Jesus is Dead Detailed Book Summary

Title: Jesus is Dead
Author: Robert M. Price

TLDR: This book challenges the historical accuracy of the Gospels, arguing that the resurrection is a myth, Jesus may not have existed, and “Christ” is often used as a tool for institutional control.

Chapter 1: Easter Fictions

This chapter dives into the inconsistencies within the gospel resurrection accounts, viewing them as evidence for the narratives’ legendary nature rather than mere historical discrepancies. Price argues that apologists’ attempts to harmonize these contradictions miss the point – the inconsistencies are not errors to be smoothed over but clues to the literary composition of these texts.

Price deconstructs each gospel account, highlighting their unique stylistic and theological agendas, comparing them to ancient apotheosis narratives and other legendary tropes. He dissects:

  • Mark 16:1-8: He points to the abrupt ending, the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, and the interpretive announcement of a young man (angel?). This structure parallels ancient apotheosis narratives of figures like Heracles and Romulus.
  • Matthew 28: Matthew expands on Mark, adding the women obeying the angel’s instructions and a sudden appearance of Jesus. Price argues this doubling of the angel figure is intended to clarify Mark’s ambiguous young man, and that the Galilean appearance serves as a framework for a Matthean speech. He also highlights the contradiction between the Great Commission and Peter’s reluctance to preach to Gentiles in Acts, suggesting both accounts are independent attempts to justify the Gentile Mission. The guards at the tomb are dismissed as comedic and implausible.
  • Luke 24: Luke rewrites Mark with two angels, emphasizing a Jerusalem-centric narrative. The Emmaus Road story is compared to a similar legend from the Asclepius cult, highlighting the familiar trope of “entertaining angels unaware.” The skepticism of the disciples in Luke, as in other gospels, is argued to be a literary device used to heighten the wonder of the miracle.
  • John 20: John modifies the resurrection appearance story to fit his unique narrative of the spear thrust. The Doubting Thomas episode is compared to a strikingly similar scene from Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana, demonstrating the legendary nature of both accounts. The miraculous catch of fish story in John is also linked to a Pythagoras story.

Price concludes that these inconsistencies, stylistic features, and parallels to other ancient narratives point to the gospel resurrection accounts being religious legends, skillfully crafted stories rather than historical reports.

Chapter 2: How Secure is the New Testament Witness?

This chapter critically examines the notion that the gospels accurately reflect the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’s disciples. Price deconstructs the assumptions underpinning this claim, arguing against the reliability and apostolic authorship of the gospels.

Price challenges the very existence of the “college of apostles” as a historically accurate entity, suggesting that the list of twelve might be a later invention, retrojected into the life of Jesus for theological and political purposes. He presents several alternative explanations for the origin of the Twelve, including:

  • Fictional construction: Based on Exodus 18, where Moses appoints seventy elders.
  • Representation of a Jewish-Christian faction: Symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel, similar to the Qumran sect’s council.
  • Transformation of an earlier leadership group: Like the “Pillars” or “Heirs” mentioned in Galatians and Acts, possibly representing Jesus’s actual brothers.

Price argues that the gospel narratives themselves contradict the notion of a group of apostles carefully preserving a pure Jesus tradition. He points to numerous variations and contradictions between the sayings and stories of Jesus, suggesting that these traditions arose as needed within different branches of the early church.

He further refutes the claim that the apostles must have corroborated the gospels before their circulation, highlighting the lack of evidence for this assertion and the historical improbability of their survival until the time of the gospels’ composition, especially given the tumultuous events of the Jewish War with Rome.

Price challenges the appeal to specific characters within the gospels as reliable sources:

  • The women at the tomb: He compares their role to similar figures in the resurrection myths of other Hellenistic redeemer gods, suggesting that they might be nothing more than Christian counterparts to legendary figures like Isis and Nephthys.
  • The Emmaus disciples: Their failure to recognize Jesus during their lengthy encounter is argued to be a clear sign of mistaken identity or wishful thinking, characteristic of similar “angels unaware” stories in other ancient religions.

Price deconstructs the argument from textual consistency: while he acknowledges the existence of characteristic word usage and stylistic features that suggest some degree of textual stability, he argues that departures from these patterns reveal significant interpolations and redactional additions. He concludes that the fluidity of the biblical text makes the notion of “inerrant autographs” and “eyewitness testimony” untenable.

Chapter 3: Can We Know the Jesus of History?

This chapter tackles the question of whether it is possible to reconstruct a historically accurate picture of Jesus from the gospel narratives. Price argues that the arguments used by apologists to defend the historicity of the gospels are flawed and ultimately fail to account for the development of legendary materials within a short time span.

