It’s Maurice Casey’s Birth-iversary

casey_fsToday is the anniversary of Maurice Casey’s birth.

Maurice Casey was one of the best known scholars of the New Testament presently (or more properly, recently) working in the United Kingdom. He was a tireless researcher who devoted his life to a serious and, insofar as this is possible, an independent investigation of the New Testament freed from dogmatic constraints. Or more particularly, to the life of the Historical Jesus.

In the last years of his life Maurice suffered a series of ailments which left him weakened and stymied and yet he persevered manfully through his “valley of the shadow”. As he worked on his final publication (and certainly not knowing that it would be his final publication) he grew progressively weaker, progressively worse. And yet he was so troubled by the rise of the ‘mythicist’ movement that he was determined to see the project through to the end. I’m grateful that he was able to.

He’s worth remembering, on his birthday especially.  I said so last year and I’ll say so next.

Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition: Essays in Honour of Maurice Casey

ISD have sent along for review this delightful volume: Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition: Essays in Honour of Maurice Casey, edited by James Crossley.

casey_fsJudaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition is a collection of essays focused on what is now a major issue in contemporary gospel studies. The essays are in honour of Maurice Casey, who has made major contributions to our understanding of the Jewish context of Jesus and the Gospels. Fittingly, this collection of essays avoids the conventional festschrift format and is designed to be a detailed analysis in its own right. This volume examines how Judaism can function as an analytical concept in Gospel scholarship. This includes an overview of the ways in which Judaism is used in the canonical Gospels and how this relates to the idea of a Jewish Jesus, in addition to specific examples of similarities with, and differences from, various Jewish traditions in the Gospels, constructions of gender, the impact of the historical Jesus, and the significant steps toward Christian distinctiveness made in the Gospel of John.

This collection features contributions by Andrew R. Angel, Roger David Aus, George J. Brooke, Bruce Chilton, Daniel Cohen, James G. Crossley, Mogens Müller, Wendy E.S. North, Catrin H. Williams, and a preface by C.K. Barrett.

My review is available here.

ISD is offering, for Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition, a discount- the code being 132-13. This is good for 20% off either the paperback or hardback, also through Oct 31st.

Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

mythicistMaurice Casey’s book is slated to appear in the early days of 2014.  Here’s the info (or as the kids say, the 411) –

Did Jesus exist? In recent years there has been a massive upsurge in public discussion of the view that Jesus did not exist. This view first found a voice in the 19th century, when Christian views were no longer taken for granted. Some way into the 20th century, this school of thought was largely thought to have been utterly refuted by the results of respectable critical scholarship (from both secular and religious scholars).

Now, many unprofessional scholars and bloggers (‘mythicists’), are gaining an increasingly large following for a view many think to be unsupportable. It is starting to influence the academy, more than that it is starting to influence the views of the public about a crucial historical figure. Maurice Casey, one of the most important Historical Jesus scholars of his generation takes the ‘mythicists’ to task in this landmark publication. Casey argues neither from a religious respective, nor from that of a committed atheist. Rather he seeks to provide a clear view of what can be said about Jesus, and of what can’t.

And here’s what’s in it:

Preface
Abbreviations
1. Introduction
2. Historical Method
3. The Date and Reliability of the Canonical Gospels
4. What is Not in the Gospels, or Not in ‘Q’
5. What is Not in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
6. What is Written in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
7. It All Happened Before, in Egypt, India, or Wherever you Fancy, but there was Nowhere for it to Happen in Israel
8. Conclusions
Appendix: Latinisms

It is an absolute gold-mine of mythicist debunking.  It is, to be honest, the funeral dirge sung at the grave of mythicist perspectives.  It’s a great book (and will doubtless be even better in its final form).

Thomas Thompson on ‘Competence and New Testament Scholarship’

Over at Bible and Interpretation Tom writes

In his critique of my response to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? Maurice Casey alleges as the foremost mark of what he sees as my incompetence that I, at odds with all critical scholarship, presuppose a Matthean priority, rooted in a ‘Traditional Catholic doctrine’ or ‘a Catholic dogma,’ in which I was supposedly ‘brought up!’ His assertion surprises me by both its arbitrariness and its prejudice. There is no such Catholic doctrine or dogma; nor have I claimed it in any way.

