robert m. price
Most people are aware that there is no hard, historical evidence for the existence of the "Jesus Christ" of the bible. So "Jesus never existed", but is that the whole story? What does the real evidence suggest was really going on circa 2000 years ago in the modern-day Middle East and Roman Empire and, more importantly, who wrote the bible?

To answer this most important of questions, we interviewed American theologian, author and biblical scholar, Robert M Price.

Robert is a former Baptist minister who today teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary. He is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including Deconstructing Jesus, Jesus is Dead, Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority, The Case Against the Case for Christ, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul.

Robert runs a regularly updated website and hosts a regular webcast called 'The Bible Geek' where he answers questions from his readers.

Regular hosts Joe and Niall were also joined this week by amateur bible critic and researcher Laura Knight-Jadczyk.

Running Time: 01:57:00

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Joe: Hi and welcome to Behind the Headlines on the SOTT Radio Network. I'm Joe Quinn and my regular co-host this week is Niall Bradley.

Niall: Hi everyone.

Joe: And we also have Laura in the studio.

Laura: Hi.

Joe: For a very pertinent reason that will become clear. This week we are extremely excited to have a very special guest, Robert M. Price, or Bob, as we've just found out he prefers to be called.

Laura: I don't know if he prefers that - I would call him professor.

Joe: Well we can call him professor; we'll ask him when I finish with his bio. Bob is an American theologian and writer and former Baptist minister. He received a PhD degree in systematic theology from Drew University in 1981, and another PhD in the New Testament in 1993. In the late '70s he began to reassess his faith, deciding at length that traditional Christianity simply did not have either the historical credentials or the intellectual cogency its defenders claimed for it. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary and is professor of biblical criticism at the Centre for Inquiry Institute. He eventually resigned his pastorate in 1994 and for six years, with his wife, led a living room church called The Grail. He lives in North Carolina where he attends the Episcopal Church and in his own words: "Keeps his mouth shut".

Bob is the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including: Beyond Born Again; The Widow Traditions in Luke-Acts: A Feminist-Critical Scrutiny; Deconstructing Jesus, the Crisis of Biblical Authority; Jesus Christ Superstar: A Redactional Study of a Modern Gospel; The Da Vinci Controversy, and two of my personal favourites in part for their excellent titles: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and The Amazing Colossal Apostle - the Search for the Historical Paul.

Laura: I love that.

Niall: Those are great titles.

Joe: In 2005 Bob appeared in Brian Flemming's documentary film The God Who Wasn't There and he is the host of regular webcasts called The Bible Geek where he patiently answers listeners questions. So you can check out his shows and find out more about him at his website which is: So I hope I got all that correct Bob. You're very welcome to the show.

Bob: Oh, it's great to be here. Thanks a bunch. By the way, I haven't gone to church in a few years now though I still love the Episcopal church, I just sort of lost interest.

Joe: Oh yeah. Well based on your work and your research I suppose that's understandable.

Bob: It's also over 20 miles away and there's gas to worry about. (laughter)

Joe: Got to get your priorities right.

Laura: Anyway, I'm going to just kick in here since they were giving me 20 seconds to talk about something before we went on air - and I said I couldn't say anything in 20 seconds. I guess our regular listeners probably know why I can never say anything in 20 seconds. But anyhow, I've got a whole slew of Dr. Price's books and several of them are lent out to various other people and have not been returned to me so I only have four here on the table, but I have a whole stack of printed book reviews because since I've been spending the last, however many years it is reading everything available on the topic, I discovered these great reviews. Then I figured out, "well I can read the reviews and then they'll tell me whether I need to read the book or not!". (laughter) Save myself some time.

Bob: Yeah, that makes sense.

Laura: It's pretty interesting. But what interests me as a former fundie, is: how painful was it for you to make your escape?

Bob: I guess the first emotional reaction I had was back in 1977 when I began to read the other side of apologetics, the questions and answers that my favourite apologist had never addressed, and I began to realize that the arguments for the historical Jesus - the reliability of the gospels, the resurrection and all that - just did not hold water in my opinion. I began to feel a great indignation as if I'd been sold the Brooklyn Bridge and I didn't think that anybody had lied to me. I still don't think that's the case. I just figure that people have a hard time thinking outside of a box, as they say, and that deep down fundamentalist apologists are seeing argument and evidence as plausible, based on how they comport with what they already want to believe.

It's not that they're intellectually dishonest but that they just don't really see the big picture. And if you begin to see it, you begin to realize "Gee, I'm not at all with these people anymore" and I did feel like I'd kind of wasted some time. But you gain from everything you learn, no matter how you learn from it. So I did feel indignation and I had been afraid that if I lost my faith, all the things that the fundamentalists said would come true; that I'd find there was no meaning in life, etc. But, once I decided "That's it! I'm out of evangelicalism!" I felt like I'd been born again - hallelujah!
It was almost a surprise to me that the faces of people in restaurants and on subways and so on, was entirely new and the world seemed new and to open up to me. I immediately found that it was a great, exciting thing, not an intimidating one. So I got kind of mad for a while. And I hope I don't come across as an anti-Christian fundamentalist. I know there are plenty of people that are. But I hope I've transcended that; I still have some venom for arguments that I think are stupid and chicanery from apologists where they really ought to know better. But I take people as people so I can't really be quite as hot under the collar as some are.

Laura: Well yeah, I understand that for sure. I'm currently reading Bruno Bauer. He was hot under the collar, I tell you!

Bob: Oh yeah.

Laura: Did it happen like a switch or did it take time? Was this a process for you?

Bob: I think two things converged but I think it all sort of came to a head within a period of a few months.

Laura: Wow!

Bob: On the hand, I began to read things about Sabbatai Zevi, the 17th century messiah who committed apostasy - under threat of death he converted to Islam. This was very analogous to the crucifixion of Jesus; a disillusioning messiah, and the excuses his followers made and so on. Well, I could instantly see that here was one single case, though there were others, that debunked about everything apologists said. "Oh, this couldn't have happened with Jesus. There wasn't enough time for legends to form" and so on and so on.

So I read a bunch of this stuff and realized jeez, it's just wrong, what they say could have happened and couldn't have happened. Then secondly, I began to feel that the evangelical born-again theory was too limiting and was protracting my own personal immaturity because, as you know I'm sure, they always say "Don't wrestle with your problems. Leave them in the hands of god." And in the meantime you just go on being a good Christian. No big things happened. But I just began to see that that was restrictive and fantastic, that it involved viewing the world in essentially a superstitious way: "What is god trying to tell me by this minor nuisance or that life disappointment?" or whatever. And I thought "Wait a minute! What am I thinking here? Is the world like a big Skinner box and god is the experimenter and I'm the rat or the pigeon who's being conditioned?" It seemed ridiculous. I figured I needed to take responsibility for myself. So both of these things kind of coincided though either one of them I suppose would have been enough to do the job.

But I think it really just was a matter of a few months really. A lot of things had been building and I finally, sometime in 1977, decided okay, that's it, I'm not an evangelical. It took me a while longer to decide "I guess I'm not really a Christian either" though I had great sympathy for liberal theologians like Paul Tillich. I eventually figured I don't know whether I can count myself a believer in anything anymore.

Laura: Well, one of the things that I observed in myself was that it took a long time - it took me 20 years actually, step by step. I was raising children at the time too, so I didn't have a lot of time to devote to it. But what I noticed was that there were those dark moments that you have where you wonder "What if I've made the wrong choice? What if this is going to come back and bite me?" And then finally I did get to the point where I realized that that was part of the programming itself, and that when I was thinking that I was buying into it. So it took me quite a bit longer. I was just curious to find out if you'd been able to do it a little more quickly and more efficiently. Of course you had all of the theological education which I didn't have. I was more or less just a bible reader and sort of an amateur student.

Bob: Well I guess this kind of depends on how you want to cut the cake, how you want to categorize it, because it had been at least a few more years where, even as an aspiring apologist, I was more and more tormented by doubt and afraid my faith might not prove true. The great irony with apologetics, with defending the faith, is that once you start to do that, simple faith is no longer possible. If you have to rely on probabilistic arguments that you can show that it's the most likely hypothesis that Jesus really rose from the dead and all that stuff - that's the way they argue - you begin to realize "Well, even if this is the most likely hypothesis, if that's all it is, I could still be wrong". And it wasn't really a question of faith anymore. I wanted to believe but now it backfired on me. So that was building for a few years. So maybe in those terms it did take a bit longer.

Laura: Look at this poor guy, Bart Ehrman. I read his book God's Problem and he so touchingly portrays his 'angsting' over his dissatisfaction with god's solution to the world's problems. And yet he turns around and writes something like The Historical Jesus and then you go, "Say what?!? What happened?!" He was going in such a good direction. What happened here?

Bob: And he still is going in that direction. I'm no mind reader but it seems to me that he has two things going on: He decided he couldn't believe anymore and makes no bones about it and feels more at liberty to call a spade a spade, like when he says "Let's face it, pseudepigraphy, Pseudonymous' biblical writings were pious frauds and forgeries" and there's a refreshing honesty about that. But on the other hand, when something else comes up, and he liked the Christ myth theory, he seems very reluctant to buck the conventional view. He went from fundamentalism to being a good member in standing of the critical scholarship establishment.

