Fundraising, book reviews, and motherhood

Again, I’m writing a post for our regular fundraiser (for those who don’t know, the brief version of the backstory is that we’re paying off debts incurred in a SLAPP lawsuit). If you’re able to donate and feel moved to do so, we’d be very grateful for anything you can pay. This is a particularly good month to donate, as one of our bloggers has promised to match all amounts donated up to $1000; so, this month, anything you can donate will count for double!

As you might recall, our last fundraiser had a Valentine’s Day theme (combined with a Darwin theme, but that’s by-the-by), and I had the idea of writing a book review post on the theme of romances that promote healthy relationships/progressive social justice views. I liked doing this so much that I decided I’d make this sort of themed book review post a regular thing for future fundraisers, and so, since the theme this time around is ‘motherhood’ in honour of the US Mothers’ Day, I started thinking of books that related to both social justice and motherhood. This was, I have to say, a bit more difficult. I had no problem at all coming up with ideas for novels that explore the theme of motherhood; I just had a harder time thinking of ones that are obviously relevant to social justice themes. (I’m probably missing some obvious ones; any suggestions?) So, this time around I’m reviewing non-fiction books on the subject that I found worth reading. Let’s go!

First up is Candace Brathwaite’s I Am Not Your Baby Mother, an account of Brathwaite’s experience of new motherhood as a black woman in a world of racial stereotypes.

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Brathwaite’s race affected her experiences in ways ranging from a dilemma over whether to choose names reflecting her children’s ethnic heritage (when she knew that having too obviously ‘black’ a name on a CV would close many doors to her child in future) to, starkly, her chances of surviving childbirth. This last is not just an abstract statistic for Brathwaite; after the birth of her first child, she almost died from post-partum sepsis after the health care professionals who reviewed her repeatedly dismissed her increasingly severe symptoms. Five years later, a report showed that post-partum deaths in the UK were five times more common amongst black women than amongst those of any other race; a horrifying statistic in which Brathwaite is still struggling to raise widespread interest.

One thing Brathwaite became aware of was the lack of positive media images of black mothers or black families. (It wasn’t until her first child was five years old that Brathwaite saw a picture of a black woman on the cover of a parenting magazine.) Eventually, this realisation led her to set up Make Motherhood Diverse, a site for mothers who didn’t fit the media narrative to post their photos and stories of what motherhood looked like for them. Not just black mothers, either, as Brathwaite rapidly realised; mothers of other races, gay mothers, disabled mothers, mothers of disabled children, fat mothers, mothers with tattoos or piercings, mothers who adopted, mothers who lost their children… the site is for anyone who doesn’t see their experience reflected often enough in mainstream media and wants a place to make their own face seen and their story known.

Despite the seriousness of the subjects discussed, Brathwaite presents them in a way that’s eminently readable and sometimes downright funny. As a white, middle-class, comfortably-off woman with some very different experiences of mothering in the UK, I found her book an important eye-opener and well worth a read.

The second book is one I read some years ago and hadn’t thought about in a while, until I started thinking of what books I’d read that cover the theme of both parenting and social justice issues; Raising Ryland, by Hilary Whittington and Kristine Gasbarre, is a mother’s story of parenting a transgender child.

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Hilary Whittington hardly knew anything about transgender issues and, when the child she’d thought of as a daughter repeatedly insisted ‘she’ was a boy and became distressed at all attempts to make ‘her’ present as female, Whittington felt stymied and lost. However… she’d already faced one parenting challenge she’d never expected to face, when she discovered Ryland had been born profoundly deaf and there was a decision to be made (and an insurance company to fight) about cochlear implant surgery. That experience had crystallised her conviction that, as a mother, she needed to be on her child’s side for when the going got tough. When she realised her child was transgender and read more about what that meant, she also realised that her job here was to listen to her child’s needs, and that one of those needs was to be seen as the boy that Ryland really was on the inside. The result – also made into a documentary – is a beautiful true story of allyship at its best; of a child who was supported for who he really was and of the parents who gave him this support and worked to do all they could to get the community to give him that support as well.

A few notes on assorted points that struck me:

Firstly, there’s the issue there always is for parents writing about their child, which is the question of whether they will, in years to come, see this as an invasion of privacy that they don’t like. The book was written with great respect for the person Ryland is, and I think he will most likely be happy with it as he grows older; I hope so, anyway. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that one, given that issues like this are important to write about and other children and families in this situation are better off when people like the Whittingtons do tell their stories.

Secondly, it’s worth noting that the book doesn’t go into non-binary gender issues at all. I don’t think this is particularly a flaw, as it’s meant as the story of one specific child and his family’s experience rather than as a definitive guide to all things transgender, but a) if that is what you want to explore then this isn’t the book for it and b) this brings me to my third point, which is that the book really could have done with a section with resources for people who need further information. (There are a couple mentioned in the body of the book, in the text of a beautiful letter that the Whittingtons sent to all their family and friends to explain the situation and reproduce verbatim here. However, it would have been very good to have a separate section listing these where they could easily be found, and I think the lack of this is a flaw in the book; I hope this is changed in any updated editions.)

And fourthly… it’s a side issue, but, my goodness, gender stereotyping in children’s clothing seems to be a problem in San Diego! Maybe it’s just the particular group of friends and family that the Whittingtons knew, but apparently it’s considered a major problem for a girl to leave the house unless she’s wearing a feminine-looking dress and bows in her hair, and don’t even think about wanting to wear Star Wars underwear. While this was ultimately irrelevant in Ryland’s case since he actually was a trans boy, I feel sorry for any cis girls growing up there who don’t like pink sparkles or prefer to slob around in casual shorts.

Anyway… on to the final book I’m reviewing for this post, which is Suzanne Barston’s Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t.

 

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After her own experience of struggling mightily with breastfeeding and having to switch to formula, Barston started delving into the tangled politics behind lactivism, the conflicts between feminism and an all-too-frequent approach of pushing breast as best for all babies, and the ways in which research studies of variable quality have been cherry-picked and oversold to give an exaggerated picture of the extent to which breastfeeding is beneficial. The result was first the Fearless Formula Feeder blog and Facebook group to support other people who used formula, and then this detailed and highly researched book exploring all those issues as well as the individual experiences of people forced into formula feeding through choice or circumstance.

