Thursday, May 08, 2008

Maurice Casey Responds

I received an email from Maurice Casey in response to my earlier review and I have pasted its contents below:

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). 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,

1 comment:

Robert M. Price said...

Professor Casey,

I am a great admirer of your work. Let me say I was stung to read your rebuke, re my lack of objectivity, etc. I seek to learn from criticism, not to chafe at it, and if you would care to elaborate, to specify criticisms, I would receive them with an open heart. Thank you for any criticism you may offer. I'm sure I will benefit from it.

Robert M. Price