Robert M. Price – Jesus: The Failed Hypothesis

March 09, 2007

Robert M. Price is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. He’s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. Dr. Price is the author of a number of books such as Deconstructing Jesus, Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, and The Da Vinci Fraud. He has appeared widely in the media, and was featured prominently in the movie The God Who Wasn’t There.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Price discusses the uses of doubt in historical inquiry and especially in Biblical criticism, his doubts about the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, and many of the assertions in his forthcoming book The Paperback Apocalypse, which treats current religious, political and social movements motivated by belief in the return of Jesus and fulfilled prophecies in the Jewish and Christian Bibles.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, March 9th, 2007. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe growthy point of inquiries, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to 14 other cities around the world I just mentioned our branch in Toronto this Saturday, March 10th, is the inaugural event of Center for Inquiry Ontario, the branch in Toronto. If you’re in the area, please come to the event, meet many of us here from the Center for Inquiry and all the people working so hard to get our efforts off the ground there in Ontario. You can get more information on that event at CFI Ontario dot org. Now, before we get to this week’s guest, a couple of program notes on last week’s show. I mentioned our intention to focus this week’s episode on our coverage of the Secular Islam Summit held last weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida. That’s the event that garnered worldwide attention featuring some of the leading Muslim and formerly Muslim thinkers, all coming together to work out problems related to the secularization of Islamic societies. While due to some scheduling conflicts, we’re postponing our show covering that event until next week. This week’s interview is with Bob Price. And before we get to that, here’s a word from our sponsor. 

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In January of 2007, Point of Inquiry attended the Scripture and Skepticism Conference at the University of California at Davis, and we recorded many really great discussions with some of the leading thinkers in those fields surrounding history, archeology, biblical criticism, textual criticism, etc.. One of our interviews was with Bob Price and so quickly say you know little about him. He’s professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry’s Institute. He’s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and of the Jesus Seminar. He’s appeared widely in the media and was featured prominently in the movie The God Who Wasn’t There. He’s written many books and in the discussion I had with him at the Scripture and Skepticism Conference, we talked about the claims he makes in one of them, the incredible shrinking son of man arguments. He has four reason to doubt even the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure. Here is that discussion recorded outside on the patio at the Scripture and Skepticism Conference. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Robert Price. 

Thanks for having me. Great to be here again. 

This is a really amazing conference. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. It’s the Scripture and Skepticism Conference, the subtitle of the conferences, The Uses of Doubt in Biblical and Caronna Criticism. Let’s get the ball rolling by asking you, Bob, what what are the uses of doubt when you’re looking at these sacred texts? 

Well, to get any kind of historical grasp on the figure of Jesus or Mohammed or Moses or anyone else, because the documents in which they appear in the ancient world were certainly not written as historical biographies. So we’re reading them against the grain. But you have to do that. You have to ask. Well, even if you’re a believer, you might say, oh, this story about Jesus walking on the water or the Buddha flying into midair, flames streaming from one half of his body, water from the other. They have certain symbolic meanings that you may appreciate is quite profound, but they’re not historical assertions of descriptions. And if you want to know, what did these men actually do or did they actually walk on water and so on, you got to apply. Dowds, it’s some it’s just the process of inquiry. If this is not a historical story, what is it? And if it isn’t historical. OK. I want to put that on the shelf, but it’s worth finding out. What did they really do? And so doubt’s really integral to the whole process is there’s something as too much doubt. I don’t think so. I mean, you there are people that doubt that we went to the moon. You could doubt things to the point of being a nut, I guess. But but you have to show criteria for either excessive credulity or excessive skepticism. But there’s almost no such thing as too much doubt if you’re dealing with a document where a guy is virginal and conceived, heals the sick, drives out demons, multiplies food, walks on water, rises from the dead, flies into the sky, etc.. I mean, it’s not that you they all these things kind of up. And I was there. I know. No way. But but the historian has to say she there’s so many things like this and ancient legends. I’ve got to suspect these are legends, too. And so I don’t think there is there can be too much doubt an historical inquiry if there can’t be too much doubt. 

