Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 3
Click here for the series outline.
Chapter 1. From the Historical Jesus to the Jesus of Testimony … continued
The Byrskog factor
So much for the potential consequences of Bauckham’s argument, if correct! To close the first chapter, Bauckham turns to analyse the contribution of the accomplished Swedish scholar, Samuel Byrskog, to the place of eyewitness testimony and the transmission of the Gospel traditions. Byrskog (how does one pronounce this name?) maintains, first, that eyewitness testimony played a crucial role in ancient historiography. As Bauckham summarises: ‘Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus and Tacitus - were convinced that true history could be written only while events were still within living memory, and they valued as their sources the oral reports of direct experience of the events by involved participants in them’. Also desirable was to participate within the narrated events themselves (as did e.g. Josephus) and it was not considered a hindrance if the eyewitness source was personally and passionately involved in the events detailed. All the better, actually! For as Byrskog argues, a ‘person involved remembers better than a disinterested observer’. Greek and Roman historians such as Thucydides and Polybius hence set a standard such that ‘Good historians were highly critical of those who relied largely on written sources’.
Second, Byrskog maintains that eyewitnesses played a similar role in the transmission and formation of the Gospel traditions. Bauckham summarises that Byrskog ‘attempts to identify such eyewitnesses and to find the traces of their testimony in the Gospels, stressing that they, like the historians and their informants, would have been involved participants who not only remembered facts but naturally also interpreted in the process of experiencing and remembering’. Such eyewitnesses were people who could be consulted regarding the traditions they testified to, and testify not just the bare facts but also ‘the perspective and experience of oral informants’.
However, while Byrskog’s work is a highly significant one, critics have suggested a few problems. In the historical argument of this book (chapters 2-17!), Bauckham will take up the challenge of critically assessing such challenges and testing and developing Byrskog’s line of reasoning - in my view in tremendously original and helpful ways.