I picked this book for this review for two reasons. One is that I wanted something to represent the sceptic values of FTB as well as the social justice values (believe me, the issue of scientific findings being exaggerated/cherry-picked/misrepresented to support an agenda is a significant problem in the mothering world). The other is that this was a blast from the past for me; I remember Suzanne well from my past blogging incarnation, when we used to follow and comment on each other’s blogs.

I have to make a confession here; I was, at one time, far, far too unquestioning in swallowing the propaganda about the vital importance of breastfeeding and the supposed inferiority of formula feeding. So, when I heard about Suzanne’s site and went to check it out, it was with the full intention of arguing with her over all the errors I assumed she was making. Instead, I found posts so thoughtful and well-thought-out that I realised she actually had really good points and that I needed to stop, read, and learn. And thus it was that my views changed and I was saved from being an obnoxious lactivist. (Well, I would have at least striven to be a polite lactivist, but you get what I mean.)

So, if anyone here is interested in the problems with the way breastfeeding is pushed and promoted in our society and the difficulties this can cause for mothers (which I suppose now that I write it might not be a topic that many people here are interested in, but if you are…), then I can definitely recommend Suzanne’s book.

I hope some readers have found something here that takes their fancy, and I hope you check out the posts written by some of the highly talented bloggers on here. And finally, Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers in the USA; may you be supported in your choices and contented in your mothering.

Book reviews: children’s/YA series

This is a post I was initially inspired to make by World Book Day, an international day of celebration of books/reading founded by UNESCO for the purpose of encouraging children to love books. Just before the day, I realised I could mark it on my blog; why not write reviews of series that my 13-year-old daughter and I have loved sharing? I didn’t get the post finished in time for the day itself, but I wanted to go ahead with writing it anyway. So, here are reviews of two multi-series that we’ve both loved… and that also carry some great messages for children.

Rick Riordan: the Percy Jackson world

Currently stands at: three sequential five-book series, two spin-off series of three books each dealing with different pantheons, one crossover series of novellas, and so many spin-off novels and novellas I’ve completely lost count.

This infamous multiseries starts with a simple premise: What if all of Greek mythology were actually true… including the part about gods having affairs with humans and conceiving demigod children? What would life be like for those children, growing up with powers and quests and monsters to fight? Riordan’s explorations of this are the kind of wonderful, readable books that combine great plots, humour, (just skim through the chapter titles in a Percy Jackson or Magnus Chase book to see what you’re in for) and warmth and poignancy. They look at what it’s like to grow up thinking of yourself as a loser and then find out you’re anything but, and at what heroism and bravery mean. All with superpowers and snark.

I have a caveat here; The first five-book series is not only (as you would probably expect) not quite as well written as the later books, it’s also for the most part pretty much structured as ‘White male hero solves everything and repeatedly saves the day, white female love interest gets to be Hermione Granger so that somebody can provide all the useful info, most other people get minor supporting roles’. I still loved the series, but be aware of that problem. (Ana Mardoll’s post on The Curse Of The Smart Girl is well worth a read.)

(Oh, and I just looked back at the beginning; there’s an ablist term on about the second page. Forgot that one.)

However… I don’t know whether Riordan realised this for himself or whether someone else pointed it out to him and he listened, but, either way, it’s something he improves on enormously in subsequent series. In the next five-book story arc, he brings in five new protagonists, two of whom are girls and four of whom are from ethnic minorities on their human side (Hispanic, Native American, Black and Chinese). Annabeth (the Hermione Granger character from the first book) gets a much bigger role as well. Percy’s still one of the protagonists, but his role has been scaled back a lot; in fact, he’s not in the first book at all (other than being the ‘Lost Hero’ of the title), and one of the themes from the later books in the series is that he has to learn to step back and let other people do things sometimes. Oh, and there’s a character from the first series who turns out to be gay and who has a happy relationship on the horizon by the time the series ends, with more gay/bi characters in the next series (including the third series’ protagonist). On top of that, we also get the Kane Chronicles in which the co-protagonists are a biracial brother and sister, and the Magnus Chase books in which we get a Moslem Valkyrie, a biracial einherji, a genderfluid einherji, and a disabled elf (who’s deaf and has had to deal with his family’s ablism). So, on top of all the other great things about these books, they’ve also ended up showing good diversity.

 

Tui Sutherland: Wings of Fire series

Currently stands at: two complete sequential five-book series, four out of five published books in a third series, a prequel, a spin-off novel, and four novellas looking at the backstories of some of the minor characters.

The ‘Wings of Fire’ series is set in a fantasy world where the characters are dragons. (Humans exist; the dragons call them ‘scavengers’ and think of them pretty much the way we think of mice, although they do come into the plotline in some key ways. The spin-off novel I mentioned above tells the parallel stories of the humans encountered during the first series, and the most recent book has linked up the two.) There is some adorable worldbuilding, with multiple different dragon tribes who have different abilities. In some places this leads to a trope known as Fantastic Racism (‘fantastic’, for those who don’t know the trope, referring here to the fantasy setting rather than being a compliment); overall, the message is about overcoming differences and working together.

Each of the main books tells the story through the eyes of a different character (with the prologue and epilogue in each case being from the viewpoint of yet other characters, used to flesh out the plot further), and thus each book has an individual character development arc as well as contributing to the overall plot arc. This makes it a great series on multiple levels; not only hugely readable with gripping plots, but with some good character development and great messages as well. It also means we get multiple female as well as male protagonists; in fact, there’s a slight preponderance of female protagonists overall. There’s also one protagonist in a gay relationship and we see a couple of same-gender crushes, all treated as completely normal by the characters. And, again, we get bucketloads of humour and snark and warmth.

I have one reservation to mention. In both of the last two books, we’ve seen a relationship (a romance in one, a friendship in the other) in which the protagonist is regularly angry and quite verbally aggressive towards the other person, who reacts by laughing it off and not being bothered by it. In the second case in particular, the other person sticks around for quite a lot of this, and the tactic eventually works; the protagonist softens. That’s… kind of problematic, given how often emotional abuse in relationships can start out like this, and I’d rather this kind of dynamic wasn’t painted as NBD. I did have a chat with my daughter about it and she does recognise that it’s not a good idea to put up with this kind of behaviour in practice, or to feel obliged to manage it. So, if you have or know children who are reading this series, it’s worth being aware of.

