Is Not This an Incompetent New Testament Scholar? A Response to Thomas L. Thompson

See Also: Is This Not the Carpenter’s Son?

By Professor P. M. Casey
Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies
University of Nottingham
August 2012

In a recent article in this journal, Thomas Thompson wrote what he described as ‘A Response to Bart Ehrman,’ though the connection is not always obvious. The purpose of this response is not generally to defend Ehrman, but to point out that Thompson is completely wrong from beginning to end. Ehrman got one main point right, and it should be at the centre of the discussion. He commented, ‘Thompson is trained in biblical studies, but he does not have degrees in New Testament or early Christianity. He is, instead, a Hebrew Bible scholar….’ Thompson’s lack of expertise regarding New Testament Studies and Early Christianity is palpable throughout his essay.

For example, he comments on the American Jesus seminar, ‘Biblical Scholars outside the United States find the seminar’s conclusions consistently conservative.’1 For this extremely general statement, he offers not one jot of evidence! The mind boggles to imagine what he has read, and who he has been talking to. His comments bear no reasonable relationship to anything I have read, or to the comments of New Testament scholars to whom I have spoken. From the perspective of most New Testament scholars, that seminar’s conclusions are radical to the extent of bordering on lunacy. Among many direct criticisms of the American Jesus Seminar for its arbitrary and radical, not conservative, work, examples include Dunn in 2003, so a work which might have been available to Thompson, and the contents of which were abundantly discussed at the SNTS Jesus seminar and informally at SNTS, both before and after it was published. Dunn also notes the earlier criticism of Tuckett in 1999, which was more obviously available to Thompson.2 Thompson, however, omits all such work. Why did Thompson never come to discuss such work with some 50 or so New Testament scholars at that seminar, and some 300 or so at the conference when there were abundant opportunities for informal discussion?

Again, Thompson presupposes the priority of Matthew, a traditional Catholic doctrine which is wholly at odds with critical scholarship. For example, his discussion of the ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ depends on Mt. 21.10-17, so that the story ‘closes on a cryptic scene of healing the lame and the blind [who] have come to Jesus (Mt 21:14) in obvious imitation of Isaiah’s foreigner and eunuch.’3 He does not explain why Mark delayed the cleansing of the Temple until the day after Jesus arrived there, a necessary consequence of imagining the priority of the Matthean account, or why Mark should have inserted the fact that Jesus ‘did not allow anyone to carry a vessel through the Temple’ (Mk. 11.16). Both features of Mark’s account make perfect historical sense in their own right, as has often been pointed out in scholarship which Thompson omits.4 Such points are part of the argument for the priority of Mark.

Similarly, Thompson presupposes the priority of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final Passover with his disciples (Matt. 26.17-30// Mk 14.12-26). Here too, it should be obvious to anyone with any knowledge of critical scholarship that the Markan account has priority, because it fits properly into first century Judaism, including lots of Aramaisms. For example, I pointed out already in 1998 that Mark’s account is based on an old Aramaic source which made Jewish assumptions.5 It begins ‘on the first day of unleavened bread, when they were sacrificing the Passover’ (Mk 14.12). This puts them in the Temple for the sacrifice of their lamb or goat. He sent two of (ek, quite unnecessary in Greek, reflecting the Aramaic min) his disciples with instructions to find the room which he had arranged for without being detected, saying that the man whom they meet will show them a large upper room laid out ready, as would be necessary for a normally large Passover group of Jesus with his disciples, not for just him and the Twelve.

During the meal, Jesus predicted his betrayal by ‘one of the Twelve,’ which was shocking but would not make sense if only the Twelve were there. At the end of the meal, he said ‘we will not add to drink of the fruit of the vine,’ an Aramaic idiom for ‘we will not drink again.’ Thompson did the same with all this as he did with all decent New Testament scholarship: he left it out.

Thompson declares, ‘Ehrman pompously ignores my considerable analytical discussion…’ I cannot find anything in Thompson’s book which deserves to be called ‘considerable analytical discussion.’ In its place we find Thompson’s convictions. Two are especially important. One is his continued attachment to the priority of Matthew, a Catholic dogma in which he was brought up, and of which I have given two examples. The other major example is what he calls ‘tropes.’ Much of this has nothing to do with Jesus at all, let alone the historical Jesus. For example ch 5, ‘The Myth of the Good King,’ ch 6 ‘The Myth of the Conquering Holy Warrior,’ ch 8 ‘Holy War,’ ch 9 ‘Good King, Bad King’ and ch 10, ‘The Figure of David in Story and Song’ hardly mention Jesus at all. This is hardly surprising at one level since Jesus was not really a king, good or bad, or a conquering holy warrior, did not take part in a holy war, and he did not have much to do with David either.

