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.

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Why Apologists Can’t Afford to Ignore the Work of The Holy Spirit

Introduction

When Jesus brought his Church into existence, he gave all his people certain gifts so they can be a blessing to others. As Rick Schenker, President of Ratio (a nationwide apologetics ministry) says, “the apologist is truly fulfilling the Ephesians 4:11,12 model of an evangelist by equipping others to “do the work of the ministry”– namely winning their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to Christ. Apologists are doing the exact thing that Paul told his protégé Timothy to do, “The things which you have heard from me…, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2).” See the entire article here:

All of us who have been in the apologetic endeavor know it can be hard to get our fellow Christians to get motivated about the apologetic task before us. I think one of the first things that needs to be dealt with is getting Christians motivated about engaging the culture. For the record, even though I lead an apologetic ministry on a college campus and having done lots of outreach, I am just as susceptible to weaknesses such as apathy, complacency, and self-centeredness. One thing that helps me when I began to fall into these areas of struggle is to remember the following:

The Holy Spirit is the Agent of Evangelism and Apologetics

In my opinion, one of the most important statements made by Jesus are seen in John 14: 15-21:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Who is the Holy Spirit and What is His Role?

The Holy Spirit is one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.  Many scholars say the Holy Spirit is “another Jesus.” He is the one who is called to one’s side; He takes the place of Jesus. His primary role is to exalt Jesus and is He is with Believers forever (John 14:6). I can say for certain that any time I have ever grown complacent or apathetic, the Holy Spirit is always at work trying to stir my heart towards a lost and needy world. Now don’t get me wrong; the only way we can really experience His stirring is if we maintain a close relationship with God. Regular prayer, Bible study and devotion, as well as deep covenantal relationships with our fellow Christians play a large role in sensing His presence and promptings in our lives. Hence, spiritual disciplines play major factor in whether we will be truly yielded to God.

When Jesus said to his disciples “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5), we need to remember every child of god is indwelt by the same Spirit that Jesus promised to his original disciples. We also need to come to the place where we ask God in prayer to give us a heart for the world around us. While we may have read the commands about evangelism, we still can’t get over the hump. He may need to do a supernatural work in us so we can eventually take up a cross and follow the Lord on daily basis (Luke 9:23). Once again, this work is something that can only be done by our cooperation with the Spirit in us. We can ask God to change our hearts. And we need to remember because of the reality of life itself, many of us may be at the place where we have grown hardened or calloused towards others. We may need to ask God to  do some major surgery on us.

Are Apologists Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

I can’t speak for everyone here. But I have been exposed to plenty of apologists. I have met and interacted with them in joint efforts, evangelism, prayer, and writing. I am all for logic, critical thinking, and rational argumentation. Apologetics integrates a broad variety of disciplines such as history, science, ethics, theology, philosophy, etc. Hence, it can end up becoming quite exhausting.

Another passage to remember:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4).

I think many of us as apologists need to have a deeper spirituality. I am not advocating weirdness or fanaticism. But when we become overly fixated on evidence and epistemological certainty, it can almost become an idol at times. It consumes us. We all know that in many cases it is evidence and epistemological certainty that atheists/skeptics say they are after. For Christians, unless we spend time in community and are committed to spiritual disciplines, we may run the risk of drying up and eventually leaving the faith.

In my opinion, J.P. Moreland is one of the most brilliant Christian philosophers to date. He is also one that teaches and speaks on how to integrate the mind into our faith. He knows we have to see it as a holistic process. Check out his website here.

So we may want to ask some important questions?

1 How deep are your roots? (Hint, study John 15)
2. Are you drawing from Him on a daily basis?
3. Are you finding satisfaction in Him?
4. Do you long to know Him better?
5. Where are you in your spiritual disciplines?

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McAtheism and the McChurch

By David Glass and Graham Veale at Saints and Skeptics

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

Smith  went on to argue that theism demanded a rigorous academic critique. Compare his honest appraisal of the academic scene with the aphorism: ‘There’s nothing wrong with God that a dose of reality won’t cure’. This soundbite was entered into a competition organised on ‘Blasphemy Day’ to write the slogan most likely to ‘challenge’ religious believers.  On the same day young sceptics were encouraged to take up ‘The Blasphemy Challenge’ by uploading comments to YouTube.

