A So-Called Independent Analysis of the Gospels

While surfing the 'net, I came across an article that I thought would be of interest to those interested in apologetics. Carried on MacLeans.CA, the article is entitled Jesus historians get an earful from Maurice Casey.

Coming from the so-called middle, Professor Casey has spent a life-time studying the texts of the New Testament and has issues his own book about the subject entitled "Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching." The article goes on to briefly say what he finds problematic with the conservative side (accepting "as historically valid such sources as the Gospel of John, which presents Jesus as fully divine, capable of walking on water and raising the dead, and virtually a Gentile, embroiled in constant tensions, not with scribes and Pharisees, but with 'the Jews'") and the liberals (the insistence on "mining documents of no historical value, including Gospels ascribed to the Apostle Thomas or Mary Magdalene"). The article concludes that Professor Casey's independent work finds a lot of facts that would make atheists uncomfortable.

Jesus was born about 4 BCE, and grew up in Nazareth; he was baptized by John the Baptist and called disciples of his own, appointing 12 of them as special apostles; he preached repentance, forgiveness and the coming of the kingdom of God in rural and small-town Galilee; his charismatic authority brought healing to many victims of psychosomatic illnesses, including the paralyzed, the blind and people with skin diseases; about 30 CE he went to Jerusalem, where the disturbance he caused chasing moneylenders out of the Temple led to his arrest and crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. After his death, Jesus was seen, in non-physical form, by some followers, including his brother James, in authentic bereavement experiences, while stories of the empty tomb and of his physical resurrection grew up afterwards to explain the visions inspired by raw grief.

There is a lot to chew on here. Obviously, there is much I agree with, but there are other things that I disagree with (the non-physical form resurrection and the healing of psychosomatic illnesses being two), but it is interesting that he has concluded that so much of the Gospels are true.

I publish this under the phrase "so-called independent analysis" because I really don't believe that his analysis is any more independent than that of anyone else. The article notes, "Since Casey does not believe in Christ’s divinity, [the Gospel of John] is an utterly impossible portrayal of the Torah-observant Jewish prophet he does consider Jesus to have been." But that is, in and of itself, a position that is not reflected in the texts. Throughout the other Gospels Jesus is revealed time and again as being more than a prophet. The failure to recognize or accept this is simply another bias that Professor Casey is imposing on the scripture.

Anyway, since he concludes that so much of the Gospel is true (a position that I hold), I may buy the book to learn more fully his reasoning for holding beliefs so similar to mine even though he rejects the very basis of the Gospels themselves, i.e., that God incarnate came to earth to save humanity from its sins.


Weekend Fisher said…
When I was early in my own quest for Jesus, two things kept coming to mind:

1) Why, in all the synoptics, is Jesus the one who presses the question of who he is? He does it on two different occasions: first with his own disciples, leading to Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah. Second, in the final holy week showdowns with the officials: that the Messiah is not merely the Son of David.

2) Why, in that "parable of the sheep and goats" with all its beautiful ethical teaching, is there Jesus' quiet and understated assumption that he is the one who gets to judge the living and the dead at the end of history?

So the question became, in my mind, Who did Jesus think that he was? Did he consider himself the Messiah? Did he consider the Messiah merely human? And is there someone in all of human history I would trust their judgment more than his?
Jason Pratt said…
{{The article concludes that Professor Casey's independent work finds a lot of facts that would make atheists uncomfortable.}}

Well, it might make a few atheists uncomfortable, namely the ones who have bought into the Jesus Myth program. I didn't see anything in his list that would make atheists broadly speaking uncomfortable. It's a pretty standard list of things that atheists or agnostics (or people from other religions) should (and I expect would) find easy to realistically accept within their worldview. That list could be extended out a bit further, too: regular visits to Jerusalem for example.

But of course the Synoptics don't talk about that, so he'd have to appeal to GosJohn instead of apparently throwing it entirely out.

Which reminds me, his list of things he can't accept from GosJohn seems awfully ignorant for someone who has supposedly spent a lifetime studying the texts. Aside from the question of full divinity showing up in the Synoptics (which as you note it certainly does):

1.) GosMark and GosMatt also have the water-walking scene (but he seems to have no problem accepting them as being "historically valid" enough for his purposes);

2.) All three Synoptics feature Jesus raising someone from the dead;

3.) The Pharisee party is practically the only group mentioned by name (and regularly so) in GosJohn for Jesus to be embroiled in constant tensions with;

3.1.) By context, GosJohn typically means Jewish religious leaders by "the Jews" (though this isn't as obvious as the frequent use of "Pharisee" in GosJohn: 19 times, not counting the Adulteress Pericope);

4.) The Jesus whom Prof. Casey regards as "virtually a Gentile" in GosJohn spends vastly much more time in Jerusalem and the Temple in that text than in the Synoptics, attending Jewish holidays (even obscure ones), and also states point-blank to someone from the rival Samaritan group that "we Jews" know God better and indeed that "salvation comes from the Jews".

4.1.) Moreover, GosJohn very arguably features the most support for Jesus from the Jewish religious establishment (not even counting the appearance of Nicodemus, a high-ranking Jewish leader not mentioned in the Synoptics);

4.2.) And the "constant tensions" Jesus is embroiled with them on, often turn out on close examination to be obscure points of rabbinic theology which wouldn't be familiar to (much less relevant for) Gentile audiences.

5.) The Synoptics are far more famous than GosJohn for having "Torah-observance" conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities. (I can only think of two incidents of this sort in GosJohn offhand, both of them involving healing on the Sabbath.)

So the independent analysis of Prof. Casey over his lifetime of studying the texts of the New Testament, results in claims about GosJohn vs. the Synoptics that are not only demonstrably wrong but also for the most part could EASILY be demonstrated to be wrong.

I'm thinking maybe he should have spent his life-time doing something else. {lopsided g})


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