In other words, if if you can doubt and continue doubting you’re looking for evidence, but you’re looking at everything skeptically. What do you end up with? A lot of scholars at this conference would self identify as skeptics. Yet they’re not so skeptical that they doubt the existence of an actual historical Jesus in the first place. 

Well, I believe they’re honest and have reasonable theories, but it’s just. Well, one thing they would all agree on, I’m pretty sure, is that given the the methodological character of historical doubt, no matter what hypothesis you favor, you have to at the end of the day, say we can’t really know. Here’s our best shot at it. And maybe somebody can come up with something better. So you’d have to be honest and say you have only provisional confidence in any theory. But I think some have not given sufficient weight to the analogy of the Jesus story with myths of ancient heroes and gods at virtually every point, as well as the lack of any solid connection between the Jesus story and the history of the time. 

When you do that, do you end up being skeptical that he even existed at all? When you can see parallels in the Jesus story with other religious heroes of his day? 

Yes, I think the burden of proof is on the person that does believe there was some sort of historical. Jesus, it’s not that there’s anything grossly improbable about as many would put it, a wandering sage or something. I’m sure they’re going to ban such a person. Sure, there could have been a faith healer and an exorcist, et cetera. But the thing is, all we have about Jesus are wunder stories like a Superman comic. 

And there are other figures like Apollonius of Taiana, whose lives have been befogged by legend, but they’re mentioned in letters by people that say they met him and they had. 

So there’s a. So there’s as much evidence for these other characters in history as there are for Jesus. You’re saying? 

Well, more like Caesar Augustus. His life has been encrusted by the time we read it with many of the same myths, a star in heaven, attempts of a wicked senators to kill the infant saviors Augustus. But Augustus is also tied in with contemporary history. So there we know we have a historical figure who has begun to be embellished by legend. If Jesus was historical, it’s too late because there is no remaining tie between him and history. So he might have existed. But I had like some good reason to think so. 

If you apply the historical critical method, it seems the method of history that a lot of people at this conference apply to the historical Jesus question. If you do that to the extent to which you do it, what can you say about Jesus? 

Nothing, except that at some point people began to add his worship to that of the other current mystery cults. You cannot say Bultman. Some say the arch skeptic among New Testament critics, he said the historian can only go back to the Easter morning faith of the early disciples and their visions. That’s too credulous. We don’t really have solid information that there were disciples of this guru, a wandering teacher, who had these visions. We don’t even have to get to the point of asking Boldon. They have hallucinations. We don’t have any real records from them that they had these visions. So what can we know? Not even as much as Boatman’s said there. There was a legendary Jesus. And there might have been a historical Jesus. But unless somebody discovers this diary or its skeleton or something, we’ll never know. 

So if we can’t say anything about who Jesus really was in history, we can say lots about what the people in the early church thought he was. 

Yes. But then we’re dealing with Christology, the theology about Jesus as the Christ was. And then there’s plenty to debate, too, when they said he was the son of God. What did they mean? They probably didn’t have the whole Trinity Doctrine in mind yet. 

Right. These ideas have changed over time themselves. And you can track those changes. 

Yes. And of course, almost nobody disputes that. I remember reading something written by a scholar for Moody Press. Must’ve been moody Bible Institute. He talked about have a dogma of Christology was modified over the centuries at the Council of Nicaea in the Council of Ethicists and all that I remember as a teenage fundamentalist. I read that by someone from Moody Bible Institute, and I was shocked because I from church had the idea that none of this had ever change changed. That all just fell down out of heaven. But yeah. I mean, nobody that knows anything about it, unlike me at the time, knows that the doctrine developed. It’s just a question of is it rooted even in a historical figure? And most scholars, some say, yeah, there was a human Jesus who was exalted to divinity in the eyes of his followers. But it may not have been that way. He could have been like Hercules or Asclepius, a mythical God whom some later thought to reduce to the outlines of a mortal. And people said that about Hercules. Well, of course, he didn’t actually kill the Hydra. There’s no such thing as a hydra. But he must have been a great warrior and champion. Well, Asclepius wasn’t the son of Apollo because there isn’t an Apollo, but there must have been some guy was a great physician. That’s just sheer surmise. And I’m afraid that’s what the supposedly critical scholars are doing with Jesus today. They simply surmise and assume there must have been a genuine man at the bottom of it and maybe not. 