Other than the reservations I’ve raised, both these multiseries are majorly awesome. If you know tweens or teens with a possible interest in fantasy, these make perfect presents; and if you like YA fantasy yourself, absolutely give these a go.

‘Walking Disaster’ review, Chapter 14

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which was being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout until she rage-quit over McGuire’s behaviour.

Content warnings

  • Homophobic slur
  • Violence
  • Animal neglect

Chapter 14: Oz (wait, didn’t we already have a chapter called ‘Oz’? With a better author I’d assume this was innovativeness; after all, there’s no compelling reason why we should be hidebound by unnecessary traditions of having one chapter title per chapter. With McGuire, I’m fairly sure it’s just that she didn’t bother to keep track.)

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‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter Two, Part One

‘Deciphering the Gospels’, by R. G. Price, argues the case for Jesus mythicism, which is the view that Jesus never really existed on earth but was a mythical figure in the same way as Hercules or Dionysus. (The author is not the same person as Robert Price, also a Jesus mythicist author.) I’m an atheist who holds the opposing (and mainstream) view that Jesus did exist, as a normal, non-divine, human being. I’m therefore reviewing Price’s book to discuss his arguments and my reasons for disagreeing.

The first post in this book review is here. All subsequent posts will be linked at the end of that post as they go up.

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Darwintine: Romance reviews. (And a little fundraising.)

Well, hello, all; it’s that time of the month again. Yup, the time when we wow you with the talents of assorted FTBers, partly just because we can but also partly because we’re hoping some of you might be persuaded to donate to our ongoing (and, thanks to you, reasonably successful) efforts to pay off the SLAPP lawsuit from a few years ago, which you can read all about here (long version; previous link is the short version).

This month, as you might have noticed, the theme is ‘Darwintine’.

(Picture courtesy of Iris.) We’re blending Darwin’s birthday with Valentine’s Day and providing contributions related to evolution, love, or both. Thus, several of the bloggers are collaborating on a story chain with the title ‘Natural Selection‘, several are writing fiction for the prompt ‘The Descent of Man’, and I believe that our very own published poet, Megan Rahm, is going to be providing a reading of some of her erotic poetry. I don’t have that level of talent myself, but please do go and enjoy the work of those who do!

However, I have thought of one appropriate contribution that I can make to the spirit of the day and the blogging platform. You know I’ve been putting all this time into picking apart a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad romance novel? Well, today, just for once, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to review a couple of romance series that I really love, and that promote healthy views of relationships and progressive views on social justice issues. And, if you have your own recommendations, please chime in in the comments; I would love to make this a yearly thing and have more to review by next year.

First up: the ‘By The Numbers‘ series (serieses?) by Abigail Barnette, who is none other than Jenny Trout writing under a pen name. (Yup; that’s the Jenny Trout whose partial snarkreview of ‘Beautiful Disaster’ is what got me into snarkreviewing ‘Walking Disaster’.) ‘By The Numbers’, which most of the readers probably think of as ‘the Ian-and-Penny series’ (or is that just me?), is a spin-off double-series from Jenny’s Sophie Scaife series.

Quick bit of backstory for anyone interested: This all started as Jenny’s reaction to her snarkreviewing of the notoriously appalling ‘Fifty Shades’ series; a couple of books into the nightmare of dysfunction and abuse that is the three book series, she realised that, if she set out to write a romance in the exact opposite way, she’d end up with a feminist romance. She gave it a shot, and ended up with first a novel and then with what ended up being a six-book series about a woman who falls into a BDSM relationship with a billionaire and ends up marrying him; all from a feminist, sex-positive, pro-LGB viewpoint, with lots of issues being explored. It’s a good series but it’s not actually the one I’m talking about here, although by all means check it out.

The one I’m actually talking about, ‘By The Numbers’, is a spin-off about two minor characters in the initial series, who start a relationship after Sophie matchmakes them. There are some problems from the start, of course: Ian’s a cynical recent divorcé not sure he’s ready to get back into dating again, Penny’s had some rough experiences that have left her confidence badly shaken, and, on top of all that, there is the smaaaaalllll matter of an age gap of over thirty years. But… despite all of that, it quickly turns out that Ian’s respect and thoughtfulness are just what Penny needs, Penny’s bubbly enthusiasm is just what Ian needs, and, when you add in that they’re mad attracted to each other and love being together, well, this might not be the most obvious relationship but it’s one with a real future. And, because they’re both willing to talk and to listen and (with some hiccups) to deal with the problems that arise, they manage to make it together.

Here’s what I love most about it, although I realise this isn’t for everyone: it’s one of those series written from both points of view. Each book is written twice, once from each viewpoint. (Jenny deliberately wrote them this way from the start and published each pair together, rather than one being a spin-off from the other.) Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I love reading stories from both viewpoints like this. And Jenny does it beautifully; the contrast between the two sets of reactions is sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, sometimes enlightening, and always worth reading.

A bonus is that they’re also trans-positive books (not a major theme, but there’s this thread running through of ‘trans people exist and that’s cool’, which I think was nicely done).

I love the characters and these books; they’re one of the series I keep coming back to and reading over and over when I want something to relax with. I don’t know whether Jenny still has fourth books planned in the series, and she might not – although that was what she originally planned, the third books do have a pretty clear happy ending – but I do hope so.

Aaaaand now for something completely different… C. L. Lynch’s Stella Blunt series. (‘Chemistry’ and ‘History’ with ‘Biology’ still upcoming. Spoilers in the descriptions at that link, by the way, especially for the second book.)

This, again, is a series that got written as a result of the author looking at a terrible problematic romance series and deciding to write the exact opposite. Clearly that’s a winning formula. In this case, the particular romance series that inspired this author to write a romance as different as inhumanly possible was ‘Twilight’. This series also starts out with a teenage girl having to move across the country and hating it even before she meets the guy in her science class who’s acting weirdly, adores her, and happens to have a really unusual secret. Oh, and with a brief initial flash-forward in which our heroine is facing imminent death. And that, dear readers, is where the similarities end… well, except for when they occasionally get brought in again for the deliberate purpose of snarking ‘Twilight’. For one thing, when Stella faces imminent death she starts wielding a chainsaw.