And then more.  Do give it a look.

Opinions and Viewpoints

Following you’ll find a list of people whose opinions matter to me and whose viewpoints I value (though not in such a way that I’m willing to slavishly follow them).  I offer said listing in response to a question I was sent on Facebook (itself responding to a posting from earlier today) .  To be precise the question was

If you don’t care about McGrath’s opinion, whose do you care about?

An excellent question.  I answer- the opinions of these:

God, my wife and daughter, my father-in-law and mother in-law, Bob Cargill, Chris Tilling, Israel Finkelstein, Antonio Lombatti, Giovanni Garbini, Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas Thompson, James Crossley, Maurice Casey, Steph Fisher, Philip Davies, and Keith Whitelam.  And that’s pretty much it.

The persons whose viewpoints I value (aside from the above who are all alive whilst these are dead) :

Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard von Rad, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Huldrych Zwingli.

To be sure, I value the opinions and viewpoints of others, but when it comes right down to it and everything is boiled to the essentials, these are the core group.  If you didn’t make the list don’t feel too bad.  First, you probably don’t care about my opinion anyway (so you can’t really be too hurt).  And second, you’re in the majority if your opinion isn’t all that important to me.  So there’s that.

Opinions and viewpoints.  If we’re all honest (a virtue virtually abandoned these days) we would all admit that some people mean more to us than others.

Maurice Casey v. Thomas Thompson: The Clash of the Titans

Casey begins

In a recent article in this journal, Thomas Thompson wrote what he described as ‘A Response to Bart Ehrman,’though the connection is not always obvious. The purpose of this response is not generally to defend Ehrman, but to point out that Thompson is completely wrong from beginning to end. Ehrman got one main point right, and it should be at the centre of the discussion. He commented, ‘Thompson is trained in biblical studies, but he does not have degrees in New Testament or early Christianity. He is, instead, a Hebrew Bible scholar….’ Thompson’s lack of expertise regarding New Testament Studies and Early Christianity is palpable throughout his essay.

And then he’s off to the races (as we say here in the South).

Given the fact that I am friends with both Thomas and Maurice I think I shall simply point out that this discussion should stir up even more discussion!  (To say the least).  I also confess that I am a big fan of lively discussion.  Maurice doesn’t (ever) disappoint.

What’s Going On With Bart?

Bart Ehrman posted this bit in which he describes his experiences writing his latest book.

Stephanie Fisher posted, or rather attempted to post a comment, which was bizarrely rejected by Bart because, in his words (in an email to Fisher), “Your comments are mean-spirited and not appropriate for the blog. If you want to try again in a more temperate tone, I would consider including them. As you might imagine, I do have a response to your points.”.

If you can find anything mean-spirited or inappropriate in Steph’s remarks you’ve got a vivid imagination.  Here’s what she wrote:

“You say that New Testament scholars have never taken mythicists seriously, they have never seen a need to argue against their views. This is false. Case and Goguel for example explicitly demonstrated with argument and evidence the mythicist arguments to be flawed in 1912 and 1925. Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth introduces Price, Doherty and Zindler for example and explicitly provides evidence for their mistakes. His forthcoming volume later this year is also a refutation of the main mythicist arguments. Also you claim NT scholars have never tried to prove the existence of Jesus and have simply assumed it. This is untrue of Case, Goguel and the entire life work of Maurice Casey who has never assumed the existence of Jesus at all and has dedicated his life’s academic research to providing argument and evidence. I know what the book is about – I helped edit it. Just read the ded and preface. You made some unusual assumptions about Aramaic in your latest book and didn’t engage with the most recent critical scholarship which is a shame because so few New Testament scholars are competent Aramaists.

“However I did enjoy reading Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. I bought it when it was release in the nineties and I had graduated. It inspired my direction to a degree and I still find it useful at times.

