Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 17

OK, the Zionism podcast will have to wait till probably tomorrow. Back to Bauckham. Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 8. Anonymous Persons in Mark's Passion Narrative

Gerd Theissen (cf. the picture) has argued that ‘various features of Mark’s passion narrative reflect the situation of the Jerusalem church in or around the decade 40-50 C.E’. He does this by suggesting an answer to the strange anonymity of two unnamed persons in Gethsemane, namely that ‘[t]heir anonymity is for their protection’. The pre-Markan source thus deliberately omits the names of certain characters in order to keep them safe from trouble were the texts to fall in to the wrong hands. This helps Theissen date the source as ‘[o]nly in Jerusalem was there reason to draw a cloak of anonymity over followers of Jesus who had endangered themselves by their actions’. This protective anonymity is also reflected in Mark’s naming of Pilate, but not of the high priest Caiaphas:

‘The power of the house of Annas and their hostility to Christians would have made it diplomatic for Christian traditions formed in Jerusalem in that period not to refer explicitly to the name of Caiaphas in an account of the death of Jesus. Pilate, on the other hand, was a quite different case’.
In this chapter, Bauckham takes Theissen’s arguments further. First, he analyses the narrative in Mark 11:1-7 and argues that the owner of the colt was kept anonymous as he could be understood to be a ‘complicit in a politically subversive act’. A similar analysis proceeds in relation to Mark 14:12-16 and the Passover meal such that Bauckham can claim that these ‘two stories do give us a sense of the danger, not only to Jesus but to those close to him, during his last days in Jerusalem and the secrecy and subterfuge this required’.

Bauckham then extends this line of reasoning to Mark 14:3-9 and the case of the woman who anointed Jesus. Even though Jesus says that ‘what she has done will be told in remembrance of her’, her name is nevertheless omitted! What can account for this oddity? Bauckham suggests:
‘At the time when this tradition took shape in this form in the early Jerusalem church, this woman would be in danger were she identified as having been complicit in Jesus’ politically subversive claim to messianic kingship. Her danger was perhaps even greater than that of the man who attacked the servant of the high priest, for it was she who had anointed Jesus as Messiah’.
Furthermore, Bauckham also points out the potential significance of Mark’s placing this story between the plot to kill Jesus (14:1-2) and his account of Judas’ visit to the chief priests (14:10-11), arguing that ‘[w]e should surely understand that Judas reports the incident of the anointing to the chief priests’. What is more, the Markan downplaying of the Messianic significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his temple ‘cleansing’ and the anointing can also be explained as a protective mechanism for the early Jerusalem Christian community.

The significance of this is highlighted when it is noticed that the anonymous persons in Mark are named in John (cf. John 12:3; 18:10). Bauckham has already argued that the addition of names to a tradition was rare before the fourth century, so it appears likely that John could add these, among other reasons, because the time of immediate danger had passed for the early Christian community in terms of the matters related to in these Markan narratives.

This reasoning can also explain the absence of the Lazarus account in all traditions bar John. ‘For Lazarus’, Bauckham argues, ‘“protective anonymity” had to take the form of his total absence from the story as it was publicly told’. Bauckham speculates further. It seems likely that the ‘naked youth’ in Mark 14:51-52 was not only a Christian, but also was the eyewitness to this tradition. The question arises as to why he was left unnamed, as part of Bauckham’s whole argument is that eyewitnesses were named in the Gospel traditions. In this case, and overriding the convention of naming eyewitnesses, the young man needed to remain under ‘protective anonymity’. Putting the pieces together, one can speculate that Lazarus was the ‘young man’ as the premise that he was a wanted man ‘would explain both the fact that there was an attempt to arrest the young man and that he is anonymous in Mark’s story’. This is indeed detective work of the highest quality!

