Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jesus and the Eyewitnesses thesis advances

In the Svenska Exegetiska Sällskapet 74 (Uppsala 2009), Richard Bauckham has published a new article, 'The Eyewitnesses in the Gospel of Mark', developing aspects of his groundbreaking Jesus and the Eyewitnesses thesis. One major part of that work, and one of its main innovative proposals, is that the Gospels are not only based on eyewitness testimony, but that the Gospels have ways of indicating their main eyewitnesses (see my two earlier posts on this matter here and here). His new article explores this proposal once again with special focus on Mark's Gospel. He responds particularly powerfully to Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's critique in RB 114 (2007).

'Given the stress that B. has laid on the preference of ancient historians for eyewitness testimony, one might have expected to find that it was they who directed his attention to the device of the eyewitness inclusio. In fact, he does not bring them into the argument at all…. For extra-biblical parallels B. has to go to Lucian's Alexander (C2 AD) and Porphyry's Life of Plotinus (C4 AD)' (p.626)

Murphy-O'Connor asserts that these parallels are not only irrelevant, because of their dates, but they also 'cannot be evidence for a literary convention in popular lives of such figures' (Bauckham's summary, 23). Bauckham's response seeks to offer the kind of evidence Murphy-O'Connor seeks, and to this end he examines Polybius and Plutarch. In both cases we read extremely compelling evidence that 'some of the personal names in the Gospel of Mark indicate the eyewitness sources of his narratives, especially in the cases of Peter, Simon of Cyrene and the three named women disciples' (37). In particular, material from Polybius shows that Bauckham's Markan eyewitness inclusio is highly plausible, and Plutarch's Life of Caesar presents evidence to affirmatively answer the question whether there are 'parallels in Greco-Roman history and biography to such a practice of indicating eyewitnesses without explicitly saying this about them' (33).

To be honest, I think Bauckham has hit a home run with this new evidence. His argument is very compelling.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Jesus and the Eyewitnesses summary

I've finally put it on my server so it can be downloaded as a pdf here.

I wrote this rather extensive summary and short critical reflection on Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses quite some time ago, largely adapted from my earlier blog series. I ended the essay with these words:

'Time will tell whether [Bauckham's] thesis comes to exercise a similar influence on New testament scholarship as the speculations proffered by Bultmann and co. Whether co-opted by conservative Christians in the cause of defensive apologetics-at-any-cost, or whether denounced or dismissed by critics as the work of intellectually dishonest confessionalism, the depth of Bauckham's scholarship is incontrovertible. His arguments are here to stay and, I hope, will profoundly shape the unfolding debate.'

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Jesus and the Eyewitnesses series

Oddly, I forgot to complete my series on Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, so I've at last updated the links and reposted this page. Thank you to all who took part in the discussions surrounding that series. I learnt a lot in the process. I hope that my posts will ‘whet the appetite’ of those considering buying the book to dig into the details of the arguments for themselves. Richard can’t justify every bold claim in an interview - that is why he wrote the book -, and neither can I in this series - that would be copyright infringement! Best bet is to buy the book ...

The chapter contents of the book with links are as follows:

1. From the Historical Jesus to the Jesus of Testimony - part 1, part 2, part 3.

2. Papias on the Eyewitnesses - part 4, part 5 (Richard’s comments on the generated discussion).

3. Names in the Gospel Traditions - part 6, part 7 (Bauckham responds II).

4. Palestinian Jewish Names - part 8 (Bauckham responds III).

5. The Twelve - part 9, part 10.

6. Eyewitnesses “from the Beginning” - part 11, part 12, part 13.

7. The Petrine Perspective in Mark - part 14, part 15, part 16.

8. Anonymous Persons in Mark's Passion Narrative - part 17 (Bauckham responds IV).

9. Papias on Mark and Matthew - part 18.

10. Three Models of Oral Tradition - part 19.

11. Transmitting the Jesus Traditions - part 20.

12. Anonymous Tradition or Eyewitness Testimony? - part 21.

13. Eyewitness Memory - part 22.

14. The Gospel of John as Eyewitness Testimony - part 23.

15. The Witness of the Beloved Disciple - part 24, part 25.

16. Papias on John - part 26.

17. Polycrates and Irenaeus on John - part 27.

18. The Jesus of Testimony - part 28.

Part 29 - A podcast summary

Part 30 - Bauckham's response to my biblical-studies colloquium questions

Also see here for my Q&A session with Richard Bauckham about the book.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Podcast: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Given the upcoming biblical-studies list colloquium with Richard Bauckham, I decided to record a podcast summarising Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. My blog series on the book has perhaps been a little too long, especially for some of you lightweights, so I've tried my hardest and condensed a complete overview of his book into a 25 minute podcast.

I messed up the conversion to mp3 process so the quality isn't that good, but I can still be easily understood. The file is 4.5 MB, so if you use a dial-up modem it may take a few minutes to download.

Click here to download and listen to my podcast on Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Köstenberger review of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

1) Bruce Fisk's Crossings is biblioblogger of the month for May. Do give his interview with Jim West a read.

I thought his idea about how biblioblogging could be improved was rather interesting:

'I like the organic, idiosyncratic, open-source feel of the blogosphere but I'm hoping we'll see more collaboration whereby groups with overlapping interests post to the same site. Most blogs I visit are pretty much solo efforts. It would be fun to see someone adapt the model using webcams and a split screen to encourage conversations among religion scholars.'

2) For those of you who can read German, Zweifel an Koran und Mohammed: Saarbrücker Wissenschaftler forschen über die Anfänge des Islam is worth a read.

3) Finally, Andreas Köstenberger has written a helpful review of Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses here. It will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Köstenberger's position on the authorship of John's Gospel that he attempts a critique of Bauckham's thesis for not asserting that John the son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel. He argues:

'After all, Bauckham's point is not merely that eyewitness testimony is important for the Gospels, but that we are dealing here with apostolic eyewitness testimony, that is, eyewitness testimony that is credible because it comes from those who were closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. In this regard, it is hard to see how the testimony of one largely unknown "John the Elder" (not mentioned in any of the Synoptics or other non-Johannine New Testament writings) would satisfy Bauckham's own criterion'

However, I did not get the impression that Bauckham's arguments regarding the authorship of the Johannine Gospel were 'unduly biased' as Köstenberger claims. I am no Johannine expert, but I get the feeling that Köstenberger is attempting to urge us to squeeze the available evidence through his own (arbitrary) logical wringer, namely that the eyewitness testimony of John's Gospel requires a more authoritative early Christian figure than 'the largely unknown "John the Elder"'. But I am not so sure, especially given the Beloved Disciple's anonymity through the Gospel. Besides, John the Elder was not unkown, of course, in his circles, and he knew Jesus, according to Bauckham's thesis, very well. Concerning the logical wringer: to employ a less than appropriate parallel, it may be hard to see how the monotheistic Apostle Paul can express a divine Christology one moment, and then turn and speak of the subordination of the Son to the Father the next. But it would appear to be the most accurate treatment of the evidence to allow both elements in Paul their full say. Those who employ a logical wringer at this point end up doing violence to the texts. OK that wasn't the best example I could have come up with, but you know what I mean!

