Maurice Casey’s Failure to Research Mythicists — More Evidence

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by Neil Godfrey

We know Maurice Casey has claimed to have researched the backgrounds of mythicists and claimed that the evidence is clear that most of them are reacting against fundamentalist or similarly strict and closed-minded religious backgrounds. Other scholars such as James McGrath, Jim West and James Crossley have picked up Casey’s claims and repeated them in their online and print publications. They were only too keen to believe Casey’s declarations, of course, and did not even bother to check the evidence Casey presented in his own book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?

So I took note of all the evidence Casey himself cited and drew it up in table format. Lo and behold, it turned out that contrary to Casey’s own claim the evidence he cited demonstrated that the least likely predictor of a person who has published a mythicist argument is a fundamentalist or strict/conservative religious background. Quite the opposite, in fact. The most likely predictor is one who has a liberal (including liberal Catholic) or no church background at all.

I have since been alerted to another published mythicist I overlooked in my earlier table and have now added Ken Humphreys to the list. Ken is neither an American (a species of human for whom Casey seems to have a special loathing — see my earlier posts, especially those dated 8th and 10th of March) and is reputed to have been an atheist all his life. So I guess that evangelical angry lying Jimmy West will have to start blaming the “angry atheists” for this mythicism business now.

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

(Heading above links to the original post)

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background


Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier [“Freethinking Methodist”] George Albert Wells” (for many years published mythicist books but in recent years has come to argue Jesus existed at some time as a teacher of the Q community)
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller (?)
Hector Avalos (Mexican Pentecostal: HJ agnostic) René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience] Charles O. Wilson
Tm Widowfield (HJ agnostic) Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity) Kurt Noll
Neil Godfrey Thomas L. Thompson (Danish/European) Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email) Arthur Droge
Raphael Lataster Thomas S. Verenna Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background] Philip R. Davies
Raphael Lataster Neil Godfrey Steven Carr
R. Joseph Hoffmann (Probably a bit rude to include Hoffmann here now since he has become virulently anti-mythicist since Carrier joined the ranks; he used to publish sympathetically towards mythicist ideas of G. A. Wells.) Robert Eisenman (?)
R. G. Price
Raphael Lataster
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Neil Godfrey

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6 thoughts on “Maurice Casey’s Failure to Research Mythicists — More Evidence”

  1. Casey’s position is an unsupported assertion and unprofessional in any written text. He has no empirical (i.e., scientific) evidence for his claim that former fundamentalists are more or less likely to be attracted to the mythicist hypothesis of Christian origins. I was raised in the Catholic Church, was an altar boy for 10 years, and unlike many, it seems, had no bad experiences with the Church. My mother is still a devout, practicing Catholic. One of the positive influences in my life growing up was my parish priest who I saw as a brilliant, liberal Catholic theologian (there were rumors that his liberal views resulted in his banishment to our backwater parish, he was definitely too big for own town). I remember as I grew older (and he knew my interest in science), he would talk about Cardinal Newman and the reconciliation of scientific ways of looking at the world and belief in God. I ultimately rejected those views, but have maintained respect for his viewpoint and for those who continue to hold those views.

    Yet here I am, never a fundie, feeling relatively unscathed by my time in the Catholic Church (I never really believed in Hell, which might have helped), holding the position that a mythicist explanation for the origins of Christianity makes more sense than a historicist one.

    My views on this were influenced by fundamentalist evangelicals who taught about a Jesus Christ that I was unfamiliar with. I began studying the Bible in order to find the True Jesus. I tried even to write sort of an autobiography of Jesus using the Gospels as sources. I learned more about the Bible (James Barr was an early influence). I tracked down non-canon sources (it was several years before I even was aware that the authenticity of the TF was questioned by scholars). Then, I was astounded when I read Spong’s the Resurrection myth that a Christian could hold such views. I thought for sure I had found the Jesus of history when I read Crossan.

    Yet throughout this the question that continued to bug me was how this one person in history could influence the origins of such a massive belief system. How did Christianity grow from the crucifixion of one man with a modest following into a worldwide system of belief? I began on my own to believe that the idea of Christianity, if not the idea of Jesus, must have evolved over time, from multiple origins, not a single a founder. It was when I read Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle and his opening lines about Romans (I don’t recall exactly, but something like there it is right at the opening of the epistles, Paul says it explicitly), that it all started to make sense. I never could understand the need to hold to a heavenly crucifixion, but certainly, it made sense to me that Paul’s Jesus lived in a time past, possibly a mythical past, not a recent past. Making that connection is where it clicked for me.

    I do not hate Christianity. I do believe that there are dangerous aspects to any religion, including Christianity. That such deeply held emotional beliefs can be manipulated for nefarious purposes is beyond doubt. However, I do not argue a mythicist origin of Christianity because I want to destroy Christianity. If Paul believed in a heavenly Jesus, then he believed in Jesus much the same as Christians do today. There is no reason for Christians to not believe in a heavenly mediator named Jesus. Philo believed in the Word without a personification of the Word. Paul may have believed in a Jesus without any view that Jesus of Nazareth ever walked the dusty streets of Capernaum. Today’s Christians pray to Jesus who helps them from heaven, helps them spiritually, intervenes in their lives. Whether this Jesus was born on the floor of a filthy manger, the bastard son of Pandera (or whatever) or not makes no difference to this belief.