And if you say something like "You know I think Jesus probably didn't exist" you're automatically considered a lunatic. I think that that's kind of what happened. He got out of one plausibility structure, one peer group of believing Christians, into another one that he perceived as its opposite, the critical scholarly guild, and his loyalty to that. I think - again, I'm just surmising - that makes him suddenly seem to shift his ground. The gospels are unreliable enough to help convince him that Christianity isn't true or at least belief in it is arbitrary.

But if you say "Well maybe Jesus didn't even exist", then, "Wait a minute! That's a fringe view." And suddenly the evidence looks better, at least the evidence is good enough to show that there's some kind of a Jesus. And that is certainly a fair view. I'm not saying that's a crazy view but I think that's kind of what's happening. It's a matter of relativity, not enough gospel evidence to say what Jesus was really like or at least that he was like the Christian saviour, but certainly enough to say that he wasn't a myth. I naturally think he's not seeing the evidence accurately, but that's in the eyes of the beholder too.

Laura: Well I think he gets lost in the trees and doesn't see the forest, that's just my opinion. Because after you read Tom Brody and you read McDonald, and some of these other guys that show you how these texts were created, and the models that they were based on and how they were put together, you just realize there was no frigging story to begin with. They made one. If you come to that conclusion, which I did, then basically you have to just completely throw that out and then what you're left with is: can you find any trace of a Jesus-like figure in historical writings that are not about Jesus. There's not much to go with there; you've got Josephus and Philo and Tacitus and possibly Paul and some of the earlier so-called Christian literature that was pre-Christ as far as that goes; you don't find much. It's like this character was created.

Bob: And you don't even really have Josephus even, and if you did, it's late enough that he would simply be reporting what Christians in his day believed. There's no way, even if he actually wrote the famous Flavianum, that he was a reporter on the scene or had any personal recollection, it was too late for that.

Laura: Well obviously, as far as I'm concerned, that's a big fraud but I think that there was a text about something that that replaced, but it just wasn't something about some Jesus. Josephus of course had a lot of stuff to cover up. He was as busy covering and blowing smoke as he was being truthful. I have read through those texts carefully, more than once. I've got numerous annotated copies and I think there are traces of something that was going on but it's not what we call Christianity and it wasn't about some guy named Jesus. There was a lot of different people.

Bob: Yeah. Theodas the magician, Judas of Galilee, Menachim and so on and so on.

Laura: And then there was that great Jesus right there at the end, that was going around "Woe is Jerusalem! Woe is Jerusalem!" That story is a killer, no pun intended. (laughter)

Bob: Yeah, it does appear that that was known to the gospel writers and that they've adapted that to the story of Jesus because, as you say, there are so many parallels. So you say you don't have a degree in this area.

Laura: No.

Bob: Because it sounds like you do and maybe if you have the time and money, that would be great. You'd really enjoy all the grad stuff and so on.

Laura: Well I have the time and I have the money and I've been doing this studying and I probably have 10,000 volumes in my library, so I'm reading pretty thoroughly. Unfortunately I don't speak or read Greek, or German or Latin, but I have dictionaries.

Bob: Well they have courses in these programs to learn it well enough. Obviously it's none of my business but you obviously have such a grasp of the thing and enough interest in it, you might really enjoy the whole thing.

Joe: Do they do online courses?

Laura: (laughing).

Bob: Some places probably do.

Laura: Yeah, I'm in France so it's kind of hard.

Bob: Oh.

Laura: We are in France at this very moment.

Joe: I enjoy listening to people who are heavily involved in this topic, it's interesting, ...

Laura: But we're boring you?

Joe: No, not boring me. I'm just thinking in terms of our listeners. I'm trying to formulate some kind of more basic questions that get us back to the beginning.

Laura: I want to talk about Tacitus and his 18th book but go ahead.

Joe: Can we say what our premise is first? What is our premise?

Laura: What is our premise?

Joe: Well, there is no Jesus.

Laura: The whole premise is that Jesus was a myth and that whether or not there were any actual historical characters who, in whole or in part, contributed to the structure of that myth is kind of the question.

Joe: Right.

Laura: There are some 'Jesus is a myth' people who say there was nothing nowhere. It was all made up. I see Jesus in so many texts; I could go to the gospel of Mark and I could show you exactly where everything came from, one text or another, because I've got all of this classical literature in my head before I even started the biblical literature. I can tell you where the story that follows the Testimonium Flavianum. There's two stories about Paulina with her husband Saturninus.

Bob: Yeah.

Laura: And the other one about Fulvia and the four Jews, one and three. The first story is based on a tale that occurred in 58 AD, and it was in Tacitus. Josephus probably didn't use Tacitus but he certainly knew the tale, because it was a big murder scandal. So it's interesting to see it reformulated according to fairly standard mythical norms, right there following that tale. So it's almost like Josephus knows he's blowing smoke because he's making stuff up.

Bob: (laughing)

Laura: So what is he trying to say? Why is he using the name Paulina? Why does he use the name Decius when Decius was a family of ancient Roman heroes who performed what they called devotio, sacrificed themselves on the battlefield to win the battle to save their people? What's he trying to tell us there? And here's this noble Roman named Paulina who sells herself out to the Egyptian religion, or something in the guise of your Egyptian religion, but it's really just a whoredom. And how do the Jewish writers think about 'whoredom'? Whoredom is whoring after other gods. So Josephus was telling us something!

Bob: That's fascinating. I think similarly...go ahead

Laura: No, I was just going to say we're not supposed to let me talk here. You're supposed to be talking.

Bob: Well I like learning too.

Laura: But anyway, we want to talk about your book a little bit, The Case Against the Case for Christ because, like I said, I love that book! And Lee Strobel.

Bob: Yeah, a funny thing happened with that. I've never met him though I was at a conference he attended but I didn't run into him. There was one being planned about the atonement in some church I think, in the Midwest, where it had every conceivable perspective on the idea of the atonement of Christ. And they asked if I could deal with it from a mythicist perspective and so I wrote up this thing called: The Mythic Power of the Atonement. So Lee Strobel was supposed to be there and he was the big draw. They figured that if anybody would attract attendees he would. I'm sure that's correct.

So there were a lot of people on there. Well he heard that I was invited to appear there and, even though they assured him we would not be on the stage together, he insisted that it was some sort of an ambush and that they were going to try to embarrass him with me somehow, so he pulled out of the thing and it collapsed. And I couldn't believe it. He was terrified!

Laura: Tell the listeners who he is and what his position is. Let everybody know who this Lee Strobel is.

Bob: He was a reporter and he sets himself up in this book as a converted sceptic, and that he got interested in the whole thing because his wife became a born-again Christian and he had to decide whether he thought this was true or not. Of course that already makes you suspect he's looking for a reason to switch over. But he says he made this list of experts on early Christianity and the New Testament, went to interview them all and each chapter is devoted to a different interview and he summarizes what the person said with lots of quotes. In the end he says "Yeah, this really shows that Christianity is true."

Laura: - there was Jesus. And all of them were apologists, right?

Bob: Yeah. Every stinking one of them! He made no attempt to speak with John Dominic Crossin, or Bart Erhman, or any of these people. There are so many, as you know, that he could have sought out and they would have gone along with him. These people often have friendly debates and symposia with; conservatives like N.T. Wright and so on. He would have had no trouble. But he just went after people that would try to prove to the reader, through him, that born-again evangelical bible believing Christianity was true. That's the real issue of course. He's saying it was simply a historical question but it's obvious he's misrepresenting the whole thing. He went in just to make a case, not to find out anything.

So there's a basic dishonesty in the approach. Now going back to what I said before, I don't necessarily think he's trying to pull some sort of a scam. I'm sure he sees himself as having done this but he's too interested in the issue to see what's happening. And the result is that it's a pathetic collection of bad arguments from people who are axe-grinders. This book is enormously popular. They give it out in Billy Graham rallies and so on and people figure "These people have proven this. I don't need to doubt anything" and it's just in effect, if not intent, a con job. That's the only reason I get involved in these debates. I don't care what anybody believes. It's none of my business. But I do know something about the New Testament and early Christianity and I just can't sit back and let this baloney go forth and deceive people, if I can have any dissenting voice.

Joe: Well I find it interesting that when anybody does that, and it's happened on many different occasions with different people in different spheres of research and interest - where they're invited to talk at a conference and they hear that someone else with an opposing view is coming along and they do exactly what this guy said when he heard that you were coming, that it was going to be some kind of ambush and he would be embarrassed. Well, what was he expecting? That you'd call him names or something? Obviously the embarrassment was that he knew what you were going to say and he knew that what you said refuted or proved false his entire thesis. So it's an admission almost, when people do that, that their own argument is very shaky.

Bob: Right, yes exactly.

Joe: And they don't believe it even.

Laura: Well that's the whole problem with Christianity and apologetics; the very fact that most writing about Christianity is apologetic just tells you how shaky the whole thing is. You have to have an apology for it?!?

