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One of the projects that I hope to actually knuckle down and use this blog for is to blog my way through Richard Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus when it comes out. We’ll see if the demands of family life actually let me accomplish that. I definitely have some time occasionally but will I want to spend it doing that? We’ll see. I actually have been following the question of whether or not Jesus existed for quite some time so perhaps I can provide some context to those who haven’t.
As is his wont, Richard Carrier has written a very thorough review of Maurice Casey’s new book Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? I can’t say I’m surprised that Casey wrote what sounds like a terrible book. The few times I have read him, at Jospeh Hoffmann’s blog for example, I found him to be rambling and incapable of making clear arguments. In other words, he fit right in at Hoffmann’s blog. Apparently Casey’s main argument rests on his ridiculous (and thoroughly rejected by his entire field) notion that the gospels were written very early and are based on original Aramaic versions.
Casey’s Jesus has no structure or organization capable of being analyzed. It is basically just a random jump from digression to digression, very loosely grouped into eight topical chapters, as he randomly picks some item or other from mythicist literature in that general topic (why that one and not others, no idea), rants about it for a bit, then suddenly starts ranting about another random topic, with only the barest thread of connected thought process between them. It is an extraordinarily frustrating book to read for that reason. He also repeats himself frequently, digresses at odd times on topics not significantly related to the book’s thesis, and never actually gets around to explaining what his argument for the historicity of Jesus actually is. You can sort of reconstruct it on your own, if you have patience and endurance, but it’s weird that you have to do this.
There is also an extraordinary amount of dishonesty and misrepresentation (although I suspect in many cases this is actually a cognitive defect: Casey literally doesn’t understand what his opponents are saying quite a lot of the time–I will have more to say on this point below), as well as a fairly consistent reliance on straw man argumentation (he often ignores–in fact, completely fails even to mention–all the strong points made by an opponent on some subject and only mentions and critiques the weak ones, or only chooses to address an argument as made by a lousy mythicist, ignoring the much better versions of the same argument made by more reliable mythicists).
This book is also characterized by an awe-inspiringly near-total reliance on a single argument for historicity that is monumentally illogical (the Criterion of Aramaicism). I say near-total, because he has one other argument to stand on, borrowed from Christian apologetics, which is his mildly contradictory insistence that in his letters Paul is talking about the historical Jesus all the time, and simultaneously didn’t talk about the historical Jesus because he never had to. (Yes, those are his only two arguments in defense of historicity. He wisely dodges relying on any extrabiblical evidence, although he briefly flirts with the James passage in Josephus, and he mentions the other passage in Josephus and the one in Tacitus, but doesn’t make any clear argument from them.)