2014-03-04

Richard Carrier’s Review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

jesuscaseyRichard Carrier has written a critical review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? See Critical Review of Maurice Casey’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus.

It’s in depth. Over 20,000 words. So most of us will want to schedule more than one sitting to complete it. Carrier begins with an overall summary and some common themes of the book before getting into details.

His summary paragraphs begin:

Casey’s Jesus has no structure or organization capable of being analyzed. It is basically just a random jump from digression to digression, very loosely grouped into eight topical chapters, as he randomly picks some item or other from mythicist literature . . .

There is also an extraordinary amount of dishonesty and misrepresentation (although I suspect in many cases this is actually a cognitive defect: Casey literally doesn’t understand what his opponents are saying quite a lot of the time . . . .

This book is also characterized by an awe-inspiringly near-total reliance on a single argument for historicity that is monumentally illogical (the Criterion of Aramaicism). . . .

Most frustrating is the fact that even when he tackles a genuinely faulty mythicist argument he still often resorts to misrepresentations, red herrings, and straw men. . . . .

You won’t ever know if Casey is honestly representing his opponents or even correctly describing what they’ve said . . . . You often won’t know if something he is claiming is actually the mainstream consensus or a fringe view . . . .

That about sums it up pretty accurately. As for the “extraordinary amount of dishonesty and misrepresentation”, we are also now seeing that from some of the ardent publicists for this book. Jim West has been posting fulsome praise for the book but when he noticed at least one error in it he warned his readers not to be misled about the work of Emanuel Pfoh. Casey got it wrong about Pfoh, West says. Casey inferred Pfoh was a mythicist and a closed minded bigot on the strength of a “playful” comment he once made. But West himself falsely claimed that that playful throwaway line was made in a book to which West himself contributed. I emailed West to advise him that if he could see Casey made an error about Pfoh, then maybe it was possible Casey made an error about others, too. I also suggested that West himself had not read the book carefully since Casey quite clearly points out that Pfoh’s remark was made on Vridar and not in West’s book. I ensured West had my email address so that he could discuss the matter further offline if he wished. He failed to respond so I sent him a link to Tim Widowfield’s post on academic professionalism (or lack of it). West responded with an outright lie about the nature of my correspondence.

In actual fact, Casey wrongly indicates several other names are mythicists, too. It’s not just Pfoh. Casey even lumps Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas L. Thompson in his cluster of mythicists! Of course NPL has in the past made it very clear in comments here that he is not a mythicist and TLT has never argued against the historical existence of Jesus. There are at least three other names Casey also mis-labels as mythicists in his book. He even zeroes in on them at length throughout his eight chapters completely oblivious to the fact that not one of these three has ever argued against the historical existence of Jesus.

James McGrath curiously writes of Casey’s book:

Casey’s book offers both the scholarly detail needed to deal with the subject seriously, and the sarcastic wit appropriate to the character of the phenomenon. The result is not only informative but also entertaining. Casey’s book provides a clear and sufficiently detailed explanation of what mainstream scholarly conclusions are . . .

I invite James McG to cite from Casey’s book

  • two “scholarly details” Casey advances to deal with the subject seriously
  • an example of Casey’s “sarcastic wit”
  • an illustration of something he found informative
  • and what conclusions Casey makes clear are “mainstream scholarly ones” (I presume McG is thinking of something more specific than simply the general conclusion that “Jesus was historical”.)
  • and given McG’s blog review, cite one specific argument of Doherty that Casey has dealt with “directly and in detail” and “more effectively” than found anywhere else.

James Crossley writes:

Casey not only challenges some bizarre misreadings of critical scholarship he also brings his expertise and experience to analyses of a range of ancient sources. What is distinctively new about this book, and of significance for future research on strands within the phenomenon of “mythicism” is his examination of Christian “fundamentalist” backgrounds of certain conspiracy theorists who retain all the hallmarks of “fundamentalism” by a staunch refusal to listen to positions with which they do not agree and which they relentlessly misrepresent.

I invite Crossley to cite from Casey’s book

  • a verifiable bizarre misreading of critical scholarship by a serious mythicist (Doherty, Price, Carrier. . . ) — or even by those who bypass the mythicist arguments altogether in their own writings, such as Tim or me.
  • to cite an example of verifiable “hallmarks of fundamentalism” and “refusal to listen to positions with which they disagree” and “misrepresentation” among any of the writings of serious mythicists — or even by those who bypass the mythicist arguments altogether in their own writings, such as Tim or me.

I’m serious. I once posed a similar challenge to Casey himself. He declined, of course. It’s a pity because there is nothing I would love more than to seriously and honestly critically discuss views of some of the mythicists, and my own views, too — though my own views are on a different tangent generally and are not mythicist arguments at all.