Joe: The very word.

Laura: Yeah, it's crazy. When they started translating the bible and letting people read it, that's when people started asking questions and people started saying "Wait a minute. Something is wrong with this picture", because up until that point the priests who had all the power interpreted it for you. And we have kind of an ongoing thing here in our house because quite a few of our household are former Catholics and then of course there's some of us, yours truly, who are former fundies, protestants. So there's really very different points of view of your early childhood programming. Catholics never read the bible. Fundies always do. They just don't know what they're reading. (laughter)

Bob: Yeah, that's right. It's a whole different book. That's just astonished me ever since I got into the critical study of the bible. It's not the same book I thought it was and it's far more interesting now.

Laura: Well I'll tell you, there were two things that were big turning points for me because I was a very sincere Christian and I really wanted to understand it. This is the word of god, right? I want to know what god says to me. I really want to know it. I want to get behind these words, right? Words are important. So I wanted to read about the bible itself, the context of all the studies. And somewhere along the way, very early, this was years ago, I read the startling declaration that the last several verses of the book of Mark were not considered to be original. And I thought "What?!?" That was really shocking to me. It's worse than that, but for me that was the first really big shock.

And I went to a bible study class at my church and I'm sitting there with my King James version, and by this time I had acquired an amplified version. I pointed out to the pastor, "It says here that these verses - 15, 16, 17, whatever - aren't original." He practically shouted at me. He took his King James version, waved it up in the air - it was one of those floppy kinds that flapped when he waved it - (Bob laughs) and he was waving saying "I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE READING AND WHAT KIND OF THE DEVIL, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BUT THIS IS KING JAMES VERSION. IT'S THE ONLY UNDEFILED, PURE, TRUE, WORD OF GOD AND BLAH, BLAH BLAH". And then he started going "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" and then all the people in the group started raising their hands, waving them around, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" I just sat there and I thought "What the hell?!" (laughter)

Bob: And the irony is, some of the earliest textual critics were themselves what we would call fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals or whatever, in the 19th century. One, I forget which one, maybe Tregelles, was actually: Plymouth Brethren (Quakers). And these guys saw that if you wanted to believe in the verbal inspiration of the bible, you'd better find out what it actually said and what had been added. So, you could take that a very different way, precisely because you believe in the verbal inspiration. This King James fetish is so bizarre it's even an embarrassment to most conservatives, though on a popular level, who knows? But I think the sales of things like the new international version of the bible have kind of swamped King James now. But still, you used to have people saying "If the King James is good enough for the Apostle Paul, it's good enough for me."

Laura: Oh my god!!!! (laughter) This is hilarious.

Bob: That's true.

Laura: Here's an even better one. Do you remember Herbert W. Armstrong?

Bob: Oh yeah.

Laura: Well, I used to listen to sermons on the radio and he preached a sermon once about Paul's ship journey to Rome and the storm. And there's a verse in there that says that the 'ship fetched a compass' until the storm died down. Basically he launched off on this whole thing about what happened was, Paul had the good sense to go down into the cabin and get the compass out to show the way, to sail the ship, until they came safely to shore. And I just happened to know that the term in Elizabethan English 'fetch a compass' meant to sail in a circle. If you're in a storm, you just sail in a circle. You don't want to get on the rocks. And I thought to myself "Wait a minute, the words say 'fetch a compass' but they mean 'sail in a circle'" and this man is preaching an entire sermon based on a false interpretation of these words. It just flabbergasted me. I was really hostile about it.

Joe: Well, isn't that an example of the problem that it's about belief and not about facts, and this is the division between honest, let's say, sober biblical scholars, and the people who also might be biblical scholars but who are also believers? That one group puts belief above everything else, and that's fundamentally emotional, and other people put facts and hard data above everything else?

Bob: I think that's true. If you think you've got the truth already, it's a waste of time looking for the truth. So what do these apologists do? What are they doing? They're really trying to combat critical scholarship, they're not participating in it. They just want to try to turn the clock back to pre-critical times and they adopt the pose of being New Testament critics in order to enter into the dialogue. So there's a kind of a basic fraudulence - again, it's, in a sense, self deception, because it itself is a case of the warping of logic because of where you start. You don't realize you're not standing in a vacuum, you're already engaged in the issues.

The relevance of the King James fetish thing is not just that it's bizarre, although that's fascinating enough, but it shows how, like you say, belief is a big package. Whatever setting in which you get converted, to Christianity, in this case, you buy the whole package that the minister, the priest, the evangelist, whoever says, and they are the one that shared the 'gospel' with you and you accepted that so you're not liable to question anything they say about the mode of baptism, should it be adult or infant sprinkling or immersion, etc. Or the tribulation. Is the rapture going to come at the beginning of the tribulation or the end of it? You're going to have brand loyalty.

You're going to take unquestioningly what the preacher says because it all stands or falls together psychologically; not logically, but psychologically, because the manner in which you believe any of it is, again, all or nothing. If you begin to say "Well, it's really up to me to decide what I think", again, faith goes out the window. You're back where you didn't want to be. I don't want to have to decide these things! I'm a mere mortal. How can I ever know? I want somebody to say: "Here it is. Here's an infallible revelation. Just believe this!" Great, that's what you want. And you even have to say "Well how do I know that the snake handling, poison drinking, at the end of the gospel of Mark, was originally part of the text?". Gee, if I admit that's a good question, it won't be long before I'm asking "Well how do I know any of the other material in the first fifteen chapters of Mark is original to the text? Or if it is, how do I know it really happened or that Jesus really said any of these things?"

You don't want to go there. You want to just believe what the magic book says and that amounts to believing what the authority figure told you it says.

Laura: Well speaking of authority figures, have you by any chance come across the work of Bob Altemeyer on the authoritarians?

Bob: No. That's new to me.

Laura: Well Bob Altemeyer is a research psychologist at the University of Manitoba. He's a Canadian. He did some work on what's called the authoritarian personality. He even has his book free online if you just type in: 'The Authoritarians Altemeyer'. He does these really, really fascinating studies because every semester he had a whole, fresh, new bunch of students to be his guinea pigs and giving them all kinds of little questionnaires and getting all kinds of data.

But he did one and wrote a book about it called Amazing Conversions and it's about people who were brought up in strongly religious backgrounds and then freed themselves from their belief system and also people who were brought up in say, an atheistic home and later converted to some kind of Christianity, usually fundamentalist. And these were really good studies. You really ought to look into them because he came to some amazing conclusions.

Bob: That title does ring a bell, the 'Amazing Conversions'. I wonder if I did read that long ago. It doesn't matter. I've forgotten it apparently. I'm definitely going to look into that.

Laura: Yeah, because there's one thing that comes out of that that really is a very important thing, I think, and it helps me to stay sane when I read some of these things. And it's that, people who have this type of personality, and it's a fairly large segment of the population, if you try to convince them of something with facts against the system of belief that they are brought up on, it doesn't matter how intelligent they are, how many degrees they have or how long they've been teaching or how many research papers they've done, it doesn't matter. If you try to present them with just plain untainted facts, it causes brain pain. And there are studies that show the places that fire in the brain that cause this pain. It actually hurts them. It physically hurts them.

Bob: Wow!

Laura: And they will do anything to avoid this pain - and there's a really good study on that also, where they did these scans.

Joe: Yeah, there's another study where they took people with strong political beliefs; in the US for example, republican versus democrat, die-hard believers in the party, and when they showed them a candidate for example, that they really liked from their party, when they showed them hard data that they themselves wouldn't be able to ignore or dismiss, that this candidate was not the wonderful person that these people thought he or she was, the logical conclusion was that the candidate would be diminished in their eyes and they would think less of them and they might start to question. In fact, what happened was that afterwards, when they were interviewed, they came across as believing more fervently in the goodness of this person that they had just been shown evidence was not such a good person.

Now that just beats everything. I don't know what to do in that situation. If human beings are wired that way, you can't get around it.

Laura: Yeah, that's one of the things we take into consideration. There are certain personality types; we did a lot of research into that at one point. You can see the signs in the text themselves, of the personality malformations of these authors. They write things that seem to be so compelling and they wrap you up in their words. It's what I call, kind of like salad shooter metaphysics. They wrap you up in these words and they take you into a maze and then you become convinced and you believe. Yet, if you read carefully and you take the sentences apart one by one, you find out that there's nothing there. It's all air.

So you know that there is a personality malformation because there are also studies that demonstrate that how people use words, what they say and how they speak and what they talk about and how they think, represents their inner landscape. And when you read these texts, the inner landscape of the person writing them - think about that little text in Ezekiel maybe? Where he's talking about the people of Israel and says "You're whoring after other gods" and basically saying "You're lusting after donkeys and being filled with the semen of stallions?" (laughter) I mean good god!! What kind of mind would write stuff like that?!? And people consider that holy scripture?!? (laughter)

Bob: Well some of it is so weird, it's like the compass thing, like the insects with four legs in Deuteronomy; nobody could be stupid enough to make that mistake. And I think how can this be even an error and somebody pointed out that it may just be a matter of ancient taxonomy, that they were thinking that the huge bowed legs of a grasshopper weren't considered legs, they were something else. And I thought "well, that almost has to be true."

