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Jesus and the Eyewitnesses--a blog review, Part I

I've recently finished reading Richard Bauckham's fascinating work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. A reader has asked me what I think of the book, and during my webinar on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them, I noticed that a question came up in the sidebar chat box about Bauckham. Namely, where do I think Bauckham falls as far as the "bad habits of NT scholars"?

I decided that it was definitely a work worth reading all the way through, though it's long, and here is my not-terribly-well-organized review.

On a purely rhetorical level, anyone who enjoys reading scholarly books on the New Testament at all will probably enjoy reading this book. It doesn't drag, though it is occasionally redundant. Bauckham writes with a command of his subject, coupled with a readable style, that made it entirely do-able and even fun to read through the whole book from start to finish.

If you're interested in these subjects, it's definitely worth your time, though you should feel free to skip when he's just recapping.

There is a lot of good material here as well as material that is interesting even when one ultimately decides that it "won't do." I'm going to organize my thoughts by putting the cons first and the pros second so as to end on a positive note.

Something I want to avoid concerning Bauckham is the effect that I have seen concerning Richard Burridge's What Are the Gospels? Sometimes theological conservatives and apologetics geeks get all excited about what they perceive to be a book's vector--the direction it is going--and what bad stuff it is refuting or can be used to refute, and then they give both the book and the author a pass and don't read and evaluate in detail. They may even say unqualified, encomiastic things about the book, giving hearers and readers the impression that this is an author you can trust, which may not be true in general. I won't pause right now to talk about what Burridge's clay feet are, though I've done so elsewhere, but they are far worse than any of the negatives I will raise about Bauckham--more like all clay in the case of Burridge.

At this point, I think it is wise for readers in biblical studies not to give anybody a simple line of credit, where you just accept everything the person says because you assume that he is conservative, evangelical, on the side of the angels, etc. Don't do that with me, either, by the way!

So in the case of Bauckham, I would like to lay out some places where I think he goes off the rails and also shows tendencies that need to be kept in mind, leading to a case-by-case evaluation of his arguments both in the book and elsewhere. Here's how I apply that principle of caution: When I learned that Bauckham thinks that 2 Peter is pseudopigraphical but that this was a "literary device" and that the author of 2 Peter intended to give his readers the wink to indicate that he wasn't really Peter, I was instantly dubious. Not just because I didn't like the conclusion. As you'll see, I sometimes disagree with Bauckham's arguments even when I like the conclusion. But mostly because it sounded like exactly the sort of area where his more speculative, literary tendencies would come into play, which is not when he's at his best, in my opinion. I was interested enough that I did look up the article on 2 Peter and found it stimulating and (oddly) a fun read but completely unconvincing.

I should say at the outset that I was not reading the very most recent edition of the book. I read what I had on hand in paper form, which I prefer to reading electronically. If someone believes that Bauckham has substantially revised any of the views or arguments I criticize here, feel free to bring evidence to that effect, and I'll post an update, but right now I'm going to assume that the 2006 edition is still a fair representation of his views. I understand that he cites Hidden in Plain View in the footnotes of the most recent edition, which is kind of a nice thing, I must admit, but I doubt that HIPV had any massive influence on his thinking. Bauckham is a formidable scholar in his own right and probably hasn't had any recent epiphanies that have pulled him even further in my direction. Again, evidence to the contrary is welcome. I'm guessing that neither Bauckham nor his fans are likely to be so touchy that they will freak out at my writing a review, including some criticisms, based upon the first edition of the book.

To get down to specifics:


--One of the greatest weaknesses of the book is the neglect of the Gospel of Matthew. Bauckham concludes early on (pp. 108-112) that Matthew was not written by the apostle of that name, though Bauckham thinks he may have had some hand somewhere in its history. After that, he pretty much abandons it. Since he's interested in the role of eyewitnesses in the Gospels, he treats Matthew as mostly derivative. This wouldn't even follow even if Matthew were not written by Matthew the tax collector. It could still contain eyewitness material that is unique and not found in Mark. In fact, I've pointed out some good places where this appears to be the case via undesigned coincidences. I would also say that one could do an interesting study of plausible places for eyewitness material in Matthew simply by examining all the places where the redaction critics think that Matthew redacted Mark! These would provide good candidates for the possible use of varied memories and additional information from eyewitnesses. I've actually found that to be the case in my discovery of a recent new undesigned coincidence between Matthew and Luke, which I'll write about in a subsequent post. I found it by looking up a place where a redactive critic was treating Matthew as simply derivative from, though changing, the Gospel of Mark.

