It had to happen. I am being sucked into the discussing what may well be the most worthless lawsuit in the history of mankind due to the unending press coverage. In case you haven't been following the story, Italian atheist, Luigi Cascioli, has sued the Roman Catholic church (and one of its local priests) for speaking about Jesus Christ as if he were (*gasp*) a real historical person when, as Sr. Cascioli's suit says, these "facts that are really just inventions." To its credit, the court sought to dismiss the case but finally set a hearing for last Friday.
I have taken the time to review some of the papers from Sr. Cascioli's website, and I have to say that I am not impressed. He has posted some of the pleadings(?!?) from the lawsuit on his site, and I think that some pertinent facts need to be pointed out.
First, what exactly is his claim? His complaint reads, in pertinent part:
After long and deep studies consisting of (and not only) textual exegesis of the Old and New Testament and other Sacred Scriptures, the undersigned has come to the conclusion that many of the facts produced and presented as if being true and historical in the so called "Holy Scriptures", are in reality false, first of all the historicization of the figure of Jesus Christ, for the most part based on the figure of John of Gamala, son of Judas, downright descendant of the Asmoneian stock.
The grounds that have led the undersigned to such conclusion are expressed in detail in the book that is alleged to the official complaint and of which is integrant and substantial part.
So, the judge has to read a book written by Sr. Cascioli which winds its way through the history of lands of Canaan making claims about the existence or non-existence of people from 2,000 years ago? In America, such a pleading would be laughed out of court on either a demurrer or a motion for judgment on the pleadings -- and I hope that it is ultimately laughed out of court in Italy.
But what do we know about this book? It appears that three things are true about this book:
1. The book is apparently not published by any major publishing house.
2. The book is not available to be purchased through Barnes and Noble, Borders or Amazon.com.
3. The book is apparently not peer reviewed. (This last point ought to have all people who contend that Intelligent Design is not science because its books and essays are not peer-reviewed screaming that the book is an apparent fraud, to be consistent.)
So, what are we to make of the book? Should it be viewed as any type of academically sound work that is worthy of any real attention? How should we view it in light of such statements on his website as the following in his Open Letter to the Vatican:
The war from now on is opened and declared. On one side you with your conscience and your communions believers and saints, and on the other side me with my conscience, my book "The FABLE OF CHRIST" and the communion of the martyrs represented by all your victims of the past, like the Jews, Moslems, the heretics and the witches to whom the victims of the present are related and who are daily killed by your obscurantism generator of hunger and diseases. All are the victims to whom I join to shout with them: " Go to hell!! Cursed bastards! "
It seems apparent to me that what you have is a sour-pussed old man with too much time on his hands ranting and using invectives against God supporting his cockamamie views with his own "irrefutable" research. In all sincerity, his writings on his website read like the writings of any number of other conspiracy theory nutcases.
Of course, it is true that even a broken clock is right twice a day, so the question is whether there is any reason that he may have stumbled onto the truth. A couple of things should be pointed out in this regard. Here is what his complaint says:
That the figure of Jesus has been fully constructed over a certain John of Gamala, son of Judas from Gamala, known as the Galilean, is irrefutably known by such a great number of proofs as to remove whatever doubts about the falsifications carried out by the compilers of the Gospels.
Irrefutably known to be John of Gamala? Funny, but I don't think that any historical books that I have on the period mention John of Gamala, let alone make it clear that it is "irrefutably known" that he was the basis for Jesus of Nazareth. Doing a quick websearch, I find no mention of John of Gamala anywhere but in writings by or about Sr. Cascioli and this frivolous lawsuit. So, on what basis does he make the claim that it is "irrefutable"?
One proof that he provides is the location of Nazareth. In the words of one of his pleadings:
All four Canonical Gospels make the names Nazarite (Nazarene) come from the city of Nazareth stating that it was the town where Jesus grew up and studied during those thirty years that preceded his sermons. It is from Nazareth that we will obtain conclusive proof to show that Jesus is in reality John. Let's examine this town that in the gospels is described in a completely different way from how it actually was. Why was the town of Nazareth located on a plain far from the Sea of Galilee described in the Gospels as being built on a mountain overlooking a lake?
The answer is simple. The city on the mountain overlooking a lake is the real city where the Messiah reported by tradition lived and which the Gospels describe, whereas the town located on a plain forty kilometers from the Sea of Galilee is what the falsifiers used to justify why he was called Nazarite.
