Maurice Casey, Professionalism, and the Starless-and-Bible-Black Wall of Silence

by Tim Widowfield

Professional ethics

Back in the previous century when I was a captain in the USAF, I had the privilege of attending the Air Force Institute of Technology. I recall especially well a course on military ethics, taught by a tough old retired Marine with a remarkable command of history, philosophy, and rhetoric. Many memories of the class have stayed with me. I remember discussions about “just war doctrine,” and heated debates about Bomber HarrisProject Paperclip, Vietnam, and more.

Just lately, while reading Maurice Casey’s Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? I began to think of another subject we talked about in that ethics class from so long ago, namely, professionalism. We live in a world in which our dependence on professionals and experts increases every year. The depth of knowledge required for many areas of expertise is so great that you and I will never have the time or the necessary access to materials to become competent. If we have a problem with the law, we seek a licensed attorney’s advice. If we have a health issue, we go to a medical doctor.

The specific knowledge of each profession varies, but professionalism itself is constant. With great trust comes great responsibility. Some desirable traits or models of behavior for professionals include:

  • Knowledge: A deep understanding of your field and a commitment to keep up with new information as needed, along with the diligence to attain and maintain accreditation.
  • Honesty and Integrity: A commitment to your clients, students, customers, or patients, as well as your peers to be truthful and to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. People trust you because of your professional standing. Don’t betray that trust.
  • Accountability: Taking responsibility for your actions and making things right if you fail to deliver.
  • Respect: Treating others with kindness and respect, since you are a representative of your profession. You must balance confidence with humility.
  • Loyalty: Standing by the people who depend on you, especially when the going gets tough.

Conflicts of ethical behavior

Seven Days in May

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas confer in Seven Days in May

Sometimes these goals conflict with one another. For example, what do you do if witness a friend doing something wrong? Are you bound by your code of ethics to report him or are you bound by your to loyalty to your colleague? Different cultures have dramatically different ways to deal with that question. In some societies, it’s common for people to lie for a friend, because their loyalty to a friend or relative far outweighs any man-made rule. In other societies, such as many English-speaking countries, telling the truth is viewed as an absolute virtue.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with our choices. As an officer, I was taught not to lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. For some of us, this dictum was hard to swallow. Since when did being a snitch become praiseworthy?

If you’ve ever watched Seven Days in May, you’ve seen an excellent portrayal of a fictional officer dealing with that very problem. Deep down, Kirk Douglas’s character knows he must tell the President what his boss is planning, but that doesn’t make the breach of loyalty any easier.

So we all know from fiction and probably from firsthand experience the struggle people experience when they witness incompetence or bad behavior by a fellow professional in their field. Is it your duty to tattle on that person? Does honesty trump loyalty?

Walls of secrecy and codes of silence

Some professional subcultures are notorious for valuing loyalty above all else. Anyone not in the group is a dangerous outsider who can’t possibly understand how important, tough, complicated, demanding, or dangerous it is to be a member of the group. We recall the conspiracy of silence surrounding Catholic priests and bishops who protected each other rather than the children under their watch. We remember that loyalty is so strong among police officers that the term “Blue Wall” is a well-known cliche.

We’ve seen time and time again cases in which the “punishment” for gross incompetence or criminal negligence is retiring early, or worse, simply being moved into a position where “he can’t hurt anybody.” The group has compassion for its wayward brothers and sisters, and its first reaction is to hide, protect, and defend them — even when such behavior threatens the reputation of the entire group.

To varying degrees all professionals wrestle with pointing out poor behavior or incompetence. We think to ourselves, “Is it really my place to say anything?” We wonder if we’ll be shunned for calling attention to it. What’s the right thing to do?

I can understand the conflict biblical scholars may have when a fellow professional displays incompetence and embarrassing behavior in public. We can safely assume that some scholars who have read Casey’s latest piece of work would rather remain silent. That’s understandable. I can almost understand the blogging scholars who praised it before they read it. It’s common practice for them to scratch each others’ backs.

It explains (but doesn’t excuse) James McGrath’s panning of Earl Doherty’s book before he even read it. It’s just what they do. An incoherent mess by a friend is “a fascinating book, bound to generate fruitful and illuminating discussion,” while Earl’s unread work is “pseudoscholarly bunk.”

On the other hand, I can’t understand how anyone could have read Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? and truly thought it was worth the paper it was printed on. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but a scholar’s review should be an informed opinion.

