Jesus: Evidence and argument or mythicist
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT912 )
THERE are two main points of interest in this remarkable book.
Maurice Casey, who died in May, was Emeritus Professor of New
Testament at the University of Nottingham, and a figure of world
stature in the field of New Testament studies. His authority as an
academic is perhaps increased by the fact, of which he made no
secret, that he left the Christian faith in 1962 while still
studying for his undergraduate degree in theology. Clearly, this
did not diminish his zest for the study of the subject; and it
enabled him to speak with a certain objectivity that a professed
Christian may seem to some to lack.
The first point of interest is that the book takes the lid off a
whole world of New Testament discussion on the internet. Free
access, both active and passive, to the internet can give a
suppositious air of authority to the expression of a casual or
unfounded opinion without its undergoing the criticism or
censorship of publishers, editors, or even peer review. There is no
knowing the status or reliability of an internet screed: it may be
the product of serious research, a maverick try-out, a jeu
d'esprit, or a total spoof.
Casey here set himself against a school, perhaps a shoal, of
bloggers who were intent on showing that Jesus Christ never
existed, that he was a complete myth. Casey contended that this
shoal relied on secondary sources that were now outdated, and were
unreliable even in their own time, and that the bloggers simply
lacked the elementary skills required to use and evaluate the
The second, and more positive, point of interest is the
contention, in partnership with one of his students, for a very
early date for the composition of St Mark's Gospel, followed by
those of St Matthew and St Luke. The eschatological discourse of
Mark 13 refers not to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but to
the uproar produced in the early 40s of the first century by the
Emperor Gaius's threat to set up a statue of himself in the
This idea is in itself not new, and its opponents maintain that,
just as the flier or pamphlet of the early 40s re-used the Book of
Daniel, so Mark re-used the flier. Nevertheless, the contention is
backed up by some neat and convincing demonstrations of traces of
Aramaic in Mark (e.g. 1.7 and 2.23), which show the fingerprints of
the world of Jesus himself. This is all part of the "Criterion of
Historical Plausibility", which shatters the bloggers'
ill-documented claim that the whole story is simply a repetition of
the ancient myths of other cultures.
Casey's vigorous argumentation was clearly shaped to match that
of his opponents, and at times the tone can even be a little
shrill; but it is crystal-clear that their grasp of the material
was no match for his.
Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB is a monk of Ampleforth, emeritus
Master of St Benet's Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Pontifical