Critical Review of Maurice Casey’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus

Cover image of Mauruce Casey's new book About Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?So far only two contemporary books have been written in defense of the historicity of Jesus (nothing properly comparable has been published in almost a hundred years). They both suck. Which is annoying, because it should not be hard to write a good book in defense of historicity. And to be “good” I don’t require that it be successful, or convincing (though I would welcome that!), just worth reading, honest, accurate, informative, well-organized, well-sourced, giving mythicism the best shot possible, and being as self-critical as anyone would want mythicists to be. But alas, what we have are two travesties.

I already exposed all the egregious errors of fact and logic in Bart Ehrman’s sad armchair failure at this. Which evidently provoked him to repeatedly lie about what happened, which I then also documented. I consider him disgraced as a scholar. If you have to tell lies to save face, rather than admit a mistake and do better, you are done in this business. Or certainly ought to be. Anyway, I’ve already summarized that sorry story, with links and summaries (Ehrman on Historicity Recap).

Now we have Maurice Casey’s book defending the historicity of Jesus, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (T&T Clark, 2014…if you want to spend less or have a searchable text, it’s also available on kindle). It’s hard to compare the two books. Ehrman is at least a talented writer and mostly coherent thinker. In Jesus, Casey is neither.

The best way to describe this book is to imagine a rambling weirdo running into a grove of orange trees with a hammer and in a random frenzy smacking half the low hanging fruit, and then beating his chest and declaring proudly how the trees are now barren. Indeed. This book consists of a wandering, disorganized stream-of-consciousness of half-intelligible pontificating that very much reminded me of Eric Jonrosh. Except Jonrosh was eloquent. Indeed, the first two chapters almost read like a junior high schooler’s meandering rant on a sleepover, a total he-said-then-she-said gossip fest, where for long bouts all he does is clutch a fluffy pillow and trash talk people and obsess over Stephanie Fisher, while waiting for his friend’s mother to bring the smores. You might think that surely I am being unfair. No. Seriously. Read it.

(And BTW, when I say obsessed with Stephanie Fisher, I mean obsessed. He references or quotes this wholly unpublished graduate student seventeen times. He also copiously fawns on her in his Preface, which by itself would have been sweet.)

Here I’ll first summarize my more in-depth take on the book in a few more paragraphs, then catalog some common themes that render the book simultaneously amusing, insufferable, and useless, then analyze its contents in greater detail. Those who don’t want to labor on through the more detailed analyses may be satisfied with only the following summary…


Casey’s Jesus has no structure or organization capable of being analyzed. It is basically just a random jump from digression to digression, very loosely grouped into eight topical chapters, as he randomly picks some item or other from mythicist literature in that general topic (why that one and not others, no idea), rants about it for a bit, then suddenly starts ranting about another random topic, with only the barest thread of connected thought process between them. It is an extraordinarily frustrating book to read for that reason. He also repeats himself frequently, digresses at odd times on topics not significantly related to the book’s thesis, and never actually gets around to explaining what his argument for the historicity of Jesus actually is. You can sort of reconstruct it on your own, if you have patience and endurance, but it’s weird that you have to do this.

There is also an extraordinary amount of dishonesty and misrepresentation (although I suspect in many cases this is actually a cognitive defect: Casey literally doesn’t understand what his opponents are saying quite a lot of the time–I will have more to say on this point below), as well as a fairly consistent reliance on straw man argumentation (he often ignores–in fact, completely fails even to mention–all the strong points made by an opponent on some subject and only mentions and critiques the weak ones, or only chooses to address an argument as made by a lousy mythicist, ignoring the much better versions of the same argument made by more reliable mythicists).

This book is also characterized by an awe-inspiringly near-total reliance on a single argument for historicity that is monumentally illogical (the Criterion of Aramaicism). I say near-total, because he has one other argument to stand on, borrowed from Christian apologetics, which is his mildly contradictory insistence that in his letters Paul is talking about the historical Jesus all the time, and simultaneously didn’t talk about the historical Jesus because he never had to. (Yes, those are his only two arguments in defense of historicity. He wisely dodges relying on any extrabiblical evidence, although he briefly flirts with the James passage in Josephus, and he mentions the other passage in Josephus and the one in Tacitus, but doesn’t make any clear argument from them.)

I say those are his only two arguments for historicity because all his other arguments are rebuttals to certain arguments for mythicism, and it would be the fallacy fallacy to claim that because the case for mythicism is fallacious, therefore mythicism is false. And I will be charitable and assume Casey would not claim to be making that argument. (Since, again, he never actually explicitly ever says what his arguments for historicity are, so I am here having to reconstruct them.) His rebuttals to arguments for mythicism are sometimes correct (I myself have criticized many of them), sometimes fallacious (usually straw men or red herrings), and ultimately incomplete (there are several important arguments he doesn’t even mention at all).

Most frustrating is the fact that even when he tackles a genuinely faulty mythicist argument he still often resorts to misrepresentations, red herrings, and straw men. And most of the book’s argument is just his exegetical pontification for pages and pages and pages. The endnotes are nowhere near as full of scholarly citations or primary evidence as they should be, and ironically, while he complains about mythicists not being up on the literature, Casey is often not up on the literature. Rarely in this book did I find any instance in which Casey actually took the trouble to extensively research the evidence and scholarship pertaining to a claim and construct an analysis from it (the most frequent exception would be his constant reliance on his own past work in Aramaic).

The flaws in the book render it pretty much useless. You won’t ever know if Casey is honestly representing his opponents or even correctly describing what they’ve said (without just reading his opponents directly, which you can do more ably without his book). You often won’t know if something he is claiming is actually the mainstream consensus or a fringe view or still widely debated. You won’t find any refutations of the best mythicist arguments for any point. And you’ll get a headache trying to endure its tedious, rambling, child-like writing style, splattered with repetitious bouts of emotionally bitter pomposity. Moreover, nowhere in this book does he address the latest, peer reviewed mythicist scholarship: he never responds to my book Proving History (2012) or Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest (2012). So his book was obsolete the moment it went to press.

But I will say there are two reasons to get and read the book: (1) I very much want you to read his book, after reading my book On the Historicity of Jesus–because historicity will be well done and dead once you see the difference between how I make a case for mythicism (and what an organized, careful, thorough work of scholarship looks like), and this bizarre quasi-fundamentalist travesty of a defense for historicity; and (2) the first few chapters are awesome, and I mean awesome, drunken party reads. Get a party load of atheists and historians or just any humanities folk, pass around the fine whiskey, ale or wine, and have different people just read randomly selected sections dramatically (with flourish). With a good buzz on, it’s genuinely funny stuff. Because it’s not supposed to be funny at all. (It will be most funny to literary geeks. The simplistic sentence structure is amusement itself. The pomposity, non sequiturs, and obsession with gossip and irrelevancies and Stephanie Fisher, bonus.)

Now for the Detail

For the following, be aware, I only read the kindle edition, which I only mention because despite being produced by a supposedly significant publisher, this doesn’t have a print edition pagination. Now, I produce my own kindle books from my own print editions from practically my own garage, and they have print edition pagination (or, rather, the ones do that I produced when kindle finally let you do that, which has been a couple years now). All my work with Prometheus Books also has print edition pagination. There is no excuse for any serious publisher, especially a scholarly publisher (where print pagination is crucial to citation procedure), not to do this. But that’s T&T Clark still banging rocks together in a cave I suppose. In consequence, I can only give kindle location numbers for my quotes and cites (I’ll also include chapter number, like this: 1-148 means chapter 1, location 148; or if I cite a note, 1-148 n. 8 means the same, but more specifically endnote 8).

Another caveat: Casey’s book is full of claims about what people have said that I don’t always trust to be true, but checking all his facts (blogs, comment threads, hunting down books and articles), checking the actual context and actual reality of what was said, is just a waste of time. I’ve caught enough examples of this to confirm his book is simply untrustworthy. I document them below.

General Categories of Awful

There are some common themes in this book…

Conspicuous Selection Bias: Casey blows a bunch of pages defending himself against fundamentalist (?) scholar Paul Owen, who is not a mythicist, nor does anything in this section have anything to do with mythicism or even, really, the historicity of Jesus, except in the one sense that Owen has challenged Casey’s logic in using the Criterion of Aramaicism (1-230ff.). But in that respect, conspicuously absent is any mention of or engagement with Casey’s non-fundamentalist critics in academia, or indeed any other critics in academia. He doesn’t even mention they exist. Low hanging fruit. Tops of the trees untouched.

False Generalization Fallacies: Casey repeatedly makes sweeping false statements about “all” mythicists, and in some cases explicitly implies certain mythicists have said or done things that in fact they never have, thereby tarring all mythicists with the same brush. He has no trouble implying that, for example, Acharya S / Dorothy Murdock’s unfortunate penchant for relying on wildly unreliable and outdated 19th century scholarship is shared by all mythicists. It is not. But no one reading Casey will ever be informed of that. Which is not just a failure of scholarly professionalism and responsibility, but of basic honesty.

Similarly, Casey essentially says all mythicists claim Jesus was based on a “Pagan Godman…born in a cave…on the twenty-fifth of December” (1-492), when in fact several of us (e.g., Doherty, Thompson and myself) make no such claims. A reader of this book is never told that. Casey also not only conflates all mythicists, but also all media: throughout, podcast interviews and blog comments are treated by the same standards as carefully researched or even peer reviewed books and articles. Likewise, his claim that we all date the Gospels very late, or that we all date them by the earliest recovered manuscripts. We do not. Readers will never learn that. And so on and so on. Basically, every time he says what “mythicists” say or do, he is in effect lying: we do not all say or do those things, and he makes no responsible effort to tell the difference, or educate his readers on it.

Contempt for a Willingness to Change One’s Mind: of “Blogger Godfrey” Casey actually says (no kidding), “he has had two conversion experiences (sic), and this means that his contempt for evidence and argument as means of reaching (sic) decisions about important matters is central to his life” (1-749). No, there is no context explaining that judgment. He just blurts it out, as so. So he literally just said that someone who is willing to significantly change their mind multiple times, is by definition someone who has contempt for evidence and argument. This is George W. Bush logic. Most of us see a rigid inability to ever change one’s mind or admit they’re wrong as contempt for evidence and argument. Not the other way around. This hyper-conservative fear of change in Casey is disturbing. It means he’s dogmatically opposed to ever changing his mind or admitting he’s wrong. For he would regard that as contempt for evidence and argument. Take note.

Really Bad at Math: Casey exhibits humorous innumeracy at several points. In fact, it’s such an interesting variety of innumeracy it counts as a wholly new example to those I wrote about before. Once (1-410 to 424), he chides me for saying “most Jesus historians have never read” the Ascension of Isaiah (a fact I have confirmed personally in conversations with Jesus historians…most I’ve spoken to, in fact, had never heard of it, which is not unusual, because there is an enormous amount of apocrypha and few historians familiarize themselves with it all, nor should be expected to), declaring that that is false because some “decent critical scholars” have worked on it (and claiming I am not familiar with them…how he would know that I have no idea; I actually am familiar with them). I will allow the sixth graders in the audience to work out why “some x are y” does not make “most x are not y” false.

He does this again when he says later Christian churches wouldn’t know anything about Judaism because their congregations had become “more and more Gentile” (3-2283), evidently mistaking “more and more x” as the converse of “no x.” And again when he says Matthew can’t have written when “most of the people present during the historic ministry [of Jesus] were dead” (3-2403) because Matthew says “some of the people present” then would still be alive when Jesus returned. Here, he innumerately imagines “most are dead” entails “some are alive” is false. In another instance, after quoting me saying Innana’s passion narrative dates “over a thousand years before Christ” (7-5994), he complains that the story is “older than Carrier claims.” I’ll let you do the math on that.

Quasi-Freudian Conspiracy Theories: Casey tries so hard to push a false narrative that all mythicists are just delusionally angry ex-fundamentalist Christians, that he ignores my autobiography (Sense and Goodness without God I.2, pp. 9-19) and pretends to magically know I used to be a fundamentalist, and then proceeds to falsely imply it. In actual fact I was never a part of any fundamentalist or even conservative Christian tradition, and only started discovering what those people were like after I became an atheist. In fact, I grew up in an extremely liberal version of Christianity and was never asked to profess any faith in it, and never did, and moreover, my Sunday School taught me nothing in the Bible was to be taken literally. This thoroughly falsifies Casey’s entire psychological thesis (because even just one black swan refutes the thesis that all swans are white), yet he leans on that thesis prodigiously throughout the book. Oops.

And by the way, when Neil Godfrey points out that Casey leans on this argument all the time, Casey has the hominid headbone to say “I have never maintained any such thing” (1-858). Yes. That’s pretty much the most shockingly brazen lie in the book. So the conversation basically has gone like this (paraphrasing):

CASEY: “Your conversion to atheism from fundamentalism discredits you because it’s just trading one extremism for another.”

GODFREY: “Casey dares to claim a conversion to atheism from fundamentalism discredits us because it’s just trading one extremism for another.”

CASEY: “I never said any such thing!”

Right. Never. Except for repeatedly in your book. (Indeed, marvelously, at 1-382 Casey quotes favorably almost the exact same line Godfrey is echoing back at him at 1-857 and which Casey there denies. Not even kidding. Check it out.)

Crazy Uncles: A “crazy uncle” is when someone suddenly goes on some unrelated, illogical, maybe even mildly offensive anecdotal tangent that makes everyone stop and go “Wait, what?” Casey crazy uncles a few times throughout the book. For example, when he quotes Tim Widowfield (who left the Church of the Nazarene) discussing the fear he felt as a believer that he would accidentally blaspheme the Holy Spirit and thus be unforgivably damned (Mark 3:29), a report I have heard from many other believers (so Widowfield is not alone), Casey completely dismisses this as a lie, using this incredibly scientific method:

This bears no reasonable relationship to the life of Sarah, the only member of the Church of the Nazarene with whom I have knowingly worked. She seemed very happy, and when we went out from a seminar on the use of the Old Testament in the New, she came to the pub with me. As far as I remember, I bought orange juice for her while I got cider for myself, but I can’t see anything wrong with that, she certainly was not living a life of fear, and she was well able to take part in academic debates. (1-842)

Seriously. No, in case you were wondering, he never introduced this Sarah anywhere before this. Just suddenly comes up. Out of the blue. Yes, this is how he writes. Weirdly simplistic stuttering sentences. Yes, he just said he knows what Sarah thinks about what Godfrey was talking about without ever having asked her. Yes, he just generalized to every fundamentalist on earth from a brief experience with a sample size of exactly just one person. Yes, bothering to mention what he bought them to drink is weird. Yes, using an anecdote like this to dismiss the devastating experiences of millions of people (read Winell, Tarico, Heimlich) is at least mildly offensive, and is most definitely a crazy uncle. (Orange juice!)

Another (but much duller) crazy uncle is the entirety of chapter 2. Entitled “Historical Method,” it never once ever explains what historical method is. He cites some random works on the subject, but never explains what they argue, and spends almost no time on that, but instead blathers on about how he is awesome and everyone else is an idiot. It’s pretty much just one long crazy uncle. For a proper discussion of (and bibliography on) historical method (and the requisite philosophy of history) see Proving History (esp. chapters two, four, and five, and n. 3, p. 306). Compare.

Sometimes his crazy uncles are so brief you might miss them, like his inexplicable need to point out that a particular writer is both gay and a socialist (7-6090, both facts irrelevant to any point he then makes). Combine that with his lack of humor and disgust with even mild sex jokes (see below), and dismissing someone because they are a “biased Jew” (7-5918), and he almost looks like Rupert Murdock. The ultimate crazy uncle.

Not Noticing His Opponents Aren’t Mythicists: Two of the writers he most extensively tackles with furor are Neil Godfrey and Tim Widfowfield, who both write at Vridar. They happen to be some of the most astute and well-read amateurs you can read on the internet on the subject of biblical historicity. I call them amateurs only for the reason that they don’t have, so far as I know, advanced degrees in the subject. But I have often been impressed with their grasp of logic and analysis of scholarship. I don’t always agree with them, but I respect their work. Casey loathes them. And attacks them as mythicists throughout the book, of course lumping them in with all other mythicists.

But, um, here’s the thing…

Neither Tim Widowfield nor myself are mythicists. Tim is an agnostic on the question. I am not interested in arguing a case for mythicism–I have always argued pretty much along the same lines as Thomas L. Thompson—that is, the question is irrelevant for understanding the origins of the gospels and the Jesus of the gospels. That question is primarily literary and theological and any role a historical figure may have played is probably irrelevant given the state of the evidence. I am more interested in exploring the origins and nature of the gospels and Bible–the [historicity of Jesus] question is irrelevant as far as I can see from the evidence we have available to work with.

I have never argued for a mythicist position. My critiques of the methods of theologians has led some to falsely assume I’m a mythicist. I’m not. I do sympathize with certain mythicist arguments of others as offering the most economical explanation for our canonical NT literature and Christian origins and some of these authors do post on my blog. At the same time I have disagreements with aspects of their arguments. I am only interested in the theoretical explanatory power of their views for Christian origins, not with “proving Jesus was a myth.”

That direct from Neil Godfrey (personal communication). Incidentally, Thompson is also only a historicity agnostic, a fact Casey conspicuously neither mentions nor seems to realize (“even though a historical Jesus might be essential to the origins of Christianity, such a need is not obviously shared by the gospels,” Thompson, Messiah Myth, p. 8).

And in Other Ways Not Paying Attention: A common mistake (both Casey and Ehrman commit it) is to engage in black and white thinking and assume that when a mythicist refers to Jesus as a divine being, s/he means “identical to God,” because apparently the only options are “just a man” or “entirely identical to God.” That bespeaks not paying attention. No mythicist worth reading has ever said that. Jesus is a divine being in the same sense that the Archangel Michael is a divine being. So trying to school us on the fact that Jesus being equated with God was a later development just makes you look like a Freshman college student who didn’t pay attention in class. We are well aware that Jesus being equated with God was a later development. Jesus was still regarded as a divine being as early as Paul. If you don’t understand how those two facts are compatible, you are not qualified to engage in this debate. Casey never gets this (e.g., 6-4400ff.), and thus his book fails to address any actual mythicism worth addressing. There are many more examples throughout the book where Casey literally doesn’t understand the position he is arguing against, and thus he wastes pages arguing against a phantom, and never the actual point a mythicist made.

Another example of not paying attention is when Casey accuses Thompson of being incompetent because Thompson says Mark 7 is about “hygiene” when in fact it’s about purity laws (7-5869). Except that it’s obvious to anyone who actually reads the passage in question that Thompson meant spiritual hygiene, in other words, purity laws. As one can infer from the fact that in the cited section that is exactly what Thompson goes on to talk about (and never once brings up biological hygiene). Indeed, Casey even boneheadedly says “anyone familiar with the book of Leviticus should have known at least that much,” yet in the very passage Casey is talking about, Thompson cites and discusses Leviticus in exactly that respect. This is either insane or dishonest. It’s hard to tell which. But if we are to suppose Casey is not a shameless liar (and among the dumbest rocks in the box for thinking no one would check and catch out his lie), we must conclude he can’t even read a basic paragraph in English, and consequently cannot be trusted to ever correctly represent what anyone says. Which dooms his book to the dustbin for its hopeless unreliability.

Incompatible Opinions on Things: He complains a great deal about how American academia is plagued with over-influence from fundamentalists; then complains that we Americans are obsessed with criticizing fundamentalism. He evidently can’t put those two facts together and realize he’s misplaced his concern. Indeed, fundamentalism isn’t just a problem for our academics. It not only seriously threatens our domestic welfare and liberties as well, but also fundamentally drives our destructive American foreign policy, so our “obsession with fundamentalism” is something a foreigner should be extremely glad of. Don’t you think? In fact, we’d appreciate it if you even gave us a hand with that.

Casey also alleges there is something telling about the fact that my dissertation hasn’t been published yet (1-427)–in fact it has been in peer review at UC Press for years for want of qualified reviewers–but Casey himself opens the book by apologizing for how long some of his books took to get to press because “peer review behind the scenes…lead to massive delay in publication” (1-185). In fact he implies ten to twenty years delay, far longer than I’ve endured, although I couldn’t tell for certain from his timeline. But which is it? The egregiously long wait time peer review sometimes causes proves your work sucks (wait for that one to bite you, Dr. Casey), or it’s totally normal for that to happen even for top quality work? (Incidentally, getting past a Dissertation Committee entails passing vastly more peer review than an academic publisher ever provides, of better quality and more numerous reviewers, which is one thing seriously defective about modern academic presses: they haven’t figured out how to be efficient.)

No Sense of Humor: Casey amusingly is very disturbed by a humor piece I wrote once, and somehow actually confuses it with my serious scholarship. In the process, he reveals how incapable he is of even understanding or processing humor, but also how utterly humorless he is. He must be insufferable company. He mentions my M.Phil. thesis on Herod the Great, and instead of commenting on that (you know, my actual scholarship) he says I “subsequently wrote about it online, in a way that reveals [my] obsession with the Bible not being inerrant” [notably not at all a feature of the thesis in question, which that article linked to, and evidently Casey didn’t read] and quotes a sarcastic line from it making fun of fundamentalists–and somehow doesn’t realize it’s sarcasm, or even a joke (1-402). He thinks I was being serious (!) and tries to mount a rebuttal. Which is hilarious.

