3. Names in the Gospel Traditions
In this chapter Bauckham discusses the names in the Gospels apart from those of the Twelve and of the public figures, proposing that they were eyewitnesses of the “traditions” to which their names are attached and that they continued to live as authoritative living witnesses to guarantee the veracity of their experiences.
Buackham’s groups of persons
He begins with the above class or names after first dividing all the gospel persons into several groupings:
- OT persons, names in genealogies, non-human persons and Theophilus (omitted from discussion)
- Public persons (usually named)
- Beneficiaries of healings (usually unnamed)
- Those who met Jesus once (usually unnamed)
- Disciples (usually named)
I am not convinced of the validity of this classification given both the total numbers of persons involved across 4 different books and the numbers of exceptions within each group. There are simply too many alternative explanations existing in the literature to explain so many variations and permutations and features both distinguishing and overlapping in the different groups that it seems at first a rather arbitrary way to begin. Not only the exceptions are significant, but the widely accepted view that the Gospels are written as theological catechisms, either for long-term believers or new initiates, and hence names are included for their theological significance, not for their “eyewitness” to historicity value. But I will give Bauckham the benefit of the doubt at this stage and wait till I read the later chapters in which he promises to discuss some of the questions that immediately arise.
Missing from Bauckham’s lists
Nevertheless, there is one group that I need to “raise” at the outset and for which I can find no scriptural citation in his index, so can only presume he does not at any point discuss. B at the end of this chapter draws on the words of Quadratus as an explanation for the preservation of many of the names in the Gospels:
The works of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after . . . even to our own times. (B. explains that Q was of the same generation as Papias.) (p.53)
They survived as eyewitness testimony to the works of Jesus. Quadratus makes a double reference to a group in the gospels that Bauckham fails to classify or address (at least nothing I can see at this stage from his index). This group I am “raising” here are those raised from the dead. Bauckham only ever mentions “resuscitations” as the closest to such a miracle performed by Jesus, but still does not include in any of his lists (or index) those in Matthew 27:52-53:
and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of their graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
I (and Bauckham) have only 7 problems here:
- These are not the “non-human persons” Bauckham excepts from the start. They are real human saints.
- They have not been the beneficiaries of one of Jesus’ “resuscitation” miracles because they had been in their graves.
- They were not without witnesses because they appeared to many.
- Bauckham says that some people’s names would have been forgotten if an audience for which a gospel author was writing did not know them. I find it difficult to imagine a gospel audience yawning in boredom at the mention of an unknown name of a resurrected saint. (Moreover, perhaps Bauckham has revised his thoughts on the audiences of the gospels being for all Christians and not just for local communities since his 1998 publication.)
- Bauckham also says the names of many may not have been noted because they failed to join the Christians. I find it difficult to imagine not a single one of the “many” resurrected saints deciding to join a Christian community.
- Another reason B gives for some people’s names being overlooked is that they may have died too early. We can’t say all of these many saints died too early because Quadratus says more than one person (not just Lazarus?) was raised from the dead and surviving, by Bauckham’s reckoning, into at least the last decade or so of the first century — unless Quadratus is mistaking resuscitations for resurrections.
- Bauckham does discuss Cleopas (Luke 24:18) as being named on the grounds that he offered credible eyewitness support to the tradition to which his name is attached. No mention was made in chapter 3, however, that what he was witness to was the appearance of a man who was resurrected from the grave, and who vanished before their very eyes, and later appeared magically like a spirit again in the middle of a room and showing them his fatal wounds. If Bauckham had elaborated on exactly what he was an eyewitness source for, then surely he would have had to have included the clear affirmation by Matthew that others were also resurrected from their graves and appeared to eyewitnesses. So why not include these other resurrected saints as a valid grouping for analysis along with his other characters in the gospels?
Or if all of this seems to be bordering on the ridiculous, perhaps we need to revise our assumptions about the type of literature we are reading in the Gospels and question whether they really do lend themselves to the sorts of historical analysis that B seeks to apply. Perhaps when history and theology meet, as B believes they can (chapter 1), we do not end up with a credible blend of both but the demolition of both.
The tendency to eliminate (and add?!) names in the Gospels
To show that the Gospel authors were a class apart from much later authors who added extra narrative detail to the gospel characters for its own sake, Bauckham argues that the synoptic gospels demonstrate a tendency to eliminate names as they were composed, first Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. This tendency is also used to argue that the names were conscientiously selected by each author to comply with the standard of using only names known well to themselves or their audiences. (I will not mention each time this argument appears Bauckham’s earlier book that argued the Gospels were for all Christians of all communities, not for local audiences only. See “The Gospels for All Christians“) .
B’s evidence of this tendency in the synoptics is the dropping of several names in Mark from Matthew and Luke. How, then, to explain the new names added by Matthew and Luke? Matthew’s naming of Joseph the father of Jesus is an exception that is also found in Luke and John. Bauckham does not discuss this exception which is a pity, because the adding of a name for Jesus’ father is exactly the sort of evolutionary development that we would expect and that Bauckham is arguing against. Of Luke’s 11 additional names B says they are from Luke’s “special material” and “there is no reason to think that Luke has added them to the traditions in which they occur.” (p.43) One cannot argue with “what might have been” but “what might have been” is scarcely an argument for anything either.