Price first addresses the argument from the “small time interval” between Jesus and the writing of the gospels, demonstrating that a period of 30-40 years is more than enough time for legendary embellishment to occur. He cites the example of Sabbatai Sevi, a 17th-century Jewish messianic figure, whose life was surrounded by miracle stories and legends within weeks or even days of his public appearances. He compares this to similar developments in the case of other historical figures like Jehudah the Hasid and Simon Kimbangu, demonstrating that legendary accretion occurs rapidly, even within a single generation.

Price next deconstructs the argument from “eyewitness testimony,” arguing that the presence of eyewitnesses does not guarantee the factuality of accounts, and that their very proximity to events can lead to rapid confusion and legendary development. He cites examples from the Sabbatian movement and studies of eyewitness accounts in modern times, demonstrating the unreliability of such testimony, especially when dealing with unusual or remarkable events. He argues that the presence of “hostile eyewitnesses” would not have prevented the growth of legend, as faith and cognitive dissonance reduction can render believers impervious to opposing viewpoints.

He also challenges the assumption that the early Christians carefully preserved authentic sayings of Jesus while excluding bogus ones. He cites examples from early Islam, where “holy men” were known to fabricate sayings of the Prophet Muhammad in the interest of encouraging virtue and submission to the law, demonstrating that the authenticity of sayings was not always a paramount concern in religious communities.

Price concludes that the arguments used by apologists to defend the historical accuracy of the gospels are inadequate and that there is no reason to assume that the figure of Jesus as depicted in these narratives represents a historically accurate portrayal.

Chapter 4: The Future Disguises Itself as the Past: The Origin of the Resurrection

This chapter proposes a bold and fascinating theory for the origin of the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Price suggests that the resurrection belief was not a response to a historical event but a theological innovation born out of disappointment and the need to reinterpret unfulfilled eschatological expectations.

He argues that the earliest Christians likely venerated Jesus as a martyr whose soul was exalted to heaven after his death, expecting him to rise again at the general resurrection at the end of time. This belief is supported by passages in Acts and other early Christian writings that depict Jesus as standing before God’s throne, interceding for believers, but not yet enthroned as Messiah.

Price suggests that the delay of the Parousia, the anticipated return of Jesus as Messiah, led to a reinterpretation of his earthly life and ministry in Messianic terms. This reinterpretation, known as Realized Eschatology, attempted to close the gap between expectation and experience by viewing certain aspects of Jesus’s life and death as already fulfilling Messianic prophecy.

He argues that the belief in Jesus’s resurrection was a further development of Realized Eschatology, a way to claim for the present a bit of the anticipated but delayed Messianic glory. Faced with the disappointment of Jesus’s non-return, early Christians came to believe that he had already risen, invisibly, as the “first fruits” of the general resurrection. This belief served to comfort disillusioned believers, assuring them that the End was still imminent, even if it had not yet manifested in the expected way.

Price draws a parallel to the Cargo Cults of Melanesia, where prophecies of ancestral returns with Western goods failed to materialize, leading to the belief that these events had occurred invisibly. He argues that a similar process of retrojection might have occurred in early Christianity, with the originally future hope of resurrection being reinterpreted as an event of the recent past, obscured from view by the limitations of human understanding.

He concludes that the “third day” motif, derived from Hosea 6:2, served as a scriptural prop for fixing the time of Jesus’s supposed resurrection, lending an appearance of historical factuality to an essentially theological reinterpretation. The empty tomb, once irrelevant, became a symbolic confirmation of this new belief.

Chapter 5: Must Jesus Have Risen?

This chapter examines the arguments used by apologists to defend the historical reality of Jesus’s resurrection, demonstrating their inadequacies and highlighting alternative explanations for the origin and development of the Christian faith.

Price first addresses the contradictions between the gospel resurrection accounts and the earlier conception of Jesus’s resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. He highlights the differences in descriptions of the resurrection body, with the gospels depicting a physical body of “flesh and bones” while 1 Corinthians speaks of a “spiritual body” and Jesus having “become a life-giving spirit.” He argues that the existence of these two conflicting versions suggests that the gospel narratives represent a later, more concrete conception of resurrection, developed in response to Gnostic interpretations that blurred the distinction between resurrection and soul survival.

He next explores the possibility of the gospel resurrection accounts being pious legends, pointing to numerous parallels in the ancient world where historical and mythical figures were glorified by means of apotheosis narratives. These stories frequently featured similar elements, such as the disappearance of the hero’s body, the discovery of an empty tomb, and the interpretive announcement of angels or heavenly voices.

