Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 13

I realise that I’ve written far too much by way of review for this chapter already, but as I’ve mentioned, I found it utterly fascinating, hence I’ve taken the liberty of detailing Bauckham’s argument in more depth. I won’t, however, write this much for a chapter again.

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Did Mark invent this literary device? The evidence of Lucian and Porphyry

Obviously, the last two posts in this series suggest a radically different understanding of the relation between the Gospels and eyewitnesses:

‘We have seen that three of the four Gospels evidently work quite deliberately with the idea that a Gospel, since it tells the whole story of Jesus, must embody the testimony of witnesses who were participants in the story from beginning to end - from the time of John the Baptist’s ministry to the time of the resurrection appearances. These three Gospels all use the literary device of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony in order to indicate the main eyewitness source of their story’.

But did Mark invent this literary device, or was it borrowed from ‘popular biographical works of the kind that the Gospels resemble in genre’? While there are only a few remaining of the sort (biographical works on significant religious figures), Bauckham examines two case studies that resemble the pattern observed in the Gospels (apart from Matthew).

First is Lucian’s work on Alexander. Lucian’s references to Rutilianus indicate he was the principle eyewitness of Alexander’s life. The evidence is highly suggestive: ‘Apart from Alexander himself, there are far more references to Rutilianus than to any other character. Just like the Petrine inclusio in the Gospel of Mark, Rutilianus is both the first character in the story, apart from Alexander, to be named and the last to be mentioned by name’. Furthermore, the first mention of Rutilianus appears to be contrived. Though ‘Rutilianus does not actually figure in the story until Alexander's fame reaches Rome (§30) halfway through the book’, ‘Lucian contrives to make him the first named character, other than Alexander, to be mentioned by citing a letter from Alexander to him before he has begun to tell the story’. Lucian also parodies this eyewitness in that he calls Rutilianus’ credibility into account while using him as an eyewitness source. Nevertheless, ‘the resemblance between the way that Rutilianus, Alexander's most eminent follower, appears in Lucian's narrative and the way that Peter, Jesus’ most prominent disciple, appears in the Gospel of Mark’ is noteworthy.

The second example is Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus. Porphyry uses the eyewitness Amelius as his source, though he only refers to him as his source once, at the very beginning. He did not need to mention his name again, as ‘After this first reference the matter should be evident’. Once again, ‘apart from Plotinus and Porphyry, he [Amelius] is the person named first and last in the work’. Additionally, ‘Amelius’s name occurs thirty-eight times, more often than that of anyone else except Plotinus, exceeding even the occurrences of Porphyry's name (twenty-five times)’. Amelius was indeed an ideal eyewitness in that he encompassed the story of Plotinus. Nevertheless, in a way reminiscent of the friendly competition between John and Peter in the Johannine Gospel, ‘Porphyry plays up his own importance as disciple of Plotinus and contrives also to denigrate Amelius’. Furthermore, Amelius, Porphyry wants to communicate, ‘did not truly understand his master, while Porphyry, who even had the experience of union with the One in common with his Plotinus, was the true continuator of Plotinus’s philosophy’. Again, this is ‘rather reminiscent of the roles of Peter and the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John’. The striking similarities between the Gospels and Porphyry Life of Plotinus (what Mark Edwards has suggested ‘was intended as a pagan gospel’) - especially given Porphyry’s knowledge of the Gospels - leads to the question: ‘Was his use of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony also modelled on the Gospels?’ Bauckham answers: ‘It is impossible to be sure, but, if it was, it is significant for our argument that Porphyry recognized this feature of the Gospels’.

Bauckham argues:

‘[H]owever much weight should be given to these parallels outside the Gospels, the data within the Gospels is itself adequate to attest the convention as one that the Gospel writers deliberately deployed. Especially important in establishing the inclusio of eyewitness testimony is the way in which Luke and John seem clearly to have recognized Mark’s use of the device and to have adapted it to their own narratives and purposes’

Hence, the Gospels do indicate their own eyewitness sources, an argument all the more credible when one considers ‘most ancient readers or hearers of these works ... would have expected them to have eyewitness sources’ (italics mine) and so would have been alert to any indications of eyewitness identification.

This is a very clever line of reasoning demonstrating an enviable grasp of various primary texts, weaving as it does between exegesis of specific Gospel parallels and other biographical works on significant religious figures. Bauckham is breaking fresh ground with these arguments, and so provokes a number of questions:

  1. It would appear that Markan priority is of considerable importance for Bauckham’s thesis concerning the reception and development of the Markan literary device. Could this eventually prove to be a potential weakness? The importance of Markan priority is perhaphs more significant for the general thesis of this work than Bauckham admits.
  2. Again, what does all of this mean for Matthew’s Gospel? A little later it will be necessary to probe the significance of Bauckham’s reasoning for the historicity of the Birth Narratives.
  3. The fact that Bauckham argues that Luke can take Mark’s Gospel ‘to be substantially Peter’s testimony’ is a matter that will be, to put my Nostradamus hat on for a moment, necessary to cite and cite again to correct inevitable misunderstandings regarding Bauckham’s general argument in this work. But one wonders how sound historiographical practice, as described in relation to Papias, is preserved in light of this tradition sharing.

(Artwork from

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At 1/25/2007 7:33 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'ust like the Petrine inclusio in the Gospel of Mark, Rutilianus is both the first character in the story, apart from Alexander, to be named and the last to be mentioned by name’.

Is John the Baptist ever named in Mark's Gospel?

Are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome the last people referred to in Mark's Gospel?