So for the moment, Casey is safe behind the starless-and-Bible-black wall of silence  But that’s all right. We’re here to help.

Casey on Latinisms

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Mange hadde sterke reaksjo...

“Bloggerrrrr!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As they say, even a bad example can be a good example. Casey’s botched job in “Appendix: Latinisms” is a model for how not to write, how not to argue, how not to deal with the public, and how not to do scholarship.

Casey has a problem with bloggers. Not all bloggers, of course — not the ones behind the black wall. Just bloggers like us, who disagree with him. How much does he hate us? Well, enough to have the infantile discipline to use the term “Blogger Godfrey68 times. To give you some idea of the magnitude of repetition, he uses the word “perfectly” (his favorite Mo-tell) only 67 times, the word “perfect” only 16.

Neil’s post from back in December of 2010, “Roll over Maurice Casey: Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek,” upset Casey more than a full nappy on a hot summer day. In it (the post, not the nappy), Neil launches a head-on attack against the centerpiece Casey’s of argument on the Aramaic sources of Mark. He refers to a list of Latinisms, which he found on the web. Among “a few examples of Latin idioms translated into Greek in the Gospel of Mark” one item pops out:

  • Mark 2:23 hodon poiein = Lat. iter facere (to make one’s way)
  • Mark 3:6 sumboulion edidoun = Lat. consilium dederunt (to give counsel)
  • Mark 3:17; 7:11, 34; 12:42; 15:16, 42 ho estin = Lat. hoc est (that is)
  • Mark 15:15: hikanon poiein = satis facere (to satisfy)
  • Mark 15:19 tithentes ta gonata = Lat. genua ponentes (bending the knees)

If you’re not familiar with Casey’s work, he makes a huge deal of hodon poiein (ὁδὸν ποιεῖν), being “not normal monoglot Greek.” Incidentally, for those keeping score at home, in Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, Casey uses the term “monoglot” 51 times, and “perfectly” only 38 times. In Jesus of Nazareth he really tops himself, writing “perfectly” 115 times.

We can state the question at hand succinctly. Is it more likely that Mark used hodon poiein because he was using a Latin idiom or because he was misreading an Aramaic source? Quoting Neil:

The one [phrase in Mark] that hit me hardest was one that Casey uses to justify his argument that Mark was clumsily translating an Aramaic expression into Greek. Well, if this list has any credibility, then Casey’s learned argument, at least with reference to this particular instance, collapses. (emphasis mine)

I highlighted that last bit to contrast it with the way Casey frames the argument:

Blogger Godfrey, however, in a blog entitled with his customary politesse, Roll over Maurice Casey: Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek, not only drew attention to a certain proportion of these ‘Latinisms’, which would have been reasonable, but also declared that they nullified the evidence of Aramaic influence on Mark(p. 247, emphasis mine)

Strike 1: Casey misstates Neil’s argument.

Careful readers will note a difference between Neil’s focus on the specific argument with respect to “making a path” in Mark 2:23 versus Casey’s blanket statement. They will also note the curious scare quotes around Latinisms. What’s that about?

Casey wants us to understand that he, as a wise and careful scholar, distinguishes between simple loanwords and idiomatic Latinisms. He will concede that there are many Latinisms in Mark but only if:

. . . we describe Latin loanwords as ‘Latinisms’. Some of us are not given to doing this, especially not in elementary work, because it can mislead students beginning study and general readers, as it appears to have misled Blogger Godfrey and his commentators. (p. 247)

On the contrary, Casey protests, we know of “very few” examples of Latin idioms sneaking in to Greek. He refers back to Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, in which he defends his hypothetical Aramaic source as a better explanation than Riley’s hypothetical Latinism.

Strike 2: Casey misdirects our attention with an unrelated point.

Who’s this Riley guy? In all the excitement about “bloggers,” Casey forgot the basic rules of scholarship and neglected to tell us that Harold Riley wrote a book called The Making of Mark: An Exploration, in which he says that hodon poiein is “perhaps a Latinism, from iter facere, to journey, and perhaps a sign of secondary writing.” (Riley, p. 29) Riley believes in the priority of Matthew, and so is predisposed to find evidence of Mark’s redaction of Matthew or Luke. Casey argues instead that an Aramaic source is a better explanation. He voices disagreement with his “customary politesse,” writing: “Everything is wrong with this.(Aramaic Sources, p. 144, repeated elsewhere) Go ahead and click on that last sentence.