I put in scare quotes a joke Christian argument about us “mean atheist harpies” challenging their weird apologetical arguments (relying on bad history, incidentally, the very thing Casey is also writing a whole book attacking–so, no sense of irony, either), and Casey replies “All critical scholars, the majority of whom have been Christians, not ‘mean atheist harpies’, have known for years that the birth stories in” the Gospels are rubbish, yadda yadda yadda (he goes on like that for a bit). Notice how he thinks I actually said critical scholars are all atheists, when in fact the joke was (as this was in a mock fundamentalist voice, in scare quotes even) that fundamentalists think everyone who argues these points is an atheist. That’s the joke. That’s called humor. FYI. (I suppose I should also add that it is rich to see him try to school me on what critical scholars think when I wrote a whole peer reviewed book about it called Proving History, which he even lists, but clearly never read. He never once addresses it in this book. Ever. At all.)

As if to really prove to us his complete lack of humor, he concludes by quoting this same humor piece where I make a joke about a hooker (based, in fact, on an actual story in an actual ancient source–evidently, Casey doesn’t like it when history is fun, and, as if he were a fundamentalist, has weird prudish hangups about sex…I can’t help that, when he says he likes another blogger’s “sometimes somewhat naughty comments,” I imagine the headline, Woman Shows Ankle to Chimney Sweep Shock!). Anyway, hooker joke. His reaction? “I cannot see any point in unscholarly writing like this” (1-414). I could be charitable and assume he means he just doesn’t like humor pieces. But it certainly appears that what he means is that there is no point in reading my actual scholarly thesis on Herod the Great, simply because elsewhere, in a completely different venue, I write a humorous editorial that has too much sex in it for him and whose jokes he doesn’t understand. I think this is more worrying than you might realize. Because I find people who have no sense of humor and literally don’t understand jokes, are often incapable of self-critical reasoning. Which brings me to…

Hypocrisy: Casey complains about bloggers declaring “negative views about scholarship” (1-148), then repeatedly praises Stephanie Fisher, who has won the ire of nearly the entire profession for slagging off tons of respected experts in the field as ignorant pseudo-scholars. Indeed, she commits, flagrantly and worse than anyone, nearly every single fault Casey attacks bloggers for. See A Childish Book Review: Stephanie Louise Fisher and the Travesty of Not Getting It. Notably, I not only caught her at this, but at making significant errors, and outright lying. Take note, because in this book, for some weird reason, he relies on Sephanie Fisher’s internet arguments a lot…even though she has a reputation for dishonesty and error.

Casey himself acts like an elitist child, for example calling people he wishes to critique Blogger Godfrey and Blogger Carr, etc., repeatedly and consistently, as if Blogger were a proper noun and their first name. In some cases, he almost never even mentions they have first names (Blogger Widowfield happens to be named Tim. You will learn this only if you happen to read all the way through endnote 82 of chapter 1, where I’m almost certain it appears by accident, and that’s after Casey’s having spoken of this man as only Blogger Widowfield eight times, one of which an actual biographical section specifically about him titled simply Blogger Widowfield). He complains about “malice and spite” (1-879), and then fills his book with malice and spite. Seriously.

Casey also attacks mythicists for relying on fundamentalists (they don’t really), then relies on a fundamentalist himself: since he wants to defend biblical inerrancy when it suits him (while on other occasions insisting he rejects it), he needs 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 to be authentic, even though it has been widely challenged by mainstream experts in his field, so he cites in defense of it R.H. Bell, a Lutheran traditionalist, in fact citing a treatise by Bell that is explicitly theo-political, defending the thesis that Christians should evangelize Jews (6-5339 n. 82). Casey otherwise rejects scholarly work he doesn’t like when written by a “biased Jew” (7-5918), but evidently an egregiously biased Lutheran traditionalist is okay.

To be fair, Casey also cites the more secular Carol Schlueter’s treatise in defense of his position (today, those are about the only experts he could cite who still make this argument in print), but here we are entertained by the fact that throughout his book Casey slags off all scholars who are ignorant of or careless with the original languages, declaring them unreliable and unworthy of attention, and yet Schlueter was caught making exactly the kind of egregious error in defense of her (and thus Casey’s) conclusion that Casey says should disqualify her.

In A. Katherine Grieb’s review of Schlueter’s book in the Journal of Biblical Literature (115.4 Winter 1996, pp. 766-768), we learn that…

Unfortunately, she works primarily from translation, notably the RSV; this inhibits her argument at several points. A glaring example is found in her discussion of Rom 11:28 (e.g., at p. 179) where she uncritically takes over the expression “enemies of God” from the RSV, when the words “of God” do not appear in the Greek text. She leans heavily on this mistranslation to argue that in Romans 9-11 the Jews are not opponents so that the polemic against them is less intense.

That is a serious error (considering her dependence on it), and (though Grieb is more sympathetic) seriously weakens her thesis. If I were an ass like Casey, I would mock him for relying on faulty scholarship that makes the kind of horrid mistakes that annoy him, only in fact I think, though Schlueter is wrong (she made a mistake, and fails to adequately address all arguments against her case, and her required premise, that Paul was “just exaggerating” in the suspect Thessalonians passage, is profoundly implausible in every way), she is a good scholar and her book contains a lot of interesting facts and analysis. So while by Casey’s logic, her terrible error would condemn her as a pseudo-scholar (except when he needs her not to be, because she agrees with him–hence: hypocrisy), for me, her terrible error just shows all the more how her premise is implausible (Paul would never “just exaggerate” in the horribly condemnatory and absolute way he is depicted doing in 1 Thess. 2, indeed he could not, neither historically nor theologically).

Casey also composes a really wild fundamentalist-style biography of Paul that represents dozens of conjectures as if known facts (5-3994ff.), which I don’t really care about since it’s irrelevant to everything (I mean, seriously, everything) even if it were wholly correct, but as a Roman studies specialist I just had to point out that, contrary to Casey’s pompous boast (5-4006ff.), (a) the Pauli are not a gens (the gens for Sergius Paulus are the Sergii) and (b) the only source he cites for this boner mistake in Latin naming conventions does not say any such thing, despite him saying it does, so I have no idea what Christian fundamentalist he got that from. Although, ahem, I happen to know Ben Witherington says it in several of his works–the very same fundamentalist Casey condemns (1-181ff.). So Casey, who condemns people for relying on fundamentalists, repeats a fundamentalist argument, from a fundamentalist he specifically condemned, that proves Casey doesn’t know much about Latin, and then Casey builds a completely confident conclusion about Paul on top of that error. Isn’t that kind of like the very thing he accuses mythicists of doing?

Casey also complains constantly about how (certain–although he generally implies all) mythicists don’t pay attention to the latest peer reviewed scholarship…and then proceeds (frequently) to not pay attention to the latest peer reviewed scholarship. For example, in the one instance where he actually mentions the evidence in Josephus (even though he never in his rambling gets around to using this evidence in any way, so it can’t even be said whether he considers it evidence for historicity or not), he doesn’t even cite any peer reviewed scholarship in defense of his opinion. Yet he does this specifically when attacking mythicists for not doing it! And most embarrassingly, the latest peer reviewed scholarship on the subject supports the mythicists. I document this travesty below, because it is a very good example of what Casey does many other times in this book: pompously declare himself right, because the mythicists can only lean on bloggers and antiquated scholarship, when in fact, had he checked (oops!), he would have known that in fact what the mythicists are saying is said in contemporary, mainstream scholarship. So, he attacks mythicists for being wrong because they didn’t check the facts, then doesn’t check the facts and ends up being wrong. Yep. That.

The Josephus Travesty

Casey sneers at Doherty’s argument that the James passage in Josephus never originally mentioned Christ, and mocks the fact that he cites an unqualified blogger in his support (Stephen Carr), and in reaction to this declares “mythicists, however, do not wish to believe” that Josephus really mentioned Jesus and that is “why Doherty calls upon a blog post by Carr to argue that Josephus could not have written this passage as it stands.” Which Casey informs us “is a standard ploy by mythicists. They cannot cope with the evidence as it stands, and constantly seek to alter it by positing interpolations” and “for this purpose they frequently repeat, often without references, very old scholarship written before the study of ancient texts had settled down in modern scholarship” (1-314).

Casey has only one valid complaint here: that mythicists do a poor job of citing contemporary scholarship (even Doherty is guilty of this from time to time). But the fallacy fallacy looms: just because they don’t cite it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Which is why a real expert (as Casey claims to be) is supposed to check. That is, in fact, Casey’s very point. And yet, alas. He didn’t check. And declares (evidently by mutant clairvoyance or Tarot card reading) that their arguments for this passage having undergone interpolation only exist in “very old scholarship written before the study of ancient texts had settled down in modern scholarship.” In actual fact, all recent expert literature on this passage argues that it either is or could be an interpolated passage. Moreover, even authors who are unconvinced it is, repeat arguments for interpolation, from other peer reviewed mainstream (non-mythicist) scholars, without mocking them or declaring them ridiculous, but in fact as worthy of consideration. Incidentally exhibiting how an actual professional, respectful, thoughtful scholar behaves–conspicuously exactly the opposite of Casey.

The most recent peer reviewed scholarship on this passage is mine: Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200” in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 
(vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012), 
pp. 489-514. Which you can now get (probably more easily and cheaply) in my 2014 anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ (which also has other peer reviewed papers of mine on the subject of the Bible and historicity, and even more). That paper appeared two years before Casey’s book went to press. And it also cites the most recent scholarship before that (e.g., Crossan, Paget, Van Voorst), which Casey should certainly have found, and it, too, discusses arguments for interpolation in this passage, sympathetically. Casey is evidently unaware of any of it. So unaware, in fact, that he just “assumed” it didn’t exist, and laughed at the mythicists on the basis of that assumption. And now he is choking on his foot.

This is embarrassing enough, and damning enough. Casey acting like an ass, failing to follow his own advice while mocking people for not following it, being completely ignorant of the state of his own field on a topic crucial to his book’s topic (the historicity of Jesus), and in the end fully mis-educating the public, and thus utterly failing at his moral duty as a scholar. And yet that’s not even the worst of it. You may be chuckling by now. But something got overlooked in all this. Casey never once (not even at all) even mentions much less rebuts what the arguments even are that Doherty credited to Carr. Think about that for a moment. Merely because Carr is (in Casey’s eyes) just some random dude, he doesn’t even think it worthwhile to mention what argument he made, that Doherty credited to him, or address it. What an elitist ass.

I say that knowing full well that (a) the actual quoted point Carr made that Doherty mentions is not only a valid point (thus where it came from is irrelevant; Casey should be able to evaluate the argument as an expert independently), but (b) it’s exactly the point made by peer reviewed experts on this subject, in all the scholarship I mentioned above. For Casey to dismiss it as ignorant tripe makes him look extremely foolish. But more to the point, how is a reader to know any of this? Non-experts (even most experts) won’t know there is a ream of recent scholarship supporting Doherty or at least lending his point credibility (they will mistakenly believe Casey checked and thus his claim that there is none is true; when in fact it’s false) and they won’t know that Carr actually made a valid point echoed in recent, bone fide, expert literature, or what that point was, or what Casey’s response to it is.

I will remind you that this is just one example, right from the first chapter. There are many other occasions where Casey does pretty much the same thing. And that renders the book essentially useless to non-experts, who won’t ever know when he is ignorantly mis-informing them of the current state of his own field, or when he is completely failing to even mention (much less rebut) the actual arguments of mythicists and using his lazy, elitist mockery to dismiss them with a stock genetic fallacy instead. Ponder that.

Incidentally, to redress Casey’s crime, have known that Doherty’s case against the authenticity of a reference to Christ in this section of Josephus occupies pp. 570-86 of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but neither is it ridiculous. Supplemented (perhaps even if sometimes corrected) by my article and the scholarship cited in it, and Casey’s certainty of the passage’s authenticity makes him look a lot like a Christian fundamentalist.

How Historians Actually Date Things

Casey makes a big deal over his complaint that some (he implies all) mythicists date the Gospels way too late or by suspect methods (burning tons of pages on this), yet throughout the entire book Casey never properly dates anything. The irony is that he says this belies a mythicist failure to understand historical method, when in fact he reveals that he apparently had no relevant training in how historians date ancient documents, and he does it wrong, with the consequence of destroying the logical soundness of his case for historicity. More importantly, he never educates the reader on how historians actually date documents. This is because, evidently, he doesn’t know. But surely it is his professional responsibility to find out, before pompously claiming to be an expert on the subject.

Here is what Casey never tells you, because (and this seems clear from how he then behaves) he doesn’t understand this:

…when historians don’t know the exact year a book was written, they determine a terminus post quem (“point after which,” also written terminus a quo) and a terminus ante quem (“point before which,” also written terminus ad quem) and then conclude the book was written sometime between those two years. And they admit they can’t know any more than that, which is something New Testament scholars tend to gloss over, often wanting to fix the year more exactly than the evidence actually allows, and then browbeat anyone who disagrees with them. [This is exactly what Casey does–ed.] In other areas of history we don’t try that. If the terminal dates for On Playing with Small Balls (an actual book written by Galen, no kidding) are “between A.D. 150 and 210” then we accept that On Playing with Small Balls may have been written at any time within that sixty-year span. We don’t scoff at someone who suggests it could have been written near the end of the author’s life, nor claim as if it were a decided fact that it was written at the start of his career instead. Either is possible.

(Richard Carrier, Ignatian Vexation, 2008)

Sometimes (contrary to what Casey claims: c. 2-1326) a terminus ante quem is indeed fixed by a manuscript date: when we have no other evidence, then it is entirely possible the text was written as late as that. We just don’t know. Now, in the case of the Gospels, we sort of have evidence other than that (it’s terribly problematic, but then Casey never engages a professional examination of the evidence and its difficulties, he only complains about certain mythicists not doing that, even though he is being just as lazy as they are). But Casey’s over-simplified rant about how historians never set termini using manuscript dates is simply mis-educating the public.

This is particularly the case when Casey says (as by way of example) that we don’t date Thucydides by surviving manuscripts, without informing the reader (who will statistically most likely not be an expert and not know this–indeed I honestly wonder if even Casey does) that unlike any New Testament text we have Thucydides essentially tells us when he wrote his book (to within a decade–he says he began writing during the war he relates, and the book concludes before the war ended, about a decade before the last date Thucydides could have been alive, given that events subsequently would have altered his narrative), and Xenophon continued it, whose own dates verify that (we have other evidence as well). This is important, because this kind of evidence is precisely what we don’t have for the Gospels (or even most of the Epistles). Which makes dating them a much more uncertain business. Casey simply can’t have uncertainty. He suffers from ambiguity intolerance. The Gospels simply have to be early or late. It can’t be that we don’t really know, and therefore it could be either.

More importantly, Casey goes against nearly the entire mainstream consensus in the field by insisting the Gospels are bizarrely early, Mark being written in the 40s and Matthew in the 50s. He does not mention that this puts him wildly against most experts in his field (he mentions the mainstream dating; but he does not note that this makes his position as fringe as the mythicists who want bizarrely late dates…incidentally, I do not, I favor the later end of mainstream ranges for these documents and concede the earlier end is possible). But more importantly, unlike a competent historian, Casey mistakenly thinks that because he can think of some reasons why Mark and Matthew might have been written so early, that therefore he can be confident they were and base his entire case for historicity on that premise. That is not how professional historians behave. They recognize the strongest termini, and then don’t over-speculate where within that range the document was actually written. They might explore what’s possible. But (unless they have strong evidence establishing an early terminus) they don’t act like On Playing with Small Balls was surely written early in Galen’s career, therefore we can be certain Galen was into gymnastic medicine at that time.

Casey’s over-confidence in his re-dating of the Gospels should be tempered by his realization that so few of his peers are convinced by it. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, but it does mean he should admit he might be wrong, and that perhaps his conclusions on this point do not as strongly follow from his premises as he thinks. It’s a precarious way to base your certitude that Jesus existed: on a speculative subjective feeling about when you are “sure” Mark wrote. That’s how Christian apologists behave. Not objective, trained historians.

Let me remind you, that unlike Casey (whose advanced degrees are in literature and theology), I was trained in the ancient history department at Columbia University for many years. So I know what I’m talking about when I discuss how historians talk about and determine the dates of texts. I only mention this because one of Casey’s favorite hobby horses in this book is the No True Scotsman fallacy, arguing we do not have the exact hyper-specific degrees we are supposed to have to be qualified to talk about these things. I reject the fallacy. But if I accepted it, as Casey does, I would have to say, by Casey’s own reasoning, that he is not qualified to talk about these things. I think Casey would do better to just stop using the fallacy. And then start doing history properly.

As it happens, in chapter ten of OHJ I discuss the abundant evidence in Mark (far beyond Mark 13, which Casey ironically treats exactly like a biblical literalist) that Mark was responding to the Jewish War and the end of Jewish temple cult, and that the Sermon on the Mount likewise presumes the temple cult had ceased, and therefore Matthew definitely wrote after that as well. You won’t find any response to this in Casey, because he doesn’t seem to have actually studied any other arguments for the dating of these documents (besides the one single argument from Mark 13, the only one he mentions).

I find Casey’s treatment of the dating of the documents not only contrary to the actual practice of historians, but at one key point outright dishonest. He says, “Building on their ludicrously late date of the synoptic Gospels, mythicists proceed to argue that the Pauline epistles are our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus” (5-7963). Here he is basically telling his readers that the notion that “the Pauline epistles are our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus” is a contrivance of the mythicists, and entirely the result of mythicists assigning “ludicrously” late dates to the Gospels, and not the result of assigning merely later dates like nearly all other experts in biblical studies do. In other words, that “the Pauline epistles are our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus” is the widest mainstream view among all of Casey’s peers. But he does not tell his readers that, but lies to the public in order to make mythicists look crazy (they are not; this position of theirs is mainstream and does not require any “ludicrously” late dating of the Gospels) while concealing his status as a fringe scholar (by making it seem as though his radical view that the Gospels precede the Epistles is the mainstream view the mythicists are rebelling against). I do not know how anyone who considers themselves a professional can be so dishonest and sleazy, and so irresponsibly mis-educate the public.

Dating the Ascension of Isaiah

Although I don’t see any need of the Ascension of Isaiah to have been written any earlier than the early second century as all experts on this text now say, Casey acts unprofessionally when he claims “there is no excuse for dating it so early” as the late first century (6-5051). For in fact his own sources say it could date to that period, and in fact their statements even entail it does. And this Casey would notice if he actually read his sources rather than just skimming them looking for sentences that agree with him.

Casey claims Knibb “gives correct reasons for disputing attempts to date it” that early, but that isn’t true. Casey seems to be confusing different parts of the text. As most experts agree (including Knibb), the current Ascension text is the combination of at least three different texts: the Martyrdom, which many scholars believe is pre-Christian (and it is this belief Knibb gives reasons to doubt, although not a refutation), which consists of the unredacted portion of Asc. Is. 1-5; the Vision, which scholars date to between the late first and early second century A.D., which consists of the unredacted portion of Asc. Is. 6-11 (the only portion any mythicists employ); and the redaction layer of a later editor, who united the two into one text and interpolated a large passage into each (which experts agree could date anywhere from the second to the fourth century, but the most recent believe it’s the earlier).

Here is what Casey did not pay attention to in his lazy skimming of Knibb (in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2):

  • Asc. Is. 3:13-4:22 is a later interpolation into the Martyrdom (p. 147)
  • “3:13-4:22 presupposes the joining of chapters 1-5 (the Martyrdom) with chapters 6-11 (the Vision)” (p. 147)
  • “there are a number of indications which point to the view that 3:13-4:22 was composed at about the end of the first century A.D.” (p. 149)
  • “it thus seems likely that the Vision comes from the second century A.D.” (p. 150)

Now let’s see if you can do some math with me. If, as Knibb here says, Asc. Is. 3:13-4:22 was written by someone who knew the Vision (Asc. Is. 6-11), and Asc. Is. 3:13-4:22 was written “at about the end of the first century,” does it follow that “it thus seems likely that the Vision comes from the second century A.D.”? This is fourth grade arithmetic, so I’m sure you won’t take long to answer. Knibb clearly made a mistake. He didn’t check his math. It’s the other way around. Neither Knibb nor Casey noticed that one group of scholars dates the text to the late first century, and another to the early second century, and the latter group is not paying attention to the former group (e.g., they are evidently unaware of the evidence that Asc. Is. 3:13-4:22 was written with knowledge of the Vision, and thus do not realize that it’s early date entails an early date for the Vision).