On the slight off-chance that I’m not the only person in the world who doesn’t realise the plot twist in ‘Chemistry’ in advance, I won’t spoil it for you; read the books and find out for yourselves. What I will tell you is that these books have snark, interesting comments about other books, a fat heroine with a fat-positive approach, the most adorkable cinnamon-roll love interest, incredibly cool parents, a call-out of ablism (though that’s not till the second book), a really positive gay/interracial relationship, scenes that quite literally had me laughing out loud (which is not something I do easily), suspense, and some brilliant plotting. What more can anyone ask for (other than, of course, the third book in the series to get published already, HINT HINT C.L. Lynch)?

And there you go. My recommendations for this Valentine’s Day. If you’ve read them already or if you read them on my recommendation, please let me know what you think; and if you have others you want to recommend, as I said, please do so! I’m well aware that both of the series(es?) I just recommended do feature white cishet couples, so if anyone knows of great romances involving more diversity, or great romances by more diverse authors, I would definitely appreciate that. Meanwhile, I wish a happy and love-filled day to you all.

‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Thirteen

First, the usual backstory for anyone new here:

‘Walking Disaster’ is the male POV companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, a romance that’s problematic and awful in all sorts of ways. About a year and a half ago, blogger and author Jenny Trout picked ‘Beautiful Disaster’ for the latest in her series of snarkreviews (in which she goes through terrible books to explain – incisively and hilariously – what’s terrible about them), and I had the bright idea of doing a parallel snarkreview of the parallel novel. So, she has been reviewing ‘Beautiful’ and I have been reviewing ‘Walking’, both at a rate of about one chapter every several months (we’re neither of us very fast). Jenny’s reviews so far can be found on the same page as her others, here; mine can be found here.

Now, an update:

Three months ago, Jamie McGuire reposted a video defending Ahmed Arbury’s killers, saying she was doing this because she thought it ‘discussion worthy’ and ‘interesting’. Jenny wrote a response discussing this decision, the decisions McGuire made in her Facebook comment thread about whom to block and whose behaviour to ignore, and McGuire’s recent attempts at running for public office. Her conclusion at the end of the post was that she no longer wished to give McGuire any attention; not even in the form of critical book reviews. Jenny is, therefore, done with reviewing ‘Beautiful Disaster’.

And me? After some thought, I’ve decided I would prefer to go ahead and finish ‘Walking Disaster’. I hope that’s the right decision, but I do get a certain grim satisfaction from pointing out this book’s awfulness, and I think that anyone who would see McGuire in a positive light as a result of reading these reviews is the kind of person who’s going to be voting for her whether they read these reviews or not. Like Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started so I’ll finish. I might well decide to be a lot briefer in my reviews, but I still aim to finish.

And so, here we go: Chapter Thirteen.

Content warnings:

  • Ablist insult
  • Harmful drinking behaviour encouraged and exalted
  • Animal neglect

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Twelve

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here.

‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is currently being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout. Links to that review and other reviews of Jenny’s can be found here.

Content warning

  • Problem drinking
  • Angry controlling behaviour
  • Slut-shaming
  • Swearing (mine)

 

Chapter Twelve: Virgin

Well, now, I wonder where that chapter title will go. [Read more…]

‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter One, Part Four

(I know, I know; right now, this seems like a strange and possibly inappropriate thing to be paying much attention to. But my pattern for working on blog posts is ‘little and often’, so I’d been working on this one for two months prior to the crisis hitting. Now I just want to get it done and posted. So, here you are; maybe it’ll be of interest to some of the people who need a break from pandemics.)

 

‘Deciphering the Gospels’ argues the case for Jesus mythicism, which is the view that Jesus never really existed on earth but was a mythical figure in the same way as Hercules or Dionysus. (The author, R. G. Price, is not the same person as Robert Price, also a Jesus mythicist author.) I’m an atheist who holds the opposing (and more mainstream) view that Jesus did exist, as a normal, non-divine, human being. I’m therefore reviewing Price’s book to discuss his arguments and my reasons for disagreeing.

The first post in this book review is here. All subsequent posts will be linked at the end of that post as they go up.

Firstly, a couple of housekeeping issues:

1. This post will bring me to the end of what I want to say about Chapter 1. After that, I plan to take a break from reviewing this book and blog about other things for a bit. I’ll still be available for discussions in the comments, and I will return to this book review in due course.

2. And, speaking of comments… Thus far, I’ve had comments on the ‘threaded’ setting, meaning that replies to comments are posted directly below the comment to which they’re replying. I’m not sure how well this is working out. It can make it easier to follow conversations within the thread, but it makes it harder for someone reading the whole thread to keep up with new comments (as they end up in different places in the thread rather than at the end), and the software on FTB doesn’t indent threaded comments, which makes it harder to follow the changes between subthreads. Anyway, I’m going to change to non-threaded and see how that works. This means that all comments will simply show up in the order in which they’ve been posted (a possible exception being comments that need approval first; I don’t know whether that affects the order or not). Therefore, if you’re replying to someone else, in comments, it would help greatly if you could indicate this with an @ followed by the person’s username and comment number. If anyone has a strong opinion on which method they prefer, by all means let me know.

All right, on with the review. The last thing I want to look at, before leaving Chapter 1, is a triad of stories that tie into Price’s theory about Mark’s original motivation for writing his gospel.

To recap: In the introduction, Price stated that Mark’s gospel was deliberately written as fictional in order to convey, allegorically, the message that the Jews were being punished for ‘not having heeded Paul’s message of harmony between Jews and Gentiles’. This raises a couple of questions:

  • How plausible is it that this gospel could have been meant as an allegory?
  • Does the claim about Mark’s supposed message stand up here?

I think the answer to the first question is ‘Not very, but it’s possible’. Price’s belief here, remember, is that Jesus-followers at this stage believed he was a divine being up in heaven but that Mark chose to make him the main character in this allegory and to portray him as human and earthly. This seems a less likely explanation to me than the belief that Mark was writing a hagiography of a Jesus who actually was human and earthly, but it’s something I can go with as a possible explanation.

The bigger problem is with the second question. To this, my answer is that I agree with the first half of Price’s explanation; yes, Mark certainly seems to have thought the Jews have brought/are bringing divine punishment on themselves. However, I don’t agree with Price’s claim about why Mark thinks they were being punished. I don’t think gMark does indicate any sort of message about the desirability of Jewish-Gentile harmony. So I want to look at Price’s arguments on the subject.