Some of Thompson’s book is also very badly presented. He omits every indication that Jesus expected the coming of the kingdom soon. For example, he does not discuss Jesus’ plea to the inner group of three in Gethsemane ‘that you may not enter into trial’ (Mk 14.38//Mt 26.41). Instead, he declares that Matthew ‘reiterates the songs of Thutmosis III and Ramses IV.’6 He does not however explain how Matthew might have known the ‘songs of Thutmosis III and Ramses IV,’ nor does he quote any of them, to the point where it is not clear what Matthew is supposed to have drawn from them. Yet Thompson must be aware that most of his readers would not be familiar with ‘the songs of Thutmosis III and Ramses IV.’ He therefore ought to have quoted them: he should have given full and clear references to complete texts and translations of them (it is not enough to put general collections of Egyptian material in the middle of everything else in the bibliography). He should have provided evidence that they might reasonably be supposed to have been available to Matthew: and here again it matters that he presupposes the Catholic dogma of the priority of Matthew.

Thompson also has the common mythicist fault of setting things from the life of Jesus in a mythical context, when there is good evidence that they were at home in the historical context presented by Mark. For example, quoting Matt. 26.26-9, he declares that the ‘metaphor of “new wine” draws on the biblical tradition of royal ideology...’7 But new wine was a real substance which real people drank when they could afford it, and everyone who could drank new wine at Passover. As Mark put it, in dependence on an old Aramaic source, as we have seen, ‘And he took a cup and said a blessing and gave (it) to them, and all of them drank in it. And he said to them, ‘This (is/was) my blood, it (is) of the covenant, shed for many. Amen I say to you that we will not add to drink from the fruit of the vine until that day on which I drink it and it (will be) new in the kingdom of God.’8 Here Jesus’ interpretation of the wine as ‘my blood, it (is) of the covenant, shed for many’ is metaphorical, but the wine itself and the whole company drinking from a common cup is not metaphorical at all, it is part of a basic historical account of a Passover meal.

Finally, Thompson declares, ‘Apparently to him (sc. Ehrman), the more than 40 years I have devoted to research in my study of the primary fields of Old Testament exegesis, ancient Near Eastern literature and ancient history—not least in regards to questions of historicity—leaves me unqualified and lacking the essential competence to address such questions because they also come to include a comparison of such an analysis with these same stereotypical literary tropes as they occur in the Gospels.’

This has another major mistake. Pursuing his convictions in fields such as Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern literature does not make Thompson a competent New Testament scholar. Doing this, without proper qualifications, in an incompetent manner, for 40 years, makes him worse, not better.

I therefore conclude that Thompson’s work is wrong from beginning to end. This is partly because he has not become competent in New Testament Studies, and partly because he has ideological convictions which he inserts at all points where he should have offered serious intellectual analysis.


1 Thompson, Messiah Myth, pp. 10-11.

2 Dunn, Jesus Remembered, pp. 58-65, citing inter alia C. M. Tuckett, ‘The Historical Jesus, Crossan and Methodology,’ in S. Maser and E. Schlarb (eds.), Text und Geschichte. Facetten theologischen Arbeitens aus dem Freundes- und Schülerkreis: Dieter Lührmann zum 60. Geburtstag (Marburger theologische Studien 50. Marburg: Elwert, 1999), pp. 257-79.

3 Thompson, Messiah Myth, p. 80.

4 Cf. e.g. P. M. Casey, ‘Culture and Historicity: The Cleansing of the Temple,’ CBQ 59 (1997), pp. 306–32, which was available to Thompson. For a summary in English for the general reader, see now Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 411-5.

5 P. M. Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (SNTSMS 102. Cambridge: CUP, 1998), ch 6. For a summary in English for the general reader, see now Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 429-37.

6 Thompson, Messiah Myth, p. 199.

7 Thompson, Messiah Myth, p. 199.

8 Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, pp. 220-1. For a summary in English for the general reader, Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 433-5.

Comments (28)

While I have no intention of going into this debate, it may be a consequence of what happened more than 200 years ago when in Tübingen the division between the OT and the NT came up. Luther was a colleague, professor in biblical exegesis (often tell my students this) but he covered both testaments. From a theological point of view we should speculate about bringing the two disciplines together again. As it is NT and OT scholarship has developed in two often very different ways, and sometimes we in the OT are just speculating about what their business is in NT studies. I guess that NT people could say the same.

However, when this is said, I must confess that I have sometimes said even before Tom came to Copenhagen that there is not much relating to the Jesus figure which I could not find an ANE background for, including the death and resurrection of the Divine being.

As to Prof. Casey's review, I checked a few informations about Prof. Casey and saw something he said about the OT which is relatively out of tune with present day OT scholarship (on Jews and monotheism in Antiquity). Just to make my case clear.

People in other fields like general history may also speculate about how healthy the concentration of such small subject as NT and OT scholarship really is. I remember my teacher in Akkadian already in the 1960s calling the obsession with the minutest details in the Bible for perverse, as they had only a handful of people to handle their enormous source material.