Price challenges common apologetical arguments against the possibility of the resurrection appearances being hallucinations, demonstrating that collective hallucinations are a well-known phenomenon and that the skepticism expressed by the disciples in the gospels is simply a literary device used to heighten narrative tension. He argues that the psychological factors that might lead to hallucinations were indeed present in the case of the disciples, who had staked everything on Jesus’s messiahship and were deeply affected by his death.

He further refutes the argument that only the resurrection of Jesus can explain the transformation of the disciples from “cowards” into bold missionaries, demonstrating that other messianic movements, such as that of Sabbatai Sevi, persisted and even thrived after facing seemingly insurmountable setbacks. He cites Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction to explain how believers can rationalize and reinterpret events to preserve their faith, even when faced with disconfirming evidence.

Price concludes that while the possibility of Jesus’s resurrection cannot be definitively ruled out, there is no compelling historical or psychological need to invoke the supernatural to explain the origin and development of the Christian faith.

Chapter 6: Night of the Living Savior

This chapter expands on the theme of legendary development in the gospel resurrection narratives, arguing that fundamentalist apologists are ignoring clear signals within the texts themselves that point to their fictive nature.

Price revisits Mark 16:8, where the women at the tomb are told to inform the disciples of Jesus’s resurrection but fail to do so. He argues that this ending, rather than being a clumsy attempt to explain the late emergence of the empty tomb story, is a deliberate indication by Mark that the entire narrative is fictional. Since Mark himself provides no explanation for how he came to know the story if the women remained silent, the only logical conclusion is that he invented it.

Price draws a parallel to Mark’s account of Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane, where the evangelist provides the content of the prayer despite explicitly stating that Jesus excluded all hearers. This, he argues, is further evidence of Mark’s fictive composition, as he is able to “know” the content of the prayer because he invented it.

He further highlights the artificiality of Matthew’s Galilean appearance scene, suggesting that it is not a report of a historical event but a symbolic send-off to the Antiochene missionaries for whom the gospel was composed. The promise of Jesus’s presence “until the close of the age” is interpreted as a metaphor for the continuing presence of the Spirit of Christ among believers, a concept similar to Rudolf Bultmann’s notion of Jesus “rising into the kerygma.”

Price next analyzes the Emmaus Road story in Luke 24, arguing that its symbolic connection to the Eucharist, with Jesus being recognized in the breaking of bread and then vanishing, suggests that Luke did not intend it to be read as a literal historical account. He argues that the story is a piece of liturgical fiction, designed to evoke the experience of encountering the Risen Lord in the sacrament.

He concludes with John’s Doubting Thomas episode, pointing to Jesus’s aside to the reader, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” as an overt indication of the story’s fictional nature. The statement, he argues, is a deliberate wink to the audience, acknowledging that belief in the resurrection is a matter of faith, not historical certainty.

Chapter 7: Was Jesus John the Baptist Raised from the Dead?

This chapter presents a provocative thought experiment, exploring the implications of the gospel claim that some believed Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Price investigates the possibility that the figure of Jesus might be a legendary transformation of the historical John the Baptist, arguing that such a hypothesis makes sense of a number of puzzling features in the gospel narratives.

He begins by analyzing Mark’s account of the various popular opinions about Jesus’s identity, including the belief that he was Elijah, another prophet, or John the Baptist risen from the dead. He argues that these opinions likely represent actual Christological beliefs circulating in Mark’s own day, against which the evangelist is arguing.

Price suggests that the belief in John the Baptist’s resurrection might have served as a model for the later belief in Jesus’s resurrection, pointing to the similar fates of both figures – arrested and executed by reluctant tyrants. He explores the possibility that the transition from John’s ministry of repentance to Jesus’s ministry of feasting might symbolize a shift in the disciples’ understanding of the kingdom of God, occurring after their belief in Jesus’s resurrection.

He analyzes a number of gospel passages, including Mark 1:14, John 3:26, 4:1, Mark 11:28-30, and Matthew 11:16-19, suggesting that they make better sense if Jesus and John are understood as the same figure at different stages of his ministry. He compares this to the doubling of Simon Magus and Paul in early Christian tradition, arguing that a similar process of narrative mitosis might have occurred with John and Jesus.

Price further explores the parallels between the nativity and martyrdom stories of both figures, as well as the striking similarity between the language of John’s supposed resurrection in Mark 6:14 and the resurrection formula in Romans 1:3-4. He analyzes two early Christian hymns, the Johannine prologue and the Kenosis hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, suggesting that they originally referred to John the Baptist, and that the name “Jesus” was bestowed upon him only after his supposed resurrection and exaltation.

He concludes by acknowledging that his hypothesis is admittedly far-fetched, but argues that it serves to highlight the fluidity of early Christian tradition and the complex process of theological and narrative development that shaped the gospels.

