Robert M. Price - The Bible Geek

The Good

Robert Price has arguably done more than anyone else to promote what has come to be known as the Christ Myth Theory (or more simply as "mythicism") in present day popular culture. It is therefore fitting that this blog should open with a profile on him. He didn't invent the CMT, to be sure. Rather, he re-discovered it in the course of achieving two academic doctorate degrees, one in New Testament studies and one in theology. His research in these fields led him to the nineteenth century work of the Tübingen School (F. C. Baur) and of the Dutch Radical School (Bruno Bauer and W. C. Van Manen), which in turn has inspired him to exhume their ideas, dust them off, and re-present them after realizing that these had been sitting neglected, never having had a proper academic vetting.  Price has done more than just introduce the postmodern world to the concept of mythicism, though. His Bible Geek podcast has been going for nearly two decades and is surprisingly popular for a podcast about the Bible, of all things. It does deal with mythicism as one of its foci, but the Bible Geek podcast is not necessarily about mythicism.   It's about all kinds of things. It's a kind of hub. A forum for fellow geeks. Through this podcast, Price has turned countless lay individuals all around the world into a virtual community of Bible aficionados, but not in a devotional sense. Rather, it is in a literary sense, in a mythological sense, a post-theist sense, that the Bible is unpacked and examined on the podcast. One need not be a mythicist to benefit from his knowledge and erudition on all-things-Bible.  He's sure to upset religionists of all stripes, of course, but that goes with the territory of his vocation, which is essentially the popularization of higher-critical Biblical scholarship. To this end it must be said that he has done a magnificent job, and he deserves our respect and admiration for it. For all his trouble, he is met with undeserved disdain by many historicists. Their drastic knee-jerking to what is essentially nothing more than literary analysis says way more about the sensitivity of their sacred-cow buttons, than about Price himself.  That he's not the crazed crusader bent on the demoralization and the eradication of Christianity that they all want their readers to envisage Price as will be apparent to anyone who spends more than ten minutes listening to an episode of the Bible Geek. His jocular style is more cornball than offensive. 

The not-so-Bad

If the GOOD is that we all get to have access to Price's encyclopedic Biblical acumen through his podcast and his books (see below) and that he is thus an invaluable resource for higher criticism in general, and for the CMT in particular,  ... then, viz a viz the CMT specifically, the only criticism that can rightly be leveled at him is a certain indecisiveness of position. That he is able to brilliantly come up with and elucidate half a dozen theories to explain a given set of pericopes with respect to the CMT, yet seldom go out on a limb to endorse any of them as the correct one—"this one scholar says this ... that other scholar says that,  ...  but it could be this too"—is one of the distinguishing marks of his 'mythicist' style.  He is generally undogmatic and non-committal, which is to say, he doesn't so much offer up and defend a cohesive Christ Myth theory of his own, as much as shine a light on all of the theories that have come before him and compare and contrast them to the mainstream models. This is a bit of a problem inasmuch as it leaves us with a lot of data but without a theory. Henri Poincaré once said, "Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science."

Price is not being intentionally obtuse or cavalier, though. It is not just mischievous contrarian-ness on his part. When you think about it, such professional caution might in fact be a wise course of action, given the broken state of methodological affairs in today's NT studies field, which is why I place a caveat on this paragraph's subheading.   Price simply accepts that we can know nothing about a historical Jesus, if there was one, given our evidence and our methodologies, which is effectively the same thing as there not having been one. 

The Bad

About the worst that can be said about Price is that he has been known to vociferously and unapologetically spout off gratuitous right-wing paroxysms and diatribes on his podcast, at times rather forcefully, which of course brings complaints from listeners, which in turn tends to make him defensive about it all.  These sporadic lapses of tact are just distracting to those of his listeners who don't give a shit that a bible scholar might not like Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or whoever. Luckily, I've noticed that this kind of superfluous commentary is a habit that he seems to be overcoming as time progresses, and I'm glad for that. Political bravado and bluster don't really belong in biblegeekery (I have been a listener since 1999 or so).  Even so, despite this one sensitive area, Price is really like an endearing, funky, funny college professor whose occasional partisan idiosyncrasies and absentmindedness one can easily overlook considering how much one can learn from him when it matters.   A good egg, he's not valued nearly as much as he should be.  Bob Price is an inspiration to a whole generation of geeks.  Thankfully, those who know know.   


Selected Bibliography:

  • The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems (2011)
    — A must-read scholarly overview of the problem of Jesus' historicity and various viable mythicist solutions and their limitations.

  • Deconstructing Jesus (2000)
    — Pop book in which Price first argues that there is good reason to believe that Jesus never existed as a historical figure, and that responsible historians must remain agnostic about a "historical Jesus" and what he stood for.
    Rating: ½

  • The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003)
    — More pop scholarship in the inimitable Bob Price style in which the character of Jesus is demonstrated to be a composite of Hebrew scripture re-runs and an assortment of other Mediterranean esoterica.
    Rating: ½

  • The Amazing Colossal Apostle (2012)
    — This is a mythicist work inasmuch as it includes a welcome (if dense) scholarly exploration of the ideas of the Dutch Radical School and the Tübingen School regarding the authenticity and piecemeal nature of the pauline corpus, which would later influence some toward mythicism.

  • Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth (2013)
    — An anthology of critical responses to Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? by several of those  scholars whom he mischaracterizes or maligns in it. Co-edited by Price, he also contributes key chapters.

    Rating: ★★★★☆

  • Is This Not the Carpenter (2012)
    — Edited by Thomas Thompson and Tom Verenna. An anthology of New Testament minimalism which includes a contribution from Price.

    Rating: ★★★★☆

  • The Historical Jesus: Five Views (2009)
    —A five-prong discussion on the historical Jesus, edited by Paul Eddy. Price's introductory minority opinion essay serves as a kind of foil for the other contributors to lambast. It is a good example of the irrationality of some historicists.

    Rating: ★★½☆☆


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