Tag Archives: Maurice Casey

Maurice Casey’s Mind “Boggles” Reading Thomas L. Thompson’s Messiah Myth

Cover of "The Messiah Myth: The Near East...

Cover via Amazon

Maurice Casey (Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?) critiques Thomas L. Thompson’s The Messiah Myth without giving his readers any idea of its stated purpose or overall argument. I suspect Casey himself did not know what it was about and could not explain its argument if he tried since he had made up his mind before reading it that it was an attempt to prove there was no historical Jesus.

Casey is already on record as being quite perplexed when he encounters new perspectives on old problems and he remains true to form when confronted with Thomas L. Thompson’s work.

I will explain what Thompson’s was attempting to achieve with the book in a moment but notice that Casey from the start faults it for not being about what he thought it should be about:

A supposedly scholarly attempt to cast doubt on the historicity of the teaching of Jesus is an extraordinary book by the Old Testament ‘scholar’ Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth, published in 2005. It demonstrates lack of knowledge of first-century Judaism and of New Testament scholarship, and has remarkably little to say about Jesus. (Jesus: Evidence and Argument, p. 221)

Casey cannot even bring himself to fully acknowledge Thompson’s credentials as an Old Testament scholar of high international standing. What Casey means by The Messiah Myth‘s “demonstration of lack of knowledge of first-century Judaism and NT scholarship” and its paucity of information about Jesus is that the book is not about Casey’s assumptions of what first-century Judaism looked like, nor is it about NT scholarship or Jesus as these are traditionally addressed in studies on the historical Jesus. Casey might as well have added that the work “demonstrates a lack of knowledge of” knitting and abseiling.

Thompson’s book is about the messiah myth as it is found throughout ancient Middle Eastern literature. It is an attempt to offer a new perspective for how scholars might approach the Bible as historians. Too rarely biblical scholars have stopped to ask if the authors of the historical books of the Bible had the same sense of past history as we do. The first task of historians should be to fully grasp the literary and theological nature of the works they are studying. Full justice to that enquiry can only be accomplished if the historian first and foremost has a thorough grasp of comparable literary and theological sources throughout that region’s cultural history. Before we assume that the narratives in the biblical works are windows to historical events it is better first to acquaint oneself with other literature of that cultural region and what it often meant to convey when speaking of the past.

The assumption that the narratives of the Bible are accounts of the past asserts a function for our texts that needs to be demonstrated as it competes with other more apparent functions.

. . . . Are archaeologists and historians dealing with the same kind of past as the Bible does? This, I think, is the central question of the current debate about history and the Bible, rather than the questions that have dominated. Can biblical stories be used to write a modern history of the ancient past — whether of the individuals or of the events in which they participate? . . . The Bible uses . . . historical information for other purposes, in the way that literature has always used what was known of the past. (The Messiah Myth, p. x)

At this point I think I can justly point to some recent posts I have written about the nature of ancient historiography. Ancient historians were quite capable of fabricating stories about the past when it suited their ideological or pedagogical purposes. Those fabrications could well be considered “true” if they were written “true to life”, that is, realistically. read more »

“Maurice Casey, Meet Thomas L. Thompson”

thompson

Thomas L. Thompson

I am sure Maurice Casey will appreciate notification of a few oversights in his most recent book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths. This post will alert him to a couple of minor errors in his treatment of Thomas L. Thompson’s background and scholarly standing. A future post will look at Casey’s criticisms of some of Thompson’s publications, although we have already seen how Casey wrongly classified Thompson’s recent publications as attempts to argue that there was no historical Jesus.

Thomas L. Thompson first came to notoriety with The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives arguing that the biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) were not historical persons. This was first published by de Gruyter in Berlin in 1974. It was written in Tuebingen where Thompson was a student of Herbert Haag (Catholic) and Kurt Galling (Protestant). Controversial at the time this view is now probably mainstream. Even more controversial was his 1992 publication, The Early History of the Israelite People, which found no room for the united monarchy nor even Kings David and Solomon. The main work by Thompson that Casey addresses is The Messiah Myth, a work that Casey misinterprets as an attempt to argue there was no historical Jesus.

This post shows where Maurice Casey is seriously misguided in what he writes about Thompson the person.

Casey introduces Professor Thomas L. Thompson as one who “claims to be a ‘scholar’” but whose competence and qualifications Casey considers “questionable” (p. 10).

