232 of 253 people found the following review helpful
Another Home Run for Bauckham,
This review is from: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Hardcover)Anything by Bauckham is likely to get a high rating from me, simply by the sheer quality of his work. In this book, he presents several lines of evidence to support his contention that the Gospels constitute or rely upon eyewitness testimony. Before I get into that, though, I'll give you the table of contents:
1) From the Historical Jesus to the Jesus of Testimony
2) Papias on the Eyewitnesses
3) Names in the Gospel Traditions
4) Palestinian Jewish Names
5) The Twelve
6) Eyewitnesses "from the Beginning"
7) The Petrine Perspective in the Gospel of Mark
8) Anonymous Persons in Mark's Passion Narrative
9) Papias on Mark and Matthew
10) Models of Oral Tradition
11) Transmitting the Jesus Traditions
12) Anonymous Tradition or Eyewitness Testimony?
13) Eyewitness Memory
14) The Gospel of John as Eyewitness Testimony
15) The Witness of the Beloved Disciple
16) Papias on John
17) Polycrates and Irenaeus on John
18) The Jesus of Testimony
Bauckham engages in an extensive treatment of Papias. For those of you who don't know, Papias was an early Christian writer who may very well have been cotemporaneous with the disciples of Jesus, as he professes to have been. He makes a number of statements about the Gospels, as do other early Christians. Papias, Bauckham contends, has been somewhat misunderstood and dismissed in recent scholarship. Not only does Bauckham defend Papias by showing his usage of historiographic terms and the notions of historiography at the time, he also provides a better understanding of what Papias is saying. In summary, Papias believes that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written by Matthew in Hebrew or Aramaic, but was translated into Greek by a number of workers who somewhat botched the project in terms of order. Mark, perhaps written sometime in between those events, was written by a translator of Peter's eyewitness testimony, setting things down in a topical order because he himself was not at liberty to attempt a truly chronological ordering of events. This explains why neither of the two has the chronological order (the preferable one, in Papias' eyes) in comparison to the Gospel of John, which Papias esteems highly. (Papias' knowledge of the Gospel of John is evidenced in the decidedly Johannine list of disciples which he provides.) Papias and other early Christians contended that the figure "John the Elder" was distinct from "John the son of Zebedee", the former being the author of the Gospel and the Johannine epistles, the "disciple whom Jesus loved", and the disciple who survived longer than the rest, eventually dying in Ephesus. One of Bauckham's stronger arguments for rebuffing the identification of the two is that Papias, remembering a time decades before he wrote, noted that one John (undoubtedly one of the Twelve, this being the son of Zebedee) was dead, whereas John the Elder (as well as a disciple named Aristion) was alive and continuing to preach). Bauckham has other arguments for the case, but it will suffice to simply say that it's best to read the book yourself, and that I think he's essentially convinced me of this particular point.
However, I'm utterly losing the order of the book here. Returning to his case, Bauckham also contends that the Gospels themselves intended to identify themselves as based on eyewitness testimony. The naming of certain characters in the Gospels, for example, is intended on occasion to indicate that they were the eyewitness sources from whom the authors derived information. (Mark, according to Bauckham, occasionally omits this in instances in which the eyewitnesses might be in particular danger if identified as such--he draws this point from Thiessen.) The naming of the Twelve in the Synoptics, even though very few of them appear to play a specific role in the Gospel narratives, functions to identify them as a major source. One interesting case that Bauckham additionally makes is that, when one examines the balance of names among Gospel characters, the balance is decidedly consistent with name frequency in Palestine, but inconsistent with the Diaspora. The conclusion to be drawn from that is an indication of authenticity, in contrast to the claims of some that the Gospel stories were fabricated by anonymous authors in Christian communities beyond Palestine.
