Chapter 9 of The End of Christianity brings us to Robert M. Price’s essay “Explaining the Resurrection without Recourse to Miracle”. In this chapter Price argues that “recourse to miracle is completely superfluous…” (219) as a means to explain the “resurrection data”. To prove his point, Price dusts off three long forgotten theories that seem at first blush about as hopelessly out date as a steam powered automobile. I speak here of the swoon theory, the wrong tomb theory, and the mistaken identity theory. Though long since left for dead by other scholars, Price apparently think these three theories present a serious challenge to historic Christian belief. Does this essay deliver?
No scholar believes…?
Unfortunately we get tripped up near the beginning of Price’s essay with outrageous statements like the following:
“modern New Testament scholars no longer take for granted that the Easter narratives are history at all.” (220)
“Scholars do not suppose that, say, the Joseph of Armiathea story, or that of the women visiting the tomb, is history….” (220)
Here we should distinguish two different possible meanings:
(1) New Testament scholars no longer assume the documents are historical
(2) New Testament scholars no longer believe the documents are historical
It is no surprise that (1) is true and has been true for the last two centuries. That’s trivially true. But (2) is false, unless Price has adopted an extremely idiosyncratic definition of “New Testament scholar” which excludes individuals like Edwin Yamauchi, Daniel B. Wallace and N.T. Wright.
In other words, Price’s characterization of New Testament scholarship is either crazy false or extremely misleading.
With that caveat in mind, let’s turn now to consider briefly Price’s three steam car theories.
Swoon Theory Reborn?
The Swoon Theory? Is Price serious?
He is. In fact he seems puzzled by the fact that people have been so dismissive of this theory, for
“All one has to surmise is that [Jesus] waited a while, till he was better and stronger, to make grandiose pronouncements.” (222)
Not only that but Price goes on to argue even more boldly that a careful reading of the New Testament provides support for the swoon theory as having been the original gospel proclamation! Oh yes, this makes perfect sense. I can hear Peter preaching now…
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this …. Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But he didn’t die. Instead, he slowly recovered from his wounds as he was nursed back to health over many months by Mary and Martha and the disciples. Although he is still unable to stand or walk without the aid of others, he is now able to use the restroom on his own because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Yes, how interesting that this idea never caught on with modern scholars.
Price spends about five pages providing his case that Jesus didn’t really die. In that time he provides an interesting and novel interpretation of several pieces of evidence. Of course Erich Von Daniken provided an interesting interpretation of several pieces of evidence in Chariots of the Gods. But that’s not enough to persuade me that aliens visited the ancient world.
Here’s the bottom line. Five pages of text which read like a New Testament scholar spinning tales around the campfire will be not quite sufficient to persuade a skeptical cadre of historians that Jesus really did swoon. I don’t mean to shoot down Price’s musings however. Rather, I want to hear more. Expand this neo-Swoon theory into a proper paper and submit it to peer review at conferences and a journal where it may be critically examined by other scholars in the field. If it survives the critical process of peer review then return and include the whole developed argument in a subsequent edition of The End of Christianity.
Unfortunately at this stage, it would be generous to call these musings half baked. Indeed, the oven isn’t even warm.
The Wrong Tomb Revisited?
The same problems are even more glaring when it comes to Price’s 1 page defense of the wrong tomb hypothesis, a brief section which builds toward its climax: a quote from Monte Python’s Life of Brian. Reading this reminds me of the guy I met in the street handing out fliers arguing that 9/11 was caused by the US government. Hint: any major theory of historical revisionism which can be fit onto one page (including Monte Python references) probably needs more documentation.
Again, I don’t mean to be dismissive. Rather, I’d invite Professor Price to develop these musings into a proper journal article and submit that to peer review as well. Spinning just so stories is fine for the campfire, but not proper academic discourse.
Sorry, wrong Jesus!
Hey, why not? After all, the New Testament documents record some confusion in recognizing Jesus as Jesus. Maybe the reason is because Jesus wasn’t really Jesus!
“All this non-recognition business, which we should never have expected, inevitably invites the suspicion that the Easter encounters were actually sightings of, encounters with, figures only later indentified with Jesus, and then as a means of escaping grief and despair.” (229)
Talk about just-so stories. This one is a Dusey! I jump into the conversation:
“I can see it now! The conversion of James, brother of Jesus!”
Everyone sitting around the fire turns to look at me. I continue:
“James a few days after Good Friday: ‘Sniff, I sure do miss my brother. Hey, that guy over there looks like him.’
James a week after Good Friday: ‘I saw a guy that looks like my brother Jesus. Hmm, maybe it was Jesus.’
James a month after Good Friday: ‘I saw my brother Jesus. He’s alive and he’s the messiah!'”
Everyone roars with laughter. As I begin to fix another marshmallow on the end of the stick the fire crackles and Price begins to spin more tall tales. We all laugh at his clever wit and great imagination.