(My thanks to Jordan Barrett for drawing my attention to this article)


Friday, April 27, 2007

Biblical Studies Colloquium with Bauckham

As many of you may know, Jim West and I moderate the popular Biblical Studies discussion list. At present there are almost 680 members, including quite a few well-known scholars. The discussions are usually lively and well-informed, and I personally learn a lot from the members.

And so I am delighted to announce that Richard Bauckham will be our guest on the upcoming online colloquium, to be hosted between May 20th and 26th. We will be discussing his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and invite you to join us.

Jim explains: “As in the past, we (the moderators) will collect two or three of the best questions posed by list members each day and pass them along to Professor Bauckham. He will respond and we will post his responses to the list”.

We are looking forward to this colloquium very much and hope that it generates a good bit of interesting dialogue.

In light of the upcoming colloquium, I will upload a (circa) 15 minute podcast summarising the main arguments of Bauckham’s book - for those who found my blog series on the book a tad too long!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Harvey review of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

1) I’ve looked at many despicable and depraved things in my time as a blogger, but this has to be the lowest and most wicked, lying and beelzebubified post I have ever seen.

2) Ascending from these sweatiest armpits of hell to the light of heaven, do have a listen to these two podcasts on the resurrection, a joint effort by Michael Barber and Brant Pitre of one of the very best blogs around, Singing In The Reign. As part of a show on Catholic Answers Radio, they discuss matters for two hours also answering call in questions.

3) Finally, A. E. Harvey has written a review of Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses which can be read here.

After noting some areas of Bauckham’s thesis that may cause dispute, he I think correctly argues that “the critics’ real reason for disputing Bauckham’s theory will be that to accept it would demand a profound paradigm shift in New Testament studies”. Personally speaking, having been largely convinced by Bauckham’s thesis, I suspect time is ripe for this paradigm shift. He ends his article with the words: ‘Richard Bauckham’s careful and eloquent presentation of his argument, supported not just by careful scholarship but by admirable common sense, deserves earnest consideration”.

Admittedly it is getting late and I could have misunderstood Harvey, but a few thoughts of criticism about the review as I suspect he didn’t entirely understand Bauckham’s argument. If I comprehend Bauckham’s thesis at all, then it simply isn’t simply an alternative hypothesis to explain the relation between the synoptic Gospels, though it does have implications in this direction for sure. Actually, I believe that the ‘historical Bauckham’ is happy with a literary sharing between the synoptics, a matter that he uses to support his argument in relation to the Lukan and Johannine adoption of the Markan inclusio. I also believe that Bauckham would not deny a literary usage of Mark’s Gospel by those of Luke and John, both of which acknowledge Peter’s testimony as it is embodied in Mark’s telling. Nonetheless, a generally helpful review despite the slightly odd spin Harvey puts on it all.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 28

Following is the summary of the last chapter of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. After that I have two posts planned, the first an attempt at a humble critique of aspects of the book (Part 29), the second a short podcast over viewing the book together with a few other reflections (Part 30).

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

Chapter 18. The Jesus of Testimony (The Final Chapter!)

If, as has been argued, the Jesus of the Gospels is the Jesus of eyewitness testimony, then it is necessary to examine the category of testimony further, namely ‘its epistemological status, its role in historiography and its significance as a theological category’.[1] In a nutshell, Bauckham argues:
‘Testimony ... is both the historically appropriate category for understanding what kind of history the Gospels are and the theologically appropriate category for understanding what kind of access Christian readers of the Gospels thereby have to Jesus and his history. It is the category that enables us to surmount the dichotomy between the so-called historical Jesus and the so-called Christ of faith’.[2]
Drawing on the work of K. Vanhoozer and especially C.A.J. Coady, he notes how depended humans are on testimony in the run of daily life. Furthermore, Coady has shown, against the grain of modern individualistic tendencies, ‘that testimony is as basic a form of knowledge as perception, memory and inference’.[3] This means that it is necessary to ‘understand our epistemic situation in less exclusively individualistic terms, more in communal or inter-subjective terms’[4] which involves a fundamental attitude of trust. Testimony invites trust, but not blind uncritical trust. Rather, it is ‘important to appreciate the complex relation between trust and critical appraisal’.[5]
‘The situation is in principle no different than in the case of our individual perceptions, memories and inferences, which we have no choice but to trust fundamentally, while also being aware that they can mislead us and require critical evaluation in suspicious cases. It is only the excessive individualism of the modern western ideology that tempts us to the view that testimony should regularly and generally incur our suspicion, while our own perceptions, memories and inferences should not’.[6]
How does this relate to historical study? While ‘Graeco-Roman historians achieved results that we should not be too ready to suppose a historian equipped with modern historical methods could easily have surpassed’,[7] it is true that there are significant differences between ancient and modern ways of approaching historical study. Significantly, modern scholars now focus heavily on extracting evidence from the testimony of witnesses in spite of themselves, which is an important insight (cf. M. Bloch and especially R.G. Collingwood). ‘But’, Bauckham proceeds, ‘we should also note that nothing about modern historical method prohibits us from reading the explicit testimonies of the past for the sake of what they were intended to recount and reveal’[8] even if some deny that the ‘past voluntarily “gives” the historian anything’.[9] This is all the more true as this denial tends to lead to the unsustainable assertion that ‘whereas in everyday life we treat testimony as reliable unless or until we find reason to doubt it, in scientific history testimony is suspicious from the outset and can only be believed when it is independently verified’. But at this point ‘it ceases to be testimony’.[10] Testimony, despite the attitudes of much modern Gospel scholarship, invites to be trusted; comprehensive doubt is impossible.

Turning to Paul Ricoeur (and his major recent work, Memory, History, Forgetting) who makes ‘testimony as the record of memory indispensable for historiography’,[11] Bauckham seeks a ‘more adequate philosophical account of historiography than Collingwood’s’.[12] This leads to the conclusion: ‘In the end, testimony is all we have. For the historian, the testament, as a record of memory, is bedrock’.[13]

Examining in more detail the dialectic of trust and critical assessment of testimony, Bauckham argues that the evaluation is essentially an assessment of whether the testimony is trustworthy or not. In other words, ‘[w]hat is not possible is the independent verification or falsification of everything the testimony relates’.[14] While archaeological findings, for example, can ‘to a degree corroborate or discredit testimony ... [t]hey cannot replace testimony’.[15] Furthermore, ‘for the sake of maintaining the quest for the truth of history, we must allow the testimony to resist the limiting pressure of our own experiences and expectations’.[16]

This leads to an analysis of Holocaust testimonies, how this sheds light on Gospel testimony and the argument that ‘testimony can be checked and assessed in appropriate ways, but nevertheless has to be trusted. In the uniquely unique [a phrase adopted from Ricoeur] events we are considering, this is all the more true’.[17] Testimony can yield truth about the past that nothing else can. We cannot ‘suppose that we can extract individual facts from testimony and build our own reconstruction of events that is no longer dependent on witness’.[18]

The traditions in the Synoptic Gospels are, despite being close to how the eyewitnesses told them, actually told by others. However, the extra interpretive element this adds ‘does not come in between us and the realistic character of the story, as interpretation can. The authenticity of the eyewitness memory, if that is what it is, is not compromised or obscured by literary contrivance’.[19] Nevertheless, Bauckham argues that the distinction between ‘plain narratives and narratives that embody interpretation through literary devices such as intertextual allusions’ may help us to better understand the differences ‘between the narratives of the crucifixion and those of the resurrection’.[20]

