First impressions of an “independent historian’s” account of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

In several comments on this blog doctoral student Stephanie Louise Fisher alerted me and others to future publications by the University of Nottingham’s Emeritus of New Testament Languages and Literature Professor, Maurice Casey.

My copy of “Jesus of Nazareth: an Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching” by Maurice Casey has now arrived. I will post on specific points made in this book, but one point I can address now as a general introduction is what appears to be the meaning of Casey’s term “independent historian”.

From the first two chapters and footnote-directed readings to later pages, my first impressions are that an “independent” historian is one who does not need to explain his or her own viewpoint, but merely needs to pronounce that he or she is not an apologist for any particular Christian religious agenda, nor a Moslem, nor a Jew, nor an atheist. Casey also has words to say about the “academic independence” of British universities, pointing out to his American peers that they hire without regard to religious or racial affiliation. Further, Casey singles out names who are known to be “atheist”, and regularly repeats the “atheist” epithet when he mentions them, and associates these names as “atheists” with “Christ-myth” views.

The implication is clear. It is atheists (especially from America) who are on some sort of agenda to declare Jesus Christ a mythical character. (I will be detailing specific quotations in future posts.) On the other hand, Casey suggests that it is “independent scholars” like himself who are above Christian apologetics and atheistic anti-Christian agendas, as if those are the only two viable alternatives.

I hope in future posts to quote specific citations to show that publicly proclaimed atheists (including names from mainstream scholarship) are among the most vociferous opponents of the Christ-myth idea. I will also refer to what I have learned of Christ-myth theorists and scholars who are “religious” and even “pro-Christian” in their sentiments.

In the meantime, as for my own supposedly “anti-Christian vendetta”, I invite anyone interested enough to refer to my profile in the right margin of this blog and follow through the links in my profile.

Till I get the opportunity to address Casey’s arguments in more detail, I will leave this post with this observation:

Casey comes across as one who applauds names who agree with his views as being “brilliant” and as having “completely independent minds” (and he cites here specifically Stephanie Louise Fisher and James Crossley); and by contrast, any scholar who has decided Jesus is not as fully “Jewish” as he, Casey, feels fits the bill, is by definition influenced by the politics of anti-semitism, or, in the case of “atheists”, the interest of anti-Christian vendettas.

I will also show in future posts that Casey, like Crossley and Fisher, is not nearly as “independent” as he likes to think, but has in fact fallen in line with the very assumptions of New Testament scholarship that most need to be questioned if the discipline is to emerge as a serious historical discipline on a par with nonbiblical historical studies.

Anyone interested in understanding the minds of those whom Casey applauds as “brilliant” and “independent” might be interested in observing how those minds express themselves in comments on the following posts:

The most improbable history of Christian origins
“Partisanship” in New Testament scholarship
Why would the Gospel authors have made it up?
The Gospel of Mark’s unrecognized “birth” narrative of Jesus Christ
Biblical historians make detectives look silly
How (most) biblical “historians” work: a case study

The Dark Side of Jesus: His call to hate one’s family to be his disciple
Dating Mark early
Biblioblogs peddling bigotry and ignorance
Okay, just one more early-dating of Mark critique, but quickly
How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty
End the levity of the previous post. These are my comrades.
Why might a study of the Bible benefit someone “not of the faith”?

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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “First impressions of an “independent historian’s” account of Jesus”

  1. It’s possible to read chunks of Casey’s book at Amazon. I’ve been skimming it for fun. Here’s something interesting from p. 178:

    “The ‘Q’ translator must therefore have believed that Jesus was in the wilderness when he delivered this speech, and consequently the crowds and John were there too. Moreover, this ‘Q’ translator was in touch with this early and accurate tradition, which may well have been written down by Matthew the tax-collector on one of his wax tablets. We should therefore believe him.”