So much for Casey’s claim that there is “no excuse” to date the Vision so early. The same mistake is repeated by Casey’s other source, Geza Vermes (in The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, which is the famous antiquated treatise of Emil Schürer updated by Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar between 1973 and 1987, here citing vol. 3.1). Vermes seems simply to be repeating Knibb’s mistake, saying the insertion of 3:13-5:1 has “the terminus ante quem of A.D. 100” while the Vision “belongs probably to the second century A.D.” (p. 338, n. 8). Notice how Vermes, unlike Casey, uses the technical terminology for dating texts. Anyway, Vermes also says “the Vision is quite unconnected with the Martyrdom…Indeed, it is attached very clumsily to it…” (p. 337) and “3:13-5:1…is manifestly a later interpolation” (p. 337). Thus, concurring with Knibb.

So again, think this through. Vermes says 3:13-5:1 dates no later than 100 A.D. So if 3:13-5:1 references the Vision (and it does), it necessarily follows that the Vision cannot “belong probably to the second century A.D.”

The latest expert on this treatise, Jonathan Knight (writing in the mid-1990s Ascension of Isaiah and Disciples of the Beloved One), dates the whole thing (insertions and all) to 112-138 A.D. Although I don’t agree with his reasoning, and I think his arguments for the text being a unity are terrible and his conclusions on that point wrong, it is notable that even the most recent expert, who has published the most extensively on this text, concludes it dates to the early second century, just a couple decades later than other experts would have it. So an honest historian would say this text most likely dates anywhere between the 70s AD and the 130s AD.

These termini make sense: there is no reason the text couldn’t have been written as early as or even earlier than our book of Revelation (which it in some respect resembles), and we have no evidence otherwise, while the fact that, in its completed form (i.e. with the interpolations of the later redactor), it is manifestly unaware of Hadrian’s dissolution of Jerusalem by 138 means it must have been written before then. So we have a terminus ante quem of 138 AD and a terminus post quem of 70 AD (as the interpolated text knows about the Jewish War). And that’s for the interpolated text. The Vision predates that. It therefore could even be earlier than 70. We don’t know. It’s even remotely possible that it’s pre-Christian and that Paul cites it as scripture. I deem that improbable, but it’s not impossible.

Ironically, after complaining about my having said hardly anyone in the field reads this document (1-420-425), Casey reveals that he didn’t read this document. Talk about an own goal. Casey says that Doherty’s view of 1 Cor. 2:6-8 entails “that the Devil himself did not know quite what he was up to, and it is reasonable to doubt whether this is what Paul really believed” (6-4951), as if Casey didn’t know that the Devil not knowing was a fundamental point behind the whole gospel, a fact not only clearly explained in The Ascension of Isaiah, but also repeated by Ignatius. Doherty’s point is that this line by Paul exactly echoes both. That God tricked the Devil by concealing what he was doing was precisely the point Paul intends to make here. Casey can’t refute that by just arbitrarily gainsaying it. Especially since what Paul says here is that had they known, they would have stopped the crucifixion, a statement that makes exactly zero sense of anyone but the Devil, the only entity in the universe with a motive to prevent the defeat of death and the salvation of mankind. It is absurd to think Paul meant that Pilate and the Jewish elite were so diabolically evil that had they known the crucifixion would save the world, they would have rushed to stop it.

Casey incidentally conceals from his readers the fact that his own sources point out that many scholars conclude the “gospel” section of Asc. Is. 11 is a later interpolation (6-5112). And I find the evidence for that conclusive. So I mention it here to correct the record. It’s kind of a crucial point. Casey not only assumes this interpolated text was written by the same author who originally composed the Vision, and leans on that assumption for his own conclusion (6-5112), he never communicates to the reader that many experts doubt this. And as if to really confound us, he goes on to admit the text has been multiply redacted (6-5125, although giving no details). So when that fact is convenient for him, he asserts it, but when he needs the text to have a unified author, he suddenly forgets that it’s been multiply redacted. This is just how Christian fundamentalists argue. Casey should be ashamed.

The Argument from Hypothesized Aramaic Sources

Casey is famously a fringe scholar in one respect: his obsession with claiming Mark and Matthew (and even Luke) employed Palestinian Aramaic sources dating from the time of Jesus. This is not a mainstream view. His case for it is multiply fallacious. He thinks my saying that is to impugn his knowledge of Aramaic, but in fact I am not judging that at all. I am certain every statement he has ever made about Aramaic is 100% correct and I completely trust him as an authority on that. And still his case for Aramaic sources fails. Because it fails on its own internal logic. And logic is something I have studied evidently far more than Casey. Other experts in the field agree with this assessment, and have done for a long time.

Tim Widowfield has already produced an astutely devastating take-down of Casey’s arguing from Aramaic (Casey’s Hammer: How Monomania Distorts Scholarship). His summary is spot on: “Maurice [Casey] is a first-rate Aramaic linguist, but as we’re finding out, a rather mediocre [New Testament] scholar and sub-par historian.” I highly recommend you read that, as Widowfield shows not only the logical failures, but also how Casey ignores or distorts leading scholarship counting against him, and how that renders him argumentatively untrustworthy: if he so badly distorts the facts in the case Widowfield exposes, how can we trust Casey isn’t distorting the facts as badly in every other case?

Widowfield has even more extensively documented Casey’s shadiness and dishonesty in trying to rescue his Aramaic theory from competing explanations, making the quite apt point that Casey has consistently behaved very unprofessionally in pursuit of this. Widowfield’s critique in this case is of Casey’s Appendix to Jesus on Latinisms in Mark: as Widowfield concludes, it “is a model for how not to write, how not to argue, how not to deal with the public, and how not to do scholarship.” He then backs up every charge. And that after summarizing a general point that experts in the community need to stop letting their peers behave this way without comment. Because it is discrediting the entire field. (Incidentally, this last by Widowfield also has a few more interesting examples of Casey not being able to tell when someone is joking, and instead trying to rebut a joke as if it was serious.)

My own critique has been at the more fundamental level of logic. In Proving History I wrote (pp. 185-86), and I here quote it all because Stephanie Fisher lied about what I said here, so we don’t want to let her try that immoral tactic again:

[The Criterion of Aramaic Context holds that] if there is evidence of an “Aramaic-language based unity between the participants, the events depicted, and concepts discussed” underlying the extant Greek text, then this suggests the account goes back to the original Jesus, who most likely conversed in Aramaic.

The first difficulty with this criterion is that it isn’t easy to discern an “underlying Aramaic origin” from an author or source who simply wrote or spoke in a Semitized Greek. The output of both often look identical. And yet we know the earliest Christians routinely wrote and spoke in a Semitized Greek, and regularly employed (and were heavily influenced by) the Septuagint, which was written in a Semitized Greek. This is most notably the case for the author of Luke-Acts, and is evident even in Paul.

Many early Christians were also bilingual (as Paul outright says he was), and thus often spoke and thought in Aramaic, and thus could easily have composed tales in Aramaic (orally or in lost written form) that were just as fabricated as anything else, which could then have been translated into Greek, either by the Gospel authors themselves or their sources. Indeed, some material may have preceded Jesus in Aramaic form (such as sayings and teachings, as we find collected at Qumran) that was later attributed to him with suitable adaptation. So even if we can distinguish what is merely a Semitic Greek dialect from a Greek translation of an Aramaic source (and we rarely can), that still does not establish that the Aramaic source reported a historical fact.

Consequently, Semitic features in a Gospel pericope do not make its historicity any more likely, other than in very exceptional cases (where we can actually prove an underlying source that we otherwise did not already suspect), and even then it gains very little (since an underlying source is not automatically reliable). Whereas one might have hoped such features would lower [the probability of this evidence on non-historicity] relative to [the probability of this evidence on historicity], there is no evidence in [our background knowledge] that warrants that conclusion. Even the best cases would lower it but little; and most cases, not at all.

As Christopher Tuckett says: “We should not forget that Jesus was not the only person in first-century Palestine; nor was he the only Aramaic speaker of his day. Hence such features in the tradition are not necessarily guaranteed as authentic: they might have originated in an early (or indeed later) Christian milieu within Palestine or in an Aramaic-speaking environment [outside Palestine].”

Or as I’ve noted, they might have originated in a Semitic-Greek-speaking environment (of which there were many across the whole Roman world), or even a pre-Christian milieu. Even a chronological trend is not dispositive, since Stanley Porter finds evidence the tradition could become “both more and less Semitic” [over time]. Unfortunately there are just too many ways a Semitic flavor could have entered the tradition of any saying or tale, and we have no way to tease out their relative probabilities. So when it comes to Jesus, this criterion effectively has no value for discerning historically authentic material.

Notably, though Casey leans almost entirely on this argument, and cites my book as among those he supposedly read, he never even mentions this critique or responds to it in any way.

I have taken Ehrman to task for this already. Not only do all the above problems seriously if not fatally undermine Casey’s entire argument, even apart from those difficulties, Casey’s argument fails right out of the gate on basic logic (it is a fallacy of affirming the consequent). I further explain why this is a fatal problem for Casey’s approach here. In short, Aramaic can be just as fictional as Greek. Aramaic is not some sort of supernatural language that magically prevents all who use it from making up stories. Casey claims to be aware of this (3-1799), yet as his following examples show, he assumes all fiction that gets the background facts right must be true, and only fiction that gets things wrong is false (this is an example of hyper-concrete reasoning, a cognitive deficit I will later show many more examples of from Casey).

Hence Casey uses this device to prove “historical” stories that almost every expert in the field agrees are obviously false (like the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter, 2-1413; or even the crucifixion narrative, which he calls pretty much “literally true,” 7-6064, never mentioning that every non-fundamentalist scholar alive knows that’s a fiction constructed from Psalm 22 and other scriptures). He simply assumes, everywhere, “(A) Mark used an Aramaic source + (B) Aramaic sources are 100% historically true = (C) therefore Jesus existed.” Not only does he never establish (A), because he never adequately addresses alternative theories of the evidence (a serious and common logical failure among historians of Jesus, as I explain in chapter one of Proving History), but (B) is not in any possible universe true. Therefore there is no path from (A) to (C) via (B), even if (A) were true.

For example, Casey makes a hash of criticisms of his claim that Mark 2:23 makes a mistake that only makes sense if Mark screwed up translating an Aramaic source (3-1970 to 2079). In a personal communication to me, Tim Widowfield listed some alternative hypotheses Casey neither tells his readers about nor seriously (much less properly) considers, much less rules out:

In Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, Casey mentions Judges 17:8, but insists that is another independent example of the same mistake Mark made in 2:23 (see p. 140). I think instead it’s probably a sign of a Semitic (or Palestinian or Jewish) variation in Koine [i.e. an everyday Semitic dialect of Greek spoken widely–ed.]. It could also be the result of a specific “sacred scripture dialect.” For example, the reason Joseph Smith wrote “and it came to pass” again and again isn’t that he was translating Hebrew, but because that’s what holy scripture was supposed to sound like. Similarly, when the evangelists used “answered and said” over and over, it’s because it sounded like the Septuagint, and that’s what holy writing is supposed to sound like.

He’s quite right. Many examples could be adduced, as noted even by prominent, well-published professors of biblical studies (e.g. see the literature on Semitisms in Acts). So we have (1) the commonplace Semitic Greek dialect as a known origin for Aramaicisms and (2) a stylistic trend to imitate the Aramaicisms in the Septuagint as another known origin. And I would add (3) there is evidence Mark may have been using targumim, Aramaic paraphrases of the scriptures, as source material for his stories (I discuss examples in On the Historicity of Jesus, but you can explore more in, e.g., Bruce Chilton, “Targum, Jesus, and the Gospels,” in Historical Jesus in Context [ed. Levine, Allison, and Crossan], pp. 238-55; likewise in peer reviewed publications by Aus, de Jonge, etc.). Casey neither mentions nor rules out any of these. Which renders this book essentially useless. If he won’t even address the best, strongest, most mainstream criticisms of his theories, what use is reading anything Casey writes in defense of his theories?

(And BTW, Casey’s thesis is even more bizarre and illogical than I have represented. Notice, for example, that he maintains that even Luke was simultaneously copying the Greek of both Matthew and Mark and translating their Aramaic source documents, for some reason, so that sometimes he renders the Greek of Matthew or Mark verbatim, other times, inexplicably, he stopped paying attention to their Greek for a moment and mistranslated their Aramaic source instead [e.g., 2-1427]. In fact, not only is Luke, whom he admits wrote at the end of the century, for some reason switching at random between eyewitness Aramaic originals and their Greek translations, but he has access to the Aramaic sources in their original “wax tablet,” meaning the actual autograph, as books would be composed on wax before being transferred to papyrus or parchment; books were never published in wax, so Casey is seriously claiming Luke had the autograph first-drafts of a half-century-old Aramaic eyewitness source. This is his thesis. The scenario he imagines is ridiculous in almost every way, and so far outside any mainstream plausibility I cannot understand how he maintains any credibility in the field among anyone but Christian fundamentalists. Even apart from his elaborate theory’s historical implausibility, I have to think he has never heard of Occam’s Razor.)

The Greek Goof

In his blind pursuit of this Aramaic thesis, Casey might not be very careful with his reading or literary understanding of ancient Greek. He translates Mark 1:7 as “The one stronger than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy to bend down and undo the latchet of the sandals of him” and then says “Here the meaning is unambiguous and correct, but ‘of whom’ followed by ‘of him’ is no more idiomatic in Greek than it is in English,” and so he insists it must be a goofed translation from an Aramaic text (3-1842). Key to his argument is that there is no other reason for “of whom…of him” to appear in the Greek here. Casey didn’t even bother to question that. He thus didn’t ask if perhaps this is exactly expected in the Greek, that it is even perfectly sound Greek grammar, and that in fact it’s a rather elegant stylistic construction by the standards of ancient literary artistry and the aesthetic preferences of the author, and is an idiom used, in Greek, in other contexts.

The clause in question reads, in interlinear translation, hou [of whom] ouk [not] eimi [am I] hikanos [worthy] kupsas [to stoop and] lusai [loosen] ton [the] himanta [latchet] tôn [of the] hupodêmatôn [sandals] autou [of him]. Notice how this makes the clause begin and end with Jesus (whosehim), which was a known literary device of emphasis (a form of inclusio). Notice also that the clause deliberately echoes the language of the Septuagint, in the same way the Book of Mormon echoes the Bible. And that is well known to be an aesthetic preference of the Gospel authors. Here Mark is using a direct lift from Isaiah 5:27, “the latchet of the shoes of them” (hoi himantes tôn hupodêmatôn autôn), modifying it to the singular as required (thus one latchet of one man rather than many latchets of many men), but otherwise word-for-word identical (that passage also includes the idea of loosening, though of girdles). Mark is not “alluding” to that passage (or I assume not), but borrowing a phrase from it to make his construction sound like the Scriptures.

Since the echo of the Septuagint is clear enough (the coincidence is otherwise very improbable), and the sentence was constructed so that this had to be a relative clause, it follows that both the “whose” (necessitated by the grammar) and “of him” (borrowed from the Septuagint idiom) are actually required, by the conjunction of Greek grammar and the intentions of the author, without any involvement of Aramaic. Although being a Semitic-Greek dialect (possibly bilingual) speaker, the construction may have also sounded particularly resonant to Mark, for precisely the reason Casey elaborates (it sounds like an Aramaic idiom). But that in no way entails or even implies Mark was translating from an Aramaic text.

I am charitably assuming Casey knew that the two pronouns don’t modify the same noun. A better translation is “whose…latchet of his sandals,” rather than “whose…sandals of him.” The auto (“of him / his”) goes with “sandals,” in the plural genitive, because it follows it, and in the predicate position exactly as Greek grammar requires, while the hou (“of whom / whose”) goes with “latchet,” in the singular accusative, because it is the first direct object of the clause to follow the relative pronoun, exactly as Greek grammar requires (the nominative subject is John, and latchet is the direct object of “loosen”). Each thus goes with a different word, so there is no redundancy, as Casey might be taken to imply (I’ll assume he didn’t mean to).

Finally, this way of constructing clauses may have been a known idiom in Semitic Greek. For we find it again in Revelation. Although I suppose Casey would then insist Revelation was translated from an Aramaic source…whose author therefore really did fly to heaven and talk to angels and everything in it must have totally happened and is literally true. Be that as it may, Rev. 13:12 reads literally “whose wound of his death was healed” (hou etherapeuthê hê plêgê tou thanatou autou), the exact same idiom Casey insists can only happen when translating from Aramaic (so real honest-to-god angels must have spoken this). Like before, we have the auto (“his / of him”) at the end of the sentence, modifying a noun, once again in the genitive and immediately preceding it, which once again is directly attached to the (now nominative) noun subject of the clause, which is in turn, once again, what the relative pronoun hou (“whose / of whom”) goes with. Thus, again, we have hou…hê plêgê (“whose the wound”) followed immediately by tou thanatou autou (“of his death”), the exact same construction as in Mark 1:7, where we have hou…ton himanta (“whose the latchet”) followed immediately by tôn hupodêmatôn autou (“of his sandals”).

This is therefore an example of how blinded Casey is by his obsession with Aramaic, that he doesn’t even stop to consider if the evidence can already be perfectly well explained as a normal Semitic-Greek Septuagintalism.

I could go on and on with examples like these, but since he makes a point of the Greek in one other case, I’ll show how he can’t reason objectively in any similar case: Casey runs wild with an argument that Luke (yes, Luke) must have mistranslated the Aramaic for jackal as “fox” in Greek (in Lk. 13:32) because Greek had no word for jackal while the Aramaic word for jackal also meant fox (3-1886). But his reasoning is entirely based on the assumption that “fox” meant “clever” and Herod Antipas (who was thus being insulted) was not clever, so Luke can’t possibly have meant to have Jesus say Herod Antipas was clever. Here Casey’s concrete thinking and lack of a sense of humor causes him to overlook the vastly more likely fact that Luke is depicting Jesus using sarcasm: you don’t insult a clever person by calling them clever…you insult a dullard with that, and the whole point of Jesus’ line is to say “If he’s so smart, why can’t he figure out what’s going on?” As Casey would say, “That makes perfect polemical sense!” (3-1900). But “fox” also had a much wider valence of meanings than just “clever.” Most notably, foxes were regarded as troublesome and predacious thieves who victimize the innocent (akin to our idiom “a fox in the henhouse”), a rather apt description of Herod Antipas…and rather an obvious intended double meaning for Luke, since in the very same speech he has Jesus refer to hens being thus threatened (two verses later).

That Casey can’t think of or notice these obvious alternative explanations, which are actually far simpler and more obvious to any objective observer, is disturbing, but indicative. One can easily find similar faults with every other example of his. But he never sees them. They don’t even occur to him.

Incidentally, Casey’s ineptitude with Greek literary analysis like this is shown again when he actually falls for the same mistake Doherty does and thinks Phil. 1:14 says “brothers in the Lord.” It does not, and not only have numerous modern translations noted this (click the previous link and compare), a sound understanding of the grammar and context makes it clear. The misreading is a product of the assumptions of the King James translators. So Casey has fallen victim to the very Christianized scholarship he says no one should heed. The phrase “brothers in the Lord” appears never in any authentic letter of Paul. To understand why Casey (like the King James translators) is mistranslating Phil. 1:14 because he doesn’t know how (or think) to check for literary devices like chiasm and parallel structure, or to ask what the actual point is the author is making, or to check to find that “confidence in the Lord” is a common Pauline idiom (whereas “brothers in the Lord” is not), see my full analysis of this passage here.

High Culture Nonsense

Casey tries to explain away all the strange oddities and silences in Paul’s letters by claiming Paul was corresponding in a “high context” culture wherein no one ever had to say anything because everyone already knew everything and thus always understood what was meant. There are many problems with this.

Some of those problems are devastatingly laid out by Tim Widowfield in two articles on Casey’s abuse of this Christian apologetical device–and these are a must-read: Taking Context Out of Context and What the Context Group (and Casey) Missed. Widowfield shows he understands the concept of high culture discourse far better than Casey, who doesn’t appear to have actually studied it at all. Just compare how informative Widowfield is, and how clear and structured his analysis, with how wholly uninformative and vague Casey is on the subject (which he redundantly repeats, yet with no greater illumination, first in 2-1443 to 2-1528, and then again in 5-3543 to 5-3600).

One major problem (which Widowfield just touches on) is that it makes no sense that Christianity as a whole would become an increasingly low culture society as it grew older and larger. That should have had the opposite effect: culturally implicit knowledge then becomes more widespread, fixed, and ubiquitous (thus facilitating an increasingly high context culture). Whereas Paul’s churches were new, with a constant influx of new converts, and still not certain how to do things or what the gospel exactly was, and thus constantly writing letters to ask Paul those things; and they mixed Jewish and Gentile members, who thus did not share the same cultural knowledge or assumptions. For both reasons Paul’s churches were least likely to be high context, whereas churches a century later were most likely to be. Yet Christian creeds became increasingly specific and thus more low context: for example, Ignatius explicitly includes the role of Mary and Pilate in his Epistles as fundamental parts of the standard Christian creed that he keeps reminding his Christian readers of. That he is so specific, and feels the need to keep repeating information already commonly known to his audience, is what a low context discourse looks like (I am certain these letters were written in a different time period than traditionally assumed, but that doesn’t matter for the point here). It is very improbable that Christianity started high context and became low context. Given the differences I just noted, that defies all possible logic of social causality.