Yes, Casey puts the word scholar in scare quotes. Further, Casey will grant nothing more than that Thompson “claims” to be a ‘scholar’. In fact Thompson is a scholar of international repute who has made groundbreaking contributions to the study of the Old Testament as indicated above. His qualifications and professional associations can be found on his Wikipedia article.

An American or European scholar?

Here is the biographical description Casey offers:

Thomas L. Thompson was an American Catholic born in 1939 in Detroit. He was awarded a B.A. at Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, USA, in 1962, and a Ph.D. at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1976. After several appointments, mostly in the USA, including the post of associate professor at Marquette University, a Jesuit, Roman Catholic university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1989-93), he was Professor of Theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993-2009.

Casey focuses his readers’ attention on Thompson’s Roman Catholic, Jesuit and American associations. There is only one hint of Thompson’s status as a European scholar — a significant oversight given Casey’s patent loathing for most things American. Casey quotes his PhD student Stephanie Fisher’s comparison of “decent European scholars” with “second-rate semi-learned American ‘scholars’ (sic)” with approval – p.43.

The fact that Thompson is also a Dane and has lived and worked in Denmark since 1993 where as Professor of Old Testament he was the only Catholic in the Theology faculty is overlooked entirely. Thompson in fact spent eight months at Temple University in Philadelphia and has done his graduate studies in Europe: in Oxford and Tuebingen from 1962-1971 and as a research scholar in Tuebingen from 1969-1977.

Tuebingen University

Tuebingen University

read more »

Casey’s Instruments of Demonization

Having seen the ratio of ex-fundamentalists to mythicists with liberal church backgrounds it is amusing to review Maurice Casey’s mythic theme. Watch how the old Red Scare themes are echoed here. One poor scholar, Owen, who dared to criticize the work that was built on Casey’s thesis is compared with a mythicist at every point of his dispute and Casey even raises his “unhappy childhood”! But a pummeling also lies in store for that spawn of all evil, the “American” (spit the word) Jesus Seminar!

The first chapter: From fundamentalism to mythicism. (p. 1)

[Mythicism] has three major features. One is rebellion against traditional Christianity, especially in the form of American fundamentalism . . . The majority of people who write books claiming Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists. . . (p. 2)

Rebellion! Is that not as bad as the sin of witchcraft? You rebellious mythicists, you!

That’s interesting, actually, given that elsewhere Casey laments the “uncontrolled” and “unregulated” nature of mythicism and mythicists (see below). Rebellious, out of control . . .  One wonders what he would really like to do about it all if he had the power.

Here he gets stuck into that poor scholar who had the audacity to disagree and argue against Casey’s thesis:

As a fundamentalist Christian . . . Owen already has the most important faults of mythicists (p. 8)

And what are these “mythicist-like” faults? Casey lists them:

First, he has misrepresented me, accusing me of omitting scholarship which I discussed elsewhere . . .

Second, he has preferred scholarship which is out of date . . .

Third, he has done so because scholarship which is out of date supports the tradition to which he has intellectually arbitrary adherence.

Fourth, he is just one short step away from accusing me of ‘suppressing’ old scholarship that I did not see fit to reproduce. . . .

All these points are central to the mythicist case. Owen had a very difficult childhood. . . .

There are two reasons why this is of real importance . . . Firstly, Owen . . . already has the most important faults of mythicists. (pp. 5-8)

(Actually I thought Owen’s initial review was a very polite and gentlemanly expression of disagreement. Perhaps his logic and evidence did not need any invective to drive his points home.)

It’s quite amusing to read on and find so much of Casey’s book is devoted to attempts to rebut comments from Steven Carr, Tim Widowfield and myself pointing out the logical fallacies of his Aramaic arguments. Mythicists are bad and ignorant because they don’t agree with Casey’s arguments and argue so many points just like mainstream scholars who are also ignorant because they don’t read the language Jesus spoke!

