Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff
Emeritus Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the U of Nottingham, Casey stresses the need to see Jesus against the background of first century Judaism, to see the historical Jesus as Jewish. Further for Casey, the reconstruction of the Aramaic sources of the synoptic gospels is an essential step in understanding Jesus against the background of his own culture.
(While Casey carefully points out implications for exegesis of an Aramaic background, he does not do so in a way that negates the value of the exercise for a lay reader who does not have fluency in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic.)
Of special interest is the framework of Jewish apocalyptic (cf Albert Schweitzer). Casey sketches the quest for the historical Jesus, from Schweitzer to Crossan, looking at the contribution of form criticism, and Jewish NT experts such as Vermes, Meier and Sanders; he has some cutting remarks about the Jesus seminar (p 20). He comments that the oldest documents are the synoptic gospels (at least Mark and Q) but apocryphal gospels also need consideration (and Casey’s Appendix includes them—eg Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Thomas).
Key for Casey in terms of understanding Jesus is to attempt to develop the Aramaic backgrounds of the synoptics, and he has a fascinating chapter on key Aramaic quotations in the gospels (p 108) (Mk 5:41, Jn 4:5; Lk 11:42,13:31). Casey also emphasizes the rivalry between Galilee and Judea and has a fascinating chapter on Christological terms (eg ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son of G-d’, p 353 -399).
Casey provides us with careful exegetical treatment of the Jesus story, with special emphasis on the Aramaic cultural and linguistic backgrounds.