In Chapter One, Price discusses three stories that he believes relate to this point:

 

The scene with the Gentile woman

Most readers probably know this story. For those who don’t, or are hazy on the details, here is a brief summary: Jesus is approached by a Gentile woman whose daughter is supposedly demon-possessed (which, in modern terms, probably means something like epilepsy, but that’s by-the-by) and begs him for help. Because she’s a Gentile, he dismisses her: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Yes, so much for a kind and loving Jesus; even as a teenager reading this, I knew that the way he’s portrayed, here, as talking to a desperate mother, was appalling and inexcusable.) However, when she counters this with “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” he changes his mind and heals her daughter.

Price has this to say on the passage:

[Verse 27] is supposed to mean that Jesus was telling the Gentile woman that the Jews were to be helped before the Gentiles,

Agreed so far.

but in response to the woman’s answer, Jesus decides to help the Gentiles.

The passage only, in fact, says that he decides to help this particular Gentile. However, Price’s interpretation is that this indicates that Jesus has changed his mind and is now willing to help Gentiles generally. This, apparently, is how Mark wishes to get across his message that the Jews should treat the Gentiles differently; by showing Jesus himself as changing his mind about helping a Gentile.

I think there are two points worth making about this. Firstly, if this actually is Mark’s message then it should be noted that he’s not portraying Jesus as the conveyor of the message to others; rather, Jesus himself is the example, the one who learns to behave differently. Of course, it’s very common for a morality tale to get its point across by showing the protagonist as being the one who undergoes the crucial change in attitude or behaviour, but it does seem a bit of an odd choice here; it means that Mark has chosen to portray the being he believes to be a semi-divine heavenly saviour as being the character in his narrative who needs to learn the key lesson. It’s like writing a morality tale in which the Archangel Gabriel is the one who learns to change his ways. Which, come to think of it, might make for quite an interesting morality tale, but the point is that that plotline wouldn’t fit well in a story portraying the Archangel Gabriel as a flawless purveyor of wise messages regarding correct morality.

The second problem is that this scene doesn’t actually give any indication that Jesus has learned any sort of broader lesson. How does the woman convince him? Not by pointing out that Gentiles such as her and her daughter are human too, and shouldn’t be compared to dogs. Not by telling him that God’s blessings and bonuses should be available to everyone because God loves Gentiles as well as Jews. Not by telling him that Jew/Gentile enmity is wrong. No; instead, she convinces him by going along with his own argument and phrasing her argument within that framework. She tells him that even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. Rather than disagreeing with his dismissal of her and her daughter as dogs who, apparently, don’t deserve help, she accepts this humiliating description and only argues that, even as dogs, they should get some tiny leftover scraps of what’s available.

This leaves us with a situation where all Jesus is actually shown as having been persuaded to do is to help one particular Gentile who’s sufficiently willing to abase herself and accept what he sees as her place. There’s no indication at all that this is going to extend into any sort of generally improved treatment for the Gentiles. If this is meant to be a message that Jews should treat the Gentiles better, it’s an extremely poor one.

Price writes:

This is a turning point in the Gospel, where attention will now be paid to Gentiles.

Where is this attention paid to Gentiles? All that I could find about Gentiles in the rest of gMark is the Parable of the Vineyard and a few other passing (and mostly negative) mentions. The Parable of the Vineyard does prophesy a shift of attention from Jews to Gentiles (though hardly in a way that would encourage better Jew-Gentile harmony), so possibly this was what Price meant. However, I can’t see any way in which the attention of the gospel, overall, has shifted to Gentiles. All that Price says by way of further clarification is:

This also relates to the order of the feeding scenes, as we shall see.

Why ‘also’? What other examples of this supposed shift to paying attention to Gentiles does Price think there are? The book doesn’t tell us and, as I say, I couldn’t find anything convincing myself.

Anyway, on to the other question that this raises: what Price believes to be relevant about the feeding scenes.

 

The feeding-of-multitudes stories

Again, a brief summary in case anyone doesn’t know them: Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of thousands with only a few loaves and fish, providing enough food not only to eat but to provide several baskets full of leftovers. The same thing, with different numbers of people/loaves/fish/baskets of leftovers, happens again a few chapters later.

Price believes Mark intended these stories to have two meanings. The first is by-the-by as far as this post is concerned, but I’ll include it a) for completeness and b) because I actually agree with him about this point and it makes a nice change to be able to say that: He believes that the stories are exaggerated versions of 2 Kings 42 – 44, a scene in which Elijah is portrayed feeding a hundred people from twenty loaves and some ears of grain, with enough there for leftovers. I agree; on comparing the passages, it does indeed look clear that that story was the inspiration for the gospel feeding scenes. So far, so good.

(On a complete tangent, this has reminded me of the schoolteacher I had who – apparently working from the Johannine version in which the loaves and fishes are supplied by a young boy – told us that the likely explanation was that people in the crowd, shamed by the willingness of this child to share his food, brought out the food they’d been keeping for themselves and shared it around. Since she was careful to add a disclaimer about how most of Jesus’s miracles couldn’t be explained, I think this was meant as a morality tale rather than as an attempt at instilling skepticism; still, at least I got to hear one naturalistic explanation of a Bible story in my childhood.)

The second meaning Price believes these stories to have is the one that’s relevant to this post; he believes they contain a symbolic message about Jesus’s attention shifting from the Jews to the Gentiles. The clue here, he believes, is in the number of baskets of leftovers picked up after each feeding. After the first miraculous feeding scene there are twelve baskets full of leftovers, and after the second there are seven; Price doesn’t think those are just random numbers.

It should be noted that twelve and seven are both common “divine numbers” in Jewish literature, appearing often in the Hebrew scriptures.

However, in this context, these numbers appear to represent Israel and Rome, because twelve was a number that represented Israel (twelve tribes of Israel), and seven was a number that represented Rome (seven hills of Rome). These are both numbers that were heavily associated with their respective nations; they wouldn’t have been vague references… The Jews are to be fed first, then the Gentiles, and we see that in the feeding scenes, the first feeding produces twelve baskets representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and the second feeding, which occurs after Jesus’s discussion with the Gentile woman, produces seven baskets representing the seven hills of Rome.