There was just a story the other night that some guy was having sex with a horse and he claimed he was in the barn just because it was cold outside. Who knows how widespread some of these utterly weird things were? Or Lot, the righteous Lot is willing to hand over his virgin daughters to this howling mob at the door! How can the bible writer have thought this guy was righteous? Well, because they had this different bunch of priorities that, as terrible as that is, it would have been even worse to turn over someone you had given refuge to. We wouldn't look at it that way but they do. So sometimes it's just that it's so 'other', so alien. But even at that you've got to ask "Am I going to take a text like this as my moral standard?!?"

Laura: Exactly!

Bob: Jeesh! I mean the very thing that makes it seem not insane, proves how unacceptable it is.

Laura: Exactly. And that's my whole point. We're talking about texts that in no way, shape, form or fashion should ever have been considered to be 'holy scripture'. You read these things like Russell Gmirkin and his Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. He pretty much proves that the whole thing was put together something like 172 BC.

Joe: Well on that point, I need to go back to basics a little bit here. Obviously we're talking about, in a fundamental way, the idea that Jesus as a historical figure and as the basis for Christianity or at least the New Testament, etc., is a fictional character, that he didn't exist as he's described or as the way people who believe the bible believe he did. That idea has gained a lot of traction in recent years or decades, particularly because of the work of people like Bob and other biblical scholars and critics. But is that the end of the story? Because I know a lot of people who are relapsed Catholics, who don't believe anymore, and when they talk about religion they'll say "Well, there's no evidence for the existence of Jesus". They've switched basically. But they leave it there. They've no awareness that there may have been something around that time when the bible was kind of put together and all these things were being talked about and these different characters were around. Is it a case that there is some religion that could be rehabilitated to replace the current Christianity and Jesus, for example?

Laura: You're dreaming.

Joe: No, that's what I'm wondering. Is there anything? Is it just a matter of Jesus didn't exist. It's all a big hoax. End of story?

Laura: Aaaahhhhh. Go ahead.

Bob: To me the issue is whether you need a historical figure for something like this because there were religions of salvation with dying and rising saviours in the immediate vicinity and had been for hundreds of years before Christianity, like the Osiris and Ba'al religions. And other ones, and probably Attis and Adonis and Tammuz and all these guys. They probably involved a death and resurrection myth. Well nobody thinks and there's no reason to think there was a historical Adonis or Osiris though some in the ancient world thought so, like Plutarch thought, that Isis and Osiris must have been an ancient queen and king of Egypt. That's what we call euhemerism, like in all these vampire movies, they say "Well, all these legends really have a historical core". Well no they don't! But that was the assumption.

It seems to me that's very likely what the deal is with Jesus. Even the evidence of Jesus-like historical figures can be taken two ways. The great book by S.G.F. Brandon The Fall of Jerusalem and the Origins of the Christian Church - I think that's the title - or the later one Jesus and the Zealots, he shows how similar in some respects, the story of Jesus, at least the passion narrative, is to the stories from Simon bar Giora and people like that. And Tadandis is really surprising, the tales of course that Jesus ben Ananias preaching the doom of Jerusalem. They bring him before the Sanhedrin and then the Roman Procurator and even the dialogue is kind of like in the gospels and so forth.

So does that mean that if the Jesus story is a lot like these that it may originally have been the same sort of thing; a revolutionary prophet? It might. It does lend a kind of verisimilitude to it. But on the other hand, the stories are so close, I kind of think it's more likely that these stories have rubbed off on the story of Jesus. It's like when Simon goes into the temple during the Roman siege, he and his troops go into the temple to flush out the zealots, a rival revolutionary group, and the temple establishment negotiates with him to go in and do it and get rid of these guys. So when he comes into the city there is a triumphal entry and he manages to get rid of the zealots. though, of course, he could be considered one too. But he gets rid of these guys and cleanses the temple of them. So you begin to wonder, "Wait a second! How often did this kind of thing happen with such parallels?!"

So I began to think: was Jesus another one like this or has the story of Jesus been mixed with these? And I think the latter is even hinted at in the gospels, in Mark 13, in the parallels, the apocalyptic discourse when it says, "When the son of man comes it'll be light lightning going from one horizon to the other". So when people tell you "Oh he is in the inner chamber or he's out in the wilderness, let's rally to him - don't believe it, for many will come in my name". You don't tell people not to do something they're not doing already. And it seems to me that implies there was tendency even then, to mix Jesus up with Simon Bar Giora and these other messianic pretenders.

So is that evidence for a revolutionary Jesus? It might be, but it may just be colouring an originally mythic narrative, which is what I think. But who knows?

Laura: You know what I think? I think the original model for Jesus was Julius Caesar.

Bob: That has been argued. Some have said Augustus Caesar, but yeah, that could well be.

Laura: The ultimate betrayal, the assassination, the triumphal entries, the miraculous battles; everything Caesar did. All we know about Caesar comes through the highly distorted lens of Cicero and the so-called republicans. But you've got to remember those people were oligarchs; they were the wealthy elite. They were not the masses of people who began their worship of Caesar immediately upon his death. When you read Seutonius' version of his funeral, it's all right there. There's this guy called Fancesco Carotta who wrote a book called Jesus was Caesar.

Bob: Yes, I've heard of that one.

Laura: I would like you to review that one, really. It's a very tedious book. I really had a hard time reading it. I think it would be really nice if somebody who could put all that together would read it and review it for me. Tell me what I'm supposed to learn from that book! (laughing)

Bob: It would really be interesting to compare that with Margaret Morrison's book Jesus Augustus. I've read it in manuscript. I don't think it's been published yet, and Joseph Atwill's Caesar's Messiah. I think there's even other ones as well.

Laura: I read Atwill.

Bob: What did you think?

Laura: Well, I think his problem was that he failed to understand that the reason there is so much similarity between the gospels and Acts, and things in Josephus, is because the gospels in Acts were borrowing heavily from Josephus.

Bob: Right, yeah.

Laura: That's the simplest solution. If Josephus was 90 or something, and then if Acts didn't come along until say, 125 or 30, they borrowed heavily.

Bob: Yeah, I think so.

Laura: You don't hear anything about any gospels at all for a very long time and the first time you ever hear anything about a historical Jesus is when Ignatius says "Oh yeah, he was a guy. He lived in Nazareth. His mother's name was Mary and his father's name was Joseph and he was really alive" and he had an agenda to say that! So I think they just took that and ran with it even though, according to that nice guy Rene Salm, Nazareth didn't exist at the time. So he just got everything wrong.

Bob: Yeah, of course Atwill's theory is that Josephus and the four evangelists were all in cahoots like a writing staff for a TV sitcom, and you're supposed to read all of the gospels and the Jewish antiquities and Jewish wars and all that, as one big text which seems a little unlikely to me. He's really ingenious but I find the whole thing pretty unconvincing, though Morrison's view doesn't go into that kind of wackiness. But it's interesting that there are different approaches sort of converging almost.

Laura: Yeah, and there's another one. There's Atwill, then this guy - what is his name? He wrote one where he is certain that Judas the Galilean was the model for Jesus.

Bob: Oh yeah, yeah.

Laura: And he talks about the golden eagle temple cleansing that happened in 4 BC right before the death of Herod as being the temple cleansing. And then of course there's this big controversy between John's gospel and the Synoptics as to whether the temple cleansing occurred at the beginning of Jesus' career or at the end. And then there's these various Judas' that reappear throughout Josephus, so yeah, there's that.

Joe: I have another question. So Bob what you were saying more or less was that the ideas presented in the bible, Jesus the dying and rising again, god, etc., that all existed for a long time before the supposed time of Jesus so it's not really necessary in that sense, that the bible, to a certain extent, already existed, but my question is: what would your answer or explanation be as to why none of those other previous spiritual traditions, that you mentioned, were not taken and crafted into what we have today? How did it come about that just one of many spiritual traditions at that time was taken, and why do we have what we have today as a result of that?

Laura: In other words: how come it came to dominate like it does?

Joe: Who did it? Who dunnit?

Laura: Who dunnit?!

Bob: Well remember Heliogabalus, one of the Roman emperors who was the wackiest one of the bunch, he made Ba'alism the religion of the Roman empire for a while, and Mithraism was fantastically popular among Romans and the Roman soldiers especially. But I believe he was the official god for a while. We found something like 400 mithraia, these grotto chapels, in Britain alone in general early Christian times. The religion of Isis and Osiris was wildly popular all over the Mediterranean. Various people including Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity, but also E.R. Dodds in his Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, they point out various purely secular sociological factors that probably help explain it.
Number one is that the rate of growth was not as spectacular as these movies shown around Easter time would imply, that you could show the same basic, exponential but slow - if that makes any sense - gradual, but more and more and more, members for the unification church and Mormonism in the same amount of time. So then you have to ask "Well why are these successful too?" So it needn't have some supernatural impetus.

