Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Jesus and the Eyewitnesses summary

I've finally put it on my server so it can be downloaded as a pdf here.

I wrote this rather extensive summary and short critical reflection on Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses quite some time ago, largely adapted from my earlier blog series. I ended the essay with these words:

'Time will tell whether [Bauckham's] thesis comes to exercise a similar influence on New testament scholarship as the speculations proffered by Bultmann and co. Whether co-opted by conservative Christians in the cause of defensive apologetics-at-any-cost, or whether denounced or dismissed by critics as the work of intellectually dishonest confessionalism, the depth of Bauckham's scholarship is incontrovertible. His arguments are here to stay and, I hope, will profoundly shape the unfolding debate.'

Labels: ,


At 2/22/2009 3:00 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

Thanks for doing this Chris.

At 2/22/2009 11:05 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

I second the thanks.

'The historical argument (most of the book) is that the eyewitnesses of the events of the Gospel history remained,
throughout their lives, the authoritative sources and guarantors of the traditions about Jesus....'

The tendency of Matthew and Luke to omit some of
these names can be explained as a result of a realisation that some of them would have become, ‘by the time Matthew and
Luke wrote, too obscure for them to wish to retain the names when they were engaged in abbreviating Mark’s narratives’.

Too obscure? Huh?

Isn't this like claiming that the names of Muhammad's wives could well have become too obscure for Muslims to be able to place them when they heard stories about them?

If Luke was writing an orderly account, then why did he not set about rescuing the name of Bartimaeus from the obscurity it was sinking into?

Isn't that the point of writing history - so that these people should not be forgotten?

From Acts 2 onwards, as soon as the church enters public record, and from Paul's Epistles on to Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, Jude, 123 John, the following people disappear from the story as though they had never existed, until the Gospels mention them.

the BVM, Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Simon of Cyrene, Rufus, Alexander, almost all the disciples, the brothers of Jesus (*), Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Joanna , Salome, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.

(*) While Paul does mention brothers of the Lord, Luke/Acts give no hint that any James had ever even seen Jesus. Nor does the Epistle of James, and nor does Jude, which claims to be the brother of James, but gives no hint of any siblingship with any other name that might have rung a bell with early Christians.

And Paul does mention a 'Rufus', but it goes without saying that there is no connection made to any Gospel Rufus.

Bauckham claims these people went to various Christian communities, yet nobody has ever named himself as ever meeting any of them, and Paul talks about entirely different people being in various Christian communities - Andronicus, Priscilla, Titus etc.

I find Bauckham's claims extraordinary, and his basic thesis has no evidence for it.

At least Muslims produced isnads, claims of authority which allegedly go back to Muhammad or people with him.

The Gospels don't even have that. There are no claims that Lazarus recounted stories of his being raised from the dead, or claims that Mary M , told X who told Y who told Z who told Luke.

Furthermore, these women arguably remained
prominent in the early church and were associated with the transmission of these traditions.


In other words, Bauckham can produce no evidence of this prominence.

Where is the prominence in Acts of Joanna and Salome?

Where is the prominence in Paul's letters of Mary Magdalene?

Where is the prominence in 1 Clement of these women?

Where is the evidence?

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’.

Which ancient reader ever described seeing this 'inclusio' device, and which ancient person ever indicated that it was a device that had ever been used by anybody to indicate eyewitness testimony?

What is the difference between Bauckham's discovery of inclusio to indicate eyewitness testimony and Michael Drosnin's discovery of Bible Codes?

At 2/22/2009 6:58 PM, Anonymous James Orr said...

Steven – don’t follow your point about omission of mentions in non-Gospel writings for figures you list challenging historicity of the Gospel accounts themselves. Sequence of NT writings isn’t of course as simple as "Acts 2...123 John" followed by all four Gospels: the chronology is much more finely woven than that (I#m sure you know this but it wasn't clear to me from the way you phrased it). In fact, at least some of the non-Gospel writings post-date some of the Gospels, but no scholar would argue that failure of the former to corroborate the latter point-for-point undermines the Gospels’ claims to authenticity. Do you really think that the “silence” in the Pastoral Epistles about Joseph of Arimathea calls into question the reliability of Mark 15, Matthew 27 or Luke 24?

You need to show that each absence is a conspicuous absence – eg that “silent” writings share a similar function with the writings which do mention the names, or that they’re attempting to re-tell a Gospel story in a similar way etc. etc. & therefore there should have been a mention. Not sufficient to rely on mere omission – for each name you cite, we need to find the figure excluded exactly where we’d expect to find him/her included.

But it would be an uphill struggle even then – contemporaneous example taken entirely at random: why didn’t Tacitus mention key battles of Philippi & Actium in his summary of Augustus’ rise to power in Bk1 of Annales? Virgil is writing way before him and describes Actium in great detail in Aeneid 8. Both battles were absolutely critical world events and yet no mention of them in a work of precisely the kind of genre, function & context you would expect to find them in. No one then suggests that Tac isn’t totally familiar with their names, dates and consequences, nor that his narrative doesn’t presuppose the same level of familiarity amongst his readership.

Also, as a matter of general reasoning, how do your various arguments from silence actually support your case? ie. how in this particular case does absence of evidence logically demonstrate evidence of absence?

At 2/22/2009 7:38 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'Steven – don’t follow your point about omission of mentions in non-Gospel writings for figures you list challenging historicity of the Gospel accounts themselves'

An entire cast of characterd disappear from Christian mention, both in Acts and the Epistles.

That does cast doubt on the historicity of them - surely some Christian must have thought of calling other Christians Judas.

But I was writing in the context of Bauckham claiming these people were prominent in the early church - ie the time of Paul's epistles and the time period covered by Acts 2 onwards.

