2014-02-07

Casey: Taking Context out of Context

by Tim Widowfield
English: Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud glowers disapprovingly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Observant readers will recall that we tackled this subject once before in When Is Paul's Silence Golden?]

Ad hoc soup

The standard historicist response to the question of Paul’s silence on the historical Jesus relies heavily on Freudian Kettle Logic – to wit, “(1) Paul did mention Jesus quite a bit; (2) We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul didn’t mention Jesus very much at all, for the following ad hoc reasons; (3) You’re an idiot for bringing it up.”

The different ad hoc reasons given for Paul’s silence vary over time. And it’s hard to justify spending too much time refuting them, because they’re functionally equivalent to yelling “Squirrel!” in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps it’s because of the honor/shame society Paul and Jesus lived in. Maybe Paul was an egomaniac. Maybe . . . Squirrel!

Say what you will, but at least there’s plenty of variety. If you don’t feel like hopping on the current ad hoc bus, stay put; another one is coming in 15 minutes. Quote miners in the Apologia Mountains are working ’round the clock to serve you. Pardon the mixed metaphors.

A cave-in down in the quote mine

While reading Maurice Casey’s new book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?, I was dismayed (but not surprised) to find that he’s still using that tired old Context Canard to explain Paul’s silence on the historical Jesus. His preferred ad hoc rescue for Paul’s silence has to do with cultural context, as described in Edward Hall’s Beyond Culture. Apologists argue that the people of the Ancient Near East (including, apparently, Asia Minor and the entire Mediterranean basin) lived in a high context culture.

What does that mean? On the high end of the Hall scale people use implicit language to express themselves. Body language, gestures, facial expressions, shared cultural memory and subtexts, along with other nonverbal modes of communication provide the full range of expression that outsiders will often miss. On the low end, people use explicit language to express themselves. They will often repeat themselves, just to be clear. They do not rely as much, if at all, on nonverbal cues or cultural subtext.

Casey argues:

There are several things wrong with this [i.e., noticing that Paul doesn't talk about Jesus]. One is that the social context of many scholars, especially Americans, is a low context society, in which a lot of both important and mundane information needs to be constantly repeated. This is one major reason why some scholars grossly misinterpret what Paul does not say, and imagine that it reflects what neither he nor his converts believed. The term ‘low context’ society was introduced into scholarship by the anthropologist E. T. Hall. Hall was concerned to discuss the modern world, and the application of some of his insights to the ancient world requires great care, but his discussion of modern American society can be applied directly to mythicists without much trouble or risk of distortion. (p. 46)

If you’ve carefully read Hall and studied cultural context phenomena, you should be rolling your eyes right now. Casey suggests both Jesus and Paul lived in high-context societies; consequently, they didn’t need to say much to get their points across.

Biblical Scholarship: The Art of the Perfectly Possible

People who live in low context societies behave in such specific circumstances like people who live in high context societies, and do not say more than is strictly necessary. It is perfectly possible that the circumstances in which Jesus or Paul said less than modern scholars expect were due to their situational contexts [referring to the situational frames Hall described], rather than to Jesus belonging to, or Paul forming, a high context society. (p. 47, emphasis mine)

See? It isn’t just possible; it’s perfectly possible. Moreover, Casey thinks the communities of believers that Paul founded and nurtured could have been high-context enclaves.

It is possible that when Jesus worked among, and preached to, his fellow Jews in Galilee, he effectively lived in a high context society. Similarly, it is possible that when Paul founded churches, he effectively produced another high context society. In each case, this would mean that a lot of things did not need to be explicitly stated, because they were well known to everyone. (p. 46)

But how likely is it that Paul’s churches were little high-context societies? Casey argues that whether they were or weren’t, we could view Paul’s correspondence as an example of a situational dialect (within a situational frame, as seen above). The beauty of this argument is that it fits every occasion.  Why did Paul say such and such?  Because he needed to.  Why did Paul not say so and so? Because he didn’t need to repeat himself.