Another feature of the Gospels is the inclusio, by which the authors denoted very primary sources of information for a period. The use of this method framed the narrative between mentions of the figure in question. Bauckham discusses a few clear examples of this in other Greco-Roman bioi, but his primary focus, of course, is the Gospels. For example, Mark has a very prominent inclusio involving Peter, as could be expected. (Bauckham also notes that the point-of-view used in Mark's Gospel is such that it gives very telltale signs of being from a perspective amongst the Twelve, particularly with the occasional "they" passage without a clarified referent, which makes sense particularly if one imagines that Mark was simply placing Peter's "we"-testimony into the third person.) Luke also has a Petrine inclusio, but there is also a smaller inclusio involving Jesus' female disciples, particularly at the tomb. John, on the other hand, has the Petrine inclusio surrounded (just slightly) by an inclusio of the author himself (the "disciple whom Jesus loved" in the later parts of the Gospel, in which that would make sense), thereby attempting to establish the author's superiority as a witness, as he does other times in the Gospel. Peter, rather than being portrayed in the witness aspect of discipleship, is instead confirmed in his role as the chief shepherd.
John also evidently used the occasional "we", not so much as a plural referent but as a method of emphasizing his authoritative testimony on the matter. The use, as Bauckham illustrates with a quotation from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, is not without attestation in the ancient literature.
It seems rather clear that the Gospels were intended by the authors to be eyewitness testimony. The ascription to the authors in question, furthermore, is unanimous in church history, and surely the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life and ministry would have served as guarantors of the oral history set forth (contrary to the suppositions of form criticism, which Bauckham exposes as thoroughly obsolete). Furthermore, those selected are hardly prominent figures, as we have on some of the apocryphal pseudo-Gospels. Matthew, a minor member of the Twelve; Mark, a disciple of Peter but not himself an eyewitness; Luke, a companion of Paul who definitely does not appear in the Gospels; and John the Elder, not one of the Twelve at all, though still an eyewitness according to the accounts.
Richard Bauckham highlights the absurdity of the notion that authorial ascriptions were far down the road after the composition of the Gospels by noting the manner in which authors' identities were affixed to scrolls in the ancient world.
Bauckham also gives a treatment of the reliability of eyewitness memory, drawing on numerous memory studies. As it turns out, the episodes in the Gospels are precisely the sort of thing one would expect eyewitnesses to remember. Factor in the fact that disciples in the ancient world were expected to memorize masters' teachings, and that many of Jesus' statements are presented in a form that was designed for memorization, and there's little reason to not trust that they got it right.
Finally, Bauckham makes the case that the very nature of testimony is that it demands to be trusted. That isn't to say that honest critical evaluation can't be applied--Bauckham is very clear that such is a rational approach--but testimony is such that the very authority of the statement is the grounds for trusting the statement. Indeed, as the book maintains, it is necessary to treat testimony as testimony. He even goes so far as to highlight the philosophy of Thomas Reid, who regarded testimony as one of the "social operations of the mind", on the same level as basic "solitary operations of the mind" such as sensory perception, inference, and memory. Bauckham also notes that John the Elder, being an eyewitness, would feel freer to expound on the significance of the events in addition to reliably reporting them--hence, the distinctive nature of John's Gospel, in addition to the fact that John was undoubtedly writing with an awareness of the Synoptics and aiming to make his own contribution.
All in all, the book makes a rather good case for reasons to trust the Gospels.
- The Gospels bear in themselves the claim to eyewitness authority, the highest standard of historiography possible
- It makes sense that eyewitness testimony would be operating as a fundamental component in the oral history in the early church, including that of the surviving eyewitnesses themselves, who would serve as authorities on the matter.
- Other early Christians affirm traditional authorship for the Gospels, with the authors identified as either eyewitnesses themselves or relying upon eyewitness testimony
- The ascriptions to the authors as we know them were undoubtedly very early and probably original
- The authors to whom the Gospels are ascribed are not the sort who would be likely choices for authors falsely ascribing work to them
The names in the Gospels bear signs of a Palestinian Jewish setting unlikely to be concocted by anonymous authors outside of Palestine, thus strengthening the claim to authenticity
- The sort of eyewitness testimony professed in the Gospels is the most trustworthy variety, as studies of memory show.
- Testimony, by its nature, asks to be accepted and should be accepted as what it is.
- We simply cannot function with a fundamental distrust of testimony.
By highlighting testimony in the Gospels, the distinction between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" is properly replaced by the "Jesus of testimony".
This book gets my recommendation. My sole real complaint (other than my personal misgivings about Markan priority and Bauckham's discussion of Matthew) is the lack of a bibliography. Bauckham instead keeps his references solely in the footnotes.