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At 2/17/2007 6:23 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

the owner of the colt was kept anonymous as he could be understood to be a ‘complicit in a politically subversive act’

Am I the only one who doesn't particularly find this to be that persuasive? Does it really make sense that Jerusalem authorities would be on the hunt for someone who allegedly helped Jesus do a symbolic act some decades before? If find it hard to imagine the high priest and co. put out a "WANTED: Donkey supplier" poster.

At 2/17/2007 9:18 AM, Anonymous Richard Fellows said...

This is a fascinating chapter. It's not really my field, and I need to do more research, but I would like to offer a provisional hypothesis.

Bauckham suggests that Lazarus was the naked youth. Witherington argues that Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple (see his blog of Jan 29th:
). Grassi suggests that the naked youth was the beloved disciple. Others believe that the beloved disciple was John the elder. I propose that they are all right! How about the following:

Lazarus was wanted by the authorities so he took an alias. He adopted the name "John". It was a common name and would not have drawn attention to him. He owed his life to Jesus and his loyalty to Jesus led him to stay with Jesus in Gethsemene when others had fled. This same loyalty led him to stay with Jesus at his crucifixion while the twelve stayed away.

The alias theory explains why the name "Lazarus" appears only up to the time when he became a wanted man. It also explains why the Beloved Disciple does not appear until after the last mention of Lazarus. The author of John's gospel (whether the BD himself or not) has protected the identity of the BD by not using the name by which he had come to be known (John?). It is odd that the BD/Lazarus is/are not mentioned by Mark, but this is now explicable following Bauckham's insights. Mark protects Lazarus-BD by hardly mentioning him at all.

The naked youth was an eyewitness, as was the BD.

The naked youth was young. Lazarus may well have been young, since his father (Simon the leper) seems to have been still alive. The BD would have been young at the time.

There is a lot to be said for combining Bauckham, Witherington and Grassi with the suggestion that Lazarus took an alias.

I'll chew on it some more. Meanwhile, let me know what you think.

Chris, thanks for the summary of Bauckham's chapter. Superbly explained.

In response to j.b.hood, it seems to me that the act of riding on a donkey was not merely symbolic, but was also highly political and subversive.


At 2/17/2007 7:49 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

The most compelling datum here is the omission of the name of the woman who anointed Jesus, who was explicitly supposed to be "remembered".

I can readily see that anointing (christing) Jesus could be construed as a politically subversive act. It is therefore a reasonable supposition that her name was known to the writer (and the writer's community), and suppressed intentionally.

Beginning from that relatively clear inference, we might wonder whether other names were also suppressed. This could include the person who supplied the donkey, if riding into Jerusalem on a donkey can be construed as an act of political subversion (another sort of Messianic claim).

So far so good. But the naked man: was he also engaged in an act of political subversion? At this point, Bauckham begins to heap inference upon inference:

• The naked man is the eyewitness to this tradition (= the writer of the Gospel of Mark?). This inference is not unreasonable, but there's no hard evidence to support it.

• The authorities would construe the naked man's testimony to the tradition as politically subversive: thus his name had to be suppressed like the others' names. If the tradition = the Gospel of Mark (or the oral tradition underlying the Gospel) Bauckham's inference is plausible, since the Gospel identifies Jesus as the Christ.

• The naked man / eyewitness was none other than Lazarus! Hey presto!, this last inference is a leap worthy of quantum physics!

The first two inferences are arguable, but ultimately we do not have enough data to know who the naked man was. We can only speculate, and all speculation is groundless.

The third inference is a complete non sequitor.

The most reasonable assumption is that the account of the raising of Lazarus was not known to the synoptic Evangelists. If it was known to them, why couldn't they have told the story without naming the protagonist? On Bauckham's own theory, this is what Mark did with the person who supplied the donkey, and the woman who anointed Jesus.

It is special pleading to argue for the historicity of John's account of the raising of Lazarus based on two verses in Mark which will forever remain obscure.

You call it "detective work of the highest quality"; I call it wishful thinking. (Sorry to use language bordering on contemptuous, but really! — I don't see this as scholarship, but mere ideology.)