And, for pity’s sake, don’t forget how time-consuming, expensive, and messy the process was, right Maurice?

All this [where "this" refers to several preceding paragraphs] would be exacerbated by the problems of writing, another major aspect of the situational context in which the epistles were written. For this letter [1 Corinthians] to be written at all, someone, whether Paul, Sosthenes, or more likely a scribe such as Tertius (Rom. 16.22), who was in effect a professional writer, indicated by the fact that Paul merely added a greeting in ‘my hand’ (1 Cor. 16.21), would have to dip a stylus repeatedly in a disgusting black substance which we normally dignify with the name of ‘ink’, and scrawl with that on papyrus sheets. This [the process of writing] was a difficult and time-consuming process, and another good reason for Paul not to write unnecessary information in his epistles(p. 47)

I don’t know what’s more adorable, the fact that Casey believes Paul really wrote a greeting in his own hand or that he has the nerve to imply that Paul was laconic. Paul? The Paul who rambled on for page after page in his letter to the Romans? The one who seemed far more interested in the life of Abraham than the teachings of Jesus? That Paul?

Taking cultural context seriously

Casey and the other apologists who employ Hall’s models for social interaction in the service of explaining away the enigma of the epistles rely on two things: (1) the majority of their readers will never read Hall or study the phenomena he described and (2) those same readers are receptive to any ad hoc rescue that props up their current beliefs. For Casey, of course, there’s the added joy of using knowledge as a cudgel against anyone who disagrees with him.

Having said all that, social context does have some applicability in biblical studies. For example, the Johannine epistles and some of the writings of the Qumran community often leave a great deal unsaid. Oblique references to events and frequent recourse to cryptic terms indicate a historical subtext and deeper meanings that we’ll never fully understand. These writings have their own situational frame within a closed, tightly knit sub-culture.

Back to the questions at hand. Do the concepts of situational framing and high context culture apply to Paul’s letters? Further, can they explain Paul’s silence on matters regarding Jesus’ nature and history?

What’s missing from Paul’s letters?

This apologetic argument relies on more than just ignorance and receptivity. It also benefits from less-than-honest framing of the issue. Casey mockingly writes:

Paul had, however, no need whatever to write anything such as, ‘We preach Christ crucified on earth outside the walls of Jerusalem a few years ago, after being betrayed by Judah of Kerioth [Casey's "reconstructed" name for Judas Iscariot], and handed over to the chief priests, scribes and elders, because he cleansed the Temple, and then handed over by them to Pontius Pilatus, the governor of Judaea at the time, to be flogged and crucified.’ That is because many people in the Christian church in Corinth would know this already, and if new members turned up to a church meeting and did not know enough about the death of the historical Jesus, there would always be someone there to explain to them what they did not know. (p. 47)

Naturally, it would be nice if Paul had said something like the above, but what’s missing from the epistles is more than just a wished-for reference to some historical events in Jesus’ life.

It’s far more basic than that. For example, all historical Jesus scholars today say we can know a few things with absolute certainty about Jesus. And nearly all of them list the facts that he was a healer and an exorcist as two things we “know.” Paul never mentions these facts. Nearly all HJ scholars say that Jesus was a teacher who had disciples. Paul never calls him a teacher, never refers to his teaching, and never uses the term disciple (mathētḗs/μαθητής). Most scholars are certain that Jesus was born and grew up in Nazareth, and hence was referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul never mentions Nazareth. Nearly all scholars think Jesus called himself the son of man, but Paul never uses the term.

What did Paul think Jesus was?

If Paul writes about Jesus, but never as a teacher, never as a healer, never as a prophet, never as an exorcist, and never as a miracle-worker, perhaps it wasn’t an accident. Perhaps he had a different conception of who or what Jesus was.

Paul’s letters show more than a simple lack of interest in historical details; they also betray an apparent ignorance of several core identifying characteristics of the “real” historical Jesus. One could argue that Paul did not have to tell the Corinthians and the Galatians over and over that Jesus was a great teacher or a great healer. But never? We should remember that Paul did repeat his understanding of the gospel many times. Presumably, it was the first thing he taught his congregations — Christ died for their sins and defeated death through his resurrection.