Strike 3: Casey neglects to cite a source. (Don’t worry. Casey may have struck out, but we’re giving him multiple at-bats.)

The main thrust of Casey’s first argument here is that Neil’s confusion begins with a misunderstanding — viz., lumping Latin loanwords in with “real” Latinisms. Casey appears to be more interested in railing against the catchy title of the blog post rather than dealing with the substance of Neil’s argument. Once again, the careful reader will note that Neil’s original post was quite specific. Casey, throughout the twisted and lengthy explanation found in his Jesus of Nazareth, fails to mention the scholarly debate about Latinisms. (He does mention it briefly in Aramaic Sources, but then brushes it aside.)

Neil rightly points out that Casey omits that information in Jesus of Nazareth:

Through all that multilayered argument I don’t recall reading a single hint that there was an alternative explanation for this phrase known among scholarly circles. Yet I find one such explanation in a Bible College’s online introductory course.

Strike 4: Casey is caught withholding information, choosing as we’ll see, to deflect rather than confront.

Casey does not like the online source to which Neil refers:

Blogger Godfrey does not refer to any learned scholarship, but to an elementary piece from a Canadian Christian college, formerly Atlantic Baptist College, then (1996) Atlantic Baptist University, now named Crandall University, which has no outstanding New Testament scholars on its staff. (p. 248)

Strike 5: Casey invokes the genetic fallacy.

Incidentally, Casey’s accusation appeared in an earlier, even more hostile form over on Hoffy’s New Toxonian. Compare them and see how he toned it down.

Blogger Godfrey does not refer to any learned scholarship, but to an elementary piece from a second-rate and very conservative American Christian college, formerly Atlantic Baptist College, then (1996) Atlantic Baptist University, now named Crandall University. It does not have any outstanding New Testament scholars on its staff. (emphasis mine)

In Casey’s world, the only thing worse than being second-rate and very conservative is being American. Neil’s sin of using a convenient online list of Latinisms from an unapproved source by a non-outstanding scholar drives Casey to indulge in remote amateur psychoanalysis:

This is yet another piece of evidence that Blogger Godfrey is quite incapable of leaving his fundamentalist Christian background behind, in spite of his conversion to an equally dogmatic form of atheism. (p. 248)

Neil stumbled on a web page during a Google search and used it in a post. Casey assumes it all has something to do with “Blogger Godfrey’s” fundamentalist past.

Strike 6: Casey engages in personal attacks based on weird assumptions.

On second thought, Casey deems the Latinism list on Crandall’s site “satisfactory,” although not complete. He would point us instead toward Robert Gundry’s list on pages 1043-1045 of his commentary on Mark. That’s fine, but we should note that Gundry also lists single words (which may or may not be common loanwords in Greek) as well as turns of phrase (idomatic expressions) as Latinisms. He also discusses the “possible Latin influence in word order.” (See p. 1044.)

We can only guess that Casey’s point in slamming Crandall and bringing up Gundry’s massive commentary was to ridicule Neil. But who cares where the list of Latinisms came from? After all, contra Casey, Gundry has no problem listing individual words as Latinisms, and he calls our attention to hodon poiein = iter facrere. Moreover, he refers to “the presence of numerous Latinisms in the Gospel of Mark,” contra Casey’s “very few.”

Then Casey abruptly changes gears and states that Neil didn’t tell us that his source for Latinisms was written by a guy who thinks that Mark was a native Aramaic speaker. He quotes extensively from this non-outstanding scholar and concludes:

This piece did not suggest that Mark’s Latin loanwords negated the evidence of his Semitisms in any way. It rather argued in traditional fashion that it was evidence that Mark was written in Rome for people who did not understand Aramaic, and that it is a very reliable witness which depended on the reminiscences of the apostle Peter. (p. 249)

I will admit it isn’t easy to keep up with Casey’s non sequiturs.

First, Casey misleads the reader into thinking Neil’s argument centers on loanwords. It does not. It has to do with the phrase “make a path” and whether it comes from a Latin idiom, or a translation (perhaps incorrect) of Aramaic.

Second, it makes no difference what the author of the Crandall web page believes with respect to Mark’s first language. He probably thinks it all really happened, too, and that Peter dictated his stories to Mark. So what?

Third, Neil’s beef with Casey is not whether Mark was a native Aramaic speaker, but whether Casey had adequately proved (1) that Mark’s source for 2:23 was in Aramaic, (2) that Mark slightly misread an Aramaic word, and (3) that his hypothesis is more likely than Mark’s use of a Latinism.