I want to compare your view of the in quotes, historical Jesus and of the New Testament to the Christian Bible with the views of many of the scholars here this weekend. And then compare all of that with the view that most believers in Jesus have. So an overwhelming number of people in America, for instance, believe in the self civic power of Jesus, that he was the savior, that he was the son of God with supernatural powers. And many have written about or have expressed. Alarm at historical Jesus studies because they seek to, if not by intention, but in effect, they seek to remove the supernatural from this man Jesus. So he’s not the Christ of faith, but he’s the Jesus of history, which is just a man that then became to be believed in as the savior. You don’t even go that far, though. You don’t think even Jesus existed, or at least that there’s not compelling evidence to believe that he did. 

Yeah, you you put that very well, because the Christ myth hypothesis that I favor is equally at odds with both of those perspectives. In a sense, I think and some others, like Earl Doherty and few other people would say that the traditional Christian is correct in seeing a supernatural divine figure named Jesus Christ the Savior. That’s the figure that the Gospels and the New Testament talk about. They do not know of a of a purely human Jesus, a historical figure. But I differ from tradition, of course, by saying this savior is a myth like, oh, Cyrus and Adonis and other dying and rising saviors. I use the methods of historical criticism, like most of the presenters at the conference. And I say there are ways of dismantling and penetrating the layers of legend and getting back to what lay beneath them. But I don’t think it was a historical individual as they do. I think, again, that they’re they’re creating such a figure by saying, given that there must have been a historical Jesus who lived in Pontius Pile, it’s time. What can we surmise? Like John Dommett across a great, great scholar from whom I’ve learned a great amount. He has done many books, biographies of Jesus and and he he spends hundreds of pages filling in a background of Greco Roman first century Mediterranean society and economy and anthropology and a religious background. 

And so, Jesus, he situates among all these currents. But I think he simply made a Jesus who is a function of the categories he uses to analyze. 

He makes Jesus kind of a social reformer and not an apocalyptic prophet who is saying the end is near or not the son of God, who says I’m your savior. He makes Jesus a reformer. You’re saying that even that is going too far. Even if that thesis undermines faith in Jesus as a savior, that’s still going too far for you. 

If they’re creating a historical figure where there may only have been a God, though, that God is a mythological being. I think they’re creating a Christ of faith masquerading as the Jesus of history, because he and Richard Horsley and very many others do see Jesus as a kind of 1st century Mahatma Gandhi or Dr. King or even E.F. Schumacher, proto feminist. 

Small is beautiful, a communist China collectivist backyard, communes and all that, which I find just wholly implausible. As Arthur Droege at this conference points out, just like Orthodox Christians want to see Jesus as their personal savior. Many of the liberal scholars have customized the Jesus that fits their agenda, too. And I just think that’s what you’re going to have when you try to make a mythic figure into a historical one. 

If a scholar doesn’t go as far as you go and he or she thinks there was a historical Jesus, you’re saying that’s the first mistake. That’s why we have sometimes Jesus as a magician. The scholar makes him a magician. That scholar makes him. You mentioned Proteau feminist. Some scholars make him a socialist Jew, an American capitalist almost. You can really read any of your own perspectives into the historical Jesus you’re trying to uncover. You say don’t even go that far. Let’s forget about the historical Jesus and look at the phenomenon of belief in this myth. You’re saying of Jesus as savior as Christ. 

Yes. And that’s where the evidence came from, that the historical critics that don’t go as far as me are going wrong. They’re looking at that that evidence. But what I think is the result of the faith of the earliest Christians and a mythical Christ remaking them in their image. They take to be the data about Christ, for instance, was Jesus a magician, as Martin Smith argued? Well, he had a very good argument for that, because there are many stories in which Jesus uses contemporary magic techniques and casts out demons, et cetera, but or Origin tells us in the late second. 