Chapter 8: The Templars and the Tomb of Jesus

This chapter delves into the popular yet spurious theories surrounding the Knights Templar and their supposed connection to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Price scrutinizes the claims made in several books, including “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” and “The Da Vinci Code,” highlighting the lack of historical evidence and the flawed logic behind these speculative narratives.

He first examines the historical background of the Templar Knights, their origins as a monastic order dedicated to protecting pilgrims in Jerusalem, their rise to power and wealth, and their eventual downfall at the hands of King Philip IV of France. He debunks the accusations of heresy leveled against them, suggesting that the confessions of worshiping Baphomet and engaging in blasphemous rituals were likely extorted under torture and reflect a misinterpretation of Islamic practices.

Price next scrutinizes the claims made in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” which posits that the Templars discovered documents revealing the royal bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, using this secret to gain power and protect their descendants. He argues that this theory, while intriguing, is built on a chain of speculative assumptions and lacks any concrete historical evidence.

He analyzes several other books that explore similar themes, including “The Templar Revelation,” “The Hiram Key,” and “The Tomb of God,” demonstrating how they all rely on flawed logic, misinterpretations of evidence, and gratuitous connections between disparate historical figures and events. He highlights their common reliance on spurious sources, such as the modern Priory Documents, and their tendency to historicize mythic and legendary materials to fit their preconceived narratives.

Price concludes that these speculative theories about the Templars and Jesus, while entertaining, are ultimately built on a shaky foundation of conjecture and wishful thinking, lacking any genuine historical support.

Chapter 9: The Talmud of Jmmanuel

This chapter dissects the “Talmud of Jmmanuel,” a modern apocryphon claiming to be the original gospel written by Judas Iscariot, revealing its inconsistencies, absurd claims, anti-Semitic bias, and ultimately dismissing it as a “disgusting and ridiculous” hoax.

Price begins by deconstructing the frame story, highlighting its numerous improbabilities, including the alleged discovery of the text embedded in resin within Jesus’s tomb in Kashmir, the improbable name of the fictional Greek Orthodox priest who found it (Isa Rashid), and the claim that the text was written by Judas Iscariot, who, in the narrative, is revealed to be a different character named Juda Ihariot.

He next analyzes the book’s theological content, revealing it to be a hodgepodge of poorly expressed Theosophical ideas, including a belief in a long-lived mortal “god” who rules the earth, a higher “Creation” entity similar to Brahman, and the possibility of attaining supernatural powers through enlightened knowledge. Price criticizes the book’s flawed logic and its reliance on the “Division Fallacy,” arguing that what is true of an entity as a whole is not necessarily true of its parts.

He then delves into the book’s ridiculous elements, focusing on its espousal of Flying Saucer religion and its science fiction reinterpretation of Christianity. Price recounts the narrative of Jesus’s birth through alien insemination, his ascension via spaceship, and his supposed survival of the crucifixion through advanced medical techniques provided by colleagues from India. He critiques the book’s attempts to explain away miracles as instances of advanced technology, arguing that such reinterpretations ultimately become just as dated and ludicrous as the supernaturalism they seek to replace.

Price concludes by highlighting the book’s most offensive aspect – its blatant anti-Semitism. He quotes numerous passages that demonize Jews, portraying them as a bloodthirsty and deceitful race responsible for the world’s ills, concluding that the book is nothing more than hateful propaganda thinly veiled as a religious revelation.

Chapter 10: Jonathan Z. Smith’s Drudgery Divine

This chapter reviews Jonathan Z. Smith’s “Drudgery Divine,” a collection of essays exploring the relationship between early Christianity and the religions of late antiquity. Price praises Smith’s insightful analysis of how scholarship on the Mystery Religions has often served as a proxy for theological debates, but criticizes his reluctance to acknowledge genuine parallels between Christianity and these pagan cults.

Price summarizes Smith’s argument that the history of scholarship on Christianity and the Mystery Religions is often marked by a hidden apologetic agenda. He highlights the two main strategies employed by scholars to minimize the influence of paganism on early Christianity:

  • Judaizing: Seeking Jewish parallels to minimize the apparent influence of Hellenistic sources, often preferring even vague Jewish precedents to closer Gnostic or Mystery Religion parallels.
  • Deprecating Judaism: Portraying Judaism as an inferior religion incapable of producing the distinctive features of Christianity, using it as a foil to highlight the supposed uniqueness of the Christian revelation.

Price criticizes Smith’s own tendency to downplay the significance of the “dying and rising god” mytheme, arguing that he is too quick to dismiss evidence for the resurrection beliefs of deities like Attis, Osiris, and Tammuz. He suggests that Smith’s reluctance to acknowledge these parallels might stem from a desire to avoid accusations of “ecumenical incorrectness” and to defend the traditional apologetic line that there was no pagan prototype for the Christian resurrection myth.

