We’re all familiar with the legend that Joseph of Arimathea visited Britain some time after the crucifixion; he is said to have planted his staff in the ground at Glastonbury, and it grew into the Glastonbury Thorn. But could Jesus have come here too? Did those feet in ancient times actually walk upon England’s mountains green? Dennis Price thinks so, and presents his beliefs in this book, rather unimaginatively subtitled “The greatest story never told”.
The only evidence for the idea is the existence of folk tales from the West Country that Jesus visited there, but oddly these don’t form the largest part of Price’s case. Instead, in long, convoluted arguments he seeks to show that in his “missing years” between attending the temple at 12 and the commencement of his preaching around 30, Jesus must have been out of the country while learning his skills.
For example, Jesus calmly slept on a ship during a storm (Mk 4:38). When did he learn such extraordinary seamanship? It could only have been in the rough waters of the Atlantic and the Channel when travelling to Britain. In his preaching Jesus was an impressive orator. He wouldn’t have learned this skill at the carpentry bench, so he must have learned it from the Druids in Britain. Jesus liked to go off into hilly places (Mt 14:22-3 etc); he must have learned to love such places when in Cornwall and Glastonbury.
This is the level of the author’s argument throughout his book. With many speculative history books one suspects that the authors are well aware of the rhetorical tricks they are pulling, such as “possibly” in Chapter 3 becoming “probably” by Chapter 4 and established fact by Chapter 5. But in this book the arguments are so incredibly weak and the author so determined to pile assumption on assumption to reach his conclusions, one suspects he must actually believe them. There are several astonishingly speculative chapters about Stonehenge – “astonishingly” because the author claims to be an archaeologist and an expert on Stonehenge.
In 2007 Price claimed to have found a lost Neolithic city in Wiltshire; he revealed this in a local newspaper – hardly peer-reviewed scientific research. Indeed, his scholarly understanding of archaeology seems on a par with his scholarly understanding of history, of folklore and of biblical studies; methodology in any of these disciplines appears to be a foreign concept.
In folklore it’s not enough just to say that there are stories of Jesus visiting specific locations; you need to give the content and the context of the stories. You need to analyse and compare them to find common factors and differences, and development between them.
And if you’re even going to think about suggesting the possibility of history within folk tales it’s essential to date the earliest known sources. If various versions of a folktale are quite common after a certain date but can’t be found before then, it’s a reasonable conclusion that this was when it originated.
The stories of Joseph of Arimathea visiting Glastonbury, for example, can be dated back no earlier than William of Malmesbury in the early 12th century. But Price does none of this.
Price’s completely literalist reading of the Bible is so simplistic it’s almost funny. Because Matt 27:60 says that Joseph put Jesus’s body “in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out of the rock” the author insists this means that Joseph himself “single-handedly quarried a tomb”, so must have been “extremely able-bodied”.
He falls into one of the most basic errors of logic imaginable, that absence of evidence proves evidence of absence. Because in Julius Caesar’s account of the Druids “there’s no mention of idols of any kind”, by the very next page they are priests “who did not worship idols” and by the page after that they are a religion “shunning idol worship” and thus similar to the j*wish religion, and familiar and appealing to the young Jesus. Whether the Druids worshipped idols is not the point – it’s the author’s process of “reasoning”.
The book is full of circular arguments, for example using stories from folklore as evidence for the truth of the folklore, and so concluding that “the evidence points toward Jesus having visited Priddy”, a village in Somerset.
In the time-honoured tradition of speculative historians Price quotes other equally unscholarly writers saying the same things, as if this constitutes proof of his assertions. He also creates connections out of whole cloth. For example, he says that because “Stonehenge stands just beneath the summit of a sloping hill ... any resident supernatural entity would have had a title such as “the Lord of the High Place”. He then asserts that while Beelzebub was “most often known as ‘the Lord of the Flies’, the name most likely derives from the words Baal – zebul, literally ‘the Lord of the High Place’”. And lo and behold, in Mark 3:22 the Pharisees accuse Jesus of associating with Beelzebub. QED: Jesus spent time at Stonehenge.
After a few more equally specious arguments the author says of the idea that Jesus visited Stonehenge that “even a cursory study of the facts transforms this captivating image from an impossibility to pretty much a foregone conclusion”. Right...
Towards the end of his book Price says: “I find it shocking that no concerted attempt has been made to investigate the ‘missing years’ of Jesus, a period that surely constitutes the greatest enigma in human history.”
Let’s ignore the hyperbole. Price appears to be unaware of a number of books (and an even larger number of websites) which explore Jesus’s so-called “missing years” in great, albeit speculative, detail.http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/reviews/r0000580.shtml