Maurice Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted

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by Neil Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, with the occasional exceptions, for Casey

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

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

Dominant message

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

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

It turns out that it is most instructive to pay a little attention to the names of the persons Casey lists in his “most influential mythicists” today section. We find that most mythicists he addresses are not former fundamentalists at all. In fact Casey has to extend his concept of “American fundamentalist” to “American Catholics”! Okay . . . .

Let’s have a look at them. I colour red those who “write books claiming Jesus did not exist and are known to be former American fundamentalists”. American Catholics get a fuzzier colour. The names in grey are not even mythicists.

The Most Influential Mythicists List

I introduce here the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’, though I would question their competence and qualifications. (p. 10)

Dan Barker — This is Casey’s first entry. He devotes three pages to this name even though he is not a mythicist. The only reason Casey seems to have included Barker here is to enable him to open with an opportunity to preach a little morality tale: fundamentalist Christians should become liberal Christians or approach their former beliefs academically like scholars do; they definitely should not become atheists. One gets the impression that Casey believes any ex-fundamentalist who becomes an atheist has become irrationally hostile towards Christianity and an anti-scholarly bigot.

Richard Carrier — Casey launches rather pointless, petty and misguided criticisms of Carrier. Curiously the remainder of the book almost completely overlooks any of Carrier’s arguments in favour of mythicism. This is very strange given that Carrier is probably one of the most influential web presences who argues for a mythicist case. Bayes’ theorem gets no mention at all although Carrier’s book on this is mentioned. Carrier was raised in the home of “free-thinking Methodists” so does not get a red coding.

Earl Doherty — Doherty grew up as a Catholic but became an atheist as early as 19 years of age. Casey’s armchair psychoanalysis concludes that “it is not surprising” that Doherty, after becoming an atheist, at some point came to “believe in the importance of ancient apocrypha” . . . why? . . . wait for it . . . because he was brought up as a Catholic! Casey is apparently alluding to Doherty’s discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah in his book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. (This document has a supporting role in his larger argument, covering about 25 pages of his 800 page book.). Again we see evidence that Casey seems to have a somewhat limited understanding of how real people “work”.

Bart Ehrman — Yep, that’s right. Casey includes him in his list of “the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars'”! The reason appears to be because Casey thought Ehrman’s book against mythicism contained “a small number of regrettable mistakes.” In actual fact Casey’s own book that we are discussing here was announced as originally published on August 10 2012 — just as Ehrman’s book was about to appear. Casey’s book was evidently put on hold till the publishers felt the market could warm to Casey’s work on the same topic.

N.T. Freke and L.P. Gandy — After declaring that “it has been difficult to find accurate information about Freke and Gandy” Casey launches into another all too familiar character attack based on his own imaginative psychoanalysis. This is one of the main reasons I find reading Casey so painful. Everyone who is in sympathy with mythicist ideas is invariably portrayed as pernicious, deliberately self-deluded, knowingly lying, culpably ignorant and perversely opposed to true scholarship.

Casey does not appear to know of a single mythicist who does not have horns, tail and pitchfork.

Tom Harpur — Casey seems at a bit of a loss with Harpur. He is an Anglican priest who “could just about claim to be a qualified scholar“. He is still a Christian even though he does not believe in the historicity of Jesus. He believes the myth itself is meaningful enough to be the basis of a rewarding religion. I have not read Harpur’s biography but he sounds like a companion spirit to Thomas Brodie who likewise has remained a faithful Catholic Christian even though he has concluded the Jesus story has no historical basis. So this first case of an ex-fundamentalist becoming a mythicist also happens to be a lover of Christianity! Casey evaluates his position as “bizarre”.

Harold Leidner — Casey protests whenever he catches a mythicist using “out of date” resources. Yet his reference to Leidner is surely “out of date” given that he died in 2008 and I am not sure too many people have ever heard of him. Does anyone know of Leidner’s views significantly fanning the diabolical spread of mythicism? His book approaches mythicism from one very narrow perspective that as far as I know stands more as an item of mild curiosity than pathbreaking influence. Unfortunately for Casey’s belief that most mythicists are ex-fundamentalists Leidner was Jewish. But since he was also a mythicist Casey describes his work as “a massive outpouring of Jewish anti-Christian prejudice“. Anyone who has read Leidner’s work on Philo and Christian parallels must be wondering what on earth Casey is talking about.

Niels Peter Lemche — Again, another bizarre curiosity. NPL is not a mythicist. As far as I am aware he has never written anything that could be interpreted as a mythicist point of view. I have seen comments by him that clearly assume a belief that there was a historical Jesus. The only reason Casey appears to have included him in this list is to have a swipe at him for criticizing something he wrote on a website a few years ago.

