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

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by Neil Godfrey

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

No archaeological evidence for Nazareth in early first century

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

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

Once again we see one of these comparative adjectives (“extreme”) used by biblical scholars or students where an absolute either/or would be more appropriate. This is yet one more of those smokescreens or red herrings that biblical apologists toss out to avoid addressing the actual arguments of mythicists. Conceptual analysis rarely seems to be a strong point among mainstream biblical scholars/students. Nazareth either existed as an urban area in the early first century or it did not. There are only two views possible: it did exist as a town/village/urban dwelling of some sort or it did not. “Extreme” implies that one has a view that lies at the very end of a continuum allowing for varying degrees of a quantitative question.

No, Casey argues that the small town of Nazareth DID exist in the early first century and that Salm and Zindler are flat wrong for daring to argue that we have no evidence that it did exist.

So how does Casey rebut these scandalous arguments that there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the time of Jesus? (I will focus on Casey’s René Salm’s study of the archaeological evidence for Nazareth because Salm has addressed the archaeological evidence most extensively in his publication and online discussions.) Here is Casey’s response to the claim that there is no material evidence for the existence of a village of Nazareth at this time:

However, there does not seem to be any serious doubt among competent investigators that some finds are of sufficiently early date, and that these include a vineyard with walls and a tower, which show that there was some sort of settlement, and shards which are said to date from the Herodian period. (p. 129 of Jesus of Nazareth)

Firstly, it is the published finds of “competent investigators” that Salm is addressing. Secondly, Casey has as likely as not taken his “vineyard with walls and a tower” from Salm’s own book. Thirdly, Casey’s assertion that this specific evidence points to “some sort of settlement” does not come within a cooee of “a village”. Villages or small towns are not usually identified by “vineyards with walls and a tower”. Yet this is the strongest rebuttal Casey can make against Salm’s argument that archaeology does not give us reason to believe that Nazareth existed as a township in the early first century. Casey ignores the remainder of Salm’s book that does clearly demonstrate, from the archaeological evidence as published by “competent investigators”, the subsequent construction of the ancient village. Salm’s argument is not simply the lack of evidence at the right time period, but the stark contrast between this lack and the abundance of evidence at other times. Salm’s argument is both positive and negative, but Casey does all he can to denigrate Salm personally by accusing him of “extraordinary incompetence and bias” to turn readers off reading his book for themselves.

As for the “textual evidence” which Kok says Salm and Zindler handle problematically, the details are too much to go into here. Kok does not address the details of Casey’s arguments, and just as well. On one hand Casey faults Salm for even addressing literary evidence that is both very late and full of inaccuracies, yet on the other hand he himself addresses the same evidence as if, despite its inaccuracies, it supports his view and its lateness has no relevance.

Casey even turns to the Gospels as “evidence” to support his argument that Nazareth existed, despite this claim being the very point under dispute!

Salm’s conviction that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus is obviously contrary to the evidence of Mk 1.9, ‘Jesus came from Nazaret of Galilee.’ (p. 131)

Er, yes. That is the reason for the debate in the first place. Casey argues that all the manuscripts contain this line in Mark, so we presumably have no reason to doubt the historicity of its detail. How seriously are we meant to take this towering intellect?

Mike Kok unfortunately compounds his uncritical acceptance of Casey’s attack by adding his own untested assertion:

To his observations I would add Acts 24:5 “Nazarenes” was likely an early name for Jesus followers deriving from Jesus the Nazarene and still in use by Jewish Jesus followers according to Epiphanius and Jerome, but the theory that the evangelists invented a small insignificant village like Nazareth as Jesus hometown has more credibility on the internet than among trained scholars.

My eyebrows have an inbuilt “Be Upstanding” response whenever I read on the internet biblical scholars and students rubbishing the value of what they themselves post on the internet. Casey (and Kok) seem to be unaware that Salm has engaged with “trained scholars” on the INTERNET’s scholarly discussion list “Crosstalk”. One can read of his exchanges with “trained scholars” on this Crosswalk list beginning from this page here. One can find further engagement on Salm’s own Nazareth Myth website. If one does not trust the internet one can still take a chance and use the internet to order a hard copy of his book.

As for Kok’s own observation that he adds to Casey’s (that Jesus’ followers were named after the town of his boyhood), I would ask where anyone has ever found any religious following being named after the village of their founder’s childhood. I can understand an epithet identifying some critical corner of their belief system. But I think Kok and anyone else would be hard-pressed to come up with any evidence that a religious group is given a name to link them with their leader’s home town. Kok in the same review says that it is “historically dubious to label anything as “unique” and without parallel”, so by his own standards he will need to find another religious group named something like “Cretans” (Jim Jones was born in Crete, Indiana) or “Houstonites” (Dave Koresh grew up in Houston).

[Correction: see my comment at #7 below]

No, there are many scholarly arguments linking the “Nazareth” epithet, or more “transliterally” “Nazorean” etc, with words related to “observer”, “keeper”, etc. and that make far more sense as an attachment to a religious leader than the supposed village of his upbringing.

As indicated above, Kok’s assertion that Christ myth proponents argue that the evangelists (Gospel authors Matthew and Luke) invented the Nazareth hometown is a bit of sloppy mischief. The same proponents, I believe, all acknowledge that the town of Nazareth really was in existence by the time they wrote, which was no earlier than very late in the first century. But the biblical “Nazarene” epithet applied to Jesus relates more literally to the word for “keeper” (of covenants, etc.).

Capernaum, another pun?

Kok does not address Casey’s criticism of Zindler’s argument that Capernaum was likewise unknown in the first century. The best Casey can do is reassert that when Josephus spoke of a similarly named place he really meant the biblical Capernaum, and that Josephus used a different name from the one we find in the Gospels because he pronounced the Semitic place name differently and/or transliterated it differently into Greek. The fact that Capernaum is a most appropriate pun (meaning “village of comfort”) for the place of Christ’s teaching and healings, and that the first Gospel (Mark) is replete with theologically potent puns, is never mentioned by Casey.

