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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Casey responds on son of man

I received the following email from Maurice Casey in response to Mike Bird's review of his book. Just to be clear, these are Maurice's views and he asked if it was ok to post them and I happily will, of course. I believe he has also sent a version to Mike.
Dear Michael,

It was good of you to take the trouble to review The Solution of the ‘Son of Man’ Problem. It was also good that you summarised it at some length, as most of your readers are unlikely to read it, and a lot of the information in your summary is perfectly accurate.

There are however some serious misrepresentations, which I felt I should write to you about. One is your “implied reader”. His existence is just as mythical as you say it is, but it is you who invented him, not I. I tried to write as a critical scholar. I learnt to be a critical scholar at the university of Durham, where I was taught mostly by Christian scholars. In the preface to this book, I particularly thanked Kingsley Barrett, who supervised my doctoral thesis when he was more famous in the valleys of Durham as a charismatic Christian preacher than as a New Testament scholar. I always respected that, because he is a man of unimpeachable integrity who is never deliberately biased, and who never discriminated against anyone of different convictions, nor attributed to us opinions which we did not hold. Subsequently, I have learnt much from other critical scholars who are Christians, such as Roger Aus, Matthew Black and Ed Sanders, and from critical scholars who are Jewish, such as Alan Segal and Geza Vermes.
I have never claimed to be more objective than such scholars as these. Objectivity is in any case a limited virtue, unquestionably essential when for example counting how often an author uses any given word, so much so that objectivity in such circumstances needs no defence, because it is never questioned. It is however a limited virtue when trying to understand human beings, whether individuals such as Jesus, or major social events such as the Origins of Christianity, a process which requires more than learning and objectivity. What I do claim is not to be deliberately biassed, but that is something which I share with many critical scholars. On the other hand, I cannot see this quality in many evangelicals, nor in Jewish scholars such as Hyam Maccoby (Jesus was a Pharisee, and Paul never had been), nor in secular scholars such as Robert Price and Barbara Thiering, whom most people are right not to take too seriously. The latter group are more than sufficient to make me wary of claiming to find truth by liberating people from the shackles of theologically loaded interpretations.
It is quite normal not to discuss these things in scholarly monographs, because they are supposed to stand by evidence and argument. Consequently, one does not always know, where a given author stands on your trajectory, and it generally does not matter. For example, when I finished Martin Karrer’s outstanding monograph Der Gesalbte (1991), I assumed he was probably Christian because he had not been sacked, the fate of Gerd Lüdemann when he left the church, and of many other Christians who have exercised the independence of mind characteristic of all critical scholars. But this was not a matter of concern, because this was an outstanding monograph by a genuinely critical scholar whose work stood up because of his use of evidence and argument, not because of his ideological stance or lack of one.

Secondly, your comments on what I am supposed to think about the idiomatic use of bar (e)nash(a) and kebar enash in Daniel 7.13 are such a mixture of what I do and do not think, and such a muddle, that I hardly know where to begin. For example, the messianic interpretation of kebar enash is not found in the interpretative section of Daniel 7, or in the Syrian tradition, which preserved most of the original interpretation of the book of Daniel and should have loved it. It was however widespread in the West, a fact which I documented at very great length in my doctoral thesis (much abbreviated for SPCK [JC: Son of Man, 1979]). This is not however an argument for or against the authenticity of sayings attributed to Jesus which may be thought to use bar (e)nash(a) in general statements which may refer especially to the speaker. I simply cannot relate your comments to what I wrote.

Thirdly, I offered detailed discussions of cases where I think we know exactly which Aramaic word Jesus used, i.e. when there is only one possible Aramaic word for a given Greek word and we know what it is, and cases where we don’t know exactly which of two or three words but it doesn’t matter, and cases of serious uncertainty. So I do occasionally give the impression that I am providing the actual words of Jesus because that’s when I think I am, whereas at other times we have only a general approximation to what he said. All such claims are falsifiable e.g. by showing that there are more possible Aramaic words for a given Greek word than I noticed, or by giving reasons to believe that Jesus could not have said any given saying in Aramaic at all, or in other conventional ways.

You have naturally made some other comments with which I do not agree, but I have mentioned these because you could persuade people who will not read this book that I believe some things which I do not believe at all.

With best wishes,
Maurice.

