Quick Review: Jesus – Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

mauricecaseymythTitle: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

Author: Maurice Casey

Bibliographic info: 272 pp.

Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

I wasn’t planning on reading this book for a while, but I couldn’t resist. What can I say… I find it quite amusing that there are people who do not believe Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. Sure, you might not consider him to be the miracle-working, divine Son of God that the New Testament portrays him to be, but to say that he didn’t even exist is quackery.

And quackery it is. Jesus mythicism is not a mainstream view in the field of historical Jesus studies. It is a silly fringe theory that, as Dr. James McGrath has pointed out many times before, is the atheist version of Young Earth Creationism (YEC). Both Jesus mythicism and YEC reject the overwhelming consensus in regards to the conclusion that should be drawn from data (the Earth is billions of years old; Jesus was a historical person), and both positions seem to be primarily driven by an agenda rather than the data (adherence to a particular interpretation of Genesis; the need to one up Christians by saying, “Not only do we not accept that Jesus was resurrected but we also reject that he was even a historical person”).

Nevertheless, Jesus mythicism seems to have attracted a small crowd on the interwebs.  I’ve spent a decent amount of time on various atheist internet forums (e.g. reddit.com/r/atheism, thinkingatheist.com/forum/, etc) and have seen that there is definitely a stream of thinking in the atheist crowd that readily accepts the Jesus mythicist position. Unfortunately, they also seem to mostly be people who also think that Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great are scholarly works on religion, leading them to miss out on the intellectual and critical rigor one finds in actual academic religious books, thus leaving themselves susceptible to lapping up any absurd anti-Christian drivel they come across (such as Jesus mythicism).

This book by Maurice Casey is divided into the following chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical Method
  3. The Date and Reliability of the Canonical Gospels
  4. What is Not in the Gospels, or Not in ‘Q’
  5. What is Not in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
  6. What is Written in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
  7. It All Happened Before, in Egypt, India, or Wherever you Fancy, but there was Nowhere for it to Happen in Israel
  8. Conclusions
    Appendix: Latinisms

If you’ve read Casey’s book Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching, then some of the stuff you read in this book will be familiar. But while Jesus of Nazareth did not really engage Jesus mythicism, Jesus: Evidence and Arguments or Mythicist Myths is a direct response to mythicist arguments.

The introductory chapter was a bit peculiar. It begins with Casey arguing at length with people who have disagreed with him in the past. The point of this was to show how people’s presuppositions can color the conclusions they arrive at, but the time spent on this seemed a tad bit excessive (and not terribly relevant). Casey also discusses the key players in mythicism, saying that they “claim to be ‘scholars’, though I would question their competence and qualifications”. This list includes Dan Barker, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, L.P. Gandy, N.T. Freke, Thomas Verenna, Dorothy Murdock, Robert Price, Thomas L. Thompson, Frank Zindler, Steven Carr, Neil Godfrey, and a few others.

A key point that Casey is making in the introduction (and which is repeated throughout the book) is that Jesus mythicists simply don’t know what they’re talking about. The writings of many of these folk (Gandy, Murdock, Carrier) clearly display their lack of knowledge of the appropriate fields of knowledge (the only real exception being Robert Price, though his work on the subject isn’t that much better than Dorothy Murdock’s). Another point Casey is making is that Jesus mythicists are often found to have been raised in a fundamentalist Christian environment, thus their mythicism is driven more by an agenda than a legit appraisal of the data. Casey remarks that a mistake mythicists “make repeatedly” is to let their presuppositions color their conclusions and cherry-picking evidence to get the answers they want. Mythicists do this “because they cannot even realize that their notion that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical figure is a product of their present faith, not of historical research”.

I will not go into detail about the rest of the chapters. Suffice to say, Casey does a very adequate job at dismantling some of the absurd mythicist arguments. And he does so with a very sharp and caustic wit. For example:

[Jesus mythicism] belongs in the fantasy lives of people who used to be Fundamentalist Christians. They did not believe in critical scholarship then, and they do not do so now.

Another example (containing Casey’s take on Thomas L. Thompson’s work The Messiah Myth):

In short, this is the most incompetent book by a professional scholar that I have ever read.

Maurice Casey sure doesn’t hold anything back when he writes!

One thing which I wish Casey had of done was spent more time interacting with Richard Carrier’s looney ravings. Sure, a lot of what Carrier says can’t really be distinguished from the paranoid delusions of the Zeitgeist crowd (e.g. his pointing to the Sumerian goddess Inanna as an earlier example of a deity that was “crucified” and “rose again”), but Carrier at least attempts to give mythicism a veneer of legitimacy with his grandiloquent writing style. If only Carrier would try to rectify his ineptitude in biblical studies then maybe his writings would be taken more seriously!

Overall I enjoyed the book and I will be reading through it again. I definitely recommend the interested reader to purchase it. Amazon says the paperback version will not be out till mid-March, but the Kindle edition is already available (and is quite inexpensive).

22 responses

  1. I have never stated that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist – not once in my entire life.

    Maurice Casey invented myths about me going to Tyndale House while I was at Cambridge.

