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Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony Perfect Paperback – September 22, 2008
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
As John said, "These are written that you may believe..." This book will add significantly to that outcome.
Readers who are not biblical historians or deeply immersed in the arguments he addresses, as I am not, might well find his theory persuasive, as I did, but then having no context in which to fully evaluate them. His treatment of Mark as a translator of St. Peter is convincingly argued. Unlike another commenter, I found his argument that the Gospel of John, the "Beloved Disciple" and the Book of Revelations were not written by St. John son of Zebedee, but by John the Presbyter or John the Elder well argued, interesting and persuasive. Again, though, a proper evaluation would require a deeper knowledge of the subject than I or a casual reader possesses.
I would remark that the author engages in some lines of argument and certain threads of reasoning that range widely from the subject at hand, and it is hard to believe such analysis contributes to the case he is making sufficient to justify the cost in readability. For that reason, parts of the book become obtuse and very dry, leaving the reader longing to return the point en main. In these instances, the author is more addressing the critics of his theories than the interests of the reader at large.
I finish the book nonetheless edified, finding the Gospels read in a way I had not heard them until now.
Bauckham claims that oral traditions concerning the life and teaching of Jesus were attributed to named eyewitnesses while they were still alive in geographically proximal locations. He refers to sources such as Luke, Papias, and Quadratus to support the argument. He notes that Jewish name usage in the New Testament is inexplicable from the perspective of extra-Palestinian-Jewish invention and that the well-recorded lists of disciples conjoined with the practice of book-ending a narrative with the name of the primary eyewitness guarantor of the tradition (what Bauckham refers to as an “inclusio”) lends significant credence to the gospels as being comprised of and relying on eyewitness testimony. Additionally, Bauckham covers the use of “plural-to-singular” narrative devices to support a Petrine perspective in some of the gospels, discusses how the collective memory of the early church was rooted in the recollective memories of Peter, and describes how the model of authoritative teachers passing on lessons to a community was normative among ancient sources, as evidenced by Papias, Irenaeus, and even Josephus.
I found Bauckham's chapter on the memory of eyewitness testimony to be extremely interesting. It clarified a lot about how reliable memory can be given certain contexts, such as an event being unique or unusual, unexpected, particularly salient to the eyewitness, and so on. It clarified what kinds of details are typically better remembered than others. Likewise, the account of a man accurately recalling significant details of an event that he experienced when he was a child seventy two years after the fact was astonishing. Despite all of its problems, memory can be incredibly reliable in certain circumstances.
The book is thorough, extremely comprehensive, and intellectually challenging. Bauckham handles the evidence fairly and even-handedly, even when I wished he hadn't. There are two views specifically on which I differed from the author before I picked up the book and that now, having finished the book, I'm beginning to question – namely, on matters concerning the authorship of the gospel of John and the identity of Levi in the gospels. Bauckham's work is convincing, but it takes a bit of effort to work through. It is dry at times, and because it is as thorough as it is, it can seem to be repetitive in places. If you're looking for an easy, beginner's approach to biblical scholarship, you'll probably want to start somewhere else. But if you want a balanced and in-depth treatment of the gospels, or if you're curious about what evidence there is in support of the gospels being eyewitness testimony, pick this thing up. It's a tremendous resource.