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Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as…
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Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

by Richard J. Bauckham

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A magisterial defense of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony.

The author takes up Samuel Byrskog's thesis regarding the Gospels as representing the "gold standard" of historiology in the Greco-Roman world: narrative based on eyewitness testimony, either directly from eyewitnesses (so John), or based on the testimony of eyewitnesses (Luke).

The author suggests a reconstruction of Papias' fragment as found in Eusebius regarding the Gospels to demonstrate his preference for eyewitness testimony, that he would rather hear from those who had living memory experiences with Jesus over information from texts (not dismissing the value of texts; just honoring the greater value of actual eyewitness testimony). The author sets forth charts of names from Second Temple Judaism and from the Gospel accounts and discusses why in eyewitness testimony some names would be remembered (prominent characters or because the person's testimony was well known and associated with him and ended up in the Gospel) and others would not (either because it was dangerous for names to be associated with the event, or the name of the person was immaterial to the story) He analyzes the Gospel of Mark in detail to show how it does likely reflect the stories of Simon Peter which the latter would tell as testimony - and also to confirm why the narrative is not sufficiently "ordered" for Papias, like John's is, since it's based on a collection of stories from Peter and not all put together by someone who was there.

The author does amazingly well at deconstructing most of the claims of form criticism; hopefully modern scholarship's infatuation with the theme will soon come to a blissful end, especially in New Testament studies. He explores models of oral tradition and is able to demonstrate how it correlates well with the evidence found in the NT (main events remembered best; dates and surrounding details are much fuzzier). He goes into greater depth into Papias' comments on the Gospels, as well as what can be seen in Polycrates and Irenaeus, especially as they relate to John's gospel, for which he sets forth the evidence as written by a disciple named John who saw Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and who later ended up in Ephesus, and not the son of Zebedee. He concludes with an analysis of what testimony is (Cready and Ricoeur feature prominently), compares it to how modern historiography considers testimony, and engages in a powerful exercise with illuminating examples from the Holocaust regarding the power of testimony, how a speaker can give an ancedotal story with great force and power, or how small details of a story could be made to align, however consciously, with prominent historical themes (and he is sensitive about it, recognizing that the only connection is the extraordinary and extreme natures of the events described).

In the end he makes a most powerful case for the importance of testimony, how historiography must first trust testimony in order to then be critical of it, and how the Gospels do represent the expected kind of historiography for the day and accomplish its purpose, setting forth what God accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth according to those who lived and experienced it.

Very much worthwhile for Bible students and scholars. ( )
  deusvitae | Jan 18, 2019 |
With its more than 500 pages this book is an example of thorough biblical scholarship. Bauckham extensively elaborates his hypothesis that the Gospels are much more based on eyewitness testimony than is generally accepted, and I think this conclusion is right. This is an important achievement, as the Gospels have supposedly been written between 40 and 60 years after the facts. Below, however, I will try to show that the eyewitness case is much more straightforward than Bauckham expounds in this book.

Let me be clear from the beginning: I have a lot of objections against this book. I set aside the most fundamental ones for the second part of my review. Let’s start with two ‘minor’ objections that question Bauckham’s intellectual honesty.
The first one is that Bauckham is discrediting two early Christian writers, Quadratus and Philip of Side (and Papias of Hierapolis together with the latter one). The information these authors provide is quite embarrassing for anyone accepting the traditional chronology of the origins of Christianity, so Bauckham tries to get rid of them.
Quadratus reports that some of those who were healed or raised by Jesus (who, according to the Gospels, was crucified around 30 CE) were still alive in 125 CE, the year to which Quadratus’s work can be dated with certainty.
Philip of Side, a 4th century Christian writer, mentions Papias of Hierapolis, a contemporary of Quadratus, and according to the former Papias gives exactly the same information: ‘about those who were raised from the dead by Christ, he says they survived until Hadrian’. (Hadrian was the Roman emperor from 117 to 138 CE).
Bauckham postulates that Philip of Side has mistaken Papias for Quadratus, and ‘one source, no source’, he deceitfully disposes of these two important witnesses. However, in the Papias fragment he provides, Philip of Side shows that he is well-informed about Papias, so I think these two fragments independently inform us about a chronology problem in the origins of Christianity as presented in the Gospels.
My second ‘intellectual honesty’ objection is the way Bauckham discusses three of the apostle names: Iskarioth, Zealot and Bariona. For Judas Iskarioth he only gives the explanation ‘from (the village of) Kerioth’, not even mentioning the ‘Iskarioth = sicarios’ hypothesis, which shows Judas as a possible ‘dagger fighter’, a member of the guerilla fighters faction which was active in the 50’s and 60’s of the first century CE (the decades preceding the war against the Romans). The same for Simon the Zealot, about whom Bauckham develops a strange argument: because in the relevant sources the name Zealot does not appear before the outbreak of the Jewish war in 66 CE, Simon is not a real (military and insurrectionist) zealot, but a zealot in a broader sense, to be interpreted as ‘zealous for the law’. For Bariona (Simon Bariona), Bauckham uses the same method of silence as for Iskarioth: he doesn’t mention the possibility that Bariona is not ‘bar Jonah’ meaning ‘son of Jonah’, but may refer to Simon as a member of the biryonim (singular biryona), the ‘outlaws’ or ‘brigands’ who are also associated with the rebellion against the Romans. Bauckham purposefully writes these apostles away from the war period.