‘For all the ingenuity of scholars ... [the resurrection] stories remain strangely sui generis and lacking theological interpretation. None of the standard Jewish formulae or images of resurrection occur. We seem to be shown the extraordinary novum, the otherness of resurrection, through the eyes of those whose ordinary reality it invaded’.[21]
Where does all of this lead us? ‘Reading the Gospels as eyewitness testimony’ Bauckham argues, ‘differs therefore from attempts at historical reconstruction behind the texts. It takes the Gospels seriously as they are; it acknowledges the uniqueness of what we can know only in this testimonial form ... This does not mean that historians must trust testimony uncritically, but rather that testimony is to be assessed as testimony’.[22] Especially in terms of some ‘uniquely unique’ events, testimony discloses something and ‘disclosure is what makes the category of testimony not only the appropriate one for the kind of history the Gospels are, but also the theologically appropriate one for understanding the Gospels’.[23]

‘In summary, if the interests of Christian faith and theology in the Jesus who really lived are to recognize the disclosure of God in this history of Jesus, then testimony is the theologically appropriate, indeed the theologically necessary way of access to the history of Jesus, just as testimony is also the historically appropriate, indeed the historically necessary way of access to this “uniquely unique” historical event. It is in the Jesus of testimony that history and theology meet’.[24]

[1]. Ibid., 472–73. [2]. Ibid., 473. [3]. Ibid., 475. [4]. Ibid., 477. [5]. Citing Coady (Bauckham, Eyewitnesses, 478). [6]. Bauckham, Eyewitnesses, 478–79. [7]. Ibid., 480. [8]. Ibid., 483. [9]. Ibid., 484. [10]. Ibid., 485. [11]. Ibid., 488. [12]. Ibid., 487. [13]. Ibid., 489. [14]. Ibid., 490. [15]. Ibid. [16]. Ibid., 492. [17]. Ibid., 502. [18]. Ibid. [19]. Ibid., 504. [20]. Ibid. [21]. Ibid., 505. [22]. Ibid., 506. [23]. Ibid., 507. [24]. Ibid., 508.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 27

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

Chapter 17. Polycrates and Irenaeus on John

Key clues to the identity of the author of the Gospel of John can be found also in the witness of Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus in the late second century. Important is his letter to Bishop Victor of Rome concerning the Quartodeciman controversy which, Bauckham argues, is good evidence that Polycrates refers to the author of John’s Gospel as a John other than the son of Zebedee. This is especially clear in Polycrates’ curious mention that John was ‘a priest, wearing the high-priestly frontlet (to petalon)’. It would appear to be, given the reference to the petalon, an unambiguous indication that Polycrates portrayed John as high priest in the Jerusalem Temple. After detailing the various views on this matter, Bauckham strongly argues that, based in Acts 4:6 (and possibly facilitated by John 18:15), the tradition ‘that John the Beloved Disciple was a high priest is neither metaphorical nor historical, but exegetical’.[1] Rather typical of Bauckham’s manner of argumentation, the punch line awaits a strongly formulated conclusion:

‘[W]hen the Ephesian church looked for its own John, the Beloved Disciple, in New Testament writings other than the Gospel of John, they did not identify him with John the son of Zebedee. The identification of him with the John of Acts 4:6 makes it impossible to identify him with John the son of Zebedee’.[2]
Bauckham’s developing argument maintains that ‘in the second-century Christian traditions of the province of Asia, and especially in Ephesus, the John who wrote the Gospel of John and was the disciple that Gospel calls the disciple Jesus loved was not identified with John the son of Zebedee’.[3] This conclusion is further strengthened through an examination of Irenaeus on John. Notably, Irenaeus’ references to John do not lend at all to the opinion that the son of Zebedee is to be understood. Even though he speaks of John as an apostle, Irenaeus could use the term flexibly to include far more than just the Twelve, even to the extent of calling John the Baptist an apostle. ‘There is therefore no reason to think that either Irenaeus’s Asiatic sources or Irenaeus himself thought the author of the Gospel of John to be one of the Twelve’.[4]

But there is clear evidence in ‘two Christian works of the second century that clearly identify the John who wrote the Gospel with John the son of Zebedee’,[5] namely the Acts of John and the Epistle of the Apostles. Given recent research as to the date and place of composition of these works, Bauckham admits: ‘I am no longer confident of my earlier argument that [these works] indicate that the identification of the author of the Gospel of John with John the son of Zebedee probably originated in Egypt in the second half of the second century’.[6] Rather, the emerging definition of ‘canon’ in contrast with the Gnostic Gospels meant that ‘apostle’ came to indicate ‘reliable authority, authorized by Christ himself and generally recognized in the churches’.[7] The local Ephesian tradition identifying the author of John’s Gospel with a John other than the son of Zebedee was later lost sight of, and once John the Elder became regularly termed an ‘apostle’, he ‘very easily became indistinguishable from John the son of Zebedee’.[8]

[1]. Ibid., 451. [2]. Ibid., 452, italics suppressed.
[3]. Ibid., 452. [4]. Ibid., 462.
[5]. Ibid., 463. [6]. Ibid., 465.
[7]. Ibid., 467. [8]. Ibid., 468.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 26

This rather extensive summary of Bauckham's book is almost at an end - only two posts left (Pts 27 and 28). The whole series shall then be completed with two final posts (Pts 29 and 30) offering some critical reflections and general remarks. A 30 part review! I need to get a life!

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

Chapter 16. Papias on John

In the previous two chapters Bauckham has argued that the Gospel of John portrays, and plausibly so, its author as the disciple it calls ‘the disciple Jesus loved’. This argument entails that the Beloved Disciple was not one of the Twelve, namely John the son of Zebedee. This is affirmed by the absence of a list of the Twelve disciples in the Gospel of John as is made in the Synoptics which, as was argued earlier, was indicative of an acknowledgment of indebtedness to the traditions of the Twelve. The names in John’s Gospel rather indicate that it draws on traditions ‘not simply from the Beloved Disciple himself, but from a particular circle of disciples of Jesus in which the Beloved Disciple moved’.[1] This conclusion is further strengthened with reference to the ‘protective anonymity’ scheme detailed earlier.

This does not mean that the question of the identity of the John ‘the Beloved’ should remain closed. Indeed, and drawing on Hengel’s work again, he asserts: ‘That the author of John’s Gospel was a John other than John the son of Zebedee is not at all unlikely’.[2] Furthermore, the evidence of what Papias said about the origin of the Gospels can be used to argue that the author of the Gospel of John is none other than ‘the disciple of Jesus whom Papias calls John the Elder’.[3] This leads to an extensive analysis of the Papias material once again that firmly associates the Gospel author with ‘John the Elder’, and not John the son of Zebedee. To strengthen this case Bauckham investigates the meaning of the John 21:23 ‘rumour’ that the Beloved Disciple would survive until the parousia, and the title ‘the elder’. To facilitate this examination, Bauckham also addresses the question as to why ‘no explicit comments by Papias on the Gospel of John have survived’[4] and argues that Eusebius had good reason to edit out much material original to Papias. However, and again breaking fresh ground, Bauckham argues in detail that some remnant of Papias’s comments on the Gospel of John can be found in the Muratorian Canon. His reasoning at this stage is a powerful blend of deep familiarity with early Christian literature and exact reasoning, which maintains that, for the author of the Muratorian Canon who drew to an extent from lost Papias material, John was a disciple but not a member of the Twelve.