One correspondent told me that he thinks of calling Bauckham's book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Except for Matthew), which I'm afraid is pretty much on the money. Or, for that matter, Matthew's possible human sources.

Bauckham's argument against Matthean authorship is weak. It starts with some of the evidence that is actually best in the book on name frequencies in 1st-century Palestine. But then he uses this information in an overly rigid fashion to argue for a negative conclusion, which is always dicey, especially when our sample size is in the nature of the case not that large.

The supposed problem is that Mark 2:14ff tells the story of the calling of a publican which looks like (and I'm willing to acknowledge is) the same as the calling of Matthew in Mathew 9:9ff. But Mark calls the person in question "Levi," while Matthew calls him "Matthew." Bauckham knows quite well that people often had more than one name, either officially or unofficially. What bugs him about the idea that Matthew and Levi were the same person is that both are fairly common Hebrew names, and he isn't finding enough cases in his data set of cases where we can tell that a person had two different common Semitic names, as opposed to one common and one uncommon, or one Semitic and one Greek, or one normal name and one nickname based on his profession or some fact about him, etc. His argument is that neither "Levi" nor "Matthew" would have been unusual enough to distinguish the person with the other common name from others of that same name. Hence, he concludes, the same person would not have been named both "Matthew" and "Levi."

This is not a very strong argument. Bauckham seems to admit that he does have one case even in his data set where two fairly common Hebraic names are used for the same person, and several instances of two Semitic names. But has various reasons to give why these may not count, the source of this one may not be that reliable, this one over here may really be a nickname, etc.

It's one thing to use a data set and to notice the similarity of name distribution in a book across a wide array of names as Bauckham does, very well, to argue for the 1st-century Palestinian knowledge of the authors of the Gospels. It's quite another to argue from silence that the failure to find a particular type of combination within one's limited data set rules out the historicity of a book (that has some claim to being a firsthand historical source from the time period in question) that gives such a detail. Think of all the people you know with unusual names that might not show up in a data set based on grave markers! Human beings aren't machines, and within some given group of people (such as a village) if there happened to be several "Matthews" but not any "Levis," it's entirely possible that the people involved would happen to decide to start calling a particular "Matthew" by the name "Matthew Levi" to distinguish him from the other "Matthews," even if there were lots of "Levis" in the surrounding culture. Or vice versa. This seems to be an instance in which Bauckham is showing the common human tendency (noted by Esteemed Husband here) to expect more uniformity in a process (in this case, naming) than the process actually yields.

But Bauckham's argument then goes on: From the assumption that the same person couldn't have been called both "Matthew" and "Levi" he then concludes that the author of Matthew has "transferred" the story of the calling of the tax collector to a person named "Matthew," since it was known by disciple lists that there was a disciple named "Matthew." But from this he concludes that the author of Matthew couldn't have been Matthew, since the real Matthew would have known that he wasn't the same guy and wouldn't have had to "transfer" such a story!

This has further weaknesses. If we're going to conjecture that there is a falsehood or error somewhere in all of this, why not consider the possibility that Mark somehow got confused about the name of the person in the story rather than that the author of Matthew knowingly "transferred" the story to a fictional person? That would allow us to take more seriously the patristic evidence for the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. And Bauckham is otherwise quite excellent (in the case of Mark and John, in particular) about taking patristic evidence seriously. But in the case of Matthew he has to treat, e.g., Papias's evidence as if it doesn't count for much, and do so on the basis of this weak chain argument, which could fail at multiple links. So this is a flaw in the book.

--Although Bauckham doesn't cast doubt on Lukan authorship or in general on the authorship of Luke's gospel by a companion of the Apostle Paul, I found the book somewhat scanty when it came to discussion of eyewitness testimony in Luke or the authorship question. There are arguments for supposed "inclusios of eyewitness testimony" in Luke, but since I don't think that the "inclusio of eyewitness testimony" actually works, this isn't very helpful, and it is rather short in any event. There is also a very useful section on Luke's preface (pp. 118-124) and its use of the term "witnesses." In general, though, the book seems to me rather lopsided in terms of the number of chapters spent on the authorship of Mark and John (on the latter Bauckham has a somewhat unusual thesis to argue for) as opposed to Luke. If nothing else, there could have been a lot more discussion of the evidence that the author of Luke's gospel was a companion of Paul and hence would often have had access to eyewitnesses of the events. I'm not saying Bauckham denies this, but he doesn't, in my opinion, do enough with it.