#1 - Niels Peter Lemche - 08/06/2012 - 18:29

You mean, that a professor of Glottology cannot write a paper or a book on Noam Chomsky's theories because he's not specialized in contemporary linguistics, or a professor of Philosophy can't also pen a paper on Plato because he/she hasn't studied enough Greek philosophy? I believe you're absolutely wrong. Thompson has enough qualifications to write any paper on Bible events or charatcters. He'll be evaluated by his academic peers possibly in a journal. This is how the academia works.

#2 - Antonio Lombatti - 08/06/2012 - 18:38

Dear Professor Casey,
Thank you for your critique. While it is very clear that we do not agree, I am puzzled by your claim that I argue for (or assume) the priority of Matthew. This is not correct. I have rather argued that OT and ANE texts have priority and that both Mark, Luke and Matthew are dependent on these: hence my title. In the context of comparative literature, I find it near impossible to establish direct (sic!)borrowing and dependence,neither from Matthew, Mark nor the well known songs I cited related to Thutmosis III and others.

My book deals variously with the figures of both David and Jesus. I nevertheless am more amused than puzzled that you do not see Jesus as a king.

´Neither you nor Ehrman are clear about what you mean as "competent in New Testament studies." For you it seems to have much to do with the 2 source theory.

Besides my alleged incompetence, you point to my "ideological convictions" Is this an effort at slander, or were you really voicing here a criticism?

For the record, my PhD is in relition, with concentration on Near Eastern Studies, Old Testament and New Testament.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Coipenhagen

#3 - Thomas L. Thompson - 08/07/2012 - 11:32

Antonio, I don't think the point is to say Thompson ought not to write about this; it is that his lack of expertise is what hampered his research leading to flawed conclusions.

“ He commented, ‘Thompson is trained in biblical studies, but he does not have degrees in New Testament or early Christianity. He is, instead, a Hebrew Bible scholar….’ Thompson’s lack of expertise regarding New Testament Studies and Early Christianity is palpable throughout his essay.”

Thompson’s writings about the new Testament period would improve were he more familiar with the subject. For instance, when examing the background of the Matthew text, it must be held in mind that some of the material is as it is because it was copied from Mark. If he holds some other opinion than what is widely accepted regarding the relationship between Mark and the other Gospels, he should explain that to his readers so educated ones will understand his reasoning.

#4 - mike wilson - 08/07/2012 - 19:59

Dr. Casey,

I'd like to thank you for taking the time to respond to Thomas' essay. I was wondering if his challenge would be taken up by any scholar of New Testament in a serious fashion, of if his otherwise pertinent discussion would go to waste. I am rather grateful for your response, since it is clear that while you both disagree on a great deal, his response is resonating with the right people.

When I first saw that you had responded, I was quite worried that I would have to knuckle-down, so to speak, for a hard fight on the challenges present in New Testament studies that Thomas and I have tried to demonstrate. It was rather upsetting to see that you haven't actually addressed any of them. But what have you addressed exactly? That was what I was trying to determine while I read through your paper.

Like Thomas above, I am puzzled by your interpretation of his arguments. I'm not sure how you came away from Thomas' Messiah Myth under the impression he was favoring Matthean priority--or rather, you argue that he has no knowledge of it--especially since he makes it clear that he is both aware of the arguments for Markan priority (pp. 2-7 specifically, but also pp. 75-80 in his discussion of the children and the kingdom) and why he is concerned with something else (the ANE origins of the narratives in the Gospels, and therefore irrelevant to his discussion; op.cit.).

It is a shame that you do not find anything useful in Thomas' Messiah Myth, but Mogens Muller seems to think differently and praises it highly in his chapter in our forthcoming collection. He disagrees with the conclusions, but he writes:

' friend and former colleague, Thomas L. Thompson, in 'The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David' from 2005 seeks to dissolve the Jesus figure of the Gospels as a historical figure, making him, so to speak, the epitome of biblical and other--far older--Near Eastern concepts of the royal Messiah, the question of historicity invites us to look in other directions for an answer, rather than try to identify ipsissima verba lesu or situations which could have been historical recollections. This is not to deny that the Jesus story in the Gospels is saturated with reminiscences of Old Testament figures and events, the Old Testament being the medium of the Near Eastern Messiah myth. Moreover, in this respect, Thomas L. Thompson's book is an abundant and impressive arsenal of evidence.' (M. Muller, 'Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus' in T.L. Thompson and T.S. Verenna, eds., Is This Not the Carpenter [Equinox, 2012], 117-118)

Unless you are going to call Mogens Muller incompetent as well (or suggest he is somehow unqualified to speak on the subject), that is quite some praise for a scholar of New Testament. In his whole discussion of Thompson's volume, as brief as it is, not once does he suggest that Thomas Thompson is unfamiliar with the field or that he lacks appropriate credentials.