    To me, this was a genuine and honest search to find answers to a question that was important in my life. To have “historicists” shunt my experience aside as being the result of my personal background or a hatred for Christianity or any other possible personal agenda I might have is annoying, demeaning, and offensive. It is a denigration of who I am and my own experience and I find it personally insulting and marginalizing. I believe I am following the best evidence and the arguments that make the best use of the evidence. It is interesting to me to see these supposed professionals like Maurice Casey, Bart Ehrman, James McGrath, RJ Hoffmann, Crossley, someone who wrote a positive review, etc, take such rigid and defensive positions, making the question a personal question rather than an academic one, is, frankly, astounding. It seems that they doth protest too much. It could be they are masking their own doubts.

    I have said it before. Neil takes a lot of abuse in the cyberworld from these people who really do act like bullies on the block. He’s a brave person for doing what he does. His honesty stands out (see what happened in the Joel Watts incident, for example). I personally appreciate his work.

    1. Thanks for the interesting background to your thinking. Surely there are many who have a similar narrative to yours. In my table here I only included published mythicists since that is the only “control” I can think of that we can use to assess the diversity of personal backgrounds to those who hold this view. I suspect the true meaning of the table is that it is prima facie evidence that mythicists are simply a cross-section of society generally and cannot be pigeon-holed the way Casey and Crossley and West and the rest “need”(?) to do?

      I recently posted a question on the biblestudies yahoo group not realizing it was owned by Jim West. (Jim West, as I pointed out in a recent post, posted outright lies about an email I sent him pointing out errors in Casey’s book and erroneous claims West himself made about Casey’s book.) I found my query immediately pounced on with all sorts of innuendo — as if I could only have some sinister motive for appearing there to ask the experts anything. Before an answer was forthcoming Jim West intervened and closed the thread. (My query was to find out the first century meaning of the Aramaic word translated rock — was it necessarily a “small or pointed” stone as one mainstream scholar suggested in a published work?)

      I afterwards learned off-line from another sympathetic scholar that Hector Avalos had been given the same brush-off treatment on that academic forum. Hector Avalos, of course, argues for the irrelevance of biblical studies as generally conducted in today’s universities.

      Yes. The thinking of some of these scholars is hyper-defensive to the point of being essentially medieval.

  2. On Wells, he does not wish to now be categorised as a mythicist. Not sure what his upbringing was, but seems not to have been fundamentalist.


    He was exposed to German redaction criticism early in his academic life. As a student, he roomed with the family of a Swiss clergyman who studied under Albert Schweitzer.
    He is the former chairman of the Rationalist Press Association.
    Wells is a quintessential atheist and rationalist.


    “Ehrman is well aware that I have come to modify my originally mythicist position, and he states correctly that I now think that there really was a man Jesus but that we can know very little about him (19, 241). In fact I agree with his view that ‘Jesus really existed’ but ‘was not the person most Christians today believe in’ (143). That he nevertheless continues to label me a mythicst is confusing.”

  3. Understood, but at the same time Wells is confusing with either classification. His “historical Jesus” is so vague I tend to think of his view as ‘mythicist’ as Ellegard and Mead — Jesus has no time setting, no career, no life, no identity. The only thing Wells says can be known about him is that he said some things that ended up in Q. I suspect most historical Jesus scholars would say Wells’s position is as good as a mythicist one for all practical purposes. He’s certainly not a figure subject to study or definition of any kind. One wonders about Wells’ change of view even to this extent at this stage of his life after having for decades understood the same arguments and not found them persuasive.

    Maurice Casey lists Wells among mythicists because, despite having modified his view recently, his influence on mythicists is supposedly growing. (p. 29)

    I think that’s why I included him here still: his influence on mythicism continues; and his “HJ” is so vague as to be beyond any study at all.

    Maybe I should add a little note beside his name in the chart.

  4. Yes, he is at the mythicist edge of the HJ spectrum with an almost unknowable Jesus who wasn’t crucified. If some gospel sayings are derived from real preachers, that is little better than the sayings being from real writers.

    When the supernatural is stripped out and the gospels are accepted as metaphorical, there isn’t much left. One possible criterion for classifying MJ/HJ could be whether the crucifixion is accepted as historical.

    I seem to remember reading other HJ opinions that are borderline mythicist, but cannot recall them offhand.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Albert_Wells states why he changed his mind:

    “The weakness of my earlier position was pressed upon me by J.D.G. Dunn, who objected that we really cannot plausibly assume that such a complex of traditions as we have in the gospels and their sources could have developed within such a short time from the early epistles without a historical basis (Dunn, [The Evidence for Jesus] 1985, p. 29).”

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