Therefore the burden is very high on Casey to prove that epistolary discourse in earliest Christianity was as high context as he claims. He can’t just say “it’s possible” and then conclude that therefore it was the case. I should note, and Widowfield also touches on this, that the same social group can be both high and low context in different media and contexts: for example, sci-fi aficionados sharing an exchange of humor in which they assume everyone present gets all their sci-fi culture references is a high context mode of discourse; those same aficionados can then exchange emails exhibiting a low context discussion of the same sci-fi references. Poetry is still, even in modern languages, a high context mode of discourse. Yet we also communicate in low context prose. So one has to show not that a “culture” is high or low context, but that the particular mode of discourse being engaged in is high or low context. Widowfield shows there are many reasons to conclude Paul’s Epistles are most definitely, and by necessity, in a relatively low context discourse mode. For the reasons I also added above, I agree.

Notably Casey does not cite any of the recent expert studies of the silences in Paul’s letters, much less address them (even though there have been several; I provide a comprehensive survey in OHJ). As just one example, I shall quote Gerd Lüdemann, a renowned and well-qualified expert in biblical studies. And note that Lüdemann wrote a whole book on Paul: Paul, The Founder of Christianity, in 2002. Has Casey written a whole book on Paul? Not that he has to have (I don’t play Casey’s childish whose-the-expert game), but Casey’s attempts at using No True Scostman fallacies and claiming he’s the expert on Aramaic and therefore should be listened to on that subject, entails that he cannot claim Lüdemann is not qualified to reach conclusions about Paul, and that he should heed Lüdemann’s expertise on Paul as much as he expects anyone else to heed his own expertise in Aramaic. (BTW, Casey claims only “hopelessly conservative” scholars [5-3555] would say what I am about to quote Lüdemann saying; so do note that to call Lüdemann even conservative is laughable.)

Lüdemann concluded from his own directed study of the letters of Paul:

Not once does Paul refer to Jesus as a teacher, to his words as teaching, or to [any] Christians as disciples. In this regard it is of the greatest significance that when Paul cites ‘sayings of Jesus’, they are never so designated; rather, without a single exception, he attributes such sayings to ‘the Lord’. … Paul thought that a person named Jesus had lived and that he now sat at the right hand of God in heaven. Yet he shows only a passing acquaintance with traditions related to his life and nowhere an independent acquaintance with them. In short, Paul cannot be considered a reliable witness to either the teachings, the life, or the historical existence of Jesus. … [Despite Jesus being so central to Paul’s every argument] it seems strange indeed that the Epistles so seldom make reference to [Jesus’] life and teachings.

The argument that [Paul] could assume his readers’ familiarity with these [facts] because he had already passed them on in his missionary preaching [and therefore never had to mention them] is not convincing. He could and does presume some familiarity with the Greek translation of the Scripture, the Septuagint, which was mediated to his converts either by himself or earlier by the local Jewish community. For this reason he repeatedly and specifically cites it in the course of his ethical teaching. Moreover, when Paul himself summarizes the content of his missionary preaching in Corinth (1 Cor. 2.1–2; 15.3–5), there is no hint that a narration of Jesus’ earthly life or a report of his earthly teachings was an essential part of it. … In the letter to the Romans, which cannot presuppose the apostle’s missionary preaching and in which he attempts to summarize its main points, we find not a single direct citation of Jesus’ teaching. One must record with some surprise the fact that Jesus’ teachings seem to play a less vital role in Paul’s religious and ethical instruction than does the Old Testament.

Gerd Lüdemann, “Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus,”

Sources of the Jesus Tradition (Prometheus 2010), pp. 196-212.

Essentially the same conclusions have been reached by numerous experts in the field including Nikolaus Walter, Helmut Koester, Kurt Noll, Jens Schröter, Frans Neirynck, Robert Price, and Margaret Barker (I cite or quote them in my forthcoming book). Casey mentions none of them in this context, nor Lüdemann.

So contrary to Casey’s dishonest narrative, that there is something odd about Paul’s letters in this respect is not just some “ignorant mythicist” point of view. It’s a view shared by many of Casey’s peers. And Casey doesn’t know that, doesn’t tell his readers that, and doesn’t address it. At all. That renders his book useless on this point (just as on every other point).

Ultimately there are three respects in which Casey’s “high context” apologetic does not work:

(1) Casey never actually demonstrates that Paul is writing in a high context literary style. He just assumes it’s the case. Because Casey just magically knows that somehow (of course, it’s really because Casey needs it to be true). In actual fact, Paul’s letters exhibit hallmarks of low context discourse: Paul repeatedly has to explain himself, give explicit instructions, and re-quote and re-explain doctrine and scriptural verses. A genuinely high context document looks like the Book of Revelation–and a high context Epistle looks like the epistles in Revelation. Casey clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about, and doesn’t actually know what high context literature looks like.

(2) Casey does not provide a single example where “high contextuality” would even explain an actual oddity in the text noted by a real expert (like Lüdemann or Price). He instead only addresses the weakest (and thus cherry-picked) statements of amateurs (low hanging fruit; top of tree untouched) and makes up straw men to tear down, and does so in a way so similar to Christian apologetics that Casey should be embarrassed at the dishonesty of his tactic (see following).

(3) Even if Casey could explain why there are no clear references to a historical Jesus in Paul, there still would be no clear references to a historical Jesus in Paul. And you can’t argue for historicity from evidence that doesn’t exist. This is crucial when it comes to issues where the only evidence we have for some detail is the Gospels: we cannot presume those are true, when we lack corroboration from earlier, less fictionalized sources. That is actually how all historians reason. Except fundamentalists…and quasi-fundamentalists like Maurice Casey.

The quasi-fundamentalist tactics Casey employs here are amusing when juxtaposed against an actual Christian apologist attempting an argument Casey would readily mock–although, since it’s exactly the same thing Casey does, Casey would essentially be mocking himself. When Christian apologist Stephen Davis tried to defend the supernatural resurrection of Jesus against scholars arguing there were perfectly natural explanations of the stories and beliefs about that resurrection, he argued that natural explanations were possible but too elaborate to believe. To do that, this is the trick he pulled:

Davis proposes his own example of what he thinks is a plausible but unproven explanation, only to fabricate a false analogy that makes a straw man of the actual evidence and argument presented in [my chapter on the theft hypothesis in The Empty Tomb]. His rhetorically contrived scenario is, with my own emphasis on its absurdly specific details:

On the day after the crucifixion, three Roman soldiers secretly disposed of Jesus’s body by placing it in a hidden cave located ten kilometers from Jerusalem near the road to Jericho, where the body was never discovered; and, on their return to Jerusalem, they were immediately transferred back to Rome, where they eventually died, without telling anyone what they had done.

Now, unlike the theories I present, Davis offers no evidence establishing motive for his scenario, his scenario is unnecessarily elaborate, and he presents no reason why the truth would be concealed in the case he describes (e.g. why the soldiers would be so suddenly transferred and never tell anyone about their bizarre behavior). Thus, his scenario is far less plausible than the scenarios I describe, which makes his analogy a straw man. Moreover, unlike Davis, I never claim, nor does my argument require, such specific details as exactly when the theft occurred or where the body ended up or how many were involved. Obviously we would need evidence to assert such hyper-specific claims, but we do not need anywhere near as much evidence to assert that some person or persons stole the body at some time in the available window and disposed of it somewhere. The prior probability of some theft scenario equals the sum of the prior probabilities of all possible theft scenarios, and therefore the probability of theft in general is far greater than the probability of any hyper-specific scenario like Davis describes. His theory is therefore not pertinent to addressing the argument of [my chapter].

(Richard Carrier, “The Plausibility of Theft,” in Stephen Davis Gets It Wrong 2006)

Follow that? Now watch Casey use exactly the same tactic:

Paul had…no need whatever to write anything such as, ‘We preach Christ crucified on earth outside the walls of Jerusalem a few years ago, after being betrayed by Judah of Kerioth, and handed over to the chief priests, scribes and elders, because he cleansed the Temple, and then handed over by them to Pontius Pilatus, the governor of Judaea at the time, to be flogged and crucified.” (2-1480)

Just like the Christian apologist, Casey completely made up this absurd expectation. No mythicist–and I mean none, not even the craziest of the crazy–has ever said we should expect anything even remotely like this. Just like the Christian apologist, Casey’s fabricated scenario is unnecessarily elaborate, and would be a bizarre expectation even on the presumption of a low context Paul. Thus, what he is falsely claiming is the mythicist expectation is far less plausible than anything any mythicist has ever said. Which makes this the reediest straw man imaginable.

No mythicist expects Paul to mention any such specific details as these. Scholars (many not mythicists, like Lüdemann) are instead pointing out that Paul mentions no details of any kind ever anywhere, which can clearly be referencing an earthly, historical man (as opposed to a celestially incarnated one). The prior probability of something getting mentioned equals the sum of the prior probabilities of all possible things Paul could have occasion to mention, or even be compelled to mention, because he had to defend himself against them, or employ them to win authority for a point, teach his congregations a point, or prove that his knowledge of Jesus warranted his claims to authority. And therefore the probability of some mention of anything, in general, is far greater than the probability of any hyper-specific over-elaborate statement like Casey fabricates. What he has said here is therefore not pertinent to addressing the argument of any mythicist. That is not scholarship. That’s simply being dishonest. And using that dishonesty to avoid the argument rather than answer it.

The clincher of an example of how Casey simply has become a Christian apologist (despite not even being a Christian), is when he argues in the most stupid and self-defeating way that “another good reason for Paul not to write unnecessary information in his epistles” is that ink is “disgusting” and writing “was a difficult and time-consuming process” (2-1480). Never mind that Paul wouldn’t even have penned his letters (they were composed by scribes at his dictation; at most, he may have drafted masters with a stylus in wax, not with ink), so this would not have even been a concern for him. No, more embarrassing here is the fact that every expert on the subject has noted that Paul’s Epistles are extraordinarily large for ancient Epistles–literally the longest letters, by far, of any to survive from the whole of antiquity. This makes Casey’s claim that Paul couldn’t add stuff because he didn’t want to write long letters look as ridiculous as any other desperate armchair fundamentalist ploy.

In truth, I am certain Paul’s letters were originally shorter and more numerous; what we have are edited pastiches from his actual dossier. But whether many short letters or a few long ones, Paul was extremely wordy. To suggest he would leave stuff out, and that peculiarly just happening to be everything historical about Jesus, simply because he was tired of writing too much is rather like claiming the ark could hold all the animals because it was really big.

Mimicking a Stock Christian Apologetic Treatment of Paul

Of course Casey does claim there is evidence in Paul, by leaning on the stock ambiguous passages pulled out by Christian apologists (the very fundamentalists Casey despises) to argue that Paul does clearly reference an earthly historical man.

Revelations: Casey doesn’t seem to know anything about the anthropology of revelatory cults. Thus he says he can’t imagine why Paul would get a situationally relevant instruction by revelation from Jesus (6-4643). He can’t imagine it, because he evidently doesn’t do his homework, so as to know that this kind of situationally relevant instruction by revelation from the revered spirit is actually typical of visionary cults, even when challenging or novel (indeed, especially so). Likewise throughout Casey’s treatment of this subject, he shows no signs of having studied how revelatory cults operate, and thus has made no effort to understand a key point in the mythicist position: that earliest Christianity was a revelatory cult (this is not a speculation–the evidence for this in Paul is conclusive) and can only be understood as such. Casey is thus not interested in actually understanding early Christianity. He is only interested in defending his own fantasies about it.

Traditions: Similarly, as Paul uses paralambanô to both mean receiving tradition from humans and receiving tradition from Jesus by revelation, we cannot assume which Paul means. We have to attend to context. Casey doesn’t. He doesn’t notice (or fails to tell his readers) that “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel I preached…I did not receive it from a man, nor was I taught it, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12) is nearly word-for-word identical to “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel I preached…I delivered to you in the first place what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3), yet Casey’s entire argument that Paul meant exactly the opposite is undermined by that fact (6-4821). The more so as 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 only mentions scripture (vv. 3, 4) and revelation (vv. 5-8) as sources of information (and Paul never mentions his receiving Jesus tradition in any other way, ever), and Romans 16:25 concurs in stating there were no other sources of information other than scripture and revelation. And so on. Casey attends to none of this evidence.

Born of a Woman and of Davidic Sperm: Like a Christian apologist (6-4513ff.), Casey misses the entire context of Galatians 4 and that Paul is speaking allegorically. Since he doesn’t address that argument, his book is useless on the point. OHJ covers it in better detail. And he completely misses the relevance of the fact that Paul uses in both cases (“of…David” and “of a woman”) the word that more commonly means “made” and not “born” (and which Paul never uses to mean “born” anywhere else in his letters, where instead he uses another word). Casey simply says it can mean both. But the point is, Paul never uses it that way, but consistently uses another word when he means born (and this disturbed later scribes to the point that they tried changing the verb in both these passages to the word Paul normally uses to mean “born,” thus trying to conceal the fact that he originally said “made”). And since it can mean both, we cannot assume which Paul means. Casey has no reply to this point.

Paul knew Cephas: “Mythicists also have to dispose somehow of Cephas/Peter” (6-4444). No, we don’t. And it is dishonest of him to say this, because he knows several mythicists have no difficulty accepting that Cephas/Peter was the founder of the cult. That in no way entails Jesus was historical. As Paul says, Cephas was simply the first to receive revelations of him (1 Cor. 15:5). That is entirely compatible with mythicism. Casey never addresses this view. He instead makes it seem as though mythicism requires denying Peter’s existence. Incidentally, though it is not relevant to this debate, Casey clearly didn’t check any of the latest literature on the debate whether Cephas and Peter in Galatians are the same person (6-4457). The question is still undecided by experts. Casey neither seems aware of this fact, nor informs his readers of it, but falsely gives the impression it is a settled question. (I cite the most recent literature on this in OHJ, though, again, whichever way one resolves that debate, it has no effect on mythicism.)

Brothers of the Lord: Casey doesn’t address any of the best arguments from mythicists on this point; he only addresses the weakest (6-4444). Low hanging fruit; tops of the trees untouched. Ironically, Casey doesn’t realize that his claim that Paul wouldn’t explain things because he was writing in high context discourse (6-4444) would actually undermine his assumption that Paul would explain that “brother of the Lord” means spiritually, not literally. In actual fact, even writing in low context discourse he wouldn’t need to explain that, because the idea that Jesus had biological brothers didn’t exist yet, so it would never occur to him that he would have to explain what the phrase meant. All Christians knew it meant baptized Christian. As in fact it did. So if it could mean two different things, then Paul would have to explain which he meant; that he doesn’t, therefore entails he didn’t have to; which entails it meant only one thing, and the only one thing Paul tells us it would refer to, and that repeatedly, is baptized Christians.

All Christians Met Jesus in Person: Not really. But Casey borrows a classic fundamentalist exegesis to claim that Paul said that. In one of the most embarrassing and shameful arguments in this book, Casey repeats with a totally straight face (and no citations of anyone, he even forgets to tell us what verse he is quoting) the fundamentalist claim that in 2 Corinthians 5:16, where Paul says “we have known Christ according to the flesh, now we no longer know him that way,” he is “dismiss[ing] people who knew the historical Jesus,” which is fantastically absurd, as anyone will realize who actually checks what Paul is actually saying in context: this is a discussion about our living no longer “according to the flesh” but according to the spirit (just as in Romans 8).

So when Paul says “we” knew Christ in the flesh (which on Casey’s interpretation would entail that Paul met the historical Jesus, as did the whole Corinthian church!), it is not Christ’s fleshly existence Paul is referring to, but our fleshly existence. Thus we all start out knowing Christ when we are in the flesh, but then we evolve beyond that, to live in the spirit. As Paul says in the very next line: “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17); and as he says even before his remark about Christ: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh,” which obviously is not a dismissal of anyone who ever knew anyone in person (!), but as the NIV interprets it, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16). I am not pulling this out of my ass. This is what any current non-fundamentalist literary analyst of this passage will tell you (e.g., Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, pp. 427-34). Yet Casey (again!) prefers to rely on fundamentalist interpretations of the text when it suits him. It is therefore quite funny when after delivering this absurd, out-of-context, fundamentalist exegesis, Casey says “I hope this is sufficient to make clear that Doherty has completely misinterpreted Paul” (6-5157). Replace “Doherty” with “Casey” and we have a true statement.

Paul Damned the Jews for All Eternity: Not really. But Casey has to believe he did. Thus Casey cherry picks the scholarship he wants to defend the antisemitic passage in 1 Thessalonians against being an interpolation as many mainstream scholars believe it is (even resorting to citing a theo-political treatise by a Lutheran traditionalist, and another scholar who made a fundamental translation error). I discussed this travesty earlier, so I won’t belabor the point, except to add that Casey’s attempt to propose relatively trivial, wholly common, and entirely transient events as a “final wrath come upon the Judeans” is just quasi-fundamentalist apologetics that makes no objective sense in context. Likewise his attempt to pretend that Paul didn’t use the past tense (6-4713ff.).

Where the Demons Are: Casey really fumbles when he says there is no evidence for Doherty’s proposed demonology and cosmology being a thing in ancient Judaism (1-427), because in OHJ I present copious evidence that in fact it was–Philo being a significant witness, and there being a lot of really good recent expert scholarship on it. That Casey seems not to know either fact is just another example of why he didn’t do his job in writing this book, and why it will be basically useless to almost everyone. Although since some of that is really good scholarship by fundamentalists, and Casey is a slave to the genetic fallacy, maybe that’s why he ignores it. But either way, instead, like an incompetent hack, Casey cites a first temple (or very early second temple) text (Job) as illustrating the beliefs of late second temple Judaism (hundreds of years later), a behavior he would thrash any mythicist for, yet here he is, doing exactly that (6-4862). He then confuses a passage about what will happen to humans in the future as being about the state of demons now (1 Enoch 22), a double error (both as to which beings are being discussed, and what period of time), and likewise misreads “on the earth” as “in the earth” (1 Enoch 14:5 and 15:9), and doesn’t notice that his claim that all Jews thought all demons were bound in chains beneath the earth makes no sense of why demons would be above the earth possessing people for Jesus to exorcize them, or why the author of Ephesians would assume Judaic demons lived “in the air” (Eph. 2:2).

Such mistakes are astonishing. Yet typify this book.

Inanna Wasn’t Crucified, She Was Just Nailed Up Dead

Casey only addresses one thing I have ever written relating to mythicism, ever. Seriously. In this entire book, he never mentions a single argument, claim, or passage in Proving History, or in any other book, article, or blog post I’ve ever written, pertaining to the topic of this book. Except one single small passage in Not the Impossible Faith: my discussion of the Innana death-and-resurrection narrative (NIF, pp. 18-19; Casey, 7-5983ff.). This is most strange, because in NIF there are a lot of refutations of assumptions he relies on in his book (such as that Luke is “an outstanding historian by ancient standards,” so true he had to say it twice, verbatim: 3-2619; 3-2683; see NIF, ch. 7, for a gut-check on that; OHJ, ch. 9, for a groin-check). Yet he never responds to those refutations or even seems to be aware of them. Likewise all my preemptive refutations of his arguments in PH, which I’ve noted already.

And then the one single thing of mine he does address, he gets wrong in almost every way.

First, I never argued in NIF that “Jesus cannot have been crucified” because Inanna was; in fact I there explicitly say I am not saying the crucifixion of Jesus was inspired by that. Yet Casey imputes to me the other argument. That’s worse than a straw man, because it actually misleads his readers, who will now think I made a ridiculous argument, which in fact I didn’t. Indeed, nowhere in NIF do I even argue that Jesus didn’t exist (to the contrary, NIF consistently assumes he did). He even tries to admit this, but characterizes it as “going back” on myself (7-5994), when in fact it was simply my position, not a retreat from some “other” position (which again basically makes him a liar).

In the passage in question I am explicitly responding to the argument that “no one would worship a crucified deity, therefore Jesus must have actually risen from the dead.” Casey surely rejects such fundamentalist balderdash as I do, yet he does not tell his readers that this is the only context in which I brought up the Inanna narrative. Inanna is an example of a humiliated, killed and crucified deity, who was nevertheless widely worshipped. I seriously doubt Casey can honestly have a problem with that. Because it being true has no bearing on whether Jesus existed–unless you argue that “no one would worship a crucified deity, therefore Jesus must have actually been crucified.” Fortunately Casey doesn’t appear to make that argument. (Because my argument in that case would be correct.) So why my treatment of Inanna concerns him in this book is hard to discern. And he never explains any of this to his readers, who are thus mislead into thinking I argue that Inanna’s tale is an argument against the historicity of Jesus. It’s not. I think it can bear on the subject, but not like that. And I didn’t even discuss that possibility in NIF.

