The Christ Cults

Deconstructing JesusThis is my response to the third chapter of Robert Price’s Deconstructing Jesus. Price, still arguing for a wide diversity among the earliest Christians, presents three “Christ cults.” When you hear the word ‘cult,’ don’t get all worked up. He is not using the popular definition of cult but rather the original meaning as a system of worship.

The first is the Jesus Martyr Cult. Price, still relying heavily on Burton Mack, attempts to make sense of how Christians added theological content to the death of Jesus. Price throws a number of concepts together that don’t really fit together. He points to the martyr traditions of 2 and 4 Maccabees. Those traditions are important but not really relevant to Jesus. The Jewish martyrs died because they would not give up their faith under Hellenistic pressure. That is far from the portrait of the Gospels where the Romans don’t care what Jesus believes while his Jewish opponents are jealous.

Price misrepresents the letter to the Galatians. He suggests that the situation at Galatia was that they had been God-fearers connected with a Jewish synagogue and that they felt guilty about not completing Jewish conversion before conversion to Christ. Galatians makes it clear that they were just gentiles who had been converted to Christ under Paul and then confused by travelling Judaizers.

The second is the Gnostic Christ Cult. Now Christian gnosticism was a later development, hinted at in the letters of John but really appearing in the second century. Price argues for a gnosticism that pre-existed that form. But in trying to reconstruct that gnosticism, he draws on later gnostic texts that probably do not represent the beliefs of the gnostics that existed in the first century. It should be noted that Price does not cite his sources in this section. Also, Price argues that concept of apostleship is a late addition, originally being about Jesus. He does not interact with the early Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that mentions apostles as one of the groups that witnessed the risen Jesus.

The third is the Kyrios Christos Cult. This is where Price begins to dig into the Jesus Myth Theory. He argues strongly for the dying and rising god motif. He dismisses all arguments by Christian apologists as they are forced to defend orthodox beliefs. However, he is particularly bothered by the arguments of Jonathan Z. Smith, who is no Christian apologist. He is a respected scholar of religious studies. Smith has argued strongly that the dying and rising god motif is not as strong as people argue and that most myths do not fit into this category.

I could argue against all of Price’s parallels to pagan myths, but I won’t. (Although I will say that he is completely wrong when he says Mithras dies and rises again. Mithras never dies in the myth.) Instead, I want to interact with one statement by Price. This is his response to Smith (and Raymond Brown) discounting the parallels when it comes to the virgin birth:

This one is not strictly speaking a virgin birth, since the god fathered the child on a married woman. That one involved physical intercourse with the deity, not overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, and so on. But, we have to ask, how close does a parallel have to be to count as a parallel? Does the divine mother have to be named Mary? (p. 89)

No, the parallel would not have to include the name Mary. However, a true parallel to the virgin birth in the Gospels would have to require that the woman was a virgin before and that the baby was conceived without sexual intercourse. This is something that the myths lack.


 

 

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