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’.
‘[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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.