This is the last instalment in my series of responses to Robert Price’s Deconstructing Jesus. If you know his book, you will see that I am skipping his chapter on “Cruci-fiction.” The reason for this is that it was short and I didn’t find much that I was interested in responding to.
In his last chapter, Price looks at the question of whether Jesus is history mythicized or myth historicized. This is a reasonable question for historians to consider. How did Price do?
Price begins by looking at how messianic legends develop by looking at the Lubavitcher movement. If you are unfamiliar with this movement, it is a modern Jewish Hasidic group, many of whom consider their leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the messiah. While their story is interesting, it really does not help us to understand Jesus.
In the next section, Price moves from irrelevant to mistaken. He attempts to argue that John presents a docetic Jesus. Docetism was an early heresy that taught that Jesus was only spirit and not flesh. He only seemed to have a body. Price’s evidence for this is lacking. He suggests that Jesus’ saying to the disciples after the encounter with the Samaritan woman about having other food to eat is because he didn’t have a body. I’m not sure how a docetic Jesus could have made breakfast for the disciples at the end of the Gospel. None of Price’s arguments are convincing.
Price goes on to give more late examples of what he thinks is going on with Jesus. He speaks of Ali, who eventually became one of Caliphs who succeeded Muhammad. That is obviously too late to mean anything, but what about Price’s use of the Mishnah? He provides many parallels between Jesus and the sayings of the rabbis. However, the Mishnah was not written down until 200 AD. Parallels could be because they both emerged out of a Jewish context or the rabbis could be responding to sayings of Jesus. Because of the dates, the Mishnah is not a good source to explain where the sayings of Jesus came from.
This is what I have seen over and over in Price’s book. He allows later texts to be used as possible sources for Gospel sayings. This is a problem that I have seen among other mythicists as well. When looking at these sort of arguments, it is good to make a chart and see which texts belong when.
Overall, I was disappointed with Price’s book. I thought that as one of the few PhDs among the mythicists that there would be more to dig into. There is a reason why this book was published on an atheist press and not a scholarly press.