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on 10 February 2012
Robert M. Price is a noted biblical scholar and a member (or former member)of the Jesus Seminar, a radical group of more than 100 scholars who concluded that only about 18% of the Gospels is historically correct. However, Price believes his colleagues in the Seminar are much too confident and uncritical about the reliability of the Gospel tradition as a source of accurate historical information about the life of Jesus. Indeed, he feels that even their 18%, when rigourously examined, is doubtful and unreliable as straightforward history. So this is not another search for the historical Jesus, where certain texts are assumed authentic and others ignored or explained away in order to conform to one's particular creation of Jesus. Price is far too sensible for that wild goose chase.

In 'Deconstructing Jesus' (Prometheus Books) Price wrote of the futility of such a task. He reasons that the various scholarly reconstructions of Jesus are not the historical facts as their authors repeatedly claim. How can they be factually accurate when the Gospel sources themselves are theology from start to finish. Whether the authors are believers or sceptics, 'every life of Jesus book is that scholar's own Gospel.' All are custom fitted to each scholar's own predilections and priorities. And, of course, they all cancel each other out. Each sounds good until you hear the next one.

Price makes it crystal-clear in this superb work that the Gospels are profoundly theological or imaginative creations throughout. They should not be read and understood as simply historical reminiscences as is traditionally accepted. And I agree! He juxtaposes Mark, Matthew, Luke and John's accounts to determine their historical accuracy and finds them wanting and for good reasons. His method is that of a critical historian, not as an already convinced believer. No holy book should be believed without evidence is the attitude here.

The introduction brilliantly defines and defends higher criticism of the Bible - the inquiry into authorship integrity, historical accuracy, etc. Traditionalist Christians strongly object to this method for obvious reasons, but not when it's used on other religions or holy scripture. Price wants us to understand that this way of studying the Bible is not out simply to destroy the text but is an honest tool to find out if there is any historical reality in the stories.

Price is none too optimistic about the reliability of the Gospel stories. He presents us with a multitude of reasons to question their authenticity. They are 'a tissue of pious fictions created by early Christians for their own ends', he writes (p.181). John's Jesus, for example, is very cleary the writer's own creation. Price's reasoning here, and elsewhere in the book, is absolutely spot on. He says: ''if the Gospels were all random samplers of the teaching of Jesus, we would expect them all to have more or less the same range of types of sayings. For instance, John's gospel features numerous self-declarations of Jesus beginning with the revelation formula 'I am...' The Johannine Jesus announcas himself to be the light of the world, the bread from heaven, the true vine, the good shepherd, the door, the way, the truth, and the life, and so on. If Jesus indeed said such things, why on earth do we hear nothing of the kind in any of the other gospels? Isn't it rather because Jesus never made any such statements, but Christian devotion predicted all these things of him? John's Jesus is a crystallization of Johannine Christian devotion, and it has remained the favaurite devotional gospel for that reason. This is an important distinction, ignored by C.S.Lewis and his imitators who like to bully the skeptic by asserting that 'Jesus claimed to be God'''.

I think this makes perfect sense, something that Price thinks the same of the other gospels. They are purely 'literary creations', taken from the Old Testament and other sources rather than what is commonly accepted as trustworthy oral tradition. A lot of the Bible surely has a literary fictional feel about it, and if there is a real Jesus in the gospels, we cannot find him. He may be this, he may be that, he may be the other. He may be none of these things. We can't be sure because of the nature of the sources.

The gospels or the stories of Jesus may be clever works of theological art but they are nonetheless fiction. They belong alongside the apocryphal or non-canonical Gospel texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Infance Gospel of Thomas, the Dialogue of the Saviour, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Apocyphon of James, the Acts of Pilate, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Nazoreans, and so on. The religious urge to creat faith stories which have little or no factual reality has always existed and continues to this day. Traditional biblical Christianity is no different. If the faith or belief is strong, the facts are not important.

Biblical critics are often accused of bias against the miracles of Jesus so as to deny his supernatural nature. Price says this charge is ludicrous and explains why. Unless we have evidence, not faith, to think that nature behaved differently back then, it is sensible to 'assume things have always worked as they do now'. If Jesus indeed walked on water it is reasonable to assume that his followers should be able to do the same, as Peter did according to the story (Matthew 14:22-23). And of course we 'will search in vain for where the rotten dead are revived'. Price points out that the real bias here comes from Christians who will accept the biblical miracle stories as factual but 'are by no means willing to accept all the wonders of nonbiblical scriptures as legends (p.21).