Now, if that is indeed what Mark meant, it is really odd symbolism. Why would he choose to portray this message in such a way that the group that’s meant to have the attention of Jesus/God in each case is symbolised by the waste that’s left behind afterwards? If he wanted to use those numbers symbolically, surely it would make more sense to use them in a way that represented the crowds of people who were miraculously fed (twelve hundred and seven hundred, perhaps)? Or, of course, he could have simply had Jesus giving the miraculously-produced food first to a crowd of Jews and then to a crowd of Gentiles. Or both. While it’s possible that someone could overlook all the more obvious choices and instead go with ‘leftover waste’ as the part of the story used for numerical symbolism, it’s pretty unlikely. This seems a lot more likely to have been coincidence.

(Bear in mind also here that ‘random’ numbers picked by people are typically not truly random; we’re not looking, here, at the odds that a random number generator would have picked just those two numbers. If those numbers were well known, then that could subconsciously have influenced the decision of a storyteller casting around for a number to use here, without any kind of deliberate decision on the part of the storyteller.)

Price also believes the order of these three scenes to be important here. First Mark gives us a feeding scene in which the number twelve is used; then a scene in which Jesus, having initially intended only to help Jews, is persuaded to help a Gentile woman; and then another feeding scene in which the number seven is used. Price interprets this as Mark’s symbolic way of showing that attention has shifted to Gentiles. However, what he doesn’t mention is that, in each case, there are a couple of unrelated scenes between the feeding scene and the Gentile woman scene. Again, if Mark was intending a symbolic message with this order, it seems strange that he would dilute it this way. That gives us another indication that this is much more likely to have been a coincidence than a deliberate plan.

To summarise: If Price’s claims about Mark’s motives for writing this are correct, then that would mean that Mark decided to use this sequence of writing to convey the message that Jews should be doing a better job of living in harmony with Gentiles:

  • Feeding scene with obscure, poorly-thought-out numerical symbolism
  • A couple of irrelevant scenes
  • A story of Jesus treating a Gentile woman badly and justifying himself doing so, but being persuaded to help this one particular Gentile because she abased herself sufficiently, with nothing to suggest that this is going to – or should – extend to other people’s actions, or even to his own future actions
  • Another couple of irrelevant scenes
  • A concluding feeding scene with equally obscure and poorly-thought-out numerical symbolism.

On which theory, Price’s comment is:

The way that the feeding scenes are presented and framed ties into the overall narrative in complex and clearly very well-thought-out ways. This is sophisticated plot development.

No. No, it really isn’t.

It might, of course, be a disastrously botched attempt to write an allegory conveying a message about Jewish-Gentile harmony, in which Mark has so little writing skill that his attempts at getting his message across sink almost without trace. It’s considerably more likely, though, that Price is trying to read something into the text that just isn’t there; that ‘better Jewish-Gentile harmony’ was never Mark’s intended message in the first place. Mark certainly seems to have wanted to tell us that the Jews were being punished for something, but the text simply does not back up the idea that the ‘something’ could plausibly have been lack of Jewish-Gentile harmony.

This brings us to the question of what Mark did think God was punishing the Jews for. On rereading gMark, I think the passage that most clearly addresses this question is the Parable of the Vineyard. Now, this is a particularly interesting passage to look at with Price’s theory in mind, because this is one part of gMark that certainly is an allegorical message about God punishing the Jews. So, what does the parable say God was punishing them for? For mistreating and killing God’s messengers… of whom the final one was God’s own son. In this allegory, supposedly the final heinous act of the Jews that would bring down retribution upon them was to kill Jesus just as they had killed other prophets.

Now, that’s a problem for mythicism. If Mark thought of Jesus as a heavenly being who was killed by other supernatural beings, why would he construct an allegory that relies on Jesus being killed on earth just as other prophets were and that blames the Jews for having killed him? Price needs to explain how this fits in.

I checked this essay on his website in which he analyses gMark in more detail, but didn’t get anything very helpful from it. Interestingly, Price agrees that this is an allegorical representation of Jews killing their prophets and eventually Jesus; however, he doesn’t seem to recognise this as a problem for mythicism. All he writes is:

The subtext and deeper meaning behind it deals not with “Jesus”, but with the perceived corruption of the Jewish people, whom the authors of both Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark believe have brought destruction upon themselves.

While ‘corruption’ might indeed be the explanation to which Mark and others of the time attributed the Jews’ alleged prophet-killing habits, that doesn’t change the basic problem for mythicism here; Mark, in this allegory, blames the Jews for killing not just other prophets but also Jesus. According to mythicist theory, Mark wouldn’t have believed the Jews killed Jesus, because he would have believed Jesus to be a heavenly being who was killed by other heavenly beings. If he was, as Price believes, writing an allegory to highlight the reasons he believed the Jews were being punished by God, why would he use it to portray the Jews as being punished for something that he wouldn’t have believed to be their fault?

So… where does all this leave Price’s theory?

I don’t think any of this deals it a death blow, but it has been left with one or two crucial gaps. His idea that Mark’s desired message was that the Jews should have ‘heeded Paul’s desired message of harmony between Jews and Gentiles’ doesn’t stand up, which leaves his Mark-as-allegory theory without proper foundation. He also needs to find a mythicism-consistent way to explain the son-killing allegory in the Parable of the Vineyard. I look forward to hearing his explanations on both those points.

‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter One, part 3

‘Deciphering the Gospels’, by R. G. Price*, argues the case for Jesus mythicism (i.e. the position that Jesus never existed.) As an atheist who believes Jesus did exist (as an entirely non-divine human being), I’m reviewing the arguments in this book in order to explain why I disagree.

The first post in the series, with a little more background, is here; all other posts will be linked back to the end of that post as they’re written. R.G. Price has been joining in with the discussion in comments, so, if you have questions for him, there’s a fair chance he’ll be available to answer them.

Price used the NRSV translation of the NT; any Bible quotes are therefore from that version unless stated otherwise.

*Note that R.G. Price is not the same person as Jesus mythicist Robert Price.

 

One thing about which I assumed I would agree with Price was his list of how he believes Mark to have derived each of his stories. This was the cornerstone of Price’s theory, the result of over a year of detailed research that he had put into the subject. His claim – that Mark had derived his main points from sources such as scripture or Paul’s letters – sounded plausible to me; while I believed (and still do) that there were one or two points in gMark that couldn’t be explained in this way, I did already believe that at least some of the Markan stories were derived from such sources, and I was entirely open to being convinced that this was the case for other stories as well. I expected to find Price’s arguments compelling, or at the very least plausible. In fact, when I first read his book I skimmed over all those parts of the first two chapters, seeing little reason to pick apart parts of his argument with which I would surely agree.