    I have never been to Tyndale House in my entire life.

    Casey also claimed I have ‘contempt’ for James Crossley , when I have never written a bad word about him in my life.

    Casey’s ability to reconstruct the life of people , based soley on his own fantasies, is as unreal as his claimed ability to read Aramaic wax tablets nobody has ever seen better than a native Aramaic-speaker who has them in front of them.

    As I pointed this out, I am now on Casey’s hate-list. He hates having his fantasy world disturbed by reality.

    • I’m halfway through it at the moment. I also thought that the first chapter went on far too long, and should probably have relegated to the appendices.

      Steven, he says that you *could* have gone there. That’s speculation, not inventing myths. And for the avoidance of future confusion, why don’t you clarify how your own views differ from mythicism?

      • I think you’ll find that Casey uses ‘could’ quite a bit in his ‘work’ on the historical Jesus, quickly forgetting that ‘could’ is a different word from ‘did’.

        But still now that we are agreed that almost all of Casey’s scholarship is ‘speculation’ , to use your word that you substitute when you see ‘could’, why should we take Casey’s ‘speculation’ seriously, even when he does produce hundreds of pages of it at once?

        If Casey wanted to know if I did go to Tyndale House, he could have just asked. I’m not speculating here, I’m using ‘could’ in the way it should be used, not in Casey’s way……

        I think that Jesus of Nazareth (or Jesus of Capernaum) did not exist is a live possibiiity.

        But I am careful not to confuse what I think with facts.

      • Did you read the bit about where Casey claims the bit in Mark where Jesus prayer in Gethsemane is not heard does not contradict the bit in Hebrews which claims that Jesus’s prayers were heard?

        I guess once a fundie, always a fundie with Casey who can never resist harmonising one bit of the Bible with another.

        Casey even thinks the disciples ‘could’ have been sleepy because they’d had a bit of a drink and anyway it was past their normal bedtime.

        Casey then has the cheek, the sheer audacity to claim that it is other people who haven’t progressed beyond the level of scholarship reached by fundamentalists.

        Amazing! Has he no ability to look in a mirror?

    • Hmm…..how can I get through to Carr in a language he can understand.

      IF disciples “past their normal bedtime” AND IF disciples “drinking”
      THEN disciples (sleepy)
      FOR “Jesus pray” 1 TO 3
      WHILE disciples (sleepy)
      Input (prayer)
      PRINT “The disciples might have heard the prayer.”

      • I think what you are trying to say is that the disciples were getting some shut-eye, and so were shut-eye witnesses.

        Mind you, it must have been hard to get to sleep with Jesus wailing away.

        According to Casey, Jesus would have been very loud and so nobody could have got to sleep.

        And this all happened 3 times, just like the Bible says.

        Methinks Casey has been drinking the fundie juice….

        The Bible says it. Casey believes it. That settles it.

  2. Pingback: Brief Review of Maurice Casey’s New Book on Mythicism

  3. Casey’s claim that there is no contradiction between Hebrews saying Jesus prayer was answered and Mark’s claim that Jesus prayer in Gethsemane was not answered is the poster child of fundie reasoning.

    But perhaps Casey is not a fundie.

    Perhaps Casey just helps fundies out when they are busy.

    Casey is fond of claiming that ‘they wouldn’t make it up’

    Would writers write a scene about Jesus and make it up?

    Case 1 – the scene fits the character of Jesus of the Gospels.

    Then how can Casey say no author would make up a scene which fits the character he has created?

    Surely that is the very sort of thing he would do.

    Case 2 – the scene does not fit the character of Jesus of the Gospels.

    Then how can Casey say it is historical, when it simply does not fit the character of Jesus of the Gospels?

    Casey’s book is awful and not the sort of thing a respectable publisher should publish.

  4. Remind me where Mark says that Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not answered? Also, exactly where do you think the contradiction lies between Mark and Hebrews and what do you think that the author of Hebrews imagined happened following Jesus’ prayer?

    • ‘Remind me where Mark says that Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not answered?’

      Let’s see.

      In Mark, Jesus prays that this cup of suffering be taken from him.

      He is then flogged, beaten, mocked, slapped and nailed to a cross.

      Was his prayer answered?

      Aren’t GCSE RE questions getting dumbed-down nowadays?

      In Hebrews, the author says Jesus prayer was answered.

      Casey says the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane was indeed answered.

      Casey claims that what Jesus prayer for, ‘did not happen’ (page 438 of his Jesus book)

      And he gives the wonderful line that Hebrews confirms independently that this prayer was answered.

      Yes, in Casey’s world, if you pray for something and it ‘did not happen’ , then your prayer was answered – just like Hebrews says!

      Tell me when Casey’s book winds up in Poundland…..

      • So what is Jesus praying for in Hebrews and how does this contradict Mark?

        PS: Nobody calls it RE anymore, get with the times eh?
        PPS: I’m more of a 99p Stores kind of guy (good for cheap gardening stuff), but I’ll let know if I see Casey’s book. Perhaps it’ll be next to the buy one get one free deal on Proving History? 😉

  5. PAUL
    So what is Jesus praying for in Hebrews and how does this contradict Mark?

    CARR
    I think what Paul is trying to say here is that there is not a single word of agreement between what Jesus is praying for in Hebrews and the prayer in Mark.

