The Twelve Disciples: New Insights from Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey

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by Neil Godfrey

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

This post looks at the biblical seven number of topics:

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

The Authenticity of the Twelve

The Twelve disciples are clearly an authentic fact of history, reasons Casey, for the following reasons (p. 186):

  1. “the earliest source material is entirely coherent”
  2. “and has an excellent setting in first century Judaism”
  3. “but not in the early church, for whom the Twelve were not of continuing importance for long after the election of Matthias (Acts 1.12-26).”

Here are the details — demonstrating the above “coherence” and “excellent setting” — which enable Casey to assert the Twelve are indeed historical:

  • The Twelve “turn up with [Jesus] at various points, including his final Passover . . . “

— and “Mark tells us that Jesus ‘made Twelve so that they might be with him, and so that he might send them out to preach and to have power to cast out demons’ (Mk 3.14-15). This corresponds to the two central points of his ministry. Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry was directed at Israel as a whole, so it is logical that he should send his closest followers out ot carry on that ministry. That there should be 12 of them corresponds symbolically to the twelve tribes of Israel. Exorcism and healing were central to his ministry . . . “

  • The Twelve “are sent out, which might have made them ‘apostles’, for the Greek word apostoloi . . . simply means ‘sent’, as does the underlying Aramaic shelihin. . . However, this was surely not the term normally used, since it is rare in the earliest sources. . . . We must infer that the inner group were known as t
  • he Twelve [the term used in Mk 6.7 and 1 Cor. 15.5] . . .”
  • Matthew and Luke refer to the Eleven (Twelve minus One) after one of them, Judas, betrayed Jesus, but Paul continued to repeat an early tradition of the Twelve because twelve represented the twelve tribes of Israel and that was the reason for the institution of that number in the first place.

Casey concludes that all of this is so “coherent” and has such a “perfect setting” in the life of Jesus that:

The authenticity of this material should therefore be accepted. (p. 186)

So there you have it. Anyone who reads the Gospel of Mark and who is receptive to narrative coherence and realistic setting must conclude that the details of such a narrative are genuinely historical!

Mythicists who do not accept the validity of this reasoning, but who instead apply normative literary analysis and historical methodology to conclude the story is has no claims to historical certainty, Casey proclaims, are fuelled by “atheist prejudice” and hold the Gospel of Mark “in contempt” (p. 499).

(The scholar usually trotted out as having established the historicity of the Twelve is Meier. So I was expecting to read something substantial when I read his arguments. I was left confused about why any serious “scholar” would rely on his case, and discussed his argument in detail here.)

Rich or Poor?

In a recent post I discussed Casey’s argument that the disciples were so poor — destitute, really — that they were allowed by biblical law to pluck corn from a field on the sabbath to satisfy their hunger. Jesus, on the other hand, did not pluck that corn on that day, so Casey was able to argue that Jesus was not as poor as his disciples. (I thought this was a bit poor of Jesus not to have shared his packed lunch or provided something better for his devotees than raw corn in order for them to have rejoiced on the sabbath as God intended.) (I also had to read this argument several times when I first encountered it in James Crossley’s book on the date of Mark’s gospel — it took me several readings to realize that my initial John McEnroe reaction, “You can’t be serious”, was a truly valid response.)

But there are a number of times when Casey confuses me by coming up with something that does not quite sit comfortably with what he writes elsewhere, and this is one of them.

In his section “The Call of the Twelve” Casey argues that a full half of the twelve disciples were quite well off financially, and that in addition there were a number of women followers who supported Jesus financially out of their very substantial assets.

Peter and Andrew:

At his call, Simeon the Rock was fishing with Andrew his brother (Mk 1.16), and they had their own house in the small lakeside town of Capernaum (Mk 1.29-30) . . . . It follows that they were not peasants, but townspeople who had a successful fishing business.

Jacob (James) and John

Like Simeon the Rock and his brother Andrew, Jacob and John were fishermen, and at their call they left their father and hired labourers (Mk 1.19-20). We must infer that they too were not peasants on the breadline, but members of a successful fishing business.


He was a tax-collector, not a peasant on the breadline . . . .

