Mike Kok on Casey ch. 3

Review of Maurice Casey, Chapter 3: Historical Method

By Mike Kok

Here Casey covers the standard methodology in the study of the HJ: multiple attestation, double dissimilarity, embarrassment, plausibility, Aramaic, and so on.  He remarks that the criterion of multiple attestation only works if the sources can be shown to be independent (e.g. his example of Jesus exorcizing demons by power of the devil is in Mark and Q material) rather than later Gospels relying on Mark, though some might quibble with the dismissal of John or Thomas as late/secondary and thus of no value as independent testimony (it depends on whether John or Thomas are judged to be dependent on the Synoptic tradition, but cf. Casey’s treatment on both in the appendix pg. 511-534).  Casey rightly critiques dissimilarity for producing a Jesus that existed in a vacuum, neither influenced by his native Jewish heritage nor influencing his immediate followers.  It also strikes me as historically dubious to label anything as “unique” and without parallel, as even the example given of “Love your enemies” (Mt 5:44/Lk 6:27) has some precedent (Prov 25:21-22) and Paul appealing to the scriptures (and Jesus’ logion?) issues similar commands (Rom 12:14-21).  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, and the growing discomfort with the baptism of Jesus is a perfect case in point (Matthew has John desire to be baptized by Jesus, Luke has John imprisoned before the baptism, John drops the baptism altogether but keeps the Baptist as a witness to Jesus, Gospel of the Hebrews has Jesus ask what sin he committed that he should get baptized).  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).  Finally, historical plausibility helps avoid anachronisms and emphasizes the HJ as an identifiable, albeit crucifiable, first-century Jew, yet it depends on how one reconstructs the cultural milieu of first century Galilee or Judea.

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.  Even those who may not share Casey’s judgments on the historicity of certain sayings or who have no interest in the HJ whatsoever 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” (o9do_n poiei=n) 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”).  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).  In another example taken from Q material, Matthew correctly identifies the proper herbs to be tithed (Matt 23:23) while Luke seems to wrongly suggest that “rue” was tithed (Lk 11:42), but Luke coming from a Greek cultural background may have misread the Aramaic for “dill” (sh-b-th-ā) as “rue” (sh-b-r-ā) (110, 82-83).  A third example is Mk 1:41 “being angry” (o0rgisqeij), which is the harder reading so likely changed by a scribe to “being filled with compassion.” Scholars puzzle over the anger, suggesting it was directed at the man himself or demonic forces causing the affliction, but Casey argues the original Aramaic regaz can mean “angry” but has a wider range of meanings including “tremble” or to “be deeply moved” (113).  Casey finally hints towards the argument later in the book that the Greek title “the Son of Man” developed from an Aramaic idiom (115- 119), so eventually I will go where angels fear to tread and engage the thorny Son of Man debate with the foremost expert on it.  However, Casey makes two important qualifications:  the need to have controls when hypothesizing Aramaic sources (e.g. on pg. 111-112 he critiques two scholarly attempts to find an Aramaic original behind John’s prologue as he finds no evidence for Aramaic sources behind John’s Gospel and the pericope is understandable on its own terms), and even if a passage can be translated into Aramaic does not  entail it must go back to the HJ (e.g., pg. 119-20 gives reasons for why Lk 17:20-21 is probably not historical even though Meier attempted to reconstruct an Aramaic original).  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.  For instance, the reference to “anger” may reflect that an earlier exorcism underlies the account in Mark as e0cebalen (he threw/casted out) in 1:42 also seems to evoke the language of exorcism.  Yet Casey’s proposals merit further attention and succeed in demonstrating the importance of Aramaic to study of the HJ or to source/form/redaction criticism of the Gospels.

Finally, the closing section of the chapter has an eye towards the beginning student or the educated layperson in covering some of the critical texts (Josephus, Dead Sea Scrolls, Sirach, 1 Enoch, etc) and archaeological discoveries in reconstructing the Jewish world of Jesus.  Of special interest is the abuse of archaeology by both the faithful and the faith-less.  Here he discusses frauds like the Turin Shroud or the James Ossuary (127-128); even if the latter is proven authentic it does not tell scholars what they do not already know (Jesus’ had a brother named James, cf. Gal 1:19).  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).  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.  Casey’s overview of scholarship (ch 1), analysis of the source material (ch 2) and discussion of method (ch 3) has set the stage for his reconstruction in the rest of this massive and very learned book (**note: we will not review every chapter in depth but only now highlight particular chapters and leave it to the reader to judge how these methods are applied to the Baptism, the Twelve, kingdom of God, Last Supper, birth/resurrection traditions, etc).

