Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony Hardcover – November 9, 2006
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Michael Ramsey Prize, Winner (2009)
"Bauckham's proposal is both path-breaking and a tour de force."
"As in all of his works, Bauckham has ransacked obscure secondary literature for little-known but immensely helpful information. He has thought creatively about time-worn problems and uncovered possible interpretations of subtle features of ancient testimony — both in the Gospels and about them — with the shrewdness of a good detective."
Westminster Theological Journal
"Bauckham has delivered a remarkable and insightful volume that is sure to offer a much-needed challenge to the status quo in modern gospel studies."
From the Inside Flap
This momentous book argues that the four Gospels are closely based on the eyewitness testimony of those who personally knew Jesus. Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as anonymous community traditions, asserting instead that they were transmitted in the names of the original eyewitness.
To drive home this controversial point, Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, the use of personal names in first-century Jewish Palestine, and recent developments in the understanding of oral tradition. "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" also taps into the rich resources of modern study of memory, especially in cognitive psychology, refuting the conclusions of the form critics and calling New Testament scholarship to make a clean break with this long-dominant tradition. Finally, Bauckham challenges readers to end the classic division between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, proposing instead the Jesus of testimony as presented by the Gospels.
Sure to ignite heated debate on the precise character of the testimony about Jesus, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" is a groundbreaking work that will be valued by scholars, students, and all who seek to understand the origins of the Gospels. --This text refers to the Perfect Paperback edition.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Yet talk about "oral tradition" seems ubiquitous in NT studies, on all sides of the argument. The assumption that the gospels were NOT based on eyewitness accounts, is often made explicit by skeptics.
Aside from the problem of timing, an even graver problem with this sort of talk is the nature of the Gospels themselves. Put simply, however one redacts and Qs and triple Qs and invents editorial communities and reads the minds of people one has never met or even heard of, the fact is these documents LOOK uncannily like genuine records of real people experiencing actual, and profoundly significant, events. That is the case I tried to make. (I also argued that there seem to be no genuine parallels in the ancient world to the Gospels.)
Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses takes several independent and more rigorous paths to a similar conclusion.
As other reviewers have noted, this book is not easy reading. It is dense, tightly argued, sometimes a bit repetitive. Not all of Bauckham's arguments seem equally persuasive to me: I think there is a limit to how much we can nurse from Papias, for instance. Sometimes Bauckham succumbs to the urge to build what look like castles in the air. Nor does this work have the literary flair of, say, NT Wright's Jesus and the People of God series, or John Crossan's The Historical Jesus.
Nevertheless, I think Bauckham proves his case. And by doing so -- in his methodical, sometimes repetitive manner, with a thorough knowledge of hundreds of scholarly texts and primary sources -- I think we can pronounce the "Age of Form Criticism" officially over.
Not, mind you, that Bauckham himself sees no value at all in Form Critical insights. But the Empire need no longer exercise power over us.
Bauckham achieves this less by any one particular argument, than by recasting the evidence into a larger pattern with witnesses like Peter and John (whichever John, I don't think Bauckham really pins this down) at its core. I was especially intrigued by his argument that those named in the gospels are probably often sources that the authors relied upon, and his account of how the gospels faithfully preserve name frequencies from 1st Century Palestine. (Though more detailed evidence from other places besides Egypt to compare with, would have been helpful.) But it is the explanatory power of his argument, both in general strokes, and in minute details, that makes it successful.
Don't expect an easy read. But do expect an enlightening one, which may change how you read the Gospels for at least the next 40 years.