Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 6
Click here for the series outline.
Chapter 3. Names in the Gospel Traditions
The thesis to be pursued in this chapter is very simple yet at the same time bold and highly original: ‘many of these named characters [in the Gospels] were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions’. While it is perfectly intelligible why some persons in the Gospels are even named at all, with others an explanation is necessary. For example, why is it that Luke only names one of the disciples in the Emmaus road story (cf. Luke 24:18)? Other related questions shall be dealt with in chapters 5 and 8, but this chapter analyses ‘the presence in the Gospel traditions of names other than those of members of the Twelve and other than those of public persons’.
If one of assumes Markan priority, then ‘material common to the three Synoptic Gospels therefore shows an unambiguous tendency towards the elimination of names’. The Johannine material adds a few names additional to those appearing in the Synoptics, and also identifies some left anonymous in the Synoptics. However, this should not be seen as a Johannine novelistic tendency for it cannot answer why John would leave quite a number of characters anonymous, especially when some of these characters are more prominent than those he names. Even in the extra-canonical Gospels there are only a few examples ‘of invented names for anonymous characters in the Gospels before the fourth century’ (though this argument assumes that one must not include the naming of characters that have been freshly invented within a narrative).
Given the common Jewish practice of giving, within ‘rewritten biblical narrative’, names to characters not named in Scripture, the fact that Christians did not do this in the Gospel traditions is even more noteworthy. Bauckham himself concludes that most of the named characters in the Gospel traditions are original. Given that names tend to be the least well remembered elements of events, it follows that the Gospel tradition will evidence their reduction. This makes it all the more important to ascertain why some names have be kept in the narratives.
In light of this evidence concerning the appearance and disappearance of names in early Christian traditions, Bauckham wants to suggest a ‘comprehensive hypothesis’ that enables one to account for the named characters in the Gospel traditions. In a nutshell he suggests that, with the exception of a few, the named characters are ‘people [who] joined the early Christian movement and were well known at least in the circles in which these traditions were first transmitted’. Not only is the assumption that many of these characters joined the early Christian communities in Judea or Galilee explicitly affirmed in a few cases (e.g. the four brothers of Jesus), but the sort of spread of people evidenced is exactly what one would have expected these earliest Christian groups to consist of. The tendency of Matthew and Luke to omit some of these names can be explained as a result of a realisation that some of them would have become, ‘by the time Matthew and Luke wrote, too obscure for them to wish to retain the names when they were engaged in abbreviating Mark's narratives’.
However, more needs to be said than simply that the named persons were known in the early Christian communities:
‘If the names are of persons well known in the Christian communities, then it also becomes likely that many of these persons were themselves the eyewitnesses who first told and doubtless continued to tell the stories in which they appear and to which their names are attached’Bauckham first examples this argument with reference to the character called Cleopas (cf. Luke 24:18; John 19:25 and Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.11; 4.22.4). Three further cases lend strength to Bauckham’s case: ‘the women at the cross and the tomb; Simon of Cyrene and his sons; and recipients of Jesus' healing miracles’. For the rest of the chapter, Bauckham will analyse each in turn.