“You say “The book you’re referring to here is a fairly full exposition of what he thinks is historical information about Jesus, a nice contribution to the field.” – Hardly a fair description of an academic career devoted to Aramaic research culminating in a book designed for a wider audience and providing argument and evidence to demonstrate the existence of a historical figure, simultaneously engaging with mythicist arguments which argue the contrary, is it?

“I feel compelled to add that your derogatory insinuations about New Testament scholars are false and offensive.

Responsible New Testament scholars around the world do take mythicists seriously. They do read the published work and even the blogs. They do not just dismiss them. That would be irresponsible. Jesus scholars do NOT assume the existence of the historical Jesus. I gave you three scholars spanning a century. I could give you three hundred more – or even more. And actually we read the German edition of Schweitzer (including his other work). You then say “many scholars in the field, I would venture to say, until my book had not even heard much about [mythicists]” which is an extraordinary outburst of self-confidence, effectively your own assumptions without evidence. It is utterly false – ‘until my book’?!”

Now to be fair to Stephanie, there’s not a shred of either mean spirited-ness nor inappropriateness in a single line. Her points are well made and accurate. Which is why I think they deserve a response. Maurice Casey does as well. He writes

“Ehrman’s blog comments are extraordinarily self-centred, and make one wonder which New Testament scholars he has ever talked to about the existence of Jesus. For example, he comments, ‘before writing the book, like most New Testament scholars, I knew almost nothing abut the mythicist movement’. Most of us knew perfectly well that there was a massive attack on the existence of the historical Jesus in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Until recently, however, we thought that the work of Case and Goguel, supported by lots of detailed comments in other scholarly works, made it unnecessary for us to keep publishing about it when we were trying to make a contribution to knowledge, not just to repeat what had been written before. Among much modern scholarship with which he seems unfamiliar is recent work on the term ‘Son of Man’: his comments (Did Jesus Exist?, pp. 305-7) imply a complete lack of familiarity with Aramaic sources from the Sefire Inscriptions through the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Yerushalmi and the literature of the Syriac-speaking church, as well as recent secondary literature.

“The notion that none of us has read the work of recent mythicists again makes one wonder again which New Testament scholars he has ever talked to about the existence of Jesus. He comments again, ‘no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived.’ Most of us have spent a regrettable amount of time becoming regrettably familiar with their regrettable outpourings, some of us have discussed it with each other, with varying opinions about what needs to be done, and I have a book in an advanced state of preparation for publication by T & T Clark/Continuum, hopefully before the end of 2012. We don’t expect or want Ehrman at meetings of British New Testament scholars, but does he not attend SNTS either?”

In sum, it seems that Casey and Fisher take issue with Ehrman’s cavalier dismissal of substantial work done in response to ‘mythicists’.   Certainly Bart is free to include or reject whatever comments he wishes, on his blog.  Similarly, the rest of us are free to raise questions about publications and in fact we are obliged to- especially when they don’t tell ‘the whole story’.

Who Were Those Demon-Filled Swine, Anyway?

Maurice Casey makes some interesting observations on the story of the Gadarene Demoniac- which I quote in full-

The first aspect of the story that is untypical of Jesus, but widespread in stories of exorcism, is that, even after making an effort to order the unclean spirit out of the man (Mk 5.8), Jesus has to ask it its name (Mk 5.9). This is narratively convenient so that the storyteller can tell us its name is ‘Legion, for we are many’, the first indication that the storyteller was disenchanted with Roman legions.

The second feature untypical of Jesus, but widespread in stories of exorcism, is that Jesus sends the demons out in such a way that they visibly enter something else, so they can be seen to have gone out. What they are sent into is a ‘large herd of pigs’; indeed somewhat belatedly the storyteller entertains us with the information that there were about 2,000 of them! (Mk 5.11-13). Pigs were notoriously unclean animals, because Gentiles kept them and ate pork, as Jews did not. From a Jewish perspective, therefore, pigs were especially suitable animals for unclean spirits to be sent into. The existence of a herd of 2,000 pigs, though not strictly miraculous, is not something that would ever happen in real life; it is part of a story told to entertain people, and enable them to marvel at Jesus’ ability to defeat the powers of evil with the power of God.