Here’s a typical recording according to USA Today: ‘Hi, my name is Ray and I deny the Holy Spirit. [Ray pauses] No lightning. Maybe next time’.  Journalist Barabara Hegarty noted that Blasphemy Day was ‘about the future of the atheist movement’. It was part of an attempt by younger atheists to adopt a new approach — ‘a more aggressive, often belittling posture toward religious believers’. Now that this ‘younger, aggressive posture’ has become the public face of atheism, its worth taking a moment to consider why it has become so popular and how the Church should respond.

Catching the Net

In the late 1990s, several commentators noticed a disturbing trend in evangelicalism. Managerial and promotional techniques were rapidly replacing mature preaching and theological depth. Chuck Colson called the result ‘McChurch’ . The Christian message was sliced down to easily digestible portions. The nutritional value of the church’s message was neglected in favour of more appetising nuggets with mass appeal.

Evangelicalism remains both stubbornly popular and politically powerful in American society. A younger generation of atheists regarded this success with envious eyes. They were more evangelistic than their predecessors, and they were prepared to mimic the tactics of  Church marketeers (indeed, many ‘ex-Christians’ and ‘ex-apologists’ brought insider’s knowledge.) The atheist movement has become more media savvy, and has learned how to market its message to a younger, more cynical market. We call this ‘dumbing down’ for mass appeal  ‘McAtheism’.

Note that McAtheism predates the publishing phenomenon known as the ‘New Atheism’.  Prior to the internet, Humanist Societies did exist, but were relatively small in number and influence. They could not match churches for weekly attendance. The internet has changed all that; it has long allowed strangers separated by geography to meet and exchange thoughts. Blogs and chat-rooms are oddly addictive and can draw people back daily to exchange ideas and comments. Thanks to sites like ‘Infidels.org’ and ‘Dawkins.net’, the individual atheist need no longer feel isolated and swimming against the tide.

Atheist blogs and forums provided an untapped market for atheist tracts; they explain the astounding success of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett had already discovered a profitable audience for similar works. Soon other writers capitalised on the trend: Christopher Hitchens gave us God is Not Great; philosopher A.C. Grayling wrote Against All Gods and The God Argument, and  scientist Lewis Wolpert delivered Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Physicists Lawrence Krauss and Steven Weinberg voiced their support in articles and reviews.

Of course, other factors help explain the mass appetite for accessible texts which pillory religious belief.  In the wake of 9/11, and the public’s increasing unease with the “War on Terror”, many hoped for a simple solution to the West’s problems. New Atheism sold the idea that religion could end terrorism by politely agreeing to quietly disappear. Scepticism became a way of rebelling against the conservatism of the Bush administration. Yet 9/11 alone does not explain the success of New Atheism; Dawkins’ natural market had already grown and developed online.

When all else fails, hit the panic buttton

The strident tone of the core New Atheist texts can be attributed to a moral panic in secularism.  According to the core secular narrative, intellectual progress leads to unbelief. As knowledge and expertise accumulated in the Western academy God should have been forced into exile . However, things didn’t go to plan. Quentin Smith notes that Alvin Plantinga’s work in the late sixties and early seventies:

made it manifest that a realist theist was writing at the highest qualitative level of analytic philosophy, on the same playing field as Carnap, Russell, Moore, Grünbaum, and other naturalists…Quickly, naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (e.g., Van Fraassen) to epistemology (e.g., Moser), being theists…God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.

Analytic philosophy is about clarifying and defending ideas; it is a notoriously rigorous discipline. If theism can survive and thrive there, it demands intellectual respect. But, contra Smith, Christian theism’s intellectual revival was not confined to the philosophy department. Outside conservative seminaries, many New Testament scholars began to place more confidence in the Gospels as historical sources; physicists discovered that our universe is ”finely-tuned” for life. Historians discredited the myth that science and faith were perpetually at war; indeed, Christian ideas played an important role in the birth of science. Theism not only refused to die; it was reinvigorated by new arguments, ideas and evidence

To read on, click here:

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