He further criticizes Smith’s unwillingness to accept the viability of an “ideal type” of the dying-and-rising god mytheme, arguing that he sets the bar for similarity too high, failing to recognize the family resemblance between diverse versions of the myth. Price argues that Smith’s approach is similar to that of apologists like Raymond E. Brown, who dismisses parallels to the virgin birth of Jesus by focusing on minor differences rather than the overall structural similarities.

Price concludes by suggesting that Smith, despite his insightful critique of apologetical biases in scholarship, ultimately falls prey to these biases himself, bending over backwards to minimize the influence of paganism on early Christianity. He argues that a more nuanced approach, recognizing both the similarities and differences between Christianity and other ancient religions, is necessary to understand the complex process of religious development in late antiquity.

Chapter 11: Gregory J. Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered

This chapter reviews Gregory J. Riley’s “Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy,” praising its innovative use of the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas to illuminate the theological debates within early Christianity. Price analyzes Riley’s arguments about the relationship between the Johannine and Thomasine communities, exploring the nature of their disagreement over the resurrection of Jesus.

Price summarizes Riley’s central thesis that the Gospel of John is engaged in a polemic against the Thomasine community, refuting their belief in a spiritual resurrection of Jesus and their emphasis on saving gnosis over faith. He highlights the significance of John’s use of “Doubting Thomas” as a symbol of the Thomasine sect, whose beliefs are targeted in the scenes where Thomas appears.

Price agrees with Riley that the Thomasine community likely believed in a spiritual resurrection of Jesus, but challenges his interpretation of John 20 as affirming a fleshly resurrection. He argues that the issue at stake in the story is not the physical nature of Jesus’s body, but rather the simple fact of his reappearance to the disciples. He points to the locked doors and the unnecessary touching of Jesus’s wounds as evidence that John envisioned a ghostly apparition rather than a physical resurrection.

Price further suggests that the Johannine community might have been arguing against two stages of Thomasine belief:

  • The “Living Jesus”: A belief that Jesus survived the cross and continued his ministry, possibly in the East. This belief is supported by John 7:35, where Jesus’s opponents misunderstand him as predicting that he will go and teach the Greeks.
  • The “Traveling Twin”: A belief that the post-crucifixion missionary figure was not Jesus himself, but a twin brother who carried on his work. This belief is reflected in the Acts of Thomas, where Jesus is depicted as appearing in the form of his brother Thomas.

Price analyzes the three Johannine references to Thomas, suggesting that they can be understood as refutations of these two stages of Thomasine belief. He argues that the Lazarus story in John 11 serves to demonstrate the reality of Lazarus’s death, implicitly countering the notion that Jesus’s death was only apparent. He interprets Thomas’s question in John 14:5, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” as a veiled reference to the Thomasine belief in Jesus’s continued earthly ministry. And he suggests that the Doubting Thomas episode in John 20 is designed to refute the belief that the post-crucifixion missionary figure was Jesus’s twin brother.

Price concludes by suggesting that the doubling of Judas Thomas and Judas Iscariot in the New Testament might reflect their original identity as the same character, with Thomas’s later “heresy” being transformed into Judas’s betrayal in the canonical gospels.

Chapter 12: Gary R. Habermas’ “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus”

This chapter critically examines Gary R. Habermas’ essay “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus,” challenging his arguments for the early dating and historical reliability of the resurrection tradition preserved in 1 Corinthians 15. Price argues that Habermas’ reliance on the supposed consensus of scholarly opinion is misleading and that he ignores a significant body of evidence that contradicts his conclusions.

Price first addresses Habermas’ claim that 1 Corinthians is undoubtedly a genuine Pauline epistle, pointing to the arguments of a long line of scholars, from Bruno Bauer to contemporary critics like Hermann Detering, who reject its authenticity. He argues that the letter’s content and stylistic features suggest a later date of composition, after the development of a more formalized and institutionalized Christianity.

He next challenges Habermas’ assertion that the list of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff represents an ancient tradition received by Paul within a few years of the crucifixion. He highlights the problems with this claim:

  • Anachronism: The notion of Paul, a founder of Christianity, appealing to “ancient traditions” suggests a later date of composition.
  • Composite List: The list appears to be a conflation of two competing traditions, one privileging Peter, the other James, suggesting a later stage of development.
  • Contradiction with Galatians: Paul’s claim in Galatians that he received his gospel directly from God contradicts the notion that he was simply passing on a received tradition.
  • Dubious Historicity of Galatians 1:18-19: The passage describing Paul’s visit to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James is likely a later interpolation, inserted to harmonize Paul’s account with Acts.