‘We may conclude that what Papias said about the origin of John’s Gospel was that John the Elder, the disciple of the Lord, wrote it. He may have said that John was urged to do so by the elders, the leading Christian teachers in the province of Asia, who had known other disciples of Jesus. Papias also, very likely, said that these elders vouched for the truth of the Gospel (referring to John 21:24). He then quoted part of 1 John 1:1-4 in order to show that its author, John the Elder, was both himself an eyewitness of the events of the Gospel history and himself wrote them in his Gospel. Therefore he alone, among the Gospel writers Papias discussed, wrote the logia of the Lord in order’.[5]
The chapter ends with an appendix making several significant qualifications to the arguments of Charles Hill that Papias’ ‘views on John’s Gospel ... are preserved by Eusebius in Hist. Eccl. 3.24.5-13’[6] as Hill’s thesis would negate much of Bauckham’s work in isolating dependence on Papias in the Muratorian Canon.

[1]. Ibid., 414.
[2]. Ibid., 416.
[3]. Ibid.
[4]. Ibid., 422.
[5]. Ibid., 433.
[6]. Ibid.

(Picture is of Eusebius)

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 25

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 2)

While evidence in the Gospel presupposes that the Beloved Disciple experienced a lengthy time of relationship with Jesus, it is not necessary to maintain that he was ‘personally present at all the events he narrates, since it is also clear from the Gospel that he belonged to the circle of disciples of Jesus and would have had direct and easy access to the eyewitness testimony of those who had been present at events he himself did not witness’.[1] Indeed, the Gospel doesn’t have a list of the Twelve (which Bauckham has argued in earlier chapters were made to ‘cite their authority as the official sources and guarantors of the main body of Gospel traditions these Gospels contain’[2]) as the Beloved Disciple was likely not one of the Twelve. His Gospel draws both on his own direct autopsy of Jesus as well as that of other individual disciples and so ought not to list the Twelve.

In John 1:14 it states that ‘we have seen his glory’. While this can be cited to suggest that already in the Prologue the Gospel is claimed to be based on eyewitness testimony, Lincoln notes that ‘in the discourse of the Fourth Gospel, seeing and testifying are the equivalent of believing and confessing’.[3] Ergo, the seeing of the eyewitnesses is not literal but rather interpretive. Bauckham, while maintaining a mixture of historiographical and theological notions of ‘witness’ in the Gospel, strongly contests Lincoln’s conclusion by pointing to the temporal and historical nature of the seeing in the Gospel, and argues that:

‘It is the testimony of those who did see and believed that enables those who have not seen also to believe, and it is the Gospel that mediates the testimony of those who have seen to those who have not, so that the latter may also believe’.[4]
But why is the Beloved Disciple’s role as principal witness and author not revealed until the end of the Gospel? Because the Beloved Disciple was not a well-known disciple, he had to be careful how he advanced his own claim to be qualified to write a Gospel of Jesus as an eyewitness. The postponement of is thus due to a ‘combination of modesty and temerity’.[5]
However, can we really believe the Beloved Disciple wrote the Gospel? Isn’t the claim simply pseudepigraphal?

‘The question is by no means easy to answer. All of our arguments so far go to show that the Gospel portrays the Beloved Disciple as its principal witness and author, making a historiographical claim about his eyewitness evidence as well as a theological one about his perceptive understanding’.[6]
However, one strong argument can be said in favour of the authenticity of the Gospel’s claim to have been written by the Beloved Disciple: ‘why should a pseudepigraphal author in search of a suitable pseudonym choose such a character? Why not write, as the authors of other pseudepigraphal Gospels did, in the name of a well-known disciple - Philip or Andrew or Thomas? Why make the task of establishing the credibility of this Gospel narrative so hard for himself/herself?’.[7]

The high degree of interpretation in the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of the story of Jesus actually, as was seen earlier in relation to Papias on the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, qualifies the Gospel as a more serious work of history in the eyes of Graeco-Roman historians. Far from the highly interpretive element suggesting distance from eyewitness sources, ‘[t]he author’s eyewitness status’, claims Bauckham, ‘authorizes the interpretation’![8]

This mixture of ‘empirical sight’ and ‘spiritual perception’ in the Gospel’s presentation is not something to be feared. ‘If this history was in fact the disclosure of God, then to have the report of some uncommitted observer would not take us nearer to the historical truth but further from it’. The Gospel’s interpretive nature is thus ‘wholly appropriate to the historical uniqueness of the subject matter’. This Gospel surely presents a perspective outside the circles from which the synoptic traditions derive. It is idiosyncratic. However, ‘[a]s with all testimony, even that of the law court, there is a point beyond which corroboration cannot go, and only the witness can vouch for the truth of his own witness’.[9]

[1]. Ibid., 402. [2]. Ibid., 403.
[3]. Ibid., 404. [4]. Ibid., 405.
[5]. Ibid., 408. [6]. Ibid.
[7]. Ibid., 409. [8]. Ibid., 411. [9]. Ibid.

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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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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Guest Post by Richard Fellows - Protective silences in Acts and Paul's letters

A bit about Richard first:
"I am an amateur New Testament researcher from England, living in Vancouver, Canada. My interests are in historical questions concerning Acts and Paul's letters, and in double naming throughout the NT. You can find much of my work on my web site (, and in two papers (R. Fellows, 'Was Titus Timothy?' JSNT 81 [2001]: 33-58; R. Fellows, 'Renaming in Paul's churches: the case of Crispus-Sosthenes revisited' Tyndale Bulletin 56.2 [2005]: 111-130)".
Now to his truly thought-provoking guest post. Those who are following the Jesus and the Eyewitness series will find this to be of real interest.

Protective silences in Acts and Paul's letters

Chris Tilling is producing a fascinating series on Bauckham's book, which continues to provide me with a lot of food for thought.

In chapter 8 Bauckham argues that the identities of certain characters in Mark are kept secret to protect them from persecution in the event of the text falling into the hands of opponents of the movement. I wonder if Bauckham would like to comment on the possibility that Acts and Paul's letters also take measures to avoid compromising the safety of those that they write about. I can think of the following instances where this might have been the case.

1. Acts 12:17 says that after Peter's escape from prison he "went to another place". This "place" is anonymous surely because Luke did not want to reveal where believers went when they were hiding from the authorities, as this would jeopardize the host community. Very probably it was to Antioch that Peter fled, for this would explain why his visit there (Gal 2:11-14) is not recorded in Acts.

2. The collection for Jerusalem was highly controversial (see Georgi p117-120). This may explain Rom 15:31 and also the plot against Paul (Acts 20:3). Commentators have long been surprised by the fact that Acts does not mention Paul's final collection for Jerusalem, except by having Paul describe it as a personal act of charity (Acts 24:17). The silence is surprising since Luke must have known about it. Furthermore, Acts glosses over Paul's collection journey from Ephesus through Macedonia to Achaia, covering it in less than three verses (Acts 20:1-3). However, all this makes sense if Luke was conscious of the need to avoid endangering the church. To mention the collection would have endangered those involved, including Luke himself. Similarly, Luke makes no mention of the collection from Galatia (which was made years earlier in response to the request of Gal 2:10, I believe). Luke mentions only the collection from Antioch which, being for famine relief, may have been less controversial, and was delivered by Paul and Barnabas, both of whom may have been dead by the time Acts was written.