#5 - Thomas Verenna - 08/07/2012 - 20:07

Also, I am not sure why you continue to label Thomas Thompson a mythicist? It is my understanding that the only people who are concerned with labeling Thomas Thompson as a 'mythicist' are the mythicists themselves and those who are out to silence anyone critical of the validity of the Gospels as a source for the historical Jesus. Are you now just another polemicist? As someone who holds the rather nonmainstream (many might argue 'wrong') position that Mark dates to 40 CE, is it really wise to start labeling others under these propagandist categories in an attempt to isolate them and silence them? Certainly you wouldn't want others labeling you as a conservative who should be ignored along the lines of John A.T. Robinson's failed Redating the New Testament?

At the end, I don't think you have made a case here. Where have you demonstrated that Thomas is 'wrong from beginning to end?' I see examples of your misreadings of Thomas Thompson's work, of academic chest-thumping which is quite out of place for an academic paper. I'm sure there is somewhere on the internet where attempted character assassinations are acceptable, but I am not so sure that an online academic journal is that place. Yet I'm quite grateful for your response, because I believe it demonstrates exactly what we need less of in this conversation--polemical papers which are completely useless and address nothing of value.

#6 - Thomas Verenna - 08/07/2012 - 20:07


Please demonstrate where in Thompson's book he has been unclear.

#7 - Thomas Verenna - 08/07/2012 - 20:11

Pardon me, one of my paragraphs came out a bit unclear. This line:

'I'm not sure how you came away from Thomas' Messiah Myth under the impression he was favoring Matthean priority--or rather, you argue that he has no knowledge of it--especially since he makes it clear that he is both aware of the arguments for Markan priority...'

Should read:

'I'm not sure how you came away from Thomas' Messiah Myth under the impression he was favoring Matthean priority over Markan priority--or rather, you argue that he has no knowledge of Markan priority--especially since he makes it clear that he is both aware of the arguments for Markan priority...'


#8 - Thomas Verenna - 08/07/2012 - 21:14

Dear Thomas,

Maurice and I don’t always agree but I’ll take the liberty of answering you in my own way as I regret Maurice is thoroughly absorbed now in completing his final drafts to reach the already postponed date of submission. I know he is disappointed not to have met you at conferences because he would sincerely liked to have discussed your work with you and particularly now when he is completing the manuscript of his current book. He has lamented this often. I feel the same way. He is certainly not tied up with the two source theory which is the focus of the IQP. However you have ignored all his worked which is devoted to New Testament history and Aramaic. His PhD thesis too, was prepared with training in both Testaments, primary sources and secondary literature. It was on the Son of Man Problem with a published version by SPCK in 1980. He has recently published ‘The Solution to the Son of Man Problem’ (T&T Clark 2007). Other monographs include ‘Is John’s Gospel True?’ (Routledge 1996) 'From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God' (WJK 1991), 'Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel' (CUP 1998) and in ‘An Aramaic Approach to Q'(CUP 2002) he demonstrates a chaotic source theory. Most recently he published ‘Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of the His Life and Teaching’ in which he summarises for a wider audience, arguments and evidence for a historical figure. He is preparing a series of further articles on Aramaic. This work reflects his special area of research and expertise: early sources of New Testament, Aramaic and other biblical languages and history as well early developments in culture and text.

Insofar as 'incompetent' goes, I am not so sure Ehrman demonstrates competence himself which is regrettable considering his initial achievements in his much earlier and I thought, promising work. I think perhaps he has devoted more time to popular publication than research, discussion and debate. I'm sure that Maurice no longer considers himself sufficiently competent in Hebrew Bible primary and secondary literature to confidently produce anything of significant worth. In the same way, I regret that you are haven't demonstrated sufficient competence in New Testament primary and secondary sources and scholarship has advanced since both yours and Maurice's PhD days - and not without the valuable contributions of both of you in your pursued areas of expertise.

The example of your judgement that the non American New Testament opinion of the Westar Jesus Seminar is “conservative”, is not close to reality at all. Compare the published vigorous critique in scholarship by both Casey and our mutual friend James Crossley, with the published vigorous critique of markedly "conservative" scholarship of James D Dunn and N.T. Wright. While the former and the latter infrequently agree, they most certainly coincide with the predominant consideration of the Westar Institute here. I think your presence at an SNTS, or BNTC for example, would be very welcome and valuable for both you and everyone there....

#9 - stephanie fisher - 08/08/2012 - 18:35

...The issue of Matthean priority is indicated with examples in the article, with your use of Matthean versions as the original source to argue your case, while ignoring the clearly prior version in Mark. You do not state a preferred synoptic direction but your arguments demonstrate a Matthean preference. While it has been convincingly demonstrated elsewhere (including New Testament scholarship by Crossley, Casey, Sanders, Davies and Allison, and Hengel etc, and including arguments by Theissen and others) that both Matthew (and Luke) in places are more likely closer to the source, you have not chosen these here.