Casey’s “distinctive contribution” – reconstructing a needless Aramaic underlay

Kok writes what he must about Casey’s work:

Casey’s distinctive contribution is his ability to reconstruct the underlying Aramaic behind the sayings material, helpfully transliterated for those like myself who cannot read it.

He selects an unfortunate example to demonstrate how Casey’s “distinctive ability” can throw light on difficult passages, however:

Even those who may not share Casey’s judgments on the historicity of certain sayings . . . . may still find difficult passages in the Synoptic Gospels to be illumined by Casey’s approach.  For instance, instead of reading the jarring Mk 2:23 “to make a road” . . . . as suggesting that the disciples are preparing a royal highway for a Davidic king who has the authority to override a biblical command (cf. Hooker, St. Mark, 102-105), Casey suggests there is a simple mistranslation of the Aramaic lema ‘ebhar (“to go along”) as lema ‘ebhadh (“to make”).

Yet towards the end of the same paragraph Kok writes:

Granted, some reviewers may be more hesitant about hypothetical Aramaic sources or propose that these Greek texts can be understood on their own terms without appealing to translation errors or interference from one language to another.

This latter statement completely undermines the example Kok cites as an illustration of the enlightening value of Casey’s Aramaic hypothesis. The context of Mark’s Greek phrase for ‘make a road’ does indeed suggest “that the disciples are preparing a royal highway for a Davidic king who has the authority to override a biblical command”, since that is the imagery with which Mark introduces Jesus in his Gospel with John the Baptist’s call for people to make such a highway for their coming king. There is no need to appeal to a hypothetical Aramaic source. The Greek text “can be understood on [its] own terms.”

Casey refuses to read Mark’s Gospel as a coherent literary composition and thus misses such literary allusions.

Ironically he accuses those whose views I share about Mark not being a historical work, but a literary parable or metaphor, of holding the “evidence” in “contempt”. I suggest that it is Casey who fails to respect the integrity of the evidence as we have it.

But before leaving this section, one more detail in Kok’s review should be addressed. Following on from his reference to Casey’s argument about “making a path” above, Kok adds a summary of the rest of Casey’s argument here:

Thus, Mark’s disciples do not transgress any Law in taking the Peah, grain left in the edges of the fields for the poor (Lev 23:22) (110, 64-65).

True, Casey argues that the disciples were so poor that they were entitled by biblical law to pluck grain from fields on the sabbath, and conversely argues that Jesus was not so poor and therefore he was not allowed to pluck the grain himself. However, in the following chapter Casey argues that at least half of the disciples came from well-to-do businesses and were not by any means “on the breadline”. Not only this, but that Jesus’ work was supported by a number of wealthy women. Casey leaves it for readers to notice and resolve or rationalize such contradictions in his book.

Dissimilarity and embarrassment

Kok repeats Casey’s misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the criterion of dissimilarity by arguing that it produces a Jesus who is unlike either Christianity or Judaism, and hence so “unique” as to be unable to influence any of his contemporaries. The dissimilarity criterion was never intended to reconstruct the historical Jesus, but only to find a way to determine with arguable certainty which sayings of his were “almost definitely original”.

On the criterion of embarrassment, Kok rightly points out Casey’s correct observation:

However, Casey notes, “[t]he early church was originally centred on the life and teaching of Jesus, and very little that he said or did was embarrassing to it” (105).

This truism undermines the argument usually brought out in defence of the criterion of embarrassment, and which Kok states a follows:

Much better is the criterion of embarrassment, which argues that it is unlikely that the early church would invent material that was counterproductive to their missionary efforts

Put the two points together and it ought to be obvious that if we find a story of Jesus preserved by the church, we can infer that it was preserved because it was in the church’s interests to do so. If we from 2000 years later do not immediately recognize the particular interest, then we can assume we have more to learn about the early church.

Casey’s Hostile Anti-Atheist Bias

Kok does not directly address the question of bias that Casey raises a number of times, but it is worth noting. Casey claims to be an “independent” historian and thus beyond the biases of those who write from a perspective of religious loyalties or from an interest in attacking religion. This is a curious dichotomy, or really triad. Casey allows no room for an intellectually honest critic of religiously biased arguments — apart from his own.

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

I cannot be regarded as a Christian apologist since I left the Christian faith in 1962. (p. 39)

So Casey divides scholars as into two camps: the faithful on his right and the rebels on his left.

Even when disagreeing with them, Casey in fact refers positively or sympathetically to scholars who do write with a religious bias, often describing their worst fault as piety:

There are genuine problems with pious excavators . . . (p. 129)

This situation was made worse by the pious assumptions of early excavators, who interpreted what they found in accordance with what church traditions led them to believe should be there. (p. 129)

It is regrettable that I have had to discuss what not to do with archaeology as well as how illuminating some of its results are. It will be clear that there are three basic reasons for this. One is Christian piety, which leads to false belief about various sites and objects. . . (p. 132)

Contrast his treatment of those impious atheists:

The third is that there are atheists who are determined to oppose Christian piety, and who have therefore come up with negative comments which are no improvement on Christian piety. (p. 132)

Zindler’s second point is to make fun of Lk. 4.29-30, and of pilgrim traditions based on it. . . . Zindler proceeds to make fun of Franciscan excavations and of pious veneration of the supposed site of the Annunciation.

This underlines the importance of the literary evidence, which Salm handles with extraordinary incompetence and bias, which reflects his lack of relevant scholarly qualifications. (p. 130)

This last-mentioned charge reminds me of a frequent complaint made on this blog by Casey’s doctoral student. The student regularly raised someone’s lack of scholarly credentials as sufficient to refute an argument they were making.

And that is about as deep as Casey’s arguments get. I have discussed enough examples of their circularity, self-contradictions and all round lightness in other posts.


Now. No more Casey posts for a while.

