CPBD 034: Robert Price – How to Study the Historical Jesus

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 11, 2010 in Bible,Christian Theology,Podcast


(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview New Testament historian Robert Price. Among other things, we discuss:

  • historical method
  • historical method applied to Jesus
  • Christian apologetics

Download CPBD episode 034 with Robert Price. Total time is 1:08:49.

the bible geekRobert Price links:

Links for things we discussed:

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark April 11, 2010 at 10:11 am

Re: the Gary Habermas survey. I wish there were some more research on the sociology and social psychology of Biblical criticism; and I think a comparison with other areas of academic historiography plagued by politics/ideology would be fruitful. Is it just a coincidence that Turkish historians are much more skeptical of the Armenian genocide than everyone else? And if Turkish partisans can maintain their position on even this well-evidenced historical question, what should that tell us about Christian scholars’ ability to toe the ecclesiastical line in an area where evidence is extremely scant?


Rick B April 11, 2010 at 11:16 am


awesome interview. I don’t usually listen to the podcast, because I’m more interested in the truth of the historicity of historical records rather than the philosophic discussions.

But Robert Price is able to present his view that the historical archives must be critically examined, rather than accepted iff they fit within the current paradigm, i.e. Christianity. In this, he identifies himself as a historical scientist and rises above most other historians.

I feel it’s reasonable to expect typical historians to fail to think critically with respect to their historical theories. This is in contrast to rigorously applying critical thought to their theories and examining competing views, with a mind towards the truth, rather than any particular dogma. Again, I think it’s reasonable to expect this behavior, but not that it’s a reasonable application of the scientific method.

Science is about disproving theories and teasing out causal relationships between observations. Platt (1964) shook up the scientific world – not without controversy – with his article describing exactly this process. I think it’s fair to say that historians who fail to try and disprove their own theories; who search exclusively for evidence and correlation that supports their theories; who fail to invent robust and accurate methods of distinguishing valid sources from apocryphal; these are not scientists and their works need not be discounted beyond that: they are interesting, but non-scientific.


Wade Anes April 11, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Wow Luke, this is awesome, you are getting all the big names! When are we going to get an interview with Michael Martin?


Jacopo April 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Luke can get almost anyone.

He’ll be resurrecting Mackie and Hume for a chat next. Which I guess would be kinda ironic.

But seriously, second the Michael Martin request!


lukeprog April 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Mark; yeah, that’s another good example, about Turkish scholars.


Ken Pulliam April 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm

You gotta love Bob Price. His sense of humor is great. Some scholars will put you to sleep but not Dr. Price.
Excellent interview–keep’em coming


Josh April 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm

How the hell do you get these guys to talk to you man =p?


johemoth April 11, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Robert Price is great. He’s a lot of fun to listen to, and I’m looking forward to attending his debate next month with James White. It’s unfortunate though, because I get the impression that few scholars really take him seriously (even skeptics like Bart Ehrman seem to dismiss him). But I have a hard time disagreeing with most of his logic.


Mark April 11, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Luke, maybe you should start an interview requests/ideas thread. People I’d personally like to hear:

Dan Fogelin on Hume’s argument on miracles;
J.L. Schellenberg on divine hiddenness;
Elliott Sober on design arguments (he’s done several popular interviews before);
Robin Collins on fine-tuning;
Paul Draper (or someone of his caliber) on the different arguments from evil;
Steven Wykstra on skeptical theism.


lukeprog April 11, 2010 at 8:06 pm


Oh yeah. Duh.


exapologist April 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Since others have made requests, I’d like to add to the list:

-Tyler Wunder on Plantinga’s warrant-phase reformed epistemology
-Peter Millican’s critique of Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure
-Richard Feldman on religious disagreement
-Stephen Law’s recent critique of Plantiga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism
-Bart Ehrman on an outline abductive case for the mainstream view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet


NerfHerder April 11, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Congrats on another great interview. But really…where do you find the time to host interviews, write in depth blog posts, compose and give speeches, read, have a full time job and hang with babes? A 4 hour sleep schedule? Keep it up, Luke.


Landon Hedrick April 11, 2010 at 8:15 pm

There are some good recommendations for future interviews here. Just in case any of the readers are interested, I wrote up my recommendations about a week ago. (Luke has already seen them.)



Haecceitas April 12, 2010 at 3:55 am

“Robert Price – How to Study the Historical Jesus” pretty much reminds me of “Kurt Wise – How to Study Evolution”.


RA April 12, 2010 at 8:18 am

Price cracks me up. I loved his return swipe at Ehrman. Great interview!


Medievalist Jon April 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I’d like to make a pitch for you to interview James Kugel, author of How to Read the Bible and The Bible As It Was.

If you have not read these, I highly recommend them for their great knowledge of how the biblical texts eventually became the Bible.


Mark April 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm

“Robert Price – How to Study the Historical Jesus” pretty much reminds me of “Kurt Wise – How to Study Evolution”.

Could you say more about why you think this? Granted, I get the same fringe vibes from Price as I imagine you do, but I also tend to think the Biblical studies “mainstream” is artificially conservative because of the religious commitments of most of its participants.


danielg April 16, 2010 at 10:22 am

Let me start that though I disagree with Price on many items, I agree with him on others, and quite liked some of the things he said.

1. The reaction to hellfire preaching to children

I actively keep my kids away from this until they are older, for the same reason that I don’t threaten them with death and drunk driving until they are old enough. Children have special developmental needs that require care in exposing them to the real dangers of life and the life to come. See:
Stick or Carrot in Gospel Preaching?