But another thing is that Christianity was more exclusive than the others, that you could join any number of mystery cults, as they were called, salvation religions, at the same time, so as to hedge your bets. One of them ought to work. And this was like a kind of divided portfolio. The more you invested in, the less benefit you got from any one of them, and the less confidence you had in any one of them. But the Christians said "No, no, no. You can't go to those other groups and be a Christian. It's us or any and all of them." Well that meant, just demographically, that any time somebody converted from these other religions to Christianity, several religions lost a member and Christianity gained one. So it's kind of an asymmetrical membership progress.

Another thing was, like Tertullian had said, the famous martyrdoms - we probably over-estimated how many martyrdoms there were, but still, that put an interesting face on Christianity because people said "These people aren't kidding! What is it that they find so worthwhile that they're willing to die for it?" Like Tertullian said, ""The more you persecute us, the more we grow. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" and that seems to be true.

Then also the opposition Christians and Jews, apparently, had - infanticide and abortion helped swell their numbers because they had a lot more girls to feed and marry off and there weren't enough Christian men for all of them, so often the women would marry pagan husbands and they would, for obvious reasons, like Lee Strobel (laughter), they would convert. So you had like 'missionary dating'. So that had a good bit to do with it.
Plus finally, we know that the early Christians tended to be more compassionate toward sufferers, because there were endless earthquakes, famines and so on in all of these areas. And Julian the apostate, the guy that wanted to restore paganism, and did officially, he complained "Why don't our pagan priests get involved and help the plague victims like these damn Christians do?! They get in the trenches, our guys run for the hills! So let's try to imitate them." Well that's automatically going to create new members.

So there are several attested and quite plausible factors that led to Christianity's eventual dominance, though even at that it took many centuries. And, as Ramsay MacMullen points out in Christianizing the Roman Empire, that you had centuries of peaceful co-existence between Christians and pagans in the military for instance. It wasn't like all pagans hated all Christians and vice versa. So it actually makes quite a bit of sense. And the irony, to me, is that people like J.P. Holding who wrote some book called The Impossible Faith, saying that the odds against Christianity succeeding in human terms are so high it must have taken a miracle. Not at all!!

And to argue that way is insulting to the very religion you're trying to defend! The plain secular facts of it should be a cause of great pride in Christians. But no, let's make it repulsive and say it's a miracle. "It'd take a miracle for anybody to be a Christian!" (laughter) and you have a Christian arguing this?!?

Joe: Yeah.

Laura: Well, there was also the simple twist of fate that the mother of emperor Constantine was a Christian and I think she's responsible for a whole lot of problems.

Bob: Yeah, it appears that Constantine did not convert to Christianity but was raised Christian, because of those stories about the Milvian Bridge and "conquer by this". There are four stories, two from Eusebius, two from pagan writers, and even in Eusebius, in one version, the whole thing is about how they came to adopt the Chi Rho standard, the monogram, as their battle standard. And then there's another story he tells about how he became a Christian at this climactic event. It's pretty obvious, you can see the story growing in the telling. So he didn't convert to it, probably. You just happened to get a Christian on the throne.

Laura: Yeah, then his mother goes out and finds enough pieces of the true cross to sink a modern day aircraft carrier. (laughter)

Bob: Yeah that's right. And biblical archaeologists are still following the same plan: "Well Sodom and Gomorrah must have been around here somewhere. Oh, you found some ruins?! That's it!" (laughter) And that's now passed away except among apologists. It's biblical archaeology's complete change. It's like the Book of Mormon where the poor Mormons desperately try to show traces of the mythical Nephites civilization. There aren't any. And the same thing trying to find some sort of evidential basis for a united kingdom of Israel and Judah, Solomonic temple....

Laura: There wasn't one.

Bob: Yeah, forget it! No trace of the exodus where there would have to be big ones. That's just evaporated now.

Laura: Well you know there's a fascinating little snippet in John Malalas' chronicle where he refers to the temple of Baalbek as the temple of Solomon. And that was what? Fifth century? Sixth century?

Bob: Wow! I haven't heard that. Wow!

Laura: Oh yeah! I came across that. I was reading through it very carefully at one point and I read that and said "Hey, wait a minute!" The way he wrote it was as though everybody in that time understood that the temple of Solomon was Baalbek.

Bob: Wow! Yeah, because otherwise you've got a lot of explaining to do. Was it just reduced to atoms? Did the Babylonians use a nuclear weapon against it? Because you'd have to have some sort of remnants.

Laura: Well, there something I read just yesterday where somebody mentions the fact that there was a theory and it was by one of the earlier biblical critics, and I don't know whether it was Strauss or Weiss or who, but he had the idea that the original Jerusalem was not where Jerusalem is, but it was in northern Syria.

Bob: Hmm. I've never heard that. Fascinating!

Laura: I made a note in the book, so that I could find it when I got back to it, so I'll have to go back and look at it and see what it was. But if that's the case - and he said part of his theory was that after the so-called Babylonian exile, nobody really knew where Jerusalem was, nobody really knew anything, And they all just came back and they were going to go in one place and rebuild a temple, and the natives kicked them out. So they found this place down where Jerusalem now exists and built it all afresh there and then. And there's nothing there that ever was anything, according to the ancient history of Israel.

Bob: Yeah, let me know where you read that. I'd love to absorb it.

Laura: Yeah, I'll dig it out. Does Joe have an email for you?

Joe: Yeah.

Laura: So I'll dig it up and send you the reference.

Bob: Terrific!

Joe: So Bob, what I'm getting from what you've been saying is that to a certain extent Christianity could still be a religion today or some kind of a spiritual faith and people could still belong to a religion as long as they get rid of Jesus and the son of god and stuff. Because a big part of the Christian tradition is just to be a do-gooder; go out and do good works. For me that's fair enough as a unifying principle or ethos for a group of people, for everybody to get together and be a do-gooder basically. But just in reference to Jesus, and that part of it that has at this point been debunked fairly well, what do you see as the real problem with people believing in that aspect of Christianity? Is there a problem?

Bob: You mean if they don't believe in a historical Jesus anymore?

Joe: No, if they do, that part that has been debunked.

Laura: They're believing a lie!

Joe: Right, but is it just on principle or do you see a problem with people really adhering to that general idea of Jesus as the son of god, dying for our sins, going to heaven; if you believe in him you will go to heaven. Do you see a problem for the world, let's say, since so many people believe that?

Laura: Bob, he was an altar boy.

Bob: Aha! Well it seems to me by and large, Christianity as it exists in the world today is a force for good in many ways. There are various conspicuous things about it, like the opposition to birth control, given the over population in some places, that are probably counterproductive. But it's not like you've got inquisitions and such going on anymore.

Laura: They're trying.

Bob: Well I compare it with militant Islam. They're the ones you've got to worry about it seems to me. There are marginal groups like Christian identity nuts and the dominionists and reconstructionists who think that the Old Testament laws should be part of the Constitution of the United States. But these people are repudiated by most fundamentalists and they're viewed as nuts. It seems to me that a lot of the stuff about how "we've got to get back to the bible" or people that want to post the 10 commandments in classrooms, they just don't grasp the issues of things like you can't have the government telling people to worship the Hebrew god alone. But they're not even really thinking of that.

Like if you said "Let's post the golden rule in class", that's really what they're thinking. When they say "We've got to get back to the bible", they're conservative political people that say that, they're not really thinking of stoning kids that curse their parents or killing people that promote other religions or not boiling a goat in its mother's milk. They're just kind of thinking of the 1950s. It seems to me you've got to ask "Well what are they really saying?" Because you can't assume they know what they're talking about, whereas with people who want to impose Sharia law on everybody, that's a whole different shooting match.

But I'm not too worried about a Christian theocracy, I'm worried about a Muslim one. Christianity is almost so benign that it's irrelevant, like anything the Pope every says, any pope, is always just "War is bad. Let's not fight." Yeah, yeah, who doesn't know that?

Joe: Right.

Bob: So it's not that much different than humanistic values held by most religions and of course a lot of Muslims too. So that doesn't bother me. I don't really care about winning debates with people. I was just at a conference with a bunch of atheist leaders and they have an evangelistic zeal to de-convert Christians or any other theists. I don't really feel that way. It's very difficult to know the truth about history and what happened, what's ultimately true metaphysically, if anything is, and I can't get too upset that most people really don't have an informed judgement. To me it's just a question of how they act toward each other. I don't see Christianity as particularly pernicious in that regard.

Joe: Yeah, it's interesting when you talk about atheists with an evangelistic zeal. I could say the same about some die-hard scientists, people who believe in Darwinism and stuff, a lot of people who work at NASA for example. It seems that religion can be anything for people. It's something that you really, really believe in. It doesn't necessarily have to be spiritual.

Laura: Well there's nothing wrong with Darwin.

Joe: No, I know.

Laura: Oh yeah, I know what you're saying, that they get ...

Niall: The scientific materialism that came out of it, that is hardcore.

Joe: The scientific materialism basically, that anti-spiritual - the people who believe that as strongly, and it's a belief as strong as a person's religious belief in the mainstream religion. So you can be a really strong believer in non-spirituality and you can be a really strong believer in spirituality.