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Neil Godfrey

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

  1. Neil, thanks for your review. This will probably be my only comment as I find it gets a little too polemical here and prefer collegial academic exchange; if I disagree with a scholar (e.g. Robert Price) I prefer to deal with arguments rather than attack the person or academic training. I disagree with your dichotomy between historians and “biblical historians” as not only do many biblical scholars have higher degrees in classics or history (or sociology, literary studies, etc – religious studies is a fairly wide net), but biblical or religious studies in a University as opposed to a seminary are part of the Humanities in general and regularly interacts with other departments. For instance, I remember when JD Crossan visited my old University, professors & students from all over the Humanities came to listen (including the history professor who taught me a graduate seminar survey of the history of historiography) and no one treated him as if he was using completely idiosyncratic methods or as less of an academic because he is a “biblical scholar”.

    Okay, about my review, I admit I was too flippant in my dismissal of critics who deny Nazareth and it is a fair enough criticism that I overlooked how they argue Nazareth existed in the time of the evangelists. I was trying to represent the general state of the question among most scholars, and I would add that one of the few PhD mythicists Richard Carrier is equally dismissive about the theory denying Nazareth’s existent online. For Nazarene as a primitive title and still in use among Jewish Jesus groups in the fourth century, one could check out R. Pritz, “Nazarene Jewish Christianity: From the End of the New Testament Period Until its Disappearance in the Fourth Century.” I will have to look to see if their are parallels to groups named after the hometown of a leader, but we also know that Christians are later disparagingly referred to as “Galileans”. In an age where ethnicity (ethnos, genos) and cult went hand in hand in the Greco-Roman period, both were originally ethnic slurs based on where Jesus and his first followers came from (note that in Acts it is an opponent who describes them as the sect of the Nazarenes, it is the Greek title Christianos that has become prominent in the second or third generation writer of Acts [acts 11:26; 26:28; cf 1 Pet 4:16]). As for disimilarity, I think you slightly misrepresent me here – I agree that the criteria was meant to establish some authentic core (that idea being that if it can’t be attributed to anyone else, it must be Jesus…) but my point was that it is actually a bad criteria because their are always parallels or we simply do not know enough to say something was ever unparalleled and therefore Jesus alone said it. As for embarrasment, I qualify it that in many cases it doesn’t work, but we know things were embarrassing to the evangelists because of the way they edit their sources (Matt/Luke’s use of Mark is the clearest example, but even the way Mark seems to edit or neutralize the force of a saying by putting them into certain contexts or his own explanatory comments or what not). About the Aramaic, again I was qualifying by noting that some scholars will no doubt reject the case for Aramaic sources and argue that the Greek text makes sense on its own terms – no question is ever fixed and settled in scholarship and it is always about weighing probabilities. However, what Casey has done is not just to hypothesis Aramaic sources out of the blue, but to specifically pick out passages that have long been recognized as textual problems and suggest an Aramaic original as a possible solution to these difficulties. So in the case of “anger” in Mk 1:41, both ancient scribes and modern textual critics see the issue (for background, see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/textualcriticism/message/1502). Casey proposes that the Aramaic regaz explains the original translation “anger” even though it doesn’t quite make sense in its context and why a scribe would have changed it to “compassion”, others scholars have proposed different solutions as I note in the post. Or his argument about the jarring “to make a road” in Mk 2 which was edited out by Matt/Luke – you could argue as you did in an earlier post about the importance of preparing a way in Mark especially given the influence on Deutero-Isaiah on Mark, but Casey’s solution has the appeal of also making good sense of the text and conforming it to Mark’s portrayal of Jesus elsewhere where the Markan Jesus rejects the oral tradition but never the Law itself(in fact in his criticism of Corban later he attacks the oral tradition as overriding a biblical commandment to honour parents, whether that’s a fair criticism or not). Again, Casey’s solution that their is an Aramaic substratum to the Son of Man problem has been widely argued (e.g. the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, though Casey has clear differences with him on the idiom), so this is a potential solution to this debate. So whether or not you ultimately agree or disagree, Casey’s ability with Aramaic at least is a genuine contribution and deserves a careful evaluation. Finally, yes there are scholars that I like that were recipients of some of the polemic in the book, but have you not been equally polemical against us so-called biblical historians who you deem totally ignorant of even the basics of historical method. Anyways, thanks anyways and hopefully some find the discussion of the issues helpful

    1. You have inferred I have attacked the persons rather than the arguments. I deny this. I have addressed arguments, and it has been the McGraths and the Crossleys who have responded with personal insult and have avoided addressing the arguments.

      If my arguments about historical method are invalid, then can you kindly point to where they have been addressed in a collegial manner?

      As for JD Crossan, you will find I refer to his works several times here and always focus on the arguments, sometimes favourably and sometimes to argue against them. I have never cast any polemic against him as a person and I reject your inference that I have done so.

      My arguments about historiography are based on the principles and methodologies promoted by a number of Sheffield scholars themselves, as well as other highly renowned scholars in biblical studies. I was disappointed that Crossley chose to respond to my review of one of his works the way he did.

      Yes, I have responded recently of the irrelevance of theological training for historical methodologies. (Yes, with some sarcasm against one particular scholar who has attacked me personally with insult and falsely imputing motives and twisting whatever I write.) One only has to compare the claims of theologians who profess to be historians with contrasting statements on methodology by scholars like Hobsbawm and Schweitzer to see this.

      As for Casey, you will find it is his arguments that I focus on. Yes, with respect to Casey I sometimes do allow a mild sarcasm to slip into my tone but have made it clear, I hope, that this is occasioned by Casey’s own gratuitous ad hominems against a number of persons in his book. It is regrettable that this scholar apparently encourages his students to attack me personally by his own example of attacking the motives and credentials of others with whom he disagrees. It is fitting, I think, to point out where a scholar of Casey’s standing is failing to uphold the standards expected of public intellectuals.

      I am aware of Pritz’s work and have been planning to do posts on it some time soon on this blog.

      If I did misrepresent you at any point then do quote me. I will retract anything like that with an apology. I attempted to be clear about what was your position vis a vis Casey’s and my own opinion, but if I have failed I will make amends.