James [Jacob] the son of Alphaeus

He was presumably the brother of Levi [=Matthew] son of Alphaeus, the tax collector . . . . This is another man who was not a peasant on the breadline, and both brothers are possible candidates for writing down traditions about Jesus during his historic ministry. (p. 191)

Since Casey elsewhere argues Judas Iscariot used to travel to the Temple and pay for sacrificial animals, and probably tithed on mint and cumin, and then had the means to travel from the southern parts of Judaea all the way to Galilee in the north, I think Casey is guilty of an oversight in not listing Judas Iscariot as reasonably well off, too. He was trusted with the purse, after all.

The women: Mary, Joanna, Susanna

The description of them, providing support ‘from their private resources’, means that these women possessed private wealth, which they used to finance Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. . . . The description of [Joanna’s] husband as ‘Herod’s steward’ means that he was a rich and important figure at Herod’s court in Tiberias. . . . the early church would not have been motivated to make it up. (p. 193)

Of course not. No early Christian would ever have felt tempted for a moment to indicate that members of the upper crust respectable social ranks were sympathetic to Jesus!

So in one chapter Casey argues that the disciples were so dirt-poor that their well-fed Jesus could stand by while they gouged raw corn in a field just to get through the sabbath day with some sort of spiritual rejoicing as God intended, and in another he can demonstrate how well off at least half of them were, and how they had a substantial pool of resources from a clique of female fans whom they could call on to meet their every need.

Whatever gets you through the night.

Matthew, the lost now found author of lost Q material

Currently there is a renewed challenge among a number of scholars against the thesis that the gospels of Matthew and Luke drew on a now-lost document, called “Q”, and that this explains why they differ from Mark and share certain similarities with each other.

But Casey, being “independent” as he explains, is able to argue differently from the various scholarly guilds from Europe to North America. Q was not a single document, but multiple pieces he labels vaguely as “material”. (A student of Casey’s  is currently working on a thesis to hopefully ‘prove’ this once and for all.) Casey’s independence enables him to take scholarly insights even further. He can tell us who the most likely author of this Q material really was.

It was “Matthew”, the name attached to the first gospel. But don’t misunderstand. Casey does not say that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew. No. There was a fourth-century clergyman (Eusebius) who wrote that there was a second-century Christian “father” named Papias who wrote that Matthew compiled a ‘sayings/logia’ of Jesus in Hebrew.

  • Eusebius in the 4th century wrote that
  • Papias in the 2nd century wrote that
  • Matthew in the first century wrote a “sayings of Jesus” in Hebrew (“a Hebrew language”, says Casey).

Probably most scholars — certainly Casey — acknowledge that our Gospel of Matthew contains enough internal grammatical evidence to establish that it was originally written in Greek. So Casey concludes that what Eusebius said of Papias was originally — centuries earlier — really mistaken, and that Papias must have known that “Matthew” wrote not the Gospel of Matthew, but an earlier list of sayings. Casey reasons that this was not strictly in Hebrew, but in Aramaic.

But there’s more!

Matthew was a tax collector, and this makes him a likely candidate for being the author of the “Q material”.

To explain: Casey knows Matthew was definitely a tax collector because:

The Gospel writer’s view of the apostle Matthew was that he was a tax collector (Mt. 9.9, altering Mk 2.14; Mt. 10.3, expanding Mk 3.18), and he is most unlikely to have added this to his Markan tradition, unless he had a good source for it. We should therefore accept this. (p. 87)

So what does this clearly “established fact” have to do with the authorship of Q material?

As a tax collector, the apostle Matthew would be very experienced in writing information accurately and legibly on wax tablets. It is entirely natural that one of the Twelve, who was a tax collector, selected himself to write down material about Jesus during his historic ministry. (p. 87)

He was a tax-collector . . . and consequently accustomed to writing information down, legibly and accurately, on wax tablets. He made good use of his skill by writing down traditions [sic] about Jesus, mostly sayings, in Aramaic. Some of this was what we now know as ‘Q’ material, and it is entirely probable that some of it has survived in Greek as material special to Matthew, Mark [sic] or Luke. (p. 190)

Pity that Mark did not have access to wax tablets recording Jesus traditions that were written by Matthew in his “legible” hand. Casey (as I have presented in earlier posts on his book) “demonstrates” that Mark had a hard time reading some of the Aramaic text of his sources and tended to mistake what was meant to have been originally written (obviously not by Matthew’s tax-collector-trained “legible” hand) – hence his bodgie Greek here and there.