Price further argues that the 1 Corinthians 15 list itself is likely a post-Pauline interpolation, inserted into the text by a later redactor. He points to the non-Pauline language and content of the list, as well as its contradiction with the earlier conception of a “spiritual body” in the same chapter. He suggests that the list was added to promote a more concrete, physical understanding of resurrection and to establish the apostolic credentials of those named within it.

Price concludes by arguing that Habermas’ reliance on the supposed consensus of scholarly opinion is misleading and that he fails to adequately address the substantial evidence that contradicts his conclusions.

Chapter 13: N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

This chapter dissects N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” critiquing his arguments for a historical resurrection of Jesus and exposing his attempts to rehabilitate a pre-critical understanding of the gospels while masquerading as a “cutting-edge” scholar.

Price begins by criticizing Wright’s prolixity and his tendency to drown the reader in a sea of erudition, arguing that his book is far longer than it needs to be and ultimately offers nothing new beyond the standard apologetical arguments already presented by earlier scholars like George Eldon Ladd.

He accuses Wright of engaging in a “phony ecumenism,” superficially embracing inclusive language and attempting to harmonize Christianity with Judaism while ultimately holding onto a traditional, exclusivist Christian perspective. He criticizes Wright’s reliance on the “Kittel mentality,” synthesizing a monolithic theology from disparate biblical texts and then using this synthetic construct to control the interpretation of individual passages.

Price identifies three fundamental flaws in Wright’s argument:

  • Evasion of Evidence: Wright ignores or dismisses a significant body of evidence that contradicts his conclusions, including the widespread belief in dying and rising gods in the ancient world, the gospel account of Herod’s belief that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, and the clear statements about a “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15.
  • Inconsistent Use of Categories: Wright vacillates between emphasizing the physicality of Jesus’s resurrection body and acknowledging its ability to pass through walls and teleport, clinging to both contradictory features as evidence of eyewitness testimony while ultimately resorting to the vague and undefined concept of a “transphysical” body.
  • Rejection of Methodological Atheism: Wright criticizes the “naturalistic” presuppositions of biblical critics while failing to recognize that his own insistence on the possibility of miracles short-circuits historical investigation, substituting divine fiat for a genuine explanation of events.

Price meticulously deconstructs Wright’s specific arguments, exposing their flaws and highlighting alternative explanations for the phenomena he seeks to explain. He challenges Wright’s claims about the lack of legendary development in the gospel narratives, the silence of Jewish sources on individual resurrections before the end of time, and the supposed embarrassment of the empty tomb tradition. He demonstrates how Wright misinterprets and misrepresents evidence to fit his preconceived theological agenda.

He concludes by arguing that Wright’s book is not a genuine contribution to New Testament scholarship, but rather a pseudoscholarly attempt to defend traditional dogma by misusing and manipulating evidence.

Chapter 14: A. J. M. Wedderburn’s Beyond Resurrection

This chapter reviews A.J.M. Wedderburn’s “Beyond Resurrection,” highlighting the author’s surprising transition from a conservative Pauline scholar to a critical interpreter of the gospel resurrection narratives. Price praises Wedderburn’s insightful analysis of the flawed arguments used by evangelical apologists and his willingness to challenge traditional assumptions about the historicity of the gospels.

Price begins by emphasizing Wedderburn’s repudiation of the hidden theological agenda that often drives evangelical scholarship, arguing that the scholar’s role is not to defend dogma but to pursue truth, even when it contradicts cherished beliefs. He highlights Wedderburn’s rejection of the “innocent until proven guilty” approach to biblical criticism, which assumes the traditional view must be upheld unless definitively disproven, and his willingness to engage with critical arguments on their own terms.

He summarizes Wedderburn’s deconstruction of a number of common apologetical arguments for the historicity of the resurrection:

  • Contradictions as Evidence of Authenticity: The idea that discrepancies between the gospels prove their independence and reliability.
  • Paul’s Knowledge of the Empty Tomb: The assumption that Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:4, “he was buried,” implies his knowledge of the empty tomb tradition.
  • Lack of Tomb Veneration as Evidence of Resurrection: The argument that the absence of an early pilgrimage site to Jesus’s tomb proves his resurrection.

Price praises Wedderburn’s analysis of the literary character of the gospel resurrection narratives, highlighting his observation that the contradictions and inconsistencies within these stories are not simply errors but clues to their creative composition. He points to the motif of Jesus being unrecognizable to his disciples as an example of a literary device used to heighten narrative tension and to preserve the mystery of the resurrection.

He further highlights Wedderburn’s recognition of the limitations of historical knowledge, arguing that the claim that “the disciples came to believe they had seen the risen Jesus” is itself an assumption based on later interpretations of events, not a “historical datum.”

