Meanwhile, have made a few minor changes/additions to points 3 and 6 (’emotional involvement’ and ‘point of view’) in my previous chapter 13 discussion since originally posting it.
14. The Gospel of John as Eyewitness Testimony
This chapter attempts to establish three points:
- that the author of the gospel of John identifies himself as “the Beloved Disciple” (– but exactly who that was B reserves for a future chapter)
- that the original ending of the gospel was 21:24-25
- that significant “we” references testify to an “authoritative we”
On these three points I found Bauckham’s conclusions (although not all his arguments) refreshingly persuasive.
What was far from persuasive, however, was the general thrust of where Bauckham’s argument here is leading. The mere fact that there is a signature on a work cannot be a methodological basis for assigning a work to “real history” or “real eyewitness testimony”. The Gospel of Peter was “clearly” written by “Peter”. The Epistula Apostolorum was “clearly” written by eleven of the Twelve apostles.
Why do we so often see scholars toss out any methodological nous when it comes to their canonical scriptures? This methodological gaffe of relying the Gospels as a priori sources of historical information has been calling out for attention and correction at least since 1904. The following initially addresses this gaffe in relation to how historians read Papias (not inappropriate here) but continues by applying the same argument even more to the case of the Gospels:
With regard to the recurrent inclination to pass off Papias’s remarks about the first two Synoptists as “ancient information” and to utilize them in some fashion or other, a somewhat more general observation may not be out of place. The history of classical literature has gradually learned to work with the notions of the literary-historical legend, novella, or fabrication; after untold attempts at establishing the factuality of statements made it has discovered that only in special cases does there exist a tradition about a given literary production independent of the self-witness of the literary production itself; and that the person who utilizes a literary-historical tradition must always first demonstrate its character as a historical document. General grounds of probability cannot take the place of this demonstration. It is no different with Christian authors. In his literary history Eusebius has taken reasonable pains; as he says in the preface he had no other material at his disposal than the self-witness of the books at hand . . . . how much more is this not the situation in the case of the Gospels, whose authors intentionally or unintentionally adhered to the obscurity of the Church, since they neither would nor could be anything other than preachers of the one message, a message that was independent of their humanity? . . . .
This is from an academic paper delivered in 1904 by E. Schwartz: “Uber den Tod der Sohne Zebedaei. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Johannesevangeliums” (= Gesammelte Schriften V, 1963,48-123). It is cited in a 1991 chapter by Luise Abramowski titled “The ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ in Justin” pp.331-332 published in “The Gospel and the Gospels” ed. Peter Stuhlmacher.
Methods versus conclusions
While I have no difficulties with Bauckham’s conclusions on his three points in this chapter I do hold reservations about some of the arguments he employed. I mention these because they are further demonstration of the faulty logic that underpins so much of the entire hypothesis of this book.
The parallels between the two concluding statements
Bauckham cites numerous parallels between the first closing statement in 20.30-31 and the final one at 21.24-25. But it is circular reasoning to use these parallels to support the argument that the same author was responsible for both. It is just as reasonable to conclude that a later redactor based his conclusion on the style of the initial ending.
Bauckham sees the 496 syllables in the Prologue matching the supposed 496 words in the Epilogue as evidence of originality of the ending in our version of the Gospel. (I admit I had visions at that point of Ivan Panin’s The Last Twelve Verses of Mark using complex alpha-numeric calculations to “prove” the divine inspiration and originality of the later ending of that gospel but B does not go that far.) Whatever the strength of these syllable-word counts (and I have not read Menken’s work on which B seems to rely here, and do not know the basis of his decisions for opting for certain manuscript evidence over others) this sort of data does not prove the originality of our current text’s integrity. Could not such patterns have just as likely been the result of later redactional editings, especially given that there is much evidence of later redactional hands adding new layers to the Johannine literature of the course of its early history?
What I found more persuasive (though very little can be anything but tentative given the extent and nature of the evidence in biblical studies) was Bauckham’s pointing to the balancing content of both the prologue and epilogue: the former looking back to the beginning of the world and the latter looking forward to the time of the end when Christ comes. I also find it “tidier” to see the 2 ending statements as forming an inclusio around the epilogue to mark it off as a distinct story set from the rest of the “Signs” gospel. I fully admit this is a strictly aesthetic judgment, and that I also like it because it coheres nicely with my earlier blog post about classical endings in noncanonical literature. So I am also quite prepared to revise my opinion about this ending being original given more persuasive evidence.
Breathtaking . . . staggering . . .
I cannot resist one final wry comment here.
Richard Bauckham takes to task scholars who have arguably drawn unwarranted conclusions from the Gospel of John’s use of the word “to write” (graphein) in John 21.24. (The unwarranted conclusions have to do with suggestions that the word could be interpreted as meaning ‘spiritual responsibility’ for what is written rather than its obvious meaning of ‘he wrote’, etc.) Bauckham writes in response:
The progression of thought in these three sentences is breathtaking. . . .
Not a single example is given . . . . to assert . . . .
No evidence at all is added to the . . . evidence that . . . .
What is even more remarkable is the way in which this staggeringly faulty piece of argument has been uncritically followed by . . . .
It must be stressed that no one has yet produced any evidence that . . . .
No one seems even to have looked for such evidence . . . .
scholars have found this view credible despite the lack of . . . evidence . . . .
Now, what was it I have been saying about Bauckham’s hypothesis till now . . . . . ?