Actually, it was probably the second thing Paul taught, the first being the fact that Jesus was the Christ. He never tires of repeating the term. But not once, even in passing, does he ever use “teacher,” except in reference to humans with the ability to teach others. Conversely, we find didaskalos/διδάσκαλος in the four canonical gospels nearly 50 times, nearly always with reference to Jesus, usually as a form of address or title for Jesus. For example [all from the NRSV]:

  • Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  (Matt. 8:19)
  • Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36)
  • Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing ?” (Mark 4:38)
  • Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name . . .” (Mark 9:38)
  • Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one . . .” (Mark 12:14)
  • “Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore.” (Luke 8:49)
  • Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
  • Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)
  • “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher . . .” (John 3:2)
  • “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.” (John 13:13)

On the other hand, while Mark uses the term Christos/Χριστός 7 times, Paul uses it 66 times just in Romans alone. Surely, if Paul truly thought Jesus was a teacher and that it was important to know that he was a teacher he would have mentioned it at least once.

If Paul writes about Jesus, but never as a teacher, never as a healer, never as a prophet, never as an exorcist, and never as a miracle-worker, perhaps it wasn’t an accident. Perhaps he had a different conception of who or what Jesus was. In other words, Casey and the apologists say he avoided such descriptions because Paul didn’t need to. But skeptics like me say it’s more likely that he didn’t want to, while mythicists say it’s because those facets of Jesus’ life hadn’t been historicized (invented) yet.

Putting Paul back in context

What about Casey’s assertion that Paul’s communities were high context (sub-)cultures and that his letters are examples of a situational dialect arising from a situational frame? We should approach this question seriously. To do the topic justice, we need to examine the features of high and low cultures, as well as the sources of those features.

Oral vs. written language

Before we even look at cultural contexts, we must point out that Paul’s letters are written forms of communication. Yes, we all knew that, but it has important consequences when talking about high context (HC) and low context (LC) societies. People in HC societies rely a great deal on what is “not said.” Some of these unsaid, nonverbal cues rely on shared, implicit knowledge, while other cues include body language, body position, gestures, facial expressions, vocal inflections, tone, etc. The very fact that Paul used written communication already proves that he thought certain things needed to be spelled out explicitly. Hence, Casey steps up to the plate with one strike against him.

Closed vs. open societies

The typical HC society is monocultural and closed. The more open and multicultural the society, the greater the need for explicit language with less reliance on context. One could justly argue that the Qumran and Johannine communities were mono-cultural and closed. What about Paul’s? Casey says that it’s possible that Paul created little sub-cultures that had their own specific identity, and I agree. But let’s take a look at one or two of Hall’s HC example cultures from the modern world: Japan and the Navajo nation. Three prominent features stand out.  The cultures are (1) old, with longstanding, internalized traditions, (2) monocultural, and (3) closed.

Paul may have created sub-cultures (i.e., his churches), but they were, as far as we can tell, (1) new, albeit with supposedly old traditions (the OT), (2) multicultural, and (3) open. If the majority of his church members were Gentiles, then even if they were former God-fearers, Old Testament traditions, while old for Paul, were new to them. They were new leaves grafted into the old tree. Paul’s letters indicate that his churches attracted rich and poor, free and slave, male and female. The mixture of people from different classes, levels of education, varying backgrounds, and so on, would militate against high context.

Consider Paul’s advice about eating meat offered to idols. He says that we all should know that false gods don’t even exist, so it doesn’t really matter. However . . .

1 Cor. 8:7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (NRSV)

His communities have people at various levels of understanding. Paul is sensitive to these differences and argues for what we could describe as safe or “lowest-common-denominator” behavior. He says that food has nothing to do with bringing us closer to God. In fact it doesn’t matter one way or the other, except that somebody else might see us and get the wrong idea.

