Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License .
This book covers much the same ground as the author's later work The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Price considers what we can or cannot know about Jesus and concludes that almost nothing is certain.
In his Introduction Price points to a number of versions of Jesus that have been put forward by scholars over the years: Jesus the Cynic-like sage, Jesus the zealot, Jesus the eschatological prophet, and so on. These representations have been founded on good research and are plausible in themselves, but they cannot all be right and there is no good reason to prefer one interpretation over the others. Even so, few experts go so far as to doubt the very existence of Jesus, as Price does.
The basic argument is well set out in the Introduction, but I think that Price is in danger of losing the thread once he embarks on the main body of the book, where we get a lot of detail but not always a clear line of argument. To a considerable extent Price seems to be following in the footsteps of an earlier writer, Burton L.Mack, who questioned what Price calls the Big Bang theory of Christian origins. This is the view that some central event of great importance occurred at the outset and that all the later versions of Christianity were different ways of interpreting this.
Price, following Mack, thinks that we have been mistaken in accepting this idea at face value. There were probably several different strands in Christianity from the very beginning and these were unified only later to give the composite picture we have today. Where Price differs from Mack, or at least goes beyond him, is in his willingness to contemplate the possibility that there was no historical Jesus at all.
One place where I definitely felt we were wandering rather far from the main theme was in Chapter 6, where Price goes at some length into the notion of Jesus as a sacred scapegoat, drawing on the theory of René Girard. The whole discussion struck me as involved and, frankly, pretty unilluminating.
The book does provide some interesting facts and ideas. I had not
realized that the temple which Jesus is supposed to have cleansed by
overturning the tables of the money-lenders was actually a huge area
amply policed by guards. I also thought that Price was right to remark
on the parallels between Christian view of Jesus and the mythologising
of Ali within Shiite Islam. All in all, however, I should say that The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man is
the better book to read if you want to get an understanding
28 August 2005
28 August 2005