Review: Jesus of Nazareth (Maurice Casey) (Part I)

Title: Jesus of Nazareth – An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching

Author: Maurice Casey

Bibliographic info: XVI + 544 + 16 (indices)

Cover: Soft

Publisher: T&T Clark (2010)

ISBN-10: 0567645177

ISBN-13: 9780567645173

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to T&T Clark for the review copy!

The author, Maurice Casey, is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Nottingham.

In the first chapter (pp. 1-59), Casey provides a thorough survey on the never-ending quest for the historical Jesus. Perhaps the most interesting part of this chapter was his noting the role that Nazism played in the quest for the historical Jesus (as seen in Fiebig and Grundmann), whereas other historical Jesus studies I have read usually gloss over the years between Schweitzer and Käsemann as a “no-quest” period.

Casey discusses the work of all the usual suspects (e.g. Vermes, Sanders, Crossan, Meier, Dunn, et al), and provides a five page beat-down on the views of mythicist Robert Price, and another six pages on fellow mythicist Zindler (a fellow of the Jesus Seminar). After dealing with them, Casey then takes on attempts by conservative Christian at finding the historical Jesus (e.g. Witherington, Blomberg). Casey brings up a very good point that some books authored by Christian scholars seemingly present the findings of the Jesus Seminar as if it was the pinnacle of liberal scholarship (which it obviously is not). Notably, Casey describes N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God as “one of the best books on Jesus so far” (45), though not without its faults.

After all this, Casey lays out on the table what he thinks is a pivotal deficit of all historical Jesus studies – the refusal to take seriously the Aramaic level of the Jesus tradition. To Casey, this is the primary reason for the failure of all the previous attempts, and the underlying Aramaic is a recurring part of Casey’s methodology throughout the book.

The second chapter (61-99) discusses the sources that Casey deems as useful for investigating the historical Jesus. After quickly proving Markan priority, Casey provides some examples as to why he believes an Aramaic source underlies some of Mark’s Gospel. Surpisingly, Casey goes against the grain of most scholars by asserting that Mark was written in c. 40 (whereas European scholars typically date it at about c. 65-69, and American scholars at about c. 75). Casey thinks it is correct to accept the tradition that someone named Mark (Marcus) wrote the Gospel, yet he does not think it was actually finished (perhaps due to sudden death or whatever reason). Casey views the Gospel of Mark as the single most important source for our knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus.

Casey then moves onto the Q document. He does not believe the Q material could have been taken from a single document written in Greek, but instead opts for a “chaotic model of Q”. Interestingly, Casey asserts that some of the Q material was actually created by Christians and hence parts of Q are not actually authentic sayings of Jesus (e.g. Mt. 24.7-8, Lk. 17.24, 37b). A reason for this is that the verbal agreement between Matthew and Luke in those passages is not as high as other parts of Q.

Casey then tackles the Gospel of Matthew next. He discusses the view of Papias who said that Matthew “compiled the sayings in Hebrew and each interpreted them as he was able”. Casey says that Papias was not referring to the entire Gospel of Matthew, but only certain sayings (which fits in well with the word Papias uses – logia). He believes that Matthew probably was a tax collector and a follower of Jesus, though he was certainly not responsible for the entire Gospel. He dates the Gospel as being written c. 50-60 (as opposed to the usual dating of c. 75-85), and he concludes that Matthew is a “major source” for knowledge concerning the historical Jesus.

Lastly, Casey deals with the Gospel of Luke. In this case, he accepts the traditional dating of c. 80-90 and also accepts the traditional view of authorship. Like Matthew, the Gospel of Luke is a “major source” for studying the historical Jesus.

So in the end, like the majority of scholars, Casey finds the Gospel of Mark and the Q source as the earliest and most reliable witnesses to the historical Jesus, alongside of which he will use “judiciously selected material from Matthew and Luke” (61). And again, like the vast majority of scholars, Casey does not deem the Gospel of John as being useful for an investigation into the historical Jesus, though he does not discuss why in this chapter but saves it for an appendix (511-44).

Most of this appendix is spent discussing the canonical Gospel of John. Essentially, Casey views John as a very important document regarding how early Christianity developed, yet it is nevertheless only a reflection of the theology of the Johannine community and thus useless for a historical Jesus study. He also considers it to be strongly antisemitic in flavor and that it reflects the split that occurred between the Jewish and Johannine communities in Ephesus at the end of the second century.

Also briefly discussed in the appendix are the Gospels of Mary, Judas, Thomas, Philip, and Secret Mark. Though, these gospels are naturally dismissed as not being relevant to the study of the historical Jesus due to their late date of writing and their obvious  gnosticism or gnosticizing tendencies.

Read Part II here.

3 responses

  1. Thanks for this – we’ve just received Casey’s book in our library, so I’m interested to get this preview – I’ll be keeping track of your series on it…

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