Actually, the answer is even simpler -- the reason that the town of Nazareth is described in the Gospels as being built on a mountain overlooking a lake is because it was located in a mountain, but the Gospels don't describe it as overlooking a lake. According to ancientroutes.com,
The small town of Nazareth is located at the southern end of the Lebanon mountain range, in the ridges which end at the plain of Esdraelon. The town is on a triangular plateau about 1200 feet above the Mediterranean, overlooking the plain to the south. The surrounding hills rise to 1610 feet, and Mount Tabor is prominent 5 miles to the east, with an altitude of 1930 feet. The plateau is on the southeastern slope of a ridge, which then drops in the south abruptly to the plain below. * * *
A mile to the south the hills making up the area around Narazeth ends abruptly in two small peaks which fall precipitous to the plain below. Above the town are several rocky ledges, one of which has a cliff of over 40 to 50 feet high. The western peak is called Jebel el Qafesh, or ÂMount of the PrecipiceÂ, and it is these cliffs where the Nazarenes would have thrown the young Jesus to his death. * * *
The town of Nazareth is about 20 miles from the Mediterranean, and about 15 miles from the Sea of Galilee.
Having established that Nazareth is, as the Bible depicts, in the mountains, on what basis does Sr. Cascioli argue that it was by a lake? Here is his explanation (forgive the length, but I want to set forth his argument in full to show that I am not misrepresenting):
There are many references made to lake surroundings, boats, fishermen, and rough waves caused by storms. The apostles themselves are all fishermen that Jesus converted into disciples while they pulled in their nets: "...when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence And when he was come into his own country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works". (Matt. 13:53-54). "When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart...Jesus healed the sick and multiplied the loaves of bread and fish. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray. From the mountain he saw below in the Sea of Galilee that the apostles' boat was in danger from the waves generated by the wind that had suddenly started blowing (Matt. 14). Luke also confirms that the city of Jesus was on a mountain when he speaks about a precipice: " Jesus went to Nazareth where He was brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and he stood up to read...And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath. And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the bow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his own way." (Luke 4:14-30). In addition: "The same day went Jesus out of the house and sat by the sea (lake) side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat." (Matt. 13:1-2).
Mark also recounts (Chap. 3-4): "...a great multitude, when they heard what great things he did, came unto him. And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him... And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would...and they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread... there came his brethren and his mother, and standing without, sent unto him, calling him..." After having explained who his real relatives were, "... he began again to teach by the sea side..."
At this point, we are aware that the town where Jesus was brought up could not be Nazareth, which is forty kilometers from the lake and situated on a plain. So through other sources we wanted to see how the real town was which is situated on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee and surrounded by precipices.
Sr. Cascioli makes a several critical errors. First, Nazareth was only 15 miles (aka 24 kilometers) from the Sea of Galilee -- approximately a three hour walk. Second, Sr. Cascioli misuses the references to Jesus. The Matthew 13:53-54 verses don't reference the sea or boats or fishermen in any way. Matthew 14 doesn't say he departed Nazareth by boat, but merely that he "withdrew" from wherever he was "by boat." (Matthew 14;13) The reference to Jesus going up onto the mountainside to pray (Matthew 14:22-25) does not say what Sr. Cascioli claims it says. Matt 14:22-25 reads:
Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.
Note, the Gospel does not say that Jesus started in Nazareth or went to Nazareth. Actually, if you read the verse prior, it appears that he started out from a "remote place" (Matthew 13:15) on the shores of an unspecified lake (where he fed the five thousand), and went up into the mountains around the lake. Note also that it does not say that "From the mountain he saw below in the Sea of Galilee that the apostles' boat was in danger. . . ." It does not say that Jesus saw them from the mountainside at all.
What's really comical about his argument is the inconsistency between his discussions of Matthew. First, he argues that Matthew 13: 53-54 should somehow be seen as providing evidence that Nazareth was on a lake because it says (according to the NASB) that it was in his "hometown", i.e., Nazareth. But then he uses Matthew 13: 1-2 as further evidence that Nazareth is depicted as being situated on a lake because it says "The same day went Jesus out of the house and sat by the sea (lake) side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat." But Matthew 13:1-2 does not say that he was in Nazareth at that time. Moreover, it seems to say specifically that he wasn't in Nazareth because Matthew 13:1-2 begins a long series of parables and explanations by Jesus that end in verses 53-54 which say "When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue . . . ." Thus, it is almost certain that Jesus was not in Nazareth for the events in Matthew 13:1-2.
I could go on, but I think that I have shown enough to make the point that his claims are somehow irrefutable are, to put it mildly, laughable since a fair reading of the text would confirm that Sr. Cascioli is taking verses out of context.
His website also shows that he relies upon supposed contradictions between the Biblical texts which have been the subject of lengthy and reasonable explanations elsewhere, misrepresentations of the Roman Catholic Church's teachings, and other claims such as the claim by Brian Flemming in the film "The God Who Wasn't There" that Hebrews 8 teaches that Jesus was never a real person (debunked by myself in "Reefer Madness and a new Jesus Myth film").
For Sr. Cascioli to make these assertions, I infer that one of three things may explain his lawsuit:
1. He is on the verge of insanity.
2. He is a liar who will say anything because he hates the Roman Catholic Church.
3. He's trying to get his book picked up by a major publishing house to make some money.
While I don't rule out the possibility that either the first or second inferences are correct, I suspect that the third inference is the truth. I sure hope no one picks up this book without some serious evaluation because there is no reason to give this guy any credibility in light of the quality of the material.