Book review: Jesus, a Very Jewish Myth

by R. G. Price


Thorough. Daring. Scholarly. Intelligent. Original. This work may be an undiscovered gem. I reviewed another book by R. G. Price a few weeks ago, but found this one to be even better.

Price begins with a provocative claim: “That Jesus Christ is a pure myth is the only explanation that is consistent with him being both larger than life and absent from history.”

Let me lead into the topic with a bit of personal commentary. There are a number of ways of reading the Bible, and each completes a paradigm of its own. For example, considering just the New Testament, you can read it in the traditional way, as if it describes the historical life of Jesus and his followers, and promises a future return of Jesus as a conquering Messiah. The New Testament makes perfect sense in this light, and reading the Bible doesn’t break, but rather strengthens, the paradigm. But you can also read the New Testament through the eyes of first- and early second-century writers, the audience for which it was written, and sense within its chapters the excitement of the expected immediate arrival of the Messiah and the absolute, complete assurance that the new age has either just begun, or is just around the corner. When read in this light, every word seems to emphasize the urgency of believers, who knew the world was immediately coming to an end. Another way to read the New Testament, another paradigm, is to recognize many of the stories as myth, midrash, and the retelling of Hebrew scripture, told with the intention of honoring a great man (Jesus). Again, you’ll find internal consistency, and the words of the New Testament make perfect sense in this light.

Finally, you can go all in. You can decide, as does Price, that not only are the stories mythical, their human subject is just as fictional. Jesus existed only as an allegory, or a mystical god, or an ideal. If you have never read the Bible this way, I encourage you to do so! Actually sit down with the New Testament, start with the presumption that Jesus never existed, order the books chronologically as best you can, and see if you can read it through. You may at some point recognize a turning point, a point at which Jesus became “real.” Or you may never be able to leave the old paradigm behind, that Jesus existed and lived exactly as described. Each reader forms their own comfort level, and though opinions are extreme on the topic, I would never tell you that one paradigm is “wrong” while another is “right.” The Bible is living word, and feeds each of us differently.

As I said, Price goes all in. But he approaches the topic of a mythical Christ from a different angle, and his is a welcome addition to scholarship. Rather than emphasizing Christianity as a copycat religion among pagan beliefs, he grants it its own unique Jewish flavor. He sees Christianity’s beginnings as a mystery religion built primarily upon Jewish scripture. He points often to apocalyptic literature, both canonical and non-canonical, comparing it to New Testament writings, including the letters of Paul. The testimony of Paul is, of course, critical to the thesis; did Paul believe in a recent, flesh-and-blood Jesus, or did he not? Price’s treatment is balanced and fair, as he covers the writings of Paul, both those that bolster his argument and those that traditionally have been used to support the opposing view.

Price discusses the writings of Philo of Alexandria (a Jewish philosopher contemporary with Jesus, but who never wrote a word about him), Josephus (including the famed Testimonium Flavianum which purports to name Jesus as the Messiah but is nearly universally recognized among scholars as a forged passage) and others to expose the scarcity of historical collaboration regarding Jesus. But more than that, Price explains why Christianity should most logically be recognized as mythical. His coverage is in depth and convincing, and concludes with what he sees as a logical progression for how Christianity evolved into the worship of a god in human form, living within first-century history.

I loved the book, and the great research, even as I remain a hard sell. I’ll review, shortly, another book arguing the other side of the coin.


  1. Although I won’t read the book–I find I’m not willing to take on still another intellectual argument about my beliefs, at this stage of my life…I did want to say I felt your review was excellent and I applaud your dedication to continue reading these books…and providing objective and intelligent comments… We all need to be doubting Thomases at one time or another…

  2. :) Thanks, Glenda, though I would hardly claim to be “dedicated”…it’s just what I love to read.

    You leave me curious about your beliefs.

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