Review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

Review of Maurice Casey’s Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? June 26, 2015

My review of Maurice Casey’s book Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? has been published in Review of Biblical Literature.  Below is an excerpt from the end of the review. Please click through to read the rest.

I suspect that many will find the tone of Casey’s volume rather too acerbic—especially if they have never had to deal with online mythicists themselves. One must keep in mind the risks that were involved in writing a book like this. As scientists and historians who have tackled pseudoscholarship of other sorts have often learned, the very act of engaging proponents of these views, even in the interests of debunking them, can seem to add credibility to their claims, since they are being deemed “worthy of engaging with.” It seems to me that Casey’s approach, while not above criticism, strikes an important balance. He took the highly problematic character of mythicism seriously enough that he thought it worth showing unambiguously why it does not deserve to be taken seriously. Casey shows in detail the ways in which mythicism is not merely wrong in the ways that scholars are often wrong but rather grossly incompetent, shoddily argued and evidenced, utterly lacking in plausibility, and often seeming to willfully distort the evidence, all while its proponents maliciously malign mainstream scholars.

Casey’s book does not address every possible permutation of mythicism, and there is always more that can be said. Be that as it may, it provides ample evidence that mythicism is thoroughly unconvincing (to say the least). Yet despite dealing thoroughly and persuasively with the subject, it is probably too much to hope that Casey’s scholarly treatment of mythicism will lay the matter of the existence of the historical Jesus to rest, any more than scientists addressing young-earth creationist claims have managed to bring about the end of that pseudoscience. Casey’s book will, however, provide for the realm of historical Jesus study what a number of biologists have provided in relation to evolution: a clear and sufficiently detailed explanation of what mainstream scholarly conclusions are, why and how they are reached, and why professionals in the field all but universally find the denialist alternatives not merely unpersuasive but unscholarly, inasmuch as they fail to even implement the appropriate methods of scholarly investigation and argument.

Beyond that, however, Casey’s book offers important evidence regarding the historicity and development of material in the Gospels, their date, and the language in which they were formulated and transmitted. This material is of interest in its own right. Mythicism is the unifying thread of the book, but the volume works well as a general overview of mainstream historical Jesus studies, presented in response to popular misconceptions. Casey’s book will thus be of great interest even to those who could not care less about what Internet cranks think. In the process of responding to their claims, Casey offers his own insightful and distinctive perspective on the methods, sources, and conclusions of historical Jesus study, so whatever one’s interest in the historical figure of Jesus, this book is to be highly recommended.

Browse Our Archives