Theory that these stories were used by Christians as magic formula to exercise demons. So was Jesus an exorcist whose exploits have been recorded? Or is he the name of a God by which they cast out demons or thought they were? Who knows where? I mean, they used to to what? DFI sports heroes in the ancient world and heal in their name. There are social pronouncements in the name of Jesus and and legal announcements about various items of Jewish law attributed to Jesus. Can you do this or that on the Sabbath, for instance? Well, that might make Jesus sound like a liberal scribe or Pharisee, but it might just be. This is Torah coming from a divine Jesus, as the old one did in the name of Moses from Jehovah. If you’re just you don’t know that you’re going beyond what Christians believed about and made of the the Jesus God. They believed in. You can never get past that, as far as I can tell, whereas you can with Caesar Augustus. There’s no ambiguity like that. And was he persecuted as a child by tyrants and so on? Apparently not. It’s pretty easy to peel that away from Caesar Augustus, but at least there was a real historical Caesar. 

Yeah. There’s no way to doubt that that that would be like denying we got to the moon. 

I just mentioned that a lot of the historical Jesus research seems to undermine, even if that’s not the intention of the scholars. It seems to undermine the belief in Jesus as the Christ, as the savior of all mankind. You are no bones about it. When you when you posit that Jesus might not have actually ever existed, that has to undermine someone’s faith in him as savior. Is that why you’re doing it? 

No. I go to church myself. I love all of these symbols and myths. It undermines any kind of metaphysical belief that. Yeah. I now have evidence that when I die, I’m gonna go to heaven because of Jesus. Yeah. I mean, there’s it undermines that. But if you’ll look at it the way Young did, that all of these symbols relate to archetypes deep in the subconscious. And that fullness of experience and even renewal becomes possible through them and the dramatic rituals of religion that that activate them. Well, yeah, you can. That’s a different way of looking at it. But I’m not saying you can kill or should kill the religious value of it. But I admit, looking at it historically does dissolve any literalistic belief. I’ve got a ticket to heaven now. I’m going to there’s a salvation that’s that that’s kind of out the window. But it probably is even with, as you say, with mainstream historical criticism, you just once you look at it historically, you realize any kind of belief about life after death is pure speculation. Even if he can prove Jesus did believe in it and was handing out the tickets, even if there was a Jesus who thought he was a messiah. 

There’s very little evidence, you’re saying, to believe that he just because he thought it we should. 

Yeah, well, that guarantee it. I mean, well, I have faith in him. Look, I’m not saying he wasn’t sincere if there was such a person. 

But the mere fact, even if you could establish that was a Jesus that said all these nice things in the gospel of John, I am the light of the world and so on, that would hardly prove there was. I mean, if you’re gonna wind up believing in going to heaven when you die, it had better be on some other reason. The and if you wanna believe it, you can still believe it. But do you have any evidence? I just don’t like people using historical analysis to say, well, yeah, we’ve proven there was a Jesus who proved he was the son of God. And so we can believe in everything he said. That’s just a sleight of hand trick. 

You don’t have an agenda. You’re not out to ruffle the feathers of fundamentalists. And so if if you don’t have an agenda, why are you doing this? Just because it’s fun? 

Well, ultimately, yes. When I grew up a fundamentalist and loved the Bible and found that the more critically I read it, the more sense it made. So even though in a sense it was debunked, I understood it was not the word of God. After a while, I still loved all the puzzles. I loved the text and wanted to understand it better, and I still do. But I only enter the lists and do debates and write books because I just I know what the historical method is. And I hate to see Christian apologists pretend to be historians and engage in this phony swindle that they do. If if that weren’t going on. I don’t know that I’d make any noise. I live in North Carolina among people that are all Pentecostals and fundamentalists. I don’t open my mouth around them. They’re just my neighbors. They’re good people. I don’t want to make a stink. It’s just in this very specialized realm where people are going out and all. We can prove Jesus rose from the dead. I have to say, wait a minute, wait a minute. You can’t, I’m afraid. 