The reality, when I did look more closely, didn’t live up to expectations. I did indeed agree with some of Price’s claims; for example, the derivation of details of the crucifixion scene from existing scripture (which I’d known about) and the derivation of the crowd-feeding scenes from 2 Kings 4:42 – 44 (which I hadn’t known about, but agreed with as soon as Price quoted the passage). There were others that I thought were at least plausible (for example, Price believes that the obscure mention of a naked man in Mark 14:51 was meant as a reference to Amos 2:16, and I suppose that could be the case). But there were other examples for which Price’s reasoning seemed much weaker.

In this post, I’m going to look at two examples that particularly struck me as poorly evidenced. Since drafting this, I’ve also discussed a third example in the comments on an earlier post, which I think also illustrates the point.

 

Fishing and hunting

R.G. Price looks here at two lines in Chapter 1 of gMark. The first is from the calling of Jesus’s first two apostles; they are, according to the story, both fishermen, and hence Jesus tells them ‘I will make you fish for people’ (v17). (This is the line that the less accurate but more poetic KJV famously translates as ‘I will make you fishers of men’.) The second line is from a scene where Jesus goes off by himself in the early morning to pray; v36 tells us ‘And Simon and his companions hunted for him’.

Price believes these lines to be based on Jeremiah 16:16 – 17: ‘” But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.”‘ He believes that this is intended as a reference to the threatened destruction of Israel (which Mark would, according to Price’s theory, have recently seen for himself in the Jewish-Roman war). More specifically, he believes that Mark is here trying to make a statement about Peter, James, and John:

We see in this literary allusion that the author is identifying these three individuals as agents of destruction – as harbingers of the coming war.

This interpretation, if correct, would mean that the Church has been interpreting the ‘fishers of men’ quote completely backwards for the past two thousand years; instead of indicating that the apostles were to catch people to save their souls, Mark would in fact have been indicating that they were to catch people to dispatch them to punishment and destruction. That’s such a radical reversal of the usual interpretation that I really wanted it to turn out to be correct; just think of all the priests and apologists using that line during the last two millennia without realising that they were, in fact, labelling themselves as agents of destruction. Truth in advertising…

Sadly, however, this interpretation did not stand up to examination. Five chapters further on in Mark we get the apostles being sent out to preach to others as well as to perform the helpful acts of healing the sick and driving out demons, which are hardly the acts of agents of destruction. Given that context, I think it fair to say that the ‘fishers of men’ line was meant the way it’s normally read; it’s intended to mean that Jesus is sending them out to catch people for positive purposes.

That detail aside… does Price’s belief about the derivation of these verses stand up otherwise? Well, his arguments for believing that these verses were derived from the Jeremian passage seem to boil down to:

  • The Jeremian passage talks, metaphorically, about fishing and hunting for people.
  • The chapter in Mark talks metaphorically about fishing for people and also mentions hunting for Jesus.

The trouble is, nothing else fits. In Jeremiah, the two things are mentioned together as two parts of the same message (searching people out); in Mark, the two mentions are nineteen verses apart, with several unrelated stories between them. In Jeremiah, the theme is of God searching people out in order to punish them justly for their sins; in Mark, the ‘fishers’ mention refers to the apostles searching people out in order to bring them salvation, and the ‘hunt’ mention refers to them looking for Jesus (surely not a potential target for punishment?) because so many people want to speak to him. The very superficial similarities in the mentions of ‘fish’ and ‘hunt’ don’t extend any further.

Given all that, was the Jeremian passage Mark’s inspiration here? I think about the best we can say is that it’s possible. It can’t be entirely ruled out. But it certainly doesn’t seem like a good fit, and a far more likely explanation would be simply that, because the Jewish scriptures were a huge body of writing that covered a great many themes, it’s possible to find all sorts of coincidental superficial similarities in them, with proximal mentions of ‘fish’ and ‘hunt’ being well within the likely bounds of coincidence.

Of course, absolutely none of that means that the incidents described in either of those verses really happened. Maybe Jesus did say the ‘fishers of men’ line when calling the fishermen; maybe he thought of it later; maybe someone else thought of it at a later stage of relating the stories as it sounded so good. Maybe the incident with the disciples looking for Jesus after he went out to pray really happened, or maybe it was invented later for some reason we don’t know about. We can’t tell. But we also can’t conclude from such a tenuous similarity that the verses must have been derived from Jeremiah as part of an allegory. Price’s logical deductions here are simply too shaky to hold up.

 

Walking on water

There is, of course, a very obvious reason to suspect that this infamous scene is fictional; it’s about a man miraculously walking on the water. In a culture with high levels of superstition and credulity for such things. Passed on by word of mouth until decades after the supposed event, giving plenty of time for miracle stories to be added to the original narrative. I’m all in favour of being open-minded, but I really don’t think I’m being overly sceptical in coming to the conclusion that this particular story was one of the ones invented and added to the narrative only later.

So, in a way it feels rather odd that I’m debating Price’s position on this one. I’m certainly not claiming that this specific story really happened as written, and I even agree with Price’s explanation of the message Mark is trying to put across in this scene (namely, that the disciples are supposed to recognise Jesus’s role as a saviour/messiah but fail to do so). But Price’s argument has so little substance to it that I think it bears examination, not because it contributes anything to the question of whether this passage is fictional or not, but because it does indicate a lack of rigour in his arguments.

Price writes:

The walking on water appears to be a reference to Isaiah 43.

[…]

The purpose of this scene in Mark, and the literary allusion, is to emphasize the fact that the disciples are supposed to recognize Jesus as the Savior of Israel, yet they do not. The passage in Mark says that upon seeing Jesus, they don’t recognise him, thinking that he is a ghost, and that after he comes to them, their hearts are hardened. Isaiah 43 again emphasizes this theme, with verse 10 saying, “you are my witnesses, you are supposed to be the ones who understand me,” yet of course they do not.

Isaiah 43:22 says, “you didn’t call on me, you are weary of me,” which is reflected in the scene from Mark by the fact that they needed help in the boat but did not call on Jesus for help, and their hearts were hardened.