--Bauckham has a couple of arguments that I consider weak for conclusions that I think are true. The most notable of these is his original idea of what he calls the "inclusio of eyewitness testimony." As often happens with technical terminology, it would be easy for someone who heard about this to get the idea that Bauckham finds explicit reference to it in rhetoric books or that it is in some other way independently verified to exist as an ancient technique for indicating one's eyewitness source. Actually, this is not the case. Bauckham's entire case for the existence of such a technique is his own inductive claim to have found it in both the Gospels and two other ancient biographical texts he discusses.

I consider this case to be quite weak and riddled with fudging. The idea is supposed to be that an author would hint at who his witness source was for either an entire book or an incident by naming that person at the beginning and end of the section or of the book. Perhaps, goes the idea, ancient people would have recognized this sort of bracketing as a way of hat-tipping one's source.

In my opinion one should be somewhat dubious of this right away. If the person in question were the main character, or the main new character, in the story--say, the person whom Jesus healed in some section--it wouldn't be at all implausible that that person would be by pure chance named both early and late in the text, perhaps the first new name introduced in the passage and the last proper name mentioned before moving on to another story about Jesus. Or if the person is a "major player," say, one of the most important disciples, he might just happen to be the first and last named disciple in the book. So if the case for all of this is just inductive, based on "finding" such alleged bracketing, we need to consider the possibilities that it will crop up by chance. We would be more justified in looking for these and thinking they aren't just chance if we actually had such a thing discussed explicitly in some textbook or author's letter or something of the kind.

When Bauckham is arguing for an inclusio of eyewitness testimony for entire books, this all becomes extremely ad hoc. A few examples:

Bauckham believes that the Beloved Disciple is the eyewitness source for the Gospel of John, a conclusion in which I heartily concur for completely straightforward reasons. Bauckham thinks that he can bolster it by an inclusio of eyewitness testimony placing the Beloved Disciple both first and last in the book. He's certainly the last person mentioned in the book. But what about at the beginning? In order to get an inclusio, he has to assume that the unnamed disciple with Andrew in John 1:35ff is the Beloved Disciple. There is pretty much no reason for this except that it might yield such an inclusio, which has a whiff of circularity about it. There is no independent reason to believe that that is the Beloved Disciple at all, nor even (for that matter) to be confident that this unnamed disciple became one of the twelve. John certainly doesn't say so. Andrew is, in fact, the first disciple named in the Gospel of John. In fact, since this passage starts by mentioning the two disciples, treating them as a unit (e.g., vss. 37-39) and then names Andrew in vs. 40, why not think of Andrew as the first disciple named in the book even if the Beloved Disciple is the other one with him?

Bauckham's suggested inclusios for whole books always have to discount John the Baptist, who is often the first person named in a Gospel. He seems to be starting with the first named disciple in the Gospel and then looking for him at the end as well. This seems quite ad hoc.

In the case of Luke, Bauckham wants to say that Luke includes an inclusio for Peter as a kind of "hat tip" to Mark, since Luke used Mark as a source and since Mark was based on Peter's reminiscences. To get an inclusio for Peter in Luke, he has to skip over the entire infancy narrative, which names a lot of people (Mary, Joseph, etc.), skip over John the Baptist, and go all the way to Chapter 4 to find the first named disciple (Peter) to pair with the mention of Cephas in Luke 24:34 to make a pair of brackets for the book as a whole.

I'm afraid I cannot find this sort of procedure convincing, however much I would like to.

One gets the distinct impression that Bauckham believes that the evidence of Papias for Peter as a source for Mark is probably correct but that it needs to be bolstered by these sorts of internal arguments connecting Peter with Mark. (He says there is an "inclusio of eyewitness testimony" connecting Peter with Mark.) In fact, my recollection is that he says as much outright--that we can take the testimony of Papias on Mark only because we have internal arguments supporting a Petrine connection. However, I'm not now able to find the page number on which such an explicit statement occurs, so I don't want to attribute it definitely to Bauckham. That may, however, be part of the motive for the emphasis on the supposed "inclusio" as well as some other internal arguments.

--Another poor argument for a conclusion I agree with concerns John 21 and whether it was part of the original Gospel. Some critics question this because they think the end of John 20 sounds like an ending already, so John 21 seems tacked on, and also because John 21:24 could have been written by another person, referring to the author of the gospel in the third person. Bauckham has some interesting discussion of this that I'll get to in Part II on "pros" of the book, but one argument for its belonging in the gospel has just gotta go: Bauckham says that there are 496 syllables in the prologue in Greek (this is the famous "In the beginning was the Word" portion of the book) and that there are 496 words in John 21. I'm sure he's right about this. But...that doesn't really mean anything. But Bauckham thinks it is evidence that the author did this deliberately to frame his book. He also says that 20:30-31 and 21:24-25, which both sound like concluding words, each have 43 words.