      1. But do you not think this dichotomy of historians vrs “biblical historians”, “sham methodologies”, commenters invoking “apologists” or “supernaturalists”,(including all evangelical, mainline protestant, catholic, jewish, agnostic and atheist historical Jesus scholars?), assumptions that we are unfamiliar with historiography from von ranke onwards, could be read as disparaging those who spend their lifetimes reading the primary texts in their original languages and massive secondary literature and work within interdisciplinary departments? The Sheffield faculty you allude to would be the first to note a difference between literature from the Persian or even Hellenistic period that refers to events centuries ago versus a distance of mere decades. About misrepresentation, I target your quote “Kok repeats Casey’s misunderstanding…” – it is not that either of us do not know the criterion was intended to arrive at an authentic core, but both of us are pointing to some of the ideological blinders that want to contrast this alleged authentic core visa-vie Judaism. If you are interested in a fair and balanced review, even if you disagree you could for instance note that postulating Aramaic sources is not so rediculous as caricatured (especially by Carr below). For instance, besides early Aramaic speaking believers, Mark has one of the greatest concentrations of Aramaic words or Aramaisms in such a short space of Greek work, Casey’s examples are taken from long debated textual issues so the idea of translation errors deserves a fair hearing, Papias explicitly tells us that “Matthew” wrote in a Hebrew dialect (which doesn’t sound like the canonical Greek text that came to be known as “according to Matthew” and the argument that this referred to a Semitic style is not convincing), the continual belief in a Hebrew Gospel in patristic sources, etc. Why is it so dismissable to postulate Aramaic sources when other scholars (and some mythicists) accept Q, not to mention the hypothetical layers argued for by Kloppenborg or even Doherty, which is equally a hypothetical construct; really both are source critical attempts to better understand the complex relationship of the Synoptic Gospels and each merits a careful evaluation. Or I could point to your past review of Crossley’s Date of Mark’s Gospel which was unrelentingly negative without even a mention that Crossley is well-respected for his detailed knowledge of halakhic debates in rabbinic literature or that a number of critical Jewish rabbinic scholars including Jacob Neusner who more than anyone influenced scholars to more critically handle the rabbinic texts still uses them (especially parts of the Mishnah) critically along with Josephus and the Gospels to reconstruct first century Pharisaism including such debates over oral tradition, purity, hand washing and the like. All I ask is for a little fair and balanced, or else it looks like you have an axe to grind.

        1. So do you want me to repeat the conventional wisdoms and fall into line with the parameters of debates as approved by the mainstream scholarly guild? If you take exception to my discussion of the basics of external controls as clearly presented from Schweitzer to Hobsbawm and repeated by “minimalists” then why not address this argument instead of the sweeping accusations?

          I note you do not refer to any specifics in any of my posts but resort to blanket generalizations. Did you read what I was getting at specifically in my review of Crossley’s second chapter? Did you read Crossley’s response — which was actually posted on another thread?

          Where was my personal attack? Where was Crossley’s addressing the arguments?

          Have you read my discussions of what other scholars have also said about the Aramaisms in Mark? It is one thing to argue one point of view, but unless others, including Casey, also address the alternative explanations already out there, they are overlooking something that should be fundamental to every scholar.

          Just repeating what Casey says about Papias and Aramaic etc doesn’t get us very far. Nor does blasting my posts with your inaccurate generalizations (I have made very clear, repeatedly, that the question is not so simple as a black and white divide between biblical and nonbiblical historians; I find it dishonest that you and others should paint me with words of some commenters on my blog but not others, and even worse, fail to note where I have expressed contrary or qualifying views to quite a few of these.)

          It is nice to hear that you and Casey do not mean what you wrote about the criterion of dissimilarity. I sometimes say things that I later wish to qualify or rephrase, too. But it would be dishonest of me to try to say I did not say what I did, however much I did not mean it to come across that way at the time.

        2. You began with

          This will probably be my only comment as I find it gets a little too polemical here and prefer collegial academic exchange; if I disagree with a scholar (e.g. Robert Price) I prefer to deal with arguments rather than attack the person or academic training.

          As if in some drive to see your own prophecy fulfilled you have since then accused me of polemics without specifying or citing examples (only sweeping generalizations so broad that they extend to attacking me for the comments of others! This blog is not a thought-control space and it does reflect a wide diversity of opinions, including yours.)

          You complain that I do not play the game of speaking reverentially of scholars and pussy-footing with my critiques. Is this what you mean by my being polemical?

          My criticisms are radical, and if valid then Crossley’s knowledge of rabbinic halakhic debates and Casey’s reconstruction of Aramaic texts and just about all other HJ studies are rendered invalid for reconstructing a historical Jesus. It is understandable, though regrettable, that some scholars take personal offence at this and react viscerally.

          It is not as though I am claiming to smarter than anyone else. I am not nearly as learned or well-read as most academics in any discipline, but I have attempted to put 2 and 2 together in a space where such simple mathematical processes have been taboo. I have taken the logic of the arguments of Davies, Lemche, Thompson and seen where they are in synch with nonbiblical historians, thought it through across all the historical studies I have some familiarity with, and then asked — very tentatively at first — why the same methods are not applied to early Christian or HJ studies.

          The further I ventured with this question, the more startled I was to learn that some scholars are not willing to address the argument at all, but to twist it and ridicule their distortions of it, and then heap abuse on me personally.

          This is not me heaping insult on academics, but the reverse. Yes, over time I have become more confident that my questions and criticisms are truly valid — and part of assurance in this has been the hostile and offended responses of academics when I have raised the questions. These lead me to think I have hit a raw nerve after all.

          Yes, sometimes I will speak of “sham methodologies” but that is because I have argued the case in detail, and have invited responses repeatedly, only to be hit with all sorts of accusations. So my esteem for a number of academics, including some whom I once respected and with whom I enjoyed “collegial discussions” when I was agreeing with them or saying all the nice things about how much I learned from them (and I really did — and do — learn from them), has dropped a notch or fifty. You take offence the very few times I have used this expression without noting the context, the argument on which it is based, and the unscholarly and ungentlemanly responses to that nonpolemical 2+2 argument.