Bob: You bet!

Joe: And both people get their jollies from that belief it seems, not necessarily from the actual details of it. It's just: "I'm a part of this group that all believes something and we're happy about that."

Laura: Yeah.

Bob: It's clear to me that whatever the facts of the matter are, and I am in no position to judge, that the whole 'climate change' thing has become a religion.

Joe: Right.

Bob: They may be right. I have no idea and I suspect it's another hoax of which there have been many. But it's obvious that there are heresy hunts, there are attempts to silence the opposition. Why do you have to do that if you're so confident in it? So you're right. There are people that make sports teams a religion.

Joe: Right.

Bob: The Grateful Dead. There's a cult devoted to these guys. It's a mindset. Like you're saying with the authoritarians, though this is a bit different, but just fill in the blank.

Joe: Bob, if it's not too personal a question, you used to be an evangelical Baptist Christian and now you're not. You're engaged in the work that you're engaged in, which is debunking, pulling the foundations out from under Christianity and the bible. Have you maintained any kind of a spiritual belief, and if so, does it have a structure? What is it? Who's your god?

Bob: I have not. I feel like the big thing is seeking character growth, and growing in wisdom and maturity. In fact I think there's very little in spirituality descriptions that could not just as well be translated into trying to mature and become a better person; more morally disciplined and so forth. I think there is an aesthetic part of spirituality where you're trying to de-centre yourself and your preoccupation with ego and to be open to the beauty and wonder and mystery of the world. If you want to call that spirituality, it's a huge semantic debate, but that I'm all for. Just thinking of astronomy, it's just so humbling and dwarfing and so forth, it does create sort of a sense of the numinous. There is something that is so beyond us. It's like in Psalms 8: "When I consider the heavens, the works of thy hands, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou are mindful of him?"

Well, with a god concept, to me that stifles that wonder; to say that they are the work of somebody's hands. But I agree with the basic sentiment of it. It must cause you to stand back and wonder at the vastness of the universe and of our modest place in it. So that kind of seeking of perspective I guess overlaps spirituality, or maybe it's a kind of spirituality, but I want to cultivate that in my experience. I find listening to Pink Floyd sometimes has that effect, or certain poetry or symphonic music.

I remember going into the Museum of Modern Art in New York and I'd always been sceptical about non-representational art. Well I turned the corner and filling the wall is this Jackson Pollock painting called One. And I just sat down in front of that for 20 minutes gazing at it and I felt like I was looking into a portal to another reality. Somehow in some Zen-like fashion, the thing was composed so as to I guess be like a mandala or something. It just hypnotizes you. Well that I would regard as a spiritual experience though I'm making no literal metaphysical claims about it and I don't think a deity had anything to do with it, but it has that de-centring aspect. "Whoa is me. I am undone."

Laura: Yeah.

Joe: It sounds to me like you've got the basis of a good religion there. (laughter)

Laura: Yeah. Sign me up!

Joe: I agree. I think you made an important point there, and I think that's maybe the answer to the question that I was asking you, about the problems with Christianity and Jesus; it's the limiting factor of imposing it on one person or one god and even giving that god a human form. I think that limits the potential for many believers' real spiritual growth which I think is closer to what you just described.

Bob: In fairness, there's certain things, like the idea that you can have a personal relationship with Jesus, that sounds like you've got this one person and narrows the focus. And yet if you think about this for second, how can Jesus, still as person, even if he's invisible and inaudible - it's like an imagery playmate kind of thing - but if you envision these millions of Christians all having this chat with Jesus every day, what kind of an individual personality can do that? It's like asking how Santa Claus can get down millions of chimneys in a single night! It's a big clue that you're not really thinking what you think you're thinking.

Joe: Right. (laughter)

Bob: You're really talking about plugging into something kind of a vague, undefined. What about this makes it Jesus? They just use that name which also happens to be the name of this biblical character, but...

Joe: It's a feeling right?

Bob: Yeah it just evaporates, I guess is what I'm saying. So it might not be as restrictive as it sounds.

Joe: It reminds me of Laura, with her evangelical background, has often mentioned the kind of evangelical hoedowns - what were they called? 'Get togethers' or evangelical tent meetings, where there would be lots of speaking in tongues and people falling down and apparently having strong emotional, ecstatic experiences. That's what people want from religion right? That's almost as good as it gets. You go and you come back floating on a cloud from your meeting.

Laura: I have to tell this story. As part of this particular church that I attended way back when, when my babies were very, very small - (laughs) it's really funny. We joined the church and I was going to get baptized and so forth. So I got baptized and then of course once you get baptized then they want you to get 'tongues', right?

Bob: Oh yeah.

Laura: So they've got all these people gathering around with their hands on me, and they're shaking and they're praying, all this stuff's going on and nothing was happening. It just wasn't happening; it didn't happen. So I felt like a complete failure. Anyway there was one of the older ladies of the church and I went to visit her one day. She was one of the ones who was always speaking in tongues. I asked her "What happens?" And she tried to describe it and she was kind of at a loss for words. Finally I said, "Can you tell me how it feels?" Because if this was something really terrific, I wanted it, right? "Well," she says, and she looked right and left to make sure nobody was listening, and she says "I have to tell you this. It feels kind of carnal." (whoops of laughter)

Joe: There's the secret!

Laura: And right then the warning bells went off in my head and I said "Wait a minute here! What are these people doing?!?"

Joe: Well, you're getting a direct experience of Jesus maybe! (laughter)

Bob: Yeah, the marriage supper of the lamb.

Laura: But that was towards the end there. I didn't last long in that milieu. I think it lasted about a year.

Bob: I attended an assemblies of god church for a couple of years and I never really felt the magic either. And I wonder, they say that they can coach you into speaking in tongues, which makes me wonder if it's not just a sort of ritual by rote thing, with many people. In fact Irenaeus tells us about Marcos the Magician, a disciple of Simon Magus, who would basically teach his devotees to speak in tongues in the same rote manner, which is an interesting surviving little bit of information. "If this is what you're supposed to be doing, well I guess I'm doing it" and hallelujah...

Laura: Well, we periodically get out our copy of this movie Marjoe Gortner.

Bob: Oh yeah!

Laura: He shows you how it's done and I'm telling you, it's the truth. It really is.

Bob: In fact he would, in later years, go to speak on college campuses and explain, like you say, how it would happen including the business about being slain in the spirit and falling down on the floor and so on. And he would say it's purely manipulation, but it works. "Can I have a volunteer from the audience?" At this point you know he's not a Christian. He told you that. He told you it was all manipulation. People would get up on the stage and he'd say "In Jesus name!" and wham! down they would go. It's amazing.

Joe: These are college students.

Laura: Yeah.

Joe: Non-believers. When you see that kind of thing it starts to become easier to understand...

Laura: Authoritarian personalities.

Joe: Easy to understand why religion takes hold, if people are going under that kind of thing.

Bob: Yeah.

Laura: There's some psychologist out in California. I think his name is Schmuckler. And he has a theory about what he calls: endoskeletons and exoskeletons. Endoskeletons are people who are able to find some kind of spirituality within themselves, something like you were just describing a while ago. But then there are exoskeletons, people who need a structure imposed on them from the outside because they're so afraid that if they don't have one they're going to do something bad. He wrote a really interesting article about it. Of course it was geared towards reconciling the political right and left because there were a lot of right-wingers who were fundies and so it took on religious overtones and so forth. But it was a very interesting idea, that some people do need that structure. They do need somebody to tell them what they have to do to be righteous.

Bob: Yeah. They don't trust themselves.

Laura: Right. Exactly.

Joe: They don't have an internal sense of authority and that's why I think that ties in with Bob Altemeyer's Authoritarians, that they're looking always outside of themselves for an external authority, be it government, from the local level right up, and obviously includes god as the ultimate authority. And other people, for whatever reason, who have a sense of their own authority, are more able to shrug off that external authority and rely on their own devices, especially when the authority that they looked to previously is shown to be corrupt or evil or wrong. But for the people who need that authority, it doesn't matter how corrupt the authority becomes. They will always make excuses. They become apologists essentially, in the same way you have biblical apologists, you have corrupt government apologists.

Bob: You bet! That is so true. It's obvious that there are political conservatives who are secular fundamentalists even if they're not explicitly Christian and so on. But it seems equally evident to me that many political liberals have kind of a fact-proof naïveté, that they think of as progressivist/reformist agenda, and let the chips fall where they may. It doesn't occur to them that, like Margaret Thatcher said, "You're eventually going to run out of other peoples' money". "Oh no, it's the right thing to do. So full speed ahead!"

And then once the results begin to prove disastrous, they'll find some excuse as to why things are going wrong. Their assumptions are invulnerable and there's no room for correction. I call it political snake handling. It's just an absolute faith position. You don't have to be that way to be liberal. You don't have to be that way to be conservative and there are notable examples of both. But you can sure see when people have this inviolable faith as the basis, which is pretty dangerous on the left or the right.

Joe: Right.

