Robert M. Price
|Alma mater||Montclair State University|
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
(PhD in Systematic Theology (1981));
PhD in New Testament (1993)
|Known for||Views on the historicity of Jesus|
|Carol Selby Price|
|Children||Victoria and Veronica|
Robert McNair Price (born 7 July 1954) is an American New Testament scholar. His most notable stance is arguing in favor of the Christ myth theory — the claim that a historical Jesus did not exist. Price is the author of a number of books on biblical studies and the historicity of Jesus.
A former Baptist minister, Price was the editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism from 1994 until it ceased publication in 2003. Price was a fellow of the suspended Jesus Project, a group of 150 individuals who study the historicity of Jesus and the Gospels, the organizer of a Web community for those interested in the history of Christianity, and sits on the advisory board of the Secular Student Alliance. He is a religious skeptic, especially of orthodox Christian beliefs, occasionally describing himself as a Christian atheist. Price eventually moved to a maximalist position in favor of the Christ myth theory, believing that neither Jesus nor Nazareth itself existed in Roman Galilee.
Price is also a writer, editor, and critic in the field of speculative fiction. He has written about the Cthulhu Mythos, a shared universe created by the writer H. P. Lovecraft. Price was appointed executor of Lin Carter's literary estate, although Price's actions became controversial in 2020 after an inflammatory introduction he wrote to Lin Carter's Flashing Swords #6 anthology caused multiple authors to withdraw their work in protest. He also co-wrote a book with his wife, Carol Selby Price, Mystic Rhythms: The Philosophical Vision of Rush (1999), on the rock band Rush.
Price was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1954 and moved to New Jersey in 1964. He received a Master of Theological Studies in New Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1978. At Drew University, he was awarded one Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in 1981 and another in New Testament in 1991. Price was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey. He has served as Professor of Religion at Mount Olive College. He additionally did some work at minor institutions, including professorships at nonaccredited schools Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary and the Center for Inquiry Institute.
Price challenges biblical literalism and argues for a more skeptical and humanistic approach to Christianity. Price questioned the historicity of Jesus in a series of books, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003), Jesus Is Dead (2007), and The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems (2012), as well as in Jesus at the Vanishing Point, a contribution to The Historical Jesus: Five Views (2009).
Price uses critical-historical methods, but also uses "history-of-religions parallel[s]," or the "Principle of Analogy," to show similarities between Gospel narratives and non-Christian Middle Eastern myths. Price criticises some of the criteria of critical Bible research, such as the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of embarrassment. Price further notes that "consensus is no criterion" for the historicity of Jesus. According to Price, if critical methodology is applied with ruthless consistency, one is left in complete agnosticism regarding Jesus's historicity.[note 1] In Jesus at the Vanishing Point, Price acknowledges that he stands against the majority view of scholars, but cautions against attempting to settle the issue by appeal to the majority.
In The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems (2011), Price maintains that the Christ myth theory is the most likely explanation for the origin of Christianity, giving another overview of arguments:
Price argues that if critical methodology is applied with ruthless consistency, one is left in complete agnosticism regarding Jesus's historicity. Price is quoted saying, "There might have been a historical Jesus, but unless someone discovers his diary or his skeleton, we'll never know." He also similarly declared in a 1997 public debate:
If there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn't one any more.
Price notes that historians of classical antiquity approached mythical figures such as Heracles by rejecting supernatural tales while doggedly assuming that "a genuine historical figure" could be identified at the root of the legend. He describes this general approach as Euhemerism, and argues that most historical Jesus research today is also Euhemerist. Price argues that Jesus is like other ancient mythic figures, in that no mundane, secular information seems to have survived. Accordingly, Jesus also should be regarded as a mythic figure, but Price admits to some uncertainty in this regard. He writes at the conclusion of his 2000 book Deconstructing Jesus: "There may have been a real figure there, but there is simply no longer any way of being sure."[note 2]
Price believes that Christianity is a historicized synthesis of mainly Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek mythologies, viewing Jesus of Nazareth as an invented figure conforming to the Rank-Raglan mythotype.
