The good, the bad and the ugly

No, I'm not going to discuss Sergio Leone's masterpiece. But the title seemed appropriate to describe a fascinating reading list in biblical criticism compiled by none other than our friendly neighborhood radical skeptic, Robert Price. I've always wondered what, exactly, Price had read which might have led him to some of his fringe views in biblical studies, and this list is a valuable insight into what makes him 'tick'. It really does include the good, the bad and the ugly in biblical studies. What follows is my own classification of the recommended books, by scholar. By good I mean solid, critical scholarship, mostly believing but also some of the more noteworthy skeptical scholarship. By bad I mean skeptical scholarship which is too driven by presuppositions to be useful, or which advances implausible arguments to explain away the emergence of Christianity and the Resurrection. By ugly I refer to fringe works which promote all sorts of fanciful theories which, unfortunately, Price seems to have embraced wholesale. This prompts the question of how he could have ever swallowed so much bunk if he really had studied the good stuff. Anyway, here goes (I have only classified those scholars whose works I am personally acquainted with):

The Good:

Gerhard Von Rad, Walther Eichrodt, Mark S. Smith, C.F.D. Moule, Donald Guthrie, Helmut Koester, Jacob Neusner, W.D. Davies, Emil Schurer, Joachim Jeremias, Vincent Taylor, Raymond E. Brown, Walter Wink, Albert Schweitzer, T.W. Manson, E.P. Sanders, Bruce Chilton, Harald Reisenfeld, Birger Gerhardsson, Gerd Theissen, Graham Twelftree, A.J. Wedderburn, Hans Conzelmann, Wayne A. Meeks, Peter Brown, Richard Longenecker, Gordon D. Fee, James D.G. Dunn

The Bad:

John Dominic Crossan, Gerd Ludemann, Theodore Weeden, Burton Mack, Robert Funk, R. Joseph Hoffman, F.C. Baur, John Knox, Richard Pervo, J.C. O'Neill, Michael D. Goulder, Dennis R. Macdonald, Hyam Maccoby, H.S. Reimarus and the liberals (Strauss, Renan, etc.), Martin Noth, Philip R. Davies, Kurt Rudolph, Alfred Loisy, Maurice Goguel, Julius Wellhausen, Walter Bauer

The Ugly:

Robert Graves, G.R.S. Meade, Robert Ingersoll (!), Margaret Barker, Barbara Thiering, Earl Doherty, Robert Eisenmann, Randal Helms, Hugh J. Schonfeld, Frank Zindler, Alvar Ellegard, Joseph McCabe, J. Duncan M. Derrett, Hermann Detering, Arthur Drews, Bruno Bauer, Gerald Massey, Robert Price :)

He also makes some very revealing and sometimes puzzling comments on individual books. Of a tome by Bruce Chilton on Jesus' purity program ("The Temple of Jesus") he writes, "Ah, I can't buy it, though I only wish I were half the scholar Chilton is!" Well, maybe if he were he'd come to more sensible conclusions! There seems to be a dubious sleight-of-hand at work here, in that he throws a sop to the real experts (trying to at least be associated with them) while undermining their work in his condescendingly apologetic tone for not being able to accept their theories in favor of the Jesus mythers and other crackpot scholars. He also has high praise for other conservatives (such as Dodd, Guthrie whom he calls "omniscient as to who has said what on every point" and the likes of T.W. Manson and J. Jeremias who he includes under the equally condescending heading of 'Pious but Genuine Criticism', as if to suggest that the two are often mutually exclusive) which is inconsistent with the stance he actually takes toward their work. He dismisses Birger Gerhardsson's careful work as "arbitrary and anachronistic", when in fact unlike Price he has gone to the trouble to come up with a historically plausible model for explaining the form of the Jesus tradition as it has actually come down to us, instead of relying on skeptical cliches concerning legend-mongering and trying to find analogies to the emergence of the Jesus movement in settings very far in time and place from 1st Century Palestine.

All in all, there are some real gems thrown around in the mud, but it is clear that Price has not absorbed the qualities which make the good scholarship stand out in his own work. Use with caution.


Anonymous said…
Joseph McCabe is really a gem. People reading and believing him will automatically fall for the "bad" and "ugly" lot on your list.

His "The Social Record of Christianity" is summed up on Amazon with "Throughout history, the Christian Church has put up a bitter and persistent opposition to astronomy, geology, biology, paleontology and evolution and has banned or prevented the investigation or practice of medicine, life insurance, agriculture, the census, printing, and the use of steam and electricity. This social history of repression is explored in McCabe's well-documented book.".

A must read;-)
BK said…
Good grief, I can tell just by the Amazon description what a piece of garbage the McCabe book is. Do you really believe that sort of nonsense? His claims are simply absurd on their face.
Anonymous said…
Indeed, utterly and totally absurd. A hoot. And still, a lot of people have grown up hearing about this.

It is quite simply one of the most important reasons why many atheists loath Christianity. We see the same beliefs in the recent books by Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, making them and their readers suffer from the HDHD syndrome.

It is a clear symptom of being a secular "faith head" when your thoughts and emotions lead you to take such accusations as so obvious that you don't even bother to check them.

Unfortunately the whole 19th century Draper and White school became more than homeschooling for a few, it grew into today's secular orthodoxy.
BK said…
Sorry, Buridan, I hadn't caught your sarcasm when you said it was a gem.
Anonymous said…
Granted, can't be too carefull on the web these days - too much sincerity sounds like sarcasm.

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