Really, by these sorts of numerological means almost anything can be proven.

--It seems to me that Bauckham is too quick to accept the idea of a "pre-Markan passion narrative," perhaps in part because he is conflating the mere existence of something or other prior to Mark (which could have been just the memories and teaching of Peter himself!) and an actual document or document-like memorized narrative that existed before Mark was written and that Mark incorporated into his gospel. For example, Bauckham says,

Many scholars have postulated that Mark's passion narrative is based on an earlier pre-Markan source that already told a connected story of events leading up to and following Jesus' death. Some such hypothesis is almost essential if much of this material is considered to be in any way traditional and not simply invented by Mark. (p. 183)

This is an extremely odd pair of sentences, given Bauckham's own emphasis upon the oral history told directly by eyewitnesses. The hypothesis of the "pre-Markan passion narrative" is not simply that the "pre-Markan passion narrative" was a man named Peter and his memories of Jesus' passion! Rather, the hypothesis is of a source, a real thing, a set narrative, of the events of the passion. Usually assumed to have been written down. Then scholars will literally debate and speculate about which parts of Mark were added by Mark to this "pre-Markan narrative" and which parts were "in" the "pre-Markan passion narrative." In fact, some of the arguments for it concern the idea that Mark has left in place certain verbal phrases that would have made sense in a Jerusalem context, when they (conjecturally) were written down but that didn't make much sense in the context of Rome a few decades later when Mark was written.

One doesn't have to go into such speculations at all in order to recognize that Mark is not simply made up! If that were the case, then presumably one would also have to conjecture a similar "pre-Markan John the Baptist narrative" in order not to conclude that the sections on John the Baptist were invented by Mark! Here Bauckham seems to be somewhat too deferential to scholarship and not to be following the logic of his own conclusions--that Mark really was in contact with Peter and really was using Peter's memories and preaching in writing his Gospel. This would apply no less to the passion portion of the narrative than to any other portion, and no reified "source" beyond this is required as an hypothesis.

--Bauckham's theory about the authorship of John's gospel is that it was written by an eyewitness of Jesus' ministry, that this eyewitness was the Beloved Disciple mentioned in several places in John, but that this Beloved Disciple was a man called by Papias "John the elder" rather than John the Son of Zebedee.

Readers may expect that I will consider this identification of the author as not the son of Zebedee to be one of the worst "cons" of Bauckham's book, but the matter is a little more complicated than that. I am certainly unconvinced of his conclusion, believing the case for authorship by John the Son of Zebedee to be quite strong. (See here.) On the other hand, up to a point the arguments Bauckham uses that the author is the Beloved Disciple are compatible with the conclusion that the author was the son of Zebedee, and their support for eyewitness authorship of the gospel is a good thing as far as it goes.

To my mind the main ways in which the identification of the author as John the elder as opposed to John the son of Zebedee is a "con" in Bauckham's book are these: 1) He shows himself susceptible to convoluted and weak arguments in making the case, and 2) because the arguments for his highly specific conclusion about John the elder are so indirect, he has to spend a severely disproportionate amount of time and space arguing for it, which would have been better spent in other ways.

Here are just a couple of examples of Bauckham's arguments on this point:

The list of seven disciples who saw Jesus by the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection, given in John 21:2, contains two disciples who are unnamed. This list also mentions the sons of Zebedee as two of the seven. Later in the chapter, in 21:7, the reader discovers that the Beloved Disciple is with the group. Since the Beloved Disciple has remained unnamed throughout the Gospel, argues Bauckham, it would defeat the function of this anonymity (whatever that function was) for him to be one of the sons of Zebedee in this passage, since they are in a sense "named" by that title. (They are not, as Bauckham notes, listed by their personal names.) Hence, says Bauckham, "the natural assumption...is that he is one of the two anonymous persons in 21:2" (p. 415). This would mean that the Beloved Disciple isn't John the son of Zebedee.

This is extremely weak, especially since we don't know precisely what all the motives were for using the title "the disciple whom Jesus loved." In any event, the sons of Zebedee aren't really named here anyway! Only their father is named; they are listed by a title rather than personal names.