We can now put Doherty’s comments on scholars into their cultural context of American fundamentalism. (p. 9)

[N.T. Wrong], also a proper scholar of a decent cricketing nation, said of another atheist, ‘Once a fundie always a fundie. He’s just batting for the other side now.’ (p. 13)

Mythicists . . . are by and large former fundamentalist Christians. (p. 59)

It is at such points that this mythicist, once a very conservative American Catholic, argues like a fundamentalist. (p. 112)

LOOK OUT WESTAR INSTITUTE — that AMERICAN JESUS SEMINAR:

In a profound sense, the Westar Jesus seminar [yes, the lower case 's' is original] was the predecessor of mythicists. Its most important members were to a large extent former American fundamentalists, or at least very conservative American Christians, as were most of the mythicists. (p. 118)

Mythicists . . . are just like the fundamentalists they used to be. (p. 170)

[Mythicists'] ideas of what is supposed to have happened during Jesus’ life are based on their previous lives as fundamentalists. (p. 203)

These regrettable mistakes appear to have two basic causes. One is the fundamentalism from which mythicists have emerged. . . . They do not believe in evidence and argument any more now than they did when they had fundamentalist Christian convictions. (p. 220)

The most important result of this book is that the whole idea that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist as a historical figure . . . belongs in the fantasy lives of people who used to be fundamentalist Christians. (p. 243)

I therefore conclude that the mythicist arguments . . . have been mainly put forward by . . . former fundamentalist Christians who were not properly aware of critical scholarship then, and after conversion to atheism, are not properly aware of critical scholarship now. They frequently confuse any New Testament scholarship with Christian fundamentalism. (p. 245)

So what follows will not surprise you. In a future post I’ll demonstrate how narrow Casey’s coverage of mythicist arguments really is. He is too preoccupied with propagating his own Aramaic thesis and he gets hung up on pedantic quibbles and confusing humour for serious points of argument to keep readers with him. I can’t imagine a single reader being convinced Jesus existed by this work. His vitriol is too unabashedly puerile for any intelligent reader to take seriously. Though Jim West, James McGrath, Larry Hurtado and Rabbi Joe Hoffmann all love it. But that’s no surprise, is it. They praised it before they even read it.

Now I’ll list here a set of words and phrases that will give you a pretty good idea of the tone of the book. These stand out as some of Casey’s favourite descriptors.

Mythicists never have a single honest argument. Every point of view they express or argue falls under one of these categories below, according to Casey.

The following list is meant to highlight the tone of the book. Thus Casey might not say all mythicists are filled with outpourings of scorn, but such phrases are used of mythicists to contrast them with the purity of decent scholars. This list demonstrates the way Casey demonizes mythicists personally (and by implication mythicism, I suppose.)

Totally unable, incapable, unwilling

Mythicists are invariably “unable”, “incapable” or “unwilling” to learn or understand, do not read major works of secondary literature. Very often the word “unable” is complemented with “totally”:

See pages 6, 24, 27, 30, 33, 34, 52, 54, 118, 127, 135, 140, 147, 153, 178, 179, 200, 209, 244, 248, 257. (Sometimes more than once on the same page.)

Or they are uncomprehending: pages 144, 164.

Unlearned and anti-scholarly

Mythicists are “unlearned” and “anti-scholarly”.

See pp. 2, 4, 10, 15, 22, 29, 31, 32, 33, 35, 41, 59, 64, 76, 105, 127, 128, 169, 176, 182, 201, 204, 206, 208, 221-226 (Thomas L. Thompson is a ‘scholar’ — yes, in scare quotes), 236, 237, 241, 243, 244, 248, 259.

Confusing and confused

Mythicists arguments are confusing. My favourite is one that Casey has pulled at least twice now. When he encounters an argument he has never heard of before then it is wrong by definition. It is confusing. Mythicists are confused because they don’t agree with mainstream views.

See pages 14, 28, 91 (x2), 125, 144, 171, 175, 241, 245 (x2)

They really have “no clue” at all! 31, 211

Ignorant and do not understand

Mythicists never disagree with argument or a different perspective on the evidence. They are always ignorant or simply do not understand. See the Preface and pages 27, 29, 30, 33, 44, 51, 52, 53 (“appallingly ignorant”), 59, 127, 134, 140, 144, 172, 197, 201, 238, 243.

This is fortunate. It saves Casey the trouble of having to rebut them and allows him time to concentrate on peddling his own Aramaic thesis.

Hopelessly inaccurate

Mythicists are wholly or hopelessly inaccurate, or else just inaccurate all the time. See pages 3, 13, 18, 19, 22, 33, 44, 45, 127, (even something by a mythicist that is not inaccurate is said to be “not very inaccurate”!) 147, 159, 209, 215, 220, 236.