1 Cor. 8:10-11 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. (NRSV)

So for Paul, a wordless act could be misinterpreted by weaker members and lead to their damnation.  Paul’s advice:

1 Cor. 8:13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. (NRSV)

These words of advice clearly indicate a low context environment. That is, although the sub-cultures Paul created had their own vocabulary and distinctive (if not peculiar) set of beliefs, they were open, fluid, new — and populated with believers from different segments of the larger society. Those farther along the path had to be careful and explicit in word and in action.

Internalized vs. externalized rules

HC societies have lots of unwritten rules. These rules are not simply a list of dos and don’ts that people memorize; they’re embedded cultural norms. You don’t have to say or commit to paper what everyone already knows. It’s second nature.

Christianity grew out of an old, well-established, rather closed religious culture. However, the Hebrew religion had a long history of explicit, externalized rules. They celebrated the law, a written set of instructions, and they explicitly argued about exactly what those rules meant. How far can you walk on the Sabbath? If you collect an herb that you didn’t plant, is that work? If you throw seeds out the window on the seventh day, and they sprout, are you guilty of farming on the Sabbath? You can argue that the law was internalized in Second Temple Judaism and in early Rabbinic Judaism, but it was first and foremost the word of God — explicitly written, earnestly read, and hotly debated.

What about Paul’s communities? Paul’s letters place less emphasis on the aspects of the Torah that mark a person as a Jew (especially circumcision) or cause a person to become ritually unclean, but he retains respect for the moral aspect of the law (especially sexual immorality). On all these aspects, Paul is more than happy to weigh in and give advice. For example, are people allowed to get divorced?

1 Cor. 7:10-11 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (NRSV)

It’s one of the few times that Paul might be quoting Jesus. But is he passing on a teaching from the earthly Jesus or a command from the risen Lord? It’s curious that the supposedly laconic Paul rambles on for five more verses, suggesting that a pious man might save his pagan wife or vice versa. He could have quoted Jesus on the subject and said, “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder,” unless he was aware only of a command from the Lord but ignorant of the teaching from Jesus.

As it is, one idea of Paul’s found within this set of verses – It is to peace that God has called you – is difficult to reconcile with the synoptics, e.g.:

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (ESV)

At any rate, Paul has no problem stating explicit rules and coming up with his own logic for following them. Knowledge within Paul’s churches was explicitly stated to ensure correct compliance, repeated for effect, written for posterity, shared among his churches, logically arranged for better understanding, and copied for preservation.

Paul’s explanation of ritual

What follows is conjecture that you may blissfully ignore or vehemently disagree with.

Paul’s Christianity may have grown out of a more primitive, closed, HC community wherein rituals such as baptism and the Lord’s supper had private, implicit, internalized meanings. Paul’s interpretation of baptism as an act that parallels Jesus’ resurrection differs from other parts of the NT and the Didache, which see it as an act of repentance, signifying purification or as a sign of initiation.  How he interpreted the commemoration of the Lord’s last meal as the ritual eating of Christ’s body and the drinking of his blood differs from the Didache’s interpretation. But it’s possible that neither is original.

Perhaps later Christians, as they took in new converts realized they had to become more and more explicit, and were forced to historicize certain commandments as Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps new situations caused them to place explicit meaning on existing rituals that may have had little to do with their initial intent. The spread of Christianity required the change to an LC culture, and necessitated the creation of the written gospels.

But that’s just a hypothesis.

Conclusion

Maurice finishes up this chapter with a childish swipe at “Blogger Godfrey” that isn’t worth refuting here. Then he writes:

We must conclude that one major element in the mythicist case is total contempt for sound historical method. Mythicists refuse to make any serious attempt to understand New Testament documents in their original cultural context. The most straightforward reason for this is that they begin with their conclusions, and fit the evidence into them. (p. 49)

I hope I’ve demonstrated that it’s Casey who sifts blindly through evidence he either cannot or will not understand in order to reach his desired conclusions. It’s Casey who ignores the original cultural context of the NT. As for contempt, I am not a mythicist, but I do share their contempt for pseudo-intellectual charlatans and ego-driven scholarly bullies.