I don't expect follow up details on all of these people, such as you sometimes find on the end of film credits 'Joanna went on to have a successful career as a seamstress, while Salome retrained as a washerwoman'.

But you kind of expect prominent people to be prominent, and to appear somewhere as doing something.

Being mentioned somewhere as doing something or being well-known is kind of a plus when it comes to being prominent.

An entire cast of people disappearing from view is what would be expected if myths lay at the core.

‘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.


Acts 23
Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.

As soon as the church gets involved with official letters, even Jesus disappears.

Apparently, Christians were in danger as being associated with a claimant to messianic kingship.

Yet, this letter has no mention of any such charge, and the whole dispute is about Jewish law.

Why didn't the Jews remind the Romans that there Paul was a follower of a recently executed Messianic pretender - who his followers claimed had mysteriously cheated death and was at large, directing their movement?

The Romans would hardly respond by saying that , while Christians claimed this Messianic candidate was still alive, the Romans knew Jesus had been killed and had now gone to Heaven.

The Romans would at the very least have charged Paul with something.

Being the follower of a Messianic movement was a 'politically subversive claim', to quote Bauckham, and not some obscure dispute about whether salvation in Jewish theology comes from following a heavenly Saviour figure rather than following Torah.

So where did the Jesus go? Why did the Jews not put Paul in deep doo-doo with charges that he was following a Messianic candidate who had escaped justice?

Where does Bauckham's claim come from - that Gospel characters were not named because they were in great danger, when even Acts has Paul in no trouble with the Romans, who can't think of a thing to charge him with, and who don't even seem to know who this Jesus was supposed to be.

It is all baffling to me.

At 2/22/2009 11:35 PM, Anonymous James Orr said...

Ok - let's take your initial list and ask two simple questions:

"...the BVM, Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Simon of Cyrene, Rufus, Alexander, almost all the disciples, the brothers of Jesus (*), Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Joanna , Salome, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all..."

(1) Can you find texts in extra-gospel NT writings which fits each of the genre, function and narrative sense of the relevant text and in which we would reasonably expect the missing character to merit at least a minor mention?

(2) If you can pull off (1), how does making an argument from silence out of a non-mention generate evidence of the calibre you're asking Bauckham for?

At 2/23/2009 8:52 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

(1) Can you find texts in extra-gospel NT writings which fits each of the genre, function and narrative sense of the relevant text and in which we would reasonably expect the missing character to merit at least a minor mention?

Of course not. Where would you expect legendary people like Judas to be mentioned?

Judas didn't exist until Mark's Gospel was written.

It is like asking where Ned Ludd's diary would be kept.

Bauckham claims those people were prominent in the early church, from the time of Acts 2 onwards.

Where is his evidence?

At 2/23/2009 9:58 AM, Anonymous James Orr said...

(1) I was actually more interested in the quality of your evidence and, in particular, its basis in logical reasoning. Thought you guys were supposed to be hot on reason?

(2) I don't want you to commit the further fallacy of appealing to authority, but for my peace of mind could you name me maybe one secular scholar who shares your scepticism about the existence of Judas?

At 2/23/2009 10:41 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

Produce evidence that Judas existed.

You know, atheists could be wiped out in debate, if Bauckham produced some sort of evidence that ,say, Joanna, or Salome or Joseph of Arimathea existed and did what the Gospels claim they did.

They were supposed to be part of Christian communities, yet there is no record of them , even in Acts.

Bauckham has to resort to extraordinary claims that he has found all sorts of literary devices that have been lost for 2000 years until he discovered them.

Rather like Michael Drosnin's claim to have found Bible Codes....

At 2/23/2009 11:15 AM, Anonymous James Orr said...

CARR: you are stepping into the arena of the lunatic fringe - for God's sake man, turn back while you still can.

At 2/25/2009 9:59 PM, Anonymous Chris Donato said...

I look forward to reading your review, but I must chime in to agree with the last paragraph of your essay. It's here to stay, but we'll see how it shapes the debates (I'm not too hopeful).

And Carr, please go haunt the infidels forum with that inanity.

At 2/26/2009 4:24 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

No arguments, just abuse coming from Christians.

No change there.

Any news yet on anybody who wrote that he had met somebody called Judas, or somebody who named himself as having met somebody who had met Judas?

At 2/26/2009 12:50 PM, Anonymous James Orr said...

Oh dear. I was hoping you had heeded that advice. Say an archaeologist discovered Judas' jock-strap with his laundry tag on them - why on earth would you be convinced by it? Please explain what constitutes for you sufficient evidence of a historical figure?

My apologies if I seemed abusive, but a thin skin is not going to get you very far in these discussions, especially if you don't raise your game a bit here. I meant to stress that you seriously undermine your credibility by going for something like this Judas point. Much stronger arguments exist against the historicity of the Gospels, so why waste your time with one of that calibre? How about going for the differing accounts of his death? You would then of course pre-suppose his existence but (i) bring yourself back into the fold of reasonable discussion and (ii) actually help your case against the Gospels.

You fairly stress the need for arguments, but you still haven't explained the logical basis (see supra) for the ones which you yourself are making. Until you do, there doesn't seem to be much one could respond to. Reason, Steven, reason...

At 2/26/2009 2:31 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

There is no need to apologise for sounding abusive.

If you want to believe in characters who are less well attested than Ned Ludd, feel free to do so.

At 2/26/2009 7:17 PM, Anonymous James Orr said...

Great to see Carrier's Canard make a come-back - please do keep him quacking.

But any thoughts of your own on criteria sufficient for you to be convinced a figure - any figure - is historical?


Post a Comment

<< Home