Peter’s “confession”: You have oil on your head!

There is a famous passage in Matthew’s Gospel where Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus responds by announcing that “on this rock” [Peter means “rock”] “I will build my church.”

Casey discovers here more evidence that the author of this gospel was copying from an Aramaic text. (Casey never seems to have considered the possibility that anyone ever told a gospel author orally what Jesus did. The gospel authors are always limited to reading a wax tablet and very often confusing the Aramaic letters wedged into it. I’m sure they could have got a lot more things right if someone told them the story orally, too, and thus avoided the problem of misreading this or that Aramaic letter that gave rise to supposedly “complete nonsense” as a Greek translation of the Aramaic letters. But Casey’s scenario does not allow for that scenario. Within five to ten years at the very most they were constrained by written wax tablets about incidents they had never heard anyone speak about.)

But according to Casey Jesus definitely must have said to Peter that “on this rock I will build my ‘church or whatever'” because . . . .

“Rock” in Greek is “petra” and Peter is “petros”, so there is a clear pun there in the Greek . . . .

BUT the two words in Aramaic for “Peter” and “rock” also form a pun . . . .

and that is not likely to have been a coincidence. (p. 189)

So there you have it. If you can find a Greek pun is still a pun when translated into Aramaic, then the Aramaic was definitely the original source, and if the Aramaic was definitely the original source, and . . . . well, it was historical fact, so that’s that. But there’s a little more to justify the historicity, but only if we are prepared to completely change the meaning of the Greek we read in our Gospel of Matthew! (If this is getting way too heavy and nonsensical you are allowed to stop reading here and move on to something more worthwhile. But I’m trying to explain serious “independent” biblical scholarship here, so it’s not for the faint-hearted or logically inclined. This is serious stuff.)

Now what words could possibly have been exchanged between Peter and Jesus?

Well, Peter probably said (in Aramaic of course), “Jesus, you are an/the anointed!”Now Matthew and Mark took this and rewrote it so Peter says, “Jesus, You are the Christ!!”

But Casey, being an Aramaic scholar, knows that the Aramaic for “anointed” simply means “anointed”, and that the Greek word for Christ, though a translation of “anointed”, has all sorts of theological implications. So Peter never said anything to mean the Greek “Christ”. He simply said that Jesus had oil on his head (or feet), or something that simply means “anointed”.

So what did Jesus say in return?

Well Matthew says he said that “on this ‘rock/Peter pun’ I will build my church’. But that word for “church” is the Greek ‘ekklesia’ and simply means “assembly”, and by incredible coincidence, the word for “assembly” in Aramaic also means “assembly”, or the Greek word “ekklesia”. Add to this “the [bleedingly] obvious fact” that Peter was the leader of the Twelve next to Jesus, and it is clear beyond all doubt that Jesus said, in his best Aramaic, “Peter, next to me, you are the leader of the Twelve”.

So Casey has with incredible intellect reconstructed what was probably the original historical dialogue in Aramaic:

Peter: Jesus, you have oil on your head.

Jesus: Peter, it has been so bleedingly obvious from day one that you, after me, are the leader of this bunch.

Moreover, Jesus must have meant something, and since Simeon really was the leader of the Twelve, and thus the leader of the Jesus movement second only to Jesus himself, this is the obvious thing for Jesus to have meant. . . .

In Mark, this is ‘You are the Christ’ . . . . In Greek, as in English, this is a sound Christian confession, but any possible underlying Aramaic would mean only ‘You are a/the anointed’, a possible thing to say, but not enough to be a major confession. (p. 188)

Why did the Twelve disappear from history?

Casey has established that the disciple wrote only on Aramaic — as explained above — so we can infer that that was the only language he knew.

And if he only knew Aramaic, then Casey sees a reason for Matthew never to have left Galilee. He played no further part in the history of the church. (Casey here seems to forget that Acts has the Twelve making a fuss and getting arrested in Jerusalem.)

This may have been true of other members of the Twelve as well, though this leaves us wondering why they did not spread the Gospel in the Aramaic speaking diaspora. It is probable that they expected God to finally establish his kingdom at once, but such beliefs did not normally stop anyone from spreading such good news. (p. 191)

Changing of the Guard

The names in the lists of Twelve are not consistent across the different canonical Gospels. Some scholars have seen this as an indicator that the lists are not authentic historical tradition. But Casey sides with those (usually apologists) who refuse to admit any contradiction in the Scriptures, and argues that the differences are indicators that some members of the Twelve were replaced, by Jesus, with others during his ministry.

