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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Ten

The word "shlama" (peace) in Aramaic...

This is the last entry in my ten part series of excerpts from Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth (the whole series can be accessed here).

In the conclusion, Casey remarks, in part

To fit Jesus into his original context within first- century Judaism, we must reconstruct that culture too. I therefore surveyed the main sources which enable us to do this. I naturally drew attention to the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially those written in Aramaic. The scrolls have enabled scholars to greatly improve our knowledge of Judaism at the time of Jesus, and it is the Aramaic scrolls which have enabled me to work on Aramaic sources of the synoptic Gospels to an extent which was not previously possible. This is at the centre of the research which lies behind this book. I also drew particular attention to some features of this culture which New Testament scholars generally overlook, because we must be aware of the way in which secondary material may occur side by side with literally accurate traditions, to help us to distinguish between the two. Authors not only repeated accurate traditions about past events from their sources, they also rewrote them in accordance with the needs of their communities. They might also add stories, also for the benefit of the communities for whom they wrote. I drew attention to the concept of ‘social memory’, a useful term in helping us to understand how authors, writing for communities, do repeat authentic traditions from the past, but also update them with material useful for those same communities at the time of writing, and add helpful stories of their own.

The entire book is fascinating, though some of the conclusions may raise eyebrows among some conservative Christians. Especially his reflections on the resurrection (which I won’t spoil by citing).

This is a commendable volume demonstrating Casey’s grasp of the material and, indeed, mastery of it. As I suggested yesterday, no finer volume on the life of the Historical Jesus has been produced since Bultmann’s. Readers will learn – a lot – and that’s no small accomplishment.


Posted by on 14 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Nine

This is the ninth excerpt in what will be a series of ten (with the entire series of excerpts available here) from Maurice Casey’s about to arrive volume titled Jesus of Nazareth.  It is, I have to admit, a very persuasive volume.  Being someone who doesn’t really think we can know much at all about the Historical Jesus (because the Gospels, our only real source for the life of Jesus aren’t biographies and were never intended to be read as if they were), I received the proofs of the volume with more than a little skepticism.  ‘Oh, here we go again….” I thought to myself, ‘another one of many in a long line of purely speculative works which somehow or other are able to make a suit out of a button.’

I’m glad to say that I’ve taken away from this volume a surer certainty that there are things we actually can know about the historical Jesus and that these things can truly be termed ‘historical’.

Is that to say that I agree with Casey on every point?  I can’t, and don’t.  But has there ever been anyone who agreed with someone else about every point?  Hardly.  What Casey does is present a solidly reasoned and well presented reconstruction of the life of Jesus that has more of the ring of truth to it than any that I’ve read (since Bultmann’s slim volume- which, to me, is still the high water mark).

Here’ the ninth excerpt.  The tenth and final comes tomorrow.

The belief that Jesus rose from the dead has been a central feature of Christianity from the earliest times. As Paul put it: But if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain too (1 Cor. 15.14). Scholars have however found the origins of Christian belief in Jesus’ Resurrection very difficult to understand. Moreover, the subject is phenomenally controversial, because religious and anti- religious convictions about it are so strong. Conservative Christians believe not merely that Jesus rose from the dead, but that he rose bodily from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind. This is in accordance with the witness of all four canonical Gospels. In recent years, there have been two outstanding scholarly defences of this tradition, the standard works of William Lane Craig, and of Bishop Tom Wright. Many educated Christians, on the other hand, believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, but not bodily. They follow what used to be a conventional view among critical scholars, that the disciples saw appearances of Jesus after his death, but that the stories of the empty tomb are not literally true. As Barnabas Lindars put it, ‘so far from being the origin of belief in the Resurrection, the empty tomb stories arose from this belief.’

Casey follows this observation with his final chapter – on the question of the resurrection. This chapter will be of great interest to many.

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Posted by on 13 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Eight


I have argued that the conflicts during Jesus’ ministry were quite sufficient for him to have expected to die. More than that, when he left Galilee to celebrate his final Passover with his disciples, he fully intended to die in Jerusalem. He believed that his death would fulfil the will of God for the redemption of his people Israel. This was an event of such importance that he found it foretold in the scriptures.

I find this statement, for some reason, really fascinating since it essentially goes against the grain of a good deal of historical Jesus scholarship.  Scholarship which essentially presents Jesus as being overtaken by events and only the later Church seeing him as predicting his own death.  I’m thinking especially of Schweitzer’s “Jesus was crushed by the wheel’ ideology which so permeates NT research.

Once more, don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).

[All of the excerpts in our present series can be acquired here]

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Posted by on 12 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books



The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Seven

In his Jesus of Nazareth, M. Casey writes

Taking his ministry as a whole, it is evident that he saw himself as the kind of figure who was later to be hailed as ‘the Messiah’, though he did not use the term of himself, because it was not yet properly established. After his death and Resurrection, his followers did use the Aramaic meshīḥā of him. They needed titles for him, and meshīḥā was flexible enough for this purpose, because it was in use for a variety of real and expected figures. Moreover, he had played a fundamentalrole in salvation history, and he had believed that God had chosen him for that role. The church neither believed in nor expected any other anointed figure, so the title became unique. When Christianity spread to the Greek- speaking diaspora, the Aramaic meshīḥā was translated into Greek as ho Christos, because the Greek Christos was already used for similar terms in the LXX. At this stage Jesus was more uniquely anointed than ever, and Christian leaders continued to study the scriptures. This is why the term ‘Christ’ became so common.