Second, Casey suffers from concrete thinking (see next section), so badly that he thinks Inanna can’t be a crucified deity because she was a vegetation goddess (7-5994). That is a non sequitur. That’s like saying she can’t be a crucified deity because she’s a woman. Or not Jewish. The differences are irrelevant. We unmistakably have a god descending from heaven, into another supernatural realm below (the underworld), being tried, executed, humiliated, and crucified (her naked corpse nailed up), and then rising from the dead three days later and ascending back to heaven (it also has this whole thing being her plan from the start). Scholars therefore cannot claim such narratives did not predate Christianity. They most certainly did. Whether they had any influence on Christianity is a separate question. But it should certainly be relevant that this narrative was part of a major cult in the Middle East still practiced in Christian times and known to the Jews of Judea (as I show in NIF, a fact Casey does not mention).

Third, Casey is such a concrete thinker he cannot fathom that killing someone and nailing them up was ideologically comparable to Roman crucifixion. Thus he declares, absurdly, “It should be obvious that this has nothing to do with the Roman penalty of crucifixion” (7-5994). Not that it should have to (no one argues that Inanna was crucified by Romans). But even so, Casey does not cite or even seem to be aware of any of the scholarship establishing that in fact all the words for “crucifixion” were so variable as to definitely include exactly this sequence of events, that the Romans even highly varied their practice of crucifixion enough to include it, and that Jews also crucified their dead in exactly this way (execution, then hanging on a post). I document this from primary sources and cite the peer reviewed scholarship that agrees with me in my chapter on the burial of Jesus in The Empty Tomb. I add even more in OHJ.

And Inanna is not alone. Romulus, Zalmoxis, and Osiris provide similar narratives of deaths and resurrections (Casey never once mentions these, even though I survey them extensively in NIF), and we know there were many more. Casey’s treatment of the dying-and-rising gods mytheme as a whole is muddled and confused and doesn’t really go anywhere (Ehrman tried harder, though fell harder in result). Compare it with what I have already written here and here and here, and you’ll see why it’s wholly inadequate. My treatment in OHJ just makes that all the clearer.

Deficit of Hypothetical-Categorical Reasoning

Casey is often incapable of understanding his own critics. So bizarrely, in fact, that it suggests a genuine cognitive deficit usually characterizing persons with an abnormally low IQ. I caught several examples of Stephanie Fisher exhibiting exactly the same cognitive deficits, where she could not think in abstract, hypothetical terms, but only in concrete, literal terms, resulting in bizarre misunderstandings of rather basic explanations of things (she had an extremely hard time understanding conditional “if, then” statements, or thought experiments, or even the purpose of counterfactual reasoning).

To understand how Casey shows the same cognitive deficiency, you need to first read an unrelated example of what I am talking about, based on a study of such reasoning. Once upon a time some researchers tested subjects in remote and previously largely illiterate villages of Uzbekistan and neighboring areas, as follows:

In a typical exchange the questioner asks: “In the Far North, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zemlya is in the Far North and there is always snow there. What color are the bears there?” One peasant answers: “I don’t know. I’ve seen a black bear, I’ve never seen any others. … We don’t talk about what we haven’t seen.” Exchanges of this sort could be repeated at length. In essence, the peasants refused, or were unable, to reason hypothetically. Similarly, when asked about similarities between objects, they tended to group them by similar use rather than by similar abstract categories. For them, a saw and a hatchet go together because they are both needed to make firewood, not because they are both tools (and, moreover, a log needs to be included in the group for utilitarian completeness).

The people tested had adequate vocabularies and detailed knowledge about their world. The exchanges with the testers revealed that they were often quick-witted, clear thinkers. They were, however, not comfortable with abstract or hypothetical thinking and found such thinking to be alien. In their world, abstract categories and hypothetical thinking were, frankly, not perceived to be very useful, and even faintly preposterous. Sometimes their answers implicitly said as much. Even if such habits of thought had been potentially useful, no one was disadvantaged because no one else in the community thought in such ways either. Not having such habits of thought, they did not develop expertise in dealing with problems involving abstract categorical and hypothetical (ACH) thinking assessed by the Raven’s and Wechsler Similarities tests.

Historically, neither peasants, nor laborers, nor tradespeople nor, indeed, practically anyone anywhere had much use for such skills prior to the 20th Century, except philosophers, scientists, and perhaps a few others.

James Allan Cheyne, “Atheism Rising: Intelligence, Science, and the Decline of Belief,”

Skeptic 15.2 (2009), pp. 33-37; see also James Flynn, What Is Intelligence? (2007)

You might not think this could possibly be relevant.

Just wait.

A stark example of this is when Casey repeatedly says no one else ever talks about crucifixions in heaven, therefore it’s impossible that anyone would imagine crucifixions occurring in heaven (6-5013, 5126, etc.). This is just like claiming not to know if bears in the north are white because you haven’t seen one. It’s hyper-concrete thinking.

In actual fact, in Jewish cosmology, all sorts of things that exist or occur on earth also do so in heaven: fighting, writing, scrolls, temples, chairs, trees, gardens. The Revelation of Moses has Adam buried in heaven (in the Garden he was made from, the very Garden Paul says was in the “third heaven” in 2 Cor. 12, just as the Rev. Mos. also says, in which Adam’s fall is described literally: a fall from the heavenly Garden to the earth below). So there’s even dirt in heaven, and corpses, and graves (Eve is also buried there, along with others). And indeed as the Ascension of Isaiah and the book of Hebrews both say: in general things on earth have correlates in heaven (Asc. Is. 7.10; Heb. 9.22-24; Philo provides an elaborate explanation; many Jewish cosmological texts elaborate on the objects and occurrences in heaven that have counterparts on earth).

If people can be buried in heaven, and fight battles in heaven, and visit temples in heaven, then they can be crucified in heaven. But to grasp that requires abstract-categorical-hypothetical reasoning: you have to be able to infer from the abstract hypothesis “ancient Jews imagined all kinds of things happening in heaven” to “crucifixion can be one of those things,” just as one has to be able to infer from “it snows in the north and bears in snowy places are white” to “bears in the north are white.” Saying bears in the north can’t be white until you literally see one yourself exhibits a major deficit in ACHR. And here, though we’re even explicitly told that the things and activities on earth have correlates in heaven (and have countless examples of this belief), Casey can’t imagine any unless he can find a specific text specifically saying so. That is a cognitive defect. And it greatly impairs his ability to reason.

Ironically, this means Casey again does exactly what he mistakenly claims Doherty does: “He has made the major unscholarly mistake of imagining that Paul could not have believed what Doherty does not believe.” Replace “Doherty” with “Casey” and we have a true statement.

This explains why Casey cannot understand why Inanna’s passion story is a crucifixion narrative: it is not literally, concretely identical, therefore it has “nothing whatever” in common with a crucifixion narrative. Because seeing why they are the same requires reasoning on an abstract level: you have to filter out the irrelevant differences (which are concrete particulars) and focus on the relevant similarities (which are abstract categories). Try, kill, humiliate, nail up are all abstractions. A specific court scene, a specific way of killing, a specific way of humiliating, a specific way of nailing up, are all concrete particulars. Casey literally can only see the concrete particulars. The abstract categories they fall into are invisible to him, and like the Uzbek peasant, he cannot cognitively comprehend them, and thus can’t use them in a process of reasoning. He can’t reason out that polar bears are white. If he doesn’t literally see it himself, it’s not true.

Another example is when he goes on a tirade against Murdock’s assessment that the Gospel narrative comprises just fifty hours of events. This is one of the strangest things in the book. It’s patently obvious she does not literally mean the actual events occurred and took place over fifty hours. Indeed, how could that be, when her whole point is that the events didn’t happen? (What I just did there: that’s hypothetical reasoning.) Yet somehow Casey can’t reason this out, reads her statement concretely rather than abstractly, and thus attacks her for not knowing that walking from Galilee to Jerusalem would take up way too many hours for her assessment to be correct (7-6076). Stop and do a double take there. That’s right. Casey actually argues that Murdock’s point is “complete nonsense” (sic) because a fictional character couldn’t possibly walk from Galilee to Jerusalem in less than fifty hours. That is such fantastically concrete thinking it makes the Uzbek peasant look like Einstein.

This explains quite a lot. For example, Casey’s bizarre, almost cabalistic (and Atwill-like) obsession with finding Aramaic everywhere (and then concretely assuming that that can only entail an account is true, as I noted previously). We could thus have predicted his evident inability to comprehend the abstract fact that many such things will exist by accident, and likewise his inability to reason out the hypothetical possibility of a coincidence, and thus ask how many such coincidences might be expected in a text written in a Semitic Greek dialect, consciously emulating the Septuagint, and possibly drawing on targums as well, and thus ask how he is supposed to tell the difference–questions he never asks, because he only thinks concretely.

This is also why I suspect Casey doesn’t understand Murdock’s point about mythmakers often being able to construct historically credible myths (2-1438). Casey leans on the Criteria of Historical or Contextual Plausibility (e.g., 3-1771) without responding to my critique of them (PH, pp. 176-77), or addressing any of the concerns raised there, so his use of those criteria is fatally naive. But more important to the present point, examples of his failing at that also show a failure of ACHR (abstract-categorical-hypothetical reasoning).

For example, Casey concludes that, because Mark knows that under Jewish law burdens (like lifting sick people) can’t be carried on the Sabbath and thus the sick would be carried to Jesus at evening (when the Sabbath had ended):

It follows that this report cannot be the work of the early church, who were not interested in such matters: it must go back to a real report transmitted during the historic ministry, when this observance of the written law mattered, and everyone took this so much for granted that the careful note of time was sufficient to bring it to mind. (3-1785)

Casey somehow doesn’t know (?) that Jewish Christianity remained a thing well past Mark’s time (Matthew is even advocating it, and Matthew wrote after Mark, while Mark is writing in full knowledge of it), the churches were even mixed in the first century (Paul’s churches mingled Jewish with Gentile members, and things cannot have so radically changed in just twenty years that this would no longer be the case when Mark wrote), Christians continually won converts from Judaism (and thus well-schooled Jewish informants would be in the audience of any author), and even predominately Gentile Christian churches were constantly dealing and interacting with Jewish neighbors and critics (this is evidenced all the way into the time of Justin, who is still arguing with Jewish opponents of Christianity in the 160s A.D.), while later Christian scholars had no trouble being versed in Jewish laws (e.g., Origen, 3rd century A.D.; Jerome, 4th century A.D.).

To suggest that somehow Mark, writing in the 70s, would know absolutely nothing about Sabbath prohibitions on transporting the sick is preposterous. Jews all around him in his communities would be conspicuously exhibiting their obedience to that rule, Jewish Christians or converts in his church would be telling him all about it, and it was easy for anyone educated enough to write literary Greek to be well versed in Jewish law and lore. The devastating irony is that Casey keeps insisting the Gospel of John was written late and in total ignorance of early first century reality–yet even John knew the Jews couldn’t carry burdens on the Sabbath, and wrote a whole story about it (John 5). Yet by Casey’s own logic, it follows that John must have been using an eyewitness Aramaic source! Because surely there is no possible way he could know all of that otherwise!

Casey sounds so much like Ken Ham I really find it astonishing. This is not the argument of a capable or objective scholar. And this is certainly not the way to defend historicity. But notable is the fact that I doubt Casey is ignorant of the above facts, as if he were some completely unschooled amateur (in fact, he essentially affirms them elsewhere, when it suits him: 3-2580). So what has happened here is that he was incapable of reasoning hypothetically from those facts to the conclusion Murdock (and everyone else with a normal IQ) correctly reaches, that someone in a later period in the midst of those audiences, neighbors, conflicts, and interactions could construct plausible Jewish fiction. Instead, Casey can only comprehend the concrete fact that it fits the Jewish context, therefore only someone who was actually there (someone who actually is looking at a white bear) could have said it. The idea of hypothetical reasoning is completely lost on him. He can’t even imagine ancient Christians engaging in it. And since you have to have the basic cognitive abilities of the people you imagine, in order to imagine them using them…well, you get the picture.

There are many examples like this throughout the book. It would be tedious to discuss them all.

Not Always Wrong

For all that, there are occasions, scattered randomly throughout Casey’s book, where he says correct things, rightly shoots down bad arguments some mythicists make, or gainsays arguments that are indeed bad (even if his take-down isn’t all that good). His debunking of the “no synagogues” argument is actually almost good (unlike much of the book, he surveys a lot of evidence and scholarship in a short space succinctly making his point: 3-2636; this is what the rest of the book should have looked like). He’s quite right that it’s silly to say the phrase “Disciples of the Pharisees” is anachronistic (3-2676). His tear down of Freke & Gandy’s claims about mystery religions is well-deserved (although I do not fully trust Casey’s treatment, I know myself they get tons wrong). His treatment of Salm is dishonest (he cherry picks Salm’s weak arguments and ignores his strong ones; and doesn’t tell his readers that some of Salm’s suggestions, such as that Mark intended Capernaum to be Jesus’ hometown, are made in mainstream peer reviewed academic journals), but his conclusion is still correct: you can’t argue Jesus didn’t exist by arguing Nazareth didn’t exist. (Note: It has been unclear how much Salm himself actually argues that, but many do use his argument that way.)

And so on.

Hence when Dan Barker says “the early years of the Roman Republic is one of the most historically documented times in history,” Casey is quite right in his rebuttal (1-378; although Casey misses the additional error that the “early years of the Roman Republic” would mean centuries before Jesus; Barker means Roman Empire, a rookie mistake). Likewise, all the instances where Casey takes mythicists to task for relying on woefully outdated scholarship (a point I’ve been making for years), or making ridiculous armchair etymological arguments, and so on, although he always implies all mythicists make these mistakes, which is not true. And notably, historicity defenders can be caught at all these errors, too (as Casey himself knows, given all his rants against “fundamentalists,” but sometimes even mainstream scholars screw the pooch, e.g. Schlueter…and, as we’ve seen extensively documented, Casey.) So, some humility might be in order.

But Too Often, Wrong

I’m content to allow my books Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus to stand as sufficient rebuttal to Casey. I just had to document here a lot of the awful in this book anyway–for the benefit of lay readers, if nothing else. But besides all I’ve surveyed, which is just a sample (seriously!), there is much in this book that either (a) doesn’t even rebut what’s in PH or OHJ (so his book is useless as a rebuttal to them) or (b) is soundly rebutted in PH or OHJ already (as if somehow I magically knew what stupid things he’d say in this book). Overall, Caseys’ Jesus is useless to the point of embarrassing, and it required not even a single revision to On the Historicity of Jesus before going to press: it already thoroughly refutes Casey’s book before I had even read it. Likewise Proving History, which he doesn’t even answer at all.

To quote Casey himself: “this is the most incompetent book by a professional scholar that I have ever read” (7-5898). I recommend Casey’s book for comparative or entertainment purposes only.


  1. I have a feeling that all the rebuttals to Dr. Carrier’s review of Casey’s book are going to dwell on how rude he is.

    Because – as weak as this strategy may be – it’s about all they have.

  2. Paul D. March 4, 2014, 12:31 am

    I’ve been looking forward to this review, so thanks for all your hard work on it.

    A few niggling comments:
    • The antisemitic verse generally thought to be an interpolation is in 1 Thessalonians 2:16, not in 2 Thessalonians.
    • Job is very much a Second Temple text, albeit a subversive one, so it still probably couldn’t be used to make whatever point Casey is making.

    Also, Mark’s grasp of the Sabbath and the Jewish calendar wasn’t all that great. He forgets in Mk 15:42 that the Sabbath begins at sundown, and he fails to realize that the Passover Lamb is sacrificed before the Festival of Unleavened Bread in Mk 14:12.

    1. Thank you. Dittographed the two in my head. Fixed.

      Job is variably dated, but true, some dates do make it just inside the 2nd temple period. I’ll revise.

      Casey would dispute your point about Mark (in fact I seem to recall he even does in this book). I find that a bottomless pit of Christian apologetics (descending into minutiae about exactly what each particular word might mean etc.). Since it doesn’t matter to me what the conclusion is, I’m going to leave others to debate it (since I find it tedious). Not that I mind others debating it. Would love to read a conclusive and thorough (and competent) debate on it. I just have better things to do with my time than to participate in that digression.

  3. Daryl Carpenter March 4, 2014, 1:26 am

    “He needs 2 Thessalonians 2:14-16 to be authentic…”

    Should that be 1 Thessalonians?

  4. Will March 4, 2014, 3:28 am

    Great review. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times and nearly shot vitamin water out my nose. (no exaggeration!) Especially in the “Crazy Uncles” section. OMG! This book will be one I will not bother with. Sounds like it has almost nothing to offer in the historicity debate. I guess that’s strike two for their side. I agree Goodacre’s will probably be the best though. Anyway, can’t wait for OHJ!

  5. Jer March 4, 2014, 4:54 am

    The observation you make about hyper-concrete thinking is interesting. I’ve been long wondering why folks like Casey – who IIRC isn’t a Christian – or Bart Ehrman have such a vested interest in the historicity of Jesus that they can’t even allow historical agnosticism as a possibility. Even questioning historicity is a grave error worthy of an entire book of arguments against cherry-picked examples of mythicist arguments.

    I’ve been figuring that it’s because their academic careers have been built on an assumption of a historical Jesus, and so anything that questions that makes their entire careers a pointless waste. After all, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Casey certainly fits the bill with that one, given his Aramaic language arguments. But maybe that’s backwards.

  6. ROO BOOKAROO March 4, 2014, 5:13 am

    21,000 words only to let us know that Casey’s book is worthless.
    Why should we ever waste any time ever leafing through it, when there is so much worthwhile literature to read, including those famous “irrelevant” books of 19th-century scholarship or even earlier?

    1. I am an educator. It is my responsibility as a scholar to educate the public. When tomes of misinformation are disseminated to the public on a major item of discussion, breaking it down and assessing it is what I’m for.

      Besides, if I just said it sucked, people would say I didn’t give any examples. If I then gave examples, they’d say I only gave a few and a few isn’t enough to prove the whole book is as bad as I say. If I gave more examples, they’d say that’s still not enough. By the time I get to the end of that conversation, I would have said all the things I said in this post anyway.

      So why not just skip the games, cut to the chase, and write what everyone would make me write in the end anyway?

      You might be able to tell I’ve been on this hamster wheel many times before. Knowing how it ends makes it easier to just skip all the running and jump right to the end of the conversation.

      It even saves you time!

  7. Thanks for the thorough review. I ended up reading Ehrman’s book anyway and found it wasn’t too terrible if you already knew the parts where he wasn’t telling you the whole story (i.e. you weren’t an average reader). This one I will skip based on the review.

    I was already inclined to skip it after reading him online at places like Hoffmann’s blog. He seemed to me to be the kind of guy that is incapable of making clear arguments. He rambles and is prone to falling into the apologetical tendency to think any dreamed up excuse for inconvenient data is good enough.

    1. That’s a good comparison. Ehrman actually writes well, and is organized, and makes it easy to understand what he’s arguing. And isn’t as prone to constantly falling back on just-so stories birthed from his idiosyncratic paradigm.

  8. Note: James McGrath has replied, of course, and doesn’t say anything significant (as usual), except that he complains that I only cherry picked the awful and didn’t address Casey’s “substantive” points. McGrath gives no examples. Of course.

    I am most curious what McGrath thinks is important in Casey’s book that I didn’t address. I will respond to any that he points out. I will listen to the crickets in the meantime. McGrath also doesn’t explain why he thinks the dozens of examples of failures and gaffes and deceptions I documented are not enough to demonstrate the consistency of the awful in this book. Also, McGrath doesn’t know how fallacies work.

    For the rest, anyone who reads my review will be corrected on all the ways McGrath misrepresents it, so no further rebuttal is required.

    And for those who need context, McGrath is a Christian apologist well known for making extremely embarrassing mistakes of fact about ancient history in his defense of historicity. See here.

    1. Just to be clear, James isn’t an apologist. He’s a legitimate scholar at Butler University. However, I think James likes playing the role of the ‘guy in the guild’ and defends (sometimes apologetically) the mainstream viewpoint to a hardliner end. That is a shame. I don’t think he reads everything all the way through–and I’ve caught him on that here:

      (and so have you…here: and here:

      –but I think that he is open to being wrong once it is thoroughly demonstrated and he has apologized for making those reading errors previously (here:

      So we’ll just have to see what he does next. I’m not convinced he read Casey’s book (maybe he skimmed parts of it) and I doubt he took the time to parse your response against it (which is what he probably should have done–maybe he did, but I don’t think James is incompetent; just busy–not that it is an excuse since he did publicly embarrass himself by defending this travesty of a book in the first place).

      1. All I see from McGrath is Christian apologetics. There is no Power Rangers Force Field that prevents Christian apologists from being hired by universities. Infamous example: Jerry Vardaman. Just saying.

        Regarding your “guy in the guild” point (I concur: that is also, incidentally, what a Christian apologist is), I would remind readers to re-read (or read, if you didn’t already) Widowfield’s discourse on exactly that as a serious problem undermining the credibility of the profession, especially in this case. McGrath isn’t only damaging his own reputation with things like this.