Strike 7: Casey deliberately misstates the original argument and obfuscates with unrelated material.

Casey concludes this section:

I hope this is enough to show that Blogger Godfrey’s quotations from a conservative Christian website were designed to mislead people, whether or not he misled himself first. (p. 249, emphasis mine)

Strike 8: Casey completely ignores Neil’s main argument and then has the audacity to accuse Neil of deliberate deception.

Casey never suggested that Mark wasn’t fully competent in Aramaic or Greek, except that time in his magnum opus, where it was a convenient argument for explaining where Boanerges came from.

Later in this excremental little appendix to an equally excremental book, Casey jumps on Neil for imagining that Mark couldn’t read small letters on wax tablets. Neil wrote:

  • Mark was not fully competent in either Aramaic or Greek.
  • He was reading an Aramaic word on a wax tablet, and the letters were small, and one of the letters was not clearly legible.

I expect most normal people would have read Neil’s words and recognized that he had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, subtly making fun of Casey’s wax tablets.

But Casey writes:

I did not suggest that the letters were small: small letters had not yet been invented. (p. 257)

So Casey misunderstood Neil’s gentle ribbing and thought he was talking about lower-case letters.

Regarding the second evangelist’s competence in Aramaic or Greek, Casey writes: “I have never suggested that Mark was not fully competent in Aramaic or Greek.” (p. 257) That sounds quite definitive. Well, if that’s the case, then I wonder where we got that idea.

Where indeed? Perhaps we got it from a certain Dr. Maurice Casey, who wrote this little nugget in Jesus of Nazareth:

It [the Aramaic ʿayin] was however quite often represented with the Greek gamma, the equivalent of our ‘g’, and Mark followed this normal habit. He then misread the final Aramaic ‘m’ as an ‘s’, a natural mistake if he was used to letters being written as they are in the Dead Sea Scrolls, natural that is if he did not recognize the Aramaic word for ‘thunder’. That is also natural in a bilingual, for most bilinguals are not fully competent in both their languages, so Mark may not have recognized the Aramaic reʿem, because he always called thunder bronte in Greek.

Maurice Casey. Jesus of Nazareth: An independent historian’s account of his life and teaching (Kindle Locations 3082-3086). Kindle Edition. (Emphasis mine.)

Casey never suggested that Mark wasn’t fully competent in Aramaic or Greek, except that time in his magnum opus, where it was a convenient argument for explaining where Boanerges came from.

Strike 9: Casey can’t even keep track of his own ad hoc, harebrained arguments.

Not content with correcting Neil on the question of Mark’s linguistic competence, Casey explains why Neil misunderstood him:

Mark was fully competent in Aramaic [Casey contra Casey], and his Greek suffers from interference, not from incompetence, a view which suggests that Godfrey is still expecting Scripture to be inerrant. (p. 257)

Say what? Godfrey thought Casey believed Mark was not fully competent in Aramaic, because Casey wrote that Mark was not fully competent Aramaic, which suggests Godfrey still believes in the inerrancy of scripture? Maybe not. Maybe it’s because Godfrey expected consistency from a respected scholar and independent historian.

Strike 10: Casey no longer even cares if his accusations make sense.

Farther on, Casey again misinterprets Neil’s humorous suggestion about the Pharisees convincing Pilate to freeze the bank accounts of the more affluent disciples and the wealthy women who funded Jesus’ ministry.

The problem here is not just the gross exaggeration of the wealth of some of Jesus’ followers, or the anachronistic idea that there were ‘bank accounts’ and that Pilate could ‘freeze’ them. The nearest things there were to ‘bank – accounts’ were deposits in the Temple, which only much richer people than any of Jesus’ followers could afford to make. (p. 258)

Now I’m just starting to feel sorry for him. Casey continues on for several more sentences, and yet another paragraph about wax tablets. Did anyone edit this thing? He even repeats his strange fantasy about Matthew writing down stuff while Jesus was alive:

This [the fact that writing with ink was tedious] was true, and explains why Matthew the apostle and tax collector, who would be experienced in writing and keeping records on wax tablets because of his job, wrote brief accounts of incidents from Jesus’ life and some of his teaching on wax tablets. (p. 258)

  1. Is it possible that the story about an ex-publican who became a disciple is true? Yes.
  2. Is it probable? That’s a tougher question. How would you assign probability to such a thing?
  3. Is it possible that an erstwhile tax collector would write down what Jesus said and did? Yes.
  4. Is it probable? Again, how would you assess the probability?
  5. Is it a fact, which is how Casey states it? Absolutely not. At best it’s a plausible conjecture, at worst, a delusion.