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Posted by on 11 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Six

Our colloquium begins in just a few days, on Sunday, so our brief excerpting series is almost concluded.  Today’s installment concerns Jesus’ opponents and the conflicts which erupted between them, Casey notes

Jesus accused his orthodox opponents of replacing the commandments of God with their own traditions. He believed that they had lost the main points of the Law altogether in their attachment to small details. This polemic represents a fatal conflict, on account of which there were scribes and elders among the people involved in bringing Jesus to his death. Moreover, the accounts of the disputes between Jesus and his orthodox opponents show clear signs of being transmitted in Aramaic, the language in which these sayings were originally spoken. These indications of Aramaic uniformly occur in accounts of incidents which have an excellent setting in the life of Jesus, but which do not belong to the environment of the early church as we know it from the epistles and from Acts.

Once more, don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).

[All of the excerpts in our present series can be acquired here]

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Posted by on 8 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Five

Our discussion with Professor Casey is just a few days off.  Here’s the fifth excerpt from his book for your consideration, in the chapter on healings and exorcisms.

Exorcism and healing were central to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus believed that in exorcism and in some other kinds of healing, he released people from the power of the devil. He thus felt the power of God working through him in this ministry.His ability was exceptional, but not altogether unique. He sent out his disciples to exorcize and heal too, and he accepted the divine inspiration of successful Jewish exorcists who did not belong to the Jesus movement. Jesus himself was the most successful exorcist and healer of his time. There was however more than that to his ministry. This is why he is never labeled ‘exorcist’ or ‘healer’ in the Gospels, either by his followers or by his opponents.

Once more, don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).

[All of the excerpts in our present series can be acquired here]

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Posted by on 7 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Four

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

From Maurice Casey’s forthcoming volume, amidst a discussion of women and their connection to the ministry of Jesus-

All this evidence indicates that Jesus was emotionally and administratively more dependent on a small group of women than the Gospels tell us. It should be obvious that they were his disciples, in the normal sense of being his followers, and it should not matter that the men who wrote the Gospels do not use the word ‘disciple’ with specific reference to women in their very brief comments on them. A high proportion of Gospel references to ‘disciples’ are editorial (e.g. Mk 4.34; Mt. 12.49, inserted into Mk 3.34; Lk. 6.13, editing Mk 3.13; Jn 4.1- 2), and some of those which are genuine are not obviously gender- specific (e.g. Mk 2.23). It follows that so few Gospel references to ‘disciples’ are genuine references to male followers of Jesus (e.g. Mk 14.12- 13, 16) that genuine traditions transmitted to the Gospel writers rarely used the term ‘disciple’ of Jesus’ male followers. Moreover, Jesus himself is reliably recorded to have used the term ‘disciple’ of his followers only once, in a message designed to conceal his identity, to help ensure that he could celebrate his final Passover before his arrest. Two disciples were instructed to say to a householder, ‘The rabbi says, “Where (is) the place of my- spending- the- night, where I will eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ (Mk 14.14). Even this one example was not in practice gender-specific, though Jesus may well have deliberately used this term so that his two male disciples, arriving with the Passover victim, looked and sounded like disciples of a conventional rabbi. Normally, he did not use the term, perhaps because the Aramaic talmīdhīn already referred to men sitting at the feet of an orthodox rabbi learning his teaching, and was therefore not a helpful term for the followers of a prophet who was a teacher from a prophetic perspective. The Greek mathētai, freely used by the Gospel writers themselves, did not carry such connotations. The use of the word ‘disciple’ of Jesus’ followers should therefore not be regarded as historically important. It was and should remain important that lots of people followed Jesus, and that many women did so, just as much as men.

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Posted by on 6 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Three

This excerpt comes from Casey’s discussion of the ‘Jesus Seminar’-

The methods adopted by the Seminar were however sufficient to prevent these aims [i.e., the aim of discovering the Historical Jesus- J.W.] from being achieved. In the first place, some of the best scholars in the USA, such as E. P. Sanders, J. A. Fitzmyer and Dale Allison, were not members of it. The absence of these scholars was compounded by the actual membership, and by the method of deciding whether material in the Gospels was historically accurate. A number of ‘Fellows’ of the Seminar had only recently completed doctorates at American institutions, and the Seminar decided the authenticity of material about Jesus by majority vote, averaged out as the ‘Fellows’ did not agree with each other. In practice, this meant an averaged majority vote by people who were not in any reasonable sense authorities at all.