Of course Jesus is King in the canon, you're right, but that is not the point. He is not 'king' in the earlier source which has been demonstrated in work you overlook. It is an accretion.

I do truly hope to be able to discuss your work in the spirit of honesty and constructive conversation in a European environment (with deep red beverage as is the custom).

Very best wishes,

Stephanie Fisher
Nottington University
(Te Pohue, Aotearoa)

#10 - stephanie fisher - 08/08/2012 - 18:35

Kia ora Mike,

Thank you for your helpfully accurate and straightforward remarks.

#11 - stephanie fisher - 08/08/2012 - 18:37


I'm not sure how Mogens' 'praise' of his colleague is relevant here. The implication that a colleague's praise or criticism of another colleague or any scholar might be dependent on his own abilities and competence in his field of work, is flawed. However Maurice is responding to all the essays published in Professor Thompson's recent book, including the piece by Mogens whose contribution in this volume and other very recent work, is regrettably inferior to his much earlier scholarship like for example, his valuable contribution to the Son of Man problem. Maurice’s full responses will be published in his forthcoming volume 'Jesus: Historical Arguments and Evidence or Mythicist Myths' published by T&T Clark.

Your personal opinions about "right" people are also not pertinent. Also it is of no consequence to quality whether an argument is in favour of or against historicity of Jesus as is demonstrated in the contributions of this volume. Neither is New Testament speciality a guarantee of good scholarship. I have read this volume. However the contribution of James Crossley on John scholarship, which I had previously read, is of consistently excellent quality and important relevance to scholarship, integrity and knowledge, in that he properly exposes incompetence in highly reactionary conservative New Testament scholarship. The point about the term 'mythicist' is the use made of mythicist methods and types of evidence.

#12 - stephanie fisher - 08/08/2012 - 18:48


Thank you for your measured and direct response. I actually agree with most of what you said here to me. I especially agree with your comments on Crossley and his work on John in Thomas' and my volume is no exception. But let me make clear what I was arguing here because I feel you are talking past me on this.

First, my point about Mogens was pertinent--it wasn't 'flawed' and it is upsetting that you missed the point. Maybe I wasn't clear. You must recognize that Casey was attacking Thompson here, not his work. His insistence, for example, on calling Thomas an 'incompetent New Testament scholar', for example, speaks volumes about his investments personally in this discussion. But the fact is, Casey's disagreements does not incompetence on Thomas' part make. Any attempt to defend such blatant personal attacks would be unfortunate in this conversation.

My use of Mogens was to demonstrate that scholars will agree and disagree--as you well know--and often times they can disagree with certain conclusions, but agree with others. I'm sure this is not new to you, whose work in the field of Q is met with some controversy.

Again, you and Casey may both agree that another scholar's conclusions are "radical to the extent of bordering on lunacy" (a phrase you have also used, to the letter, in this comment: about Thomas' position on the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar), but you must certainly agree that journals are no place for this sort of hyperbole on the part of Casey?

As for the label of mythicism, I don't believe that your comment makes much sense. Thomas has not made the claim that Jesus never existed. And to my knowledge, his book does not deal with such a question, so I'm not sure where one would consider his book akin to any other mythicist literature. Also, I don't believe one can narrow down 'mythicist methods'; it is my understanding that most mythicists--particularly those devoted to Acharya S or the Jesus Mysteries crowd--don't use them.

On your other points, you write to Thomas, "You do not state a preferred synoptic direction but your arguments demonstrate a Matthean preference."

But Thomas has made it clear here (and I have demonstrated in my post) that Thomas does not favor or demonstrate any preference in Gospel priority. So Casey's point is still wrong. You might say Thomas uses Matthew more often to demonstrate ANE topoi, but Matthew *is* longer and contains more content. And even if Thomas uses Matthew to demonstrate one of these topoi or Mark (where the story probably originated) matters little to the argument; if both Mark and Matthew call Jesus (or Jesus' father) a craftsman (more popularly, a carpenter) demonstrating a dependence using Matthew would not be 'ignoring Mark's priority' at all. The same would hold true then for Mark as it would for Matthew. So again, I don't find Casey's point (that Thomas has no knowledge of Markan priority!) at all relevant or useful here. It is a blatant misreading of Thompson, which you have thankfully cleared up with your admittance that Thomas "does not state a preferred synoptic direction".


#13 - Thomas Verenna - 08/08/2012 - 21:38

In my humble opinion, everyone's time would be better spent engaging the relevant issues--like whether or not the Gospels are useful towards determining a historical kernel, or if Paul is useful, or if we must throw up our hands in defeatist fashion and agree with Joe Hoffmann when he wrote:

"Scholarship devoted to the question of the historicity of Jesus, while not a total waste of time, could be better spent gardening."

