Review of Bird's Review of Casey
I know he was my supervisor and all that, but I’m still going to respond to Mike Bird’s review of Maurice Casey’s latest book on son of man. Probably something to do with honour and shame or something…
'One issue that has been aired too many times on this blog is about secularism, presuppositions etc and so on. Like Paul Scholes though, there’s always time for one last great effort. Mike says:
Casey nowhere acknowledges his own presuppositions and how they influence him. The implied author of this book (i.e. Casey’s representation of himself) is that of an objective and secular critic who has come to liberate us from the shackles of theologically loaded interpretations of the Son of Man. But I suggest that the existence of such an ideal objective and impartial author is just as mythical as the existence as the ‘primordial son of man’ known to occasionally haunt the lecture rooms of German universities.
Well this moves from something relatively easy to establish (various theological trends and their impact on the discipline) to speculation. Not sure about this Casey representation of himself and implied author business. How is that worked out? Magic? Psychology? I’m being a bit polemical here because it is not the person I know being described. As for ‘objective’ and ‘secular’ critic I very much doubt Casey would like that description of himself. In fact I know Casey doesn’t like the term ‘secular’. I am pretty sure that Casey, rightly or wrongly, would say he would not see his results in terms of ‘secular’ here and would frame them in terms of a genuine concern for establishing historical truth. As it happens, Casey has often spoken of CK Barrett being the epitome of such concern, a man who is hardly an atheist, and certainly not someone we would these days call ‘secular’ (Barrett is/was well known in Durham, I believe, as a great preacher). I also know that Casey thinks his kinds of results on issues like the son of man are those that many mainstream Christian scholars with a concern for historical knowledge could have come to or at least agree with. Instead of guessing/inventing, it would have been much better, obviously, to have established Casey’s views on this which, as it happens, are not quite what Mike has strongly implied. Mike’s lavish language is matched only by his heroic demolition of a straw man:
The implied author of this book (i.e. Casey’s representation of himself) is that of an objective and secular critic [Mike's construction, not Casey's representation] who has come to liberate us from the shackles of theologically loaded interpretations [Mike's construction] of the Son of Man. But I suggest [presumably in contrast to Mike's construction, and certainly NOT Casey's argument] that the existence of such an ideal objective and impartial author is just as mythical…
As for acknowledging presuppositions, Casey ‘nowhere acknowledges his own presuppositions and how they influence him’. On one level is it not fair to say, why would he? Rightly or wrongly, Casey presumably thinks he’s found the solution, others have gone wrong, and in some cases because their agendas have dictated too much (not that agendas are necessarily wrong in themselves etc and so on). I mean, what is he to do? Say, 'I've found out on p. 200 that my presuppositions influenced me'? The issue for Casey is clearly how presuppostions led to mistakes and so it would be getting to the level of the absurd if this were applied to himself: 'I've found out on p. 200 that my presuppostions influenced me and I was wrong on that page'??????
So, to labour the point, one possible way of reading Mike’s argument is that everyone’s agenda is problematic and gets in the way. So I want to ask Mike some genuinely open questions. If so, is there any point in doing history? If not, is it possible to get to the truth of what happened without ideology interfering too much? Either one of those answers has implications for Mike’s argument I think…
And again…the problem of not budging on too many issues can cause problems, can it not? Is there not a major problem if people cannot come to a series of historical conclusions that do not cohere with their pre-existing convictions? Dale Alison faced problems head on and was able to come to seriously uncomfortable conclusions e.g. his apocalyptic Jesus who got things a bit wrong. Is that really possible to say about all scholars? If not, why not?
…as an aside, this:
Casey’s dislike for orthodox Christianity is easily documented (see his responses to S.E. Porter, N.T. Wright in various articles and his monograph on John’s Gospel) and one wonders if this atheological aesthetic has impacted some of his conclusions (i.e. he likes to make sure nothing supports orthodox christology!)
Genuine question: what is orthodox Christology on ‘the son of man’? Did Lindars contradict the orthodoxy of his Christian faith for coming to similar conclusions to Casey on son of man? Or is orthodoxy to be equated with certain strands of evangelical thought?