        Your second link from me is the one I provided in the comment you are responding to. But good memory in the other case–although readers new to that conversation will not have an easy time figuring out what happened there. Though it does remind me of similar mistakes he has made, simply not reading the text he criticizes–or even praises. But the one instance of his apologizing you then find is years ago, and since never repeated. He has actually become more dogmatic and pulpit-thumping ever since (and has begun making even more mistakes and not owning up to them), so I think he has chosen the path of hall-of-mirrors, rather than the path of willing-to-admit-wrongs. Another sign of a Christian apologist. He’s a progressive at least. But it would seem he still cannot abide firmly-spoken atheists and anyone who shows his Scriptures are deeply flawed, and he cannot abide even the barest thought that his religion is partly influenced by paganism and largely produced by lies.

        Finally, someone who states firm opinions about the content and value of an article without having read it is by definition incompetent. A competent busy person says they haven’t read it.

    2. neilgodfrey March 4, 2014, 1:09 pm

      Before I was aware McGrath had replied I pointed out that he fails to give examples of the faults he claims riddle Carrier’s review. This is typical of McGrath method of “argument”. I have encouraged readers to try to coax him (and Crossley) to provide specific instances of Casey’s decisive arguments and exposures of “mythicists”. I don’t expect any response other than more invective. I also point out where Jim West has taken to lying in order to defend is ignorant support for the book.

      1. I should note that (in response to a point you make in that post) I am certain McGrath could find examples of “two ‘scholarly details’ Casey advances to deal with the subject seriously” and “an illustration of something…informative” and “conclusions Casey makes clear are ‘mainstream scholarly ones’,” as even my review points to examples, so I assume you mean to test whether McGrath actually even read the book, and not to imply it lacks any such information (per the point I make at the end, there are some correct things in this book; they don’t affect the best case for mythicism, but that’s a separate question).

    3. Tim Bos March 4, 2014, 2:22 pm

      I asked him if he could go over the “substantive points” you failed to address in your review of Casey’s book. This was his response:

      “I have wanted to do that, and at this point found myself at a slight disadvantage, having read the manuscript in an early stage in early 2012. It is not as fresh in my mind as I would like, to be able to sum it up. I probably ought to have written a review then, but since books change in the process, I didn’t want to assume that it would remain the same.

      I did point out that focusing on Ascension of Isaiah being early second as opposed to late first century is really beside the point. I take it that didn’t change. I wrote in a note to myself, “In section on Ascension of Isaiah, perhaps note that a scholarly argument for a LATE FIRST to early second date has been made.There is no need to focus on late first century being too early, when early second century is not much later, and it is still post-Pauline and does not mean what Doherty claims.”

      In connection with chapter 5, I wrote, “wonderful treatment of why things not found in Paul’s letters should not be there for obvious reasons. Rightly blasts Doherty’s view of Paul as someone who ought to have been interested in relics. Shows lens of later Catholicism.”

      In connection with chapter 6, I wrote, “Exposes Murdock’s false claims, and that the assertion that Apollonius was known as “Nazarene” comes from a spiritualist and hollow-earther, not historical evidence!”

      What I considered most significant, as I recall, was the attention to detail, the evidence that Mark drew on Aramaic sources, whether written or oral, which reflect the dialect spoken in Galilee and which are unlikely to have been invented by someone writing in Greek in another part of the world, and are less likely to have been accurately forged by such an author than remembered.

      I am hoping to reread the book now that it is released and do a proper review.”

      I politely (perhaps too politely) pointed out that you did in fact address these points (with the exception of the Murdock thing). He replied:

      “Yes, there are other more substantive things, which overlap with Casey’s earlier book Jesus of Nazareth which I have also been reading. I will blog about both, eventually, and dive into the details. In the mean time, you can see some of my blogging about Doherty’s book a while back here on this blog, if you are interested.”

      1. I did point out that focusing on Ascension of Isaiah being early second as opposed to late first century is really beside the point.

        Like my review said. Wait, I thought McGrath was supposed to be helping Casey? And coming up with things I didn’t address?

        In connection with chapter 5, I wrote, “wonderful treatment of why things not found in Paul’s letters should not be there for obvious reasons. Rightly blasts Doherty’s view of Paul as someone who ought to have been interested in relics. Shows lens of later Catholicism.”

        Addressed here (specifically) and here (generally, covered by the “And so on,” which I set apart as a whole paragraph, i.e. I agree on the relics thing: low hanging fruit).

        Again, I thought he was supposed to be coming up with significant things I didn’t address?

        In connection with chapter 6, I wrote, “Exposes Murdock’s false claims, and that the assertion that Apollonius was known as “Nazarene” comes from a spiritualist and hollow-earther, not historical evidence!”

        Again, I covered that here (generically).

        Still waiting for something significant.

        I already covered the low-hanging fruit angle in the very first paragraph describing the book (“The best way to describe this book…”).

        And in the concluding sections said “there are occasions, scattered randomly throughout Casey’s book, where he says correct things, rightly shoots down bad arguments some mythicists make.”

        So, still waiting for something significant I didn’t cover.

        What I considered most significant, as I recall, was the attention to detail, the evidence that Mark drew on Aramaic sources, whether written or oral, which reflect the dialect spoken in Galilee and which are unlikely to have been invented by someone writing in Greek in another part of the world, and are less likely to have been accurately forged by such an author than remembered.

        Which my review didn’t cover at all.

        Except, oh wait, it totally did!

        And McGrath’s remark here betrays no knowledge of what I said, and just repeats the same errors I called out, and offers no response to them. More importantly, there is no response to them in Casey’s book. This is why I mentioned upthread that I suspect McGrath has just decided to be a liar. Instead of admitting he didn’t read my review before commenting on it, he now proves (embarrassingly) that he did not read it, yet won’t admit it, nor apologize for it. But spins wool to save face. Exactly like Ehrman did. This should disgrace anyone claiming to be a scholar.

        “Yes, there are other more substantive things, which overlap with Casey’s earlier book Jesus of Nazareth which I have also been reading. I will blog about both, eventually, and dive into the details. In the mean time, you can see some of my blogging about Doherty’s book a while back here on this blog, if you are interested.”

        “There are definitely some substantive things Carrier didn’t address. I just can’t think of any.”

        I’m not sure he realizes that’s called lying.

        (But lest someone fail in their ACHR I’ll spell it out: If you say “you know there are examples of x,” but can’t think of any examples of x, then when you said “you know there are examples of x,” you were lying. By definition.)

    4. neilgodfrey March 4, 2014, 2:30 pm

      I’d really like him to respond to the points he feels are substantive because then a discussion can begin with what his real criticisms are and the extent to which he has thought through the grounds for the historicity argument. I might add a note to make that clear.

      I once put out a similar challenge to Casey but of course his messenger, Steph, relayed to me that I was only being rude and that he does not respond to bloggers.

      Thanks for this review. I feel I am in an easier position to post some of my own views on the book because of it. Knowing the background to the book (through many exchanges with Steph, Casey and Hoffmann a few years ago) I have till now been reluctant to appear to be continuing the shit from those days or to be giving any appearance of defensiveness.

      But it really becomes very painful to spend much time on rubbish like this.

      1. He does not respond to bloggers!?

        (Oh shit, someone better not tell him he wrote a whole book in which almost all he does is respond to bloggers.)

        I understand your position. I say just embrace the motto: tell the truth, line your ducks, be your own Devil’s Advocate, and if anyone still catches you wrong, correct yourself. If they did all that, we wouldn’t have to slap them like this.

    5. Tim Bos March 4, 2014, 4:30 pm

      There’s more.

      I asked him to confirm that he could not actually, off the top of his head, think of any substantive points that you failed to address (as he obviously had not discussed any, either in his blog or his first reply to my question). He replied:

      “As I said, I read it in early 2012, and while my recall is good, I am hesitant to rely on memory after so much time to discuss the details, especially as I may be running together his treatment of a topic in his other book with this one. But I also think that some of the points Carrier mentions are much too strong to be dismissed summarily in a blog post. Casey’s argument that actual recollection of precisely what Jesus said is to be found in Mark on occasion is cogent. Whether it is deemed likely to be correct or not will require long-term scholarly discussion and analysis, not a quick dismissal in a blog post.

      Looking back over the draft, Casey does a good job, I think, of showing that most of the blogging mythicists – like Doherty, Godfrey, and Carr – are not accurately representing mainstream scholarship, when for instance they claim that mainstream scholars working on the historical Jesus do not use generally accepted methods of historical study.

      He has lots of useful details that those outside of the field often miss, which can contribute to a misestimation of the situation – for instance, when he notes that Constantine’s order that multiple Bibles be copied at his expense, that amounted to a grand total of 50 copies. Often times, modern people assume that Christians, and even state-sponsored Christian activities, were more substantive and numerous than they were, expecting ancient Christianity to be rather like today’s. And so the numbers and dates of manuscripts that we have may seem small and late by today’s standards, but significant when considered in their ancient context.

      His exploration of the Jewish context, which really doesn’t fit with the divine/celestial figure that mythicists make Jesus out to originally have been (Carrier’s statement about Michael the angel doesn’t give the impression that he is really familiar with the Judaism of the period), is also important.

      And while few will accept Casey’s argument for an early date for the Gospel of Mark, when combined with the evidence of Aramaic sources behind our Greek text, the view that we have some very early sources is again, not something that can be dismissed, not least by someone whose acquaintance with the relevant language and sources is either superficial or non-existent.

      Part of the problem is that Carrier is dismissing Casey’s criticisms of other mythicists, distancing himself from the latter when necessary, but Carrier has not yet offered his own case for us to see in detail how much or little of Doherty’s nonsense he actually relies on.”

      It looks like he’s shifted the discussion from “Carrier does not address substantive issues” to “Carrier is wrong about the substantive issues.”

      1. But I also think that some of the points Carrier mentions are much too strong to be dismissed summarily in a blog post.

        Irrelevant unless I’m wrong about something.

        Am I?

        I like how they complain I write too much, and then when they realize they have no rebuttal, they complain that it’s not enough.

        I think if I wrote 20,000 pages instead of 20,000 words he’d still say I didn’t do it justice.

        “One needs to cover it in an encyclopedia, a monograph is too short.”

        So I write an encyclopedia.

        “Obsessed much? That proves his book is really good!”

        Casey’s argument that actual recollection of precisely what Jesus said is to be found in Mark on occasion is cogent. Whether it is deemed likely to be correct or not will require long-term scholarly discussion and analysis, not a quick dismissal in a blog post.

        I wrote a point by point critique with examples. That is not a “brief dismissal.”

        Again, McGrath is just a little quisling liar. By now he must know I made substantive points against this argument of Casey’s book, and yet McGrath doesn’t even mention a single reply to those points (ironically instead issuing a “quick dismissal”…pot, kettle…someone needs to give this guy a mirror, stat).

        So here’s what just happened. McGrath first claims I didn’t address it. Then when someone points out I did, extensively, he says it’s too brief. Now we point out it’s not brief but detailed. He responds it’s not detailed enough (but states no reason why, nor responds to what’s been said already). What lie will he tell next?

        Why can’t he just stop lying and actually read my critique and admit I did cover this and that Casey had no response to any of my points in his book?

        Take note: even if McGrath can think of replies to my points, that would not change the fact that they aren’t in Casey’s book.

        But McGrath can’t even think of replies to my points himself!

        Looking back over the draft, Casey does a good job, I think, of showing that most of the blogging mythicists – like Doherty, Godfrey, and Carr – are not accurately representing mainstream scholarship, when for instance they claim that mainstream scholars working on the historical Jesus do not use generally accepted methods of historical study.

        Apart from McGrath repeating the same false generalization fallacy I called Casey on (showing again McGrath didn’t read my review), I already acknowledge the general vague point McGrath is now making. In my review. The review he said didn’t discuss this “substantive” point. The review he didn’t read. The review he is still dishonestly saying doesn’t address all the things that in fact it does.

        He has lots of useful details that those outside of the field often miss, which can contribute to a misestimation of the situation – for instance, when he notes that Constantine’s order that multiple Bibles be copied at his expense, that amounted to a grand total of 50 copies. Often times, modern people assume that Christians, and even state-sponsored Christian activities, were more substantive and numerous than they were, expecting ancient Christianity to be rather like today’s. And so the numbers and dates of manuscripts that we have may seem small and late by today’s standards, but significant when considered in their ancient context.

        Again, covered here. (Indeed that would go under the “isn’t all that good” category, but it’s so trivial a point I see no need to address it. It won’t be relevant to the differential evidence I present in OHJ. And even at its best, it isn’t relevant to the best mythicist arguments. Exactly as my review said: he doesn’t respond to the best. He just hits low hanging fruit.)

        His exploration of the Jewish context, which really doesn’t fit with the divine/celestial figure that mythicists make Jesus out to originally have been (Carrier’s statement about Michael the angel doesn’t give the impression that he is really familiar with the Judaism of the period), is also important.

        In what way is my statement about Michael incorrect? Oh no, is McGrath going to embarrass himself by claiming no one in antiquity referred to angels as divine beings or treated them as divine beings or assigned them the attributes of divine beings? Because that would be delicious.

        And nice going, McGrath, committing the same error my review hangs Casey on: false generalizing to all mythicists, exactly in response to a statement that I and other mythicists do not take the position McGrath is here saying a critique of which is “substantive” and that I didn’t address but oh wait yeah the fuck I did.

        Why is this guy still employed?

        And while few will accept Casey’s argument for an early date for the Gospel of Mark, when combined with the evidence of Aramaic sources behind our Greek text, the view that we have some very early sources is again, not something that can be dismissed, not least by someone whose acquaintance with the relevant language and sources is either superficial or non-existent.

        Nice job, McGrath, ignoring everything my review said about how to treat the dating of documents. And how Casey fails to tell the public any of that but in fact deceives the public on almost every point he makes about dating the documents. Oh, and that counts as having addressed this, BTW. Weren’t we supposed to be listing substantive points I didn’t address?

        Also nice job committing the very fallacy I called Casey out on, without even being aware of doing it, proving again McGrath didn’t read my review: “[Casey] thinks my saying that is to impugn his knowledge of Aramaic, but in fact I am not judging that at all. I am certain every statement he has ever made about Aramaic is 100% correct and I completely trust him as an authority on that. And still his case for Aramaic sources fails. Because it fails on its own internal logic.”

        Either McGrath didn’t read my review (and is therefore a liar) or he is lying about my review (and is therefore a liar).

        Part of the problem is that Carrier is dismissing Casey’s criticisms of other mythicists, distancing himself from the latter when necessary, but Carrier has not yet offered his own case for us to see in detail how much or little of Doherty’s nonsense he actually relies on.”

        Pants on fire. He knows damn well I have publicly stated and published criticisms of the same mythicists for years. He dares to suggest that I am somehow “distancing myself from” them now? And he knows damn the fuck well I have offered my own case, and that it passed peer review at a major academic press, and will soon be released.

        But to the point, Casey failed to make distinctions among high and low quality scholars and thus made false statements about what “mythicists” believe. That’s a fact. My review catches him at it. McGrath has no defense to offer.

        So where is the substantive point in Casey’s book I missed?

        It looks like he’s shifted the discussion from “Carrier does not address substantive issues” to “Carrier is wrong about the substantive issues.”

        Yep. Christian apologetics 101: when they catch you in a lie, move the goal posts.

        But now he has to show not that one can answer my criticisms, but that Casey addressed them in his book. Otherwise Casey’s book still has all the defects I enumerate.

        I’m better at this sport than McGrath. He needs to just retire. He’s going to have a heart attack running all over the field with those awful heavy goalposts.

    6. neilgodfrey March 4, 2014, 5:48 pm

      In one of the comments above I see McGrath quoted as saying “mythicists’ like Doherty, Carr and me misrepresent biblical scholars as not using the same historical methods as other historians — and he also points to his reviews of Doherty’s book.

      Maybe I will do a post on my blog after all. Once I amazingly managed to coax McGrath in answering a question of mine directly: I asked him to explain in his own words what he believed my argument about historical methods was. He failed. He had no idea what he thought he was arguing about — he had no idea what I was saying in the posts he was criticizing.

      And to suggest that Doherty and others argue my point is nonsense. My discussion of historical methods stands independently of any argument for mythicism. No matter how many times I tried to point that out he just couldn’t/wouldn’t hear. In fact I quote McGrath himself to establish my point. He is the one who says NT scholars could be paving the way for new methods in historiography with their (distortions of) postmodernism and memory-theory.

      As for his reviews of Doherty, I regularly demonstrated that McG wrote that D said things he did not say and did not say things he spent pages explaining. I don’t believe McG could tell you even after his “reviews” what Doherty’s argument actually is.

      This historical method argument by Casey and McGrath is a nonsense. I spent many months discussing it in painstaking detail with McGrath but whenever he could see where the logic was leading he backed out and like a one cornered he returned to his tried and true vindictive form.

      I love the way Casey trashed the left wing historian Eric Hobsbawm when his friend Crossley spent pages employing Hobsbawm’s models in his “Why Christianity Happened”. Casey demonstrated no idea what my argument was. Nor ever did Steph when she first attacked my posts on the topic.

      1. Right, well noted.

        I should have pointed out that McGrath didn’t actually cite any examples of what he meant. I was being charitable and interpreting what he said as broadly as possible, so as to cover any slip imaginable, and thus saying I didn’t mention that Casey catches out some such errors. Hence I only noted that I did mention that Casey catches out some such errors. Although maybe not the exact specific error McGrath had in mind.

        I should have said as well that if McGrath means Casey schooled the named “bloggers” (Doherty is a published author, but we’ll set that aside) on historical method, then in fact I addressed that quite directly and scathingly (it’s one of the crazy uncles I mention). So now McGrath needs to find in that chapter anywhere that Casey actually explains what historical method is. I wish him luck.

    7. neilgodfrey March 4, 2014, 6:22 pm

      Just to complete the record here, one of my key points was nothing more than addressing the most fundamental principles on how to handle sources as set out in almost any handbook for postgraduate historians. The one that came to McG’s attention was by Howell and Prevenier. Another work McG quote-mined as an authority for his claims was a work on oral history by Jan Vansina.

      In both cases I was able to quote from those works to show they contradicted the point McG was using them to make.

      He doesn’t read carefully. He reads with hostile intent. He skims tendentiously. How do people like this become associate professors and maintain their professional reputations among peers?

    8. Tim Bos March 4, 2014, 6:57 pm

      You’re probably over it at this point, but after some further probing, I did get this from McGrath:

      “I probably could have expressed myself more clearly in my original post. In many instances Carrier does indeed touch on some detail related to a substantive point, in a manner that suggests that he has adequately dealt with and dispatched the issue, when the criticisms are largely superficial or relate to specific details but do not do justice to the extent of Casey’s treatment of the various aspects of the topic in question.”

  9. Roger Viklund March 4, 2014, 12:42 pm

    It’s not just the ideas of the mythicists (or rather the Jesus-minimalists) that Casey seems to misrepresent. I get the feeling that Stanley E. Porter was quite upset when he wrote the following:

    ‘One of the first points to notice is that Casey mischaracterizes my position. Regarding the question of the language in which Jesus taught, after rightly noting that most opt for Aramaic, Casey states that “those particularly expert in Greek or Hebrew have argued that he taught primarily in the one or the other. Recently, Professor S. E. Porter has reopened the question with a vigorous restatement of the view that Jesus taught in Greek. A regrettable feature of Professor Porter’s work is that he downplays or even omits important Aramaic evidence.” I explicitly reject the disjunction that Casey tries to force me into. The question, to my mind, is not whether Jesus taught in Aramaic or Greek, but whether there is evidence that he also taught in Greek, without necessarily downgrading the fact that he undoubtedly taught in Aramaic.’ Stanley E. Porter, “Jesus and the Use of Greek: A Response to Maurice Casey”, Bulletin for Biblical Research, 10:1 (2000): pp. 71-87 (76-77).

    Porter then goes on to quote what he actually wrote in the previous article and where he explicitly stated what Casey said he did not.

    It is really disturbing when someone imputes ideas upon you; ideas you don’t hold and tries to refute arguments you never made. It’s sloppy not to study your opponent’s argument enough to at least know them.

  10. “Blogger Godfrey” absolutely needs to be the name of a character in a parody of Pilgrim’s Progress set in an allegorized Land of Social Media.

    It’s tangential to the discussion, but as regards abstract categorical and hypothetical reasoning abilities on the part of the steppe natives, I think the deficit is likely in global abstract categorical and hypothetical reasoning. Just as the author says “the peasants refused, or were unable, to reason hypothetically”, I think that if you framed a problem in hypothetical reasoning in such a way that it invoked elements of the immediate material and social milieus of the people in question, you would find that they readily were able to engage. What they apparently refuse to do is to universalize a hypothetical or attempt to reason about places and things outside of their immediate experience. As the author summarizes “Historically, neither peasants, nor laborers, nor tradespeople nor, indeed, practically anyone anywhere had much use for such skills prior to the 20th Century, except philosophers, scientists, and perhaps a few others.” I think this gets at the point, that these skills are not obviously useful under “baseline” conditions. Someone living at subsistence level in a harsh environment where cooperation and social cohesion are matters of survival is likely to see such ruminations as not just frivolous but actually dangerous and counterproductive.