English: Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.

At this point, we can be more precise about the ‘Legion’. The author had in mind the tenth legion, Legio Decem Fretensis, which had a boar as one of its symbols. It was stationed in the province of Syria, firstly at Cyrrhus, so it was the northernmost of the Syrian legions, and then from 18 CE onwards in the client kingdom of Commagene, which was annexed to Syria. The otherwise powerless storyteller has made great fun of a legion. The effect of Jesus sending the demons into 2,000 pigs is equally entertaining: ‘the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea . . . and drowned in the sea’ (Mk 5.13). This effectively gets the demons back into the underworld where they belong, for the story assumes they go down to the Abyss. It also dumps a legion where many Jews would have loved to see the Roman legions go.

But the storyteller, a Jewish Christian entertaining Christians miles away, where he knew about Decem Fretensis, was regrettably unconcerned about the geography of the Decapolis. Whether this took place in the country of the Gerasenes (the original text of Mark) or the Gadarenes (some manuscripts which were influenced by Matthew) is the difference between whether the pigs had to run 33 miles, or just 6 miles, to get to the lake of Galilee! The storyteller was not concerned either to think about pigs which can swim.

Fun, huh.  Nothing quite like the Romans being made fun of and oppressed persons wishing them driven into the sea where they belong.

Happy Birthday, Maurice Casey

Maurice Casey is, in my estimation, the best historical Jesus scholar presently working.  And today is his birthday.  His most recent volume, Jesus of Nazareth, is filled with insights and boiling over with authentic scholarship.

To be sure, not everyone appreciates Casey’s work, but that’s primarily because they don’t take the time to wrestle with it.  Certainly, there are points on which I see things differently.  But if you collected all the people working on the historical Jesus for the past decade, put them in a pot, shook it up, and waited for the best to rise to the top, Casey would be there at the summit.

He’s got, as I understand it, a volume in the works are present on the subject of Jesus scholarship that will doubtless prove to be a lot of fun!

So, to Maurice- Happy Birthday!  Have many more in good health!!

Maurice Casey’s ‘Jesus’ At the British New Testament Conference

They’ve had a panel discussion of Maurice Casey’s massive ‘Jesus’ at BNTC and, according to the tweeter from T&T Clark (though I’ve edited the tweets into complete sentences and corrected the grammar)-

[There has been a] panel review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazarethhere at #BNTC. Some took issue with [the] degree of Casey’s reconstruction of Aramaic backgrounds [and the] early date [he asserts] for Mark [as well as his] over reliance on Mark as [a] historical source. But all acknowledged [the] book as [a] huge achievement. [It] ‘easily takes its place alongside the most important historical Jesus books of [the] last 30 years’, [said] Eddie Adams.

We had a colloquium with Maurice on his book on the Biblical Studies list and there are other items related to Casey’s work here.

Jesus: The Cold Case – Deserving of a Dilly?

Another tv ‘special’ by some guy who lacks any real knowledge of the subject, as Deane shows plainly, is set to air in NZ on Sunday. I especially appreciate Deane’s observation-

… the list of biblical scholars demonstrates Bruce’s lack of knowledge of the field, his reliance on other people’s scholarship, and lack of first-hand knowledge of scholarship. Where are the current and most recent experts on the issue: Maurice Casey? Dale Allison? Roger Aus? They are nowhere to be seen, although they are obvious choices for anybody reasonably informed on current scholarship.

I’m kind of glad I’m not in NZ so I don’t have to watch.

Jesus: The Cold Case - New Doco on Who Killed Jesus This Sunday, 24 July 2011, at 8:30pm, Bryan Bruce will try to find out who killed Jesus, in a television documentary to be screened on New Zealand’s TV1. The documentary is one in an ongoing series in which Bruce examines old unsolved murders, and attempts to solve them … but with the twist that, here, the cadaver is 2000 years old … Read More

via Remnant of Giants

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.

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.

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.

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]

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.

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).