Price argues that the early Christians adopted the model for the figure of Jesus from the popular Mediterranean dying-rising saviour myths of the time, such as that of Dionysus. He argues that the comparisons were known at the time, as early church father Justin Martyr had admitted the similarities. Price suggests that Christianity simply adopted themes from the dying-rising god stories of the day and supplemented them with themes (escaping crosses, empty tombs, children being persecuted by tyrants, etc.) from the popular stories of the day in order to come up with the narratives about Christ.
Price asserts that there was an almost complete fleshing out of the details of the gospels by a midrash rewriting of the Septuagint, Josephus, Homer, and Euripides' The Bacchae. According to Price, "virtually every story in the gospels and Acts can be shown to be very likely a Christian rewrite of material" from those sources and "virtually every case of New Testament narrative" can be traced back to a literary prototype, leaving "virtually nothing left."
Price does not see in the Q document a reliable source for the historical Jesus, simply because Q shows everywhere a Cynic flavor, representing a school of thought rather than necessarily the teaching of a single person. Price acknowledges that outside the New Testament there are a small number of ancient sources (Tacitus, for example) who would testify that Jesus was a person who really lived. However, Price points out that, even assuming the authenticity of these references, they relate more to the claims of the Christians who lived at that time on Jesus, and do not prove that Jesus was a contemporary of the writers of antiquity.
Citing accounts that have Jesus being crucified under Alexander Jannaeus (83 BCE) or in his 50s by Herod Agrippa I under the rule of Claudius Caesar (41-54 CE), Price argues that these "varying dates are the residue of various attempts to anchor an originally mythic or legendary Jesus in more or less recent history."
Price also propounds the belief that the town of Nazareth did not exist and was itself a pseudo-historical invention. Price is defying the convention among archaeologists and Roman historians of the era who disagree and have found ruins and archaeological evidence that they say indisputably does point to a real Nazareth; the issue was a matter of dispute between Price and Bart Ehrman in the dueling works Did Jesus Exist? and Price's Bart Ehrman and the Quest of Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?.
Price has been a figure in H. P. Lovecraft scholarship and fandom for many years. He is the editor of the journal Crypt of Cthulhu. (published by Necronomicon Press) and of a series of Cthulhu Mythos anthologies, In essays that introduce the anthologies and the individual stories, Price traces the origins of Lovecraft's entities, motifs, and literary style. The Cthulhu Cycle, for example, saw the origins of Cthulhu the octopoid entity in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Kraken" (1830) and particular passages from Lord Dunsany, while The Dunwich Cycle points to the influence of Arthur Machen on Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror."
Price's religious background often informs his Mythos criticism, seeing gnostic themes in Lovecraft's fictional god Azathoth and interpreting "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" as a kind of initiation ritual.
Many of the early Cthulhu anthologies by Chaosium were overseen by Price; his first book was The Hastur Cycle (1993), an anthology of short stories which traced the development of a single Lovecraftian element, and this was followed by Mysteries of the Worm (1993), a collection of Robert Bloch's Mythos fiction.
Price runs The Bible Geek, a broadcast show where Price answers listeners' questions. In 2010 he became one of three new hosts on Point of Inquiry (the Center for Inquiry's podcast), following the retirement of host D. J. Grothe from the show. Having appeared on the show twice before as a guest (see external links below), he hosted until 2012.
In 2005, Price appeared in Brian Flemming's documentary film The God Who Wasn't There, is the subject of the documentary "The Gospel According to Price" by writer/director Joseph Nanni, and appears in the films of Jozef K. Richards in the documentary, Batman & Jesus, and comedy series, Holy Shit.
In 2020, Price was in the process of bringing back an anthology series called Flashing Swords!, which was popular in the late 1970s. In the introduction to the sixth volume, he had made several statements that readers and other collaborating authors found to be transphobic, misogynistic, and racist. Several authors, in response, announced they were having their names and works retracted from the volume, chastising Price's political remarks.
