Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Challenging the paradigm

From the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) (London), a review of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham, summarizing a part of his argument.
.... In a previous book – Gospel Women (2002) – he was able to show, by a close study of personal names both in our texts and in the records of Palestinian culture, that a particular group of individuals in the New Testament, and their relationships with one another, have a striking internal consistency with regard to names and provenance and also reflect accurately the naming and family connections that were customary in their culture. In the face of such evidence, it is hard to believe either that these names could have been fabricated or that there was any serious loss of accuracy in remembering and recording them by the time the Gospels came to be written. In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham continues his investigation into named individuals, and shows that the same conclusion holds for all. We have every reason, therefore, to assume a faithful and unbroken link between the original witnesses of Jesus’ life and death and the record of these things in the Gospels.

Following this clue, Bauckham then suggests we should take seriously the testimony of two second-century churchmen, Papias and Irenaeus – the first of whom has usually been dismissed by scholars as unreliable. Carefully examining the relevant texts – including the famous statement of Papias that Mark’s Gospel is derived from anecdotes heard from St Peter – Bauckham concludes that these writers gave absolute priority to eyewitness accounts of Jesus, many of which are likely to have been given by his closest followers; indeed, he argues that the fact that some minor characters in the Gospels are named, while others remain anonymous, strongly suggests that it was the named ones who were consulted for their personal recollections and that the Gospel writers, or those whom they consulted, were drawing on first-hand evidence that was inherently reliable and consistent, though with the inevitable variations and slight lapses which attend the exercise of memory in any age or culture – hence both the close similarities and the sporadic divergences exhibited by the Synoptic Gospels.

None of these propositions is advanced as if it were merely a matter of common sense and informed intuition applied to the age-old enigma of the Gospels – though it is the sheer lack of plausibility of some modern reconstructions which leads Bauckham to say that “scholars rather easily lose touch with common experience”. He calls in aid the findings of students of primarily oral cultures, the research that has been done in ancient historiography, and the value placed by ancient historians on eyewitness testimony (along with clear and elegant arrangement), psychological studies of memory and its relation to the facts remembered, the various occasions for anonymity which were recognized by ancient writers, and much more; and shows that his conclusions, radically different as they are from those of virtually all mainstream scholars, can be supported both by the testimony of early Christian writers (seldom given due weight in recent scholarship) and by comparative material offered by other disciplines. The book is indeed a serious challenge to the paradigm that has commanded almost universal assent for many years. ....
Source: What He said - TLS Highlights

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