3. 2 Corinthians 8 there are two believers who are strangely anonymous, and there is a third who is mentioned in 2 Cor 12:18 who is also anonymous (I believe that he was Erastus). All three seem to have been involved in the collection, which was controversial and could get those individuals into trouble if the letter fell into the wrong hands. It seems likely, then, that Paul gave them protective anonymity.

But what about Titus, who is mentioned by name? I have argued elsewhere that Titus was Timothy's original name. "Timothy" was the name by which he was normally known at this time, and it may be that only insiders knew that his original name had been "Titus". By calling him "Titus" in 2 Corinthians in every place where the context is his collection visits, Paul hides his identity from outsiders. Perhaps we should call this "protective heteronymity".

4. We are explicitly told of only six first century Christians who were given new names (Simon-Peter, James and John Boanerges, Joseph-Barnabas, James-the Just-Oblias, and Ignatius-Theophorus). It is remarkable that all these people were heavily persecuted and most or all were martyred. I tentatively hypothesise that new names were often given in part as a means of protecting people's identity from those who would persecute them. This might explain the high frequency of new name taking in the early church, particularly among those who risked persecution. By giving a person a second name (an alias), hostile outsiders could be more easily kept in the dark. Now, Luke mentions the case of Simon-Peter, and that if Joseph-Barnabas, but does not explicitly mention any other cases. I suggest that there were several other cases of new name giving, and that Luke does not mention them because he wanted to protect the individuals and did not want to draw too much attention to the phenomenon. I will mention two possible cases:

i) As I have argued elsewhere, Crispus (Acts 18:8) defected to Paul's camp and his influence caused many of the god-fearers to be "saved", and this caused opposition from the non-Christian Jews. He was re-named "Sosthenes" (appropriately meaning 'saving strength'), and was beaten by the non-Christian Jews (Acts 18:17). But why does Luke not explain explicitly that Crispus was renamed "Sosthenes"? I suggest that it was to avoid endangering him. Luke honours Sosthenes by naming him, and insiders would have understood that he was Crispus, but hostile outsiders would be kept in ignorance.

ii) We have the (admittedly less certain) case of Jason-Aristarchus. Jason was a supporter of Paul in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9), and was arrested for inviting Paul to use his house. He was a Jew and was with Paul in Achaia just before Paul's final journey to Jerusalem (Rom 16:21). Aristarchus was also from Thessalonica and was probably also a Jew (Col. 4:10-11). He was Paul's traveling companion (Acts 19:29) and joined him in Achaia for the journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). From 1 Thessalonians we deduce that there were few Jews in the church of Thessalonica. Both Jason and Aristarchus appear to have been Thessalonian Christian Jews who were in Achaia at the same time and these coincidences should make us suspect that they were one and the same person. Now, the name "Aristarchus" means "best leader" and is therefore just the sort of name that one would expect Paul to give to Jason, who seems to have been the benefactor around whom the church in Thessalonica formed. This case of renaming would then closely parallel that of Crispus-Sosthenes (and Titius Justus-Stephanas). Philip Harland has demonstrated the importance of benefactors/patrons to ancient associations, including Christian congregations and argues that they became the church leaders (compare Titius Justus-Stephanas). The problem with the Jason-Aristarchus hypothesis has always been to explain why Luke would call him "Jason" in chapter 17, but "Aristarchus" thereafter. Why does Acts not identify Aristarchus as Jason? Again, it may have been to protect him and conceal the use of alias taking in the early church so as not to alert opponents to the practice.

5. Luke keeps himself anonymous, perhaps for his own protection.

6. Luke addresses his books to "Theophilus" (lover of God). "Theophilus" could have been an impromptu (or prior) renaming which serves to protect the identity of this high ranking official who sponsored the publication of Luke 's two books, and honour him.

The cases of new name giving are important, not least because they confirm the accuracy of Acts. Also, if we can show that Acts contains the phenomena of protective anonymity and protective heteronymity, it makes it more likely that the same phenomena appear in the gospels, and this supports some of Bauckham's claims.

(The picture, taken from Richard's webpage, shows the tribunal where Sosthenes was beaten)

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 23

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

Chapter 14. The Gospel of John as Eyewitness Testimony

In the next few chapters Bauckham turns to address the Johannine evidence concerning eyewitness testimony. Notably, the concluding verses of John’s Gospel claim: ‘This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true’. The obvious reading of this verse in context indicates that the disciple in question (‘the disciple Jesus loved’) wrote the Gospel. However, the usual demotion of the Gospel of John in modern scholarship has lead many to attempt arguments that evade the import of these words. However, Bauckham forcefully shows that both those trying to expand the meaning of the Greek verb graphein and those who restrict the referent of ‘these things’ to either chap 21 alone or a written source behind the canonical Gospel, are using faulty reasoning. Rather, the words from John 21:24 cited above require that the Beloved disciple ‘was substantially responsible both for the content and for the words of the book’.[1] Naturally, this may be factually incorrect, but it is still the import of the Gospel text, despite the many scholars who have adopted one of the evasion strategies above.

Most scholars, however, have understood the Gospel to have originally ended at the end of chap 20, thus making the words cited above part of a later editorial addition. Against this majority opinion, Bauckham argues that there are clear and deliberate associations between the Prologue and the Epilogue such that it is unlikely that the Gospel ever existed without chap 21. To maintain this conclusion he must deal with the problem that chap 20 appears to have its own conclusion (vv. 30-31). Bauckham thus proceeds to analyse and compare the two texts (20:30-31 and 21:24-25) in depth arguing that while the texts are parallel, they are not repetitive. Indeed, the texts function as a ‘carefully designed two-stage disclosure of the Beloved Disciple’s role in the production of the Gospel’,[2] which are careful to reveal his authorship only at the very end. If Bauckham’s arguments at this point succeed in convincing his readers (and in my opinion that is an open question), ‘then we cannot think that the identification of the Beloved Disciple as the author of the Gospel is a later, secondary accretion to the Gospel. The Gospel, with its epilogue and its two stage conclusion, has been designed to reveal only at the end the role of the Beloved Disciple in its making’.[3]

In the verse cited above it states that ‘we know that his testimony is true’. But who are the ‘we’? Could it, and clearly contra Bauckham, refer to a later editorial or authorial community? Bauckham argues that the ‘we’ reflects not a genuine plural but rather stand for ‘I’. To be more precise, the usage is a Johannine idiom that he calls ‘the “we” of authoritative testimony’.[4] The ‘we’, rather than indicating ‘I and you or ‘I and my associates’ is best understood as a way of adding force to the self-reference, especially in testimonial contexts. Bauckham finishes the chapter by analysing a number of verses that appear to evidence just such a usage, namely 3 John 9-12, I John 1:1-5, 4:11-16, John 3:10-13, 21:24-25 and 1:14-16. While not all of the material Bauckham examines is equally convincing, arguably the evidence in 1 John and John 3 make Bauckham’s suggestions likely.

