Category Archives: Casey: Jesus of Nazareth


2014-03-07

Casey’s Hammer: How Monomania Distorts Scholarship (Part 2)

by Tim Widowfield
A screen shot from the introduction to Zero Wi...

A screen shot from the introduction to Zero Wing on the Mega Drive featuring the infamous phrase, “All your base are belong to us” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All your Aramaic are belong to us

In an earlier post, we introduced the subject of Maurice Casey’s Aramaic monomania. His affliction led him not only to claim that he has revealed the original language behind significant parts of the New Testament but to insist that he has discovered the actual words of Jesus.

Casey directs our attention to particular sections of Mark’s gospel and the Matthean-Lukan double tradition (Q) as alleged examples of “interference” at work.

Some features of Mark’s Greek are characteristic of the work of bilinguals. For example, at Mark 9.43, 45, 47 we read καλόν [kalon] where a monoglot Greek-speaker would use a comparative. Aramaic has no comparative, so the use of καλόν [kalon] is due to interference in someone who was used to saying טב [tav]. (Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, p. 85., emphasis mine)

Other signs of interference include the use of certain words. For example, in the Lord’s prayer we are to ask God to forgive τὰ ὀφειλήματα [ta opheilēmata] (Matt. 6.12), literally our ‘debts’, but a metaphor for our ‘sins’, so a literal translation of the Aramaic חובינא [kobena]. (An Aramaic Approach to Q, p. 55, emphasis mine)

Accordingly, Mark did not mean that Jesus was angry. He was suffering from interference, the influence of one of his languages on another. All bilinguals suffer from interference, especially when they are translating, because the word which causes the interference is in the text which they are translating. (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 63, emphasis mine, incoherence Casey’s)

A correct understanding of interference is essential if we are to understand our Gospel translators, and consequently essential if we are to have any confidence in our Aramaic reconstructions. (An Aramaic Approach to Qp. 55, emphasis mine)

What does Casey mean by “interference”?

Since Casey’s argument depends heavily on the concept of interference, you might think he would have defined the term for his readers. You would probably also expect that if he believes bilinguals have more interference when translating than when composing, he would back that idea up with research.

But as usual, Casey disappoints. He gives examples of interference, but he fails to define the term. That’s a shame, since the literature surrounding this idea is vast and fascinating, with no shortage of scholarly contention. So before we go any further we need to rectify this situation.

The term interference is now somewhat out of favor. In the literature we see several alternatives, including:

read more »


2014-02-24

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?

read more »


2011-10-13

Anti-intellectualism(?) in Jesus studies

by Neil Godfrey

My last post looked at Bultmann’s insights into the synoptic portrayal of the baptism of Jesus. This post looks at some disturbing and depressing reasons why at least two modern scholars appear to have rejected Bultmann’s findings. Disturbing and depressing because their reasons have nothing to do with the detail of Bultmann’s arguments. Bultmann is rejected because he came to the “wrong conclusion” and so ideological or sociological reasons are brought in to explain his “wrong conclusion”. Bultmann’s “wrong conclusion” was that too much of the Gospel narrative about Jesus was explained as Hellenistic (Greek) in origin and failed to make Jesus “Jewish enough”; in fact he concluded the Gospels did not allow us to learn much about the “real Jesus” at all.

I don’t know the field well enough to generalize but two scholars (among several) do stand out from my readings for having made particularly — I don’t know if the word “anti-intellectual” is too strong — anti-intellectual(?) rejections of Bultmann’s arguments. I can understand various objections to form criticism myself, but these scholars appear to have dumped the whole bath into the mud-pit.

James Crossley of the University of Sheffield faults Bultmann for failing to open up the application of social sciences to biblical studies and thereby explore the social setting of Christian origins — specifically a Jewish social setting for Jesus.

Bultmann emphasized an existential hermeneutic with theological truth supposedly found in the seemingly transcendent Gospel of John. (p. 4 of Why Christianity Happened)

I address a possible sinister significance of that use of “existential” later.

Crossley avoids blaming Bultmann’s for any personal anti-semitism but he that does not stop him from associating his studies with anti-semitism: read more »


2011-07-12

Reasons not to doubt the historicity of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus

by Neil Godfrey

In Chapter 7, I give reasons why there should be no doubt that the whole of this healing narrative [the raising of the daughter of Jairus in Mark 5] is literally true, and that it is dependent ultimately on an eyewitness account by one of the inner circle of the three of the Twelve, who were present throughout, and who accordingly heard and transmitted exactly what Jesus said. (p. 109 of Jesus of Nazareth by Maurice Casey; a footnote here directs the reader to pages 268-69 in that chapter 7.)

