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Thoughts on Robert M. Price's Book: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man

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JadedAtheist

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Many years ago now I purchased this book, you can get it on Amazon here. At the time of purchase, I read about a third of it, found it fascinating and didn't touch it again. This of course changed in the last week or two as I made it my mission to go through old books of mine (and books I've always wanted to read) and begin working through them. The first of these was Price's book and it's not exactly a light read, my Kindle estimated about 15 hours reading time, and it wasn't too far off that.

 

So, what exactly is this book about? Quite simply, Price's mission here is to go through the NT (primarily the gospels, though he touches on some epistles to make certain points) and show that after separating the wheat from the tares you come to find yourself with no wheat, and nothing but tares. That is to say, once you're done stripping away myth you are left with no facts to pin to a historical Jesus. Price's methods (which he outlines at the start of the book) are the following:

 

  • Consistency with Known History - Do the biblical accounts match the historical record? If not, then we obviously chuck them out. Price's initial examples of this are the census of Quirinius and the synagogues and existence of Galilee at the time of Jesus. 
  • Criterion of Dissimilarity - This is one of his more contentious methods, essentially if what Jesus said was dissimilar to what everyone else was saying at the time, it's potentially authentic, otherwise it's not. Pro tip: According to Price, nothing is dissimilar.
  • Principle of Analogy - Essentially saying that if it's supernatural, it obviously didn't occur. Price explains that if we can find some contemporary examples of events that are recorded in the NT, then we can reasonably think there's potential for them to have really occurred, otherwise we can't. 
  • Principle of Biographical Analogy - If it walks, talks and acts like a duck; then it's a duck. If the gospels of Jesus look like other mythological tales, are told like them and include plot and story elements like them then why should we not consider the gospels mythological like they are?

 

Price of course explains this points more rigorously and more seriously than I have here, but this gives you an idea of the tools he uses to dissect the NT. That said, what are Price's findings as he goes through the various elements of the gospel narrative?

 

He covers so much ground that I don't know if I could do him justice in summarising with the few words I could be bothered writing on this topic. That said, let give you some snippets of the points and arguments he's made:

 

  • Parallels between gospel stories and those outside the NT - Price spends a lot of time showing how various stories in the gospels are either similar or identical to other stories found elsewhere. These could be stories told in Jewish lore such as the OT, the Talmud or various midrash. They could also be in Greek/Roman mythology, or even in Buddhist/Hindu mythology. Some of these are very compelling, others I feel are a stretch. I feel like at times Price is looking to find something to match up to the gospel text, rather than it coming to him. Some compelling, or at least interesting examples are those tales told of Apollonius of Tyana as well as multiple midrash concerning various Rabbi and their saying and/or miracles.
  • Hints of revisionism of various narratives - That is to say Price makes the argument in many places the narratives told were an attempt to correct previous authors or otherwise fix up embarrassing tales. Some of the compelling arguments I found were the deification of Jesus and how authors Luke and Matthew (and occasion John when covering the same material) toned down the human Jesus in Mark. For example, massaging Jesus' reply of "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God" into something else. Then there's the move of making John the Baptist subservient to Jesus. At first it was understood he was probably much older than Jesus, and weren't familiar with each other to him being Jesus cousin barely older than him who jumped in the womb upon Jesus' conception.
  • Hints of later church disputes being retrofitted into Jesus' words - Price argues that certain actions or conversations Jesus has are actually issues the Christian authors at the time were facing and were looking to get final word by getting authority through Jesus. Price gives examples of what he believes are allegories to these disputes, as well as conversations that couldn't plausibly have happened amongst Jews. An example off the top of my head is from the Gospel of Thomas where the topic of circumcision comes up - an obvious anachronism.

 

There is so much really, and I feel like in order to do it justice my summary would have to be 2 or 3 times longer than what I've written so far but I couldn't be bothered going back over the book to give some more thorough details so I will leave the snippets at that. What I will say now are my conclusions based on what he has written.

 

Price is writing to those in the know. Unless church history and biblical criticism are of particular interest to you, you will feel like you've jumped into an ocean not being able to swim. As a Christian these topics were of immense interest to me and I felt right at home. In some ways it was a bit of a relief as I felt like he wasn't wasting time explaining himself which can be frustrating reading material written to the layman when you yourself tend to be already knowledgeable. That said, he likes to display his extensive vocabulary and I found myself looking up a lot of words which I don't generally have to do when reading books. That was probably the only "annoying" part in terms of communication and writing style.

 

As for the arguments that Price makes, I feel like he is just blasting out theories and seeing what sticks. If it doesn't stick, he tries seeing if duct taping it on will give it a bit of a hand. This will put some people off and might make them view everything else he says with suspicion, but I believe with what he's wrote he is probably on the mark a good chunk of the time. I wouldn't even necessarily say the majority of the time but it's significant to the point that if you can forgive his stretches, it would be hard for you to continue to believe there was a real historical Jesus underneath the gospel tales.

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I love Price, but he is hard to read because he tends to write to other scholars rather than the general public. Your summary was excellent. 

 

Price has a lot of good books on the market. I like him because he doesn't shy away from controversy, and he let's the evidence speak for itself & then he stands by his findings & conclusions. He doesn't appear to be afraid of peer ridicule either or to go where others fear to tread. 

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Thanks, I still have a bit more to go. I will update the post later tonight to finish the summary (It was getting late last night so I decided to save where I was at and continue from there). If you look here this time tomorrow there'll probably be a few more paragraphs (if that is of interest to you).

 

I'm a fan of Price. I've spent a lot of time listening to his podcast the Bible Geek, and I've listened to a few of his debates and the biggest takeaway that I have of his is that he is like a fountain of knowledge. He's read extensively and it shows. With regards to what you said. I think that if you're completely unfamiliar with the subject matter he covers, then yes it's going to be an incredibly hard read (I'll update my summary to discuss this as well). I first read his book just after leaving Christianity, and having been to bible college so I was able to dive in easily. The only thing that makes him hard to read for me personally is that he likes to use his extensive vocabulary. I don't often have to look up words while reading a book, and I looked up probably 20 or so in the course of reading his. 

 

For me (and I'll expand on this in the post), the biggest criticism of him I have is that it often comes across that he's made up his mind, and is now trying to find facts to support his conclusion. Sometimes it's massive stretch the connection he tries to make, and other times he will say that a passage is the result of multiple very different processes which is hard to agree to. His biggest sin however is several times in the book he'll say that author X doesn't say Y, and then argues that the times they actually do say Y are interpolations or what have you. His bias is very evident.

 

So while I don't agree with everything he says, he at the very least makes it hard to accept that there's a historical Jesus to be found in the gospels. He compelling argues that what we see of Jesus is the agenda of the various authors seeking authority through Jesus' name, as opposed to actual fragments of things he said and done.

 

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Have you read the Amazing Colossal Apostle? His take on Paul is interesting & if he's right it's earth shattering. I was a long time member of the Church of Christ & they basically worship Paul & his Epistles. Therefore I found Price's take on Paul enormously interesting. 

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Have you read the Amazing Colossal Apostle? His take on Paul is interesting & if he's right it's earth shattering. I was a long time member of the Church of Christ & they basically worship Paul & his Epistles. Therefore I found Price's take on Paul enormously interesting. 

I've got a copy of it, I'll be reading it at some point in the next few weeks. I've listened to his podcast though so I've got an idea of what he'd probably say and I don't think he's right. Some of the arguments he makes (such as interpolations of interpolations) are really really stretching it. Still, I'll read the book and see what he has to say in detail.

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