Strike 11: Casey confuses the plausible guesses with fact.

I have only one more item, and then I’ll wrap it up for now. As I noted in a comment back in November of 2010, we have at least one example of “making a path” in the Septuagint. George Cline noted in a rather technical paper, “The Middle Voice in the New Testament“:

. . . ὁδὸν πoιεῖσθαι [hodon poieisthai] (to make one’s way) may correspond to ὁδευεῖν [hodeuein], but this is not the same as ὁδὸν ποιεῖν [hodon poiein] (to construct a road). Thus, using this criterion, the middle would be expected in Mark 2:23, but in fact the active occurs. “And his disciples began to make their way (ὁδὸν ποιεῖν [hodon poiein]) while plucking the heads of grain” (Mark 2:23).

Yet, this assumption that the classical distinction is lost may be challenged. A possible explanation is that the disciples began to make a way, i.e., to open a path, by plucking the ears of corn. But this cannot be maintained as an inviolable rule, for the LXX clearly uses ὁδὸν ποιεῖν [hodon poiein] in the sense of to make one’s way, to journey.

“Then the man departed from the city, from Bethlehem of Judah, to dwell wherever he might find a place, and he came to the hill district of Ephraim to the house of Micah as he made his journey (τοῦ ποιῆσαι τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ [tou poiēsai tēn hodon autou])” (Judg 17:8). (pp. 42-43, emphasis mine)

The translators of the Septuagint read the Hebrew – לַעֲשֹׂ֥ות דַּרְכֹּֽו (and as he made his journey) — and wrote the literal Greek equivalent. So if the LXX used hodon poiein, then why not Mark? What’s more likely, that Mark imitated the language of the Septuagint (the way my pastors used to imitate the language of the KJV) or that he misread a wax tablet in Aramaic? We know he had access to the LXX. We have no evidence, only Casey’s assertion, that those wax tablets even existed.


Maurice Casey needs an intervention. His friends, assistants, and editors are doing him a disservice by enabling his unprofessional behavior. To the silent scholars behind the starless-and-Bible-black wall who would rather not get involved I want to say, Guys, he’s making you look bad. Will someone on the inside have the courage to come forward and do the right thing? I still have hope.

Let’s finish with a little King Crimson. 

Oddly enough, “Starless” was on Red, not on Starless and Bible Black. Upon reflection, maybe a better choice would have been “The Great Deceiver.”

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  • Jaime
    2014-02-24 02:46:16 UTC - 02:46 | Permalink

    Fascinating stuff. One of my favorite Crimson tunes, too!

    Regarding the shameless Bulverism and argumentum ad verecundiam exhibited by Casey & friends in their arguments, I am struck by the contrast with more rationally-grounded conceptions of “scholarly values”. Personally I orient myself more in the direction of, e.g., Bertrand Russell’s alternative “10 Commandments”:

    1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
    2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
    3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
    4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
    5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
    6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
    7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
    8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
    9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
    10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.


    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-02-24 07:35:54 UTC - 07:35 | Permalink

      Thanks for that. While reading Russell’s list, I was reminded of Bill and Ted’s “Be excellent to each other,” or perhaps Wheaton’s Law.

      Looking back on this post I worry whether I’ve been too harsh, but then I quickly remind myself that I edited it several times, removing profanity and less-than-charitable descriptions of Casey. In the end, I want the arguments to stand on their own. I want readers to come to the same conclusions I did, not because I shouted and repeated myself, but because the facts are undeniable.

      If Strike 10 above doesn’t change anyone’s mind then we really are in sad shape, and the only reason Vridar exists is to be a kind of repository for the future, when this madness has passed.

  • 2014-02-24 13:54:09 UTC - 13:54 | Permalink

    This guy thinks Matthew was following Jesus around with wax tablets, taking dictation … and he calls *Neil* a fundamentalist? Not even Bible colleges in lowly America are that literal in their belief.

  • Pingback: Vridar » Richard Carrier’s Review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus

  • Jens Knudsen (Sili)
    2014-03-04 23:36:17 UTC - 23:36 | Permalink

    What happened to Strike 2?

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-03-05 00:31:24 UTC - 00:31 | Permalink

      I don’t know. I’ll have to fix it. Casey gets one fewer strike.

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