Was it Peter who told Mark that Jesus had declared all foods clean, and Peter who told Luke that he had a vision of God declaring all foods clean in Acts 10?

At 1/25/2007 7:44 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

How many people does Lucian mention before he names Rutilianius?

Did Lucian ever meet Alexander?

If he did, why did he want his readers to know that he was using Rutilanius eyewitness testimony, and not his own?

At 1/25/2007 8:51 AM, Anonymous Richard Fellows said...

I know that the subject of names is not everybody's thing, but I can't help offering some observations on the case of Amelius in Porphyry's life of Plotinus. "Amelius" was a nickname, I think. In any case, Porphyry records that he received (another) nickname from Plotinus - "Amerius". Now, Bauckham makes the important observation that Amelius is listed first in the list of 12 or so disciples of Plotinus, which I had not realized. A nickname is also given for the second man in the list: Paulinus-Mikkalos. Porphyry records nicknames for none of the others. The two with nicknames are mentioned first and I find this fascinating because it is something that we also see in the lists of disciples in the gospels. Mark's list mentions Simon first and mentions his other name (Peter). Then come James and John and their new name is also mentioned (Boanerges). In Luke's gospel Simon is also mentioned first and his other name is also given. The sons of Zebedee are relegated to third and fourth place and, significantly, their other name (Boanerges) is dropped. Matthew does the same as Luke. John (21:2) has Simon first, and gives both his names. In second place is Thomas and John mentions that he was called Didymus. John's list is the only one that explains Thomas's name. Thus the gospel writers, as well as Porphyry, consistently place at the front of their lists those to whom they ascribe new names ("nicknames" can be a misleading term). The only exception is Simon the zealot. Why is there such a strong correlation? Those who are in the inner circle of any group of disciples are those who are most likely to be given new names by the leader(s). The writers illustrate the prominence of certain individuals by placing them first in the lists and indicating their new names, as Bauckham suggests, I think. The correlation is further confirmed by the case of Joseph-Barnabas who appears first in the list of Acts 13:1. Also not James-The Just-Oblias, who was prominent in the early church and is always mentioned first in the lists of Jesus's brothers.

Therefore, since new names were given to Plotinus's inner circle and Jesus's inner circle of male disciples, we should suspect that a new name was also given to Jesus' most prominent female disciple, and that Paul also gave new names to his inner circle of co-senders. Thus, it seems likely that Jesus gave Mary the name "Magdalene" (meaning fortress), and Paul named Crispus "Sosthenes" (saving strength) and Titus "Timothy" (honouring God), as I and others have argued. In two of these three cases there is a phonetic resemblance between the original name and the new name, and this tendency is also illustrated by the case of Amelius-Amerius.

Incidentally, Porphyry seems to have received two new names, as did Plotinus's teacher (Ammonius-Saccas-Theodidaktos), I think.

Returning to the lists of names in the gospels, it seems likely that Mark's list is the original of those in the synoptics. It's hard to imagine Mark reading Matthew's list and choosing to separate Andrew from Peter by placing the sons of Zebedee in between.

The list in John mentions Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee. What is interesting about this list is that it can be argued that every one of these five individuals had received new names from Jesus. This could be coincidence (just), but it may indicate that John correctly identified the inner circle of disciples.

On the other hand, John uniquely relegates Mary Magdalene in his list (19:25). It seems that John did not know that Mary Magdalene was the most prominent of the female disciples. It would appear that John did not use Magdalene as one of his sources.

Do any of these thoughts help?

Richard F.

At 1/26/2007 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This artwork was disappointing!

At 1/26/2007 2:11 PM, Anonymous Neil Godfrey said...

Well I've decided to give up making comments or asking questions until I read the book myself. Have started doing that now, but now I find I have too many comments and questions to raise here in this little "leave your comment" box.

So have instead begun my own chapter by chapter "reviews" on my own Vridar blog -- notes on each chapter as I read it.

If in nothing else I think I can compete in the wordiness department. But it will be a little while before I catch up with chapter 13.

At 1/27/2007 12:42 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

Neil Godfrey is writing a review of Bauckham's extraordinary work at

Neil Godfrey

He points out that Bauckham wrote a book called 'The Gospels for all Christians' where Bauckham challenges Bauckham's thesis that the Gospels were written for particular communities and where Bauckham disproves Bauckham's thesis that Luke intended his Gospel to be read , not by all Christians, but only by those who had no idea who Bartimaeus was.

At 1/27/2007 2:09 PM, Anonymous steph said...

The victim of tall poppy syndrome getting grumpier in his agony.

At 1/27/2007 10:43 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Steven,
Perhaps you can think of a reason why John the Baptists doesn’t run as a contender as an eyewitness source in the Gospel?
The rest that relates to Mark’s Gospel will be overviewed in the next chapter. Have you purchased the book, yet?
Your second post is filled with questions that I don’t have the time to look up at the moment. But perhaps remind me when I return to Germany next week.

Hi Richard,
Thanks for these thoughts, they are indeed helpful. I wonder if it is a bit too much to claim a ‘strong correlation’ as you do, especially given Simon the Zealot. But your thoughts are most interesting and should no doubt be explored in more depth. I’m short on time at the mo to comment, but your thesis could help explain some details.

Sorry for the artwork!

Neil, great job! I’ll link to you on the main blog page when I return to Germany.

‘Poppy syndrome’???

At 1/28/2007 12:23 AM, Anonymous steph said...

Sorry - I think it's a perojative term used only by us down under often linked to those with a distaste of academia ... stevie has a severe case of tall poppy syndrome: he has to chop anything down he can't cope with ... bit of a wet blanket really, not to mention a grumpy old fart.


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