The result of this chapter is now clear: According to John 21:24, the Beloved Disciple is ‘both the primary witness on whose testimony the Gospel is based and also himself the author of the Gospel’.[5]

[1]. Ibid., 362.
[2]. Ibid., 366.
[3]. Ibid., 368.
[4]. Ibid., 371.
[5]. Ibid., 384.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 22

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

Chapter 13. Eyewitness Memory

Even if Bauckham’s argument concerning the eyewitnesses thus far is correct, can the memories of these witnesses be trusted given the fallible nature of human memory? This chapter is a first attempt to relate the findings of modern psychological study to the gospel traditions in a systematic way.

He examines so-called ‘recollective memory’ for this would correspond most closely with the Gospel narratives (assuming they are based on eyewitness testimony). To do this he first details the theoretical debate concerning the nature of memory, namely whether it is a (re)construction or copy of the original experience. Bauckham’s major point, to which he will return, is that while memory has ‘reconstructive’ and interpretive elements, this needs to be kept in tension with the point that this doesn’t necessarily entail inaccuracy. Furthermore, some things are remembered better than others; not all things are remembered equally well in the same way. Additionally, and drawing on the work of F.C. Bartlett, while the entire remembering and retrieval process involves selection and interpretation in light of (socially shaped) mental models or schemata, this should not be understood to imply that this mechanism impedes the minds access to what really happened. However, it is clear that memories become formulated as meaningful stories and are so ‘as the conjunction of information and meaning, and as the interaction of past and present’ (338). Once again, this is not to dissolve the past into the need for meaning in the present independent of the past, but it is to insist that ‘memory intends to speak of the past and is engaged in a search for truth. This is what differentiates memory from imagination’ (341).

All of this is then related to the Gospel data, such that Bauckham can claim (it is worth citing at greater length):

‘The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events ... and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event ... [and] central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably. We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory.’ (346).
Dennis Nineham has influentially argued that the form critics have demonstrated that ‘the forms in which the Gospel traditions are cast were the result of a long process of development in community use’ (347). The material from psychological studies overviewed in the first part of this chapter enable Bauckham to complete a devastating critique of Nineham’s pro-‘form critical’ argument, and he points the way forward to a needed area of research in relation to the Gospel forms in association with notions of schemata and cross-cultural story scripts (another potential idea for those seeking a doctoral research topic!).

Again based upon the discussion in the first part of the chapter, Bauckham briefly analyses the potential significance of John Robinson’s category of ‘deferred meaning’ as a significant concept for understanding how the Gospel traditions were later remembered in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf., e.g. John 12:14-16). However, he notes that ‘it is remarkable how little subsequent interpretation many Synoptic narratives have received’ (353), especially the stories of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms. To be remembered is that Bauckham earlier argued that the Jesus traditions were largely circulated as ‘isolated’ traditions, i.e. independent of a particular communal use. This leads to an astonishing line of argumentation:

‘The relatively small extent to which the stories have been affected by post-resurrection interpretation has to be explained by the probability that it was the stories in the fairly fixed form already given them by the eyewitnesses during Jesus’ ministry that survived the revolution in understanding consequent on the cross and the resurrection. The eyewitnesses were still around. They remained the authoritative source of their traditions. And the impact of the past itself, along with a conviction that the past history of Jesus mattered as past event, gave stability to their memories long after the crucial theological developments that took place in the earliest Christian circles’ (355, italics mine).
The previous citation in particular had me rather excited, and it makes a bundle load of sense. Not only does Bauckham’s argument make use of modern psychological studies in human memory, but he also manages to make good sense of the actual Gospel evidence. One wonders what else could be said in relation to the effectiveness of recall had the matter of deliberate mnemonic techniques been explored in more depth.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 21

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 12. Anonymous Tradition or Eyewitness Testimony?

Throughout the book thus far Bauckham has sought to argue that Jesus traditions originated and were transmitted in connection with a body of official and named eyewitnesses who functioned as ‘active guarantors’ of these traditions. In those groups that didn’t enjoy the presence of such an eyewitness there would likely have been teachers who functioned as ‘authorized tradents’, having received their knowledge either directly from the original eyewitness(es) or through an authorised chain of intermediaries. In contrast to this, scholarship has tended to elevate the significance of the ‘shared memory’ of anonymous communities to the key role in the transmission of Jesus traditions, even those (like Dunn) who acknowledge the reality of individual eyewitnesses. However, and this is a point which Bauckham has spend a good deal of space justifying, the Gospels writers would hardly have been content to collect such communal and anonymous traditions. Rather, given memorisation, possibly the use of writing, and the presence of eyewitness testimony, the (isolated) traditions underwent a particular kind of formal control in their transmission. Furthermore, Papias is clear evidence that at the time of the production of the Gospels, there was little interest in anonymous community traditions. Indeed, the evidence strongly indicates that the notion of the transmission of traditions through a chain of authorised tradents was commonplace. To add to the already impressive argument, Bauckham indicates the significance of the Jerusalem church, a matter missed in the ‘informal controlled’ models (cf. 299, n. 22 for a fascinating take on 1 Cor 14:36 on this regard). As he maintains:

‘We should probably envisage a carefully compiled and formulated collection of Jesus traditions, incorporating other important eyewitness testimony as well as that of the Twelve themselves, but authorized by the Twelve as the official body of witnesses’ (299).
Bauckham then turns to address the claim that ‘Jesus traditions [were] circulated anonymously in the early church and that therefore the Gospels, in which they were gathered and recorded, were also originally anonymous’ (300). His argument, partly depending on arguments proposed by Hengel and partly on the evidence of chapters 3-8 and especially that the Gospels do indicate their eyewitness sources, claims that ‘as soon as the Gospels circulated around the churches they had author’s names attached to them, even though such names were not part of the text of the Gospels’ (304).

This leads to a discussion concerning the role of eyewitnesses and Gospels in the controlling of the transmission of Jesus traditions. He argues, noting especially the import of 1 Cor 15:3-8:

‘In the early Christian movement we may suppose that the authorized tradents of the tradition performed this role of controllers, but among them the eyewitnesses would surely have been the most important’ (306).
When these eyewitnesses started dying out ‘the Gospels will have stepped into the role of the eyewitnesses ... functioning as the guarantor of the traditions, as the eyewitnesses had in their lifetimes, and as controls on the tradition’ (309). It is not that the Gospels didn’t involve a measure of creative adaptation of the eyewitness testimony, but their preservation of these traditions would have been, in best ancient historiographical practice, faithful.

While many works have been influenced by Maurice Halbwachs’ concept of ‘collective memory’, which would justify key assumptions in form critical scholarship, Bauckham, drawing especially on Barbara Misztal, presses a set of important and original distinctions such that one need not ‘dissolve the distinctiveness of personal recollection’ into a social or collective memory which has little interest in the past (313). In other words, ‘social memory or oral tradition has to be constantly negotiating the relationship of the present to the past. In this negotiation the past has a voice that has to be heard. It cannot be freely invented’ (317).

