Book Review: Maurice Casey: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist by Maurice Casey Myths? 2014, 288 pp.

Maurice Casey is  Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Nottingham, UK. He doesn’t profess to be a Christian. I am familiar with his work on Aramaic and the Son of Man topic and early Christianity.  I had read Casey’s online work on mythicsm here. So I know he doesn’t agree with the mythicism position in that Jesus didn’t exist as an actual historical figure.

From what I gather from reading this book, it is apparent that there as been some push back to Casey’s views on the topic. Hence, Casey takes the mythicism position to task and discusses the poor scholarship that is invoked by the the mythicist movement (e.g, Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Frank Zindler and some online mythers as well). After all, they are only about a handful at best. The one myther who gets the most attention is Earl Doherty who has published on the topic. In my opinion, he pretty much decimates Doherty’s work. Attention is given to the misunderstanding of Paul and how they always come up with “interpolations” in the New Testament to suit their views.

In the end, Casey finds that the existence and crucifixion of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament is a fact. Also, Josephus does provide us with some knowledge of Jesus as well. Even though this book is written by two Christians, I found Gregory Boyd ‘s and Paul Eddy’s: The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition to be a much more thorough treatment of the myther position.

 As far as the myther position, I can almost tell when someone has been hanging out on the internet reading the myther arguments. They get repeated over and over. I am pretty bored with it. If mythers want to join the rest of us (that includes the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, atheists like Gerd Lüdemann and others) and agree that Jesus lived, died, and his disciples at least thought they saw Him rise from the dead, perhaps we can have a discussion.

One thing I will not hesitate to say is this:

Most skeptics assume the New Testament is biased. Therefore, they demand sources that are written about Jesus outside the New Testament. Furthermore, these sources need to be written by non-Christians, which equates to pure objectivity and no propaganda.

Sadly, the demand for this wish list shows the ignorance about the oral world of Jesus. Casey says:

“The major reasons why all our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus are Christian is that Jesus was a first- century Jewish prophet who lived in a primarily oral Jewish culture, not a significant politician in the Graeco-Roman world. By contrast, for example, Julius Caesar was an important political and literary figure in the highly literate culture of the Romans. It is therefore natural that he should have written literary works which have survived, and that other surviving literary sources have written about him.”

Casey goes onto say:

“Jesus of Nazareth left no literary works at all, and he had no reason to write any. He lived in a primarily oral culture, except for the sanctity and central importance of its sacred texts, which approximate to our Hebrew Bible. A variety of works now thought of as Apocrypha (e.g. Sirach) or Pseudopigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch) were held equally sacred by some Jewish people, and could equally well learnt and repeated by people who did not possess the then- difficult skill of writing. Almost all our surviving primary sources about Jesus are Christian because most people who had any interest in writing about him were his followers,and the few relatively early comments by other writers such as Josephus and Tacitus are largely due to special circumstances, such as Jesus’ brother Jacob (Jos.Ant .XX,200), or the great fire of Rome” (Tac.Annals XI, 44). – Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? by Maurice Casey

When it comes to mythers, I still think Ehrman hits the nail on the head here:

“ What is driving the mythicists agenda? Why do they work so hard at showing that Jesus never really lived? I do not have a definitive answer to that question, but I do have a hunch. It is no accident that virtually all mythicists (in fact, all of them, my knowledge), are either atheists or agnostics. The ones I know anything about are quite virulently, even militantly atheist. On the surface that may make sense: who else would be more invested in showing Jesus never existed? But when you think about it or a moment, it is not entirely logical. Whether or not Jesus existed is completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists. So why would virulent atheists (or agnostics)  be so invested in showing that Jesus did not exist? It is important to realize the obvious fact that the mythicists all live in a Christian world for which Christianity is the religion of choice for the vast bulk of the population.


Of course we have large numbers of Jews and Muslims among us and scattered Buddhists, Hindus, and other major faith traditions in our culture. But by and large the people we meet who are religious are Christians. And mythicists are avidly antireligious.


To debunk religion, then, one needs to undermine specifically the Christian form of religion. And what easier way is there to undermine Christianity than to claim that the figure at the heart of Christian worship and devotion never existed but was invented, made up, or created? If Christianity is base d on Jesus, and Jesus never existed where does that leave the religion of billions of the world’s population? It leaves it in shambles, at least in the thinking of the mythicists. What this means is that, ironically, just as secular humanists spend so much time at their annual meetings talking about religion, so too mythicists who are so intent on showing that the historical Jesus never existed are not being driven by a historical concern. Their agenda is religious and they are complicit in a religious ideology. They are not doing history, they are doing theology”– Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist, The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, pgs 337-38.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Maurice Casey: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

  1. J.W. Wartick June 25, 2014 / 5:01 am

    It sounds like a pretty solid book. I have read eddy and Boyd’s book, so would I gain anything more from this one?

    • chab123 June 25, 2014 / 1:12 pm

      As I said in the post, it is not near as good as the Boyd Eddy book. But keep in mind, Casey is not a Christian. The book is decent but not near as extensive as the Boyd book.

  2. Steven Carr June 29, 2014 / 9:20 am

    Casey totally slammed me for my baseless assumption that Jews in the first-century thought the 10 commandments had been given to them by God.

    He did a number on me for that one!

  3. ralfellis November 16, 2014 / 6:26 pm

    Actually, Jesus was a prince of Edessa in northern Syria. Not only are there many similarities between the Edessan princes and the NT account, one of the princes of Edessa had the same names as Jesus.

    The Biblical monarch was called ……. King Jesus EmManuel.
    The Edessan monarch was called …… King Izas Manu(el).

    And all of the Edessan monarchs wore a plaited Crown of Thorns. The biblical Jesus was crucified wearing this exact same plaited Crown of Thorns and purple royal robe, because he was this very same prince and king of Edessa.

    See “Jesus, King of Edessa”. This is a scholarly study of all the available historical evidence, including the Tanakh, Talmud, Josephus Flavius, the Roman historians, and venerable Syriac historians like Moses of Chorene and Yohannes Drasxanakertci.

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