Dorothy Murdock (Acharya S) — Casey notes that Murdock “claims” to have had a liberal Christian background. She is nonetheless guilty of what for Casey is the cardinal sin of being hostile towards Christianity. Casey also faults her for “lacking any proper sense of reality” — whatever that means — and for the egregious sin of “failure to give proper references”. Maybe she is hostile towards Christianity with more vehemence than most, but throughout the course of the book Casey gives little attention to individual differences to be found among “The Other”.

Derek Murphy — Casey describes him as “well-known” for his book Jesus Potter, Harry Christ. (I blogged on this when it first came out since Derek had sent me a review copy.) He grew up an Episcopalian. He is an artist and writer. I’d probably find him interesting company.)

Emanuel Pfoh — Another bizarre entry. I have no reason to think that Pfoh is a mythicist and Casey gives no reason to think so, either. I fear that he may have been targeted by Casey because after I reviewed his contribution to the book ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Pfoh made the unfortunate mistake of emailing a comment to thank me and advise of an error in my post:

Thank you for your summary of my paper. Please, notice that the reference in the “second quest” is to G.E. Wright, not to N.T. Wright (I’m happy to say I never read him).

For Casey (or Steph, really — who can imagine Casey reading through comments on my blog?), who cannot grasp humour or nuance, that throwaway “I’m happy to say I never read him” damned him:

[Pfoh’s comment] puts the determined ignorance of mythicists in a nutshell. (p. 22 — italics original)

Jim West, meanwhile, in wanting to defend Pfoh without giving any publicity to Vridar falsely claimed Pfoh made the comment in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ even though Casey clearly cites it to Vridar. West went on a lying attack after I pointed out this error and he refused to acknowledge or correct it.

Robert M. Price — Price once belonged to a fundamentalist Baptist church. But he’s a mythicist. He also really does have all the right scholarly qualifications, so Casey generously concedes that “there is no doubt that he was (sic) more or less a qualified New Testament scholar.” But being a mythicist he is using his scholarship to cloak “utter falsehoods”. His fundamentalist background

does much to explain his genuine inability to come to terms with critical scholarship. (p. 24)

Ironical that it is the Bultmannian scholar who is the one accused of inability to embrace “critical scholarship”. But there’s one more detail that Casey overlooked here. My understanding is that Price still loves Christianity and regularly worships at a Christian church. (Somebody do correct me if I’m wrong.) If so, then the second name to score the red colour coding is also not an “anti-Christian” as Casey’s myth in principle requires.

Thomas L. Thompson — Thompson is not a mythicist either. His work, The Christ Myth, bypasses the argument of mythicism. It does not argue that Jesus was a myth. It does argue for a new explanation for the source material and themes of the evangelists who penned the Gospels. But Thompson has said that the historical Jesus is an assumption of New Testament scholarship. His work does propose an explanation for the Gospel material that stands independently from any hypothesis of a historical Jesus but does not itself argue there was no historical Jesus. Thompson also crossed words with Casey in an online discussion so Casey will give him no quarter.

Thomas Verenna — Co-edited ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ with Thompson. As far as I am aware he holds the same views as Thompson. Thompson’s Catholicism was Danish and Verenna’s American.

G. A. Wells — A scholar of German literature who was for many years prior to Doherty the leading voice of mythicism. He has modified his views to some extent recently to the effect that he now argues there was a Jesus of some description somewhere sometime who was responsible for certain sayings, but this was not the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. Casey has some difficulty with Wells given that Wells’ “conversion” was the result of reflections on the Q hypothesis — a hypothesis we will learn Casey (and Steph) describe as “pseudo-scholarship” even though it has been the dominant view among scholars for decades.

F. R. Zindler — Zindler in his boyhood years growing up in a conservative, even reactionary, form of Lutheranism, took his religion much more seriously than the rest of his family. But after reading Darwin he became an evolutionist. He sounds to me the very opposite of the closed-minded bigot who has merely switched from one form of fundamentalism to another. But not for Casey. Casey in typically humourless style will not tolerate any jokes by Zindler about Christianity. For Casey, that sort of humour is a sign of an intolerant bigot who is determined to ruthlessly attack the virtuous piety of the faithful.

That ends Casey’s list of “most influential mythicists” today.

So far his assertion that “the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists” is not standing up very well by the standards of Casey’s own list. Of the ten or eleven mythicists named only three technically qualify and two of those three are still sympathetic towards Christianity. We can add Thomas Brodie to those two, now, although Brodie’s book appeared too late to be addressed by Casey.

So what of the bloggers? Casey curiously discusses three of them as if they had any serious impact on the popularizing of mythicism. The only reason I can think of for their inclusion is that they for some reason offended Stephanie Fisher in her correspondences with them.