Mike Kok


10 responses to “Mike Kok on Casey ch. 3

  1. James, I noticed that the Greek font didn’t come through, so to transliterate Mk 2:23 is “hodon (road) poiein” (infinitive “to make”), the textual variant for the anger is “orgistheis” (a good online discussion of some textual issues is at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/textualcriticism/message/1502), and the Greek word in Mk 1: 42 is the aorist of ekballō (threw/cast out). Also, in case anyone is interested, the reference to Hooker is found in Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to St. Mark (Black’s NT Commentary; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991) and for more info on the “Nazarene” sect one can check out Ray Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity: From the End of the First Century Until Its Disappearance in the Fourth Century (Leiden: Brill; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988).

  2. We’re looking forward to coming to Sheffield so Maurice can give his public talk – when the snow stops! I’m a sunny beach and sea person – I don’t like this ice! His book engaging mythicists from Price to Acharya as well as Christian apologists, conservative/fundamentalist scholarship is well nigh half way through the first draft. He naturally responds to the blogger Godfrey’s main arguments and ‘review’ there, and I have been gathering relevant posts for many months now. Obviously there is no point me getting involved on the blog though anymore.

  3. Obviously the comments on these posts are taken into account. These accumulate untiringly long after the posts have been written. Often ironically some of the more ‘helpful’ and more boldly accusative discussion takes place here. I forgot to mention the wonderful Hebrew Bible scholar, Thomas Thompson, whom Maurice also engages alongside the American Jesus Seminar and so forth. Naturally I have previously expressed the difference between the American Jesus Seminar, The British Jesus Seminar and the SNTS Jesus Seminar, but my explanation appears to have been forgotten or overlooked.

  4. The mythicist book will also now take into account Is Jesus Not the Carpenter, not due out til later next year. It includes some outstanding learned scholars such as Morgens Muller and Thomas Thompson, who demonstrate with sophisticated accounts, mythicist views. Until now these views have been proselytised mainly by bloggers … and the idea has been ignored or dismissed without refutation. Some more serious scholarship if it has acknowledged it and offered any argument, has referred to the outdated refutations of the likes of Goguel and Shirley Jackson Case for example, and left it at that. I was very disappointed with The Five Views of Jesus and the responses to Robert Price. Robert Price wrote a serious article and he was basically dismissed by a couple and really Luke Timothy Johnson was the only one who took him seriously. It was embarrassing and Robert Price deserved better than than I felt. So Is Jesus Not the Carpenter is an important book to engage with.

  5. ‘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, and the growing discomfort with the baptism of Jesus is a perfect case in point (Matthew has John desire to be baptized by Jesus, Luke has John imprisoned before the baptism, John drops the baptism altogether….’

    Does the fact that John drops the baptism altogether evidence for the baptism having happened?

    Are there any other things which we know happened because sources never mention them happening?

    • Steph: glad you and Dr. Casey could make it to Sheffield and I too look forward to both his book in 2012 and the new Thompson/Verenna book

      Steven: you may miss the point here. It is not that John simply does not have the baptism, it is that he deliberately omits the baptism. We know that John knows about the baptism because, a) he is later and likely familiar with Mark’s account, and b) he retains everything else from John the Baptist’s role at the start of Jesus’ ministry to prediction of one who’s sandles he was not fit to untie to the vision of the Spirit coming down as a dove (now turned into the Baptist’s own vision) yet omits the baptism act itself. But I think I can anticipate your next move – a comment on how the cast of characters in the gospels mysteriously disappear or a (mis)reading about Romans 10 about how they have not heard about the gospel or some other rhetorical question :)

      • Tim Widowfield

        John is familiar with Mark’s account? I would agree with you, but I think many NT scholars would have a problem with that statement, especially the growing group of Q-doubters. You see, a great deal of the historical Jesus thesis depends on multiple independent attestation. If every evangelist is aware of Mark, and there was no Q, then there is no independence. Can’t have that.

        More kosher is to say, “John, clearly an independent source, was aware of the oral tradition of the baptism, but was embarrassed by it.” Am I suggesting that the evidence is fudged to make the conclusions more palatable? Now who would do a thing like that?

  6. Fair enough critique Tim. Perhaps it could be said that John was familiar with Mark’s account and to some extent follows the narrative outline in the Passion narrative, but also utilized a very different Johannine source traditions in writing his own Gospel? But in any case Casey does not really rely on John (or Thomas) anyways, but bases his reconstruction largely on Mark and the Q material (and I realize that there is a growing body of Q skeptics, but I still think that the independence of Luke from Matthew and so some common sources behind the shared non-Markan material is still the best solution to the Synoptic Problem).

  7. Pingback: The Biblical Studies Carnival LVIII « כל־האדם

  8. Pingback: Mark and the Historical Jesus « Euangelion Kata Markon

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