If any readers can persuade any of these gentlemen and scholars to take up my invitations I would be most interested to read what they had to say.

Here are the recurrent themes Carrier identifies in Casey’s book. He classifies them as General Categories of Awful:

  • Conspicuous Selection Bias
  • False Generalization Fallacies
  • Contempt for a Willingness to Change One’s Mind
  • Really Bad at Math
  • Quasi-Freudian Conspiracy Theories
  • Not Noticing His Opponents Aren’t Mythicists *
  • And in Other Ways Not Paying Attention
  • Incompatible Opinions on Things
  • No Sense of Humor
  • Hypocrisy

The one I asterisked relates to the two authors who regularly post here. Carrier quotes something I emailed him about where Tim and I respectively stand on the question. (I quote it at the end of this post — “Who are Casey’s targets and why?”.)

Oh, and while speaking of “Vridarians”, I don’t mind quoting another little extract from Carrier:

Two of the writers [Casey] most extensively tackles with furor are Neil Godfrey and Tim Widfowfield, who both write at Vridar. They happen to be some of the most astute and well-read amateurs you can read on the internet on the subject of biblical historicity. I call them amateurs only for the reason that they don’t have, so far as I know, advanced degrees in the subject. But I have often been impressed with their grasp of logic and analysis of scholarship. I don’t always agree with them, but I respect their work. Casey loathes them. And attacks them as mythicists throughout the book, of course lumping them in with all other mythicists.

Then Carrier gets into some details:

Again I draw attention to the asterisked sections. Carrier has particularly high praise for Tim Widowfield’s recent critiques of Casey’s attempt to argue for Paul’s silences on the basis of a certain sociological theory. He also recommends readers to have a look at Tim’s post on Casey’s argument from Aramaic sources and his appendix on Latinisms.

Tim Widowfield has already produced an astutely devastating take-down of Casey’s arguing from Aramaic (Casey’s Hammer: How Monomania Distorts Scholarship). His summary is spot on: “Maurice [Casey] is a first-rate Aramaic linguist, but as we’re finding out, a rather mediocre [New Testament] scholar and sub-par historian.” I highly recommend you read that, as Widowfield shows not only the logical failures, but also how Casey ignores or distorts leading scholarship counting against him, and how that renders him argumentatively untrustworthy: if he so badly distorts the facts in the case Widowfield exposes, how can we trust Casey isn’t distorting the facts as badly in every other case?

Widowfield has even more extensively documented Casey’s shadiness and dishonesty in trying to rescue his Aramaic theory from competing explanations, making the quite apt point that Casey has consistently behaved very unprofessionally in pursuit of this. Widowfield’s critique in this case is of Casey’s Appendix to Jesus on Latinisms in Mark: as Widowfield concludes, it “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.” He then backs up every charge. And that after summarizing a general point that experts in the community need to stop letting their peers behave this way without comment. Because it is discrediting the entire field. . . . 

Long time readers of Vridar might recall a couple of years ago Stephanie Fisher commenting here in hostile attacks on what she perceived as certain mythicist arguments. At the time Steph made it clear that she was Casey’s conduit for information about mythicists and mythicism. Steph very often simply failed to grasp the views that she thought she was opposing. Nor could she generally bring herself to defend her own view. Casey’s book is in large part the result.

Many readers will not believe that scholars and gentlemen can possibly be so unprofessional, ignorant and dishonest in their treatment of views they presumably find disturbing and will complain about Carrier’s blunt spade-naming language when identifying the unprofessionalism of Casey’s work in this volume. Casey’s work at certainly many instances is culpably ignorant at best and blatantly dishonest at worst. People like Jim West and James McGrath won’t care about that. That’ll all be part of the entertainment value they find in the book.

To anyone who thinks Carrier is overstating his criticisms I ask you read the book and see for yourself. And do follow up the sources Casey cites, and compare. Casey has a little bit to say about yours truly, too. I will let the honest inquirer compare what Casey says about me (and Tim) with what we have written here and decide for him or herself the appropriateness of Carrier’s review.


Who are Casey’s targets and why?

Neither Tim Widowfield nor myself are mythicists. Tim is an agnostic on the question. I am not interested in arguing a case for mythicism–I have always argued pretty much along the same lines as Thomas L. Thompson—that is, the question is irrelevant for understanding the origins of the gospels and the Jesus of the gospels. That question is primarily literary and theological and any role a historical figure may have played is probably irrelevant given the state of the evidence. I am more interested in exploring the origins and nature of the gospels and Bible–the [historicity of Jesus] question is irrelevant as far as I can see from the evidence we have available to work with.

