Just finished Robert M. Price’s The Case Against the Case for Christ, which is a take-down of Lee Strobel’s run-away best seller. Overall, it is a very easy read (it clocks in at about 300 pages). Price points out that Josephus’ reference to “James the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” may refer not to the gospel Jesus but to James the brother of Jesus son of Damneus, who was the high priest (the high priest being an “anointed one” or ‘Christ’). Many of the arguments that Richard Carrier uses to show that this passage is an interpolation could just as easily support Price’s hypothesis. On the other hand, I’m curious about how plausible it is that Jesus ben Damneus was “called Christ” as a title.
Even better, though, Price incinerates an old apologetic argument for the authenticity of names ascribed to the four gospels. Most scholars understand these documents are anonymous, but apologists insist that the fact that we always find the name ‘Matthew’ on gospel manuscripts means the inscription must be true. Of course, what we have is almost uniformly scraps of this and other gospels prior to the fourth century, and everything after that (as far as I know) is mostly limited to the orthodox sect’s manuscripts. Did other sects put different names on their gospels? Price points out that there are hints of this in the historical record: we know that some early Christians credited the gospel of John to Cerinthius (p.152, Bernard Orchard, The Order of the Synoptics). There goes another one!
I am reading Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammed Exist? and one of the interesting things he discusses (p.83-84) is how the muslim scholars argue that historical information about Muhammed was preserved via highly faithful oral traditions in spite of this being horribly implausible given the historical context (sound familiar?), and how traditions about Muhammed could not have been made up because they were attributed to less-than-reputable figures in early Islam (just as Christian apologists argue that the names ascribed to our canonical gospels are ’embarrassing’).