As we saw in Chapter 1, they [mythicists] are by and large former fundamentalist Christians, who begin with their faith, and fit the evidence into it. They have had a conversion experience away from Christianity, and they are no more sympathetic to critical scholarship now than they were before. In particular, as ignorant Christians they rejected Jesus’ Jewish culture, and they still do. (p.49)

I don’t know when it became normal for a respected publishing house to print vindictive tirades. I don’t understand how one can simultaneously be well known as an overconfident bombastic boor yet still be a respected scholar.  And I’m not sure when it became cool to psychoanalyze people you’ve never met and infer their intentions.

I suppose that puts me at a serious disadvantage, because I have no idea what causes Mo to act the way he does, but frankly, I don’t really care.

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26 Comments

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2014-02-08 00:52:58 UTC - 00:52 | Permalink

    Mythicists refuse to make any serious attempt to understand New Testament documents in their original cultural context.

    This really is just a bludgeon, used reflexively to shut down unwelcome inquiry, and Casey is hardly the only one who does it. It’s a nearly ubiquitous response to mythicism by mainstream scholars who come across it.

    It infuriates me. Like you, Tim, I can’t say I’m a convinced mythicist, I’m a skeptic. But if I’m interested in one thing about New Testament documents, it is precisely how “to understand them in their original cultural context”. In fact, my entire fascination with ancient literature, archaeology, etc. arises out of an anthropological perspective –I want to understand, as well as any modern person can, how pre-modern people thought, how they experienced their world. And, why it really bugs me, this is hard work. I have put literally years of “free time” and elective reading into this project or whatever it may be, intellectual exercise, if you will, and I can so blithely be derided as someone who doesn’t care about it because I like to draw my own insights instead of just parroting the opinions of experts, handed from on high. Experts, who, in my opinion, often are terrible about projecting modern attitudes and ways of thought onto their ancient subjects.

    Yeah, he’s just another crank with an academic appointment and a publishing contract, shilling for JesusBooks Industries; I shouldn’t let it bother me. But it does.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-02-08 05:17:28 UTC - 05:17 | Permalink

      Mythicists refuse to make any serious attempt to understand New Testament documents in their original cultural context.

      Of course the reality is that the respective mythicist cases of Thomas Brodie and Earl Doherty (and I think Carrier) rest squarely on arguments for the original cultural (literary, philosophical and religious) context of the NT literature. It is the Ehrmans and McGraths who then ridicule such arguments as “parallelomania’ — another word that has been quote-mined consequently losing all of its original meaning in the hands of these scholars.

      • Tim Widowfield
        2014-02-08 18:20:25 UTC - 18:20 | Permalink

        Casey actually refers to parallelomania on p. 151.

        Mythicists have not merely ignored Sandmel’s warning, they have perpetrated even more serious examples than the ones he criticized.

        A serious indictment from scholar Casey, a one-trick pony who spent his career looking at Greek words and seeing parallels with misspelled Aramaic words, then leaping to the conclusion that NT writers suffered from interference while reading imaginary wax tablets.

        You can almost taste the delicious irony.

        • 2014-02-08 19:21:16 UTC - 19:21 | Permalink

          ‘…a one-trick pony who spent his career looking at Greek words and seeing parallels with misspelled Aramaic words, then leaping to the conclusion that NT writers suffered from interference while reading imaginary wax tablets’

          An excellent summary of his life and career, with the drawback that it won’t all fit on his tombstone.

          Do you have a shorter version?

          • 2014-02-08 19:26:52 UTC - 19:26 | Permalink

            Actually, I’ve come up with a shorter summary of Maurice that he himself would find very pleasing as an obituary.

            ‘Not American’

            • Tim Widowfield
              2014-02-08 19:29:17 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

              “Perfectly” said.