Casey cannot even bring himself to indicate they have first names.

Blogger Carr — Casey knows nothing about his religious background but he does discover enough to explain Carr’s psychological problem:

[H]e became a ‘Computer Consultant’ (yes, scare-quotes original). This goes some way to explain his unusual views. . . . As a computer expert as opposed to a humanities scholar, he could also have picked up all sorts of dogmatic and ignorant assumptions . . . (p. 27)

Okay, I know it’s easy to stereotype certain professions that seem to stand behind a technology that causes one grief, but . . . . hoo boy! One can only wonder how broad — or narrow! — Casey’s circles of acquaintances have been for him to view people with such little perspective.

Blogger Godfrey and Blogger Widowfield — I have been very open about much of my past and have no intention at this point of saying any more. Interested readers can compare what Casey writes with what Tim and I have written in the “About Vridar – Authors’ Profiles” in the right margin of this blog.

Note that I code none of these three names in red. Steven Carr, as far as I am aware, has never argued that Jesus did not exist as a historical person. Nor have I. As far as I am aware my views on the question are identical to those of Thompson above. And Tim is an agnostic on the question. I refer readers to a comment of mine that Richard Carrier posted in his review of Casey’s book.

Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted

Other names Casey could have mentioned, and who are, I believe, influential, are Herman Detering and Rene Salm. I understand that New Testament scholars Kurt Noll and Arthur Droge have also publicly raised the question of the historicity of Jesus. Roger Parvus has also published and is continuing to post hypotheses here that are attracting growing attention.

Meanwhile, Maurice Casey has demonstrated his views of mythicists and mythicism are murkily guided by prejudice, not rational engagement. The evidence lies in his sweeping assertion — an assertion widely heard echoing around the internet among those rabidly hostile towards mythicism — that

the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists.

As we have seen from the evidence Casey himself provides that assertion is, quite simply, not true. It is a myth. Only if one redefines “American Catholicism” as an “American fundamentalist” faith can we find four names that fit the description of Casey’s myth. And of those names two (like Thomas Brodie — albeit an Irish Catholic) continue to enjoy participating in the Christian life and religion.

In a future post I analyse the tone and rhetoric of Casey’s tract. I also examine the spread of mythicist arguments and authors he addresses against the range that is currently active and influential on the web.

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Neil Godfrey

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26 thoughts on “Maurice Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted”

  1. Just a couple of notes in passing.

    * I’m ethnically British, but geographically American. I was born here, but I speak tolerably good English; my parents spoke it to me as a child.

    * The microcephalic ass-clowns who’ve taken up the banner of historicism would do much better if they would write from a pro-historical position, rather than an ant-mythicism position. Ah, but even that isn’t quite correct, is it? They write from an anti-mythicist position.


    West always tells it like it is, right? It isn’t about the message; it’s the messengers. Why hate the sin when you can have more fun hating the sinner? Why tell the truth when the lie is so much more interesting?

    1. would do much better if they would write from a pro-historical position, rather than an ant-mythicism position.

      Well, they can’t, can they? As far as I’ve been able to tell, the “pro-historical position is”:

      * Historical Jesus is the current consensus
      * Therefore it is not incumbent on those who believe the current consensus to prove that it is true, it is up to the mythicists to prove that it if false.

      This is actually a reasonable perspective on academia – that’s how it works. The problem is that they’re missing the bit where when reasonable objections to their model are given, they can actually defend their model against those objections. And if they can’t defend their model, they throw bits of their model away to incorporate explanations for the objections that their old model couldn’t withstand. Biologists do this all the time – if mythicism really were like creationism, it would be easy to refute it.

      But clearly it isn’t easy to refute it, because the proponents of historicism can’t do it. If they could, they’d present good arguments. They clearly can’t – Ehrman’s book was garbage (what a waste of time) and Casey’s book is sounding like an Emeritus professor deciding the write a hit piece against people who have asked him hard questions that he can’t answer instead of an actual work of interest.

      I thought I read Carrier say that Mark Goodacre might be working on a defense of historicism. I’d like to read what he writes since he usually does good work. But then, I thought Ehrman did good work as well, but his book was pointless.

      (This is all why I’ve moved from the “of course he was historical” camp into the agnostic camp. I’m not convinced by any single mythicist argument that their model works – though I find many of them compelling and I’m curious to read Carrier’s treatment once it gets published, since he’s always so convinced of his own work. But the response from the historicist camp has been so dreadful that I find myself thinking that if that’s the best that they can do, then clearly the agnostic position is the only tenable one right now. Doherty’s model, for example, has far more explanatory power for the evidence than anything Ehrman put into his last book. So while it may not convince me completely, the historicist position of “because I said so” doesn’t even move the needle.)

