Monday, May 12, 2014

Maurice Casey (1942-2014)

Maurice Casey in April 2008,
Synoptic Problem Conference,
Lincoln College, Oxford
I was so sad to hear of the death of Prof. Maurice Casey at the weekend (see JimWest, Dominic Mattos, Larry Hurtado, Jim Davila).  Anyone familiar with contemporary New Testament scholarship will know of the massive contribution that he has made.

His enduring legacy will probably be the stimulation to rethink the Son of Man question, in two key works, one in 1979 (Son of Man: The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7) and the other in 2007 (The Solution to the Son of Man Problem), which we were delighted to have in the Library of New Testament Studies series.  Alongside this, and equally important, is his underlining of the necessity to study the Aramaic sources of the Gospels, especially in Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel (1998) and An Aramaic Approach to Q (2002).  In spite of the importance of these contributions, he made his mark in other major ways too.

His book on New Testament Christology, the result of his Cadbury Lectures in Birmingham in 1985, is probably the best, clearest presentation of the view he so clearly articulates in its title, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God, and I still assign students passages from this book when we discuss early Christology.

Like almost all of his writing, the strength of that book is that it develops a coherent and stimulating thesis and argues it with clarity and force.  There is no messing about in Casey's writing.  He doesn't just present data for the sake of it but marshalls evidence as part of a stimulating argument.  He does what he needs to do without going on for ever, and his prose is crystal clear.  One of his much underrated books is Is John's Gospel True? (1996) in which he robustly lays out the case for distancing John's Gospel from the historical Jesus.  While many contemporary scholars disagree with the book, it's an ideal starting point for getting to the heart of the debate about John and history.

Casey was writing right to the end of his life and although I am not as fond as his recent book on Jesus mythicism as I am of his other works, it would be fair to say that his big book on the historical Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of his Life and Teaching (2010), makes a major contribution to Jesus research.  It's a lively read but it is also intense, passionate and full of the emphases that made Casey so important a scholar -- the emphasis on reading the source materials in their original languages, the importance of understanding accurately Jesus' historical context, and the stress on working as an historian and resisting the urge to warp the evidence with contemporary theological concerns.

I was lucky to meet Maurice on many occasions while I was teaching at the University of Birmingham.  Maurice was down the road at the University of Nottingham and was a regular at the conferences, and it was always a pleasure to chat to him at the British New Testament Conference.  I think the first time I met him was in a taxi I shared with Maurice and Michael Goulder.  They had been good friends for years, and my association with Michael instantly put me in Maurice's good books -- I always felt like I bathed a little in Michael's reflected glory.  Although I never heard them talk about this, I suspect that they respected one another not least because it's not always easy being a scholar of religion when you don't believe in God.

I have been sorry not to see more of him since I have lived in America, but I have happy memories of long discussions over dinner at the Oxford Synoptic Problem conference in April 2008.  In spite of his occasionally acerbic and witty remarks about others, I always found him delightful, kind and very funny.  I still remember clearly several elements in our conversation at dinner, at which his much-loved graduate student and close friend Stephanie Fisher was also present.  One was the observation that scholars often get much more conservative the closer they get to the grave -- they are trying to write their way into heaven, he claimed.  The other was a lengthy discussion about the properties of port, which, he felt, were insufficiently appreciated by many of those present at the conference.

And so I am pouring a glass of port now and raising it to Maurice, who will be dearly missed, and whose like we may never see again.


BGU said...

Thank you, Mark...I loved Maurice, not least for his friendship to those of us who were late comers or not quite central to the group!

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Mark, nice post.