Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Casey Cases 'Em

A reader pointed me to an article (link below) about a book out by Biblical scholar Maurice Casey titled, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. It should be interesting. Casey is a bit of a mixed bag; on the one hand, his treatment of subjects like the Son of Man title in Daniel 7, and how Jesus used it, is lamentably deficient on several points; on the other hand, he sure took down the so-called “Abiathar problem” in Mark. (Links below.) Bottom line is, Casey is an independent thinker who’s worth a listen when he talks – but someone you also sift with a critical eye.

In this book, Casey takes on two “extremes” as he sees it – conservatives who accept miracles as historical on one hand, and Christ mythers on the other. The article offers a quote that I particularly like:

The so-called mythicists, for whom Casey reserves an especial, if formally polite, contempt—his discussion is studded with terms like “most proponents are extraordinarily incompetent” and “a form of atheist prejudice”—also find the Jesus they want, a non-existent mythical figurehead for a new religion. Mostly former fundamentalists, in Casey’s waspish summation, the mythicists reject everything, a reaction to traditional Christian claims so extreme as to make Dan Brown’s image of a married-with-kids Jesus seem almost pious. (Not that Casey has any time for The Da Vinci Code: “such nonsense that it is quite amazing that anyone should believe it.”)

I checked contents of the book, and it’s nice to see Robert Price is one of Casey’s targets – extensively so. Frank Zindler gets a heavy hammer on his head as well.

Casey also has a few unkind words for the liberal wildcats out there, like Jane Schaberg; no one is spared his wrath. (The article describes him as “eviscerating everyone and everything wrong with his field.”) A bit curmudgeony, no doubt, but I expect that will make the book all the more entertaining. He also presents an interesting answer to the issue of Mark 1:41, which Bart Ehrman makes a big deal about seeing Jesus as “angry”. His answer is to root back into Aramaic, as he did with the Abiathar problem, and see behind “angry” an Aramaic word that can mean both “tremble with anger” and “moved” (as to sympathy). I wonder what Bart Ehrman will say about that one.

On the other hand, it isn’t hard to see that his treatment of miracles won’t do the job. Casey apparently resorts to thinking Jesus cured “hysterical” illnesses, which we have shown will not work. (Link below.) He also apparently buys into the theory that appearances of Jesus were “bereavement visions” – which both I and my co-author Jonathan Kendall in Defending the Resurrection, and Mike Licona in The Resurrection of Jesus, have shown will not do the job.

I’ll get this book eventually, but not any time soon: At $30 a pop for just the paperback (! -- $130 for the hardback!) it’s a little out of my budget range. But if you happen to be able to see it in a library, it might be worth a look.

Article in McLean's about the book.

On the Son of Man title

On the Abiathar problem

On Jesus' healings


  1. JP, what do you make of Casey's contention that Christian scholars don't adequately appreciate the "Jewishness" of Jesus?

  2. I'm sure he's right in some cases. I've seen some scholars who fail to take it into account. But I've also seen some overdo it.