At 2/18/2007 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody has to say it: Theissen has impressive hair.

At 2/19/2007 1:58 AM, Anonymous Richard Fellows said...


Bauckham is more cautious about identifying the naked youth as Lazarus than you suppose him to be. Also, I think the arguments for the identification are a little stronger than you suppose. The naked youth was very loyal or courageous, otherwise he would have fled with the others. He also seems to have been an eyewitness and he was young. He is also afforded anonymity. All this fits what we know of Lazarus, especially if we equate Lazarus with the Beloved Disciple, as many do.

You mention that Mark is silent on the raising of Lazarus. I do not think this shows that he did not know about it. It may be a case of protective silence, for Lazarus’s life was in danger because of this incident. The passages about Lazarus in John’s gospel seem to afford him a protective silence of sorts. The text would have told Lazarus’s enemies nothing about him that they would not have already known. There is no information that would have helped them to trace him. Also, Lazarus plays no active role in the story: it is as though the writer is trying to minimize any negative backlash against Lazarus that the story might have created. In any event, Mark may well have felt that it was better to omit the incident altogether, rather than risk reviving the controversy and endangering Lazarus. This would be especially so if Mark’s gospel was written during a time of persecution.

It is interesting to note that the main characters in Mark’s gospel (Peter and the Boanerges brothers (Mark 10:39 and Acts 12:2) were probably killed before the gospel was written. This raises the possibility that there were other prominent individuals who were omitted because they were still alive and therefore needed anonymity. The BD was one such who was still alive, and he may have been Lazarus.

Alternatively, perhaps Mark omitted to mention the raising of Lazarus because of rivalry between his school (that of Peter), and that of the BD/Lazarus.

In any case it is statistically significant that no other Lazarus/Eleazar is mentioned in the NT. We would expect 5 to be mentioned (it was a common name). Other than this Lazarus, there are 74 names of Palestinian Jews in the gospels and Acts. Now, 6.3% of Palestinian Jews were called Lazarus/Eleazar, so the chances of NONE of the 74 people being called Lazarus is 1 in 126. Therefore the gospel writers (or the early Christians in Palestine) seem to have a bias against the name Lazarus. This may indicate that other Lazaruses are called by other names to avoid confusion with the famous (infamous) Lazarus. Confusion would be almost unavoidable if Lazarus had indeed gone into hiding: his whereabouts and history would have become obscure and any other Lazarus could be confused with him. Thus the absence of Lazaruses in the NT may confirm that the Lazarus of John’s gospel was a real person, or so it seems to me.


At 2/19/2007 2:46 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

I was going to respond to Stephen’s post today by pointing out that Bauckham framed and understood his ´speculations about Lazarus and the naked youth as just that, speculation that may of may not be true. I called it 'detective work of the highest quality' as I tend to think that Bauckham's theory has the most going for it - even though it is all speculation.

However, before I had the chance to make my comments, Richard Bauckham wrote me an e-mail clarifying the nature of his thoughts here, which I shall post later.

Richard Fellows suggest that various theories of identification can be linked if one assumes that ‘Lazarus was wanted by the authorities so he took an alias’ – John.

This is truly a fascinating suggestion, Richard, thank you! I have no doubt that you are aware that this is speculative in the extreme, but I think it has a ring of possibility about it - though I would like to look into the evidence for such drastic name changing and the use of aliases in those days.

As for the 'hair' comments - perhaps it is so wild so as to provide protective anonymity for someone standing behind him in the photograph?

At 2/20/2007 7:29 AM, Anonymous Richard Fellows said...

Thanks, Chris.