    In fact, ‘offering up prayers and supplications’ in Hebrews comes from Psalm 116, while Jesus’s cup of suffering was also drawn from the same Psalm.

    As always, stories about Jesus agree with the Old Testament more than they agree with each other!

    • “there is not a single word of agreement between what Jesus is praying for in Hebrews and the prayer in Mark.”

      Obfuscation. What is Jesus praying for in Hebrews? How does this contradict Mark? What does Hebrews author imagine happens following Jesus’s prayer?

      Three pretty simple questions you haven’t answered.

  6. So Paul’s argument is that because Hebrews and Mark both turned to the same Psalm for inspiration when writing their scene, they don’t contradict each other.

    So it must be historical!

    How did Casey miss that one?

    • “So Paul’s argument is that because Hebrews and Mark both turned to the same Psalm for inspiration when writing their scene, they don’t contradict each other.”

      If you can quote something I’ve said that states or implies any such thing, then please do so. Alternatively, If you can answer any the three perfectly simple questions I’ve asked (Reminder – What is Jesus praying for in Hebrews? How does this contradict Mark? What does Hebrews author imagine happens following Jesus’s prayer?), they please do so.

      Otherwise (as so often), I think it’s time for you to go back in your cave…

  7. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

    So we have “quackery”, “silly fringe theory”, “atheist version of YEC”, “driven by an agenda” “absurd anti-Christian drivel”, “claim to be scholars”, “don’t know what they’re talking about”, “clearly display their lack of knowledge”, “let their presuppositions color their conclusions”, “cherry-picking evidence to get the answers they want”, “they cannot even realize”, “absurd arguments”, “looney ravings”, “paranoid delusions”, “ineptitude”, —

    Contrast Fernando Bermejo-Rubio (http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/2013/12/rub378009.shtml)

    I freely confess a deep sympathy towards proponents of the idea that Jesus did not exist (the so-called “mythicists”). On the one hand, they are a minority, and I am prone to take seriously into account minorities’ views (too often I have realized that common opinion, including in the field of Jesus scholarship, is based on wrong assumptions, and I myself maintain some views on the historical Jesus –and on the history of research– which are in a minority)

    Apart from the rare exceptions like Bermejo-Rubio, nothing has changed since Albert Schweitzer addressed the tone of the debate in his own day:

    The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century.

    • Way to quote mine Fernando Bermejo-Rubio. He never once mentioned he was a mythicist, or that he supports mythicism. He obviously doesn’t hold that Jesus was a myth. He’s just simply saying he feels compassion for mythicists because they’re the minority. The historicity of Jesus(his life, teachings, death,etc.) are not the same as his existence. There’s no debate about his existence

      • You miss my point entirely and the reason for my quotation. If my quoted source was a mythicist or if I wanted you to believe that he was then my point would have been lost entirely. The whole point of my quotation gains its meaning from what I (wrongly) assumed would be obvious to you and everyone — that the author is NOT a mythicist. I did cite the link for you to establish this for yourself and I also assumed that everyone would know the author is not a mythicist but a mainstream scholar.

        That was also the reason for my quotation from Schweitzer. I assume everyone knows he is not a mythicist, either.

        It would be pointless my quoting mythicists. But by quoting HJ believing scholars I am making the point that mythicism can be discussed and addressed in a civil and scholarly manner.

        We do not need to jump to conclusions that mythicists are psychologically or morally crippled.

      • Of course there is no debate about the existence of Jesus among scholars who are dedicated to uncovering the historical Jesus. If one is dedicated to describing Jesus then his existence is of necessity taken for granted. That is the point people like Thomas L. Thompson (and even myself) have been making. See Tim Widowfield’s post on just this very point: http://vridar.org/2014/03/26/some-thoughts-on-the-nature-of-the-evidence-and-the-historicity-of-jesus/

  8. I don’t care for all the “consensus” talk. The problem with theories like Jesus mythicism and YEC is not they are against the consensus per se, but that they are contrary to all the relevant evidence. It is possible to have a genuine revolution in thought that starts off as being something other than the consensus without also being contrary to all the relevant evidence.

    • Simply dismissing the Christ Myth theory like this is something Albert Schweitzer or Fernando Bermejo-Rubio never did. They actually read the arguments and then presented their own. That’s how debate works. But that debate generally does not happen because one side shuts down any possibility of debate by denigration of the persons who argue for the Christ Myth or by making sweeping avoidance assertions like “that’s just contrary to all relevant evidence”.

      Even YEC is not “contrary to all relevant evidence” — YEC reinterprets all the relevant evidence. That is why scientists can and do write books arguing against YEC. They argue that there is a simpler way to interpret all the relevant evidence.

      Once you say the other side simply argues contrary to all relevant evidence you are declaring that you have no interest in discussing the matter and are shutting down debate. That is the way of intolerance and failure to understand the other point of view.

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