by Earl Doherty
Maurice Casey has posted his foray against mythicism on R. Joseph Hoffmann’s blog. This post is Earl Doherty’s initial response. It has also been sent to Hoffmann’s blog but at the time of this posting on Vridar it is awaiting Hoffmann’s approval to be posted there.
I see Casey’s basic ‘arguments’ against mythicism, and me in particular, as:
A – More unworkable reasoning to justify why Paul and all the other epistle writers have nothing to say about an historical Jesus. Casey thinks we should not expect to find “later Christian tradition” in the writings of Paul, ‘later tradition’ like the fact that Jesus was crucified on earth, by Pilate, that he taught anything about loving one another or any of the ethical teachings of the Gospel (not even inauthentic ones), that he performed miracles, prophesied the End-time, and so on.
Boy, what an HJ that leaves to champion! Imagine devoting one’s professional life to protecting the existence of such an undetectable mundane figure, no matter what the cost in surrendering one’s scholarly principles!
B – Of course, in a “high context culture” no one, not a single writer of the non-Gospel/Acts New Testament and several non-canonical ones, felt the slightest urge to mention anything that was said or done by Jesus on earth, even in support of key arguments and debates they were engaged in, even when describing the genesis and ongoing forces within their movement. They so lacked such an urge that they routinely speak of that genesis and ongoing force in ways which exclude such a figure. All their readership and audience were so “high context” that they never expected, let alone demanded, any reference to the words and deeds of the historical figure they believed in and regarded as Deity incarnate.
I guess mythicists, in their misguided expectations, are all of us “low culture” idiots.
C — Absolutely everything in the Gospels (even the titulus on the cross!) was so thoroughly known to all of Paul’s and other epistle writers’ readers, in every corner from Galatia to Rome, that it would have been a sin and an insult to even mention a single one of them.
D – Doherty uses documents to bolster his ‘heavenly Christ’ theory whose manuscripts are very late (apparently the dating of the extant manuscript is paramount) or whose dating has been placed by some scholars (the competent ones, of course) as too late to reflect Paul’s views. (I wonder why Casey didn’t appeal to Yonge’s dating of the Similitudes of Enoch to the late 2nd century as an example of lasting competence. If the once highly regarded Yonge is now out of date, what guarantee is there that the most recent views represent eternal reliability?)
Casey allows no consideration about the actual content of the text, or its layered nature, to indicate an alignment with earlier periods, such as I provide, for example, in regard to the Apocalypse of Elijah and the Vision of Isaiah. (For the latter, Casey admits dating “is difficult to determine,” yet Knibb’s dating in the 2nd century is “reasonable” whereas my dating to “the end of the first century” is not, even though I do indeed give reasons for so doing and dispute Knibb’s arguments for not so doing.)
E – Casey also admits that the Platonic division of the universe and its related characteristics were known centuries before Christianity, yet somehow such things remained unfamiliar in Jewish society (despite being for centuries under the yoke of Hellenistic cultures, and despite several Jewish sectarian writings which reflect such a familiarity and adoption for their own purposes. If Casey doesn’t like my dating of the Ascension of Isaiah, how about the Wisdom of Solomon for an example of Jewish absorption of pagan philosophy? Is he going to date that into the 2nd or 3rd century? Or Philo?). Moreover, such ideas were unfamiliar to Paul’s gentile readers! What convenient (if ludicrous) isolationism, making every epistle writer’s readership needing the repeated spelling out of where Christ had been crucified or by whom.
(But wait, Paul actually does tell them in 1 Cor. 2:8 that it was the demon spirits, which ancient commentators–no doubt now to be regarded as out of date by modern scholars like Casey–interpreted as such.)
F — Casey also fails to perceive any difference between needing to repeat to a congregation that the Jesus myth (like the myths of the mystery cults) took place in a mythical setting: between that and feeling an urge to call upon the words and deeds of Jesus to
(a) reflect their faith and interest in such a person and his doings,
(b) to support the points they were arguing and promoting, and
(c) to avoid putting things in such a way that they conveyed the very opposite: that there was no HJ in their own movement’s background.
(Casey, of course, did not take the trouble to try to discredit any argument in that direction based on the texts themselves.)