Things about Jesus in the Gospels that are “literally true” — that is what this historical Jesus scholar believes he can establish. Not only that, Casey will give reasons why there should be no doubt that we find this healing recorded in the Gospels because of the direct eyewitness testimony of one of Jesus’ own disciples. read more »


2011-04-24

A serious take on Maurice Casey’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

by Neil Godfrey

Someone has posted a favourable review of Dr Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone disappointed with my own difficulties in finding much of value in the book (my various references and discussions relating to it are archived here) may be pleasantly surprised to find that this “independent” scholar’s treatment has found a most favourable reception with a series of reviews on the Remnant of Giants blog: Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? Maurice Casey’s doctoral student, Stephanie Fisher, is effusive in her praises of these reviews, complementing them for their

careful attention to detail, clear argumentation, and refusal to reply on accepted authority for its own sake. No embarrassing amateurish agenda driven groupie opinions. Compared to other reviews generally by other reviewers, your reviews of this book are exceptional. I had no doubt of your independent mind or sophisticated, broadly learned, honest scholarship before, but you are inspiring. There’s hope for this discipline and a point to honest historical inquiry after all. read more »


2011-03-30

Taking the Gospels seriously, part 2 (What John Baptist supposedly meant to Jesus)

by Neil Godfrey

I often find myself wishing some knowledgable scholars who write about “the historical Jesus” would take their Gospel sources more seriously.

To take just one illustration, I don’t know if I have read any scholarly work addressing the baptism of Jesus that fails to make some reference to the “influence of John the Baptist on Jesus”, or to the “calling of Jesus”, or such. The presumption is always that Jesus was some sort of spiritual “seeker” who was profoundly moved in some way by John the Baptist and as a direct consequence was catapulted on his own solo career.

Here is one example of this:

What we do know past doubting is that John had a crucially important impact on Jesus. According to the synoptic tradition, Jesus in some sense received his calling during or just after his baptism. (p. 191 of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, by Paula Fredriksen)

And another that is within easy reach on my desk:

We can now see what attracted Jesus to John. John exercised a large-scale and highly successful prophetic ministry of repentance to Israel. . . . He offered salvation and predicted judgement in terms which recreated the Judaism of the prophetic tradition. This explains why Jesus underwent John’s baptism. . . . Jesus thereby joined this vigorous movement of prophetic Judaism. . . . On the occasion of his baptism, Jesus had a visionary experience. . . . (p. 176 of Jesus of Nazareth by Maurice Casey.) read more »


2010-12-15

Open invitation to Dr Maurice Casey

by Neil Godfrey

I invite Dr Maurice Casey to an online discussion or debate — an open exchange between himself and me in any blog or wiki or “live” public internet forum — about anything I have said in relation to his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth.

This all began when I had been wondering what happened to Mike Kok whose review of chapter 3 of Maurice Casey’s book I reviewed. The last time he visited this blog he dropped off a comment but failed to respond to my reply. I understand he has also failed to respond to others like this.) So in an idle moment I went looking and . . . .

I have just learned from a comment by Steph on the Sheffield blog that Dr Maurice Casey is to include in his forthcoming book responses to “the blogger Godfrey’s main arguments and ‘review’ there.” “There” is presumably this Vridar blog. (Ah yes, as Steph so often used to say, she cannot answer my arguments in a blog because it was “only a blog” and it would take a whole book to explain what is wrong with my arguments. So it looks like Casey, her mentor, is to produce the book she has been alluding to.) read more »


2010-12-04

Nazareth fictions, Aramaic blindspots and scholarly bias: Filling some gaps in Sheffield’s review of Casey’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’

by Neil Godfrey
view of Nazareth
Image via Wikipedia

I know I said I would not touch Casey’s book (Jesus of Nazareth) again for a while, but Mike Kok’s review of chapter 3 (Historical Method) on the Sheffield Biblical Studis blog does call out for some response.