Like I said before, I enjoy Casey's work and look forward to his (hopefully less polemical) work on this subject in the future. My hope is that there will be direct engagement of the critical arguments. I'm even willing to entertain Crossley's (and by extension, Casey's--if he so agrees) position on Mark's date (and I also agree with Crossley that even an early date has no direct relevance to historicity). I was more discouraged by the attacks than anything else. When is your work on Q/nonQ(?) going to be available, by the way?


Tom Verenna

#14 - Thomas Verenna - 08/08/2012 - 21:38


Maurice was not attacking Thomas personally. Nobody is suggesting Thomas is an incompetent scholar. Maurice attempted to demonstrate where the flaws in his scholarship were, with brief examples in a short article. The flaws exist in the area of New Testament scholarship and that bears no reflection on the quality of his other work. No scholar is fully competent in areas other than that which they specialise and are immersed and up to date with advances and mistakes in, neither is anyone fully competent in an area in which they are untrained. Personal opinions of each other are irrelevant. I'm not devoted to Q. Your implications are wrong and your idea that yours, or anyone else's, opinions of who the "right" people are should matter, is not helpful to learning. My field is not in the confined to "Q/nonQ". The two source theory is of minimal relevance. Early first century history and sources are of significance. The nature of scholarship is continued conversation and constructive debate. However I have urgent and important projects to complete and deadlines to meet. Nevertheless if Thomas misunderstood anything I wrote I would welcome his questions. I hope he understood my attempt to explain what I thought. The article is about the recent New Testament contribution by Thomas and not about you. It was written by Maurice.

#15 - stephanie fisher - 08/09/2012 - 00:17

Stephanie Fisher: "Nobody is suggesting Thomas is an incompetent scholar."

Um, the title of this very article on which we are commenting is "Is Not This an Incompetent New Testament Scholar?"

#16 - Paul D. - 08/09/2012 - 01:21

And it did not ask "Is this not and incompetent scholar". It implied that his competent scholarship was not demonstrated in New Testament.

#17 - stephanie fisher - 08/09/2012 - 01:32

Just a few comments. Although being part of a department of both OT and NT scholars used to having lunch together every day, for more than 25 years, I will not pretend to be a NT scholar. However, some general impressions may be of interest.

The character of Casey's attack on Tom's book and Steph's defense of Casey, much of their terminology sounds like the one used against the minimalists in OT studies over the last 20 years or more. Incompetence has been a recurrent theme. Thus both Tom and I have been called incompetent in ANE studies, in spite of Tom's first book about the patriarcal traditions or my entries into this field. This is a common tactic when you disagree with somebody. Now it is also extended to Mogens Müller maybe because he got "dirty hands" by participating in this project of Tom & Tom. The problem as I see it is that NT has not experienced a general countdown as seen in OT studies where everything has been questioned, and a lot of literature forgotten because it is not interesting anymore. Now what do we have in NT: Historicists (if that is the correct term) and mythecist? I suppose that these terms could also have a chance in Homeric studies: People who believes in the historicity of the siege of Troy and people who thinks that it is a myth. What we have here is another way of looking at NT tropes as something that concords with a middle eastern tradition thousands of years old, which will also include themes like the resurrection when the young god dies but is resurrected from the death.

Maybe it is a good idea for NT scholars to study their literature (the Gospels) also in the light of such themes. That is Tom's proposal, to see which were their building blocks wehen the evangelists wrote their gospels. It could also be the logos in John 1 which I have always considered a motive from ancient Mesopotamia (reflected also in the creation of wisdom in Proverbs 8). Wisdom was part of the arsenal of a god who did not create from scratch. Like Tom I do not think that such cases stand alone.

But if we are going to throw mud, all of this is of course immaterial. Then we are back to name calling.


#18 - Niels Peter Lemche - 08/09/2012 - 05:27

Thomas Brodie is to have his book "Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus" published next month by Sheffield Phoenix Press where he argues for a similar sort of argument to Thompson that Jesus' character in the gospels being lifted from O.T. motifs. I presume that Casey can apply a similar critique to this work as he does to Thompsons? But I thought this might be of interest, especially as it is being published by the press associated with the University that Dr Casey works at.

#19 - Erlend - 08/09/2012 - 15:01

Dear NPL,

Is Maurice a competent Old Testament scholar anymore? No. And neither does he think so. He's not dealing with the primary material so much and hasn't been able to keep up with secondary literature and debates and developments. I don't think anyone thinks anyone dirtied anyone's hands. What happened to Ehrman's work? Have you read his latest books and particularly his most recent? Some NT scholars remain consistently excellent and personally I consider Michael Goulder (may he rest in peace) to be an very good example of that. He went through many personal developments and advanced scholarship with his expertise.