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 20

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 11. Transmitting the Jesus Traditions

It will be remembered that Bauckham reserved little criticism in the previous chapter for Gerhardsson’s model. The next two chapters analyses the nature of ‘the transmission process of the Jesus traditions as a formal controlled tradition in which the eyewitnesses played an important part’ (264). To do this, he first turns attention to the evidence in the Pauline literature (though he notes that the evidence is not particular to Paul). Paul used technical terminology for handing on a tradition which would have involved some sort of ‘teaching and learning so that what is communicated will be retained’ (265). Noticeably, when Paul speaks of traditions, ‘he makes clear that his authority for transmitting at least some of them to his churches was not his apostolic status as such, but the fact that he himself had received them from competent authorities (1 Cor 15:3)’ (265). This indicates that Paul understood ‘a chain of transmission that begins from Jesus himself and passes through intermediaries to Paul himself, who has already passed it on to the Corinthians when he first established their church’ (268).

Paul, Bauckham argues, received (by a formal process of learning) the traditions from the Twelve. This claim naturally involves an explanation as to why Gal 1:11-12 and 1 Cor 11:23 (‘from the Lord’) are not inconsistent with this proposal. In passing traditions on to the churches (presumably also by a formal process of learning), while there is no mention of the transmission of tradition to specific individuals (cf. 1 Cor 11:2; 15:2 etc.), it is clear that certain persons were designated as teachers (e.g. Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:28-29). This picture is then substantiated with reference to evidence in Josephus concerning the Pharisaic transmission of tradition both to people generally and to specific teachers.
‘Thus, even within the Pauline communities, we should reckon with the role of specially authorized guarantors of the traditions, and thus a more formal process of preservation and transmission of the traditions than Bailey’s model envisages’ (270)
Drawing on the work of Jan Vansina, Bauckham notes that oral societies treat fictional historical tales and historical accounts differently such that the latter is preserved more faithfully. This leads, again building on Vansina’s work, to a powerful critique of the form critical claim that the early Christians didn’t distinguish between past and present. These Christian certainly did make such a distinction as is clear in i) the varied usage of the ‘son of man’ title in both the Jesus traditions on the one hand, and the early church on the other, ii) the expectations associated with of the genre of ‘biography’ with which the Gospels are to be associated, and iii) the obvious religious significance of the past: ‘The present in which they lived in relationship with the risen and exalted Christ was the effect of this past history, presupposing its pastness and not at all dissolving it’ (277-78).

Bauckham then maintains, again with a sympathetic ear to Gerhardsson, that Jesus tradition, in contrast with the form-critical picture, was transmitted ‘independently of its use’ (278), the Sitz im Leben of a tradition being the transmission processes itself. This is supported by the evidence analysed in Paul above, but also in the clear distinction Paul made between the sayings of Jesus and his own teaching concerning divorce in 1 Cor 7. Naturally Bauckham is not asserting that ‘the Jesus traditions as we know them from the Gospels in no way reflect the context of the early Christian movement’. But later changes were moderate. Indeed, ‘[t]he Gospels themselves would be hard to explain unless the oral Jesus traditions before them were transmitted for their own sake ... The disciples do not supplement Jesus’ teaching with contributions - adding or interpreting - in their own name’ (279).

Bauckham ends the chapter with a discussion of two types of controls that could have played a part in the transmission of traditions, namely memorisation and writing. Not only was memorisation ‘universal in education in the ancient world’ (280), but (here citing my neighbour Rainer Riesner) ‘the form of the sayings of Jesus included in itself an imperative to remember them’ (282). In critical dialogue with Werner Kelber, Bauckham maintains that different types of material were remembered in different ways, and the only way to know how Jesus traditions were treated is to analyse the Gospel evidence itself. This leads to the conclusion that ‘Jesus must have expected his sayings to be deliberately learned’ (284). Furthermore, again relying to an extent on Riesner, ‘the strong tradition within the Gospels that Jesus sent out his disciples to spread his own message during his ministry’ is evidence that ‘Jesus expected his disciples to transmit his teaching to others’ (284).

The main critique of Gerhardsson’s position has been that it doesn’t account for variations in the Jesus tradition, as some claim Bailey’s model does. However, variations in the tradition can be explained on other grounds (Bauckham provides five potential reasons, though doesn’t attempt to justify them in any detail – i.e. there is a doctorate waiting to be written here!).

Finally, Bauckham asks if writing was a way used to control the transmission of tradition. In relation to this, he asserts:

‘The first Christians ... included people who studied the Scriptures with current exegetical skills and could write works with the literary quality of the letter of James’ (289).
Hence, ‘it does seem unlikely that no one would have even noted down Jesus traditions in notebooks’ (289), but this wouldn’t have replaced but rather complimented orality and memorisation.

I personally found this chapter profoundly convincing.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 19

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 10. Models of Oral Tradition
‘The main purpose of this chapter and the next is to consider the implications of putting the eyewitnesses back into the picture [of theories concerning oral tradition], not merely as the original sources of Gospel traditions, but as people who remained accessible sources and authoritative guarantors of their own testimony throughout the period between Jesus and the writing of the Gospels’.
This project involves setting the role of eyewitnesses in the broader context of the nature of the transmission of Jesus traditions in the early church, and focuses, for now, on the Synoptics ‘since it is generally agreed that the Gospel of John is a special case’ (for which see chapter 14-16). To do this, Bauckham analyses the three main models of oral tradition, namely those associated with Rudolf Bultmann, Birger Gerhardsson and Kenneth Bailey. After summarising the history of ‘form critical’ scholarship, its significant insights, its theories concerning the original ‘form’ of an oral tradition, its stress on Sitz im Leben, anonymous transmission and the emphasis given to the supposed analogy of Jesus tradition with folk literature, Bauckham launches a devastating attack on ‘Form Criticism’. He concludes: ‘There is no reason to believe that the oral transmission of Jesus traditions in the early church was at all as Bultmann envisaged it’. However, it is not merely Bultmann that concerns Bauckham, but the shadow of form criticism which still darkens much NT scholarship, namely ‘the largely unexamined impression that many scholars - and probably even more students - still entertain: the impression of a long period of creative development of the traditions before they attained written form in the Gospels’ (249).

The ‘Scandinavian alternative’ of Bauckham’s subtitle refers to Gerhardsson’s contribution in his book Memory and Manuscript (1961). This model, based on a study of oral transmission in rabbinic Judaism, placed more emphasis upon memorisation and mnemonic techniques and thus posited more control in the transmission of tradition. Noting more negative scholarly evaluations of this work, Bauckham is quick to point out how unfair some criticism has been. Nevertheless, he turns quickly to assess the contribution of Bailey, a potential middle way between Bultmann and Gerhardsson, and discusses his threefold typology (informal uncontrolled - informal controlled - formal controlled). To the possible surprise of some, Bauckham has a fair amount to say in critique of the Bailey typology, and Dunn’s adoption of the ‘informal controlled’ model. Bauckham distinguishes two questions that Dunn muddles together, namely ‘who does the controlling, the community or specified individuals?’ and ‘how is this control exercised?’. This leads to the observation that the matter of stability and flexibility is really a third factor besides controlled or uncontrolled, formal or informal. Hence Bauckham can argue that ‘the threefold typology has probably had a somewhat misleading effect on scholars who favour Bailey’s informal controlled tradition as the best analogy for the Gospel tradition’ (258). Indeed, despite the merits of Bailey’s model, it leaves important questions unanswered, especially as it relates to the role of eyewitnesses in the earliest Christian communities – questions provoked all the more urgently by Dunn’s treatment of oral tradition.