I have never argued for a mythicist position. My critiques of the methods of theologians has led some to falsely assume I’m a mythicist. I’m not. I do sympathize with certain mythicist arguments of others as offering the most economical explanation for our canonical NT literature and Christian origins and some of these authors do post on my blog. At the same time I have disagreements with aspects of their arguments. I am only interested in the theoretical explanatory power of their views for Christian origins, not with “proving Jesus was a myth.”


9 Comments

  • Steven Carr
    2014-03-04 12:48:11 UTC - 12:48 | Permalink

    MCGRATH
    Casey’s book provides a clear and sufficiently detailed explanation of what mainstream scholarly conclusions …

    CASEY
    Building on their ludicrously late date of the synoptic Gospels, mythicists proceed to argue that the Pauline epistles are our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus

    CARR
    Even McGrath must blanch when he sees Casey trash the idea that the Pauline letters are the earliest Christian documents.

    Musn’t he?!?

    • Steven Carr
      2014-03-04 14:24:22 UTC - 14:24 | Permalink

      I was wrong.

      McGrath doesn’t blanch at what he sees in Casey’s book.

      MCGRATH
      I remember when I read an early draft of Casey’s book, I too found some claims problematic and even self-defeating.

      CARR
      No, McGrath still praises the book, even though it is obviously written by somebody in very poor health.

  • 2014-03-04 13:02:56 UTC - 13:02 | Permalink

    I can’t wait for someone to write a real scholarly book on the historicity of Jesus from a non-mythicist point of view! So far the reviews of Casey’s and Ehrman’s attempts have been so bad I’m not going to spend any time or effort reading through those books.

    I want someone to address the points of mythicists, not to attack them. Unfortunately the closest thing we’ll get soon is (probably) a work by a historical Jesus agnostic summing up both sides, or even a survey by a mythicist of the opposition’s position. Such a pity.

  • 2014-03-04 13:34:43 UTC - 13:34 | Permalink

    If Casey’s book is a tenth as bad as it sounds from Carrier’s review, T&T Clark should do the honourable thing and retract it, as Thomas Nelson did with Barton’s “The Jefferson Lies”. That kind of pseudoscholarship and petty posturing besmirches the good reputation T&T Clark has worked hard to establish.

  • mcduff
    2014-03-04 14:02:58 UTC - 14:02 | Permalink

    Congratulations Neil and Tim, your reputations as ‘astute and well-read’ have been enhanced by Casey by direct contrast.

  • pakeha
    2014-03-04 17:46:28 UTC - 17:46 | Permalink

    Myyy.
    I’ve just gotten as far as this
    ” In short, Aramaic can be just as fictional as Greek. Aramaic is not some sort of supernatural language that magically prevents all who use it from making up stories. Casey claims to be aware of this (3-1799), yet as his following examples show, he assumes all fiction that gets the background facts right must be true, and only fiction that gets things wrong is false (this is an example of hyper-concrete reasoning, a cognitive deficit I will later show many more examples of from Casey).”

    Off to open a decent Rioja and continue reading.

    One question, though.
    If bloggers and blogs are such ephemera, why does Casey spend so much time on them?

  • 2014-03-04 23:55:29 UTC - 23:55 | Permalink

    Criterion of Aramaicism? The worst kind of confirmation bias is when a scholar who excels in a rare and difficult language uses that knowledge as their entire argument, implying that anyone without similar expertise is unqualified to criticize his work. John Allegro put this method to good use in “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross.”

    According to Hoffman, this was the book that was going to demolish mythicism once and for all. I guess we’ll have to await a third attempt.

    Carrier has given us a new, appropriate nickname for Casey: “Crazy Uncle.”

  • Paul
    2014-03-05 01:31:05 UTC - 01:31 | Permalink

    Maurice Casey’s book “Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?” is the worst book I’ve ever seen on this subject. This book utterly ruins the crediblity not only of Maurice Casey, but also, the publisher, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, for publishing such crap. The book should be pulped and retracted by the publisher. It really is that bad.

    Casey misrepresents the mythicist arguments and is consistently dishonest. This book is a true waste of paper/trees. Jesus would never approve of such a dishonest and libelous book.

    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/company/contact-us

    Send them Carrier’s review too:

    Critical Review of Maurice Casey’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4282

  • 2014-03-08 22:03:02 UTC - 22:03 | Permalink

    Like Lukeburrageluke Burrage and some other commenters, I am not going to waste money on this senseless murder of trees. If this is how the Historicists fight Mythicists, eventually the Mythicists will win, hands down; and honest, objective NT scholarship will conclude that the clothes (NTJ) have no emperor (HJ)!

    Reminds me of the old saw: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you…”

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