          • Tim Widowfield
            2014-02-08 19:28:23 UTC - 19:28 | Permalink

            CARR:
            Do you have a shorter version?

            ME:
            It’s obviously shorter in the original Aramaic. You would know that if you weren’t a monoglot Anglo.

  • 2014-02-08 02:26:32 UTC - 02:26 | Permalink

    I’m a pretty decent chess player, but in my post game analysis, I frequently find that a move that I thought was brilliant during the game wasn’t really that good at all. It often turns out that I get away with a bad move because my opponent wasn’t strong enough to find the hole in my thinking. Had I played the move against a player stronger than myself, I might have been crushed. The only way to improve as a player is by testing yourself against strong competition.

    One of the most difficult things for me in assessing the strength of the case for mythicism is how poorly the other side plays. The fact that the historicists think they are making slam dunk arguments frustrates me no end. I still think that there might be a convincing case for historicity out there somewhere, but I highly doubt that these guys are ever going to be able to find it or defend it.

    • 2014-02-08 07:36:58 UTC - 07:36 | Permalink

      ‘This [the process of writing] was a difficult and time-consuming process, and another good reason for Paul not to write unnecessary information in his epistles. ‘

      1 Corinthians is 16 chapters long, for God’s sake!

      It tells people that only one person can win a race, and includes a rather nice but totally unnecessary praise of love.

      Just how dumb does Casey think mythicists are if he thinks he can fob them off by telling them that Paul needed to keep the length of his letters down?

      Does he think his readers have never opened a Bible and gawped at letters which are longer than those of Seneca’s or Pliny’s?

      ‘ In each case, this would mean that a lot of things did not need to be explicitly stated, because they were well known to everyone. ‘

      Of course, we now have historicists claiming that memories of Jesus were frail, and they need to dig behind the Gospels which are full of misremembered stuff about Jesus.

      So everybody knew about everything, and all their memories were frail.

      Thank God I studied a subject which had real academic standards….

      • Geoff
        2014-02-12 14:41:49 UTC - 14:41 | Permalink

        “Just how dumb does Casey think mythicists are if he thinks he can fob them off by telling them that Paul needed to keep the length of his letters down?”

        It isn’t dumb mythicists that Casey’s work is aimed at. This drivel is aimed at bolstering the spirits of true believers, preaching to the choir. It’s like creationist junk–providing arguments to the flock to warrant their beliefs. That’s all.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-02-08 17:42:09 UTC - 17:42 | Permalink

      The chief difference is that in the debate over the historicity of Jesus, the home team isn’t “playing the board.” Hell, they aren’t even playing their opponent. They’re just posturing for the crowd.

  • 2014-02-08 07:59:00 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

    SO Casey claims Paul would never write that Jesus was betrayed by Judas.

    But Paul would write that the resurrected Jesus was seen by the twelve – with no explanation of why Jesus appeared to Judas?

    And Casey claims Paul would never write that Pilate crucified Jesus.

    But Paul would write that the ruling authorities were the agents of God, and held no terror for the innocent and did not bear the sword for nothing?

  • 2014-02-08 15:56:03 UTC - 15:56 | Permalink

    Quote miners in the Apologia Mountains

    I’m stealing that.

    • pakeha
      2014-02-12 11:17:37 UTC - 11:17 | Permalink

      I rather fancy that one as well.

  • 2014-02-08 16:03:27 UTC - 16:03 | Permalink

    Casey: “… the social context of many scholars, especially Americans, is a low context society, in which a lot of both important and mundane information needs to be constantly repeated.”

    Did anyone notice that cheap shot against Americans? According to Casey, Americans are dim-witted, therefore you have to constantly repeat what you tell them. This of course is completely different from Paul’s churches, where everybody was super-intelligent and never needed to have anything repeated to them, except “Christ crucified for our sins” 25 times in each letter.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-02-08 17:18:35 UTC - 17:18 | Permalink

      To be fair to Casey, Hall would probably agree that America is the quintessential LC culture. We’re an open society with people arriving from all over the globe. We like “new” things and value innovation. We practically worship “progress.”

