Book Review: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man

Shrink that god!

Shrink that god!

The subtitle of Dr. Robert M Price’s book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man tells the whole story: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition? And that is the question we all have, as either atheists or theists. How reliable is this thing? As atheists, we don’t believe in the supernatural aspects relayed on the pages, but the “reliability” of scripture is an argument almost every Christian will bring up as a reason to believe in god. So, what if it wasn’t so reliable?

Price starts off with a short introduction into the method of form criticism, and then moves quickly into it’s application. He tackles the gospel story in pretty much chronological order and quickly points out how easily dismissed many of the claims can be: items like the virgin birth, the lineage of Jesus, his ministry, and the miracles just don’t hold up to close scrutiny from either a logical or a historical perspective.

When Price really gets going, he points out the two different (often completely contradictory) Christian traditions found in the bible, which he dubs the Hinayana and Mahayana schools (Earl Doherty referred to these as the Galilean and Jerusalem traditions). The fact that there even are different schools of thought in the New Testament seems to escape most of the followers of Christ, but once you learn to recognize them the compositional style of the Bible begins to unfold in front of you.

I found the chapter on John the Baptist to be very interesting, and I quickly realized that the baptist is quite a bit more charismatic than Jesus; he is an amazing co-star in the story and, as far as I’m concerned, he does steal every scene he is in. I nearly converted to Mandaeism.

Price concludes with revealing chapters on the crucifixion and resurrection. He clearly shows the evolving nature of the resurrection narrative.

Never one to expect anyone to merely accept what he says, Price includes notes at the end of each chapter and a scriptural index at the end of the book.

The book, above all, is entertaining to read. It doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in theological logic circles, another great advantage of letting go of faith and no longer having to consistently talk yourself into believing in god.

Highly Recommended

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12 Comments on “Book Review: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man”

  1. Benjamin Steele Says:

    I own this book, but I’ve only read parts of it. I should finish it because I would like to see what he has to say about John the Baptist.

    He is one of my favorite New Testament scholars (along with Doherty). I also own his Pre-Nicene New Testament and having been slowly working my way through it. I’ve been trying to read more of the texts from the first few centuries of the common era.

    • I almost picked up the Pre-Nicene New Testament, but the shear volume of it intimidated me! I should still pick it up. There’s an autographed copy of it with MN Atheists that is calling out to me.

      I need to read through the 1st and 2nd century stuff, as well. I don’t want to have to take anyone’s word for it. That’s why I’m glad Price gives good source notes in his books. He really helps point out some good sources. Doherty is pretty thorough as well. The Jesus Puzzle was excellent.

  2. Benjamin Steele Says:

    The Pre-Nicene New Testament has great footnotes along with helpful introductions to each text. I also like how he organizes them by theme and not by separating the canonical form the non-canonical.

    I have some other translations or early Gnostic/Christian texts, but Price’s is my favorite. I like it because it contains such a wide variety of texts. Some of the other collections I have only offer select texts and often only partial texts. Price goes so far as to even reconstruct missing sections by following the themes and styles of similar texts.

    Have you read D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S)? She is another favorite of mine. I’m at the moment reading her most recent book which is a massive tome. It’s titled Christ in Egypt and it is very thorough.

    • I never have read Acharya S. I kind of let her pass me by, but the more I look at her the more valid I think her work is. I’ve read through a few critiques of her work to try to get a gauge on how valid her research is, and the only thing I’ve seen are ad hominem attacks and Christian apologetics. Sometimes even from atheists!

      I think she does do good work and I have been reading some excerpts of her book from her web page. They’re fun. I think I will pick up Christ in Egypt soon. The next thing I want to dig into, though, is some analysis of the Mithraic religion. It’s always interested me. David Ulansey has a book on it that looks pretty interesting.

    • Benjamin Steele Says:

      I was fortunate to have discoverd Acharya S through her first book and not through an online discussion. I’ve seen plenty of those discussions and they never go anywhere. I think atheists have such a response to he because she talks about mythology. For some reason, certain atheists can’t separate the scholarly study of mythology from religious belief, and also many people identify an interest in mythology with New Age spirituality. And some people just like to argue.

      Arharya focuses on a specific subject, and you either enjoy that subject or not. Personally, I’m completely fascinated by comparative mythology. I think people should either read her books or withold judgment. She cites all her data and often it isn’t the type of info that is easily found on the web. If you really want to determine if her conclusions are valid, you’ll have to look at the primary sources for yourself.