OK, let’s switch gears a bit. Although I think we could talk for a long time about your views on Jesus, where they how they match other scholars views, how their iconoclastic, very different from other scholars and especially their implications for devout religious belief or devout Christian belief. We could do a thousand conversations just on that topic. But I want to switch gears and talk about the apocalypse. Your book coming out shortly is called the paperback Apocalypse. I want to talk to you about how the evolution of any time beliefs throughout the history, the Western cultural tradition, have really had lasting impact. How it’s in some sense, it’s fashion. The world that we see today. Belief in the apocalypse. 

It started out as a mythical way of understanding political change, because as far as I can tell, the notion of the Antichrist and tribulation and all of that goes back to ancient Persian Zoroastrian belief where they had this character called as the hack who was a drag and a three headed dragon that took human form as the emperor of Assyria, their enemy. Well, that’s almost exactly like what we have in the Book of Revelation, where Leviathan, the ancient Hebrew and Kanon Knight Dragon with seven heads, it becomes the Roman emperor and persecutes the righteous and so on. And that myth survived uninterrupted for millennia because you constantly had people persecuted by emperors and empires and so forth, and it still happens. So I remember hearing how in the Soviet Union in the 60s, a bunch of people cut off from the outside world, a fundamentalist church, terribly persecuted, got some letter out to a church in the West and said, when did did the rapture happen? 

Because it’s obvious we’re in the tribulation. We can kind of laugh that off. But in a way, what are they going to think? I mean, that you have to use these Technicolor metaphors to explain the acts to account for the extremity of the horrors of the modern world. So the language and the imagery are irresistible. 

That language, that imagery, as irresistible as it is, it’s found a wide audience. Even today, it’s we’re not talking about a phenomena in Persia or two thousand years ago when, you know, John wrote the apocalypse, the Book of Revelation we’re talking about right now, winds 63, 65 million copies of Tim Hayes book series Left Behind have been bought at bookstores all over the world. 

Yeah, there’s a funny finale about that. I think the biggest popular entertainment application of apocalyptic mythology is not that or The Omen, even from the 70s, but the Toho Studios. Godzilla movies, because look where that came from. That was all about the ANCs, the survivor guilt and anxiety of Japanese after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And they went right back to the image of giant monsters destroying their world. Oddly enough, it’s the same thing. But now, of course, the years have passed and it’s only entertainment. Well, left behind is primarily entertainment, too. 

But not only in entertainment does it reflect the actual beliefs of almost everybody who reads it. 

And those beliefs are impacting public policy and refashioning the way our government, our nation state relates to others around the world. 

Well, I’ve never been sure of that. I’ve heard that suggested. But even if he could show that George Bush, who as near as I can tell, is just sort of a moderate middle of the road member of the most middle of the road of all churches, nothing authentic United Methodists. 

I mean, we’ve seen their commercial work. Come on, be wander the woods in confusion with a restless ear at the Methodist Church. He I doubt seriously he he believes in and that the rapture is going to happen next week. 

But even if he does, you don’t believe George Bush believes. And in the return of Jesus Christ soon and all the prophecies around that, my book of Revelation, the the rapture, the end time he might, but the form in which you read about it in in Left Behind, which is the predominant U.S. form of it. 

It’s pure passivity. They’re not like these nuts in Christian identity that that, oddly enough, demythologize they want to bring about. That’s right. I am sure that these may want to bring up just sitting around on their behinds waiting and they want the rapture to come. So they sit in the comfortable theater arena, seats in the sky. Munch and Popcorn looking at the tribulation as if it’s a big screen TV and it’s always been that way there. So, I mean, this is not an ideology of militancy. It’s pure passivity. And you can’t really make turbulence in the Middle East automatically fit anybody’s scenario at the end time. 