I'm not sure where the term 'historicist' comes from. I think it was imposed on scholarship by mythicists. I hadn’t heard of it until I came across it recently on blogs. I'm not an historicist. I’m committed to evidence and argument. Historical literature is more about whoever wrote it and the question of why and the question of if they had sources and how they used them. Could an historical person be born of a virgin? Walk on water? Rise from the dead? No. I'm not a historicist. I'm committed to researching history. My degrees were in a wide variety of disciplines including all religions. From classics and history to ecology, psychology, sociology and anthropology. Even education and music. But I still find these interesting and some particularly, useful in approaching the earliest history and sources of Christianity. I specialised when I graduated the second time and spent several years broad ranging research (surviving through theatre work and then setting up a second hand live in bookshop) before I applied for a scholarship to study with specialists in Europe. The ‘literature’ includes a vast deal more than just the ‘gospels’....

#20 - stephanie fisher - 08/09/2012 - 19:47

... As for conferences, critical scholarship meets conservative and reactionary in vigorous sessions of debate. They're certainly not closeted. They're useful. There are more than the SNTS, BNTC and SOTS. It's an advantage now that we have initiating a growing secular section in the very conservative American SBL and the conference has returned to amalgamation with the AAR. There is also now the very important EABS which occasionally meets with the ISBL (it did this year). It's useful to attend as many as possible to keep up with the good and very bad and debate.

I'm a bit too purist for mud. Even metaphorical mud. I prefer to keep things clean and tidy. I wasn’t speaking for Maurice either. I was speaking for myself.

Very best wishes
Stephanie Fisher
Nottingham University
(Te Pohue, Aotearoa)

#21 - stephanie fisher - 08/09/2012 - 19:48

Dear Steph,

Happy that you like the EABS. I got the idea to form it in 1992 when SBL went to Australia. Discussed it with friend the following year in Münster (incl. Dough Knight, Philip, and more). We had a major open meeting about it the following year and established it in 1995 with me as "director" (for what that meant in those days). Amsterdam was something of a success, but we are looking forward to our own meeting in Leipzig in 2013.

I shared your methodological standpoints until the mid 1970s. Especially after I moved from Copenhagen to Aarhus in 1978 I ended up in a very different environment with a unending series of discussions with people in several areas of theology. It went together with my finishing of my disputats (not dissertation) Early Israel, when the conclusion was: Nothing fits! There is a systemic lack of agreement between what is written and what really happened. Then the classical historical methods broke down because they were mainly irrelevant to the subject I studied, the OT as an information about the past.

The Götterdämmerung of OT studies was really evident. I am not sure that the same has hit the NT. There seems to be so many things not discussed which in my field is behind us (I know that several people will object, but they are really not very important any more). Maybe you think that we ended up in mud. I am afraid that this is how it is. And no escape from it.

As it is now, I--if this was my business--would never ask for the historicity of say Mark's description of the life of JC. I would ask: Why did Mark write what he wrote? for what purpose? and how did he put his narrative together? When I studied, people like Wilckens, Conzelmann, and especially Bultmann were asking such questions. I suppose that they have not been totally silenced--your description of how you proceed is very much the same as I say--but if the basic assumption is that something here must be "true", well, then we are really in the mud. Mark might have written his gospel without any single element of it being "true" in the historical sense.

But it gives me an idea for my own department, now more than 40 years old: to have a public conference of explaining where we are after all these many years. To get the people to talk together. To an ignorant OT-person, it often sounds like the NT people are discussing Q and the historicity of Jesus, which is of course a parody of what is going on. If we take, e.g., the Amsterdam program, how many joint sessions, OT/NT, did we have? It is definitely something to work for.

I opened up here asking for a return to the pre-Bauer status when a professor in exegesis taught both Old and New Testament. I still think that a much closer connection between the two areas than we often see today would be a benefit to both parts.

Niels Peter Lemche

#22 - Niels Peter Lemche - 08/10/2012 - 06:29

Dear colleagues,
Unfortunately, a long process of recovery from eye surgery makes it impossible to respond appropriately to Professor Casey's criticism at present. I will follow your discussions as best I can and hope to give a more adequate response in a couple of weeks.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#23 - Thomas L. Thompson - 08/10/2012 - 10:45

Dear NPL,

Congratulations on the achievement of the EABS. I knew Philip was part of its creation, but I wasn't sure who else. And interesting the idea came from the Perth IBSL. Three years after that it was held in Auckland Aotearoa. I'd like the EABS to reach that far south too!

My point about 'Mark' was that 'he' wasn't responsible for writing what was true. Neither is all that we read written by 'Mark'. I don't agree that the same historical methods apply to the gospels as the letters or books of the Hebrew Bible any more than modern historical methods apply to ancient historical methods. The literary evidence is from vastly different contexts. I find your approach to ANE, appropriate and your arguments and conclusions convincing and I appreciate and value your contributions and advances. I also think there would be plenty of good things to come out of collaboration between OT and NT.