    Lastly, could you suggest any resources for study of the Ascension of Isaiah?

    1. Resources on Asc. Is. are listed in the article above. Knight is the only one to have written monographs on it in the last fifty years. There are many flaws in his reasoning, but he points to pretty much all other literature on the subject.

      On the tangential point, it’s true that concrete thought can be used to think hypothetically, but only at the level of concrete particulars, not second order abstractions. And, it should be noted, it’s not that anyone either has ACH or lacks it. Everyone has it, it’s just that some people have a lot less of it than others. And (per Flynn’s analysis) more and more people have it now in modern societies than ever before (by an enormous differential), due to changes in our society, education system, and media (e.g. the ubiquity of novels). But importantly, even people in ancient societies could have/develop higher levels of it and employ it: those people often become elitists and looked down their noses at the simpletons (and manipulate them). Origen even discourses on the difference, and the role it played in Christian power structure and media.

    2. neilgodfrey March 4, 2014, 1:17 pm

      I would like to think that one can find a relatively easy but by no means dumbed down introduction to the Ascension of Isaiah in my 2011 posts covering the arguments of Charles, Knibb and Sparks for the date of the Ascension. The same archive includes other aspects of the work, too, such as the various layers and interpretations of what really happened to the Christ figure as he descended towards Planet Earth. The posts are not comprehensive of course, and they reflect different interpretations, but I try to present a clear and graphic portrayal of some of the key questions that are addressed in the literature.

  11. Mark Weber March 4, 2014, 1:54 pm

    Speaking of high context cultures:

    Casey and the historicity of Jesus. Shaka, when the walls fell.

    1. Oh, snap!

      I use a sci-fi aficionado example for high context discourse, you give me a spot-on sci-fi aficionado high context TNG reference.

      And I just responded with a lower context discourse about it.

      To quote Spike that Halloween, “Well, this is just…neat!”

      1. While we’re on that, can you explain why you don’t know that the Carrier-Doherty thesis is that Jesus assumed a body of flesh in the firmament then discarded it when he ascended in his new resurrection body? Ahem, that’s a two body theory. And it’s a mythicist thesis.

        If you can’t even be bothered to understand our theory, why do you consider yourself qualified to critique it? You are just making yourself look like a fool. Please, to save the last scraps of your own reputation, stop. Either pay attention or stop pretending you are.

    2. I can understand why you get upset if someone draws attention to the fact that you used to accept the historicity of Jesus, and made cases that were built on that foundation, given your current disrespect for anyone who holds such views. But saying that this somehow means I have not understood the “Carrier-Doherty thesis” and makes me look like a fool is not going to help you make the case that what you have to offer is a serious scholarly proposal. I disagree with a great many scholars, including Maurice Casey. But he is not a fool, far from it, he is a rewarding conversation partner to have, even on points about which I am persuaded that he has drawn the wrong conclusion. If you want to offer scholarship then I think you may find you need to get used to interacting with scholars in a manner that is different than the language of internet apologetics.

      1. Wait, I used to accept the historicity of Jesus, and evidence and argument and research proved me wrong and I admitted it, and that is supposed to count against me?

        So, you are with Casey in agreeing that no one should ever change their mind, and that if they do, it is a sign of their being wrong.

        I would advise everyone to read what I said about that pernicious attitude in the very review above. It means you scorn the idea of ever admitting you are wrong.

        But let’s set aside that red herring and point out again that you stupidly didn’t even get my point.

        You argued that my belief in a two body resurrection entails historicity (therefore my arguments for a two body resurrection are the “best” argument for historicity). I pointed out that it did not entail that but in fact was explicitly compatible with mythicism and had been since at least Doherty’s thesis was published (long before I published). And I pointed out that you should know that. And that your not knowing that made your argument patently foolish.

        Your response? To still not even understand what I just said.

        And that is why you are being called a fool, James McGrath.

        (BTW, the funnier thing is that I was becoming a historicity agnostic in 2002; I continued assuming historicity for the sake of argument in my subsequent work, as I considered the alternative still unproven–including my work on the resurrection you refer to, which was published in 2005; even in Not the Impossible Faith, the last edition of which I published in 2009, I didn’t challenge historicity. That’s how responsible scholars behave: they assume the consensus paradigm until they are sure they can disprove or challenge it. As now I can, having researched and written two peer reviewed books on it. Yet you seem to think acting like a responsible scholar is a defect. That is one more reason to consider you a fraud.)

        1. No, you seem unable to respond without misrepresentation. If you held the view without being an idiot at the time you held it, why do you insist on treating scholars as idiots who hold now the view that you once held? Why not instead work us through the process that changed your mind, open to the possibility that, if the same reasoning does not change our minds, it may be for some reason other than idiocy?

        2. I do not call scholars who believe in historicity idiots (you would know that if you read all the comments here, where I show respect to several such people). I call scholars who say phenomenally stupid things fools. You made an argument just now that was phenomenally foolish. So I called you a fool. Not because you believe in historicity. Because you said something patently foolish.

          Figure this out.


    3. P.S. In case anyone wants to know how much of a fool McGrath is, here is a quotation from the very chapter he was quoting from to make his foolish argument:

      “First, the view I will defend in this chapter [of a two-body resurrection belief] is compatible with both historicist and ahistoricist interpretations of the life of Jesus.”

      The Empty Tomb, p. 106 (published in 2005)

    1. That’s Tim O’Neil.

      What I said in response to someone mentioning him in this other thread pertains here:

      O’Neil is something of a disgruntled hack. He doesn’t really have any relevant competence in this field, and doesn’t make much of an effort to check his armchair claims before making them, and is well known to argue dishonestly. See David Fitzgerald on this point.

      In fact, O’Neil is a documented liar (although the thread in which he blatantly lied has been, so far as I know, removed, I have a screenshot of it in my files; it’s referenced in the last paragraph of my comment here).

    2. Tim O June 21, 2014, 5:47 pm

      “That’s Tim O’Neil.”

      Says the incompetent who can’t even spell my name correctly.

      “See David Fitzgerald on this point. ”

      See my detailed response to Fitzgerald’s smoke-and-mirrors HERE. Though that contains some trenchant criticisms of the blogger Carrier, so there is a good chance this comment will never see the light of day here. He’s like “Acharya S” that way.

      “In fact, O’Neil is a documented liar”

      “Documented” = “I say this but don’t bother to prove it”

      ” I have a screenshot of it in my files”

      Suuuure you do Dicky. You pathetic little clown.

      1. Okay. You asked for it:

        Here is your lie.

        Here is where I explain those lies, in response to this.

        You are a liar, Tim. I am quite certain no one can trust a word you say.

        That you just lied again, claiming I didn’t have evidence of your lying, kind of proves my point.

    3. Tim O June 26, 2014, 1:02 pm

      “Here is your lie.”

      You’ve got to be kidding me. All this sturm und drang over some petty petulance about me “claiming I had grossly misspelled the words he quotes (even indicating this with “sic”)”? Hilarious.

      Sorry to break it to you pal, but if you had bothered to read up the thread on that discussion, the person who had made the gross misspelling of “almmost verbatum” was the person I was responding to – “Valjean24601”. I was quoting them, not you.

      “You asked for it:”

      Like being flogged with wet lettuce, as usual. Enjoy your unemployment.

      PS This exchange will be shared around a couple of fora. So if you don’t publish this comment, this will be noted and added to a tally of your shifty behaviour.

      1. That’s not what that post of yours says: you are there discussing your conversation with me, and then attribute that misspelling to me. And indeed, I show you quoting my actual words elsewhere correctly. Thus you knew I did not misspell those words. Yet you still created the appearance that I did. Knowingly.

        And that’s not the only thing you misrepresent there, BTW. As anyone who reads the whole context of my remark can see, I point out more than one error (since I was asked about your comments as a whole). You have a nasty habit of grossly misrepresenting the people and arguments you are talking about. And you never correct yourself or even admit it (like now). That makes you unreliable.

        And your behavior here establishes you as a childish asshole.

        So why are we bothering with you?

    4. Tim O June 26, 2014, 8:39 pm

      “you are there discussing your conversation with me …

      Indeed I was. However …

      ” … and then attribute that misspelling to me.”

      No, you just imagined that I did. If you had read up the thread that “Valjean24601″ person kept cutting and pasting you using the expression “almost verbatim” but when they themselves used that phrase they kept spelling it as “almost verbatum” and the last time they used it they used “almmost verbatum”. So, as I have already explained to you, I was quoting them not you. The fact that they kept cut and pasting you spelling the word correctly and then kept bungling it themselves was actually the point, though it was lost on them, despite me using ” ‘almost verbatum’ (sic)” several times over several replies.

      You are simply wrong.

      I leave others to decide what the fact you bothered to take a screenshot of something mentioning you that was so trivial, save it as a PDF and file it for reference four years later says about you. The kindest observation would be that you must have a great deal of spare time.

      And indeed, I show you quoting my actual words elsewhere correctly. Thus you knew I did not misspell those words. Yet you still created the appearance that I did. Knowingly.

      Wrong. Hilariously wrong. See above. Yes, I use the actual words elsewhere, because – again – my quote of “almmost verbatum” was from “Valjean24601″ and their misspelling of the second word despite cutting and pasting the correct spelling by you. But feel free to keep spreading that egg all over your face if you like. Many are watching and laughing, I can assure you.

      And your behavior here establishes you as a childish asshole.

      Says the guy who has clearly made a simple mistake and yet can’t bring himself to admit it. What do you call that Carrier, maturity? Try admitting you were wrong for once. Here, I’ll help you: “Okay, it seems I mistakenly thought you were misrepresenting what I wrote but you were actually quoting the misspelling of a term I used by the person to whom you were responding. I was wrong.”

      It won’t kill you.

        1. Tim O June 27, 2014, 3:11 pm

          All the information is now available.

          It is. And anyone can see that it shows I was quoting “Valjean” and not you. You even link to me quoting you using that phrase and doing so correctly. And it’s clear that the discussion must have included your use of that phrase earlier with either a quote or a link to you using it (in fact, it had both). So how the hell could I have tried to make out that you misspelled the words “almost verbatim” when anyone reading the thread could see for themselves you didn’t? That makes zero sense.

          You know, yesterday, before your reply above, I had the faintest glimmer of hope that you would surprise me. It’s so completely obvious that you were wrong here that I thought even you would have to admit your mistake or just look like a fatuous, arrogant, narcissistic little dweeb. But even now you can’t bring yourself to choke out those three small words: “I was wrong”. You are absolutely pathetic.

    5. I just find it profoundly odd that someone shows up to argue about spelling from years ago and make childish attacks in response to a reference to his own blog where he basically makes the same fallacious attacks over and over. The basic gist of his position is that some historians are atheists or agnostic and therefore the mythicist position is irrational, completely ignoring intellectual inertia and bias within the evidence itself.

    6. Tim O June 27, 2014, 3:26 pm

      I just find it profoundly odd that someone shows up to argue about spelling from years ago …

      FFS – I am not arguing about “spelling”. I’m challenging a repeated pathetic slander that I am a “proven liar”, when this was previously never substantiated and has now been shown to be based purely on Carrier’s bumbling incompetence.

      Speaking of which …

      The basic gist of his position is that some historians are atheists or agnostic and therefore the mythicist position is irrational,

      That is not the “basic gist” of my arguments at all. Not even close. It seems bad reading comprehension is the norm around here. You have learned from Carrier well.

    7. >But its proponents are almost never scholars, many of them have a very poor grasp of the evidence and almost all have clear ideological objectives. Broadly speaking, they fall into two main categories: (i) New Agers claiming Christianity is actually paganism rebadged and (ii) anti-Christian atheist activists seeking to use their “exposure” of historical Jesus scholarship to undermine Christianity. Both claim that the consensus on the existence of a historical Jesus is purely due to some kind of iron-grip that Christianity still has on the subject, which has suppressed and/or ignored the idea that there was no historical Jesus at all.

      This sort of claim just does two things: it denegrates all non-Christians who aren’t historians (Tim O isn’t actually a historian either, just a hypocrite), and it denegrates everyone who disagrees with Tim O as having ideological bias (but Tim O’s bias is impeccable, so again a hypocrite).

      >In fact, there are some very good reasons there is a broad scholarly consensus on the matter and that it is held by scholars across a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds, including those who are atheists and agnostics (e.g. Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen) and Jews (e.g. Geza Vermes, Hyam Maccoby).

      Tim O goes on to claim that since some historians are atheists and agnostics, therefore there is no good reason to disagree with them. But this is not the gist of his argument. He doesn’t know what it is. All he does is insult people and make demands and argue about spelling, but not waste anytime actually making a relevant point. He feels the burden of proof is actually on the mythicist to show that someone didn’t actually exist when there is no substantial evidence.

      Someone made a spelling mistake, so the mythicist argument is totally on the rocks. Bow to the great Tim O!

      Why bother come here to argue about spelling or make demands that people admit that they are wrong? Why not offer the relevant historical facts?

      1. (The spelling “mistake” trick was in a different context not related to the mythicism debate, just FYI. On the latter one need only compare the childish and illogical behavior of Tim O’Neill and the calm and accurate reply of Fitzgerald. O’Neill is something of an egotistical narcissist, so he will pump his chest and claim he obviously pwned Fizt, but non-delusional people will be able to see for themselves it’s the other way around. And I’m really only interested in the options of the non-delusional.)

  12. Pierce R. Butler March 4, 2014, 5:29 pm

    Future printings, if any, will say on the cover:

    Dr. Richard Carrier, author of …: Seriously. Read it.

  13. Michael Macrossan March 4, 2014, 5:35 pm

    I know you haven’t the time or the inclination, but perhaps you should write the book in defense of historicity. Perhaps you will say your new book includes that?

    1. Well, yes, it does. That is, my book contains the best arguments for historicity that I actually believe in (and the best ones I don’t).

      Someone who actually thinks there are more or better arguments should take this on.

      If Goodacre does it, he will be able to frame it as (at least in part) a response to what I have argued, because Goodacre has read an advance draft of OHJ, and we’ve argued about parts of it, so I know what parts he already is thinking of responses to, and I think those responses would be interesting, in the sense that they would actually advance the debate (even if not to the outcome he expects, but that’s for time to tell). And Goodacre is a careful and reasoned scholar. The only worry I have is that he does not seem to have a good grasp yet of probabilistic reasoning (e.g. my impression is that he still seems over-fond of the possibiliter fallacy). But my showing the probability model for what he does write (i.e. exposing his own assumptions and modeling them mathematically) can be part of advancing the debate. So I don’t see a downside.

    2. Vince Hart March 5, 2014, 9:06 am

      As a chess player, I have found that no matter how hard I try to analyze my own ideas, the best test of my moves is invariably a strong player on the other side of the board who is trying to beat me. If I only play weak opponents, I am prone to overestimate my own strength. I’m still waiting for the historicists to put up some stronger players at the board.

  14. Andrew Brown March 4, 2014, 6:18 pm

    “Paul would never “just exaggerate” in the horribly condemnatory and absolute way he is depicted doing in 1 Thess. 2, indeed he could not, neither historically nor theologically).”

    I must disagree with you there. Pretty much everything in the writing of Pseudo-Paul I (there are no authentic Pauline letters in my opinion) is condemnatory towards Jews and their right to define Judaism; the phrase “wrath of God” or a variant is used 18 times in the Pauline corpus. There is nothing unusual about it appearing in 1 Thes 2. If it’s an allusion to the First Roman War, it would help prove the post-73 origin of all the epistles (as opposed to a mysterious “later interpolation”).

    Don’t take this as a defense of Casey.

    1. Pretty much everything in the writing of Pseudo-Paul I (there are no authentic Pauline letters in my opinion) is condemnatory towards Jews and their right to define Judaism

      That’s untrue. In the link I provide I show quite the contrary. (I also show how Paul, the real Paul, uses “wrath of God,” which is very much contrary to the way it is used in that passage.)

      But you are certainly right on one point: that passage had to have been written post-70. So the only options are: Philippians is a forgery, or that passage is an interpolation. Stylistic analysis argues against the former. That leaves the latter. Also note that Philippians is a pastiche: several letters excerpted and sewn together. One does not do that when one is creating a forgery. One does that when one is trying to redact an authentic body of letters.

  15. Maurice Casey claims to be the world leading expert on reconstructing the original Aramaic behind Greek documents.

    I have yet to be given the name of a single Greek translation of an Aramaic document where Casey has reconstructed the Aramaic original and had it checked against the real Aramaic.

    Casey has never in his life ever once done what he claims to be the world leading authority on doing!

    Doesn’t that not make him a fraud?

    1. That’s a stretch. A fraud would be actually claiming he’d done it, and having lied about it; claiming he can do it could be a genuine belief on his part, and it might not occur to him that his belief might be incorrect and he should test it first. That’s just a mistake.

      Also, I have not checked to confirm he has never done this, so I can’t vouch for that premise.

  16. gshelley March 5, 2014, 5:45 am

    Why is it so hard for people who are trying to defend historicity to accurately represent the mythicist position (or at least a strong version of it, there is obviously not one single view)?. Ehrman was absolutely terrible for this – His first or second chapter dismissed several prominent mythicists by quoting a few of their views and then explaining why they were wrong, but of the ones I was able to actually check, they were either not wrong, or never even said what he claimed.

    Surely, if you are going to do a good, scholarly job of arguing for one position, you don’t just put forward the evidence you think supports this position, you look at both sides, compare both arguments and the claims they make, and see which fits the evidence best.

  17. Chris S March 5, 2014, 5:50 am

    Essentially the same conclusions have been reached by numerous experts in the field including Nikolaus Walter, Helmut Koester, Kurt Noll, Jens Schröter, Frans Neirynck, Robert Price, and Margaret Barker (I cite or quote them in my forthcoming book).


    Can you tell me where Barker discusses the Pauline letters? I’d like to take a look at what she has to say.

    Also, I had been wondering for some time if you’ve read any of her works. If she’s right about her “Temple Theology” paradigm, and its presence in early Christianity, that offers a potential challenge to the interpretation that Jesus starts out in the tradition as only a celestial being. The logic of TT, after all, is that a human figure ascends to heaven and transforms into a divine being, even perhaps YHVH himself. Enoch becomes Metatron, to use one example. A possible explanation for the data we have would be that a historical founding figure has essentially been displaced by the supernatural entity he supposedly became. Paul would not be interested in the earthly life of his Jesus, not because he disbelieved there had been such a life, but because what mattered about this Jesus was his “resurrection”/exaltation into the heavenly realm. Do you engage Barker’s corpus in OHJ, and/or do you believe that she offers an avenue for advancing historicity as the dialogue (hopefully) moves forward?

    1. Can you tell me where Barker discusses the Pauline letters? I’d like to take a look at what she has to say.

      Margaret Barker, ‘The Secret Tradition’, Journal of Higher Criticism 2 (Spring 1995), pp. 31-67 (58).

      As to your broader question, I find her erudition impressive and handy, and her thesis intriguing, but ultimately I’m not convinced by the main points of it. She is right that Christianity was designed to replace the Temple cult (I explore how and why in OHJ), and she assembles a lot of evidence one can use to show that. But obviously I don’t agree Jesus himself was an actual priest at the temple who left to start his own splinter cult. Although that’s as good a historicist hypothesis as any (given the many that have been proposed). My treatment of the Pauline evidence in ch. 11 of OHJ does as well to respond to the hypothesis you propose as any other, so you’ll want to consult that for the rest of your answer. (No, still no word on its release date, but I am literally right now looking at the rest of the proof, which they just sent yesterday, so I will be getting that turned around to the publisher in a couple of days.)

    2. “But obviously I don’t agree Jesus himself was an actual priest at the temple who left to start his own splinter cult.”

      Is it possible that James (if such a person existed) was? After all, there are Christian traditions that James was a priest, and there were Gnostic traditions that he was the sole recipient of teaching from the resurrected Jesus.

      Then again, I wonder if James the Just originated with legends based on James ben Damneus. Josephus never gives a satisfying reason for his execution.

      1. On James as a disgruntled priest: That would be a neat idea if the tradition about James were even remotely believable. It’s not. (I have a whole section on the Hegesippus narrative, the source of that James-the-priest myth, in OHJ.)

        On James the Just originating from Josephus: That is conspicuously not the case. The fact that the James mythology shows no awareness at all of the Josephus narrative is in fact one of the pieces of evidence confirming the latter underwent later interpolation. (The James mythology originates mid-to-late second century; the interpolation in Josephus, mid-to-late third century, as I demonstrated in Journal of Early Christian Studies.)