So I thought it fits a certain kind of Christian eschatology because there should be a conflagration in the Middle East where Israel is attacked. And the United States, depending on your view of time, prophecy is, you know, what if Roman Manasa or one of, you know, a lost tribe of Israel, very complicated stuff. But you look at what is it, James Heggie or whatever out of Dallas or some of these other prophecy hucksters, that’s the word for a war in the Middle East involving Israel is central to the end times. 

Yeah, I just don’t think the current circumstances fit at all how Lindsay had a forum so well, because he could say late. Great Planet. Yeah. Get in later if not so great all the time because he was able to say, OK. The King of the north is going to come down. It’s got to be the Soviet Union and the king of the South. Well, that’s got to be the Arabs and so forth. And then it turns out, well, the USSR is alienated from the Arabs and then the USSR is around anymore. And so I don’t know what he does, how he connects it now, because it just doesn’t fit the scenario. 

Jack Van ENPI is constantly revising his theories of interpretation, the Book of Revelation, Book of Daniel as well. 

Doesn’t that tell him something that the prophecy is supposed to predict the future? And they’re catching up with events instead of predicting them. 

Where where does this all cash-out? Millions of Americans do believe as passively as you say they believe it, that someday soon Jesus will come back, they’ll vanish in the clouds, and then there will be a world war, the likes of which we’ve never experienced before. 

By the way, this stuff is not even really in the Bible. They’re taken war scenarios that had to do with an Tycho’s epiphany is in the Book of Daniel and Persecution stuff about Domitian in the Book of Revelation, not a war scenario. 

And then they get the idea of the secret rapture that’s going to take the good guys out. That never occurs anywhere. It’s how can they claim to be Bible believing Christians who believe this nonsense. But why are they? Which highlights the question all the more. What is it that attracts them to it? Well, it’s because it’s like a wish fulfillment of the second coming of Christ is in. That’s certainly in the New Testament. 

But there was always a car or the coming of the son of man. Yeah. 

And but it’s there’s a statute of limitations on the thing. Every New Testament writer who mentions it says it’s going to happen soon. This is the last hour. This generation will not pass away. Hey, I got news for you. If you looked at the calendar lately, it’s nineteen hundred years since that happened and it’s not going to happen. You might as well admit it was a big mistake. And so the fact that they get all hopped up for this thing with how Lindsay in the 70s and nothing happens and Jack Manabe. Nothing happens, Jimmy. Nothing that happens. What they the value of the Left Behind books is you can buy Karius La experience on the page that which you wish you were seeing on the pages of the newspaper. You wish it would happen. It doesn’t. At least you can live this out in your imagination. I’m just sure that it’s a kind of a theological pornography and that’s why it’s attractive to people they’d never bother with. It’s like nobody reads Playboy in climates where there’s nudity all the time and well, if there was really a second coming of Christ, there wouldn’t be any left behind series. 

So about not specifically the Left Behind series, but about the belief in the apocalypse, the belief that the Book of Revelation is talking to us today or to Christians today. You wrote this book is coming out soon. Is the book for Christians or it’s for anyone interested in this cultural phenomenon anyway? 

I think the Christians would be fascinated. I speak appreciatively actually, of the Left Behind books and the very many in the same genre. I love these books. The loads of fun to read. I’m not saying, oh, shame, shame. I wish they’d never written them. There are a lot of fondness, speculative novels, a kind of fantasy fiction. And I try to point out the good and the bad parts of the books as literature. But I also go into the theological background of it in a way I’m just sure they’re not familiar with. So I’m trying to be sympathetic, though critical, and to just make everything understandable. So I believe no matter where you’re from, if you’re interested in the topic, you’d get a big kick out of it. 

So you’re treating these books not as a threat to our socio economic or political stability. You’re not treating these books as something negatively impacting our public policy. You’re looking at them instead of. Good science fiction, science fantasy like Frank Herbert’s Dune or something. Another book series that I know you’re somewhat of a scholar. 