No archaeological evidence for Nazareth in early first century

I ignored Casey’s critique of Zindler’s and Salm’s arguments over the evidence for the presence of Nazareth and Capernaum in the supposed time of Jesus largely because I thought anyone reading Casey’s book would clearly see that Casey gives no evidence at all in his rebuttal of their claims, and the claims of “trained scholars” whom they each cite. (I like the word “trained” as a descriptor of biblical scholars as it is used by both Kok and Casey. Training has connotations of Pavlov dog like behaviourist conditioning to say the right things in order to be accepted by the academic guild.) But Kok failed to notice what I took to be obvious, so presumably others will overlook the weakness of Casey’s argument, too:

He also critiques the extreme view that Nazareth did not existed (Zindler, Salm) based on a problematic handling of archaeological and textual evidence (128-32). read more »


2010-11-30

The Twelve Disciples: New Insights from Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey

by Neil Godfrey
Cover of "The Adventures of Huckleberry F...

Cover via Amazon

Let’s make this my last post for a little while on Maurice Casey’s ad hominem stained book on the historical Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth) that will surely long stand alone as a truly independent tribute to the Huckleberry Finn criterion for historical authenticity. (robertb will heave a sigh of relief.)

This post looks at the biblical seven number of topics:

  1. Casey’s unassailable proof for the historicity of the Twelve
  2. A schizophrenic case for the disciples being filthy rich (or dirt poor)
  3. The clear evidence that Matthew wrote much of the Q material
  4. How Peter and Jesus changed the course of history by exchanging a bit of idle and nonsensical banter (in Aramaic, of course)
  5. Why the Twelve disappear from history (almost) as soon as the Gospels finish their story
  6. What Jesus did every time one of his Twelve disciples went and died on him
  7. And the evidence Jesus never tolerated a political rebel among his followers.

read more »


2010-11-29

The historical truth about Judas Iscariot

by Neil Godfrey
"The Kiss of Judas" is a traditional...

Image via Wikipedia

Maurice Casey has explained the motive of Judas Iscariot, his level of literacy, his religious interest, his worship customs before he met Jesus, and along the way has proved the historical factness of Mark’s account of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. This is all included in Jesus of Nazareth.

Firstly, the key to understanding Judas’s motive lies in understanding his place of origin. Casey begins by explaining that his point is only a “may have been”, but by the time he finishes his explanation all such qualifiers have disappeared.

The last man in Mark’s list is Judas Iscariot. . . . This means that his name was Judah. His epithet [of Kerioth]. . . locates him as a man from a village in the very south of Judaea rather than Galilee. It is accordingly probable that he could speak and read Hebrew as well as Aramaic. His origins may have been fundamental to his decision to hand Jesus over to the chief priests, for he may have been more committed to the conventional running of the Temple than the Galilaean members of the Twelve. (pp. 191-2) read more »


2010-11-28

Nothing the Early Church Would Want to Make Up?

by Neil Godfrey
Imagination poster image 2007
Image via Wikipedia

In his newly published Jesus of Nazareth, one of Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey’s criteria for deciding if a Gospel detail is truly historical is that the passage “contains nothing that the early church would want to make up”.

Though I have read very many works of history, I never heard of this as a rationale for establishing anything as a historical fact till I picked up books by biblical scholars writing about Jesus.

Casey does not exclusively rely on this criterion to declare something in the gospels as historically factual. Another test must also be passed. The event must also have a “perfect setting in the life of Jesus.” I leave aside the obvious circularity of this latter point in this post, and discuss a just one particular critical shortcoming in his use of the first criterion — what is essentially a “can’t see why not” argument from credulity.

Avoiding the literary fact 1: Luke 13:31-33

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Casey writes of this passage that it contains two or three reasons we should accept it as a genuinely historical exchange between Herod and Jesus.

Once again, a Gospel passage has clear signs of translation from an Aramaic source [he is referring here to the use of the words for "jackal" and "reach my goal" (which is sometimes more literally translated as "be perfected")] just at the point where the traditions in it must be authentic because they have a perfect setting in the life of Jesus, and contain nothing that the early church would want to make up. (p. 324, my emphasis)

But this latter rationale is invalid for a number of reasons. read more »


2010-11-22

Biblical studies: surely the softest of options!

by Neil Godfrey

Jesus was born in Israel, into an observant Jewish family. . . . His father was Joseph, called after a major patriarch who ruled over Egypt under the Pharaoh. Jesus’ mother was Miriam, whom we call Mary, so she was called after Moses’ sister. Jesus’ own name, Iesous in our Greek Gospels, is the Greek equivalent of Yeshua’, which we usually render into English as Joshua. Thus Joseph and Miriam called Jesus after the major figure of Jewish history who succeeded Moses and led Israel across the Jordan into the promised land. At the time his name was understood to mean ‘YHWH saves’ or the like, with the name of God at the beginning, so effectively ‘God saves’. Joseph, Miriam and Jesus must have been aware of this understanding of his name, and it is reflected at Mt. 1.21, where an angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary will bear a son ‘and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’.