Another of his arguments begins with the idea (for which he argues) that Papias in one passage appears to distinguish John the Elder from John the son of Zebedee. That's a long-running, long, even tedious debate in biblical studies circles that I won't get into here, but it doesn't follow even if that were true that John the Elder is the author of the Gospel of John. To get that conclusion Bauckham has to go into extremely indirect conjecture about what Papias may have said about the authorship of John's Gospel. (We don't actually have what Papias said about the authorship of John's Gospel.) One piece of evidence he adduces for this purpose is the Muratorian canon, which uses "disciple" for the author of John's Gospel but calls Andrew "one of the apostles," from which Bauckham infers that the author of the Muratorian canon is implying that the author of the Gospel was not an apostle. He then indirectly argues that the Muratorian canon may be based on Papias. (425ff) Which would mean that Papias didn't think John the author of the gospel was an apostle. He even goes so far as to conjecture (p. 424) that Eusebius may have suppressed what Papias wrote about the authorship of John's Gospel because Eusebius attributed it to John the son of Zebedee and (according to the theory Bauckham is presenting) Papias attributed it to "John the elder" instead.

Another of the arguments (pp. 421-22) is that the term "the elder" is used by the author of 2 John for himself. If this was a title, if 2 John is written by the same person as the Gospel of John, if John the Elder is a different person from John the Son of Zebedee, and if there was only one person known by this title around this time, then...

There are some more arguments, but even cumulatively I don't think they amount to a good case. My main complaints about this aspect of the book remain the amount of space taken up by this subject and the way that these portions exemplify Bauckham's susceptibility (at times) to weak chain arguments.

There are two more "cons" that I think need to be noted in a special way, because I think they indicate a trend in Bauckham's thinking to be too quick to assume that the authors of the gospels would have altered fact when there is no reason to assume this. These serve as a reminder that Bauckham is, when all is said and done, a member of the NT studies "guild." His emphasis upon the role of eyewitness testimony is laudatory, even revolutionary, in the current milieu, and I will be speaking in praise of it in Part II. To that extent he is much more sensible than the majority of NT scholars, even too many evangelicals. But he still occasionally will casually hat-tip the idea of deliberate alteration of fact (as in the theory about "transferring" the story of Levi to Matthew), and that should be borne in mind when reading him.

--The first cautionary example, from pp. 286-287, comes after a very interesting discussion of the nature of controlled and to some degree formal transmission of tradition within cultures with a heavy oral component. The discussion itself (covering two chapters) has useful material, as I'll mention in Part II. At the end, however, Bauckham decides to discuss the question of why, if the transmission of the story of Jesus was controlled in this way, the gospel accounts contain differences. Bauckham particularly seems to have in mind differences in the accounts of the same event, such as we find in the synoptic gospels.

It is surprising to me that, of the five main factors Bauckham lists to explain this, none of them clearly corresponds to the perspectives of different eyewitnesses. Given his emphasis upon the eyewitnesses, especially Peter (as Mark's chief source) and John (who according to Bauckham was an eyewitness, though not the son of Zebedee), as well as Luke's emphasis upon eyewitness sources, one would have expected this to feature as a factor. But the nearest one that comes to it is #3, "The variability normal in oral performance." But that could refer to different tellings of the same story by the same person. It just isn't clear that what Bauckham has in mind here is the fact that, say, the person Luke talked to may have remembered something that wasn't mentioned by Peter, and so forth. There is nothing wrong with #3 in itself; it's just that it's the nearest candidate for something that should be included (that the gospel authors were actually representing at times the memories of different people), and it isn't clear that that is what Bauckham means here. In which case, that important source of variability is left out.

More problematic is #4:

Many differences, especially in the sayings material, must be deliberate interpretive alterations or additions, by which a tradent sought to explain or to adapt teaching when the post-Easter situation seemed to require this...Such changes are also quite compatible with a formal process of transmission, since it would be authorized tradents who, from their own familiarity with the tradition, would be competent to make such changes. The Gospel writers, too, would have made such changes, and these are what are commonly treated as redactional changes of the more significant sort... (p. 286)

Bauckham emphasizes,

[F]actor (4) explains the changes that occur in the key elements of the traditions and the substantial additions to the traditions. (pp. 286-287, emphasis in original)

In other words, having spent several chapters rightly pummeling form criticism, Bauckham seems ready to concede a good deal of ground to redaction criticism. It must be emphasized that Bauckham does not argue for this factor on the grounds of some knowledge he has of how "formal transmission" works in similar cultures, which would not be a decisive argument concerning the gospels in any event. But what he is saying here, instead, is that there must be such a factor because of what we actually find in the gospels. That is to say, that the differences in the gospel accounts can be explained only by actual alterations in the tradition and even additions to it made by "competent tradents," but apparently not in the form of simply adding more material that they actually remember or even correcting an earlier version of the tradition that was not quite accurate to the ground-level facts. Rather, these are apparently interpretive and hence to some extent fictional interpretive changes. This interpretation of Bauckham is my own and is slightly conjectural, since he gives no concrete examples, but I think that this is what he means, particularly since he explicitly refers to more significant redactional changes.