Yeah, I love that stuff. Yeah. It’s not that I don’t think fundamentalism poses a challenge to our civilization. And so unlike the creationists, that’s a big Bradlow. 

It’s not that you don’t think they pose a challenge. Yeah, there are a lot of bad things happening with right wing religiosity. This just seems to me to be a kind of a diversion, though. I just don’t see any seriousness in this. That’s just the irony, that they’re kind of imaginatively living what what should be happening if their faith was true and it’s not. But it’s not dangerous in any way. In fact, they’re reading this. They’re not out doing something more mischievous. 

Let’s get into that one point a little bit more before we finish up. Let’s talk about the relationship of American evangelical Christianity with the state of Israel. I know this is somewhat outside the purview of your expertize. You’re a biblical scholar. You’re a historian. But you’re treating it a little. In talking about the Book of Revelation, the impact of views of prophecy on the modern world, isn’t there kind of an unholy alliance now between organized evangelical Christianity and certain even secular parts of Israel because of the belief that Israel is going to be ground zero when Jesus returns and what even condos are being sold? You know, so you could see the Mount of Olives. Is that where Jesus returns to? It does seem to be having real world effect. Now, I’m not sure that the sale of condos to evangelical Christians is anything to get up in arms about. But you’re saying there’s no other negative impact of the widespread belief in the impending return of Jesus Christ? 

Actually, I don’t think that’s why fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell are so pro-Israel. 

Not that I mind being poor, very pro-Israel. I’m a pro-Israel myself. Not that it matters much, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it has to do with all the Old Testament stuff about Abraham and that God gave this land to these people. They kind of have to believe that if they believe the Bible and if there was nothing about Israel, practically there isn’t in the Book of Revelation, because it’s just dealing with the early Christian sect and how they come out. If it weren’t for the Old Testament deed of the Holy Land to the to Israel and so forth, the fundamentalist just wouldn’t care. They’d say, well, they were Israel. Jews had just one more group we want to evangelize. And that’s the way Calvinists, by the way. And Catholics look at it. They they’re not pro or anti. Just one more group. But fundamentalists feel like. No, God says Israel is the apple of my eye. So we gotta be for them. I don’t really think the return of Jesus thing has much to do with it. But the fact that they do believe he’s going to return results in the condominiums or Pat Robertson sent in film crews over there and all that, but I don’t think that really is behind the pro-Israel thing, as I understand it. 

Bob, in this discussion, we’ve talked about your views on the historical Jesus, even that you have reason to suspect that such a man ever existed. And we also talked about your notions about belief, widespread American belief in prophecy being fulfilled. The Book of Revelation and what it says about the end of the world. Where do you see both of those subjects developing? They seem to me somehow related. 

They are indeed, because both strive to create a fantasy savior, one in the past that saved your butt from going to hell and one in the future. At his second coming, who’ll save you from the trials of the Antichrist? And so what’s going on here? These are both volitional emotional commitments to a kind of cartoon fantasy and thus both are invulnerable. Neither one can ever be debunked by evidence. No matter if they discovered the bones of Jesus tomorrow, that wouldn’t stop people from believing in the resurrection. And if if you could convince people that if the world was going to blow up mind supernova, that wouldn’t stop them from believing that Christ is going to return afterward with sunglasses or something. So it’s it’s invulnerable. This is what human beings do. We create a symbolic world to lend meaning to to a world that would be chaos otherwise. But you’re in trouble and you may bring on chaos if you can’t tell the difference between symbol and myth. On the one hand and reality on the other. 

If you’re not going to change anybody’s mind, what’s the point? 

Well, there are people who are dissatisfied with these things and can tell there’s something wrong. They’ve grown up enough to know it can’t be that. Believer in the past with Jesus or in the future with Jesus. And there there figure there must be something else. And I think we need to be there to help these people say, yeah. Here’s here’s the mature way of looking at these matters. 

Thank you very much for joining me again on point of inquiry, Bob Price. 

Thanks for having me. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. 

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Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Kurtz Point of Inquiry’s music is composed forest by Emmy Award winning Michael Palin. Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.