Price concludes by acknowledging the limits of Wedderburn’s critical vision, noting that he still clings to certain conservative assumptions, such as the possibility of a historical event underlying the “third day” motif. However, he praises the overall trajectory of Wedderburn’s work, suggesting that his willingness to question traditional assumptions and to engage with critical scholarship represents a significant step toward a more nuanced and realistic understanding of the gospels.

Chapter 15: William Lane Craig’s “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”

This chapter scrutinizes William Lane Craig’s essay “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” dissecting his arguments for the historicity of the resurrection and exposing their flaws and reliance on outdated apologetics.

Price begins by critiquing Craig’s use of a “slippery slope” argument to create a false dichotomy between faith in the resurrection and a bleak, meaningless existence. He argues that a belief in the natural world and the inevitability of death need not lead to despair, but can instead inspire a noble Stoicism and a recognition of human responsibility for creating meaning in a purposeless universe.

He next analyzes Craig’s lamentation over the abandonment of belief in the historical resurrection by 19th-century liberal theologians, highlighting the irony of Craig’s own reliance on the same type of Rationalistic arguments used by those he criticizes. He demonstrates how Craig, like the Rationalists and their Orthodox opponents, assumes the historical accuracy of the gospel narratives and then debates whether their events can be explained naturally or require supernatural intervention.

Price argues that Craig fails to engage with the insights of David Hume and Ernst Troeltsch, who recognized the inherent improbability of miracle reports and the need to judge claims of past events by the standards of present-day experience. He argues that Craig’s rejection of “methodological atheism” in historical investigation is an attempt to evade the burden of proof and to substitute divine fiat for a genuine explanation of events.

He deconstructs Craig’s specific arguments for the historicity of the resurrection, revealing their reliance on outdated apologetics and their failure to account for a significant body of evidence that contradicts his conclusions. He challenges Craig’s claims about:

  • The Early Dating of 1 Corinthians 15: The argument that the list of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 represents an ancient tradition received by Paul within a few years of the crucifixion.
  • The Reliability of Gospel Narratives: The argument that the gospels were written early and based on eyewitness testimony, making them reliable historical sources.
  • The Empty Tomb as Proof of Resurrection: The argument that the empty tomb tradition is historically credible and can only be explained by Jesus’s resurrection.
  • The Transformation of the Disciples: The argument that the disciples’ sudden change from fearful cowards to bold preachers can only be explained by their experience of the risen Jesus.

Price concludes by arguing that Craig’s essay is not a genuine contribution to New Testament scholarship, but rather a sophisticated attempt to repackage outdated apologetical arguments and to present them as cutting-edge research.

Chapter 16: James Patrick Holding’s “How Not to Start an Ancient Religion”

This chapter critically examines James Patrick Holding’s essay “How Not to Start an Ancient Religion,” which argues that the success of Christianity is sociologically improbable and can only be explained by divine intervention, particularly the resurrection of Jesus. Price deconstructs Holding’s arguments, demonstrating their flaws and highlighting alternative explanations for the rise and spread of the Christian faith.

Holding presents a comprehensive list of “disadvantages” that should have prevented Christianity from taking root, arguing that its unconventional message, its Jewish origins, and its emphasis on a crucified savior would have been repulsive to both Jews and Gentiles. Price refutes each of these claims, arguing that:

  • Crucifixion was not universally repugnant: Many ancient religions, like the Attis cult, centered on the bloody death of their saviors. Moreover, crucifixion was frequently interpreted as a positive symbol in dream interpretation manuals.
  • Judaism was not universally despised: Judaism was quite attractive to many Gentiles, who converted in significant numbers or became “God-fearers,” drawn to its ethical monotheism and its status as an ancient religion.
  • Galilean origins were not a significant stigma: Romans would have had little awareness of regional distinctions within Palestine, and even if they had, such factors would hardly have prevented them from embracing a compelling religious message.

Price further challenges Holding’s arguments about the improbability of:

  • Belief in a crucified god: Numerous ancient myths and legends featured dying and rising gods, making the concept familiar to both Jews and Gentiles.
  • A new religion succeeding in a conservative society: Many new religious movements, like Mithraism, flourished in the Roman Empire, demonstrating that novelty was not an insurmountable obstacle.
  • People embracing a morally demanding faith: The Mystery Religions also demanded repentance and ethical transformation, indicating that people were willing to embrace challenging religious beliefs and practices.

Price criticizes Holding’s claim that the early Christians encouraged people to “check the facts,” arguing that such a strategy would have been disastrous for a religion based on fabricated claims. He analyzes the supposed evidence for this claim, demonstrating that it is based on misinterpretations of scripture and a misunderstanding of the nature of ancient society.

He concludes by arguing that Holding’s entire argument is misguided, relying on a flawed understanding of ancient society and a failure to appreciate the complex factors that contributed to the rise and spread of Christianity.

Chapter 17: Glenn Miller’s “Were the Gospel Miracles Invented by the New Testament Authors?”

This chapter examines Glenn Miller’s essay “Were the Gospel Miracles Invented by the New Testament Authors?,” critiquing his arguments against the possibility of gospel narratives being mythical or fictional, and demonstrating how his a priori assumptions prevent him from engaging with the evidence in a nuanced and critical manner.

Price begins by analyzing Miller’s discussion of the nature of myth, highlighting his correct observation that the gospels, set in a specific historical period, do not fit the category of “raw myth,” where events occur in a primordial “once upon a time.” However, Price argues that Miller fails to adequately distinguish between myth and legend, overlooking the possibility that the gospel narratives are “historicized myths,” ancient tales transposed into a more recent historical setting.

He explores the process of historicizing myths, citing examples from the Old Testament and from ancient Greek historians like Herodotus, who attempted to locate legendary figures like Hercules within a specific historical timeframe. He argues that the gospels might represent a similar process, with an originally mythical Christ figure being reinterpreted as a historical figure living in the time of Pontius Pilate.

Price next analyzes Miller’s dismissal of the “dying and rising god” mytheme as a modern invention, arguing that he ignores or downplays a significant body of evidence for pre-Christian resurrection beliefs associated with deities like Osiris, Baal, and Attis. He criticizes Miller’s reliance on the apologetical arguments of scholars like Bruce Metzger and Jonathan Z. Smith, who attempt to deny the existence of pre-Christian resurrection myths or to claim that these myths were borrowed from Christianity.

He further critiques Miller’s attempts to downplay the similarities between the gospels and other ancient genres, such as the Hellenistic Romances and the biographies of “divine men,” arguing that he sets the bar for similarity too high and fails to appreciate the significance of shared themes and motifs. Price demonstrates how Miller misinterprets the nature of “ideal types,” viewing them as rigid categories that require absolute conformity rather than flexible tools for understanding family resemblances and differences between related phenomena.

Price challenges Miller’s claims about the lack of legendary development in the gospels, pointing to numerous examples of embellishment and expansion within and between the canonical texts. He argues that the differences between the gospels are not simply the result of independent reporting, but rather evidence of creative redaction and theological agenda-setting.

He concludes by criticizing Miller’s attempt to use the criteria of authenticity, originally designed for analyzing the sayings of Jesus, to defend the historicity of gospel miracles. He argues that these criteria are inappropriate for evaluating miracle stories and that Miller misinterprets their implications to suit his apologetical agenda.

Chapter 18: Christ A Fiction

This final chapter summarizes the book’s central argument, outlining the four senses in which Jesus Christ might be considered a fiction: as a mythical figure with no historical basis; as a construct of modern scholarship reflecting the biases of individual scholars; as a personal savior who exists only in the imaginations of believers; and as a corporate logo used by institutions to promote a specific set of beliefs and practices.

Price elaborates on each of these points, drawing upon the arguments and evidence presented throughout the book. He argues that:

  • Jesus might be a mythical figure: The striking parallels between the gospel narrative and the Mythic Hero Archetype, the similarities to ancient myths of dying and rising gods, and the lack of independent historical evidence for Jesus’s existence all suggest that he might be a legendary figure with no basis in historical reality.
  • The “historical Jesus” is a modern fiction: Scholarly attempts to reconstruct a historical Jesus inevitably reflect the presuppositions and biases of the scholars involved, resulting in a diverse array of “historical Jesuses” that bear little resemblance to one another.
  • The “personal savior” is an imaginary projection: The belief in a personal relationship with Jesus is a psychological phenomenon, akin to visualization exercises or channeling, that has no basis in the New Testament or in historical reality.
  • “Christ” as a corporate logo is a euphemistic fiction: The name “Christ” is often used as shorthand for a complex system of beliefs and practices that are not explicitly stated but are nonetheless assumed and required by those who invoke his name.

Price concludes by reaffirming his commitment to a critical and honest engagement with the biblical texts, arguing that such an approach, while potentially challenging to traditional faith, ultimately leads to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the Bible and its rich and complex history.

Overall, “Jesus is Dead” is a comprehensive and challenging critique of traditional Christian beliefs about the historicity and resurrection of Jesus. Price meticulously dissects the arguments used by apologists, exposing their flaws and highlighting alternative explanations for the origin and development of the Christian faith. While his conclusions are sure to be controversial, his rigorous scholarship and his unwavering commitment to critical inquiry make his book a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate about the historical Jesus and the nature of religious belief.

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