This is far too concessive to the picture (which Bauckham does not seem concerned to debate) of the gospel authors as willing to make factual changes. I suspect (but this is only a suspicion) that the changes Bauckham has in mind would not be vast, given his notion of a fairly conservative process of controlled, formal transmission, but it's really difficult to tell just how extensive they would be since he doesn't get down to specifics. The impression given is that he just thinks he has to put in such a factor in order to account for the data as described by redaction criticism. I think this is a mistake, and possibly a significant one, depending on where Bauckham goes with it when it comes to explaining the documents themselves. The off-the-cuff way in which he suggests that the author of Matthew simply made up the idea that the calling story happened to a different person (that is, Bauckham thinks it was a different person and assumes that the author of Matthew thinks it was a different person) is not encouraging in this regard.

--A small example of a relatively minor alleged fictional alteration does come up in the book concerning something other than the gospels. It occurs in Bauckham's very interesting section on Holocaust memories. He uses this section to make an analogy and to make some important points about memory and significance, which I will come back to in the "pros" section of this review. Here I want to zero in on a small point that I think shows a weakness in the over-literary imagination:

He is talking about a famous passage in Elie Wiesel's Night which describes an atrocity witnessed by Wiesel, then a boy, and his father. The passage continues,

My forehead was bathed in cold sweat. But I told him that I did not believe that they could [do this] in our age, that humanity would never tolerate it...

"Humanity? Humanity is not concerned with us. Today anything is allowed. Anything is possible, even these crematories..." (Night, London: Robson, 1974, pp. 41-42, as quoted in Bauckham, p. 498)

Bauckham is quite sure that the words supposedly uttered by Wiesel's father here are an echo of the phrase in Dostoevsky, often quoted as, "Everything is permitted" once God is eliminated. Ivan Karamazov says,

'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?

This is often quoted as, "Without God, everything is permitted."

Bauckham takes it not only that Wiesel's father's words must be a deliberate echo of Ivan's words but also that, in that case, they are probably not historical:

Wiesel is not here simply alluding to literary precedent. He is identifying Auschwitz as the nihilistic world beyond morality that Dostoyevsky's Ivan Karamazov hypothesized....(Did his father, as a matter of historical fact, take words out of the mouth of Ivan Karamazov? I imagine not.) Wiesel's is a different kind of testimony [from a different example quoted from another survivor], one which incorporates interpretive reflection in a particularly literary way--through intertextual allusion--but not one that obscures the searing memory. (p. 498-499)

I take this to mean that Bauckham believes that the atrocity really did occur, that Wiesel and his father really did witness it as described, but that Wiesel's father didn't really say these words. They have been added by Elie Wiesel as a way of using literary allusion to point out the significance of what he and his father witnessed.

This seems altogether too complex to me. To begin with, it's by no means obvious that anyone here, not even Wiesel as an author, is trying consciously to allude to Dostoevsky. The words of Wiesel's father make perfect sense on a literal, narrative level. He and his son are literally standing there watching the thing happen before their very eyes. The son is, as the saying goes, in denial. What does he mean by saying that this won't be allowed? It manifestly is being allowed! It's happening right here and now. His father, the sad, stark, and bitter realist, is just pointing this out to the boy: They can do anything they want to us. Humanity isn't stopping them. See for yourself!

It is entirely possible that the allusion to Dostoevsky is an illusion in the mind of Bauckham as interpreter of Wiesel. An interesting idea, to be sure, but one that exists, to use literary theorist E.D. Hirsch's distinction, on the level of significance (to the reader) not on the more objective level of meaning (put there by the author).

But there is another possibility: If one were to insist that the sentence "Today anything is allowed" is an allusion to Dostoevsky, is it impossible that Wiesel's father could have alluded to Dostoevsky? A literate person might do so, whether consciously or even unconsciously. Bauckham dismisses this, which again, is the type of move a literary critic might make. But a scholar writing about the value of eyewitness testimony in history (and its reliability, as well) should be more open to the possibility that the statement was really made by Wiesel's father, at least in a recognizable form, even if paraphrased more or less loosely many years later by his son.

Next post: More positive comments about Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Comments (15)

The second edition of Bauckham's book continues the focus on Mark and John at the expense of Matthew and Luke.

I think one of the reasons why Matthew is so neglected by Bauckham is that a traditional view of its authorship and other aspects of its origins has been so neglected not only by non-conservative scholars, but by conservatives as well. Even conservative commentaries on Matthew frequently spend something like only a page or two, or just a paragraph or two, on authorship issues, typically ignoring some of the best points that can be made. When even the most conservative scholars are so negligent about Matthew's origins, what do we expect from less conservative scholars, like Bauckham? Conservative arguments often get ignored. In the case of Matthew's origins, however, there isn't much there to ignore.