      Hall was an American, and his point of reference was himself. He extrapolated from years of experience dealing with other cultures.

      On the other hand, Casey’s implication that an American biblical scholar would necessarily impose his modern cultural biases on ancient people is rather silly. And if you take the time immerse yourself in Casey’s writing (my sympathies if you do), you’ll notice several annoying habits, including:

      1. A penchant for unwarranted certitude.

      2. Haughty disregard for anyone he disagrees with.

      3. Constant use of the word “this” to refer to previous sentences or entire paragraphs. For example:

      This was naturally objected to by Protestants, and it has given some Protestant scholars an undue sense of certainty that Jesus cannot have said any of it.

      This led me to go to archaeological sites, and that enabled me to see what was clearly lacking in New Testament archaeology.

      A little Benny Goodman helps to soften the pain.

      (Incidentally, Casey lifted that first sentence verbatim from Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching (see p. 188). Much of his latest book is a cut-and-paste job.)

      4. A disdain for Americans. He dislikes the American Jesus Seminar. He looks down on the “mostly American” Q scholars. He warns about American fundamentalists.

      Writing about Dan Barker, Maurice writes:

      This gives details of his pilgrimage from an American fundamentalist to an American atheist. (p. 16)

      Sometimes the adjectival form appears for no particular reason, other than to denigrate the noun that follows.

      Salm next misinterprets a passage of the Christian writer Julius Africanus (c. 200 CE ) quoted by Eusebius, claiming that he describes Nazara and Cochaba as ‘villages of Judea’ and quoting an antiquated American translation to this effect.

      By the way, the sentence above is more copypasta from his previous book. See p. 130 of Jesus of Nazareth.

      “Mo, show us on the doll where the American hurt you.”

  • Geoff
    2014-02-12 15:04:58 UTC - 15:04 | Permalink

    This is something that in a high context, Jewish culture, Paul felt was necessary to repeat:

    “Romans 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

    Yet there is nothing about what had been said to Jesus. Not a single use of the life or teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, from the very one who is said to have spread the word across the known world. How could this knowledge of the unknown martyr become so well-known throughout the Mediterranean? Even in the clear context of struggle over the true gospel (the super apostles, Apollos, James), apparently there was no disagreement over details or interpretations of what Jesus taught and so no need to refer to teachings of Jesus, son of Mary.

    The high/low culture argument is DOA. It doesn’t apply here. Here is an example I like to use: During my activist days, I would from time to time run into Ramona Africa from MOVE at conferences or talk to her on the phone. When she talked, almost every topic was introduced by the phrase, “As John Africa taught us…” High context: she assumed everybody knew who John Africa was and did not need to repeat the MOVE story. That did not stop her from referencing John Africa or show examples of how his teaching applied in particular instances. Her talks were littered with references to John Africa. The argument that Paul would refrain from mentioning Jesus in his letter, but presumably would make tireless references in person when spreading the Gospel is a far reach into the desperate trenches of flawed argument hail mary’s.

    By the way, to be clear, I was not a follower of MOVE, I simply heard Ramona Africa speak.

  • Griffingaddie
    2014-02-14 16:49:19 UTC - 16:49 | Permalink

    The main argument against the “high context” argument for silence is simple: what about the other side of the coin? What about whatever things that Paul did say?

    Presumably, the high context argument would imply that whatever Paul was telling others, would be things that everyone did not already know. Yet clearly Paul often said things that clearly most around him would know. Paul for example spends some time summarizing Jewish history, even in front of Jewish audiences.

    So here’s the main problem with the “high context” argument: if we only need to talk about things that everyone does not know, then why is Paul delivering summarizes of Jewish beliefs for example, to Jews? Clearly his audience already knew about them. So why is Paul summarizing them?

    That is the main problem with Casey’s “high context” argument: the flip side. The corollary: the implication we only talk about things that others don’t already know. If that was the case, then why was Paul constantly repeating many things well known to his audience?