          1. Hey Neil,

            It seems to me that you are being question disingenuously. I think it could be a tactic to keep you talking over and over about past things, so that you do not use that time to continue to write new articles. I think it is a slowing you down tactic. Anyone that reads these threads where you are asked a question, and you answer, in great detail, and then other party seems to respond as if they did not read your original article or your post addressing their question. It’s like they are living in a different world. I have come to think that it is not that this is an actual lack of communication. Your questioners simply disagree with you. And one handy technique is to clutter a blog post with what seems like long threads of conversation so the occasional reader will think there is actually some kind of issue under contention. Just as you are finding that religion industry “professionals” works under completely different rules and procedures that real historians, I think that if you think about it, you will understand that almost all the work the religion blogs are not what you would call “normal questioners”. They are part of a propaganda machine and industry that has tactics and methods to attempt to keep traditional dogmas and ideas as seeming reasonable to the general public.

            I would keep this in mind when you find that you are addressing some question for the 2nd and 3rd time by a particular questioner. I would recommend not feeding like you have to, and actually making an effort of avoiding getting into too much round and round. I good technique when a convo starts going round and round is to ask your questioner “Could you please submit in a single sentence what it is your question or complaint is”. if they just keep rambling, they you know that you have someone that is working the propaganda industry. If on the other hand they do submit their unclearness in a single clear easily understand question, or complaint, then you can address that with a short final post, and then that can be the end of it, and you can get back to what you do well… bringing to the community new information.

            The round and round does not make you look good, and it takes time away from you doing something more productive.

            Cheers! RichGriese.NET

            1. Rich, I understand what you’re saying, but in this case, the “round and round” you speak of has only been a very few posts in Comment #1 directly between Neil and Mike K., whose review is the very subject of this post, after all.

              Also, occasional short summaries of Neil’s purpose and experience here can be valuable, not only as a reminder of focus, but also as a helpful means of review for newer readers of his blog.

  2. Maurice Casey, Professor Casey shows on page 197 that ‘Mary Magdalene was particularly important, and other rich women were instrumental in providing for financing and other practical aspects of the ministry in Galilee.’

    On page 194,Professor Casey gives unshakeable evidence, obtained simply by reading the Bible, that there were many other relatively rich women whose donations had a cumulative effect that was evidently important.

    If only those rich women who were instrumental in providing for financing and other practical aspects of the ministry in Galilee had read Professor Casey’s book, they would have realised that the disciples were so poor that they had to eat raw grain to survive.

    When were Christians called ‘the Galileans’? I would be interested in seeing such a reference.

    And where are these alleged Aramaic documents that Casey claims to be able to read better than people who could see these alleged documents?

    Does Casey have one single example of a Greek document that he knows was translated from Aramaic to act as a control – a check on his claimed psychic powers?

    Or is the idea of testing a theory that he can reconstruct Aramaic documents from their Greek translation absolut verboten for a Biblical scholar?

    What is Casey’s track record on reconstructing Aramaic originals from Greek translations?

    He has never demonstrated any ability to read a Greek document, reconstruct the Aramaic, and compare it with the real Aramaic sources it was translated from.

  3. Julian was centuries later. well after the Gospels had alleged Jesus came from Nazareth.

    Of course, early Christian sources like Paul’s Letters, 1 Peter, Hebrews,James, make no mention of Galilee , Nazareth, Capernaum etc etc.

    Just anonymous, unprovenanced works which used sources that apparently only Casey can see. He can see Aramaic documents when not one Christian Aramaic document of the 1st century has ever been found.

  4. #1 “But I think Kok and anyone else would be hard pressed to come up with any evidence that a religious group is given a name to link them with their leader’s home town.”

    From the Encyclopedia Britannica

    “Hus was born of poor parents in Husinec in southern Bohemia, from which he took his name.
    His followers and subsequent Bohemian religious Reformers adopted the name Hussites.”

    I don’t feel I was hard pressed to find this. It took about 15 minuets.

    From the good folks at wikipedia:
    “The Cathars were also sometimes referred to as the Albigensians (Albigeois). This name originates from the end of the 12th century, and was used by the chronicler Geoffroy du Breuil of Vigeois in 1181. The name refers to the town of Albi (the ancient Albiga), northeast of Toulouse.”

    “The Taborites (Czech Táborité, singular Táborita) were members of a religious community considered heretical by the Catholic Church. The Taborites were centered on the Bohemian city of Tábor during the Hussite Wars in the 15th century.”

    “A Deobandi (Urdu: دیو بندی) is a follower of the Deoband Islamic movement. The movement began at Darul Uloom Deoband (a madrasah) in Deoband, India, where its foundation was laid on 30 May 1866.”

    I give less weight to these, since technically these places aren’t the home towns of the founders, just places associated with the movement.

    #2 “Kok in the same review says that it is “historically dubious to label anything as “unique” and without parallel”, so by his own standards he will need to find another religious group named something like “Cretans” (Jim Jones was born in Crete, Indiana) or “Houstonites” (Dave Koresh grew up in Houston).”

    Thanks for the shout out, I always get a rush out of seeing my thoughts stick in other peoples brains.

    #3 “No, there are many scholarly arguments linking the “Nazareth” epithet, or more “transliterally” “Nazorean” etc, with words related to “observer”, “keeper”, etc. and that make far more sense as an attachment to a religious leader than the supposed village of his upbringing.”

    Ah, the impenetrable haze of subjectivity. Historians are often stuck with “make far more sense” arguments, and the only way to judge the validity is by way of vote by every person presented with the evidence, asking them selves, “does this make more sense?” While many have made arguments that Nazareth was a title, and doubtless like all towns, its name did mean something, I think Kok’s argument is more persuasive for me. If it were a title, it is odd to see it converted to a obscure place name of no consequence to the claims of the narrative. I see no evidence of a Jesus of Christ tradition. I haven’t polled the ranks of scholars of the world on what they find makes far more sense, but I’m betting that Nazareth as a village has more adherents than Nazareth as a obscure title. Do you know of any religious titles that were turned into town names as apart of virtualy opaque parabolic story?

    1. Hus was the personal name of the religious leader. He took this name in the same way people took the name of Baker or Smith. The other examples you cite are repeats of the way others — the outsiders — labelled the early Christians. The religious groups themselves tend to name themselves after something that identifies their beliefs.