Bauckham sets out the questions that need attention in the following way:

‘(1) Was the tradition controlled in any way? (1a) For what reasons would control over the tradition have been thought necessary?
(2) If the tradition was controlled, what were the mechanisms of control?
(3) Were different kinds or aspects of traditions treated differently with regard to the degree of flexibility permitted? (3a) What was the relative balance of stability and flexibility in the treatment of these different kinds or aspects of traditions?
(4) How are the Gospels related to the oral tradition?’ (258).
Questions 1, 1a and 2 will be addressed in the following chapter, while question 4 involves direct interaction with the contention of Bauckham’s book.

However, before finishing this chapter, Bauckham presses the point that neither Bailey nor Dunn have explored the matter of eyewitnesses in sufficient depth. They confuse matters and ignore important distinctions (such a between minor eyewitnesses and those who were ‘from the beginning’). To an extent they even continue to propagate the form critical picture of an oral tradition for which eyewitnesses were only a starting point. While Dunn in particular has made some progress in terms of the questions Bauckham draws attention to, in the next two chapters Bauckham will develop appropriate solutions in far more detail, and seek to understand how eyewitnesses play a part in the picture.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 18

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 9. Papias on Mark and Matthew

While many scholars, though not all (e.g. Hengel, Byrskog etc.), have doubted the usefulness of the evidence from Papias concerning the origin of the Gospel of Mark, Bauckham provides in this chapter good reason to reject what he calls such ‘gratuitous scepticism’. He considers the most important argument in his favour the manner in which the Gospel of Mark itself indicates Peter as the principal eyewitness source, especially as it appears that Luke and John ‘both understood Mark to be making this claim’ (cf. chapters 6 and 7). Indeed, one of the major contributions of this whole book is that Papias’ statements have been thrust back on stage as credible evidence.

What does it mean, however, when Papias claims Mark was Peter’s ‘interpreter’ (this being the most likely translation of the Greek)? A ‘translator’ in those days could interpret very flexibly. For example, Josephus, Bauckham notes, claimed that his Antiquities (cf. Ant. 1.5, 17; 4.196) was simply a translation of the Hebrew scriptures! However, Bauckham argues that Papias, unlike Josephus, appeared to understand translation in a stricter sense and was ‘scrupulously accurate in reproducing Peter’s oral testimony’. Bauckham further argues that Papias was called Peter’s interpreter ‘not in the sense that he acted as such when Peter was teaching orally, but in the sense that he translated Peter’s words when he and Peter engaged in a process of setting them down in writing’.

However, this involves an understanding of the key words for recalling and relating from memory in Papias that many reject. These scholars will argue that the one doing the recalling is Mark, not Peter. However, while this is grammatically possible, Bauckham argues that Papias’ line of reasoning requires that Peter be the subject of the relevant verbs. Indeed, read in this way it is further evidence that Papias used ‘technical or semi-technical terms from literary and rhetorical discussion’.

Another couple of points of translation are then made in relation to the words chreiai, suntaxin and logia. The first surprise involves Bauckham’s discussion of the latter, which concludes with the claim that it refers not to ‘“sayings of the Lord” or “prophetic oracles of the Lord” or “prophetic oracles about the Lord,” but something like “short reports of what the Lord said and did”’. He then proceeds to argue that chreiai be best understood – so long as it is understood flexibly –, in light of Theon’s examples, as ‘brief narratives containing only actions, as brief narratives containing only sayings, and mixed types containing both actions and sayings’, for which the English term ‘anecdote’ would be the best translation. This discussion of chreiai leads to the conclusion that ‘There is no reason why the basic form of many of the chreiai in Mark should not have been given them by Peter in his oral rehearsing of the words and deeds of Jesus’.

Papias opines Mark’s lack of order. While Mark, for Papias, did very well according to good historiographical practice of faithfully recording his eyewitness source (Peter), it stopped short of being a true work of history given that it attempted no aesthetic arrangement or continuous narrative (suntaxis) of the chreiai.

And what does Papias say of Matthew and John? His descriptions always involve comment on two stages: the activity of an eyewitness (i.e. the question origin) and that of non-eyewitnesses (involving the question of the ‘order’ of the traditions). In doing this Papias wants to maintain that both Mark and Matthew lack proper order, which implies that Papias is making a comparison with another Gospel that differs in terms of chronology significantly from either Matthew or Mark. Bauckham suggests that it is likely that Papias’ measuring rod was John’s Gospel (especially plausible if, as Bauckham has argued earlier, Papias knew John’s Gospel). In summary, Bauckham proposes that:

‘[W]e find that Papias was contrasting the lack of order in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew with the order to be found in the Gospel of John. He took for granted that all three Gospels originated from eyewitness testimony, but, whereas the Gospel of John was actually written by an eyewitness, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (in the form available to Papias) were at one stage of transmission removed from the direct report of the eyewitness in question himself’.
Perhaps, Bauckham speculates, ‘it would have been the initial “publication” of the Gospel of John that required some such comment on the most obvious difference between this Gospel and those of Mark and Matthew’. In chapter 15 Bauckham will return to the evidence in John’s Gospel itself that seeks to establish ‘its author’s claim to offer eyewitness testimony additional and in some respects superior to that of the much better known eyewitness Peter, embodied in Mark’s Gospel’.

However, isn’t Papias simply wrong about what he says about Mark’s Gospel as evidencing no ‘order’? And doesn’t this throw a spanner in the works if much of the previous argumentation is based upon a fresh appreciation of Papias’ historical usefulness? Bauckham is forthright: ‘Papias’s contention that Mark did no more than record, with scrupulous accuracy, the chreiai as Peter related them, is mistaken’. However, and building on the work of Joanna Dewey, Bauckham argues that Papias is rejecting a certain type of ‘order’ in Mark’s Gospel. While Mark does structure his narrative in ways ‘characteristic of oral composition’ and appears to be based on an ‘already existing oral narrative’ (even if it be refined in writing), in light of such ‘ordering’ it is easier to understand ‘how easy it was for Papias to exaggerate Mark’s lack of order’. It would appear that this is not an order that Papias wanted to recognise. Furthermore, his ‘exaggeration also served his purpose well. Papias was engaged in explaining the differences between John’s Gospel and Mark’s in a way that favoured John’s “order” without denigrating Mark’s Gospel’.

Bauckham ends the chapter by noting a couple of independent sources that may, without any degree of certainty, provide further support that Mark was understood as Peter’s Gospel (he mentions Dial. 106.3 and Justin Martyr’s description of this Gospel as ‘the memoirs’ of Peter earlier). First, he notes Saying 13 of the Gospel of Thomas arguing that if ‘Matthew in this passage represents Matthew’s Gospel, then it becomes highly likely that Peter represents Mark’s Gospel’. Second he mentions the slightly ambiguous evidence found in the words of Clement of Alexandria (Str. 7.106.4). While these do not make the argument clear-cut, ‘evidence for the association of Peter with Mark’s Gospel independent of Papias ... are quite strong’.

(Picture of the Hengels and Richard Bauckham from

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