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

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!

See Part I of the review here.

The third chapter (pp. 101-41) of Jesus of Nazareth deals with Casey’s methodology in his study of the historical Jesus. He discusses the usual criteria of embarrassment, plausibility, dissimilarity, multiple attestation, etc. One aspect of his methodology which is infrequently seen in historical studies is the criterion of underlying Aramaic tradition (see pp. 108-20). While I found this criterion to be quite fascinating, I did not come away with a sense of its centrality and usefulness. I think it is due to there not being as many examples using this criterion as I would have liked to seen. I know Casey has published the book Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (CUP, 2007), so I think I may read that sometime to get a more fuller presentation of argument for the Aramaic source of Mark’s Gospel.

A couple times I found myself wondering if there was an alternative explanation to a supposed underlying Aramaic source. For instance, Casey posits that “to make a road” (οδον ποιειν) found in Mark 2.23 is due t0 a mistranslation of the original Aramaic lema’ebhar (to go along) as lema’ebhadh (to make) [see pp. 62-3]. In other words, when Mark was reading his Aramaic source, he fudged up one of the letters with the end result being that Mark misread “to go along” as “to make”. So the original Aramaic source does not have Jesus or the disciples breaking the law of making a path on the Sabbath. There is alternative explanation, though, in that οδον ποιειν is one of many Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel, as it is a Greek idiom of the Latin iter facere (to make way). I am definitely not one with the necessary ability to adjudicate between these two explanations, but both seem plausible and so I was surprised that Casey didn’t mention that alternative explanation (AFAIR) especially considering that there are quite a few Latinisms in Mark. (See Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, pg. 1043 for a list of Latinisms in Mark including the one I just cited)

Also, the motivation for finding an Aramaism behind Mark 2.23 seemed kind of contrived. Casey’s argument seemed to be: (1) Jesus would have never broken the  Sabbath; (2)  therefore when Mark has Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath (by making a path) it must mean Mark was in error. Along comes the Aramaic source underlying Mark and viola! Problem solved. As I just said though, it just strikes me as a contrived argument used to bolster the case for the Aramaic source theory.

Regardless of Casey’s appeal to Mark 2.23, I found some of his other arguments for an Aramaic source underlying Mark to be more compelling, such as his reasoning behind how Mark came up with  “Boanērges” as a word meaning “sons of thunder” (the title Jesus gave James and John). Casey says that “Boanērges” was a mistaken attempt by Mark to transliterate the Aramaic benēre’em which means “sons of thunder”. (There is a fuller explanation of this on pp. 189-90).

The fourth chapter (pp. 143-70) consists of a look at the birth of Jesus, his upbringing and his cultural background. The fifth chapter (pp. 171-98) focuses on the ministry of John the Baptist and the calling of Jesus. I was pleased to see Casey interacting with James Tabor’s attempt at giving the Panthera story credence. Not surprisingly, as practically everyone else has done, Casey dismisses the Panthera myth as Jewish polemic against Christianity. On the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, Casey summarizes:

There is accordingly very little genuine historical information to be gleaned from the stories of Jesus’ birth. He was not born of a virgin, his mother was not raped and he was not an ostracized mamzer. The Gospel accounts have resulted from storytelling which became inevitable because of his position at the centre of early Christianity, a movement which was not bounded by genealogy. (158)

More to come in part III…

3 responses

  1. I have a personal theory on the Boanerges nickname which I will throw out here in hopes of making exegetical history:

    (1) John and James were brothers. But Simon bar Jonas also had a brother in the apostolic group – Andrew. I think Jesus might easily have referred to Peter and Andrew collectively as the plural of “bar Jonas” (wish I knew that plural and believe me if I needed a paper topic I’d look it up).

    (2) If I’m right about (1) then the character of brothers James and John was not only aptly portrayed in the name “sons of thunder” but there was an added, special appeal to Jesus in the play on words which was represented in the assonance between “Boa nerges” and “BarJonas”.

    Try sounding them out to yourself to see what I mean. I think the way that soft consonant g/j sound shifts with the n sound in the two monikers would give them a poetic value which no divine son would have missed 🙂

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