      1. I thought you would resort to Hus being his personal name. The use of Nazarene or of Nazareth seems to be a personal name as well. Religious groups often adopt the names outsiders give them as their own, such as Christian. In the instance where Nazarene is used as a synonym for Christians, it is on the lips of an outsider. In any event your argument that I addressed as #1 is demonstrated as empty. People are named after towns, and religious movements are named after towns, people, and people named after towns.

        1. One odd thing about the statement in Acts 24:5 is the spelling of the underlying Greek that is typically translated into English as “Nazarene.” In Mark we see Nazar- as in μετα του ναζαρηνου and ζητειτε τον ναζαρηνον.

          But in Acts, it’s Nazor-, i.e.: “πρωτοστατην τε της των ναζωραιων (Nazoraion) αιρεσεως”. In this case (as in the enigmatic unknown prophecy in Matthew), it’s Nazorean, not Nazarene, which would lend credence to the idea that originally the name of the sect had to do with Nazor (Hebrew: set apart) and not a place name.

          In Matthew 2:23, it would appear we have an early fusion of the place name with the sect name: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth (ναζαρετ — Nazaret): that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene (ναζωραιος – Nazoraios).”

  5. I wrote:

    But I think Kok and anyone else would be hard pressed to come up with any evidence that a religious group is given a name to link them with their leader’s home town.

    That statement was wrong. When reading Kok’s and mikelioso’s responses I failed to check my actual words and responded according to what I have written on previous occasions. I have since re-read what I wrote and understand their criticisms.

    What I should have said — as I have said other times — was that religious groups do not call themselves after the hometown of their founder. That makes no sense. They usually adopt names that reflect something of their beliefs and practices.

  6. I see Mike Kok responds to requests for evidence that Aramaic documents existed by claiming it is ‘ridiculous’ to suggest that none existed.

    This is not any form of scholarship that I am familiar with.

    I see that Mike refused to touch the question of Casey’s track record in reconstructing Aramaic sources of Greek translations.

    I can certainly see why Mike refused to acknowledge that Casey has never ever seen a Greek translation of an Aramaic document and produced a reconstruction that can be checked for accuracy against the original Aramaic.

    Rather than discuss the fact that Casey’s methodology is totally unproven, he prefers to throw around comments of ‘ridiculous’ to hide the lack of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

    Or I could point to your past review of Crossley’s Date of Mark’s Gospel which was unrelentingly negative without even a mention that Crossley is well-respected for his detailed knowledge of halakhic debates in rabbinic literature or that a number of critical Jewish rabbinic scholars including Jacob Neusner who more than anyone influenced scholars to more critically handle the rabbinic texts still uses them (especially parts of the Mishnah)…

    Neil, of course, quoted Crossley extensively in this review.

    No wonder Mike is so annoyed at this, preferrring instead to praise Crossley.

    Biblical scholars are for praising, not quoting.

    When will Neil learn this?

  7. MIKE
    For instance, besides early Aramaic speaking believers, Mark has one of the greatest concentrations of Aramaic words or Aramaisms in such a short space of Greek work….

    Mark also has Latinisms.

    By Mike’s ‘logic’, Mark must also have had a Latin source….. After all, if Biblical scholars actually had a methodology that works, any book which includes foreign loan words must have had a source written in that language.

    But Biblical scholars simply produce ad hoc criteria , which they accept or reject as they fancy.

    Everybody agrees that ‘Mark’ also had the Old Testament.

    But where does Casey discuss the agreed fact that Mark used the Old Testament as a source for his life of Jesus?

  8. Of course, it was one of Casey’s own students, Stephanie Louise Fisher, who put the boot into Casey’s ‘methodology’, when she wrote ‘no, texts are not authentic because they might have an aramaic background. Not even casey says so.’

    If ‘Mark’ had an Aramaic source that he could barely read but which Maurice Casey can, this is no more evidence than somebody pointing out that the Hitler Diaries must be genuine because they were written in German – the very language that Hitler spoke and which was used by his closest followers.

    Even Steph agreed that the fact that the Hitler Diaries were written in German does not make them authentic.

    No more than translating Mark into Aramaic makes authentic tales of disciples with rich female followers, who still were so poor that they had to eat raw grain to avoid starvation.

    1. There are a number of questions that arise over Casey’s various arguments about written Aramaic sources, and I have raised some in my earlier posts. I do so as a layman, of course. Detailed analysis of Casey’s arguments will require others with specialist skills in the languages. But that does not mean a layman’s questions are invalid. If one reads Mark as a coherent piece of literature instead of as a patchwork of multiple received sources (and there is justification for doing this) then many of Casey’s (and other HJ scholar’s) reconstructions completely fall apart.

      But even without this alternative reading of Mark, Casey’s own presentations of his Aramaic arguments indicate a number of inconsistencies (as I attempted to point out in that earlier post) that must give even lay readers pause.

      But the bigger question is the historicity of the reconstruction of Jesus. And as you point out, Casey’s Aramaic brings us no closer to that at all. Casey himself does once or twice admit as much, but the overall message of his book does tend to smother those little caveats.

  9. Neil, I’ve been going back through A’s Poetics and it gives many examples of Style for GT that are potentially applicable to “Mark”. Regarding “Nazareth”, A explains language styles here:


    “Part XXI

    Words are of two kinds, simple and double. By simple I mean those composed of nonsignificant elements, such as ge, ‘earth.’ By double or compound, those composed either of a significant and nonsignificant element (though within the whole word no element is significant), or of elements that are both significant. A word may likewise be triple, quadruple, or multiple in form, like so many Massilian expressions, e.g., ‘Hermo-caico-xanthus [who prayed to Father Zeus].’

    Every word is either current, or strange, or metaphorical, or ornamental, or newly-coined, or lengthened, or contracted, or altered.

    By a current or proper word I mean one which is in general use among a people; by a strange word, one which is in use in another country. Plainly, therefore, the same word may be at once strange and current, but not in relation to the same people. The word sigynon, ‘lance,’ is to the Cyprians a current term but to us a strange one.

    Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion. Thus from genus to species, as: ‘There lies my ship’; for lying at anchor is a species of lying. From species to genus, as: ‘Verily ten thousand noble deeds hath Odysseus wrought’; for ten thousand is a species of large number, and is here used for a large number generally. From species to species, as: ‘With blade of bronze drew away the life,’ and ‘Cleft the water with the vessel of unyielding bronze.’ Here arusai, ‘to draw away’ is used for tamein, ‘to cleave,’ and tamein, again for arusai- each being a species of taking away. Analogy or proportion is when the second term is to the first as the fourth to the third. We may then use the fourth for the second, or the second for the fourth. Sometimes too we qualify the metaphor by adding the term to which the proper word is relative. Thus the cup is to Dionysus as the shield to Ares. The cup may, therefore, be called ‘the shield of Dionysus,’ and the shield ‘the cup of Ares.’ Or, again, as old age is to life, so is evening to day. Evening may therefore be called, ‘the old age of the day,’ and old age, ‘the evening of life,’ or, in the phrase of Empedocles, ‘life’s setting sun.’ For some of the terms of the proportion there is at times no word in existence; still the metaphor may be used. For instance, to scatter seed is called sowing: but the action of the sun in scattering his rays is nameless. Still this process bears to the sun the same relation as sowing to the seed. Hence the expression of the poet ‘sowing the god-created light.’ There is another way in which this kind of metaphor may be employed. We may apply an alien term, and then deny of that term one of its proper attributes; as if we were to call the shield, not ‘the cup of Ares,’ but ‘the wineless cup’.

    A newly-coined word is one which has never been even in local use, but is adopted by the poet himself. Some such words there appear to be: as ernyges, ‘sprouters,’ for kerata, ‘horns’; and areter, ‘supplicator’, for hiereus, ‘priest.’

    A word is lengthened when its own vowel is exchanged for a longer one, or when a syllable is inserted. A word is contracted when some part of it is removed. Instances of lengthening are: poleos for poleos, Peleiadeo for Peleidou; of contraction: kri, do, and ops, as in mia ginetai amphoteron ops, ‘the appearance of both is one.’

    Part XXII

    The perfection of style is to be clear without being mean. The clearest style is that which uses only current or proper words; at the same time it is mean- witness the poetry of Cleophon and of Sthenelus. That diction, on the other hand, is lofty and raised above the commonplace which employs unusual words. By unusual, I mean strange (or rare) words, metaphorical, lengthened- anything, in short, that differs from the normal idiom. Yet a style wholly composed of such words is either a riddle or a jargon; a riddle, if it consists of metaphors; a jargon, if it consists of strange (or rare) words. For the essence of a riddle is to express true facts under impossible combinations. Now this cannot be done by any arrangement of ordinary words, but by the use of metaphor it can. Such is the riddle: ‘A man I saw who on another man had glued the bronze by aid of fire,’ and others of the same kind. A diction that is made up of strange (or rare) terms is a jargon. A certain infusion, therefore, of these elements is necessary to style; for the strange (or rare) word, the metaphorical, the ornamental, and the other kinds above mentioned, will raise it above the commonplace and mean, while the use of proper words will make it perspicuous. But nothing contributes more to produce a cleanness of diction that is remote from commonness than the lengthening, contraction, and alteration of words. For by deviating in exceptional cases from the normal idiom, the language will gain distinction; while, at the same time, the partial conformity with usage will give perspicuity. The critics, therefore, are in error who censure these licenses of speech, and hold the author up to ridicule. Thus Eucleides, the elder, declared that it would be an easy matter to be a poet if you might lengthen syllables at will. He caricatured the practice in the very form of his diction, as in the verse:”

    A mentions that words can be lengthened with a different/added vowel or syllable to distinguish them. We have to consider the possibility that Jesus from/of “Nazareth” combined with the weak evidence for such a town at the time and place may be such a usage. “Nazareth” has had something added to it to distinguish it and may have been intended to point to “Nazarene” or even a combination of the city Nazara (the Southern one) and Nazarene. “Nazareth” also gives a balance to the Structure and Theme of “Mark” by having Jesus come from nowhere Nazareth at the start to the Messenger and going to nowhere Nazareth from the Messenger at the end. What little archeological evidence there is indicates tombs at Nazareth so you also have potential for Jesus coming from the Tomb/dead at the beginning and going from the Tomb/dead at the ending.

    As always, the above is a long Way from proving that “Nazareth” is a literary creation but on the other side, the plausibility combined with the weak evidence for the historicity of the Christian Bible Nazareth, prevents the Christian claim from being a historical fact.

    Also note A’s description of the literary license for metaphor:

    “For the essence of a riddle is to express true facts under impossible combinations. Now this cannot be done by any arrangement of ordinary words, but by the use of metaphor it can.”

    Everyone would agree that “Mark’s” Jesus does this continuously. Why not “Mark” as well. Especially note the similarity between a GT author using literary license to reveal a higher truth and Paul/”Mark” using proof-texting license (words/phrases that are the same or close to the same) to reveal higher truth. Both are creating/revealing a meaning that was not in the original.

    A mainly gives a summary of the pure form of GT 450 years before “Mark” while B provides the evolution into 1st century Latin times. In my now famous Thread at FRDB:


    Wrestling With Greco Tragedy. Reversal From Behind. Is “Mark” Greek Tragedy?

    I’m going to just go through all of Poetics. As usual, after reading Poetics a couple of times, reading B’s book, authoring that Thread and writing this post, as near as I can tell I Am now the foremost authority the world has ever known on the relationship between Poetics and “Mark”


    1. I am honoured by your Authoritativeness’s time to write the above. Aristotle’s
      Poetics was part of a literature course I did many years ago and I still refer to my old copy with course notes in the margin. Mark does indeed ply many of the principles Aristotle discusses, as does Virgil whose work I have sometimes compared in a small way to Mark’s Gospel.

      Thanks for pointing out the discussion of naming puns and variations. It adds to the argument that Mark plays such games with many of his words.

      As for Nazareth in Mark, though, I am not convinced the word ever appeared in Mark’s original work.

  10. MIKE KOK
    Casey’s distinctive contribution is his ability to reconstruct the underlying Aramaic behind the sayings material…

    This is why people should ask for examples of Casey’s ability to reconstruct the Aramaic underlying Greek translations.