Casey’s discussion of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan’s work, and other modern contributions to the Quest all leads up to Casey’s own presentation. It’s the ‘here’s what’s come before and why it’s inadequate’ methodology we are all quite familiar with. Before you can build, you have to destroy. And Casey does a fine job of destroying insufficient approaches.

Once more, don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).

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Posted by on 5 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Two

The second excerpt from Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth concerns the rise of the study of the Historical Jesus during the Nazi era. This is, for me, one of the most engaging and interesting parts of the book. But of course I’ve long been interested in that place (Germany) and that period (the 20th century). Casey introduces the section by writing-

The years after Schweitzer’s major contribution form the most disreputable part of the story of the quest, and one of the most illuminating episodes in the history of scholarship. This is however being concealed by an academic myth, according to which scholars are now working on the third quest for the historical Jesus. The first quest was supposedly torpedoed by Schweitzer in 1906, when he showed that the liberal quest of the historical Jesus essentially consisted of scholars looking in a mirror and finding in Jesus an image of themselves. Schweitzer’s demolition of the first quest was so devastating that it brought the quest to a halt. The second quest was begun by Käsemann in a 1953 lecture, published in 1954. It therefore seems at first sight reasonable that we should call the period between Schweitzer and Käsemann the period of ‘no quest’.

That’s an appetite whetter and the section doesn’t disappoint. To be sure, it does remind us that scholars always carry baggage with them. Sometimes that’s bad and so colors results that nothing useful is produced.

And don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).

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Posted by on 4 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt One

Our discussion with Maurice Casey on his very soon to be published volume commences in a week so this week I’m going to begin posting excerpts- so participants (and others) can get a sense of where Casey is coming from and where he’s going.

I’m also doing something of a ‘double posting’- offering the excerpts here and on the List.  I’ll not comment on the excerpts (at this point) but will just let them speak for themselves.

Excerpt One-

The purpose of this book is to engage with the historical Jesus from the perspective of an independent historian. I do not belong to any religious or antireligious group. I try to use evidence and argument to establish historically valid conclusions. I depend on the best work done by many other scholars, regardless of their ideological affiliation. I also make abundant use of one relatively recent discovery which should help us to go further than ever before in reconstructing the Jesus of history in his original cultural context. That is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and above all the eventual publication of all those which are written in Aramaic, the language which Jesus himself spoke. In two complex technical books, I have shown how genuine sayings of Jesus, and the earliest narrative reports of his deeds, can be reconstructed in their original Aramaic versions in a manner unthinkable before the publication of the Aramaic scrolls.2 As all students of language and culture in general are very well aware, language is a central part of culture. Accordingly, the reconstruction of the Aramaic sources of the synoptic Gospels is an essential step in understanding him against the background of his own culture, that of first- century Judaism. All the details of this technical work cannot be presented in this book, but it lies behind it, and I present Aramaic reconstructions of the Lord’s Prayer and of Jesus’ words interpreting the bread and wine at the Last Supper, so that everyone can see what this work looks like, and experience something of what he really said. I also refer to this kind of work at other crucial points (p. 2).

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Posted by on 3 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


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A Giant 7 Part Review of M. Casey’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ – Part 1

Here it is: the first part of a seven-part review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching.  Each part to appear daily over Holy Week, and deals especially with the twelfth and final chapter, “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?”
Be sure to give it a look.  It’s sure to be better than anything NatGeo or Discovery Channel have to peddle this week.  More about the book can be discovered here.
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Posted by on 16 Apr 2011 in Books


The Colloquium With Maurice Casey is in Full Swing

The questions posed have been, at least to me, pretty interesting, and the answers precise and crisp.  There’s still time and opportunity to take part, if you’re so inclined.  Just sign up. And remember, we’re running our give-away for Casey’s nearly here volume and there’s time to enter until the end of the colloquium.  You can read excerpts here.

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Posted by on 11 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books


Colloquium Announcement: Maurice Casey’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’

Not necessarily the actual cover

On the 11th of October and running through the 18th of the month the Biblical Studies List will host Prof. Maurice Casey who will be discussing with us his very soon to be published volume Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teachings. The official publication date is 30th September in the UK, and 30th December in the States (to allow time for shipping from the UK to the US). But they will have advance copies for sale at the booth at SBL.

In the meantime, I’ve been granted permission to excerpt segments of the volume and they will be posted on the Discussion List and blogged here as well in what I’m calling a ‘Different Kind of (P)review: Segments and Slices’.

If you’d like to discuss the excerpts (which will doubtless lead to many interesting questions) just sign up to take part.

We’re exceedingly pleased that Prof. Casey will be our guest and we know the discussion will be lively!


Posted by on 30 Sep 2010 in Bible, Books



The End of the Colloquium- And A Birthday Greeting

Our colloquium with Professor Casey came to a conclusion today. You can still access the 10 excerpts from the book here and if you haven’t entered yet you can until midnight tonight and then the winner of the volume will be announced in a day or two after James and I have a chance to consult.

But today is also noteworthy because it’s the birth anniversary of Prof. Casey. So I want to wish him a very happy day with many joyful returns in good health and vitality.


Posted by on 18 Oct 2010 in Bible, Books