Thursday, November 30, 2006

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.

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At 11/30/2006 6:04 AM, Anonymous Richard Fellows said...

Interesting stuff, Chris. When the gospels and Acts give lists of names of Christians, the person that is mentioned first in the list is almost always the most prominent in the movement. Thus Peter heads the lists of the twelve, the Boanerges brothers are second and third or third an fourth, Mary Magdalene heads the lists of the women disciples, James heads the lists of the brothers of Jesus, Barnabas heads the list of teachers and prophets in Antioch. It is also important to note that those mentioned first in the lists invariably had names that had been given to them by the believing community in recognition of their faithfulness. I have argued this point on the following web page:

Notice also that the earlier gospels adhere strictly to the rule. The Boanerges brothers are second and third in Mark's gospel, but are relegated to third and fourth in Luke and Matthew, who place Andrew next to his brother, Peter. Similarly, Mary the Magdalene is relegated only in John 19:25.

So, first place in lists correlates strongly with faithfulness/prominence (as perceived by the gospel writer) and this is relevant to Bauckham's thesis. Those who were not Christians or whose Christianity had been forgotten were not mentioned by name; those who were known to have been faithful are mentioned by name, and the most faithful are mentined first in the lists of persons.

There is some evidence that at least some of the characters in Acts were known to the readers, at least by reputation. I have mentioned Crispus-Sosthenes before.

The incident about Alexander in Acts 19:33-34 seems baffling at first. It is explicable if Alexander was known to be a Christian by the reader(s). Perhaps be was the son of Simon of Cyrene, as some have suggested, or perhaps "Alexander" was Gaius's cognomen (Acts 19:29).

James, the brother of Jesus, is mentioned in 12:17 and 15:13 without any introductory statement saying who he was. This suggests that he was so famous that no introduction was necessary.

Another interesting point is that Acts gives the names of only one Galatian or none at all, which is consistent with the view that the Galatians fell from grace, as Goodacre has recently argued.

Also note the ancient practice of omitting the names of those whom one does not respect.

Cheers, Richard Fellows

At 11/30/2006 8:05 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

For example, why is it that Luke only names one of the disciples in the Emmaus road story (cf. Luke 24:18)?'

So it is all just an argument from silence.

I wonder why not all the characters in Robin Hood's merry band of men are named.

Because Friar Tuck was a famous eyewitness while the others were not?

How could such an hypothsis be tested?

At 11/30/2006 8:20 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'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),...'

Why does Paul drop the names of the 4 brothers of Jesus?

Because they were no longer well known?

Bauckham demands an explanation of why Matthew and Luke drop the names of Bartimaeus and Jairus.

So we can demand an explanation of why Paul does not name the 4 brothers of Jesus?

Or is the whole enterprise doomed to failure of providing a comprehensive thesis of why Matthew and Luke drop the name of Bartimaeus, while Paul drops the names of the 4 brothers of Jesus?

In the interests of dialogue, I have opened up a debate thread at

It is a reasonable idea that characters in Acts were known to the people for whom the author of Acts was writing and so needed no introduction (not for example Crispus the ruler of the synagogue, who is then introduced as Sostheneses the ruler of the synagogue)

Take Luke and Josephus

Carrier makes the points :-

1.The association of Felix with Drusilla (Acts 24:24-6; JA 20.143)

Josephus reports that Drusilla the Jew was seduced and abandoned her husband, the king of Emessa, to marry Felix.

Acts puts the two together in a way that makes more sense if this account in Josephus is understood, especially considering Josephus' portrayal of Felix as notoriously cruel to the Jews.

For when Felix and Drusilla visit Paul in jail, Paul discusses "justice, self-control, and coming judgement," at which Felix is terrified for some unexplained reason.

As Mason puts it, "Why these themes in particular, and not the resurrection of Jesus or faith in Christ, which dominate the book elsewhere?" (p. 114).

And why did Paul's subject scare him?

This could be answered by the fact that Josephus' accounts of Felix and Drusilla were spreading, and were in the mind of Luke when he wrote of this encounter.