12 Comments:

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

So scholars with independent minds face the sack do they? Well, in this day and age, I am surprised. Those who have not been sacked, it seems, do not exercise independence of mind - sounds like a pretty awful situation for a scholar to be in. If you say what you think, your kids get no bread on the table. Jesus is still a good salesman and breadwinner.

May 08, 2008

 
Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

James,

I'm reluctant to respond here because I'd like to do the gentlemanly thing and give Casey the last word; but then, again, I am Australian. Therefore:

1. I don't think I said anything that would turn people away from reading Casey's book. On contrary, I think compliments and criticism were equally weighted.

2. In re-reading my review, I do now regret using the phrase "objective and secular critic" as it wrongly created the impression that Casey saw himself as immune from all presuppositions (slap on wrist for the Birdwah). Nonetheless, I do feel vindicated somewhat by Casey's very own words: "I have never claimed to be more objective than such scholars as these [Sanders et al.] ... What I do claim is not to be deliberately biassed". To claim to be without deliberate bias is to make a de facto claim towards objectivity is it not? I, and others, do detect a bias in Casey's work (deliberate or not) towards anything in the NT that resembles orthodox christology and if anyone does find in the NT anything that is conducive to orthodox Christianity (e.g. N.T. Wright) then "sometimes" Casey's remarks turn from critical to polemical. I'll happily call Tom Wright, Stan Porter, Craig Evans, and Casey's book on John to the witness stand on that one.

3. I am unsure (genuinely unsure) as to what I've muddled up with respect to my estimation of Casey's view of the relationship of bar (e)nash(a) and kebar enash in Daniel 7.13. He says at least twice in the book that a key reason why they cannot be linked is because the kebar enash in Dan. 7.13 is a symbolic figure for the saints (p. 30 - look it up). I objected with arguments based on Dan. 7.17 and 4Q246. James, please tell me what I've got wrong as I'm scratching my head on this one. I'm open to correction.

4. On finding the Aramaic words of Jesus, I have no problem with Casey's response to what I said. He gives his rationale as to why we can reconstruct the Aramaic words of Jesus, so be it, I'm a little more cautious.

May 08, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Wouldn't the polite down under way be to ask Maurice directly? The trouble is some people who read a review won't read the book and they will be left with a false impression of what the author thinks if the review misrepresents the book.

May 09, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Mike, I wouldn't worry about gentlemanly issues, so to speak, because ongoing debate is ongoing debate. I'm sure Maurice would agree. Besides, I wouldn't not respond back to anyone if I thought there was the possibility of resolving questions or making an important point.

My other thing is I don't want to keep on defending Maurice or speaking for him, esp. where I'm not sure what he thinks. So the following, I suppose, is the best I can do.

I may have missed something but I don't think Maurice said that you 'said anything that would turn people away from reading Casey's book. On contrary, I think compliments and criticism were equally weighted.' Maurice actually said that some of your readers won't read the book and will be misled about what he thinks. I quote Maurice's letter:
'It was also good that you summarised it at some length, as most of your readers are unlikely to read it...I have mentioned these because you could persuade people who will not read this book that I believe some things which I do not believe at all.'

On the issue of objectivity, I really can't speak too much for Maurice other than note what has been noted, namely that he would see his presupposition as a critical scholar.

My own view on orthodox Christology is that it is very anachronistic to think it would be found in the teaching of Jesus, esp. as it developed over centuries. It's hardly clarified in the NT itself.

Maurice may well be polemic at times but it is backed up with detail and argument. Whether he was right on wrong on Porter et al it was a constructed argument. He thought he found the faults and then explained why these faults happened. Same with the John book. This approach is very difficult, for obvious reasons, to turn on yourself (people would use 'oneself' here but I just can't bring myself to do it) if you think you've got the argument right. It is for other people to do.

My own view on a lot of this is that there is some confusion between objectivity and neutrality and the possible notions of limted objectvity (with the idea of no one being neutral) which I've discussed eslewhere. An excellent discussion of this issue is T.L. Haskell, Objectivity Is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History

On the confusion concerning the relationship of bar (e)nash(a) and kebar enash (3) I'm not quite sure about the nature of this argument between the two of you but one guess would be linking how to link bar (e)nash(a) and kebar enash? Perhaps something to do with linguistic issues? I won't say anymore because I can't speak for Maurice on this and I don't have enough details at hand. I think you'll have to hammer that one out with him yourself!

May 09, 2008

 
Blogger Quixie said...