If anybody is interested, I've put together a collection of arguments for a traditional view of Matthew:


And here's my response to Bauckham's view of the authorship of the fourth gospel, including the material in the second edition of his book:


That post also contains a link to my response to his claims about Matthew.

OT: I see Ken Miller is back with his family, but it isnt clear what it is. Parole? Time served? Is it over? Or is it just a lull while the legal coven assembles for another black mass of vindictiveness?

He's served all of his sentence that he has to serve. I don't know if he's still considered on parole, but he's finished the percentage of his sentence required. He won't go back to jail (unless he were to refuse to pay some money if ordered to do so later on). Or, I suppose, he could be jailed for contempt later in the RICO suit if he refused to testify. But as far as I know the RICO suit that includes him (among a whole slew of others) has not been dismissed and could ruin him (more) financially. Of course, he doesn't have any money anyway, so...Oddly, I haven't seen much movement lately on that RICO suit. Jenkins was allowed one year ago to add Liberty Legal as a defendant in her claim of "conspiracy," but nothing seems to have happened since then. I don't know what this means, good or bad.

Back to Bauckham. :-)

Jason, all good points. And just to add a further bizarre twist, one of the only "evangelical" scholars in the last few decades to argue strongly for Matthean authorship was...Robert Gundry. In the very same commentary in which he basically treated Matthew as heavily fictionalized theological tendenz from start to finish. It was almost inexplicable. Gundry even went so far as strongly to imply that Matthew was probably an eyewitness of various of the events that he had changed in telling about them and that this just showed how much he considered himself licensed to do as part of his "midrash." He defended this conclusion partly on the basis of his utterly silly statistical counting of what he called verbal "Mattheanisms," inferring that the presence of "Mattheanisms" meant that Matthew considered himself licensed to invent and alter events. Since, he argued, Matthew's unique M material contained a lot of "Mattheanisms," and since he had already concluded that Matthew was theologically redacting Mark and Q (which contained part of Luke) to the extent of vast invention (in the case of the infancy narratives), then, he concluded, Matthew must think it was also fine to do this for his unique material as well.

Crazy. Yet this was the guy who argued quite staunchly that Matthew really was Matthew. With friends like that...

Homer wasn't actually written by Homer, it was written by someone else with the same name.

Could the Holy Spirit have given the apostles words that Jesus did not actually say, but words Jesus could have said? Or words that Jesus indirectly said, but that they made more explicit?

For John writes:

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
“He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
“All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:13-15 NASB)

How would interpret John here?

Also, what do you mean by "ground-level?" Just asking for clarification.


One way to interpret the passage in "whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come" is that the Holy Spirit can speak what has not yet been revealed directly by Christ to the Apostles - which the Spirit did with John in Revelation, for example. And in the visions Peter had about Gentiles. And other prophecies that the apostles made.

John 14:25-26 says

All this I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you.

I don't see this making room for the Holy Spirit putting words in the apostles ears in the form of something like "these are the words Jesus would have said..." nor anything else that puts words in Jesus' mouth as if Jesus actually said them. But the Holy Spirit can indeed reveal in an explicit way what Jesus said in a hidden way - but (again) not by a pretense like "Jesus really did say X, you just didn't hear it that way the first time around." The Holy Spirit could reveal the meaning of a parable, for example, which Jesus did not clarify himself. This does not mean the apostles would then be free to say, later on, "then Jesus explained the parable to the apostles by saying...".


Could the Holy Spirit have given the apostles words that Jesus did not actually say, but words Jesus could have said? Or words that Jesus indirectly said, but that they made more explicit?

If by that you mean, could he have "given them" the idea of pretending that Jesus said such words when, historically, he didn't, the short answer is an emphatic no.

The Holy Spirit doesn't lie. To write that Jesus said something that is ahistorical, that Jesus merely "would have said," in a way that makes it look like you, as an eyewitness, are saying that Jesus historically *did* say that, would be a lie. The Holy Spirit would not inspire anyone to do that.

I hasten to add, for some who may be reading, that this is my *answer*, not my *argument* that the authors *didn't* do that. Since Caleb asked the question in theological terms, I answered him in the theological terms in which he brought up the question. There are those who would like to characterize me as *arguing* that the gospel authors didn't fictionalize in an a priori, theological fashion. Here I am merely telling Caleb what I think is in fact the case about the Holy Spirit, because that's what he asked. My argument that the gospel authors didn't make stuff up is based on my empirical, historical evidence of the kind of writers they were, how they thought of themselves, what they actually did, etc.