In 1999, Price debated William Lane Craig, arguing against the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. In 2010, he debated James White, arguing against the reliability of the Bible. In 2010, Price debated Douglas Jacoby, on Jesus: Man, Myth, or Messiah? In 2016, he debated New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman on the historicity of Jesus; while disagreeing with him, Ehrman considered Price one of the more esteemed proponents of mythicism as Price had the relevant credentials and study as well as a nice guy, compared to other mythicists whose expertise stemmed from other disciplines.
Most of the Dutch Radical scholars, following Bruno Bauer, argued that all of the gospel tradition was fabricated to historicize an originally bare datum of a savior, perhaps derived from the Mystery Religions or Gnosticism or even further afield. The basic argument offered for this position, it seems to me, is that of analogy, the resemblances between Jesus and Gnostic and Mystery Religion saviors being just too numerous and close to dismiss.
[The Traditional Christ-Myth Theory - The first of the three pillars] Why no mention of a miracle-working Jesus in secular sources? ... For the record, my guess is that Eusebius fabricated it [the Testimonium Flavianum] and that the tenth-century Arabic version represents an abridgement of the Eusebian original, not a more primitive, modest version.
The second of the three pillars of the traditional Christ-Myth case is that the Epistles, earlier than the Gospels, do not evidence a recent historical Jesus. Setting aside the very late 1 Timothy, which presupposes the Gospel of John (the only Gospel in which Jesus "made a good confession before Pontius Pilate"), we should never guess from the Epistles that Jesus died in any particular historical or political context, only that the fallen angels (Col 2:15), the archons of this age, did him in, little realizing they were sealing their own doom (1 Cor 2:6-8).
[Dying-and-Rising Gods] The Jesus story as attested in the Epistles shows strong parallels to Middle Eastern religions based on the myths of dying-and-rising gods. (And this similarity is the third pillar of the traditional Christ-Myth theory.)
One wonders if all these scholars came to a certain point and stopped, their assumption being. "If Jesus was a historical figure, he must have done and said something!" But their own criteria and critical tools. which we have sought to apply here with ruthless consistency, ought to have left them with complete agnosticism.
Is it ... possible that beneath and behind the stained-glass curtain of Christian legend stands the dim figure of a historical founder of Christianity? Yes, it is possible, perhaps just a tad more likely than that there was a historical Moses, about as likely as there having been a historical Apollonius of Tyana. But it becomes almost arbitrary to think so.
My point here is simply that, even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn't one any more. (Opening Statement by Robert Price)
The evidence from Paul's letters is that the congregations of the Christ were attractive associations and that their emerging mythology was found to be exciting. A spirited cult formed on the model of the mystery religions ...
[Quoting Robert Price on Burton Mack] "A Christ religion modeled after a Mystery cult is a Mystery cult, a Christ cult worthy of the name" (Price, Deconstructing Jesus, 93). In context, Price is chiding Mack for using the name "Christ cult" while stopping short of explicitly linking it to the mystery cults ...
The Quest of the Mythical Jesus first appeared on the Robert M. Price Myspace page.
[Per] the suggestion of Doherty and me that the sayings of Q, typical Cynical material demanding no single author, were only subsequently ascribed to Jesus, having perhaps originally been attributed to Dame Sophia.
[Per the Toledot Yeshu] One of the chief points of interest in this work is its chronology, placing Jesus about 100 BCE. ... Epiphanius and the Talmud also attest to Jewish and Jewish-Christian belief in Jesus having lived a century or so before we usually imagine, implying that perhaps the Jesus figure was at first an ahistorical myth and various attempts were made to place him in a plausible historical context, just as Herodotus and others tried to figure out when Hercules "must have" lived.
Joshi's only rival for eminence in the field during the 1980s and 1990s was Robert M. Price
The Cthulhu Mythos remains a popular venue in literature and the media. Since the 1980s Robert M. Price has been a kind of August Derleth redivivus in publishing a dozen or more anthologies of Cthulhu Mythos tales by writers old and new
Equally importantly and convincingly, Price analyses the tale as a vision-quest, a coming-of-age ordeal ritual, which I have to say is pretty dead-on.