This response to Michael's review of Maurice's book prompts a couple of questions:

#1 - (quote) "It is (objectivity) however a limited virtue when trying to understand human beings, whether individuals such as Jesus, or major social events such as the Origins of Christianity, a process which requires more than learning and objectivity."

my question:
What else does adequate understanding of historical persons and events require?

#2 - (quote) "On the other hand, I cannot see this quality (objectivity again) in many evangelicals, nor in Jewish scholars such as Hyam Maccoby (Jesus was a Pharisee, and Paul never had been), nor in secular scholars such as Robert Price and Barbara Thiering, whom most people are right not to take too seriously."

my question:
I'm not at all familiar with Thiering's work, so I have no opinion on her, but I am very familiar with the work of both Hyam Maccoby and Robert Price, and I'm a little confused by your comment that people should not take them seriously. Why should they not be taken seriously? I do not see their work as polemical. Intense and sometimes passionate? Yes. Sarcastic? At times, but no more than many other scholars both right and left of center are. So I'm left wondering if Maurice finds their conclusions repugnant simply because they stray so far from traditional interpretations of the evidence.

If Maccoby concludes that Jesus was a Pharisee and that Paul was not, and argues his reasoning for coming to such a conclusion at length in his work, then Maurice may certainly disagree with his conclusions, but, but for him to be so dismissive, to simply say that it shouldn't be taken seriously reveals polemical leanings of his own, in my opinion. Same goes for his dismissive assessment of Price.

#3 - Finally, my third question is for Geoff Hudson . . .

Dude! Have you tried yoga?

peace

Ó

May 09, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I have, but running is much more relaxing mentally. In fact over the years I have found it has been the best release possible from any stress.

So does anyone know of a biblical scholar who teaches bible students and believes that Jesus never existed but remains in the post? How can anyone be truly 'objective' under that kind of pressure? Take Jesus away, and biblical studies would disappear into oblivion. The interest for me is that I believe there was another story centered on a character that has for more history than ever Jesus had. The earliest 'Christianity' was entirely Jewish and its prophet was pivotal to Jewish history. He was stoned to death. His fellow prophets continued his mission of proclamation in exile in Rome. The mission of the prophet in Mark 1(in Mark's source) was identical to the later mission of his fellow prophets to the Jews of Rome. The understaanding of the purpose of that mission was completely seamless in a Jewish context from Mark 1 to Acts 2.

May 09, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

quixie, I doubt very much that you'll get an answer from Maurice. It's a minor miracle that he knew about Michael's review in the first place!

Also, not that you've said this but I'm not going to be speaking for him I don't know his reasons for dismissing the people mentioned so I'm afraid I simply can't comment.

May 09, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

a m.m.? why thank you:-)

May 10, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

ps. the forthcoming work interacts with them.

May 10, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

So today, Jesus is seen in the making of 'bread', rather than in breaking it. I wonder how he would describe his 'house' now?

When out running Quixote, remember to repeat out loud the appropriate liturgy in the traditional two-word English format. It helps to relieve the stress that others cause. Avoid Yoga - the air is unhealthy.

May 10, 2008

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James wrote:
"My own view on a lot of this is that there is some confusion between objectivity and neutrality and the possible notions of limted objectvity (with the idea of no one being neutral) which I've discussed eslewhere."

True, James. I think a scholar can be quite objective about the way he sifts evidence and doesn´t try to scew things to fit ones personal agendas. Another thing is that the same "objective" scholar doesn´t have to be neutral about what he finds. One example that comes to mind is historians who study a subject like Hitler. You can hardly be valueneutral about a phenomenon like that, and it is hardly out of place if a historian at the end of his journey makes some personal comments about Hitlerism. What makes Maurice Casey so fun to read is that he writes with passion and does make personal value judgements from time to time. The best example I can think of is his book "Is John´s gospel true". He first dissects John´s gospel with all the scholarly clarity that you can wish for and THEN has some personal thoughts on the Johannites and their ideology. I personally agree with Casey about the negative impact this sectarian ideology has had on our planet, not the least on the Jews, and the lies that seem to be at heart of GJohn, despite all its talk about TRUTH.

As for Geoff, I don´t think all the yoga in the world will really help him. I doubt if even a major miracle will do.

May 10, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Nobody will see this but I meant Maurice Casey's forthcoming work on Jesus interacts with Price and Maccoby who he does take very seriously.

May 14, 2008

 

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