  2. >My understanding is that Price still loves Christianity and regularly worships at a Christian church. (Somebody do correct me if I’m wrong.)

    I’m a fan of Robert M. Price and I think he recently (1-2 years ago) said that he had stopped going to church.

    But like you say, Price is not an “anti-Christian” in the sense that he dislikes Christianity. And IIRC Casey also made that silly claim in his other book about Jesus.

  3. I could add myself to that list. I did write a book in Swedish challenging the historicity of Jesus already in 2005 (https://independent.academia.edu/RogerViklund ). I am not an American, but a Swede, I have not grown up in a Christian home and though I have been influenced by Christianity, I have no bad experiences from Christians or the Christian teachings. I cannot even imagine that I would hate Christians or Christianity. And on top on that, I don’t identify myself as an atheist and have never promoted such a view. Casey just babbles.

    Roger Viklund

        1. Thanks for the links. Tim has been recently looking into the question of Secret Mark. I had been persuaded it was a forgery by Carlson but I see you address his arguments. I’ll have to have another look at the question myself.

          1. You could ask him to contact me, and I will make sure that unnecessary misunderstandings can be eliminated. It is almost impossible to get by all “lies” that are constantly repeated when it comes to Secret Mark. Issues that has already been dealt with and been thoroughly refuted are constantly repeated in books and journals even today. If this question ever will be settled, at least we should stick to facts and make our arguments from that. In fact, almost nothing of the relevant parts in Carlson’s book is true, and I can prove it. I can’t prove though that the letter isn’t a forgery. But I think it’s quite unlikely to be.

              1. Good to know!
                Then I would counter that if it is a forgery, there is practically no other option than a modern forgery. And if it is a modern forgery, then the only reasonable culprit is Morton Smith. And since I agree with you that Morton Smith hardly could have done it, then …

  4. Having had a couple of frustrating–although not overly contentious–encounters with Stephanie in the blogosphere, I wasn’t planning to buy Casey’s book because I was pretty sure that the arguments it made wouldn’t address the issues that keep me on the fence about a historical Jesus. However, I found myself forced to buy it in order to verify the various representations that were being made about it. Not surprisingly, I have found Carrier’s criticism to be accurate despite being bombastic.

    Of course, my sympathies towards mythicism are obviously explained by the year and a half I spent embracing evangelical Christianity in the mid-1970’s. The fact that I returned to my liberal Catholic roots for the better part of two decades before drifting into agnosticism was apparently insufficient to remove the taint of fundamentalism from my psyche.

    I am truly baffled that anyone could think that this is a good book. At least Ehrman tried to make a case for historicity. He addressed the most important mythicists even if he got their arguments wrong and he gave his readers some idea of what mainstream scholars arguments even if those arguments were poor. Casey just rants. He ignores Carrier and Price (at least so far as I have gotten in the book) who are the only two mythicists I bother reading and he bases his arguments for historicity (insofar as I can tease them out) on fringe ideas like Mark being earlier than Paul.


    1. >I am truly baffled that anyone could think that this is a good book.

      I have to conclude that James McGrath’s endorsement is based on his dislike of mythicism. I would love to see a review by someone like Goodacre. 🙂

  5. I can sort of second Herro’s correction re Robert Price. I am a fan of Price’s Bible Geek podcast, and as best I can recall he has said on a few recent occasions that he no longer attends church regularly. However, his sympathy for religion seems undiminished, and he has nothing but scorn for any skeptic who thinks there is something wrong with people who take it seriously.

    1. Yup, and it’s worth noting that this misconception isn’t new. In his earlier book, Jesus of Nazareth he says this about our beloved Bible Geek:

      >What Price has done is to remove from history part of a fundamental human experience [visions] which he holds in contempt. (p. 37)

  6. Much of what you describe about Casey’s paranoia, sentence structure, insensitive bluntness , inability to process humor or nuance, oversensitivity; indeed even perhaps his relationship with Stephanie – describe the symptoms of dementia. But I think you knew that.

  7. A clear and balanced rebuttal. And I was once so naive as to think, once, that the “Jesus seminar” was ‘conservative’! Here, Casey has proven his case for reactionary scholarship.
    A small correction, if you consider publishing your review: Neither Brodie nor I
    are ‘American Catholics’! Brodie is Irish and I am Danish, both of us with European

    Thomas L. Thompson
    Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

    1. Thank you. And apologies for the error. Fixed now, and also corrected in the two tables in my next post.

      No doubt you read that Casey declares the Jesus Seminar as “the predecessor of mythicists” (– also addressed in my next post.)

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