Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 21

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 12. Anonymous Tradition or Eyewitness Testimony?

Throughout the book thus far Bauckham has sought to argue that Jesus traditions originated and were transmitted in connection with a body of official and named eyewitnesses who functioned as ‘active guarantors’ of these traditions. In those groups that didn’t enjoy the presence of such an eyewitness there would likely have been teachers who functioned as ‘authorized tradents’, having received their knowledge either directly from the original eyewitness(es) or through an authorised chain of intermediaries. In contrast to this, scholarship has tended to elevate the significance of the ‘shared memory’ of anonymous communities to the key role in the transmission of Jesus traditions, even those (like Dunn) who acknowledge the reality of individual eyewitnesses. However, and this is a point which Bauckham has spend a good deal of space justifying, the Gospels writers would hardly have been content to collect such communal and anonymous traditions. Rather, given memorisation, possibly the use of writing, and the presence of eyewitness testimony, the (isolated) traditions underwent a particular kind of formal control in their transmission. Furthermore, Papias is clear evidence that at the time of the production of the Gospels, there was little interest in anonymous community traditions. Indeed, the evidence strongly indicates that the notion of the transmission of traditions through a chain of authorised tradents was commonplace. To add to the already impressive argument, Bauckham indicates the significance of the Jerusalem church, a matter missed in the ‘informal controlled’ models (cf. 299, n. 22 for a fascinating take on 1 Cor 14:36 on this regard). As he maintains:

‘We should probably envisage a carefully compiled and formulated collection of Jesus traditions, incorporating other important eyewitness testimony as well as that of the Twelve themselves, but authorized by the Twelve as the official body of witnesses’ (299).
Bauckham then turns to address the claim that ‘Jesus traditions [were] circulated anonymously in the early church and that therefore the Gospels, in which they were gathered and recorded, were also originally anonymous’ (300). His argument, partly depending on arguments proposed by Hengel and partly on the evidence of chapters 3-8 and especially that the Gospels do indicate their eyewitness sources, claims that ‘as soon as the Gospels circulated around the churches they had author’s names attached to them, even though such names were not part of the text of the Gospels’ (304).

This leads to a discussion concerning the role of eyewitnesses and Gospels in the controlling of the transmission of Jesus traditions. He argues, noting especially the import of 1 Cor 15:3-8:

‘In the early Christian movement we may suppose that the authorized tradents of the tradition performed this role of controllers, but among them the eyewitnesses would surely have been the most important’ (306).
When these eyewitnesses started dying out ‘the Gospels will have stepped into the role of the eyewitnesses ... functioning as the guarantor of the traditions, as the eyewitnesses had in their lifetimes, and as controls on the tradition’ (309). It is not that the Gospels didn’t involve a measure of creative adaptation of the eyewitness testimony, but their preservation of these traditions would have been, in best ancient historiographical practice, faithful.

While many works have been influenced by Maurice Halbwachs’ concept of ‘collective memory’, which would justify key assumptions in form critical scholarship, Bauckham, drawing especially on Barbara Misztal, presses a set of important and original distinctions such that one need not ‘dissolve the distinctiveness of personal recollection’ into a social or collective memory which has little interest in the past (313). In other words, ‘social memory or oral tradition has to be constantly negotiating the relationship of the present to the past. In this negotiation the past has a voice that has to be heard. It cannot be freely invented’ (317).

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