2007-02-25

Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Interlude

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by Neil Godfrey

So far Bauckham has not addressed two of the most graphically told gospel scenes to explain how his eyewitness hypothesis accounts for them: his series of trial appearances and scourgings and his resurrection appearances.

The trial scene: comparing Jerusalem and and Galilean encounters
There were no (pre-Christian) witnesses present at the trial and scourging of Jesus. All disciples fled and Peter was outside. Yet these are among the most graphically told of the Jesus stories. How can Bauckham explain this within the terms of his eyewitness theory? One would expect the eyewitness reports to have the more colour in Bauckham’s model. Compare the detailed narration of the trial scenes of Jesus with the bare bones sparse narration of his encounters with Pharisees in Galilee. How do we account for this difference in detail? The eyewitness Twelve were with Jesus when he encountered opposition in Galilee yet those encounters simply cannot match the detail where they were not present.

Eyewitnesses of the resurrection appearances?
Bauckham has not yet explained what he understands by the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Each time B has mentioned these he has spoken of them as an event like any other the eyewitnesses reported. So far I have not seen any indication that he views these appearances as a subjective experience of a few or many. If they were subjective experiences for which the disciples sought some external explanation then in how can they be “events” that eyewitnesses preserved and formally transmitted? If they were visions then how do we explain the way the events are recorded by the gospel authors? I am reluctant to draw the conclusion but Bauckham’s eyewitness model leads me to wonder if he does regards the resurrection narratives in the gospels as literal events. Does he also regard the other miracles, the stilling of the storm, the walking on the water, the feeding of the 5000 as literally true?

“Theology and history meet” – the kiss of death?
As I said, I have been very reluctant to draw this conclusion but the longer I spend with his book the harder it is for me to avoid suspecting this may be the conclusion I will have to draw. And if so, if he accept the acts of the divine in the world of humanity then of course he is not writing history by any known historical standard. By admitting the divine then we have no choice to accept whatever we read about the divine. History is dead. We are left with nothing more nuanced than “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” All the rest of the academic discussion is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

I would welcome someone reassuring me that I am not wasting my time by treating Bauckham’s book as a serious claim to historical study.

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