This may well reflect a change of personnel during the ministry. . . . It is inherent in having a fixed group of Twelve that dead or renegade members must be replaced, so it may well be that Jesus was in charge of the replacement of Thaddaeus by Judah, son of Jacob, during his historic ministry, and Simeon the Rock later followed his example in organizing the replacement of Judas with Matthias. (p. 191)

No political radicals among Jesus’ followers!

One of the last names in the list of Twelve is Simon the “Canaanite”, also translated as Simon the “Zealot”. Some authors (scholarly ones) have suggested that this indicates this Simon was once a political subversive who, on being called to follow Jesus, turned from his allegiance with those who were engaged in subversive activity against Roman rule.

Casey finds a simpler explanation.

It means that he was an exceptional Jew, but not necessarily violent or in any way connected with what was later a particular Zealot movement. (p. 191)

Judas Iscariot, Casey argues, was also a most devout Jew. But I presented Casey’s view of him in the previous post.

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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “The Twelve Disciples: New Insights from Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey”

  1. “… and how they had a substantial pool of resources from a clique of female fans whom they could call on to meet their every need…”

    New Testament scholarship? Or is that you talking, Neil? 😉

    Whatever,… I’ve heard this “groupie” theory many times before.

    Isn’t there already enough testosterone stimulating formation of these disciples without having to pump steroids into Peter, turning him from doofus to rock star? *cringe*

    No wonder Mary Magdalene or others aren’t allowed to be disciples. That might make Peter look bad and could mess up the count (was that eleven or twelve)…

  2. I think I’m starting to distrust independent scholars. I’d have to prefer atheist scholars; you know, those dependent scholars who depend on atheism. There’s something to be said for being dependent on reality after all!

  3. I must not be following the arguments correctly. It doesn’t make sense. Casey thinks a substantial number of the Twelve (maybe half?) were not poor, but were of the merchant or equivalent class. And it seems logical that anyone who collects taxes or sells fish in first-century Galilee would know Greek. Hell, even a skilled laborer would need to know enough Greek to get by. You’d think.

    But Casey says they didn’t, and he’s the Aramaic expert. We have to imagine Matthew collecting taxes only from Aramaic-speakers, and Simon Peter gesturing and grunting to his Greek-speaking customers. We must picture a congregation of Jews in a non-existent synagogue in the unsettled village of Nazareth not using the LXX (even though gospel quotations from the OT would indicate otherwise). Have I got it right?

  4. Atheists hold the Gospel of Mark in contempt? I don’t believe in any gods and I think Mark’s gospel is one of the greatest works of literature ever created. It moves along at a tremendous clip, has great comedic relief (thick as pigshit disciples) and a brilliant enigmatic ending that lingers in the reader’s mind long after one has finished the gospel. Oh, Casey means as a HISTORICAL source? Well, that’s probably a different matter…

    1. Mark as an historical source?

      On page 162, Casey describes Mark’s Gospel as ‘unshakeable evidence’.

      I do like Casey’s claim on page 190 that these disciples were not peasants on the breadline, although they were so poor that they had to eat corn from fields.

      I also like Casey’s claim that ‘most bilinguals are not fully competent in both their languages’.

      I guess that makes Casey incompetent in all of Greek, English and Aramaic. After all, is he not one of these trilingual people , who we now know are ‘not fully competent’.

      Casey knows that ‘Marcus’ asked people about Aramaic and misunderstood what they say.

      If only Mark had been as brilliant at languages as an English professor writing 2000 years after the events, who can read invisible Aramaic wax tablets better than native Aramaic speakers who can actually hold them in their hands.

  5. ‘The Gospel writer’s view of the apostle Matthew was that he was a tax collector (Mt. 9.9, altering Mk 2.14; Mt. 10.3, expanding Mk 3.18), and he is most unlikely to have added this to his Markan tradition, unless he had a good source for it. We should therefore accept this.’

    This really is junk scholarship. If somebody adds something, then it must be accepted….

    Junk, junk, junk…. The book is a pile of junk.

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