However, I do worry that this sort of collaboration sounds potentially confessional in that there might be the temptation (as perhaps is happening with Thomas’ work) to treat the Bible as a whole and subject to similar interpretative assumptions. But although it's convenient it's far too simplistic to assume one fits all. It's also like the Kloppenborg assumption - "Synoptic hypotheses are simplifications … [p]arsimony, however, is a virtue of explanatory logic; it is not a feature of historical or literary realities." Despite that concession he goes ahead and invents an unrealistic document complete with community. And the Jesuses reconstructed on the assumption of the existence of this 'document' are historically unrealistic too, so naturally the rationalist conclusion on the basis of that, there probably was no real Jesus at all. Bauer was brilliant but he didn't have the skills or evidence that has been discovered since....

#24 - stephanie fisher - 08/10/2012 - 19:19

...Incidentally, I do think analogous things have been happening in NT studies and the methods you apply in your specialist area are arguably similar to those involved in the Redescribing Christian Origins group which has been meeting at, and publishing with, SBL and influenced by Burton Mack’s work.

Dear Thomas,

Best wishes for your recovery. I am sorry and wish you the best of health. Maurice himself took severely ill yesterday. He has been increasing more ill for some time now and it became necessary to ring an ambulance. They admitted him to hospital but I am relieved to be informed he has now been discharged and an ambulance is booked to return him home. However he will no doubt need to take to bed for some time.

Very best wishes and good health to you both,
Stephanie Fisher
Nottingham University
(Te Pohue, Aotearoa)

#25 - stephanie fisher - 08/10/2012 - 19:19

Maybe there should be more attention to how the terms in use should be used. What about the following??
'Jesus' refers to 'whoever in history exercised most influence on the canonical writers as a model or original for their literary figure'. This term would surely not 'fail to refer', yet would not beg questions, allowing for a Jesus of tradition and also for many other possibilities, including a more ancient hero with a theologically developed reputation and for Philip Pullman style conflation of two historical heroes into one literary figure.
I would understand 'historicism' to be the belief that the propositions about Jesus that we meet in the canonical Bible are determined to a significant extent by memories or records of one really existent individual. 'Mythicism' (if we must use a word whose prejudicially contemptuous associations need to be suppressed) to be the belief that these propositions are determined to a significant extent by older theological ideas which the Biblical authors wished to use or interpret. (I wouldn't think this wish, if it existed, was wrong or dishonest, or even avoidable in a theological work.)
At this rate, historicism and mythicism would be incompatible only in their stronger forms.
I am quite convinced that Professor Thompson is competent, meaning - here I go defining terms again! can't stop! - well acquainted with the NT subject matter and its secondary literature and capable of logical and incisive reasoning. Hope that doesn't sound patronising, but a cat may look at a king, as I'm sure Jesus would have agreed. Competence never stopped anyone from being completely wrong, of course. But I think that the term 'incompetent NT scholar' is intemperate (see Aristotle) and should not be defended.

#26 - Martin - 08/12/2012 - 14:00

Reading Casey on Thompson again I looked at the passage about 'reiterations' of Egyptian songs. This is indeed found in Thompson's page 199. Casey complains that readers don't know what is in these songs and that it is not enough to mention editions of in the biblio. But it seems to me that Thompson has given - quoted in translation - what he considers to be the gist of the Thutmose text on p.191 and has referred to an edition and an English translation in notes to that page, which amounts to rather more than a bibliographical reference. The connecting theme is alleged to be the happy kingdom of a divine son. The argument on p.191 springs from the crucial claim on p.190 that the intellectual worlds of Egypt and Palestine were close akin, a claim supported (or apparently supported) at many points in the book. The argument about Ram IV (which is relevant to this intellectual kinship claim) has been mentioned, not to say rammed home, p.111,where the relevant text is quoted in full. It is also found, quite usefully, in an Appendix. It concerns the idea of Good News and we might note that there is an explicit reference to Mark's Gospel at this point.
If the reader, arriving on p.199, had forgotten where the information about Thut and Ram are to be found the index would have made recall quite easy.
Thompson seems to me to meet proper ethical standards in presenting the information on which he bases his remarks. I don't recognise Thompson's provision of information in Casey's account of it. I think that I have the qualifications necessary to make these judgements.

#27 - Martin - 08/16/2012 - 15:55

Dear Martin,
Thank you. Unfortunately, I continue to have problems with my sight. If the operation which has been undertaken is successful, I will try to respond to Professor Casey within the next two or three weeks. The issue is important.
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#28 - Thomas L. Thompson - 11/03/2012 - 01:13

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