(Keep in mind he’s including here several highly respected scholars.)

Mythicists mislead you! read more »

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

This is a followup to my previous post, Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted, where I set out Casey’s list of

the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’ today (p. 10)

Casey’s list counted seventeen names. Of those seventeen we saw that six were not mythicists at all (e.g. Bart Ehrman) and one was deceased some years before Casey even began to write his draft for his book.

For easy reference I set out here in two tables the names of

  • genuine contemporary mythicists along with their religious backgrounds,
  • others who raise the question of mythicism or examine Christian origins without reference to assumptions of a historical Jesus.

Three possible conclusions to be drawn from these tables (updated 10th March):

  1. Liberal religious backgrounds are twice as likely as American Fundamentalism to breed future mythicist or mythicist sympathizers (15 to 7);
  2. Ex-fundamentalists who are mythicists are more as likely to be favourably disposed towards Christianity as disinterested in or opposed to it;
  3. Pending further investigation, it appears that American Fundamentalists are the least likely to gravitate towards mythicism or mythicist sympathies than those with liberal or no religious backgrounds.

I’m tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the tables do demonstrate that claims that mythicism is a symptom of psychological derangement among ex-fundamentalists is as ignorant and bigoted as stereotyping Jews with hook-noses and greedy.

Since Casey proposes what he calls the “striking fact” that . . .

the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American (p. 2)

. . . I list the names according to their past religious affiliations using Casey’s own accounts as my primary source. (Casey’s point about “claiming to be ‘scholars’” is a bit of puerile churlishness that I ignore. Earl Doherty does not claim to be a professional scholar and other names are well known to have recognized academic credentials in related or other fields.)

I have added seven names to Casey’s list. Two of those have not published arguments that Jesus did not exist but they are of interest in this context because they have written (in print and/or online) radical hypotheses on the identity of Paul. The names of those whose methods of argument are controversial among mythicists and/or who appear to be promoting a belief system that approximates to a contemporary version of gnosticism (Freke and Gandy) or pantheism (Murdock) are in italics.

Let me know if I have overlooked any significant names. (HJ = Historical Jesus)

Mythicists

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background

Unknown

Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] George Albert Wells
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background]
Raphael Lataster*

* Raphael Lataster, author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God, had has quite a spiritual journey. Unfortunately Casey does not have a category for  ambiguity. read more »

Maurice Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted

devil_450If Maurice Casey’s book Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths? were about Jews or Gays or Blacks or the Disabled he and his publisher may well be charged with inciting hatred against “the other”. Mythicists are portrayed as all alike, they are all psychologically twisted and motivated by evil intent, their faults are never innocent but always wilful, and they are a baleful influence on society generally. This book demonizes “mythicists”.

And like racist or homophobic literature it peddles its own myths and falsehoods.

There is never a lighter moment of human understanding and toleration or acceptance that the different views of “mythicists” might be honestly informed and sincere. Casey hammers into readers the message that mythicists are flat wrong about everything and that’s because they are incorrigibly unlearned and without exception despise genuine scholarship. If their evil motive is not the consequence of the way they have been psychologically and permanently ruined by their past association with a fundamentalist form of Christianity it is because they are, well, “bizarre”.

This book is the equivalent of a McCarthyist or anti-semitic tract. We need a new term to describe this demonization of mythicists. In the wider community now we even have the equivalent of racist and homophobic epithets that convey the contempt and loathing of “the other”. Myther and mythtic join the ranks of wog and fag.

A major theme of Maurice Casey (and one persistently expressed by his student and carer, Stephanie Fisher, in her almost 300 comments left on this blog two to four years ago) is that most mythicists are psychologically bent. The reason is simple. They (most of them) were once fundamentalists. Reading Casey’s book is a tiresome déjà vu experience: I find myself reading the same phrases, the same accusations, the same projections, the same misunderstandings as Stephanie continually unleashed between 2010 and 2012 on Vridar. At the time Stephanie petulantly repeated her threat to “go and tell” her “big brother surrogate”, Maurice Casey, all the complaints she had against me and to persuade him to write a book exposing me and all mythicists. So here it is. Steph’s revenge!