And is there not something going on from leaping from general blinkers to the idea that people are too blinkered to see orthodox Christology, which developed over centuries, not only in the C1 but the historical Jesus too? I mean, it would have saved a lot of problems if Jesus (not to mention Paul, John and the others) had just told us about orthodox Christology back then. It’s not as odd, in itself (irrespective of Casey’s views) as Mike exclamation marks might suggest.
One general aside: Casey was hardly wrong (elsewhere) in suggesting Wright’s evangelical belief has interfered with his scholarship. I think it is fair to be suspicious when Wright comes to conclusion such as Mark 13 not referring to the second coming and the son of man coming on clouds meaning vindication (etc etc) based on no evidence for son of man ever meaning anything like this and Wright’s reading contradicting the problematic (and blindingly obvious I would argue and have argued) conclusion that Mark 13 predicts the return of Jesus within a generation. And I can’t help but think Wright’s belief gets in the way too much when he thinks the bodily resurrection is as historically likely as the fall of Jerusalem etc.
Back to Mike with this in mind, and back to the issue just mentioned above: is it possible to get historical results if ideology and presuppositions are so prominent…?
Generally on agendas etc. No one (or at least Casey) thinks there is no such thing as presupposition free exegesis or that cultural context doesn't dictate questions to some extent. I keep hearing such debates and I cannot begin to say how utterly bored I’ve got of personally defending the bleedin’ obvious about issues objectivity and neutrality (two concepts very much confused in such polemic), often in contexts of secular, evangelical etc. disputes. If anyone wants to know what I agree with/think (and I suspect Casey would generally agree with the conclusions) try more on agendas from a mainstream historian see the chapter in Evans, In Defence of History. See also my Why Christianity Happened ch. 1 and my chapter on history in Crossley and Karner (eds.) Writing History, Constructing Religion.
Some exegetical issues. Mike argues:
I would also ask, however, if Mark can cite the anarthrous hos huios anthropou on Dan. 7.13 LXX to create a Christological title, then why cannot someone earlier in the tradition or even Jesus do the same based on the Aramaic? Nothing necessitates a Marcan provenance for the connection of the Son of Man (in Greek or Aramaic) with Daniel 7
Maybe, but in terms of Jesus we have a real problem, not least because of the big historical problems surrounding Mk 13 and the trial scene. Like others I’ve argued that Mk 13 is the work of the early church, perhaps Mark, due to a number of factors, and is not likely to come from the historical Jesus. I am hardly alone in thinking this and plenty of other arguments are well made. I would not be revealing much if I mentioned the serious historical problems surrounding the trial scene. These reasons would enhance the idea that the son of man sayings in these contexts are likely to be secondary too and the reference to second coming would only enhance this kind of argument. So while nothing stops the connection with Dan 7 at an earlier level of tradition, I think some degree of suspicion (in terms of HJ) aimed at these two sayings is justified.
Mike does acknowledge that ‘the authenticity of several texts (e.g. Mk. 13.26, 14.62) are complex in their own right’ but adds ‘I do not subscribe to Casey’s view that they are secondary formulations that refer to Jesus’ parousia’. So what then? I would also ask Mike *if* he is implying that they do NOT refer to the parousia...what...?
After acknowledging the role of Aramaic background, Mike says this:
However, he occasionally gives the impression that he is providing us with the actual words of Jesus as he often makes a point why Jesus preferred one word over another. This is perhaps true for one or two short proverbial sayings (like maybe Mk. 10.45), but what Casey has really done is reconstructed a possible Aramaic tradition lying beneath the Greek text of the Gospels. That tradition is likely to be a paraphrase, summary, digest and gist of what Jesus said depending on what one makes of the oral tradition. For the most part (and I allow some exceptions) the Jesus tradition, regardless of what language we find it in, contains the ipsissima vox not the ipsissima verba of Jesus.
Impression? Well this gets too speculative again and would Casey actually disagree here? I doubt it, not least because he makes this clear in his work on Aramaic reconstructions. Besides, I would use terms like ‘John wrote…’, ‘Mark wrote…’ without necessarily believing that we know who the gospel authors were. It’s just shorthand. Is this not pretty common?