Laura: I would like to take a few minutes of our last half hour to talk about one of my favourite topics.

Joe: Pink Floyd.

Laura: No, not Pink Floyd, but the apostle Paul. I love Paul. I see Paul dealing with a lot of things. And I think Paul got a really bad rap and I think a lot of people went in there and messed up with his letters. I think David Trobisch's idea was a very interesting idea that maybe it was Polycarp that did it. I think Paul was real and I think Paul invented Christianity, and I think he invented it in a way that it was twisted. That's just what I think. I know that you wrote this Amazing Colossal Apostle and by the time you got done with it there wasn't very much of Paul left.

Bob: Yeah.

Laura: And I was thinking, well wait a minute; I probably have notes all through it. "Well wait a minute, somebody else did that, somebody else did that! That wasn't Paul! Paul didn't say that. Somebody added that."

Bob: But that's kind of my point, that the historical Paul is like a historical Jesus. There are a lot of hands in this thing. We have rival Pauls like we have rival Jesuses, even within the New Testament. So you're often hearing a debate between Paulinists who see different implications of certain doctrines which may ultimately have been those of Simon Magus. The way Irenaeus describes Simon about salvation by grace and not good works and so forth, isn't there somebody else that says that Irenaeus? He immediately associates it with Simon Magus whom the apologists considered the fountainhead of heresy.

Well, when you look at who the heretics claimed as their father, it was Paul, and my thinking is that both of them were right because they're two names of the same guy. And there were other reasons to think that, as F.C. Bauer pointed out, the way Simon Magus seems to stand for Paul in both the book of Acts, where you have an attempt to reconcile the catholicized Paul of the pastoral epistles with the radical gnosticizing Paul that you see in Galatians and so forth. You can see on other grounds, in other texts that there's some kind of identification between the two characters. It's all very speculative of course.

Laura: Well I would suggest that possibly the author of Acts was using names and little vignettes from Josephus to write things and maybe even some of the other earlier Christian authors were doing the same thing because there was Simon the magician. There was one that was a friend of the Roman governor who married Drusilla.

Bob: Yeah.

Laura: And persuaded her to leave her husband. And then there was another Simon mentioned in the story in Acts about the governor Gallio and I think they just were using names and little story snippets to create stuff and that later on, for example in the Clementine recognitions and so forth, they built this up and developed it.

Bob: Yeah.

Laura: And that there was a Simon. There was a Paul. The only thing is, is that I keep thinking that this little bit in Josephus, about this Paulina and Saturninus and the little stories that were rip-offs of Tacitus, I keep thinking that Josephus was trying to tell us something.

Bob: About Christianity in particular?

Laura: Yeah. I think he was trying to tell us something. Forget the Testimonium. Erase that. It's irrelevant. That's false, fraudulent, whatever. But those other two stories are really, really interesting especially since when you consider that they were placed in the context, and the Testimonium was also placed in the context of 19 AD, not 30, 27 or whatever. It was 19. If you read carefully those previous two or three chapters, you come to the overwhelming conclusion that this time period that he's talking about here was the time of the death of Germanicus and it was not later; I think Pilate went out as soon as Tiberius came to the throne and I think he left as soon as Germanicus died and I think when they say that he was sent back, I don't think he was sent back to Tiberius and that Tiberius was dead when he arrived back because two tiny little text changes adds 11 years to the text. Just two.

I've read it over and over and over and I've marked up the copy so much that you can hardly read it anymore, but I am convinced that this is situated in 19 AD and that Pontius Pilate was never, never in Judea...

Bob: Fascinating.

Laura: the time when he was supposed to have been. He was there until 19 AD and he left and the person who died was Germanicus, not Tiberius.

Bob: You've got to write this up.

Laura: Well, one day.

Bob: Yeah, you should.

Laura: It's driving me nuts and I'm convinced and I think I can show it. I think I can demonstrate it just from the text itself. Especially when you consider that one of the texts involved in this whole story is one that is drawn from a tale that occurred in 58 AD, the Paulina story. That's a 58 AD story. But then he immediately reverts to this hokey story about this one Jew who was helped by three other Jews to defraud this Fulvia woman. And remember Fulvia was originally the wife of Claudius and then she was the wife of Marc Antony. She was the one who engineered the funeral of Claudius, and then she undoubtedly engineered the funeral of Julius Caesar which was basically the model on which the passion play is made.

Bob: Does this figure into the book Jesus was Caesar?

Laura: He talks about the passion play, yeah. I don't think he's 100 percent right but he definitely has something there when he starts talking about Claudius and his funeral and then Caesar and his funeral, and the fact that the image of Caesar was raised up on the tropheum which rotated so that all the people could see the body with all the wounds on it.

Bob: Wow.

Laura: The interesting thing was that Marc Antony being a flamen, a priest, couldn't look upon a dead body so he obviously couldn't look upon the body of Caesar which was on a bier inside a miniature temple thing. But he had Caesar's robe that he'd been stabbed in. Where else does a robe come into play?

Bob: [Laughing]

Laura: And he has a wax image which was fairly typical for a Roman funeral. Usually they used masks and actors but in this case they used a wax image raised up on a tropheum which is a cross-type figure. You see him on Roman coins; you see him in all kinds of Roman imagery. So you've got Caesar with his 23 wounds on his body, and he's declaiming and waving this robe around and reciting from a Greek play: "Did I say then that they should do this to me? Did I forgive them that they should do this to me?" All of these things are supposed to be the voice of Caesar of course.

Bob: Wow!

Laura: So it's really amazing. And then the other thing is that there's so many little details in the gospel, if you really have read a hundred biographies of Caesar, which I have -

Bob: Wow!

Laura: see in all the original texts relating to Caesar, which I have, because I love Caesar; the saying "he who is not against us is with us". Caesar said that.

Bob: Really?

Laura: Oh yeah. That was Caesar. And then there was also a temple incident. There was a triumphal entry with people waving the palm branches, the whole nine yards. There was a crossing of the Rubicon aka baptism in the Jordan. He's got the miracle of the loaves and fishes where he was in a rough place when he was over there chasing after Pompey, and what his soldiers were eating was bread made out of ground up roots dug out of the ground. So they were managing to enable an army to survive with no supplies and there was a big issue about it because they threw some of these kinds of bread over into the camp of Pompey. And Pompey had his men gather it up and hide it because he didn't want his soldiers to see the kind of men that they were fighting against, because they were so savage they could live on something like that and that they would be frightened.

So there's so many interesting parallels that I just think that there's something very definite to that. I think it's something that really could be looked into by somebody who is...

Bob: Yeah, wow!

Laura: ...more technically proficient than I am. I'm just kind of like an amateur here looking at all this stuff but I love Caesar! God I love him!

Bob: I've got an old beer stein on the mantle in back of me that has portraits of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Charlemagne. I love it. Those are some of my favourites.

Laura: Oh yeah. Well if you want to read a really good biography of Caesar there's lots of them. There's Gelzer. There's so many. But my favourite is Arthur Kahn's. It's just a beautiful book. That's if you want to have something where he's being a little more creative. If you want just the facts, you can get just the facts with Gelzer. All of these people, even the ones who started out as anti-Caesar, they describe things Caesar did - and then they talk about "Oh he wanted to be king". And that's another thing, "he wanted to be king". This was the accusation, 'he wanted to be king'. That's not even true. But that was the accusation supposedly made against Jesus, right?

Bob: Yeah, right.

Laura: There are so many parallels. Once you look into it, I think you'll just fall flat on the floor and you'll say "Oh my god!"

Niall: And hallelujah!

Bob: Can I get a witness?

Laura: Yeah, can I get a witness. But anyhow, it was about Paul. I love Paul too, but for a while I thought he was schizophrenic.

Bob: Yeah, some people said epileptic for a long time but if he's hearing voices I guess that'd be schizophrenic.

Laura: But no he's not hearing voices. You have to completely forget about Acts.

Bob: Yes you do it's a historical novel.

Laura: Forget about the gospels. You have to completely throw them away. And these people! Gerd Lüdemann! For crying all night, he's so good. But then he refers to Acts. And I say "Wait a minute! What are you doing?! You can't do that!"

Bob: Yeah. That is astounding.

Laura: It's not allowed.

Bob: He says we've got to set that aside, then immediately turns right around and uses it as the basis for his whole treatment of Paul. I think he seems to reject the implied chronology of Acts like John Knox did in a book called Chapters in the Life of Paul. He comes up with very similar results there but then he brings a whole lot of it right back in. I don't know how he doesn't see that.

Laura: Well, you know with this whole Pontius Pilate business, which by the way came about because of Ignacius; he's the one who said Jesus lived in the time of Pontius Pilate. But if that was in 19 AD which I am convinced it was - I'm not saying that Jesus was in the time of 19 AD but that Pontius Pilate was. And if that's the case, then that opens up the whole timeline for Paul. And I also think that 9, 10 and 11 of Romans, if they are authentic, were written after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Bob: Yeah, I think so too. 'Their table has become a snare to them' and so on.

Laura: And there was somebody else. Who was it? What's this other guys name? About the authentic letters of Paul.