Sorry, Steph, but I cannot take it seriously. Anyone who does take it seriously despite the obvious vindictiveness that pervades it is not worth worrying about. It is a joke. My greatest amazement is that a publisher accepted it in the first place. Surely there’s a story to be told there one day.

Steph used to repeat the nonsense over and over that anyone who was a mythicist was motivated by a hatred of religion. And here we see the same old myth: when those who are now mythicists left their former religions they switched to being just as fundamentalist in their hatred of all forms of Christianity. They hate God and Jesus so much that they are determined to believe neither exists. The exceptions to the rule are, as we just noted, “bizarre”.

This crudely bigoted portrayal of mythicism was apparently picked up by Casey from Stephanie Fisher. In his Preface he writes:

Stephanie Fisher persuaded me to write this as she was concerned with a growing phenomenon, enhanced by amateur blogs on the internet and inspired partly by publications by Price and Doherty, that there was no historical Jesus. . . . She felt this mythicist element was fuelled by atheism and anti-religion which attacked scholarship as religiously motivated. . . . She therefore persuaded me to write this book.

Something “bizarre” often happens whenever Casey quotes words by those who have crossed him or his carer Stephanie. He quite often demonstrates a distinct inability to detect nuance and humour. Tim Widowfield and Richard Carrier in other posts have pointed out his failure to recognize humour in works he believes to be by mythicists; the same applies to nuance.

So, for example, when Casey finds an author whom he wishes to compare with mythicists he quotes him saying that a particular period of the Roman history is “one of the most historically documented times in history”, Casey immediately assesses the claim through either/or categories: “This is not the case”, he jumps in emphatically — look, “a normal province in the British Empire in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries” is far more “well documented” than “first-century rural Galilee”!

Or when another writer speaks of Joseph and Mary taking the baby Jesus down to Egypt and later “returning” to Nazareth, Casey cannot accept that the author might be using the term “return” in a general or short-hand sense and that he does not literally mean to imply that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Everyone knows the birth took place in Bethlehem, but it seems Casey is a product of a low-context culture and needs to have every nuance explicitly spelled out for him.

The pity of this is that Casey (and Stephanie) have embraced a black-and-white, one could even say Manichaean, two-dimensional view of those with whom they find themselves in disagreement when it comes to what they see as certain fundamentals.

And their inability to understand others in any normal rounded sense is not restricted to those they believe are mythicists. Casey uses this book to kick hard and personally at a number of scholars who have nothing to do with mythicism — apparently for no reason other than that they have criticized his work in the past. Americans particularly come in for a sound hiding. Casey stereotypes “the others” and their views.

So, with the occasional exceptions, for Casey

  • Americans are regrettably deficient in every way — in scholarship, in social decency, and so forth;
  • To move from fundamentalism to atheism is a mark of improper extremism: Casey even remarks (surely with a touch of ASD?) that such people could not have been aware that there are many “decent and reasonable Christians” who are not fundamentalist!
  • Any argument that concludes that Hellenism more than Judaism is to be found in the earliest evidence for Christianity must by definition be anti-Jewish.

My next point may not really be related, but it comes to mind so I’ll leave it here in passing. Casey’s style is marked by starkly uniform, dogmatic, simple sentence expressions. He varies his style very little. His tenses are often bluntly simple with fewer subtleties (past perfects, third conditionals) one normally associates with educated expression. Grammatically complex sentences that manage to carry multiple thoughts related to each other with any degree of complexity — the sorts of expressions one expects to find in scholarly literature especially — are noticeably absent from Casey’s writing. The overall effect is that one feels one is being bludgeoned page after page with dogmatisms. Casey lacks any ability to engage the reader in a vicarious dialogue.

Dominant message

It is very striking that the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American. (p. 2)

This was a major theme introduced in the Preface and on page two it is launched. But an irony is soon to follow. read more »

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

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 »

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

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 »

What the Context Group (and Casey) Missed

What Is Social-Scientific Criticism?

What Is Social-Scientific Criticism?

Social-Scientific Criticism

In an earlier post — Casey: Taking Context out of Context — we discussed the disturbing habit in NT scholarship of explaining away textual difficulties by playing the high-context card. For example, in What Is Social-Scientific Criticism? John H. Elliott of the Context Group writes:

Further, the New Testament, like the Old Testament and other writings of antiquity, consists of documents written in what anthropologists call a “high context” society where the communicators presume a broadly shared acquaintance with and knowledge of the social context of matters referred to in conversation or writing. Accordingly, it is presumed in such societies that contemporary readers will be able to “fill in the gaps” and “read between the lines.” (John H Elliott. Kindle Locations 125-128)

Similarly, Bruce Malina explains why Paul’s writings are often “misunderstood”:

The New Testament was written in what anthropologists call a “high context” culture. People who communicate with each other in high context societies presume a broadly shared, generally well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing. (Bruce J. Malina; John J. Pilch. Social-science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (p. 5). Kindle Edition.)

Hoping to explain away the messianic secret, David F. Watson says:

The necessity of protective secrecy was exacerbated in the ancient Mediterranean context by the “high-context” nature of the culture. A high-context culture is one in which people are deeply involved in the everyday activities of those around them and in which information is widely shared. . . . Within the high-context setting, secrecy would be an important and necessary means of protection. (Watson, Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret, p. 25)

Useful but misused

I want to be clear up front. I would never argue that social-scientific criticism is in itself a misguided approach, but I do wish to point out a few observations that indicate a pattern of misuse. We continually read that the people in Jesus’ and Paul’s time lived in a high-context culture, with little in the way of demonstration.

However, a scientific approach demands that scholars provide evidence for their assertions. Besides proving that NT writers lived in high-context cultures, scholars must also prove it follows that their writings will always reflect that high context. Because it is stated flatly as a “known fact,” we miss out on important points of the discussion. For example:

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Casey: Taking Context out of Context

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:

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Casey’s Hammer: How Monomania Distorts Scholarship (Part 1)

What’s in a name?

And because of my father, between the ages 7 through 15, I thought my name was “Jesus Christ.” He’d say, “JESUS CHRIST!” And my brother, Russell, thought his name was “Dammit.” “‘Dammit, will you stop all that noise?! And Jesus Christ, SIT DOWN!” So one day I’m out playing in the rain. My father said “Dammit, will you get in here?!” I said, “Dad, I’m Jesus Christ!” 

–Bill Cosby

In his new book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (which Jim West with no trace of irony calls “excellent”), Maurice Casey makes it abundantly clear that Neil and I should get off his lawn. We should also slow down and, for heaven’s sake, turn out the lights when leaving a room.

Maurice Casey: Old Yeller

Since my chief purpose here is not to make fun of such a charming and erudite scholar as Dr. Casey, I’ll say just one thing about the shameful way a famous scholar lashes out at amateurs on the web. Lest any reader out there get the wrong idea, my first name is not Blogger. Same for Neil.

Old Man Yells at Cloud

Old Man Yells at Cloud

I will instead, at least for now, ignore the embarrassing, yelling-at-cloud parts of this dismal little book and focus on Mo’s evidence for the historical Jesus.

If I had a hammer

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

–Abraham Maslow

Casey, you will recall, has written several books on biblical studies. He’s justly recognized as an expert in the Aramaic language. In fact, he is probably the foremost living expert on Aramaic, especially with respect to its historical roots, its evolution, its variants, and its use in first-century Palestine. I own most of his books on the subject, and although I disagree with many of his dogmatic conclusions, his basic research is thorough and generally reliable.

The problem I have with Casey is that his prodigious knowledge of Aramaic causes him to see everything in the New Testament from that perspective. He frequently reminds me of Catherwood in the Firesign Theatre’s “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger,” who, upon returning from the past in his time machine, shouts:

I’m back! It’s a success! I have proof I’ve been to ancient Greece! Look at this grape!

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High-Low context cultures — catching up with the fundamentals

It’s about time I tied up one loose end from my earlier remarks on Professor Maurice Casey’s “frightful”™ and “hopelessly unlearned”™ diatribe against “mythicism” generally and Earl Doherty in particular. In his inaugural essay for The Jesus Process© he wrote:

. . . [H]opelssly unlearned . . . Doherty’s ‘original’ work on Paul is . . . frightful. . . . He shows no knowledge of the fundamental work of the anthropologist E.T. Hall, who introduced the terms ‘high context culture’ and ‘low context culture’ into scholarship [Footnote here to Beyond Culture]. Paul’s epistles were written in a high context culture, which was homogeneous enough for people not to have to repeat everything all the time, whereas American, European and many other scholars belong to a low context culture, which gives them quite unrealistic expectations of what the authors of the epistles ought to have written.