This book is complex and highly detailed. It demands to be read and reread carefully. Price is my kind of biblical scholar in his relentless but non-dogmatic reasoning. In 'Deconstructing Jesus' he leaves open the possibility that there may have been a Jesus, 'but the state of the evidence is so ambiguous that we can never be sure what this figure was like.' This informative and gripping book shows us how the Gospel stories were put together in order to satisfy religious craving. It is an remarkable accomplishment, in what has become my favourite book on this topic.
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on 25 October 2007
Very readable. Filled with information. Lots of details. Lots of speculation on the individual details. The title may seem flip but the contents aren't at all.

Price stands out: he seems to be in the top 1% of thinkers and writers. He seems open-minded, going carefully thru a lot of information, following thru on various hypotheses rather than just following those he might be attached to. He reserves concluding until the conclusion, first gathering over 300 pages of input. Even then, the book's conclusion is only 6 pages long: nothing heavy-handed, seemingly just another hypothesis to consider. But after all the details of the main text, that final hypothesis pulls the book together tightly and brings full weight to the inquiry Price has been sharing with you.

Price seems not to claim things he can't claim. He doesn't play the authoritative expert. But in his openness and thoroughness, he delivers not just a powerful conclusion but a powerful process. Here's a model that other scholars (more apt to make hasty claims based on their "superiority") would do well to follow. Finish this book and you won't have been sold an answer, but rather stimulated to seek out more yourself about Jesus and the New Testament.
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on 24 May 2011
This is an excellent book. It goes through many different aspects and assumptions about Jesus and looks for evidence firstly in the gospels and often through extra-biblical sources. Robert Price starts out by defining the historical method and his criteria for determining whether something is likely to be historical fact or myth. He then dismantles many of the best known stories about Jesus in the gospels. The final - very short - chapter puts the final nail in the cross as it were, and ties everything up very nicely. What makes this book quite hard work to read is that you really have to have a copy of the bible with you whilst reading it, because although he does quote a great many passages in the book, he simply cites many others and you will have to look them up for yourself. I understand why he's done this, as it would take up far too much room, but you should be aware that you will feel the need to check his facts at various points, and this takes time. It's still a brilliant book though.
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on 9 September 2012
This is another superb detailed analysis of the many possibilities about the New Testament.
I was especially interested in the idea in the first chapter " In his inspired work on the attribution of sayings in the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner has shown how name-citations, ascriptions to this or that famous name must be understood not as evidence for what those actually said or wrote but rather according to the name-citation's polemical significance in the document under consideration. "
There is a possibility that the gospels weren't written until the third century.
Robert M. Price also notes John 8v57 where the Jewish leaders say to Jesus, " You are not yet fifty years old " which would be a strange thing to say to a man of only 30 years old according to Luke 3v23.
Yes there are alot of highly amusin incites in this wonderful book
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on 28 July 2015
Price is incredibly well read in NT studies and brings much pagan material to bear on the subject as well as analogy from other religions
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on 4 March 2009
I understand that the author was formerly a 'believer' and then lost his faith. I think this shows in some of the tone of this book, perhaps difficult to describe, but perhaps in a rather tired predisposition to be cynical. If it was the rather brittle North American evangelical belief rather than religious experience then I can understand how this can happen; swapping one intellectual understanding for another. With documents of this age then it is difficult to establish firm 'truth' and for the author to end up with no historical Jesus and no 'real' account of his teaching. Yet the author never seems to ask why anyone bothered to write these gospels in the first place. Unlike others I found his style wearisome. His constant references beg an awful lot from the reader; he keeps saying things like 'as X has shown Matthew was....' and it is then up to you to then go and buy X's book and decide whether you agree with that particular argument; if you follow this line then you will end up buying a great many books and I suspect most people will just accept the author's arguments without checking. Elsewhere on the web I have witnessed the author refusing to enter debate since others had not read particular books! I also found that the book gives many 'unmotivated' comparisons; just because a piece of writing is similar to other writings of its time does not mean they are both similarly motivated. Such that a piece of gospel is similar to a piece of a contemporary myth does not make them both myths; it rather shows were the author found a way to write; it does not demonstrate that the writers set out to copy or lie. As another has said, this might be a book to examine if you are interested in biblical criticism although it does take an extreme position. For a better written and far more cogent and creative attitude I would recommend reading Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture otherwise you might end up completely disillusioned!
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