2. Gordon Conwell

Interesting that your guest got his degree there, that’s where I am attending.

3. On feeling “had” by religion

Funny, that’s how I felt about evolution after studying it after my biochem degree. See:
On Leaving Evolution
Losing One’s Faith (in Evolution) In College
Conned by Evolution

4. On being Christlike

So essentially, your author has ‘degenerated’ from a believer into an Christian moralist/ethicist. Reminds me of How Churches Degenerate to Mere Social Clubs – that is

a. We preach Christ crucified
b. We preach Christ (but not the icky mad God who demanded crucifixion)
c. We preach (but not Christ, just moralizing)
d. We (we preach community of us)

5. On harmonizing different accounts

While evangelicals do try to harmonize the canon, they don’t try to harmonize all historical accounts of Jesus, hence the non-canonical books. They did at one time use logic to include and exclude books.

But the requirements for the Canon did not include easy harmonizations or non-contradictions. It was assumed that they were accurate from different points of view.

They do the same for manuscripts today – when there are differences, they note it when they’re not sure which is more authoritative. Evangelical scholars aren’t as dishonest as Price indicated, though I think he has a point

6. On validating historicity of the bible using other sources and archeology

Price makes a good point that Biblical archaeologists are not using pure induction, and this most certainly may affect where they look and how they interpret what they find.

However, due to the impressive historical record of the Bible (arguably), it may make sense to trust it over other ancient sources, as long as you are open to contradictory archaeological data.

7. Jesus is legend because his story is more like Buddha legends and mystery religions than anything we see in normal life

Price has a point, but he is also missing the unique claims of Christ, and as I mentioned separately, the centrality of the resurrection miracle to the entire Christian construct, as opposed to the less central miracles in Buddhism, or even the healing miracles of Jesus.

This makes the unique improbable claims of Jesus not directly analogous to other legend formations.

With regard to mystery religions:
Did Christianity Borrow from the Mystery Religions?

8. When to consider fringe views or question the orthodoxy

His observation is very true – when the existing generation entrenched in the current orthodoxy dies off, only THEN can a valid fringe view actually take root.

I hope this may happen with evolutionary orthodoxy and global warming nonsense.

See When It’s Wise to Question the Scientific Consensus

I do agree that New Testament historians are often apologists and not true skeptics, but I think that this was more true before the higher criticism movement of the early 1900′s.

A critical history view is fine, but I still think there is a legitimate, logical, and reasonable role for apologetic historical examinations. IF one assumes the Bible to be True, or as accurate a historical document as we have, it follows reasonably.

9. Solomon’s Temple?

I think that Price is making an argument from lack of evidence here (what is that called?). Just because no evidence is yet found does not mean that it did not exist. Religious leaders do not allow archaeological excavations on Temple Mount, where Solomon’s temple was supposed to exist, since it is “one of the holiest sites for Judaism and Islam.”

In fact, recently, a discovery was made that may be evidence for Solomon’s temple – it’s not much, but I would not jump to conclusions.
Solomon’s Temple Artifacts Found by Muslim Workers

But I may be duplicitous here – I do sympathize with scholars who doubt the golden age of islam – see Europe’s Dark Ages and Islam’s Golden Age – two historic fictions?

10. No historical Jesus?

Sounds like he’s done the baby/bathwater thing. Not sure why. He seems to argue that similarities to the OT or other mythic stories means that it is most likely that the Jesus stories are the same. If you are going on pure probability, he may be right.

I’m not sure that the uniqueness of Jesus, his reported teachings and resurrection, and his positive impact on the world since, however, makes pure ‘probability’ the best or only measure.

The lack of contemporary material for Jesus is a good point. He seems to think that much of the OT and NT contain interpolations, which may be true, but I’m not sure what that means for the accuracy of scripture or not.

11. Suspending disbelief to enjoy Christianity

That is the most interesting part of his interview. He personally seems to enjoy myth and symbolism, positive sentiment, and even the culture of intellectual and spiritual development that are part of healthy Christianity.

The fact that he does not believe is sad. He wants the fruit, but doesn’t want the root.


danielg April 16, 2010 at 10:36 am



danielg April 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Again, all that work and no one is here to see it! :(


a Nadder May 2, 2010 at 4:50 am

I’m listening to this now and it’s hilarious. I always love Robert Price but you could have done no prep for this one at all since it’s impossible for you to get a word in!


Trav May 12, 2010 at 2:28 am

I have to agree with the comment above:

“Robert Price – How to Study the Historical Jesus” pretty much reminds me of “Kurt Wise – How to Study Evolution”

I’m currently listening to this podcast…but I must admit, it’s very difficult giving any credibility to Price after reading his effort in the book “Five Views on the Historical Jesus” (see here http://www.amazon.com/Historical-Jesus-Five-Views/dp/0830838686/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273659633&sr=1-1).

I do like what Price says about using sources in historical studies, rather than the fundamentalist approach to the Bible. Obviously, defending inerrancy isn’t going to stick in a history essay. A point well made.

But, he goes in the opposite direction! Any possible piece of evidence which makes a controversial suggestion, or denies something stated in a gospel as being historical, and it’s Gold in Price’s eyes.

Price says no one had any evidence of any Pauline epistles till “The Gnostics”, however Paul’s letters were quoted in the very early 2nd century, by Church fathers.


Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }