2010-03-14

The most improbable history of Christian origins

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by Neil Godfrey

Image by Graham Steel via Flickr

Perhaps the more mystery or inexplicable circumstances there are surrounding Christian origins the healthier it is for the faith business. Not that those of the faith are the only “beneficiaries”. Jesus is, after all, a central icon in the constellations of our broader cultural identities. The inexplicable is his defining asset.

The most improbable “stubborn fact”

Note what is generally presented as “the fact” of Christian origins that historians seek to explain:

Christianity appeared suddenly and spread quickly as a direct result of thousands of Jews being persuaded that a failed messiah, one crucified as a criminal by a Roman governor, was indeed a heavenly Messiah and to be worshiped as a divinity beside God himself.

Now on the face of it, this “fact” would seem as improbable as Protestants in Northern Ireland being converted by their thousands in response to Catholic missionaries proclaiming astonishing and miraculous events surrounding Mary in their midst. If I heard of conversions like that I would have to think that the Protestants really were convinced they were seeing the proof of something overwhelming.

So we would like to have some external, independent (non-Christian) witness to such an unlikely event. We have none in the case of the Christian “facts” above, but the closest we get is to a Jewish history written about sixty years after the supposed “facts” happened. This is not primary evidence that is a contemporary witness to Jesus. It is after-the-fact secondary evidence. So according to the father of modern history, von Ranke, it needs to be examined with extra care. Sometimes secondary evidence can even turn out to be more informative than primary evidence, so let’s see what we find in Josephus in support of the “facts” of Christian origins.

The most improbable testimony of Josephus

Josephus wrote to persuade readers of the superior wisdom of Mosaic customs, and who castigated all fellow Jews who strayed from those archaic customs and followed failed messianic types, but who made an exception in the case of Jesus in that:

  • he was completely unperturbed by fellow Jews proclaiming the exalted heavenly messiahship of one crucified by his Roman benefactors as a criminal;
  • he suddenly had no censure against Jews who were known to have either abandoned Mosaic customs or instigated divisions among Jews over their observance;
  • he found no reason to elaborate just a little for his readers any details of the teachings of this Jesus, even though in every other case when introducing a new Jewish sect or teacher he offers readers at least a few lines of their basic curriculum.

Is it any wonder that the general consensus among scholars before World War 2 was that the testimony of Josephus was worthless as evidence for establishing the historicity of Jesus? Has the evidence changed since then? There have been many changes since then, and many that relate to the status of Jewishness, Judas and Israel in biblical studies and the wider community, but the above inconsistencies of the Jesus testimony with Josephus’s interests and ideology have not changed.

So far we have a most improbable “fact” about Christian origins, supported by a most improbable piece of external evidence.

On Tacitus, see Doughty’s Tacitus’ account of Nero’s persecution of Christians; for the other Christ reference in Josephus, see an earlier post, That brother of Jesus who is called Christ.

But what about the internal consistency within the Christian evidence itself. Luke Timothy Johnson points to this as one of the “facts” to be explained when dealing with the question of Christian origins?

The most improbable evidence of the Epistles

Early teachers (going by the names of Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John, and others unnamed) of this heavenly messiah could write numerous letters to their followers without finding any need or interest in referring to the earthly life, sayings and deeds of this Jesus that so compelled his disciples to believe in him even moreso after his crucifixion. At best, when referring to his teachings, they generally hid them behind quotations of the Jewish scriptures or as if they were their own personal proclamations.

Perhaps it is fitting that improbable “facts” are supported by improbable supporting evidence.

So what is the evidence for this most improbable “fact” of Christian origins?

A small subset of Christian documents — Gospels and Acts — that are unlike anything that preceded them, but once known, became the standard narrative throughout orthodox branches of Christianity that stood that opposed other less earthly “gospels” of Jesus.

Not that post-Enlightenment biblical historians read the Gospels and Acts as literal history (apologists excepted). But as Liverani writes of too many historians, it is too easy to accept a ready-made narrative from the past and simply paraphrase it, or pick out its more ‘naturalistic-sounding’ core, and lazily repeat that as “the bedrock facts”.

The very improbability of the so-called “facts” of Christian origins ought to be enough to prompt historians to set aside the narrative of a small subset of relatively late texts and focus first and foremost on the fundamentals of assessing the dates and ‘character’ or nature of the texts we have. To the extent that this is done now, it seems generally to be done within the framework of the narrative elicited from the Gospels and Acts. The core of the narrative’s general outline is assumed to be historical.

Even apart from Robert Price’s list of potential source narratives in the Jewish scriptures (referred to in previous post), it is not valid to bring to any narrative an assumption of historicity. Clear justifications need to be established. We need first to deal with the narrative as a narrative only. It needs to be compared with other literature from the same era, or that we can have reason to believe was known to the authors. It is not a valid assumption that a naive reading of any text can yield reliable historical information. We have these sorts of justifications for reading Tacitus, Josephus and Thucydides as sources of historical information. We have no comparable justifications for reading the Gospels with the same expectations.

Among non-biblical historians it has long been a common saying that history is an art. What is referred to is the interpretation of evidence and the way a historical narrative is constructed. (Sometimes it also refers to history as being an intellectual pastime for intellectual pleasure.) The hard work of unearthing evidence and analysing it to grasp its nature and the sort of information it can reliably yield is all preliminary effort. . . .

Yet biblical historians seem to be struggling interminably with a set of improbabilities that exist entirely because of a failure to have ever acknowledged the methodological circularities (unsupported assumptions made to confirm themselves) from which they have been born.

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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “The most improbable history of Christian origins”

  1. “Christianity appeared suddenly and spread quickly as a direct result of thousands of Jews being persuaded that a failed messiah, one crucified as a criminal by a Roman governor, was indeed a heavenly Messiah and to be worshiped as a divinity beside God himself.”

    Now on the face of it, this “fact” would seem as improbable as Protestants in Northern Ireland being converted by their thousands in response to Catholic missionaries proclaiming astonishing and miraculous events surrounding Mary in their midst.

    I think there was more going on than just Paul and early apostles **preaching** Jesus. Paul makes reference a number of times about the church performing healings (1 Cor 12:28), prophecies, speaking of tongues, “mighty works” (miracles), etc, the latter of which is the “signs of the true apostle” (2 Cor 12:12). He gives no examples though. These events — perhaps akin to modern megachurch healings today — may have provided powerful reasons to believe that Christ had resurrected as the “first fruits” heralding the end times of the general resurrection.

    Josephus records others who could draw crowds of thousands, even with just the promise of miracles. Also read Lucian’s description of Alexander, the false prophet who convinced thousands that he had discovered a new god called Glycon.

  2. I think your “explanation” misses the key issue in the “stubborn fact” here. Evangelists could well spread the Dionysiac cult; preachers today can win souls through “miracles”. But Johnson and McGrath see a problem begging to be explained when we have Jews in numbers being persuaded that one of their recent own who was crucified as a criminal was exalted to somewhat higher status than normally appropriate for even a saintly mortal. You don’t?

    1. A problem? Yes. A mystery? Sure. But inexplicable, improbable? Not at all. If you believe Paul, they thought that Jesus had been resurrected and taken to heaven and that they could — and did — perform miracles because of that. Powerful stuff.

  3. Jesus was not a ‘failed messiah’ …

    It is to Johnson’s (and probably Bock’s too) credit that he honestly tries to engage with Price rather than resort to sarcasm like Dunn and Crossan do in their ‘responses’. However, Johnson does hold conservative presuppositions which have been arguably demonstrated to be flawed. Multiple attestation is no good on its own – historical plausibility and Aramaic are stronger criteria and it is arguments of cumulative weight that deserve consideration, not arguments using a single criterion. However Jesus’ first followers would not have considered him a failed messiah. Contra Johnson, Jesus never claimed to be the messiah – his role was of a prophet and teacher as is indicated in Mark. Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection, to be vindicated by God and in view of the coming kingdom and judgement, he headed to Jerusalem (again no doubt) after constant battles with Jewish authorities over legal issues throughout his mission to bring Jews back to God (tuv). This has been demonstrated by Maurice Casey in the Solution to the Son of Man, and more comprehensively in “Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Perspective of his Life and Teachings” forthcoming. If his disciples believed he rose from the dead as they believed him during his life, they probably had visions (see Allison, Luedemann). Some doubted (see Matthew) and this embarrassing admission suggests some didn’t have visions but also that some did. The messiah title was a later addition – by Mark or his predecessors, when Jesus was believed to have risen. He was never a failed messiah at all. He was crucified as a bandit, King of the Jews, by the Romans, but considered by his disciples to be a prophet, like the prophets Jesus had discussed from the past. The term ‘messiah’ does not seem to have been available to Jesus as a title (de Jong and Martin Karrer) but to have been turned into a title in the earliest period of the church as seen in Acts and later in Judaism.

  4. Historical plausibility?

    Something is historically true if it is plausible?

    Aramaic is a strong criterion?

    How? Was Aramaic a language only Jesus used? How on earth can the fact that something is in Aramaic be an indication that a Jesus existed who said it?

    Truly bizarre…

  5. ‘Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection, to be vindicated by God and in view of the coming kingdom and judgement…’

    It must be true. It is in the Gospels…..

    Evidence please that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection.

    There is none. It is fantasy, based on reading Novels.

  6. Carr’s comments presuppose his own view of my short sentences taken out of context, not the work of critical scholars. For the criterion of Historical Plausibility, see Theissen & Winter, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus (WJK 2002), which is not naive at all. Not since Torrey has anyone used an Aramaic criterion in such a naive way. For defence of Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection, see Casey, Solution to the Son of Man Problem (T & T Clark, 2007) ch 9, which is based on complex scholarly research, not on novels.

    Critical scholars never argue that anything is the case only because it is in the Gospels: this is the work of fundamentalists.

  7. I believe it was Rodney Stark that did an analysis of the growth rate of Christianity and he found that just an increase of 10% (if I remember the percentage right) a generation would account for it’s observed growth. Nothing extra-ordinary. This rate actually matches Mormonism’s growth since it’s inception. And, or course, having a very popular emperor declare it the official religion of the Roman empire sure didn’t hurt it’s growth much. And that sounds like an entirely secular growth mechanism to me.

  8. Johnson and McGrath both recognize the problem (it appears to be widely acknowledged among scholars and others). I cited Johnson’s recent reference when outlining his response to Price:

    Then Johnson gets to the nub of the matter: “Two interrelated historical facts require explanation.“

    1. The “sudden appearance” of a cult devoted to a “Lord” who was “a failed Jewish Messiah who was executed under Roman authority in the time of Tiberius.”
    2. . . . .

    Such highly specific historical phenomena do not arise out of generalized social conditions, psychological laws or religious types. The necessary and sufficient cause is the death and (proclaimed) exaltation of Jesus. (p.91)

    McGrath also recently pointed out the “problem” on his YouTube video:

    And nothing would have disqualified someone from seriously being considered possibly being the messiah as being executed by the foreign rulers over the Jewish people. That wasn’t what people expected from the messiah. And it makes very little sense to claim that the early Christians invented a figure completely from scratch and called him the messiah and said that he didn’t do the same things that the messiah was expected. Not only did he not conquer the Romans, he was executed by them. He did not institute and bring in the kingdom of god the way the people were expecting, and in fact Christians had to explain this in terms of Jesus returning to finish the task of what was expected of the messiah.

    On the one hand we have a Gospel narrative that says Jews were baying for the blood of Jesus at the hands of Pilate, his followers fleeing in terror; but then in the next scene, lo and behold, Jews in large numbers in both Jerusalem and the Diaspora were persuaded that this man really was a messianic divinity after all.

    What would it take for Catholic missionaries to convert North Ireland Protestants to devotion to Mary? Would a megachurch type healing session or two do the trick?

    1. Yes, I think so. Especially healings in the name of Mary, among people who had no good access to medicine. Add to that: collecting for the poor and marginalized in the name of Mary, preaching about a closely coming End Time (at a time when the End Time appeared to be coming).

      Besides, it wasn’t just a matter of a “healing session or two”. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 12:12 that the signs of an apostle included “signs and wonders and mighty deeds”, so these had been going on for years and probably by a number of apostles. How much converting would result from travelling healing shows performed by a number of people over, say, 10 years?

  9. I see Steph could not come up with any logic for her criteria.

    Instead, she waved around books and claimed these books contained the logic.

    This is ‘pass-the-parcel’ scholarship.

    And when you finally open the last bit of the parcel, you find it is empty…..

    MCGRATH
    Not only did he not conquer the Romans, he was executed by them.

    CARR
    1 Thessalonians 2 says flat out that the Jews killed Jesus.

    Where do Paul, 1 Peter, Hebrews, James, Jude say that the Romans executed Jesus?

    1 Peter 2
    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

    How can this writer think that these authorities killed the Son of God?

  10. CARR
    1 Thessalonians 2 says flat out that the Jews killed Jesus.

    As does the Gospel of Peter. And so did Justin Martyr as late as the mid second century (Trypho 32,85,104 and First Apology 13). Both of these say it was King Herod of the Jews who was responsible, and that the Jews themselves crucified Jesus.

    And it sure looks as if this alternative narrative was one of the many reports Luke knew about. He seems to have co-opted it into his gospel by having Herod brought in as a foil for Pilate in his gospel.

    How can one explain such an alternate narrative if the historical Jesus was known to have been done in by the Romans?

    (If one seeks the answer in growing anti-semitism, don’t Matthew and John have enough anti-semitism already? And is Justin Martyr, or even the Gospel of Peter, particularly virulently anti-semitic any more than Matthew or John?)

  11. Steven Carr’s comments presuppose that there is something inherently wrong with referring to major works of scholarship – this is as anti scholarly as possible since many things take more than a short blog entry to demonstrate. This is especially important since mythicists keep contradicting Christian apologists, instead of engaging with proper critical scholarship.

    Neil – Messiah never occurs in the earliest source material (or the ‘Q’ material) and Jesus does not use it in Mark. It was not a title for a fixed figure as the comments on the ‘failed messiah’ presuppose. He predicted his atoning death so this was not a reason for his followers to think he was a failure and the Greek speaking followers could gradually turn the notion that he was anointed by God into the title ‘christ’ which was distinctive enough for them to be called Christians.

    Rodney Stark does point our correctly that the rapid spread of Christianity has been exaggerated. We must not use Johannine material to reconstruct the earliest period. Jesus had Jewish opponents and followers right from the start. After his death some people believed he had risen from the dead and Christianity could then spread a dying and rising figure through a Diaspora where it solved the identity problems of uncircumcised Gentiles who believed in the one God and became Christians instead of unsatisfactory Jewish hangers on. Only when Christianity split right off from Judaism in the Johannine community was this figure deified.

  12. ‘This is especially important since mythicists keep contradicting Christian apologists, instead of engaging with proper critical scholarship.’

    In other words, somebody asked Steph to actually give the arguments in ‘proper critical scholarship’…

    How can ‘historical plausibility’ of a Novel be a criterion for historicity?

    How can the fact that something can be translated into Aramaic be any sort of criterion for deciding that Jesus of Nazareth said it?

    Will Steph ever say?

    Steph…

    ‘Messiah never occurs in the earliest source material’

    So why does Paul use the word ‘Christ’ so much,when the word never occurs?

    And how do we know Jesus ‘predicted his atoning death’,when the Novels claim his wherabouts had to be betrayed before the authorities could catch him?

    Just produce the evidence that there existed a Jesus who ‘predicted his atoning death’….

  13. Steven Carr has the most extraordinary ability to misrepresent everything I say… a good reason not to take him seriously. It remains the case that his questions have been answered in serious scholarship and cannot be answered in one or two sentences on a blog especially as his questions are all misleading. For example nobody has said anything was said by the historical Jesus because they can translate it into Aramaic. His criteria for deciding the gospels are fiction is never articulated.

  14. Steph continues to wave books at people,and refuses to say why she wrote ‘Multiple attestation is no good on its own – historical plausibility and Aramaic are stronger criteria…..’

    Just more Emperor’s New Clothes, I suppose…

    The Gospels are Novels because they are totally unsubstantiated.

    They feature a cast of characters who go about doing what characters in Novels do – provide dramatic irony, illustrate theological points, have symbolic names, and never appear in the real world.

    Outside the Novels, no Christian in the first century had heard of Joseph of Arimathea, Judas, Thomas,Mary Magdalene, Barabbas,Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus,Lazarus etc etc.

  15. and stevie continues to misrepresent and take what I said out of context, he doesn’t listen, and neither does he engage with proper critical scholarship, probably because it’s a bit too much for him to read. Sad if it wasn’t so funny.

  16. Steph continues to be totally silent about why her New Clothes cannot be seen….

    Notice that mythicists can answer her questions, while all she can do is wave books around, claim they have answers and respond with insults when asked what those answers actually are.

  17. . . . comments presuppose that there is something inherently wrong with referring to major works of scholarship – this is as anti scholarly as possible since many things take more than a short blog entry to demonstrate. This is especially important since mythicists keep contradicting Christian apologists, instead of engaging with proper critical scholarship.

    My post was an engagement with the arguments of “critical scholars” Professor Luke Timothy Johnson and Associate Professor James McGrath. Stephanie, are you also engaging with the arguments of “proper critical scholarship” or simply denying they have any validity?

    I can in response to your pointing to books, point to others which will argue for a point of view I favour. It is more useful if one can sum up a reason for personally being persuaded by an argument. What is the evidence that persuades you?

    1. Price is an academic whose works are an ongoing engagement with other scholars (e.g. with J.Z.Smith, and in a recent publication with Dunn, Crossan, Bock and LTJ.) As an academic it is his job to always engage with critical scholarship. Doherty’s work, likewise, is an engagement with scholars such as Crossan, Mack, Goodacre, Funk, Wilson, Strobel, Townsend, O’Neill, Knox, Bultmann, and dozens of others.

  18. NEIL
    What is the evidence that persuades you?

    CARR
    Asking Steph for evidence, Neil? She has already treated such requests from me with disdain.

    Maurice Casey claims ‘ I argue there that the earliest source of the Last supper is in Mark’s Gospel, which has been literally translated from an Aramaic source probably written by someone who was there at the time, but not one of the Twelve.’

    You won’t get evidence for this burst of fantasy.

    How could you? Apparently there are missing Aramaic sources which Casy can translate , but nobody else can find a copy of.

    The mere fact that there is not a single Christian document from the 1st century AD written in Aramaic does not stop people fantasising about documents for which there is no evidence other than their ability to read a Greek Novel and claim it is a literal translation of a missing Aramaic source.

      1. I am aware of the detailed arguments for and against Q, and I tend to lean to the latter (most times). But one does not need a whole thesis to outline the argument either way. Sure a thesis is necessary for the detailed case. Kloppenborg and Goodacre can each do it in a paragraph.

        But when you avoid hitting the main points in relation to Casey (that is the point here) you do tend to leave the impression that there is little real substance to the arguments you defend. If something is so complex it can ONLY be explained in a full thesis, then I suspect there is no real evidence — only layer upon layer of a priori arguments? (But even so, and if they really are good arguments very securely based and linked, you should still be able to sum up the highlights, yes?)

  19. I’ve sent Maurice Casey’s stuff off to Neil, so he can see what he thinks of it.

    Casey claims that at the Last Supper, Jesus said ‘something to the effect that ‘this is the Passover, for our Father in heaven passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt’

    And how does Casey know this?

    The solution is as simple as it is stunning.

    It is not mentioned in Mark, therefore it happened.

    Before you gasp in disbelief, here is what Casey writes ‘He was therefore bound to make reference back to their deliverance from Egypt by the mighty hand of God, on whom alone they could rely for their deliverance in the future. Mark had the sort of source which, for that reason, did not need to mention it, when it could take it for granted while it made the main points relevant to understanding Jesus’ death.’

    So Mark’s source DID NOT NEED TO MENTION IT.

    Yes, Casey thinks something happened if his sources do not mention it.

    This is gob-smackingly awful.

      1. I have read those few pages and Casey is very clear. Firstly he refers to late rabbinic literature to determine a particular formula Jesus would have been familiar with. (He naively assumes that any words placed in an ancient authority necessarily are true to what that famous name really must have said, and that those words genuinely reflect pre-rabbinic religious customs of Palestine.)

        He then assumes that these late rabbinic claims reflect what was so well known and taken for granted in the time of Jesus that there was no need for Mark’s source to repeat them. Mark’s source only had to focus on the significance of Jesus’ coming death.

        Casey is so confident that these late rabbinic sources are so truly representative of Judaism in the time of Jesus that they were taken for granted in Jesus’ day and that is why Mark’s source (and therefore Mark himself) did not mention them.

        This is presented as the entire argument, without reference to any earlier chapters. What else does Casey say that will make his argument that he presents here sound more plausible?

      2. In the piece outside the half dozen pages he sent to SC he refers back to his more comprehensive discussion in Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel chapter 6 and to the fundamental scholarly discussion of passover customs by Baruch Bokser which makes clear that his use of rabbinic sayings is a conclusion, not an assumption. In particular the saying attributed to Gamaliel and the custom attributed to Hillel, have a Sitz im Leben at about the time of Jesus, not after the fall of the Temple.

  20. I am currently reading James Crossley’s “Why Christianity Happened” and he goes to some length to explain the significance of the building projects of Sepphoris and Tiberius on the people within the orbit of Jesus. These projects are so blindingly important for the rise of the Jesus movement that he writes:

    the importance of these building occurring in the lifetime of Jesus right in the heart of his home region cannot be stressed enough. Moreover, we should not underestimate the effect of introducing these building projects, along with a different set of values from those of the traditional Galilean peasantry, in only a matter of years.

    But lest one wonders why only comparatively insignificant places like Bethsaida and Capernaum are part of the Gospel landscape but neither of these two really decisive places:

    Given these factors, it is presumably no coincidence that there is no mention in the Synoptic tradition of Tiberius and Sepphoris. (p.47)

    Makes me think he would have to revise his theory and argue that they were not really all that important if he DID find them mentioned in the Gospels!

    (Where’s Joe Wallack? Looks like we have here another project for him — a list of all the arguments from silence among Jesus scholars.)

    1. Hey Neil, I now use google reader to check out the comments, and the come individually, so i no longer see a page of comments at a time, but I noticed you talking about about a book, and quote this from it.

      the importance of these building occurring in the lifetime of Jesus right in the heart of his home region cannot be stressed enough. Moreover, we should not underestimate the effect of introducing these building projects, along with a different set of values from those of the traditional Galilean peasantry, in only a matter of years.

      Does he say what the importance of these projects was? And if he does and you know, could you give it to me in a sentence?

      Cheers!
      RichGriese.NET

      1. Crossley sums up with: “these cities were not only centers and symbols of political and economic domination [my note: he discusses how they were centres of a foreign power with a culture and outlooks alien to the local rural population; and their building ‘would appear’ to have exacerbated differences between rich and poor, and exploitation of the rural poor], but certain cultural and religious features were also tied up with paganism, although it is easy to overexaggerate the extent of pagan features.” (p.45 of “How Christianity Happened” by James Crossley)

    1. Continuing my reading of Crossley (I hate to disagree with Crossley because in other areas there is much I like about what he writes) I see that he concurs with Casey that the reason the Pharisees did not accuse Jesus of plucking corn on the sabbath, but only his disciples, was because: – – – –

      Jesus was not as poor as his disciples were! He therefore did not qualify by the terms of the law to pluck corn from the fields.

      The law only allowed “the poor” to do so. Jesus had to buy his own or take his own pre-sabbath packed lunch. (Presumably he was not rich enough to provide food for his disciples, and why perform a miracle when they had raw corn seeds to eat?)

  21. On page 83 of Aramaic sources of Mark’s Gospel, Casey writes that the prayer in the garden of Gethsemane would not have been invented.

    Yes, it is the old argument from embarrassment nonsense again.

    And Casey can not only tell you what this imaginary Aramaic source for Mark’s Gospel was, he can read it better than ‘Mark’ could.

    Casey points out on page 86 where he can read this source he has never seen better than the person who allegedly had the document in front of him.

    Is there no end to this man’s abilities? He can read Aramaic documents he has never seen better than people who can actually see and touch them.

    And if Mark used an Aramaic source, Casey concludes that there must have been a Jesus who taught in Aramaic.

    What sort of leap of logic is that?

    No wonder Steph refuses to elaborate on what logic lies behind page 86 of ‘Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel’.

    The leaps of logic on page 87 is astonishing.

    Jesus exegetes a passage in Mark’s Novel, so Casey simply proclaim that Jesus was supremely confident in his exegesis of Old Testament passages.

    This is not scholarship. It is no better than claiming that Harry Potter really had mastered Latin spells, so there must have been a Harry who was confident of his ability in Latin.

    1. you have not explained why the early church would make up a prayer of Jesus pleading not to die when his atoning death was central to them. Nor does a novel in Greek explain why Mark’s Greek contains obvious Aramaisms and mistakes. You misrepresent the argument on p. 87.

  22. Hi Steph,

    I’ve read Casey’s books on Mark and Q. I was wondering whether there are any other parts of the Gospels that he thinks go back to earlier Aramaic sources in addition to the ones discussed in these books). I’m sure you would know given your close contact with him. I’m also looking forward to Casey’s new book. So far I have not seen any good evidence for a historical Jesus, so hopefully Casey has some good arguments. I hope he also deals with the epistles, because they are important texts for the mythicist case.

    1. Hi Bill, Yes there are possibly other sources such as Mark 1.40-45 and 12.1-12 but it takes a long time to work on these passages and see what one thinks. I’m also looking at double tradition material in my thesis as you know and some of this shows signs of translation from Aramaic. Casey comments briefly on the epistles when dealing with the mythicists but it is mainly a book about the gospels and Jesus.

  23. “some of this strains credulity”
    “jejune assertion”
    “similarly breathtaking”
    “special pleading”
    “moves beyond the state of the art in making assertions about the historical Jesus”
    “breathtaking assumption”
    “the astounding suggestion in this book”
    “omission is ingeniously explained”
    “it is also worrying to read”
    “a blurring of the boundary between discovery and imagination which is rather inappropriate in a scholarly work”
    “ingenious interpretations”
    “his endeavour must be judged as a theoretical exercise which may or may not relate to the truth”

    The above phrases and comments appear in scholarly reviews (by Bruce Chilton and Nina Collins) of Casey’s “Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel”. Now Casey may well have answered these critics. If so, I would like to read his responses to give him the chance to defend himself.

    (Reviews are in Journal of Biblical Literature, v.120, no. 1 (Spring 2001) pp 169-171; and Novum Testamentum, v. 42, Fasc 3 (Jul 2000), pp. 286-291.)

    1. i cannot reasonably reply to phrases taken out of context. Nina Collins is a Jewish pupil of Hyam Maccoby and this is one of the most biased book reviews we have ever read. I cannot comment further until we have looked at the reviews in the library. I can’t say where Casey has responded to what until I can see the reviews in the library. It is obvious that all critical scholars have to deal with critical reviews of their most original work.