Bob: F.C. Bauer?

Laura: No, not Bauer. He's more recent. He wrote a really fat book - Douglas Campbell? He rehabilitated the 10 letters and he created an order for them and it's a really compelling argument. I was a confirmed 'possibly there are only four authentic letters and they were heavily redacted' and then I fluctuated between that and seven letters according to the Westar people. I was back and forth, back and forth, and then this guy goes through it. You've got to read it. I'm pretty sure it's Douglas Campbell, something about Paul.

Anyway, what I think, is that Paul, if he wrote three chapters of Romans, if he wrote it after the destruction of Jerusalem. None of these timelines that these people have been coming up with have anything at all to do with history. And if that's the case, there's a possibility that this appearance of this strange 'Christos' hubbub that happened in 49 AD could have been the appearance of Paul in Rome.

Bob: Yeah, because I find it laughable when people say "Oh that's a reference to Jesus." What? Are you kidding?! How on earth do you place him there. It would make a bit more sense this way.

Laura: Well if it was, then first of all you put the beginning of his experience - and he never had any kind of visionary experiences; he tells you clearly in his letters how he came up with his Jesus idea or his Christ. I think that every time the word Jesus is in the letters of Paul somebody has added it in there because I don't think he ever talked about Jesus. I think he only ever talked about a Christ-spirit that he extracted or derived or exigidified [exegeted] out of the Hebrew scriptures. It was something that had to be. It was the sky man. What Hugh Schonfield calls it, the skyman. He extracted it from the scriptures. If you have this wide open period in which he could have lived, you've got a lot of looking at other history to find traces and tracks. And I think the only authentic track of Christianity, is that mention of that hubbub that happened in 49 where the Jews were expelled from Rome because of this hubbub over what they called Christos. And I think that the other bit in Tacitus was a complete interpolation. He never would have made a mistake and called him a procurator when he was something else.

Bob: Prefect?

Laura: Prefect, yeah. So that's what I think. I think Paul was in Rome in 49 because what happened was: he went to Rome and the same problems that had been hounding him, these zealots, the Zadokites, these Essenic revolutionaries, that were trying to recruit for their big push against Rome, just followed him. And that's what I think they were all about. They weren't about creating a Christian church. I think they were about recruiting people for their rebellion. I think they were all a bunch of rebels.

Bob: It could be Schonfield thinks it's the other way around though and that James and the gang were zealot revolutionists but I guess there's some basis for all of these theories.

Laura: I like to call them the James gang too myself. (laughter) And I think they were. They were a gang of revolutionaries and they had maybe some guy that died and they kept telling their buddies "Hey, our guy died. He appeared to us and he's going to come back and bring god and all the angels and the bombs and lightning bolts and so forth. And all you guys gotta do is hold fast there in the temple and let's resist the Romans and if we keep doing it hard enough and long enough and strong enough, god's going to come and help us out here." And it got everybody killed. And I think that was what Paul addressed when he wrote those three chapters in Romans. My god! He was trying to go against this and share the Jewish god with the gentiles and get the Jews to stop being so cranky and separatist, kind of a big reconciliation thing. And it failed. That's what I think, at the moment.

Joe: At the moment.

Bob: Fascinating.

Laura: That could change.

Bob: Yeah, naturally always got to be open to that.

Laura: But anyway, I love this book The Amazing Colossal Apostle. It's really great.

Bob: Well I'm glad you like it.

Laura: And I've got all my little notes here in the margins and stuff. And you know what else I like? I like it because you translate things. I hate it when people don't translate things.

Bob: Oh yeah, what a pain.

Joe: Well you've certainly written a lot of books on this topic.

Laura: A big stack.

Bob: I'm working on one now. It's called Holy Fable - the Bible Undistorted by Faith which is kind of a critical introduction to the whole darn bible; it could be pretty hefty.

Laura: You did that version of the bible too, didn't you?

Bob: The pre-Nicea New Testament.

Laura: Yeah. I've got that one too, that big fat one.

Bob: Yeah, it's like a cinder block.

Joe: The Bible Undistorted by Faith?

Bob: Yeah.

Joe: That's a provocative title.

Bob: Yeah, because everybody reads it through these thick lenses of faith and what it has to mean. It's one big proof text and, maybe not.

Laura: I don't think the people who are believers should be allowed to receive degrees in New Testament, Old Testament or any kind of biblical scholarship. I think it should be a prerequisite that they are not believers in order to get these degrees, especially since universities that are funded by public money are paying their salaries. I think that should be an exclusionary principle because look at how many people have lost their positions because they lost their faith.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. Poor Mike Licona dared suggest in a massive book on why the resurrection really did happen, that the Matthew thing with the saints rising from the dead at the crucifixion and then showing up in Jerusalem as if it was Stephen King's Pet Cemetery [laughter!!], that this might be allegorical or something. He really caught it. They were going to take away his evangelical membership card and then he quickly backed down and said "Ah, I guess I shouldn't have said that and it'll be gone from future editions." The poor guy! I've met him. And I think he's sincere though I think wrong. But the poor guy. The minute he starts to think independently on even a very small thing, he's in big trouble.

Laura: Well look how they went after Gerd Lüdemann. Look what they did to Tom Brodie. Look what they did to all the people in the past; Strauss and Ramirez, all those people. They just destroy their lives and it's really a pity but I think that what you're writing is going to be a really big service because, I think, that people who believe should not be allowed to become experts on a topic.

Bob: Yeah, maybe they could teach in seminaries which are just training facilities for vocational things for the ministry. You've got to know the sacred lore but, like you say, if it's a public university or non denominationally sponsored, if you're going to have these people teaching there you might as well have Christian Science practitioners in medical schools.

Laura: Exactly! It's the same thing. So tell us what you would like to tell everybody if you had five minutes to tell them.

Joe: On a giant bullhorn.

Laura: Yeah, if you could stand on the biggest soapbox in the world, which is not to say our soapbox is anywhere near that but...

Joe: Might be one day.

Laura: You never know.

Bob: Well, I just feel like we ought to live and let live. We ought to live in peace and put people before ideologies, when they will let you do so. And that it's not any of your business what anybody else thinks, though the free exchange of ideas is a great thing and should benefit everybody. I encourage that. But I suppose just as important I think is that if you are interested in historical questions - and of course that's what this whole Jesus thing comes down to - you have to realize you cannot also be a believer. Van Harvey wrote a great book The Historian and the Believer on the morality of historical knowledge; you can't be rooting for one reading of history to the exclusion of another. You have to just be interested in finding out what happened and not defending that something happened, and that means you are never entitled to cocksure certainty. You've always got to be open to possibilities, that new evidence and new compelling readings of the old evidence may service and therefore that all judgements you make are provisional and tentative. And that it seems to me is absolutely excluded from the stance of the believer from the first step out of the box. So keep the two roles distinct. I don't know that you can play both of them.

Joe: Absolutely.

Laura: I don't think so. So I want to tell our listeners, of all the people who deconstruct the whole Jesus legend/myth that I've been reading for the past few years, Robert M. Price is my favourite. And I want to really encourage everybody to get and read his books and give him nice reviews on Amazon.

Joe: Absolutely. His website is: - that's like he's selling minds: He'll sell you a new mind. People can watch a little bit of the Brian Flemming documentary that you appeared in The God Who Wasn't There. I think it's on YouTube isn't it? Or it's on your website.

Bob: Yes, I'm pretty sure it is.

Joe: It's pretty interesting. I didn't see the whole documentary.

Laura: And he's got lectures and things on YouTube also.

Joe: And as we mentioned at the beginning, he hosts the regular webcast called The Bible Geek where apparently you're willing to patiently answer peoples' questions who might call in or send questions in.

Bob: Yeah, I'll probably do another one of those today.

Laura: And I think it's a tremendous service that you're doing.

Joe: Absolutely.

Laura: And obviously, despite the fact that you've left the faith, you're a really good Christian.

Bob: Oh-ho.

Joe: In the true sense.

Bob: I appreciate that very much.

Joe: Okay Bob, thanks a million for coming on. It's been excellent and more power to you and I hope you keep churning out the truth in the books.

Bob: It's been a delight to talk with you both.

Joe: Okay.

Laura: Thank you.

Bob: Thank you.

Joe: Have a good day.

Bob: You too.

Laura: Have a good day.

Niall: Bye-bye.

Joe: Okay folks we're going to leave it there for this week. Another thank you to Bob and like we said, you should check out his website. It's all very interesting and very accessible despite what it may seem like.

Laura: And he writes so clearly.

Joe: And very entertainingly.

Laura: And entertainingly.

Joe: I mean look at the titles of his books: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. That gives you an idea.

Laura: The Amazing Colossal Apostle. He has a lot of pop culture references. He's real down to earth but he's got multiple degrees in these topics and he is very, very good.

Joe: Absolutely. So check him out: Robert M. Price as he's known on the web. We'll be back next week with another show. Thanks to Laura, Niall and again to Bob. We hope you all have a good evening wherever you are.

Laura: Or morning.

Niall: And we'll see you next week.