    If Casey claims an ability to do X, then he should have demonstrated his ability to do X.

    Considering that Casey claims to know what was spoken at the Last Supper better than people who had practically verbatim reports written down to work from, then Casey should be subject to the same sorts of tests that Uri Geller would be if he claimed such abilities.

  11. Salm’s conviction that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus is obviously contrary to the evidence of Mk 1.9, ‘Jesus came from Nazaret of Galilee.’ (p. 131)

    Er, yes. That is the reason for the debate in the first place. Casey argues that all the manuscripts contain this line in Mark, so we presumably have no reason to doubt the historicity of its detail. How seriously are we meant to take this towering intellect?

    If we assume that Mark was written first, and Matthew largely copied and rewrote Mark, then we have at least one manuscript that did not have “Jesus from Nazareth from Galilee” at Mark 1:9. And this manuscript is older than any other extant one. This would be Mattew 3:13. In other words, since Matthew only writes “Jesus [came] from Galilee”, leaving out the “from Nazareth” when he usually copies Mark word-for-word, then whatever version of Mark that Matthew is copying from did not have “Nazareth” at 1:9. Notice, also, that Matt inserts a gratuitous “Nazareth” in another place where it is absent in Mark, at Matt 21:11. So there’s probably no reason that Matt would leave it out of Mark 1:9 if it had been there.

    This makes sense of the rest of Mark, since Mark only uses the word “Nazarene” throughout the rest of the gospel. “Nazareth” at Mark 1:9 is an outlier.

    There’s also the linguistic problem of deriving “Nazareth” from “Nazarene”. There are at least four different spellings of this town name and its “gentilic” in the gospel narratives: ΝΑΖΑΡΗΝΟΣ (Nazarene), ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ (Nazoraios), ΝΑΖΑΡΑ (Nazara), ΝΑΖΑΡΕΤ/ΝΑΖΑΡΕΘ (Nazareth). Mark only uses Nazarene. Matt and Luke use all four, and John only uses Nazoraios and Nazareth. Since the spelling is all over the place, this probably means that there was no tradition earlier than Matt that Jesus came from Nazareth, and the gospel authors subsequent to Mark did not know what to do with Mark’s “Nazarene”.

    The easiest way to derive a place name from something like “Nazarene” would be to move from “Nazarene” to “Nazara”, which is exactly what Luke and Matt do. Just like a Gerasene (ΓΕΡΑΣΗΝΟΣ, Mark 5:1) means someone from Gerasa.

    Nazoraios, also, enters the Synoptic tradition sometime around whenever Matt was written. Matt probably invented it, deriving it from misremembering or taking out of context (Matt shows a penchant for doing that 🙂 ) the prophetic-sounding Judges 13:5 where Samson is said to be a ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΣ – “Nazirite” (in some LXX manuscripts). This is only one letter off from Matt’s Nazoraios. While there’s a huge variance with how Judges 13:5 was translated (some say ΝΑΖΕΙΡΑΙΟΣ, others say ΝΑΖΙΡ, and some translate it literally as ΑΓΝΕΙΑ, which means what the Hebrew NZYR means: “consecrated”), there’s a staggering consistency with how Matt, Luke, and John spell Nazoraios. Which probably means that they are reading from each other and not basing it on oral tradition. I would think that an oral tradition might introduce the same sort of variance that Nazirite has in the LXX.

    Lastly, Nazareth, the town name, has an odd spelling if it’s based on the Hebrew town. Usually the Hebrew Tsade is rendered in Koine Greek as a Sigma (like Isaac is derived from Yitzak, Sadducee from Tzadokim, etc.) yet Nazareth also has a consistent Zeta instead of a Sigma in the NT. According to Epiphanius, the Nasarenes were an ancient anti-Torah sect of Jews from the time period of Jeremiah.

    So this leads to a sort of catch-22. If Jesus was a Nasarene, then he has no relationship with the town. If Jesus was a Nazarene (that is, someone from Nazara) then he’s from a town that didn’t exist. To solve this problem, the gospel authors simply fudge the numbers a bit and thus we end up with a convoluted tradition that has Jesus ultimately from the town that sounds kinda-sorta-little bit like Nazarene: Nazareth.

    1. Ah, thank you so much for taking the time to explain all this. It was exactly all that I had hoped to add myself, and more, but lacked the time. Much much appreciated. You’ve saved me a post again!

      Another reason might be added here, too. If Galilee was chosen as a setting on the basis of the Isaiah prophecy about this being the region “to see the light”, then the Nazareth addition detracts from the import of this allusion. The reason to suspect Galilee being chosen because of its role in Isaiah is that odd itineray in Mark’s gospel a little later where Jesus takes that bizarre round about route — one that does not make sense as a real itinerary, but is explained when one compares it with the order in which the geographic areas are listed in Isaiah: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/mark-failed-geography-but-great-bible-student/

    2. JW:
      “Nazareth” at the beginning of “Mark” has the advantage that it gives balance to the usage of “Galilee” and “Nazareth” at the beginning and ending of “Mark”. Another explanation for “Matthew’s” omission is that “Mark” may have originally used the better known “Nazara” of southern Israel (because it was better known and not caring that it would be a geographical error – surprise). “Matthew”, trying to be historical, may have recognized that “Nazara” was not in Galilee and thus exorcised it from his beginning. Since “Matthew” used “Mark” as a base the infancy narrative of “Matthew” where Jesus’ family moves to Nazareth, had to be added to the base of “Mark”. It may not be original to “Matthew” or “Matthew” may have used an existing infancy narrative with “Nazareth” and left it because there was a Nazareth in his time in Galilee.


      1. Trouble is that “Nazareth” at the end is not the same Greek word used for “Nazareth” in chapter 1. I don’t have the details handy now, but they are surely in a post by spin on frdb, and in the old Crosstalk list, but the Nazareth in “Jesus of Nazareth” in Mark does not relate grammatically to the Nazareth in 1:9 either. Jesus of Nazareth is used a few times in Mark, but not at the beginning of the Gospel.

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