I took a look at James Charlesworth's book on "The Beloved Disciple". He lists just 8 reasons why he thinks that the BD was not Lazarus. These arguments are neutralized or actually reversed when one considers the possibility that John's gospel deliberately avoids writing anything about Lazarus-BD that would put him in danger if the text fell into the wrong hands. Here, in brief, are Charlesworth's arguments, with my rebuttats in brackets:
1. Lazarus says nothing in John's gospel.
2. Lazarus does nothing.
3. Lazarus in never called a disciple.
[John's presents Lazarus as passive and therefore innocent of active involvement in the (controversial) Jesus-movement.]
4. Lazarus is introduced for the first time in chapter 11 and not mentioned again after chapter 12.
[If Lazarus were not the BD, he falls from the story suddenly after chapter 12 and this seems strange. If L was the BD, the text gives him anonymity in exactly the places where anonymity is required, calling him the BD when he is presented as an activist in the Jesus movement.]
5. Lazarus is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT so may not have existed.
[The synoptics do not mention the presence of the BD at the cross or at the tomb, whoever he was. This silence matches their silence about Lazarus so this is a reason to equate the BD with Lazarus. The silence of the synoptics may have been to give Lazarus-BD the highest degree of protective anonymity].
6. We know so little about Lazarus.
[We are told so little about him precisely because of the need to protect him]
7. How could Lazarus outrun Peter just days after being raised?
[Because he was cured. Because he was young, and because he was a local and knew the way].
8. Jesus loved many people so it is not necessary to suppose that the BD is Lazarus.
[The term "the disciple whom Jesus loved" was used to give Lazarus anonymity in those passages. That anonymity required that the author not identify the BD, except to those already in the know. The term "the disciple whom Jesus loved" does just that. It identifies the BD as Lazarus for those who already know of his active role in the events of passion week, but it reveals nothing to potential enemies. Interestingly, the author does not explicitly identify himself as the BD, and this could be another protective measure.]

Bauckham (p414-415) says that the function of the anonymity of the BD would be defeated if he was Lazarus. This is not the case if the anonymity was a protective anonymity. John's gospel would have told the chief priests nothing about Lazarus that they did not already know. Also, if the gospel text fell into the hands of the enemies of Christianity, they would not see "Lazarus" as a major ring-leader of the movement (because they would not have equated him the the BD). Also, Lazarus-BD may have taken an alias.


At 2/21/2007 5:12 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

You mention that Mark is silent on the raising of Lazarus. I do not think this shows that he did not know about it. It may be a case of protective silence.

I understood that argument from the original post. But why couldn't Mark discuss the raising of Lazarus while hiding his identity? According to Bauckham's argument, anonymity was sufficient protection for the woman who anointed Jesus for burial, and sufficient protection for the man who supplied Jesus with a donkey: why wasn't it sufficient protection for Lazarus?

And of course, it isn't only Mark that we have to consider here. Neither Matthew nor Luke record the raising of Lazarus, either. Again, they could have told the story while preserving Lazarus's anonymity.

As I'm sure you know, Luke does make reference to Mary and Martha (Luke 10) and to Lazarus (Luke 16). But he doesn't group the three individuals together as a family.

And the pericope about Lazarus seems to be a parable, illustrating the reversal of fortunes of the rich and the poor in the afterlife. Perhaps the Lazarus of the parable has no relation to the Lazarus of John's Gospel.

I haven't studied the literature on the Lukan texts, so feel free to educate me. But on the face of the evidence, the following conclusions suggest themselves to me.

(1) Luke provides some corroborating evidence that Mary and Martha were historical figures associated with Jesus.

(2) Neither Mark, Matthew, or Luke corroborate even the existence of Lazarus, much less his resurrection by Jesus.

(3) My presumption is, John's account of Lazarus's raising is legendary. When I compare the synoptic Gospels to John, John's account reads throughout as an embellishment of the historical and theological record: an embellishment of the sort so richly illustrated by the non-canonical gospels.

As I have said a couple of times during this series on Bauckham, I think he overreaches when he tries to bring John's gospel within the umbrella of his historical reconstruction. The appeal to John undermines his relatively strong argument with respect to the synoptic Gospels.


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