Let’s now turn to the major objections.
A first major objection is to be found in Bauckham’s discussion of the Gospel of John. Bauckham extensively discusses this Gospel, and brilliantly shows that the fourth Gospel is not just ‘the last and the least trustworthy’, but that it is much more important and trustworthy than is generally accepted because it has been written by one of Jesus’ disciples, and not by just one of them, but by Jesus’ beloved disciple. But Bauckham doesn’t tell the other part of the story. How did this authorship happen chronologically, accepting that Jesus was crucified around 30 CE and the Gospel of John was written around 90 CE? Let’s suppose that John was a young man, in his twenties, when Jesus was crucified. Then he wrote his Gospel when he was about 85 years old. Although this is not impossible biologically, it is highly improbable for several reasons.
A first reason is that the circumstances of life were much more uncertain during that era than nowadays. Bauckham himself gives a nice quote from the Church Father Irenaeus (second half of the second century): ‘For everyone will admit that the age of thirty is that of someone still young and this period of youth extends to the fortieth year. It is only from the fortieth and fiftieth year that a person begins to decline towards old age.’ How then do we have to imagine John waiting until his very old age to write down the exceptional events he experienced 60 years ago?
A second reason is comparison. As far as I know no other author in world history has ever waited so long to commit his story to paper, and as far as I can see there is no reason to accept John as an exception. This huge delay just doesn’t make sense, the more because what Jesus and his companions experienced was so spectacular that the motivation to write it down quickly was greater than for any other author experiencing less important things.
One could also imagine that writing practice in Antiquity was quite different from our days. But as far as I know there are no examples of first reports following four decades after the events. In the same years as the first Gospel (shortly after 70 CE) Josephus wrote his account of the war of the Jews against the Romans (66-70 CE). Also Paul wrote his letters to the communities he founded shortly after he founded or visited them, without any significant delay.
The argument in the Gospel of John also extends to the canonical Gospels in general. Bauckam emphasizes several times that the Gospels are biographies (‘bioi’), and he also asserts that ‘in their close relationship to eyewitness testimony the Gospels conform to the best practice of ancient historiography’ (p. 310). But this ‘best practice’ implies that the accounts, stemming from the authors themselves or from the eyewitnesses they interrogated, were recorded soon after the events.
Because when taking the traditional chronology for granted this huge time gap between the events and their report has to be filled, an enormous literature on the subject has seen the light. Bauckham also sets himself the task to do so. ‘Oral history’, ‘tradition’ and ‘recollecting memory’ are the main concepts of this section of the book. Although the ‘recollecting memory’ theory is interesting in itself, this section of the book is not at all convincing. The whole ‘tradition’ concept is an empty vessel which doesn’t provide any sound argument of how information was stored and passed during these ‘tradition’ decades. Bauckham extensively fights the form criticism school of biblical scholarship and he is right to do so, but I believe the disease of his theory if only slightly different. These three concepts are only rationalizations of something which doesn’t make any sense.
In the same spirit Bauckham postulates that the Gospels were written when and because the eyewitnesses were old and on the brink of death. How should we imagine this concretely? As already said before, life was fragile then. How did the Gospel writers cope with the uncertain life conditions of the eyewitnesses and themselves? Did Mark think in 60 CE: Peter is 55 years old now, he seems to be in good health, I shall wait some more years to write down his story which I already know for (many/some) years? Did he continue thinking so year after year without taking his pen and a scroll of papyrus?