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-02-14 21:38:00 UTC - 21:38 | Permalink

      You’re quite right. What makes it worse is that they focus on a small aspect of anthropology and sociology, desperately looking for a plausible explanation for Paul’s complete knowledge of Jesus compared to Paul’s near total silence about Jesus. They ignore a whole lot of research that would give us insights about the social dynamics of Paul’s communities, because they’re too busy looking for what they want to find.

  • Pingback: Vridar » What the Context Group (and Casey) Missed

  • Steven Carr
    2014-02-19 11:32:03 UTC - 11:32 | Permalink

    CASEY
    Similarly, it is possible that when Paul founded churches, he effectively produced another high context society. In each case, this would mean that a lot of things did not need to be explicitly stated, because they were well known to everyone.

    PAUL
    1 Corinthians 16:15
    You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people.

    Has Casey not read Paul’s letters, and seen how many times Paul mentions something *precisely because* the people he was writing to knew it already?

    Galatians 4:13
    As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you,

    But Casey just needs something to explain away problems. Anything will do.

    It doesn’t have to be backed up with evidence or arguments. That is for the title of his book, not the innards.

    • Steven Carr
      2014-02-19 11:35:14 UTC - 11:35 | Permalink

      Philippians 4:15
      Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;

      Just one more example of Paul writing something precisely because it was already known to the people he was writing to.

      CASEY
      One is that the social context of many scholars, especially Americans, is a low context society, in which a lot of both important and mundane information needs to be constantly repeated.

      CARR
      Yes, we have to constantly repeat the important information that Casey’s scholarship is junk.

      Everybody already knows that, but we poor people living in a low-context society need constant reminders of just how ad hoc and straw-grasping Casey’s work is.

      • Steven Carr
        2014-02-19 11:40:12 UTC - 11:40 | Permalink

        Just to pile more dirt on Casey’s grave, still more examples of Paul writing things precisely because they were already known…

        1 Thessalonians 2:1
        You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.

        1 Thessalonians 2:2
        We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know,

        1 Thessalonians 2:5
        You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.

        1 Thessalonians 2:11
        For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,

        1 Thessalonians 3:3
        For you know quite well that we are destined for them.

        1 Thessalonians 3:4
        In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

        1 Thessalonians 4:2
        For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

        Is that enough nails in the coffin of Casey’s claim that Paul would not write things his readers already knew?

  • 2014-03-28 03:04:30 UTC - 03:04 | Permalink

    The Evangelical “Mexican Hat Dance”

    Sin is always specific, not general.
    The “Hat” is, “What were Paul’s sins?”

    The music starts, with a cheery blast of trumpets in a melody that is familiar to most North Americans- the “Mexican Hat Dance.” (The national dance of Mexico, taught in Mexican public schools since 1921, and officially named “El Jarabe Tapatio.”)

    A couple in rather elaborate traditional costumes begins the dance. The man throws his huge sombrero hat on the floor, and the couple dances around it, but never steps on the hat. (The “Hat” is, “what were Paul’s sins?”) Here are the basic steps- (there may be one or two other basic steps, but they are very similar to these.)

    What were Paul’s sins?
    STEP 1) Paul said; “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” [1 Timothy 1:13]
    (Response- Those were Saul’s sins, before Jesus called him. What were Paul’s sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 2) Paul said; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” [1 Timothy 1:15]
    (Response- Sin is alwasy specific. What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 3) Paul said; “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23]
    (Response- Again the same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 4) Paul said; “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” [Philippians 3:12-13]
    (Response- They say third time’s a charm. Same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

    STEP 5) Paul said; “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:15-19]
    (Response- One more time! This is getting boring. Same question; Specifically, what were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian based on specific verses of the Bible? )

    STEP 6) LOOP- REPEAT steps 1 through 5, until your dance partner gives up, the audience gets bored, or the music stops. The rule is- never step on the “Hat,” just keep dancing around it.

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