In a related way, Bird argues:
Casey’s burden is to show that an idiomatic usage of bar (e)nash(a) would not necessarily lead to a translation of ho anthropos or ho huios anthropou. I tend to think, following Bauckham and Hurtado, that the double articular Greek construction, inelegant as it is, was given to emphasize the particular emphasis that Jesus attached to the Aramaic phrase.
Ok, if this is so, how can the Bird’s son of man in Aramaic (which would have to be very original, right?) be weighed against known Aramaic use of son of man? How, in Aramaic, would this be done by Jesus? How would Mike account for Casey’s argument on the Aramaic emphatic and how it related to Greek translation?
Incidentally, and I’m not exactly engaging with Bird on this point (though it is obviously relevant), is not Mark 2.27-28 an excellent example of the more general frame of reference, only further emphasised by Matthew and Luke dropping the generalising Mark 2.27?
I’m afraid (sorry Danny) I’m going to mention the web-angry conservative comments made in the comments section on Mike’s blog and based, it would seem (see the reaction by Steph), not on Casey’s book and not based on his actual ideas but on Mike’s review.
I’ll focus on this one by Brant Pitre:
‘…but to suggest that he is not a Messiah in 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra is in my opinion, simply absurd. Whatever "underlying traditions" a scholar may want to create in their imaginations is one thing, but the actual TEXTS as they are extant explicitly identify the figure as "Messiah.”’
I’m a bit puzzled as to what we are talking about here: Casey’s book? And if so which pages and which arguments? Also, which version of 1 Enoch? Alternatively, is Brant talking about the English version of 1 Enoch or Ge’ez? Which manuscript version? I’m certainly no expert on this area but I believe the mss are pretty tricky to navigate. Another point, it is all well and good piously talking about 'the text' but already the Ge’ez is a translation of an earlier version and out of its original cultural context. Even more problematic, it seems (am I right?) as if Brant has actually misrepresented Mike’s review of Casey, which does not say what Brant says (unless Brant, of course, is referring to Casey’s book):
‘Casey also argues for an Aramaic tradition underlying 1 Enoch and *that the ‘son of man’ in 1 Enoch* [my emphasis] refers to Enoch himself and not to a Messiah. He similarly argues, *based on textual considerations* [my emphasis], that the term ‘Son of Man’ is not used in 4 Ezra.’
I think Brant will need to give more precise evidence from Casey’s book for me to say anything further because I’m not entirely sure what is actually being discussed here in terms of Casey's argument. Based on Mike’s representation, Casey isn’t actually saying what Brant wants it to say. But if it is Casey's book, I'd need references to properly respond.
In fact this leads to bigger questions aimed at many (not just the above - besides I have no idea of the language skills of the above mention, apart from Casey, obviously) and asked before and which Mike rightly comments at the end of his review:
Casey’s volume is a healthy reminder that all scholars of the Greek New Testament would do well if they also master the semitic languages of Palestine, the Hebrew Bible, and the eastern church.
Similarly, it so happens that the son of man problem always reminds me, more than almost any other issue in NT studies, about the need to know God-knows how many languages needed to tackle a problem like this. If NT texts were discussed at academic level and in detail without knowing Greek and Greek textual variants, how would people react? Presumably not impressed. If texts such as 1 Enoch and Daniel (not to mention others texts) were discussed at academic level in detail without knowing Ge’ez and Aramaic respectively (not to mention other languages), how would people (more precisely NT scholars) then react? It seems to me that this is much more ‘allowed’. Another related issue, is it best to know a lot of Aramaic and Greek if you are going to do comparative grammar, as needs to be done in the son of man problem? Well presumably. Now I have no idea precisely who knows what language(s) but I would be surprised if the people so qualified are little more than a handful in gospel studies. Away from critique of the many to comments on the few/one, at the very least Casey can say he has all these languages and reads the different texts and the often complicated versions.
This is all starting to sound far too incestuous and defensive for its own good. In that case, I’ll just remind you of the glorious victory against Barca and add that it is so, so sad that Liverpool had to go out so painfully.