I have researched the origins of Christianity extensively, and I think the case is much simpler than the far-fetched ‘oral history’ and ‘tradition’ theory set forth in this book (and in countless books before). The main result of my investigation is that the Gospels contain the most spectacular case of chronological fraud ever committed in historiography. The Gospels have not been written after 70 CE after a waiting period of 40 years, but they were written then because the crucial events of these works took place in 70 CE and the preceding years. So the Gospels have been written by eyewitnesses – of course they have – in the years following the events. Why would their writers have waited 40 to 60 years to tell the world about the great and extraordinary things which had befallen them, the events that constituted God’s acts for the salvation of the world? But after the terrible defeat against the Romans it was far too dangerous to tell the real story, it was safer to antedate the events by some decades, and to introduce a ‘good Roman’ (Pilate) and the ‘bad Jews’ to give this story a chance in the hostile Roman empire. Bauckham is an expert in the Jewish/Christian pseudepigraphical literature, he can affirm that antedating was a common literary technique in that era to conceal subversive liberation stories from the enemy.
At the end of his book Bauckham says that the trustworthiness of testimony as form of historiography should be tested, its internal consistency and coherence as well as its consistency and coherence with other historical evidence we have and that it should be confronted with whatever we know about the historical context. This way the Gospels could tell things in spite of themselves.

I have tested the historiographical value of the Gospel stories in a combined reading of the New Testament, the works of Josephus, the Apostolic Fathers, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Numerous connections, generally subtle and veiled, between these writings have come to the surface and the discovery of the real chronology of the origins of Christianity is the main result of my investigation.
In his Life (‘Bios’ in Greek) the Jewish historian Josephus reports a case of three prisoners of war executed by crucifixion. ‘Two of them died in the physicians’ hands; the third survived.’ Quite some imaginative powers are needed to see that this event, which took place end of August 70 CE, is the core event of the Gospels. And there is more, much more. ( )
  Frans_J_Vermeiren | Mar 13, 2016 |
NO OF PAGES: 538 SUB CAT I: Apostolic Writings SUB CAT II: Emergence of Christianity SUB CAT III: DESCRIPTION: This new book argues that the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus. Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as "anonymous community traditions," asserting instead that they were transmitted in the name of the original eyewitnesses. To drive home this controversial point, Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, study of personal names in the first century, and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions.
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses also taps into the rich resources of modern study of memory and cognitive psychology, refuting the conclusions of the form critics and calling New Testament scholarship to make a clean break with this long-dominant tradition. Finally, Bauckham challenges readers to end the classic division between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith," proposing instead the "Jesus of testimony." Sure to ignite heated debate on the precise character of the testimony about Jesus, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses will be valued by scholars, students, and all who seek to understand the origins of the Gospels.NOTES: Purchased from Amazon.com. SUBTITLE: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
  BeitHallel | Feb 18, 2011 |
Some excellent research and top insights into the help available in recent scholarship. ( )
  trevor_f | Sep 19, 2008 |
Fascinating in part (particularly statistics analysis of Biblical names). However some of the wilder writers on the inclusio are unconvincing and naive. ( )
  jontseng | Apr 12, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
In the end, these minor complaints aside, Bauckham has delivered a remarkable and insightful volume that is sure to offer a much-needed challenge to the status quo in modern gospel studies. The critical gap between the life of Jesus and the publication of the canonical gospels—a gap that is so often blurred and hazy to the modern historian—has been made immensely more clear and vivid by Bauckham's study. No longer can such a gap be characterized as a time when Jesus tradition was transmitted in wild and unpredictable ways, but rather it should be seen as a time when the tradition was preserved and guarded by those who were most able and equipped to do so—the original eyewitnesses.
added by Christa_Josh | editWestminster Theological Journal, Michael J. Kruger (Sep 1, 2007)
 
Graham Stanton did not exaggerate when he observed: "Richard Bauckham's latest book shakes the foundations of a century of scholarly study of the Gospels." Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is a tour de force whose many compelling arguments should result in a paradigm shift in Gospel and historical Jesus studies. If it is given the attention that it deserves, this work could easily become the most important book in NT studies to be published thus far this millennium.
added by Christa_Josh | editJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Charles L. Quarles (Sep 1, 2007)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802831621, Hardcover)

This new book argues that the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus. Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as "anonymous community traditions," asserting instead that they were transmitted in the name of the original eyewitnesses. To drive home this controversial point, Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, study of personal names in the first century, and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions. "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" also taps into the rich resources of modern study of memory and cognitive psychology, refuting the conclusions of the form critics and calling New Testament scholarship to make a clean break with this long-dominant tradition. Finally, Bauckham challenges readers to end the classic division between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith," proposing instead the "Jesus of testimony." Sure to ignite heated debate on the precise character of the testimony about Jesus, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" will be valued by scholars, students, and all who seek to understand the origins of the Gospels.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:04 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

'Jesus and the Eyewitness' argues that the four Gospels are closely based on the eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus. The author challenges the assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as 'anonymous community traditions', asserting instead that they were transmitted in the name of the original eyewitnesses.… (more)

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