    Apparently Casey believes there has to have been an underlying written, Aramaic Q, which somebody translated in to Greek. By carefully analyzing Greek verb tenses and aspects, he is able to reconstruct an historical Matthew the tax-collector, complete with wax tablets.

    “Independent Historian”? If this is any indication of his work, I’m not sure either word fits.

    1. Casey’s methodological theme is two-fold:

      A passage only makes sense within an early Jewish context
      A passage would not have been invented by the later church

      Ergo, a passage is as good as one can get to an eye-witness report of a real historical event in a day in the life of Jesus.

      1. I don’t see why there’s so much excitement over the criterion of plausibility. At best it works as an exclusionary tool, a way to say, “Well, that almost certainly didn’t happen.” As such I think it would be better to call it the criterion of implausibility. Casey points out lots of stuff in the Gospel of John that’s too implausible to be true. That’s fine. However, once you’ve established a saying or act in the gospels as plausible, you’ve just barely started.

        In a criminal case, they call it “opportunity.” If a suspect has an alibi, then he didn’t have the opportunity to commit the crime. He has exculpatory evidence that proves he was elsewhere at the time of the crime. However, if it can be shown that the suspect has no alibi and could have been at or near the scene, we’ve established opportunity and nothing else. It is plausible that he is the culprit. He could have been near the scene of the crime, but so may hundreds of other people. To make a case we need motive and evidence.

        Is there any other branch of historical studies in which a reputed scholar can claim that plausibility is sufficient evidence for a truth claim? It boggles the mind.

  2. Since he brings up the notion of anti-semitism I think it is important to point out that orthodox Judaism itself was anti-semitic throughout most of its history. Several of my blog posts back in May discussed this. Orthodox Judaism engaged in genocide against many other Semitic groups according to the Torah, Joshua, and Samuel. And as we continue in the stories of the kings as found in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, we find orthodox Judaism viewing any king tolerant of other Semitic religions or alternate interpretations of Judaism as evil and all the kings who persecuted other Semitic religion or other interpretations of Judaism as good kings. We find also that the prophets who represent Orthodox Judaism are constantly in conflict with Jews who have a different view of Judaism. So it was also in the first century. So then, to say that Jesus was a Jew does not require that he was an orthodox Jew. Authors who like to throw the charge of anti-semitism around at those who criticize Orthodox Judaism or admit that Jesus was not an Orthodox Jew, are themselves anti-semites. They insist that one is not a Jew is he is not an ORTHODOX Jew, and by doing so lower the non-orthodox Jews to a sub-Jew status…and they don’t stop there, because to them sub-Jew also means sub-human.

  3. Casey appears to give scholars no credit for being aware of their own biases and being capable of arriving at conclusions with honesty despite them.

    He faults the Jesus Seminar (which he always labels “the American” Jesus Seminar) for creating a Jesus in its own academic image of out-of-touch fascination with philosophy, yet nowhere demonstrates that the academics of the “American Jesus Seminar” did indeed have such a self-image.

    Christ-myth proponents are always labelled “atheists” by Casey, yet I know that some of the strongest opponents of the Christ myth view are also atheists. And since Stephanie herself, whom Casey declares also has an independent mind, accused me — without any supporting evidence and even contrary to much evidence — of being motivated by anti-Christian bias, I can only conclude that he and such “independent minds” simply concoct imaginary biases in those with whom they disagree.

  4. Thanks so much for all you share. I have found so much of your information to be useful to me. Because of that, I wanted to pass along to you an upcoming event that was recently shared with me that I think you may enjoy – & even pass along to your readers. March 12, 2011 a simulcast called The Case for Christianity is taking place that will address many of the issues Christian apologetics raises. Led by Lee Strobel (former Legal Editor of the Chicago Tribune) & Mark Mittelberg, all of the most avoided questions Christians don’t like to answer or even discuss. Both are authors of extremely intriguing books, I encourage you to check them out as well as the simulcast in March. Definitely worth the time & almost positive something you would enjoy – thought I’d pass along! Thanks again!

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