      Acharya’s arguments make sense to me. I’ve read many other authors who make similar arguments and I’ve read enough of the primary sources to see the basis. The debate about pagan parallels to Christianity was one of the biggest issues in the first 5 centuries of the common era. Specific to Acharya, a major component of this early debate was astrotheology. She makes this very clear in Christ in Egypt.

      The reason I mentioned Acharya S is because she often gets grouped with the likes of Doherty and Price. They all write about the mythicist position, but Price doesn’t primarily consider himself a mythicist.

    • I agree that people should withhold judgment until they read her work. The mythology vs religion debate probably is the stumbling block for most people. I can’t remember who said it but, someone defined mythology as “someone else’s religion” and I totally agree.

      I once had a literature teacher that tried to tell us that no one ever took the Greek myths seriously. When I commented that they sure spent an awful lot of time and money on something they didn’t’ “take seriously” she got a bit miffed.

      I consider myself a mythicist. It seems to make the most sense to me. I’m going to be giving a presentation on the christ myth tomorrow and I’m going to be using Acharya’s segment form Zeitgeist as part of it.

  3. Benjamin Steele Says:

    How did the Christ myth presentation go?

    By the way, the astrotheology of Zeitgeist was only partly based on Acharya. The makers of the film didn’t consult her early on and she didn’t agree with every detail. But it more or less presents her view. She wrote a electronic booklet that gave additional info brought up in Zeitgeist. She based Christ In Egypt on that work, but of course added much to it (making it around a 600 page book).

    In one of your other comments, you mentioned wanting to study Mithraism. I just came across again a really extensive article about Mithraism on Acharya’s site. Have you read it? In it she discusses, amongst other aspects, the issue of the virgin birth which always comes up in online discussions.

    • The presentation went really well. We had about 14 people there, most of them completely unaware of comparative mythology. They were all very receptive to it, though, and I think we’ve got a few new religious skeptics! A young couple that showed up seemed completely blown away; there eye’s were wider than dinner plates. I downloaded Acharya’s Zeitgeist companion booklet since, like you mentioned, I think the filmmaker got a bit sloppy in the translation and had that available for people to look through. I’m not sure how many will go the extra mile and read more about it, but at least they know where to look now.

      I also had some audio from Bob Price’s Bible Geek show where he tells the Osiris story that I made a slide show to. That was a hit as well.

      I just ordered a book on Mithras, so I’ll be reading that soon. It’ll be next on the reading stack after Lost Christianities by Bart Erhman, which I just cracked into.

    • Benjamin Steele Says:

      What was the presentation for? Are you a part of a group or organziation?

      That Price audio sounds interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard it before. I’ll listen to it soon.

      What book on Mithras did you just order? What made that particular book catch your attention?

      I also have Ehrman’s Lost Christianities. I haven’t read it, but Ehrman’s work I’m sure would be helpful in understanding a lot of the early Christian history.

    • Yeah we did the presentation for a group we run. My fiancee and I run the Southern Minnesota Atheists Meetup Group. It’s an kind of a subsidiary of Minnesota Atheists.
      We get together about once a month to do something. A lot of times they’re just loose get togethers, but we’re trying to put on more presentations, especially since we’re finding out what people don’t know and how interested they are once they do find out. It’s pretty cool.

      The audio is from the Bible Geek podcast, which was a part of the Infidel Guy show for a while. Some of the shows are up to listen to here for free. They were some pretty good shows, but they only did about 20 of them. I think Bob continued to do them on his own. If you can find his web page I think he has more housed there.

      The Mithras book I’m getting is “The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries” by David Ulansey. It picked it simply because of the reviews. Everything from archeological periodicals to religious study groups seemed to have nothing but praise for it. I figured I could do worse. Mithras is heavily astrological and a clear influence on Christianity. Plus they met in caves!

  4. Benjamin Steele Says:

    I thnk I’ve heard some of Infidel Guy’s shows, but I can’t remember what. Acharya is supposed to be on Infidel Guy this week, maybe tonight.

    • I think she is on tonight. I’ve never actually listened to the show live, but I might do that tonight. I think she’s talking on Easter origins. Should be fun. I wrote up a little article on Easter for the MNA newsletter, but it’s a surprisingly hard topic to pin down. I just pinned it down to a deviation of Passover, but the origins of that is probably lost in time.

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