  18. Vince Hart March 5, 2014, 7:47 am

    Here’s the one from McGrath that drove me nuts:

    Carrier makes clear throughout his “review” that he does not grasp ancient Jewish history (or for that matter anthropology) sufficiently to discuss the details with a scholar like Casey in an informed manner. For instance, he writes:

    Another example of not paying attention is when Casey accuses Thompson of being incompetent because Thompson says Mark 7 is about “hygiene” when in fact it’s about purity laws (7-5869). Except that it’s obvious to anyone who actually reads the passage in question that Thompson meant spiritual hygiene, in other words, purity laws.

    I think that anyone with a minimal understanding of the concept of ritual purity can see that Thompson knows that it’s the subject of Mark 7. I’m not sure that any knowledge of ancient Jewish history would be required to see that Casey is misrepresenting Thompson’s use of the word “hygiene” on page 69 of the Messiah Myth. I may lack the expertise to tell whether Thompson’s is right about ritual purity, but I can certainly tell that he is talking about it.

    1. Yeah, I was mystified by that passage in McGrath’s post. I cannot figure out what he thinks that passage he cites from my review has to do with the point he is supposed to be citing evidence for. It’s just bizarre.

  19. In fact Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger page 2) does also use the word hygiene, a word she says is an excellent route into an understanding of the religious anxietys about dirt and disorder In my view psychological and religious fears of dirtiness can neither be identified nor entirely and always separated from the actual nuisance and dangers of dirt but be that as it may it is completely stupid or dishonest to accuse Thomson of not understanding what Leviticus is about. It is a disingenuous criticism unworthy of a scholar.

    1. Vince Hart March 6, 2014, 3:18 pm

      Would that be the same Mary Douglas without whose insights one cannot be sufficiently informed to know whether use of the word “hygiene” is appropriate? Thanks for the info although I cannot say that I am shocked. It seemed like an obvious analogy to me.

  20. Tom K March 5, 2014, 4:07 pm

    I don’t doubt that Casey’s book is as awful as you say it is. So why have you linked its title (in your second paragraph) to a page headed “Richard Carrier recommends…”?

    1. Hah! That’s a good one. That’s the name of my Amazon store. Not that specific page. (I get a kickback from Amazon if you buy a print copy through my store.)

      But to go all surreal on you, I actually do recommend Casey’s book. Read the last line of my review.


  21. Tige Gibson March 5, 2014, 11:12 pm

    Thank you for doing this thorough review. It felt interesting because it is reminiscent of books Christians have compelled me to read and I have no doubt that fundamentalist Christians will hold up this book and insist that others read it for the straight dope.

    Casey is a narcissist and that’s the why he uses Christian tactics to argue a Christian position while not actually being a Christian. His intended audience enjoys his cheap attacks as much as he enjoys making them, and they are as desperate for support beyond the facts as he is in need of sounding as erudite as possible without possessing the facts.

  22. Giuseppe March 6, 2014, 12:13 am

    …the Devil, the only entity in the universe with a motive to prevent the defeat of death and the salvation of mankind.

    If I think otherwise, I must conclude that the Roman and Pharisee Paul was an enemy of the Romans and the Pharisees (and a hypocrite when urged to make peace with the Romans paying tax). But this is not implausible if I accept a Zealot Jesus as hypothesis: in other words, it would mean that for Paul, the Romans were so diabolically evil that had they known the crucifixion would save the world, they would have rushed to stop it: to think this would be possible for someone who comes from environments zealots? Or not? It may be an indication that Paul was turning defeat on the cross into a victory on the cross (victory of his message adn theology)?

    if Jesus was a Zealot, the argument by silence cannot be applied so easy on Pauline epistles to argue that Jesus didn’t exist. The silence on him was part of the plan to de-politicize him more than the Gospels did. Paul could not talk about the Jesus of the Gospels because he did not have to hide that pacifist mythic Jesus, but the real seditious Jesus: and could not replace the latter with a pacifist and human Jesus because this Jesus had not yet been created. It is an ad hoc hypothesis?

    (this is not my view, but only a question)

    thank you,

    1. I think you misunderstand what Paul is talking about. He isn’t talking about Jesus’ crucifixion saving the world militarily. He is talking about it magically defeating the Angel of Death so that people can have eternal life in supernatural indestructible bodies. That has nothing to do with Zealotry. In other words, Pilate and the Sanhedrin would have to genuinely believe they were serving the Devil (literally, not metaphorically), and thus in cahoots with him to keep death in the world and thus prevent anyone from receiving eternal life, in order for them to have a motive to stop the crucifixion so as to prevent its magical effects. That is wildly implausible in every conceivable way. And contrary to what Paul himself says in Romans 13.

      (But it is possible Jesus was a Zealot and all this magical death business was made up later. That’s just not what I was talking about in the line in question, which is that Paul can’t be talking about Pilate et al. in that sentence. He means the Devil and his demons. Which means he believes the Devil and his demons crucified Jesus, not Pilate et al.)

  23. Giuseppe March 6, 2014, 11:38 pm

    Yes, you are right, but I wold say only that it’s possible that x thinks about y all the possible evil. Hitler & c. thinked really that the Jews were absolute Evil, that they were not only ”in cahoots with Devil to keep death in the world” but even were the Devil same. Paul could think the same thing about Pilate and Caifa? That they were ”in cahoots with Devil to keep death in the world ”?

    It’s possible only if Paul was fanatic and crazy and false like Hitler: in this sense it’s impossible.

    1. Regarding the question:

      Not according to Romans 13. It is impossible Paul imagined the entire regime to be consciously working for the Devil to prevent the end of death in the world, and then still wrote Romans 13.

      No, this is not something Paul could possibly think of all the “rulers of this eon.” Remember, he doesn’t name specific villains, but names the whole regime as the killers of Jesus, and uses the present tense: the killers are the ones “being abolished” as Paul writes…which cannot refer to Pilate and Caiaphas who had been deposed a decade before (and not executed; and replaced). That only really makes sense of demons, i.e. Christians are overpowering and disarming them through exorcism and faith in Christ Jesus.

  24. CASEY
    All bilinguals suffer from interference, especially when they are translating,….


    So if we see interference, we know there is translation….

    Perhaps Casey could learn a little bit about Bayes Theorem, and background probabilities.

    I’m glad Casey is not a doctor.

    His logic is really bad. I guess that is why he dropped sciences…..

    All people get headaches, especially if they have a brain tumour.

    So if somebody has a headache, we can plausibly say that they have a brain tumour.

    Casey has to ask himself ‘How common was it for early Christians to translate Aramaic documents?’

    But I guess it is only we science people who know that there is a huge fault in the logic ‘A happens a lot if B happens. We see A happen. So we know B must have happened’

    Casey can be forgiven for not knowing much maths. He never claims to be good at logic.

  25. Andrew Brown March 8, 2014, 1:48 pm

    As far as Casey’s absurd redating of the Gospel of Mark to the 40s, and therefore before the Pauline Epistles, here’s what Marc Goodacre says (in a different context) about people who date the texts this way:

    “No one, apart perhaps from some fundamentalists, think that the Gospels were written before Paul.”

    I guess that makes Casey a fundamentalist, and therefore completely outside of academic respectability. Therefore we are as entitled to write off his entire argument as completely as he writes off mythicist arguments. Sorry Mo!

    1. I noted several points where Casey sides with, and acts almost exactly like, biblical fundamentalists.

      That suggests delusionality, since he resorts to the same tactics as the delusional do to defend their delusions. That makes Casey more like what Atwill would be if Atwill had gotten a Ph.D. and studied Aramaic (they just went in opposite directions due to happenstance).

    2. neilgodfrey March 10, 2014, 8:21 pm

      I have just finished a detailed reading of chapters 3 and 4 and another projection emerges too — Casey regularly protests that mythicists do not give references to who, exactly, makes an argument they say might be “well-known” or “made by some”. But I am sure he himself fails many more times to give references and explain who of the mythicists make/s the specific argument he says “mythicists” make. The whole thing reads like a childish rant of an old man who in his twilight years cannot handle seeing his life’s work sliding into oblivion.

    1. BTW, that’s the review in which I caught her lying (among other things).

      It’s also old. The title no longer includes the Christ (and the reason it was going to is explained in the book itself, even in the text that will go to press; the reason it doesn’t now is that the editor thought it would be confusing).

  26. neilgodfrey March 10, 2014, 8:17 pm

    That post of Steph was responded to and demolished by research post-graduate at Uni of Sydney Richard Lataster in the Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences (2012) Volume 5 No 2, 271-293.

    Strangely Casey’s book has not a word about Bayes. The only swipe at Carrier is over one chapter in Not the Impossible Faith.

    I find it utterly weird that the book appears to have been initiated by Steph after a long series of exchanges I had with her and others on Vridar and Hoffmann’s The New Oxonian. The main targets are those people who outraged her the most. At one time she even pretended to be someone else to try to trick Doherty in a discussion on Q. Several times she protested that she was gonna go and get Casey to write a book putting us all in our places! So the most significant mythicist targets were either mostly omitted or only side-quibbles about their arguments were addressed.

  27. hhluce April 21, 2014, 5:46 pm

    The following is something I posted to a friend’s facebook page when he brought up the topic of the historic existence of Jesus – in it I ask a few question at the end which Dr Carrier might be able to answer or provide some useful references:

    “The whole thing is irritating in the extreme – there’s an entire edifice of belief built on nothing which is reliable and which can be checked against third-party accounts of the same historical period. Matthew and Luke cite as Jesus’ birthplace a place which did not exist in the first century BC or AD, Mark cites a set of events at the crucifixion – a complete solar eclipse lasting for three hours (!) at the time of the full moon (!!!) and earthquakes strong enough to break open tombs (which caused no damage to any of the houses or to the Temple) – which are reported in Matthew and Luke but not in the Annales of the Roman Empire – and such an eclipse *would* have been seen in Rome had it even been possible – for the moon to be full it could not possibly have occluded the sun, whose light it reflects… Unless the Space Brothers parked an “Independence Day”-sized UFO over Jerusalem, which is the only possibility left to mind… which renders Matthew, Mark, and Luke of little value as to the historicity of anything much less the historicity of Jesus, at least so far as I’m concerned.

    Paul is almost entirely ignorant about Jesus other than as a sort of shadowy figure who appears in the background; Paul is therefore of little or no value as to the historicity of Jesus – and this is backed up by numerous scholars as well.

    This leaves the Gospel of John, which relates nothing about the accidents of Jesus’ birth, the place, the manner of his conception, etc. and also does not speak of earthquakes or eclipses at the crucifixion, nor does John have Jesus making long disquisitions whilst up on the cross, just a couple of monosyllabic utterances – “I thirst” “It is finished” – which would be believable for someone slowly drowning in pulmonary edema.

    1. The trouble in the Gospel of John arises in the tomb being empty on the morning of the first day of the week (Sunday) – less than three days after Jesus died on Friday before sunset – and Jesus was stated in other places to have been buried three days before the resurrection could occur… Is it possible that the “first” day of the week was originally the “second” or “third” day of the week and was later changed or mis-copied?

    2. And then there is the apparently incorporeal aspect of Jesus’ body at that time, with Jesus telling the women not to touch/embrace him as he had not “ascended to the Father”? That’s more than a bit odd, but I’ve never seen or read any analysis of *that*… and then the episode later on by the side of the Sea of Galilee by which time Jesus has attained sufficient corporeal solidity to direct Thomas to put his finger in the nail holes and his hand into the spear wound and Thomas does so and determines that Jesus is *not* incorporeal.

    More – The fact that the Gospels are written in Semitic Greek is of little concern, it’s likely they were dictated to scribes who would write them in that language, being nearly as ubiquitous in that part of the Roman Empire as English is today on the Internet. Major trade routes traversed Palestine, and as the Gospels were meant for general circulation, it would make sense to get them down in a lingua franca rather than a regional dialect such as Aramaic.

    3. And while we’re on the subject of scribes, who were fairly plentiful in that day and area, how is it that Jesus apparently never bothered to dictate his teachings to a scribe, or that the (claimed) historical narratives about his life and teachings were not composed contemporaneously? Gamaliel’s and Hillel’s teachings – in the same century – were thus preserved – but for the Messiah we have to wait at least ten and maybe twenty years after the fact? *That* is an odd thing too…

    I’m not any sort of scholar in this, I’ve got a limited knowledge of Latin and Greek, absolutely none of Aramaic or Hebrew – well, maybe a bit, but not much as for the latter. As a criminal defense attorney, I’m fairly used to reading eyewitness accounts and interviewing people and figuring out what really happened – and the legal ramifications of it all – but I’m no Biblical scholar… but from what I can see there’s scant good evidence for the historical existence of Jesus – much less that the New Testament is any sort of truth given the provable falsehoods therein, which is for me not a very comfortable conclusion.

    1. This is only very tenuously relevant to the topic here. I’ll only answer in brief…

      1. Possible? Yes. Probable? No. The third day motif appears to have been part of the original gospel from day 1 (1 Cor. 15:3-5). Whether Jesus existed or not.

      2a. On the evolution of beliefs about the nature of Jesus’ body, see my chapter on that in The Empty Tomb.

      2b. The facts are a little more complicated.

      The extent to which Greek even was used in Palestine is debated (everyone agrees it was used; the issue is how often, where, and by whom and how many), and overall it seems unlikely to have been common; though one would have been able to find a scribe facile with Greek in major cities there, it wouldn’t have been the norm. Whereas it’s unlikely any scribe could earn a living there without knowing Aramaic (except in majority Gentile cities). So it would have made no sense for a native of Galilee to dictate in Greek. They would dictate to a scribe, if at all, in Aramaic or Hebrew, and would have spoken almost entirely if not entirely in no other language. This was even, in fact, a matter of pride there. Indeed, they would have quoted and relied upon the scriptures in Hebrew or Aramaic, not Greek translations, which were only used by foreign Jews (i.e. Jews in the Diaspora or only temporarily traveling from it). Greek Gospels, in elegant style (as even Mark is, despite his use of a low dialect), relying on the Greek scriptures, can only plausibly have been composed by Diaspora Jews (or even Gentiles) outside Palestine. And that’s true whether Jesus existed or not.

      3. The usual rebuttal is that they expected the world to end in short order, so there was no need to write anything down. That is a questionable argument, but it is an argument one has to contend with. Some scholars (e.g. Casey) even argue they did write it down, and those writings weren’t preserved, being in Aramaic, a language no longer used by the successful church. I think that’s possible but improbable, and at any rate, there is no evidence of it (contra Casey).

  28. dutchdelight May 10, 2014, 3:53 am

    Assuming jamesmcgrath is the real one… That’s just sad. Coming here and projecting that Carrier (or anyone) seriously holds that people must be idiots for being historicists. Holy latent persecution complex batman.

    I’m sure that victim narrative works well for James inside the cocoon, but here that just invites more scorn. What a scholar.

  29. Mikael Smith May 20, 2014, 4:56 am


    Have you argued that Romans had no custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem at Passover or any other time? If so, what about Mishna Pesach 8:6 (Chavel C. B. has argued that they did in ”The releasing of a prisoner on the eve of Passover in ancient Jerusalem” Journal of Biblical Literature 60 (1941) 273–278

    Josephus tells us (Ant. 20.9.5.) that Albinus (62-64 CE) released all except murderers. He tried to show people of Jerusalem a positive side of him.

    Releasing the prisoners in Middle East: Merritt R. L. ”Jesus Barabbas and the paschal pardon” Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985) 57–68.

    The general view about the custom: Evans C. A., Mark 8:26-16:20 (WBC, Nashville: Nelson, 2001) 479 –480.

    1. I cover all that in OHJ. Most of it is a Christian apologetical-style abuse of sources. There is no evidence for a Paschal pardon, not even the Mishnah text actually refers to such a thing. But you’ll have to await the book for the details.

    1. Mikael Smith May 20, 2014, 10:19 am

      Oh, I thought you knew the guy. He’s just some nutjob challenging people to debate and after that declaring victory even he did crappy job. Apparently he has debated AronRa. Haven’t seen that debate.

      1. I have never heard of Jason Burns before. Nor do I see any evidence of his having any qualifications. Nor does he present any evidence for any of his claims (that I am, e.g., taking any quotes out of context, anywhere…he doesn’t even say “where” I do this, or what quotes he means). He doesn’t even have a single comment on his video. And it had less then 20 views when I first looked at it…and since then, the count has gone up to slightly above 20 solely from me looking at it just recently…and it’s been two weeks. He’s also absurdly pompous.

        I also find him eye-rollingly narcissistic (“if you don’t debate me, you are running away from academic discussion!”…a sentiment he obviously doesn’t think to generalize to all people and thereby realize there is no possible way I could debate everyone who said that; oh no, this guy is the only person in the whole world, and only he matters…for some reason).

        So, no. I’ll pass. This guy isn’t a serious academic. He’s just some random Christian crank who is far too full of himself.

  30. Hi Richard,

    Looking forward to your book!

    Forgive me if you’ve addressed this question, but I couldn’t find it associated with you or your blog: that of 1 John 4. The phrase “a truly human body” to be precise. Thanks!

    1. The Johanines are generally agreed to be early 2nd century documents, written in support of the ideas behind the least credible Gospel, that of John. Their author is not actually known (he never claims to be a disciple, or even an Apostle…or even in fact John). They are therefore of little use in determining the original beliefs of Christians.

  31. messing September 11, 2014, 12:41 pm

    “So far only two contemporary books have been written in defense of the historicity of Jesus (nothing properly comparable has been published in almost a hundred years).”

    I assume you have your reasons for excluding Casey’s previous work which is superior to this most recent travesty. What, then, is the reason for excluding works such as

    Michael Grant’s Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels
    Habermas’ The Historical Jesus
    Dunn’s The Evidence for Jesus (which caused Well’s to shift his position)
    van Voorst E. R. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament- An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus)
    Are you seriously arguing that Grant’s book is not comparable to Ehrman’s in any sense other than that it is vastly superior? What about those I haven’t mentioned? Are they all not comparable to Ehrman’s garbage and Casey’s regurgitated nonsense, or have you simply not bothered to do your research (again)?

    1. None of those books are actually defenses of historicity (except Habermas, who is just writing specious and frequently dishonest apologetics and not anything actually taken seriously by mainstream scholars…his pages on Thallus alone are a joke).

      Van Voorst has two pages on the subject, which are astonishingly feeble (I address them in OHJ). The rest is just an analysis of one set of testimonies, not even close to a complete case. Nor an argument for the existence of Jesus.

      Grant ignores the Epistles and just does an idiosyncratic reconstruction of Jesus starting from the premise that he existed. No different than hundreds of “this is my Jesus” books produced every decade. He doesn’t actually address the claim that he doesn’t exist, or the arguments for that conclusion, in any significant degree (much less devote the book to it).

      Dunn also virtually ignores the Epistles and just does an idiosyncratic reconstruction of Jesus starting from the premise that he existed. No different than hundreds of “this is my Jesus” books produced every decade. He doesn’t actually address the claim that he doesn’t exist, or the arguments for that conclusion, in any significant degree (much less devote the book to it).

      These are not “in defense of the historicity of Jesus.” They just assume the historicity of Jesus. And then attempt to reach conclusions about him. Conclusions that contradict dozens of what other scholars conclude looking at the same data. (Hence chapter 1 of Proving History.)

      In other words, these books aren’t even doing the same thing Ehrman’s did. They therefore cannot be compared. They may well be far better (indeed, Van Voorst is still the best recent book to read, despite being incomplete and not even attempting to make any concerted case for historicity). But it’s apples to oranges. They may be fantastically delicious oranges to Ehrman’s sour and worm-ridden apple. But they still aren’t apples.

  32. I wasn’t sure where else to post this question, other than in the ‘book reviews’ section, but…Have you read/reviewed “Jesus Potter Harry Christ” by Derek Murphy. I’ve never heard of this guy (Google him–not much out there), yet the sentiment I get is that he has written the most comprehensive book on the Christ-myth theory. Ever. And this is his first PhD thesis in comparative literature. IDK–seems like too many red flags all at once. Nevertheless, a quick overview of the book makes it sound quite compelling and was wondering what your scholarly take is on this piece of literature. Thanks.

  33. Noticed a mistake:

    therefore Jesus must have actually been crucified.”

    Should be:

    therefore Jesus must have actually risen from the dead.”

  34. Mikkel February 5, 2015, 1:20 pm

    Now it all makes sense! Or, to be more specific, it finally makes sense to me why apologetically inclined Christians make some absurd arguments, such as not seeing how the story about Jesus resembles many other stories. I’ve seen countless arguments which take the general direction of the Jesus story being “unique”, while I’ve always thought similarities are rather obvious. Thank you for that point.

    I started on Casey’s book, but despite finding the subject intriguing, I could not get through more than two or three chapters. One thing that stumped me was when he is listing mythicists who are also scholars (location 329 out of 7964 on my laptop’s kindle); Bart Ehrman is listed as one such mythicist! Location 459. I can’t help but think that I’m missing something here… Oh well.

    I loved your review, and found it quite informative with respect to general information about the historicity of Jesus, historical methodology and such. Thank you.

    Best Regards,


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