Monday, March 12, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 24

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

I’ve divided my notes on this fascinating chapter into two parts.

Chapter 15. The Witness of the Beloved Disciple (part 1)

In the previous chapter it was argued that the Beloved Disciple is portrayed as ‘the primary witness’ and author of the Gospel. But what does ‘witness’ mean? While the argument of the book thus far would strongly imply that we should understand the Beloved Disciple’s ‘witness’ in an historiographic sense, it needs to be noted that the marureō word group used in the Gospel for ‘witness’ derives not from historiographical contexts, but rather those legal. A.T. Lincoln has argued that the Isaianic motif of a cosmic trail ‘forms a broad metaphorical framework’ for this Gospel. ‘In that framework witness is a legal metaphor and the Beloved Disciple’s witness cannot be equated with “literal” eyewitness’. The ‘Beloved Disciple’s testimony’ for Lincoln, is thus ‘a literary device in the service of the theological agenda of witness, not a serious claim to historiographical status’.[1] However, and while agreeing with much in Lincoln’s case, Bauckham nonetheless insists that the Beloved Disciple can only interpret the various witnesses in the trial metaphor throughout the Gospel, ‘if at the same time it does in some sense report them’.[2] The Gospel understanding of witness coincides with and should not be played against ‘historiographic autopsy’. Indeed, in comparing this suggestion with material in Luke-Acts, Bauckham strengthens his argument that the Fourth Gospel intentionally used both a historiographic and metaphorical-theological understandings of ‘witness’. Furthermore, the posited inclusio of eyewitness testimony (cf. chapter 6) indicates a historiographical element. Bauckham extends his earlier analysis to suggest a ‘quite elaborate use of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony’ in John.[3] Not only that, but the role the Beloved Disciple plays in the narrative of the Gospel coheres well with the hypothesis that he is the primary witness and author.

To make this case, Bauckham strongly argues against false notions associated with the portrayal, in John, of the Beloved Disciple as the ‘ideal disciple’ in contrast with Peter. While there is a sense in which the Beloved Disciple is superior to Peter, they represent two types of discipleship: active service (Peter) and perceptive witness (Beloved Disciple). There are four elements that lend to an understanding of the Beloved Disciple as ‘perceptive witness’: his intimacy with Jesus, his presence at key points in the story of Jesus, the observational detail involved in the narrative when the Beloved Disciple appears (cf. the chapter for important qualifications), and the spiritual insight of his witness. Together they ‘qualify him to be the ideal witness to Jesus, his story, and its meaning’.[4] Suggestively, in arguing that these two portrayals of Peter and the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel are made to denote their two different ways of following Jesus, he notes that this is done so precisely as it would relate to their role in the church after the resurrection. In other words, the Beloved Disciple is framed as the ideal author of the Gospel.

[1]. Ibid., 386.
[2]. Ibid., 388.
[3]. Ibid., 393.
[4]. Ibid., 399.

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At 3/13/2007 10:23 AM, Blogger Christian A said...

I'm posting in ignorance, having not yet read Bauckham's books and not followed the posts here in detail. But I would like to know what Richard and the rest of you think of Ben Witherington's suggestion that the Beloved Disciple could in fact be Lazarus. (see

At 3/13/2007 10:50 PM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

christian a,
on page 414 Bauckham wrote,

"Attempts to identify the Beloved Disciple with one of this circle who is named in the Gospel (Lazarus, Thomas, or Nathanael) fail because they require us to think that the Gospel sometimes refers to the Beloved Disciple as an anonymous figure and sometimes names him. Whatever the function of anonymity in the Gospel portrayal of the Beloved Disciple, it would be defeated if it were not consistently employed."

However, Bauckham also suggests that anonymity was sometimes used for the protection of the individual, and I have recently argued on this blog that this type of protective silence was much more common than is normally supposed. It seems to me that the arguments against equating Lazarus with the BD go away if we suppose that the anonymity of the BD is for his own protection. The authorities knew that Lazarus was (or had been) called Lazarus, so there is no harm in mentioning this name. They did not know what he did or whom he associated with after he went into hiding, so this information may have been concealed by making him anonymous. The switch from naming him to making him anonymous is rather similar to the device that I think Acts uses on two or three occassions, and Paul uses once (see my recent posting on this blog).

Incidentally, the BD may have been Lazarus AND John the elder, since Lazarus may have taken an alias (John). We are told that the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death (John 12:10), and I have argued that it was common for believers who were in danger of persucution to take aliases. We know of 6 first century Christians who were martyred, and no less than 4 of them had aliases, for whatever reason (Simon-Peter, James-Boanerges, James-Oblias, and Ignatius-Theophorus). I have argued that Acts mentions aliases to obscure the identity of individuals for their protection in three cases (Crispus-Sosthenes, Gaius-Alexander, and Jason-Aristarchus).

Richard F.

At 3/13/2007 11:19 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for that excellent response, Richard!

At 3/14/2007 6:33 AM, Blogger Christian A said...

Yes very interesting - thank you

At 5/08/2007 11:58 PM, Blogger bob said...

I would like to know what you think of the suggestion made on . Can this view still be rejected without discussion?


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