If the apostles/evangelists wanted to teach something that was implicit in what Jesus said, they could have taught that, as John himself does, in epistles or (as John also does in his gospel itself) by aside commentary *on* Jesus' words. John *distinguishes* the significance that the disciples later saw in Jesus' words from the words themselves. He does this scrupulously, repeatedly. (You can probably find the references, but if you don't know what I'm alluding to, I can look them up later.) This shows that he did *not* consider himself licensed to make up things and *pretend* that Jesus said them when Jesus didn't. And if he had considered that to be the case, he would have been wrong. But he didn't. We have ample evidence of that in his practice as well as in his own statements about his practice.

This answers your question about the passage about the spirit as guiding them into all truth. One thing among others that it plausibly meant was that the Spirit would guide them into understanding theological implications of what Jesus taught. But it does not for a moment follow that the Spirit would guide them to *pretend* that Jesus taught those theological implications by inventing explicit words and putting them into Jesus' mouth, by making up fictional scenes that never occurred. The verses say nothing remotely like that. No such practice was required for apostolic teaching.

Indeed, that same passage says that the Spirit will bring things to their remembrance that Jesus has said. These would be *real* things that Jesus *actually* said, which presumably they would then *convey* to other people.

By "ground-level" I mean historical. As opposed to theological or philosophical or otherwise "higher level."

I think I understand where you are coming from. Thanks for the follow-up.

In regards to the “43” word parallel, Bauckham, in the endnote, says that ,”There are 43 words in 20: 30-31 if the reading that omits ‘his’ (autou)[αὐτοῦ] is preferred in 20: 30.”[1]
However, the manuscript evidence is somewhat inconclusive. As Metzger concludes:

20:30 μαθητῶν [αὐτοῦ] {C}
In order to represent the close balance of external attestation for (𝔓66 א C D L W X Θ Ψ f f 33 565 700 892 al) and against (A B K Δ Π 0250 al) the inclusion of αὐτοῦ, the Committee retained the word enclosed within square brackets.[2]

So, I am cautious about his conclusions on this matter.


[1]Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (p. 383). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
[2] Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 219.

Wow, even more tenuous if it depends on a textual variant. It's tenuous enough to do such numerological hypothesizing even without textual variants, because frankly, one can always come up with some kind of "oooh" appearance if one just counts this thing rather than another. But with a textual variant, that's worse.

I fail to see even the attraction of trying to find numerological types like 496 syllables and 496 words. Or 43 words. It's not like 43 or 496 have some standard significance in the Bible. Sure, you can make 43 into 40 plus 3, and 40 does have lots of repetitions as symbolic in the Bible, but the "plus 3" could mean any darn thing you want, because there is no principled meaning to it. I also think that trying to find this kind of stuff, not in a book like Revelation or Ezekiel, but in a gospel, is a pretty big stretch all by itself. For my money, I would have to see some clear evidence that the author actually intended a numerological implication, and some more evidence that shows that of the many possible meanings a given number could mean, he meant THIS one rather than THAT one, before I bothered with the claim in the least. A mere assertion that "there is a match between 43 words here and 43 words there" leaves me completely cold.

Yes, precisely.

I would prefer just to argue straightforwardly from the fact that there is not the slightest *textual* reason to question the authenticity of Chapter 21. Therefore, prima facie, it should be regarded as part of the Gospel. The allegations that it is a later addition are based upon relatively subjective literary judgements. Plus (I suspect) the fact that higher critics don't like to admit that a unique resurrection appearance of Jesus is part of the original Gospel. We don't need to make subjective literary judgements in the chapter's favor. We can just stand pat on the prima facie case and the weakness of the argument that it was added later.

Do you think John maybe used a different amanuensis for chapter 21(though I know they did not separate them into chapters)? D.A. Carson suggests this.

He writes:

Even the possibility of a different amanuensis, or of a group of associates entrusted with writing down these last narratives as the Evangelist had repeatedly taught them, as some have suggested, does not alter these basic realities—though it might account for some of the linguistic oddities and for the ‘we’ in v. 24


D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 668.

It's a possibility, tho' I'd have to know more about the other supposed "linguistic oddities" to know if they are even worth thinking about. (Other than the "we" in vs. 24.) I don't own the Carson commentary but from the "look inside" function on Amazon I see that he says that scholars on both sides agree that the so-called "linguistic considerations" are not decisive one way or another, which says to me that it may well be the usual kind of nit-picking one gets from liberal scholars who don't think an author can ever use any varied vocabulary. (As with the silly criticisms of the authenticity of the pastorals because of their vocabulary.)

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