G — A woeful lack of a sense of humor which leads Casey to seriously criticize every word I used in my intentionally light and humorous conversation between Paul and some new converts. What a fraud Doherty is, since Paul would never have used the word “Calvary/Golgotha” in conversation since it means “skull”!
Let’s give a round of applause for that profound piece of scholarship and discreditation!
H — Casey shows a very unsympathetic personal attitude toward the existence of “what some scholars call Q” (obviously those as incompetent as myself) and thus my entire case falls apart since it is partly based on an analysis of Q. He includes a very dubious defence of why Luke would not have taken anything from Matthew’s Nativity story if he was using Matthew. Shades of Goodacre, and no more effective or free of problematic claims.
And Casey’s knock-down argument against Q and those like Kloppenborg who support it is that “the disappearance of Q is difficult to explain”? That’s nonsense, and I’ve given very reasonable explanations for such a situation.
I – In his defence of Paula Fredriksen, Casey falls into her same illogicality. We don’t see any interest in things like relics of Jesus, or in visiting the sites of salvation, because those interests did not arise until the 4th century! Hmmm, I wonder why. Apparently Casey, like Fredriksen, does NOT wonder why.
Oh yes, they couldn’t bring themselves to visit the site of their Lord’s death because other screams were in the air! Talk about weak constitutions! Funny, there were no screams at the tomb, but Christians show no sign of wanting to visit that either. And if it was supposedly too dangerous to visit such sites en masse, or too impractical to create cultic occasions there while being persecuted, could Paul at least not have snuck off to the “Skull” on his own to absorb his Lord’s recent presence there? Could not a single epistle writer even have referred to such sites as the earthly setting for the death of their Lord? No danger there. And were Christians so weak-kneed–didn’t they avoid martyrdom at all costs?–that they could not bring themselves to visit such sites surreptitiously or even view them from afar?
(This sort of argumentation by Casey is far more lame and ridiculous that anything mythicists have been accused of being guilty of.)
J – Oh yes, I forgot. Casey says that “early Christian piety did not require shrines or relics.” How do we know this? Obviously, because the early Christian documents do not show an interest in shrines or relics. This is clearly not because they didn’t know of such things, but knowing them, had no interest in them. Why? Because that was the nature of early Christian piety.
Am I the only one getting dizzy from such ‘scholarly’ circular argumentation? This points up Casey’s competence as against mythicist incompetence?
K – And I am further incompetent because I have not “grappled with” Casey’s own work on the rich Aramaic sources of the Gospels, something for which he enjoys less support from his own ranks than I do for my own work?
Oh, my! This is a demolition of mythicism? Of me? This justifies the extreme vitriol and smug conviction of his own superiority over an ignoramus like myself? Nothing has changed, boys. This is the traditional attitude of historicist scholarship toward mythicism since time immemorial, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It’s a scandal in any discipline claiming to be scholarly and open-minded. But I am not going to lose any sleep over it, and I will continue to defend myself and mythicism against it. (Right now, the bulk of my attention and energy is being devoted to my detailed rebuttal to Ehrman’s new book, being serialized on the Vridar blog.)
By the way, note that one of Casey’s main arguments against us is our lack of proper credentials, which explains why we get everything so woefully wrong. But wait. Robert Price is the one mythicist in Casey’s view who does possess the proper credentials and background. But wait. He’s as wrong-headed as the rest of us. So I guess credentials really have nothing to do with it. The bottom line is that mythicism itself is regarded as so reprehensible, so wacko an idea, that anyone championing it, from the heydey of mythicists like J.M. Robertson to that quack Earl Doherty, has to be suffering from either dementia or an anti-Christian agenda blindly devoted to destroying Christianity (which evidently Casey, Ehrman & Co. do not even claim membership in).
The other bottom line for Casey (as with Ehrman) is that the Internet is a hotbed of anti-Christian terrorists. How dare I say that I’m writing for “open-minded laypeople” reachable through the web? None of them are even remotely open-minded–as compared, say, to the open-minded establishment academia represented by Casey and Ehrman (and Hoffmann), who preface all their rants against mythicism by pointing out that we are inherently morons and charlatans, advocating a theory which is as obviously ridiculous as solar-centrism and the movement of tectonic plates. . . . Oh, wait. . . .