I still find it odd that you aren’t thinking the wider implications of your arguments through. If we ruled out the existence of everyone for whom we don’t have “proof” or even for whom we don’t have unbiased, independent sources that are free of supernatural references, the ancient world would be left largely uninhabited. Which doesn’t strike me as particularly rational. It seems you are more interested in raising the bar of evidence just high enough to exclude Jesus, despite the fact that the nature of our evidence for most ancient figures means that it would exclude most of them as well. This doesn’t make sense.

            “Why don’t you tell me what exactly you disagree with Dr. Price on in this podcast, so I can go evaluate that? That would be the logical thing to do if you are interested in convincing me that your position is superior. Insulting me isn’t working.”

            I’m not insulting you, though I am noting that your argument isn’t very rational. And I will be doing a whole show with Thomas where I go through Price’s arguments in detail and explain why pretty much no-one else in the field finds them convincing.

          3. I care as much about Jesus being real as I care about Zeus being real. I didn’t even bring it up until you accused me of it again. By the way I do appreciate the detailed argument after that though. I’m going to go check on some of that information.

            And I’ll be looking forward to your rebuttal of doctor Price’s arguments.

          4. I’ll also be watching the doctor price vs Bart Ehrman debate when it goes online. We’ll see if it changes my mind, even though I find debates mostly worthless.

          5. Why would this be any different than the consensus changing their opinion about Moses? He used to be considered a historical figure and now he’s not. I think it changed about 20 years ago.

            You can’t just completely dismiss an idea based on the consensus, that’s the point of doing what they are doing. To get the consensus to change their mind.

        2. “Why would this be any different than the consensus changing their opinion about Moses? He used to be considered a historical figure and now he’s not. I think it changed about 20 years ago.”

          The difference is that we have evidence from very close to Jesus’ time that indicates that he did exist and the attempts to dismiss that evidence and to manufacture a “Mythic Jesus Christianity” based on nothing much have not convinced anyone in the field. That may change, though it doesn’t look much like it’s going to. Just because some other consensus (on a very different topic based on a very different evidence) changed doesn’t mean this one is going to, just that it may.

          “You can’t just completely dismiss an idea based on the consensus”

          I’m not. I dismiss it based on the weakness of its proponents arguments. And I note the consensus to highlight that I’m hardly alone in doing so.

  2. Having listened to this and the second part, I have to say I’m unimpressed by Dr. Price. He proceeds by innuendo, circular argument and personal incredulity. He rebuts Tim O’Neill’s arguments with a simple “that’s nonsense!”… and that’s it.

    Having watched a number of Dr Richard Carrier’s videos, I was previously in the mythicist camp, which was certainly a feel-good position for an atheist! But after the interview with Tim O’Neill, and Noah Lugeon’s diatribe, I felt that position to be untenable. Dr. Price has done nothing to swing the needle back.

    Unfortunately I now find it impossible to care about this whole argument. It’s been done to death and it just doesn’t MATTER. I hope Thomas doesn’t do too many more episodes like this (not a complaint if you are reading this, just registering my preference).

    1. To be fair to Bob Price, he was trying to summarise a hell of a lot of argument and counter-argument into a very short space. Having been in the same position on various podcasts, I know how difficult it is to do this without sounding glib at times and without seeming to be dismissive of opponents. I actually found Price highly entertaining though, not surprisingly, completely unconvincing.

      I’m sorry to say that Thomas and I will be doing at least one more show on this subject where I will go over why Price, despite his great knowledge and passion, is virtually alone in the field when it comes to his views. If you’re bored with the subject though I’d understand if you don’t tune in.

      1. Thanks Tim! I probably will tune out of that episode, but of course it’s Thomas’ prerogative to have on whomever he likes.

        Ultimately as a non-expert I have to accept the consensus view of real experts — as in other fields such as climate science. To do otherwise would mean subscribing to some kind of conspiracy theory regarding the motivations of those experts, and I just don’t see how atheist and Jewish scholars would benefit from engaging in such a conspiracy.

        1. “I just don’t see how atheist and Jewish scholars would benefit from engaging in such a conspiracy.”

          No, but Price does tend to characterise it more as a kind of psychological inertia than an active conspiracy. That’s still not very persuasive though. Liberal Christian, and various non-Christian scholars (atheist, agnostic, non-Christian theist, Jewish) all work in both New Testament studies and in Second Temple Jewish studies and they tend to hold all kinds of ideas about Jesus that are not compatible with Christianity. Many or even most of them say that there are severe limits on what we can say about the historical Jesus and believe most of the gospel stories are not historical. So it is hard to see why they are fine with holding these ideas – which conservative Christians find every bit as repugnant and unacceptable as Mythicism – yet are psychologically unable to make the rather small step to the equally unorthodox idea that no historical Jesus existed at all.

          Psychological inertia does not explain this reluctance. The unconvincing, contrived, overly-complex and often incoherent nature of the Jesus Myth thesis explains it much better. As much as Price and Co don’t want to admit it, these non-Christian peers are unconvinced because the Mythicist thesis is profoundly unconvincing to those who know the source material and its context well. This is why it’s mainly amateurs and laypeople who find Mythicism convincing and can’t understand why the experts simply don’t.

Leave a Reply to Tim O'Neill Cancel reply