The association of Agrippa II with Berenice (Acts 25:13, 25:23, 26:30; JA 20.145)

Whereas Josephus hints at an incestuous affair between them, and Agrippa II's other profligate tendencies, there is no explanation given by Luke for mentioning Berenice at all, and from his account one would think that Agrippa II is an honorable, disciplined observer of Jewish customs.

But if a reader knows the details of Josephus, the entire scene of Paul before Agrippa II becomes comic sarcasm.

It seems plausible that Luke intended it this way, and therefore may have gotten the idea from Josephus.


The death of Agrippa I as God's vengeance for accepting praise as a god (Acts 12:21-3; JA 19.343-52)

Although Luke puts this event in a different location and changes other details of the story, there is a strange similarity that suggests borrowing: Josephus connects the divine praise with the putting on of a brilliant robe, whereas Luke mentions putting on a robe before the praise, but without making the connection explicit--one wonders why the donning of the robe is mentioned by Luke at all, if he was not thinking of this story in Josephus.

At 12/01/2006 2:12 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Richard - also interesting stuff! I really enjoyed reading your comment, packed full of insight! Some of your thoughts compliment Richard's thesis rather interestingly, actually. I like your webpage, too.

"So it is all just an argument from silence"
Yep. All of it. All.

Why Paul "drops" the names of the 4 brothers of Jesus is not at all in the same order of questioning as to why Matthew and Luke drop the names of Bartimaeus and Jairus. I'll let you figure out the details!

As to the Josephus-Luke thoughts, I'm not sure what point you are trying to make, but I still thought it was interesting reasoning.

At 12/01/2006 7:03 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'Also note the ancient practice of omitting the names of those whom one does not respect.'

SO that is why Paul drop the names :-)

Of course, being a well-read scholar, Bauckham will have noted this ancient practice in his book and put that forward as a possible hypothesis of why people would drop names.

Can I guess why Paul does not name the brothers of Jesus? Because they were so well-known?

Can I guess why Mark names Bartimaeus? Because he was so well-known?

At 12/01/2006 8:34 AM, Anonymous Richard Fellows said...

Chris, some speculation on Bartimaeus:

Mark 10:46 mentions "Bartimaeus son of Timaeus". This seems a little strange. Why does Mark spell out that Bartimaeus was the son of Timaeus? What was the purpose of mentioning the man's father. Stephen Carlson made the good suggestion that Mark is making it clear that "Bartimaeus" was a genuine patronymic rather than a religious nick-name. The construction Bar-xyz can mean 'son of xyz', but it be a name signifying that the individual was a disciple of xyz or has the characteristic xyz. The phenomenon of renaming seems to have been quite common among Jews in the early church, so the readers of Mark's gospel would have wondered whether Bartimaeus was such a new name and what it meant. "Barnabas" is the most obvious example of this kind of pseudo-patronymic. Consider also BarKokhba. It has also been suggested that Bar-Jesus was another, and I have also proposed BarSabbas. Barabbas is another contender. Many or most of those in the early church called Bar-xyz were not literal sons of a man called xyz. Therefore Mark needed to disambiguate the name by spelling out that in this case the name really was a plain patronymic. This is all a bit speculative, but it is rather consistent with Bauckham's hypothesis. It would imply, perhaps, that Bartimaeus was known to have been a believer (otherwise the readers would not have strongly suspected renaming). It would also imply that Bartimaeus was not WELL known to the readers (otherwise the disambiguation would not have been required). This latter point makes it all the more plausible that Bartimaeus fell into obscurity in the interval before Luke and Matthew were written.


At 12/02/2006 12:44 AM, Anonymous Neil Godfrey said...

If the rationale for the later authors omitting some names in Mark is either:

(a) that the later authors were interested in abbreviating Mark and took the opportunity to do so by omitting names of people who had been lost from their audience's view; and/or

(b) the people named in Mark had fallen into disfavour in those later communities;

-- then how do we account for Matthew and Luke introducing into Mark's account the names of Caiaphas and Herod at the trial of Jesus?

Further, as for the omission of names of those fallen into disfavour, (I am speaking from hazy memory here so this is a bit of a punt) -- isn't it rather normal for the entire episodes involving those fallen into disfavour to be omitted from later records, not just their names?


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