Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 25

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline

I’ve divided my notes on this fascinating chapter into two parts.

Chapter 15. The Witness of the Beloved Disciple (part 2)

While evidence in the Gospel presupposes that the Beloved Disciple experienced a lengthy time of relationship with Jesus, it is not necessary to maintain that he was ‘personally present at all the events he narrates, since it is also clear from the Gospel that he belonged to the circle of disciples of Jesus and would have had direct and easy access to the eyewitness testimony of those who had been present at events he himself did not witness’.[1] Indeed, the Gospel doesn’t have a list of the Twelve (which Bauckham has argued in earlier chapters were made to ‘cite their authority as the official sources and guarantors of the main body of Gospel traditions these Gospels contain’[2]) as the Beloved Disciple was likely not one of the Twelve. His Gospel draws both on his own direct autopsy of Jesus as well as that of other individual disciples and so ought not to list the Twelve.

In John 1:14 it states that ‘we have seen his glory’. While this can be cited to suggest that already in the Prologue the Gospel is claimed to be based on eyewitness testimony, Lincoln notes that ‘in the discourse of the Fourth Gospel, seeing and testifying are the equivalent of believing and confessing’.[3] Ergo, the seeing of the eyewitnesses is not literal but rather interpretive. Bauckham, while maintaining a mixture of historiographical and theological notions of ‘witness’ in the Gospel, strongly contests Lincoln’s conclusion by pointing to the temporal and historical nature of the seeing in the Gospel, and argues that:

‘It is the testimony of those who did see and believed that enables those who have not seen also to believe, and it is the Gospel that mediates the testimony of those who have seen to those who have not, so that the latter may also believe’.[4]
But why is the Beloved Disciple’s role as principal witness and author not revealed until the end of the Gospel? Because the Beloved Disciple was not a well-known disciple, he had to be careful how he advanced his own claim to be qualified to write a Gospel of Jesus as an eyewitness. The postponement of is thus due to a ‘combination of modesty and temerity’.[5]
However, can we really believe the Beloved Disciple wrote the Gospel? Isn’t the claim simply pseudepigraphal?

‘The question is by no means easy to answer. All of our arguments so far go to show that the Gospel portrays the Beloved Disciple as its principal witness and author, making a historiographical claim about his eyewitness evidence as well as a theological one about his perceptive understanding’.[6]
However, one strong argument can be said in favour of the authenticity of the Gospel’s claim to have been written by the Beloved Disciple: ‘why should a pseudepigraphal author in search of a suitable pseudonym choose such a character? Why not write, as the authors of other pseudepigraphal Gospels did, in the name of a well-known disciple - Philip or Andrew or Thomas? Why make the task of establishing the credibility of this Gospel narrative so hard for himself/herself?’.[7]

The high degree of interpretation in the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of the story of Jesus actually, as was seen earlier in relation to Papias on the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, qualifies the Gospel as a more serious work of history in the eyes of Graeco-Roman historians. Far from the highly interpretive element suggesting distance from eyewitness sources, ‘[t]he author’s eyewitness status’, claims Bauckham, ‘authorizes the interpretation’![8]

This mixture of ‘empirical sight’ and ‘spiritual perception’ in the Gospel’s presentation is not something to be feared. ‘If this history was in fact the disclosure of God, then to have the report of some uncommitted observer would not take us nearer to the historical truth but further from it’. The Gospel’s interpretive nature is thus ‘wholly appropriate to the historical uniqueness of the subject matter’. This Gospel surely presents a perspective outside the circles from which the synoptic traditions derive. It is idiosyncratic. However, ‘[a]s with all testimony, even that of the law court, there is a point beyond which corroboration cannot go, and only the witness can vouch for the truth of his own witness’.[9]

[1]. Ibid., 402. [2]. Ibid., 403.
[3]. Ibid., 404. [4]. Ibid., 405.
[5]. Ibid., 408. [6]. Ibid.
[7]. Ibid., 409. [8]. Ibid., 411. [9]. Ibid.

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At 3/15/2007 4:31 PM, Anonymous samlcarr said...

I'm wondering whether Bauckham thinks that the author of John new of the other gospel traditions and largely ignored them as 'given' or was he ignorant of the more Galilean centred teachings? Sorry, would love to have read the book but it hasn't yet shown up in my neck of the woods - so thanks for the this series!

At 3/15/2007 5:15 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

Yes but …

YES, I understand Bauckham's point, "If this history was in fact the disclosure of God, then to have the report of some uncommitted observer would not take us nearer to the historical truth but further from it."

BUT, at a certain point "interpretation" might abandon "history" altogether, and the Evangelist might feel fully justified in doing so, for the very reasons Bauckham gives.

For example, I ask myself whether Jesus actually said, "Before Abraham was, I AM". It is possible that Jesus actually said such a thing, but it is radically unlike anything he says in the synoptic Gospels (where Jesus makes no claim to pre-existence).

Alternatively, I might argue that the Evangelist is making a purely theological claim about Jesus. The Evangelist puts words into Jesus' mouth that Jesus never spoke, but he doesn't feel dishonest in so doing: the words express his insight into the true (eternal, divine) nature of Jesus the Christ.

I object to such an approach, because (contra Bultmann) I believe Christianity's theological claims must be rooted in actual historical events. If Jesus disclosed God (as Bauckham and I both believe), he did so via historical events.

If Jesus never said the words, the theology is inadequately supported.

I don't know how Bauckham would respond to that position. Does he insist that Jesus actually said the words?

Or does he argue only that the words are (theologically, not historically) true?

At 3/15/2007 11:04 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Sam,
Bauckham argues (though mainly in an article elsewhere, not in the book) that John expected his readers to have known Mark.

Stephem, I'm glad you are responsing to these posts on the chapters on John. I will have a shot at an answer this weekend, as I have just run out of time ....


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