James McGrath’s review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? has appeared in RBL. Casey’s work is a diatribe against persons who have been associated with the Christ Myth arguments (even though some of them do not argue a mythicist case themselves), and against a selection of what he asserts (often inaccurately) are their arguments. Casey also takes bitter swipes at others with whom he has had academic disagreements (in particular Paul L. Owen) or who hold other positions with which he disapproves (e.g. Emanuel Pfoh, Niels Peter Lemche).
According to McGrath’s review Casey has given a “highly commendable” presentation of the character of mythicists (who “maliciously malign mainstream scholars”) and the absurdity of their arguments (that “do not deserve to be taken seriously”). I set out below what those characteristics are according to Casey/McGrath.
I suppose the litany of sins is meant to turn anyone unfamiliar with mythicist arguments off the very thought of ever reading them and poisoning the very thoughts of the names of their exponents. Of course anyone who does read the works of Doherty, Price, Carrier, Wells, — or even articles here that often only indirectly may support mythicist views even though they are generally presentations of contemporary work by biblical scholars — will make up their own mind about the honesty of McGrath’s and Casey’s claims.
McGrath approves of Casey’s personal attacks.
The Casey-McGrath Profile of mythicists (the persons):
Mythicists and those addressed as such by Casey are “without relevant scholarly expertise”
Mythicists “typically” engage in “name-calling and other kinds of rudeness” when speaking of scholars; they have “insulted Casey” and “this reviewer (McGrath)”. Mythicists “maliciously malign mainstream scholars”. At the same time McGrath does concede that Casey’s own work is itself “acerbic” and “sarcastic” — though Casey’s tone is of course justified.
- Casey actually cites no case where anyone has insulted him; he does cite the one time I mocked McGrath without mentioning my subsequent post expressing my regret at having done so or any of McGrath’s (and Casey’s) own ongoing abusive and insulting language directed towards me and others and his repeated rejections of my appeals for a return to the courteous way we began our exchanges.
- I invite readers to review my many posts and comments on this blog (and anywhere else) and assess for themselves just how “typically” I or Doherty or Parvus or Widowfield have engaged in “name-calling and other types of rudeness”.
McGrath refers to all mythicists as “Internet cranks”
Most “were previously fundamentalists or some other sort of conservative Christian”
- This is false even by the details Casey himself gives in his book. See also Who’s Who: Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers.
They prefer “old ‘authorities’ over against recent research” (e.g. Neil Godfrey’s “fixation on older historians and other figures whose legacy has been critically evaluated in the field of history”)
- I have even posted on recent works by modern historians who address the same “older historians” I myself addressed and that I will continue to post about in upcoming articles. Interestingly the same points I have made comparing fundamental standards set by older historians with certain postmodernist approaches to historical writing have been made by these contemporary historians (McCullagh, Henige).
“Mythicists’ lack . . . awareness of even very basic points of New Testament scholarship”.
- This generic charge is exemplified by Casey’s misrepresentation of G. A. Wells’s claim that Paul does not cite the Sermon on the Mount — bizarrely suggesting Wells was unaware that the Sermon as written in the Gospel of Matthew was the evangelist’s own composition.
Mythicists have an “all-or-nothing view . . . which mirrors their pasts in fundamentalism. Finding that the Gospels are not inerrant, as they once assumed them to be, they now assume that nothing in them is factual.”
- No supporting quotation or reference is given for this charge — neither by Casey nor McGrath.
“Critical scholarship, ignored by mythicists except for the purpose of quote-mining”
- Doherty? Carrier? Price?
Mythicists are willing “to ignore even their own purported principles when it is necessary to their stance.”
The Casey-McGrath Profile of mythicism (the arguments)
It is backgrounded in “older scholarship that is now badly out of date”.
“fundamentalist unscholarly ways of thinking continue to characterize mythicist claims and arguments”
Mythicists make “misleading and simply false statements … regarding the dates of our manuscripts.”
- I don’t know of any mythicist case rejecting the standard dates for the manuscripts
“anachronistic expectations” — e.g. Doherty stating Paul ought to have made mention of relics.
One kind of argument from silence is popular among mythicists: “what the Gospels and Q do not say.”
Mythicists “attempt to rely on hypothetical stratifications of a hypothetical document in arguing that Jesus did not exist (although mythicists still need to discard some evidence that does not suit their stance from even the earliest layers of Q posited by Kloppenborg).”
- Kloppenborg is “badly out of date”?
Mythicists try to dispose of the evidence that James the brother of the Lord provides for the historicity
- As in the previous point, notice that mythicists don’t “present arguments”; rather, they are said to “discard” or “dispose” of evidence.
Mythicists work with “fundamentalist-type assumptions”. Example: the “notion that Jesus’s teaching must either be wholly unique or entirely unoriginal and that anything shared not only must be directly borrowed but implies that the teacher does not exist.”
There are no valid parallels pointing to Gospel stories being derived from Old Testament precedents. Rather, mythicists are said to make false claims on the basis of “similarities between words in ways that are nonsensical from a linguistic perspective . . . . Often the parallels that are claimed—such as that a figure was “nailed to a tree” or “had twelve disciples”—turn out not to even be true . . . and often the points of connection are due to the fact that mundane objects feature in myths” and the Gospels.
Mythicism is “pseudoscholarship” that “does not deserve to be taken seriously”.
- So the works of Murdock and Price and Carrier are all lumped together
Mythicism is “not merely wrong in the ways that scholars are often wrong but rather grossly incompetent, shoddily argued and evidenced, utterly lacking in plausibility, and often seeming to willfully distort the evidence, all while its proponents maliciously malign mainstream scholars.”
Mythicism is pseudoscience comparable to young-earth creationist claims.
Mythicism is “denialism” and “unscholarly, inasmuch as they fail to even implement the appropriate methods of scholarly investigation and argument.”
Surely this is enough
It’s tiresome to respond to each of the above points. Is anyone really interested in what Casey had to say about this subject? There is scarcely an honest or supportable claim in Casey’s entire book. I have posted on it in general terms before. If others read for themselves any of the works of Price, Wells, Doherty (or myself) then I trust them to make up their own minds about the Casey-McGrath profiles of their persons and arguments.
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