Saturday, April 09, 2011

Response to Maurice Casey on Jesus as Messiah

Over at BTB 41.2 (2001) Maurice Casey has a review of my volume Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question. Unsurprisingly it is a fairly negative review with one or two polite hat tips. Truth be told, several criticisms he raises have some validity while some seem a little strange or ill-founded.

First, Casey thinks that I failed to engage with the linguistic evidence about the usage of the words Mashiah and Meshiha in ancient sources. He follows Jo Fitzmyer and Marinius de Jonge in opting for a narrow definition of messianism as tied strictly to the word "Messiah" occuring in the sources. But the problem is threefold. (1) As many scholars have recognized (I think esp. of John Collins, Martin Hengel, James Charlesworth, Matthew Black, Gerd Theissen, Andrew Chester, William Horbury, and Antii Laato), roles are more important than titles. The conceptual framework of messianism is not contingent upon the occurrence of the word "Messiah" in every instance. (2) Casey backs de Jonge's claim that there was no absolute use of the term "Messiah" in second temple Judaism (see Maurice Casey's Is John's Gospel True? 58-59). Just one wee small problem, namely, there is an absolute usage of "the Messiah" in 1QSa 2.11-12! Furthermore, the reason why most usages of the word are not absolute is because the majority of references to a Messiah/Anointed One comes from the DSS which differentiate the anointed figures as the "Messiah of Aaron and Israel" or the "Messiah of righteousness". The qualifications were needed to disambiguate which "Anointed" figure was referred to. (3) More common in the Old Testament and elsewhere is reference to the "Lord's Anointed" (e.g. Psalms of Solomon 17; Luke 2.11) and the absolute use of "the Messiah" arguably developed as an abbreviation of the fuller reference that emerged in colloquial usage. So "the Messiah" was definitely not a Christian invention as a title for Jesus.

Second, in regards to the Son of Man, I tried desperately to build a bridge between the linguistic approach to the "Son of Man" as a generic reference in Aramaic (Bar Enasha etc.) and the eschatological approach that sees it as dependent upon Daniel 7. I accepted many of Casey's claims about the linguistic approach, but argued that the particularizing connotation of the Son of Man (i.e., one man in particular) make it possible to bring Danielic allusions into some of the Son of Man material in the Gospels. I don't deny that the one like a Son of Man is a symbol for the Saints of the Most High in Daniel 7. But he is also the heavenly counter-part to the wicked "horn" (Antiochus Epiphanes) and he is also symbolic of God's kingdom. In fact, a large number of scholars regard the Son of Man in Daniel 7 as an angelic figure, not simply a corporate symbol for the nation, but an individual angel with a representative role. I should note also that our earliest sources (4Q246, Similitudes of Enoch, Gospels, Revelation, 4 Ezra) seem to have read Daniel 7 in a messianic sense with the Son of Man as an messianic deliverer. I also attended Maurice Casey's paper at the British New Testament Conference several years ago where he argued for an Aramaic source underlying the Son of Man sayings of 1 Enoch that meant that the Son of Man was in fact Enoch (see 1 Enoch 71.17). But most scholars regard 1 Enoch 71.17 as a later interpolation and if the Son of Man is Enoch then why doesn't Enoch recognize himself in his vision? (see further John Collins, "Enoch and the Son of Man" here). His approach has not convinced any Enochic scholars I know or Pseudepigrapha experts like Darrell Hannah, G.W. Nickelsburg, or Jim Davilla that the Son of Man is anything other than a messianic/eschatological figure in the Similitudes (see esp. Hannah's essay in Who is the Son of Man).

Third, in person Casey is very charming and personable chap. So I must say that I find it rather disappointing then that in book reviews he is rather ad hominum in his review of "evangelical" scholars. His reviews of books by Stan Porter, Craig Evans, N.T. Wright, and now myself have exposed our principal error of espousing conclusions that are sadly all too congruent with evangelical beliefs. The fact that one can find liberal Protestants, Catholics, and Jewish scholars arguing for the same conclusion that I make in the book - that Jesus was a messianic claimant - does not perturb Casey from dispensing such criticism and hoping that the implied reader shares his acute dislike at this religious sub-group. I do not know what demons haunt Casey's religious biography, but I plead with him that book reviews are not the place for exorcising them.

In any case, I remain grateful that Casey took time to review the book, and it is another reminder that one should read his Jesus of Nazareth as it represents the conclusions of a career of work on the Gospels. Casey has his own take on how the messianism of the church emerged from a non-messianic figure.


Jeremiah said...

I like Morna Hooker's approach which essentially posits that there was no traditional "Son of Man" figure, but that Jesus uses the phrase in that sort of titular fashion in order to associate his program with the suffering of the saints in Dan 7. He is in essence the "Son of Man" because he embodies that suffering community. As far as middle ways go, I think it is a good one.

Mr Veale said...

Unfortunately, as I read Are You the One Who is to Come? I was thinking "Maurice Casey's review will be hostile."

He just can't have evangelicals in the academy. I have no idea how you take the condecension with such good grace.