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Showing 1-10 of 23 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 22, 2007 9:39:22 AM PST
M. Childress says:
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 2, 2007 11:01:24 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 2, 2007 11:01:57 AM PST]
Posted on Mar 17, 2007 9:18:30 AM PDT
Many thanks for an excellent review. It makes me want to order the book and read it.
Posted on Jun 4, 2007 12:28:55 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2007 12:37:37 PM PDT
What are your misgivings about Markan priority? It is now accepted by most theologians that Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, as it can be demonstrated that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. Also, the theological procession from Paul to Matthew to Mark and then to Luke does not make sense. The evolution of the life of Jesus as portrayed in the the New Testament only makes sense if Paul's letters were written first, then Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John as a correction to the previous writers lack of knowledge, or lack of placing much importance on, the concept that Jesus and God are the same being eternally, as opposed to Jesus attaining divinity at some later date.
Also, in regard to testimony needing to be trusted by some inherent rule, I don't neccesarily agree. The Jewish tradition is well-known for emphasizing the meaning or point of an event and not necessarily the historical accuracy, and all the witnesses to Jesus's life were Jewish. Therefore, it is safe to assume that they would adhere to the 1st century Jewish tradition of telling a story to teach an idea or moral or concept instead of adhering to the 20th century idea of writing a history book taking great pains to get all your facts checked out for accuracy.
The reasons that Bauckham gives that you list as to why the canonical gospels were in fact eyewitness testimony kind of reminds me of how some Mormoms argue that Joseph Smith couldn't possibly have been a fake because of his lack of education, sophistication, so on and so forth. What we get with these kinds of lists is usually a bunch of reasons why the person in question couldn't possibly be unauthentic instead of a list of reasons why they are authentic.
Here are the two main reasons I don't accept most of what is written in the canonical gospels as eyewitness testimony. First, they are not consistent on many points at all (for instance, John having Jesus overturn the moneychanger's tables at the beginning of his ministry and the synoptic gospels having him overturning them during holy week). In fact, about the only thing all four gospels agree on is that Jesus was crucified and that the apostles scattered but later reunited and went on to found the Christian church. Second, our earliest versions of the gospels do not agree internally (for instance, the very earliest versions of Mark do not contain verses 16:9-20--these verses are quite obviously a later correction to the text, and not the eyewitness testimony of Peter, whose story I believe Mark is said to have written.)
I haven't read the book in question but may give it a try. I will admit that I don't read as much orthodox theology as I once did, and have moved on to the Pagels and Ehrmans (and other types of theology such as American Indian, the Eastern religions, and am also beginning to break ground with Sufism), but I am always willing to read orthodox ideas if I think there are new ideas to be had that will expand my understanding of the divine and my own spiritual nature.
Thank you for your review; it was helpful. I am not trying to prove Bauckham wrong; I just thought maybe we could enter a dialog about issues with Markan priority, pro and con. I was raised Christian and still practice the faith, as I believe it is important to raise my daughter in the church so that she gets some kind of moral and spiritual grounding before the world can inject too many ideas in her head. Sincerely, Paul.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2007 7:34:45 PM PDT
Caesar M. Warrington says:
I always appreciate a good, quality review such as this one.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2007 9:21:13 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 13, 2008 11:17:59 AM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2007 4:39:28 PM PDT
George R Dekle says:
Two source Marcan priority is both the weight of scholarship and the common-sense reading of any good Gospel harmony. Placing parallel stories from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in parallel columns and reading them side-by-side shows literary dependence. Matthew and Luke are more polished and less wordy than Mark, sure signs of editorial redaction. Conclusion: Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. This is apparent even in English translation. To say that the German Kulture Kampf, which occurred at the same time as German Biblical scholars were working out the Two Document Hypothesis, influenced those scholars to form their hypothesis as a weapon of the Kulture Kampf is to engage in the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. Simply because events coincide temporally does not mean that either was influenced by the other. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer demonstrated, German theologians were not the pawns of German politicians.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 15, 2007 7:27:33 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 13, 2008 11:17:58 AM PDT]
Posted on Aug 19, 2008 2:05:28 PM PDT
Gator Bob says:
Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses..." must be a tremendous rebuttal to John Dominic Crossan and his co-founding of "The Historical Jesus" bunch, which I cannot stomach.
Thanks to everyone contributing positively to what will probably turn into a classic.
Robert MacLeish, Sr.