Book Plunge: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

What do I think of Casey’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

If you had noticed a lack of Book Plunges on the blog lately, that’s because I was busy reading books in preparation for my debate with Ken Humphreys, and I am extremely pleased with how I did and I am certain that when you hear the debate that you will think the mythicist position was extremely lacking. Still, I did not want to be cocky so I chose to read all I could on both sides.

Maurice Casey was an agnostic NT scholar who seems to have reluctantly found himself drawn into this. I suspect it was something like the case with Ehrman where one of his main assistants, Stephanie Fisher, saw mythicism gaining ground on the internet. Casey decided to start looking into their writings. As can be imagined, he and Fisher both found them extremely lacking, and at the same time, extremely confident.

One benefit this book has is a rogues’ gallery of who’s who in Jesus Mythicism. Casey seems to have a special dislike for people like Earl Doherty, Neil Godfrey, and Acharya S. Interestingly, Ken Humphries is not mentioned at all. It would have been nice to have seen more about Richard Carrier and it would be interesting to know what Casey would have thought if he had got to read Carrier’s book.

Casey does rightly point out that we need to avoid fundamentalism, yet too often he seems to go extreme with that as well. How exactly does Ben Witherington get listed as a fundamentalist? He’s anything but! It’s also important to state that while some institutions of higher learning have a statement of faith, people who sign on to that and agree to teach there already agree with it based on years of research. I can point out that there is just as much on the other end of scholars who are willing to accept any explanation before they’d accept a miracle, no matter how bizarre. Despite that, they can still be excellent scholars and we should avail ourselves of their learning.

A major problem I had with the book of Casey’s is that he really makes a lot out of knowing Aramaic. There is no doubt that Casey was an expert in this field but too often, it looked like the Aramaic card was being thrown around too easily and that Casey’s knowledge of Aramaic meant that he was right in what he said. No doubt sometimes it was valuable, but like I said. It was used too much.

I also wish that something had been said about the extra-biblical evidences. It would have been helpful to include information in that regard concerning Tacitus and Josephus for instance. Mythicists will too quickly throw out the NT and twist any bit of data to go and accept the theory they’ve already arrived at.

On the other hand, Casey does make some excellent defenses of the Gospels including that some healing stories he thinks are accurate, though he does trace them to psychosomatic healings. It’s quite interesting that mythicism has got non-Christian scholars writing books that are showing the Gospels are reliable.

I also wish more had been said about high context societies including resources that could be used for further study. I find this is an important point that many people in the world of historical Jesus studies miss and they do so with great loss. Understanding the social world of Jesus really changes everything.

In conclusion, the book is a mixed bag. I am really thankful that many non-Christian scholars are stepping up to point out the flaws of mythicism and I hope more Christian scholars do so as well. If you are into this debate, if you can call it that, then you could be benefited by reading Casey’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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2 Responses to “Book Plunge: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?”

  1. labreuer Says:

    I can point out that there is just as much on the other end of scholars who are willing to accept any explanation before they’d accept a miracle, no matter how bizarre.

    There is another area where people seem to ‘go bizarre’; it has gone by three major names: (i) fact–value distinction; (ii) is–ought problem; (iii) naturalistic fallacy. Right now I am reading Wayne C. Booth’s Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, and he discusses how pervasive and damaging that false dichotomy has been. He wrote his book in 1974; in 2004, Hilary Putnam wrote The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, which criticizes the alleged value-free ‘objective’ nature of economics, arguing that this is a sham and that the pretensions to objectivity have terribly damaged economic theory. After working through the history of the dichotomy and tracing it to the Positivist’s analytic/​synthetic dichotomy, he deals with Amartya Sen‘s economics.

    I think the fact–value dichotomy is due to a core, underlying childishness: Don’t tell me what to do! Now, before I’m too harsh, I see it as, in part, a reaction to those who thought they had too firm a grip on moral truth. Cornerstone Speech, anyone? However, the correct response to that is not skepticism, but pointing out the error in the other position and advancing a better one, oneself. That’s the adult response, at least.

    Hmmm, I wonder if the denial of miracles is actually an effect of the above: after all, miracles allegedly justify the moral proclamations of their doers. While I doubt this (see, for example, Mt 24:23–25), many seem to accept it wholeheartedly—or at least profess as much. If a sufficiently powerful being can smite you, you better just shut up and do what he/she says. So it’s better to deny that there could be such a being. Note here that the State can become such a being; this is typically ignored, or more perversely, praised.

  2. tulsacoc Says:

    Reblogged this on Highland Church of Christ Texarkana.

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