Jesus had four brothers. The most famous was Jacob, whom we usually call James, who later led the Jerusalem church and became famous for his piety. He was called after the eponymous patriarch of the whole nation, Jacob who was also known as Israel. The other brothers were Judah, who was probably the author of what we call the epistle Jude, Joseph and Simeon. . . . All known names are patriarchal names. Thus the names of the men in Jesus’ family are straightforward evidence that he was born into a traditional Jewish family, who were expecting the salvation of Israel. (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 143)

There you go. What evidence do we have that Jesus’ parents were an “observant Jewish family”? Why, the father was named Joseph and the mother Mary. That alone tells us — obviously Joseph was named after the patriarch and Mary after Moses’ sister! What other explanation could there possibly be for anyone being given these names? (Anyone curious about the frequency of biblical names in Palestine around this time can thank Richard Bauckham for providing lists for us. These can be accessed via my Bauckham’s Names Tables post.) read more »


2010-11-13

Casey versus Bultmann; and why Jesus was not as hungry as his disciples

by Neil Godfrey

Maurice Casey in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching, is sharply critical of Form Criticism and Rudolph Bultmann. Casey repeatedly expresses disapproval of scholars’ attempting to understand the “historical Jesus” by burying their noses in exegetical studies of the texts (which form criticism requires) of the canonical Gospels instead of looking primarily at what he believes are the sources of those texts. So he faults Bultmann on these grounds and also for being “anti-Judaism”:

Bultmann concludes that ‘Jesus . . . opposes the view that the fulfilment of the law is the fulfilling of the will of God.’ That conclusion is clean contrary to the teaching of Jesus. It was however just what German Christians needed from the Christ of their faith, for it bluntly contradicts the centre of Judaism. It was moreover produced by means of detailed exegesis of selected texts. It also illustrates the centrality of anti-Judaism in the work of a distinguished member of the Confessing Church, the opposite wing of the German churches from the Deutsche Christen movement. Bultmann’s general cultural environment led him to write Judaism out of the teaching of Jesus, using spurious intellectual arguments which wrote most of Jesus of Nazareth out of history altogether. (p. 12)

One passage Casey uses to challenge and reject Bultmann’s exegesis is Mark 2:23-28 read more »


2010-11-11

Maurice Casey on the Christ Myth–Historical Jesus divide

by Neil Godfrey

The stated purpose of Maurice Casey’s book Jesus of Nazareth is “to engage with the historical Jesus from the perspective of an independent historian.” Casey explains what he means by his independence:  “I do not belong to any religious group or anti-religious group. I try to . . . establish historically valid conclusions. I depend on the best work done by many other scholars, regardless of their ideological affiliation.” (p. 2)

For Casey, the only correct interpretation of Jesus is one which explains Jesus within a thoroughly Jewish matrix. This means he in fact begins with the assumption that there is an historical Jesus to place within that matrix. He would disagree with that and argue that his book proves the existence of such a figure. On page 43 he writes of “people who deny Jesus’ existence” that

the whole of this book is required to refute them.

This brings to mind the frequent claims of one of another independent scholar who once quite regularly left a similar comment on this blog, saying that a whole book would be required to refute mythicism. Unfortunately, when a scholar says that his book is a refutation of mythicism, one is likely to find that the arguments of mythicists are avoided rather than refuted. I will return to this point.

Casey’s assertion that only a thoroughly Jewish Jesus is a correct Jesus means that for him many publications about the historical Jesus have missed the mark:

The vast majority of scholars have belonged to the Christian faith, and their portrayals of Jesus have consequently not been Jewish enough. Most other writers on Jesus have been concerned to rebel against the Christian faith, rather than to recover the Jewish figure who was central to Christianity in its earliest period. (p. 3, my emphasis) read more »