  24. STEPH
    you have not explained why the early church would make up a prayer of Jesus pleading not to die when his atoning death was central to them.

    CARR
    I guess when Jesus declares that it is God’s will that the cup should not be taken from him, Casey says this is Jesus pleading not to die.

    ‘Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

    The passage makes clear the inevitability of what was going to happen.

    What prevented ‘Mark’ writing a passage where Jesus resigns himself to his inevitable death?

    What does Casey expect? Jesus saying ‘I can’t wait to be crucified. Bring it on.’

    STEPH
    Nor does a novel in Greek explain why Mark’s Greek contains obvious Aramaisms and mistakes.

    CARR
    I guess the ‘Latin’ spells in Harry Potter contain no obvious Latinisms and mistakes…..

    After all, if a novel uses French words, like the Hercule Poirot novels do, then it must be using a source document, especially if the ‘foreign’ influence is not perfect.

  25. ‘ He does not suggest that because he can translate into Aramaic there is an Aramaic source.’

    Of course he does.

    Or more to the point, Casey claims that because he can translate into Aramaic, ‘Mark’ must not have read his Aramaic source properly.

    No wonder those scholars slammed Casey in language you rarely see used in reviews.

  26. I am cutting my subscription to this post and won’t be responding further to this unfruitful ‘discussion’. Read independent scholarship, don’t misrepresent and don’t take scholars out of context. I need to work on my thesis full time which has to be completed by the summer.

  27. So not a single piece of logic by Stephanie.

    She is totally unable to justify why something should be sourced to Jesus if Casey can think of an Aramaic translation for the Greek of Mark’s Gospel.

    Not a single reason how Casey can read an alleged Aramaic document better than the person who had it in front of him.

    1. and Carr’s ignorant arrogance prevents him from reading Aramaic Sources of Mark and engaging with the detailed arguments there, and leads him to attribute to Casey what he has not said. And nobody said he was ‘better’ – as any proof reader corrects a writer’s error they are not necessarily ‘better’, so Casey who has spent devoted his career to ancient languages and included that of the DSS, identifies errors and other signs of translation, some of which is even intentional mistranslation.

      Meanwhile why has my unsubscription not worked?!

  28. The author of Mark could have been a native speaker of a Semitic language and an inexpert writer of Greek. That would be a potential alternate explanation of ‘Aramaisms’, yes? He thinks in Aranaic (or Syriac) and ‘translates’ into Koine on the page.

    1. I wondered the same. But if this were the case, I imagine Aramaic scholars would have long since been able to demonstrate that his “clumsy Greek” is directly related to Aramaic syntax.

      I looked in vain for a sustained argument from Casey that this was indeed his method, but he seems never to go any farther than pointing to isolated phrases, and even in those the Aramaic ‘original’ is determined solely as a result of his own sometimes ‘controversial’ interpretation of the Greek phrase (e.g. son of man in Mark 2).

      If I have missed something then maybe stephanie can alert me, but she appears not to have continued posting here.

  29. Steph still cannot say what these arguments of Casey’s are!

    Amazing!

    And it remains a fact that Casey said ‘Mark’ had a misreading of an Aramaic source – and that he , Casey, knows this although he has never seen this alleged Aramaic source!

    Casey can read documents better than people who have these (alleged) documents in front of them, even if Casey has never seen the document!

  30. ‘Christianity appeared suddenly and spread quickly as a direct result of thousands of Jews being persuaded that a failed messiah, one crucified as a criminal by a Roman governor, was indeed a heavenly Messiah and to be worshiped as a divinity beside God himself.’

    So what the Hell had Jesus beeen doing for 3 years if Christianity only appeared ‘suddenly’ ie as soon as no Jesus existed?

    The logic seems to be :-
    1) When Jesus existed, Christianity did not.
    2) As soon as Jesus died and no longer existed, Christianity appeared suddenly.

    Therefore, the only explanation is that Jesus must have existed.

    Or else Christianity could not have appeared suddenly.

    I can see flaws in this logic….

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