This is one basic reason why Paul says so little about the life and teaching of Jesus. To some extent, his Gentile Christians had been taught about Jesus already, so he could take such knowledge for granted. He therefore had no reason to mention places such as Nazareth, or the site of the crucifixion, nor to remind his congregations that Jesus was crucified on earth recently.

According to this critique we can conclude that Paul forgot to mention anything about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – or even that Jesus Christ was exalted subsequently to a heavenly role as our Saviour — to his Gentile converts since he clearly does not take such knowledge for granted but repeats it scores of times throughout his epistles.

Shamed into an acute embarrassment for having no knowledge of any “fundamental work”, I immediately purchased a second hand copy of E. T. Hall’s book, Beyond Culture. It arrived as a Harvard University Library discard, very good condition though, complete with Harvard University Library stamps including one warning of a 25 cent fine for every hour it failed to be returned to Harvard’s Social Relations Library after 10 A.M. read more »

The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of history”

Ken Humphreys has posted his response to The Jesus Process (C) trio: The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of History”. . . .

A trio of Jesus myth denouncers from the world of academe have rushed into the breach opened up by the failure of Bart Ehrman’s final solution to the problem of Jesus’ existence (Listen, he was a small-time deluded doom merchant who thought he was king, so there). Professors Hoffmann and Casey, and a young academic who worked for Casey, Stephanie Louise Fisher, have come to Ehrman’s support with a few dubious arguments in favour of a historical Jesus and a visceral attack on Jesus mythicists as a thoroughly bad crew. . . . .

Concluding Response of Blogger Neil Godfrey to Blogger Maurice Casey of TJP®©™

Anyone who has read the works of Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price and others (even my own posts) knows that our blogger Maurice Casey’s attempts to critique them are unbearably lightweight — except for the unbearably depressing personal vitriol. My guess is that for most part he is reading selections fed to him by a certain hotheaded research assistant who has her own personal axe to grind.

We recently commented on his hallucinatory observation that I don’t read books and even make light of earthquake victims. The latter innuendo indicates that if he ever found out that the New Zealand librarians who published the original article and photograph linked in my post were also atheistic mythicists then he would surely accuse them also of cold-hearted inhumanity. The former charge (that I don’t read books) is loaded with the double irony that he included information that he presumably read in my blog profile, yet in that same profile I explain quite clearly what is meant by my not touching books in my job as a librarian.

With that sort of introduction how can anyone take seriously anything this new internet blogger says. I certainly can’t.

But for the sake of completeness I’ll make the effort to finalize my response to his TJP(C) blogpost.

Did not give proper references

I will never forget Dr James McGrath surmising that my use of quotation marks around the title of a book was a suspicious indicator that I had not read the book. Well, our next circus act is Dr Maurice Casey censuring me because I “did not give proper references” in a blogpost. Ouch! (I hyperlinked direct to the full text of the source itself instead of setting out a full scholarly bibliographic citation. Regrettable! Appalling! Frightful!) read more »

When Is Paul’s Silence Golden?

English: Engraving requestin silence from visi...

English: Engraving requesting silence from visitors, Notre-Dame de Senlis (Photo credit: Rama at Wikipedia)

The Casey-Holding Theory of Pauline High-Context Culture

We were treated recently to another dose of apologia run amok in Maurice Casey’s “frightful” diatribe against Earl Doherty. Following in the footsteps of fellow apologist, J.P. Holding, Casey explains away Paul’s silence regarding the earthly Jesus by a misapplication of Edward T. Hall’s cultural context paradigm (ref. Beyond Culture).

According to the Casey-Holding Theory, Paul was silent about Jesus in his epistles because (quoting Casey):

Paul’s epistles were written in a high context culture, which was homogeneous enough for people not to have to repeat everything all the time, whereas American, European and many other scholars belong to a low context culture, which gives them quite unrealistic expectations of what the authors of the epistles ought to have written.

By the time Paul was writing his letters “in a ‘high-context’ realm,” Holding states:

There was no need for Paul to make reference to the life-details of Jesus or recount his teachings, for that had been done long ago.

However, in “Interpreting Evidence: An Exchange with Christian Apologist JP Holding,” Kris D. Komarnitsky neatly brushes aside the argument by using Holding’s own words against him, writing:

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