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Maurice Casey, My Friend: A Remembrance





By Jim West
Quartz Hill School of Theology
Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary
May 2014


Maurice Casey was one of the best known scholars of the New Testament presently (or more properly, recently) working in the United Kingdom. He was a tireless researcher who devoted his life to a serious and, insofar as this is possible, an independent investigation of the New Testament freed from dogmatic constraints. Or more particularly, to the life of the Historical Jesus. A brief look at recent bibliographic entries wherein he is mentioned makes the point sufficiently:

Ian Paul, “Review of The Great Angel—A Study of Israel’s Second God by Margaret Barker.” Themelios, No. 3, May 1994 19 (1994): 25.

David Wenham, “New Testament.” Themelios, No. 3, April 1986 11 (1986): 94.

Bruce Chilton, and Deirdre Good, Starting New Testament Study: Learning and Doing. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2009.

David Arthur deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Brad Arnett, and James Flanagan, “The Day, Hour, and Year of Jesus’ Crucifixion.” Page 323 in Holman Christian Standard Bible: Harmony of the Gospels. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Morna Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark. Black’s New Testament Commentary. London: Continuum, 1991.

Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ (2003).

James D.G. Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem (2009).

Dale C. Allison, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (2010).

Mogens Mueller, The Expression 'Son of Man' and the Development of Christology: A History of Interpretation (2011).

Further, James Crossley has remarked

It is probably fair to say that the overarching concern of Maurice Casey’s academic career has been to explain the emergence of Christian origins in relation to early Judaism, with much of his specific, detailed research focusing on the canonical Gospels. Of course, Casey’s research has stretched beyond the canonical Gospels. Indeed, in his 1991 book, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God, Casey proposed a grand theory of the development of early Christology with reference to broader interdisciplinary approaches to identity that had been gathering pace since the 1960s. Here Casey looked at how issues relating to ethnicity and the ways Jewish beliefs and practices, such as Sabbath and monotheism, functioned in the construction of Jewish identities in the ancient world. Against this backdrop Casey analyzed the ways in which Jesus, Jesus’ first followers, Paul, the Synoptics, John’s Gospel and others used, modified, rejected, or ignored various issues associated with Judaism to explain the emergence of a new gentile movement, with key steps made by the people responsible for John’s Gospel, who would identify themselves as “gentile”, or perhaps better “gentile Christian”, over against Judaism as a whole.1

That same James Crossley has already offered a two part obituary/ remembrance on the Sheffield Biblical Studies Blog.2 It, then, is unnecessary for me to discuss his academic contributions. They are well known and easily discoverable. What I wish to do, instead, is describe the sort of friend that Prof Casey was. My intention is to provide a slightly different perspective than others have (and doubtless will).

I ‘met’ Professor Casey many years back now virtually. We, you see, never met in the flesh (though that was something I always wished to do). Rather, we engaged in a collegial correspondence which blossomed into a collaborative relationship which in turn became a true friendship. We began by discussing work and then we turned to discussing his forthcoming works and then I helped with proofing and editing and in the meanwhile we grew as close as two people can grow over a great distance in space. We discussed every subject under the sun in due course and learned a great deal about one another.

In the last years of his life Maurice suffered a series of ailments which left him weakened and stymied and yet he persevered manfully through his “valley of the shadow”. As he worked on his final publication (and certainly not knowing that it would be his final publication) he grew progressively weaker, progressively worse. And yet he was so troubled by the rise of the ‘mythicist’ movement that he was determined to see the project through to the end. I’m grateful that he was able to.

His attitude towards ‘Mythicism’, you see, serves as an example of his deep concern for the discipline he loved. Sensing that the mythicist ‘challenge’ would raise problems he determined that, however distasteful the task, their views had to be addressed. Indeed, we discussed (as he did with Crossley), the regrettable position of needing to respond to the mythicists and also understanding that dignifying their claims with a response could itself be problematic. It was a project-dilemma with which Casey wasn’t comfortable but one which I (and surely others) urged him to undertake. Silence, we agreed at the end of the day, would be taken by the general public to be agreement and scholars, Casey insisted, owed it to the public to speak out.

That final point was a regular feature of our email exchanges. The public deserves scholarly responses to even the most distasteful and absurd claims. Consequently, his book on the mythicists and their portrait of Jesus would be his only word, his last word, on the topic. It would, he believed, suffice to show the intellectual paucity and vacuity of the mythicist argument.

And it does, and is.

The primary characteristic, then, of Maurice Casey was his deep longing to bring sensible and accurate scholarship to people who needed it. And who wanted it. It is, to me, his most endearing characteristic. It is, I think, the characteristic which made us friends.

It wasn’t simply a British scholar who died on 10 May of 2014. It was a man who cared about the truth. That sets him apart from the hoards of academics whose main concern is fame and its sister fortune and then only secondarily the truth (if they even believe in such a thing as the truth).

But even now a complete picture of Maurice Casey does not yet exist. James Crossley’s explanation of Casey’s contributions to scholarship and the remembrances of Hurtado3 and Goodacre4 and Mattos5 skim the surface and as brilliant as they are do not say everything that should be or could be said. That, however, is no fault of theirs because it is simply impossible to encapsulate the life of any person in an obituary; especially when the person being remembered is as complex and multifaceted as M. Casey.

Yet no remembrance of Casey would be complete without it making reference to his ‘wicked’ sense of humor and his quick and clever wit. After the publication of his massive ‘Jesus’6 in 2010 (his penultimate book, it turns out), we had a bit of a discussion about the panel discussion held on it at the British New Testament Conference in 2011. I had informed him of a blog entry7 on the Conference and Maurice wrote8

Dear Jim,

Thanks very much for this. Unfortunately, I was more ill than ever and was not able to get to the debate. I fear that was my last academic conference. This was especially regrettable as I was not impressed by the papers, and would have loved to debate them in person. I did not think any of the authors really understood either Aramaic, or Jewish culture, whereas I thought they were very heavily influenced by what to me is a hopelessly bureaucratised version of a very small 'field' of 'study', and I would very much have liked to make these points to them in person in proper academic debate. James gave a very entertaining account of impersonating me, but that is not quite the same! I attach ch 4 of the first draft of the mythicist book, and would be very grateful for your comments in due course.

With best wishes,

Maurice.

That, in essence, is Maurice Casey. He was what we here in the South call a ‘straight shooter’ who never wavered from his course and who was fearless in his willingness to stick to his views unless they were shown to be inadequate- which they, frankly, seldom were. He was a decent and intelligent man and more than most I will miss his brilliance.

There is, obviously, more that can and more that should be said. But I will leave the description of those facets of Maurice’s unique character to the many others who knew, and loved, him.


Notes

1 JUDAISM, JEWISH IDENTITIES AND THE GOSPEL TRADITION: ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF MAURICE CASEY, Edited by James G. Crossley (London: Equinox), 2010, p. 3.

7 http://wp.me/pLvic-9aQ" (accessed 20 May 2014).

8 On 11 September, 2011- personal correspondence.





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