So, again… what are Price’s reasons for believing that this Markan passage is derived from Isaiah 43? No matter how many times I’ve read this section looking for something I might have missed, the list still seems to come down to:

  • Both mention miracles that have some connection with water
  • Both touch on a theme of people not recognising/understanding/calling on an important being they should be recognising/understanding/calling on (God in the Isaian passage, Jesus in the Markan passage).

And… that’s it. Nothing else about the passages matches, including the details of the above points. The water-related miracles mentioned in the Isaian passage have nothing to do with walking on water; they’re references to the parting of the Red Sea (‘the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters’), and to God giving water to the Jews in the desert (‘for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people’). The verses about the Jews not understanding/calling on God are a short rebuke in the context of a passage that, overall, strongly emphasises the Jews’ continued importance to God and his promise to rescue and forgive them. And there are multiple other details in the Isaian passage (protection against passing through fire, mention of several different countries, and more) that aren’t echoed at all in the Markan passage. Once again, Price is making a claim based on minor, out-of-context similarities between two passages while ignoring the significant differences.

 

Conclusion

As I say, these are only a couple of the examples that Price gave, and he does have others for which the evidence is much sounder. But remember that Price’s claim is that we can account not just for some of the main stories in Mark in this way, but for all of them. And this doesn’t hold up. While his list of stories that Mark supposedly derived from elsewhere is, indeed, impressively long at first glance, it turns out that the only reason it’s as long as this is because he is willing to set the bar very low. There are several cases where his categorisation of a Markan story as being clearly derived from another story turns out to in fact be based only on a few flimsy similarities that seem well within the bounds of coincidence. Price’s claim to have demonstrated that all of gMark is clearly a fictional allegory does not stand up well to examination.

‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter One, part 2

‘Deciphering the Gospels’ argues the case for Jesus mythicism, which is the view that Jesus never really existed on earth but was a mythical figure in the same way as Hercules or Dionysus. (The author, R. G. Price, is not the same person as Robert Price, also a Jesus mythicist author.) I’m an atheist who holds the opposing (and more mainstream) view that Jesus did exist, as a normal, non-divine, human being. I’m therefore reviewing Price’s book to discuss his arguments and my reasons for disagreeing.

The first post in this book review is here. All subsequent posts will be linked at the end of that post as they go up.

In Price’s first two chapters, he focuses on making the case for his claim that the gospel of Mark is entirely a work of fiction (which Price believes to have been based on Paul’s letters and Jewish scriptures, and intended by Mark as an allegory about a mythical Jesus). What I want to look at in this post is whether this theory does indeed account for all of the key points in gMark, or whether there are any points that can’t readily be explained in this way. This is a question that particularly interests me, because my primary reason for believing in the historical Jesus has always been the fact that there are some points in the gospels – not many, but some – that I don’t feel can be accounted for under mythicist theories. I was therefore looking forward, on reading Price’s work, to seeing whether his theory would succeed where others had failed.

Price does, of course, have an explanation as to why gMark was written in the first place – as we’ve already covered – so that’s an excellent start. That still doesn’t explain why the other gospels were written (a question Price and I already discussed to some extent in comments on the introduction) but that’s probably better discussed when I get to the chapter about the other gospels. A couple of the other points that I had relate to material in the other gospels, so I’ll also leave those till then. That leaves us, as far as I can see, with one big question that’s relevant to gMark:

Why did Mark give the Romans in general, and Pilate in particular, the role he gave them in his gospel?

In gMark (as in the other three canonical gospels), the Romans are the people who ultimately put Jesus to death, with Pilate – an important, powerful historical figure – playing the key role of pronouncing sentence on him. And Mark clearly isn’t happy with having to portray them that way. He plays it down, plays up the role of the Jews, writes it to show the Jews insisting on the death sentence and Pilate/the other Romans reluctantly going along with this. It’s not at all surprising that he’d feel this way about minimising the role of the Romans in Jesus’s death; they were the powerful ruling class, so it’s understandable that Mark wouldn’t have liked the idea of casting them as the bad guys who killed his protagonist.

So… why has he put them in that role at all?

If Jesus was a real person who was condemned by Pilate and executed by the Romans working under Pilate, then this approach makes complete sense. If this was the case, Mark wouldn’t have been inventing his story from scratch; he would have been working with existing traditions that had been handed down from people who remembered the real Jesus and his life, and that had become widely known among Jesus’s followers. While these traditions would probably be horribly inaccurate on many points by then, they would also have contained at least a few actual facts about Jesus… such as the detail of who put him to death. The simple and obvious reason why Mark would write that Jesus was condemned by Pilate and executed by the Romans would be that Jesus actually had been condemned by Pilate and executed by the Romans.

But, according to Price’s theory, Mark was making up this story as an allegory about someone who had never lived on Earth at all, and thus never been executed by real flesh-and-blood people. If that was the case, then the story about Pilate and the other Romans being the ones who ultimately put Jesus to death wouldn’t have existed. So… why would Mark bring them into the execution narrative at all? Why would he want to invent, in however downplayed a form, the idea that the Romans were the people who ordered carried out the execution? And take that as far as naming a specific and powerful character as having passed the execution order?

While portraying the Romans as helpless followers of the demands of others isn’t as damning as portraying them as instigators, it’s still hardly a good look for them. If Mark was writing the crucifixion story simply in order to make the points he wanted, why do we get this conflict between Mark’s apparent wish to portray the Romans as well as possible, and his actual portrayal of them as playing such a major role in Jesus’s execution? If he were writing a totally fictional story in which he wished to blame the Jews for Jesus’s death, why would he not take the obvious route of having the Jews in his story actually execute Jesus?

I looked with interest, therefore, to see whether Price had provided an explanation for this point. Sadly, he hasn’t. Price theorises about details of the trial and execution being derived from OT scriptures (I’d agree with him about that, by the way), but I couldn’t find anywhere, either in the book or in his online essay, where he’d commented on this particular issue.

In short, what we have here is a major point that doesn’t seem explicable under the Mark-as-fictional-allegory theory. Without an explanation, Price’s cornerstone claim – that every significant point in Mark can be explained in ways that don’t involve a historical Jesus – doesn’t hold up. And that leaves a gaping hole in his theory.