On the evidence available to us, and leaving aside “what might have been”, it appears that Matthew and especially Luke do add names to Mark’s account. The fact that they also remove names does not change this fact. The sort of thing we see in the narrative evolution of stories in the later “pseudo gospels” is a concentration on selected portions of the original story — whole episodes of the known story are omitted — and a development with additional details, including names, of other portions of the original story.
Ditto for John
The same applies to B’s example of John. John adds 4 more named characters to the gospel story, and adds names to once unnamed characters in the Passion scene and the story of Jesus’ anointing. Nevertheless, on the grounds that he at the same time omits names found in the synoptics:
this does not provide strong evidence of a counter-tendency to invent names for characters who had been anonymous at earlier stages of the tradition. After all, John still has quite a number of unnamed characters. Why should he have been influenced by a novelistic tendency to name unnamed characters in the case of Malchus but not in the cases of the Samaritan woman, the paralyzed man . . . .” (p.43)
This is a little disingenuous. John, as B has just noted, created 4 new characters and gave names to three others hitherto anonymous in the gospels traditions. That John creates even more characters to add to the gospel “tradition” without naming all of them does not seem a strong argument against John’s “novelistic tendency” of elaboration of detail.
B next notes the tendency in noncanonical gospels to add names to previously unnamed characters in the gospels, but finds significance in the fact that this was not as common in the evidence available to us as in later centuries. (He cites the early Gospel of Peter as one example, neglecting to remind us that that gospel is only surviving as a fragment. Other examples are also taken from partial citations in writings of the Church Fathers and other early gospel fragments.)
B then attempts to offer an explanation for why some gospel characters are named and others from the same category (those healed, for example) are not. To B there is a single simple explanation for all these named exceptions:
except for Jesus’ father Joseph and the names in Luke’s birth and infancy narratives . . . all these people joined the early Christian movement and were well known at least in the circles in which these traditions were first transmitted. (p.45)
This sounds exciting stuff, so I read on to find the evidence for this claim. None. Absolutely none.
But let’s accept the explanation for a moment. If we are going to accept Acts account of multiple thousands being converted soon after Pentecost then I find it difficult to understand why, if B’s explanation was the case, so few beneficiaries of healings were named in the gospels. Bauckham does explain that many of the names in Palestine well-known to Gentiles outside would have been lost to view after the Jewish War and dispersion. I don’t see that as a strong explanation. Surely one must ask why their names were not all the more precious as they sought refuge among the gentiles and became the ‘last surviving eyewitnesses’ to those events so central to the early Christian’s lives.
But B offers no support for his hypothesis that named persons became Christians and survived long enough in the right places to be recorded. Other scholars have proposed other hypotheses for which there is some linguistic and other supports. For example, the names Jairus and Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, are chosen because their meanings bring a symbolic significance to the particular miracle they are part of. Jairus, meaning enlightened, is perfect for a resurrection miracle, and a name meaning the Son of honour is perfect for a blind beggar being raised to healing and allowed to follow Jesus. Other miracles are drawn directly from the Old Testament (the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter is drawn directly from the Elijah-Elishah cycle of miracles; the healing of the withered hand is inspired by the healing of Uzziah; and so on) — see Brodie’s “The Crucial Bridge” for a full list, among other works regularly cited in this blog and elsewhere. In other words, the gospellers are writing theology, they are retelling OT stories for theological meanings. They do not testify to ungrateful or insignificant recipients of the blessings of Jesus. They are theological , not historical, narratives.
and Simon the Leper, Bartimaeus the Blind, Lazarus the Dead ….
Bauckham dismisses the view that Luke has adapted the name of Simon the Pharisee from Mark’s Simon the Leper, and believes Simon the Leper was named by Mark because he, took, was one healed by Jesus and then followed him. As for this latter point, why would he be called a “leper” if he had been healed? Were others healed known as Bartimaeus the Blind or Reuben the Withered Hand or Judah the Paralyzed or Lazarus the Dead or Asher the Demon Possessed? Did he not have a father or mother or town by which he could be identified instead?
No, Mark has retained the Leper name and character Simon because of the bookend symbolism within the gospel: here at the end of the gospel, where the disciples all turn against Jesus and one of them determines to betray him, they are in the house of a leper! How appropriate! Especially when they began so well in another house of another Simon where another unnamed woman served them (Mk.1:29-30). Luke does not like Mark’s implications and always tries to treat the disciples more favourably than Mark, so has turned the leper into Simon the Pharisee with another anointing place and time.
If one does not like the literary-theological hypothesis, one is free to opt for that of Bauckham’s, but let’s compare the evidence in support of both. And remember we need an explanation that accounts for all the characters, even the ones resurrected from the dead, not arbitrary groupings which require a string of ad hoc explanations for all their related exceptions.
There is support for this latter hypothesis. One can compare the OT and NT narratives and study the similarities. One can also analyze the theological differences in the different gospels that explain the different emphases in the stories told. Bauckham offers no support for his hypothesis because none exists. Attempting to combine history and theology makes a mockery of both.
And the worst explanation…
Bauckham also seeks to explain why Matthew and Luke omit some of Mark’s names:
these people had become . . . too obscure for [Matthew and Luke] to wish to retain the names when they were engaged in abbreviating Mark’s narratives. (p.46)
This explanation is equally untenable. There is no support whatever for it. B is merely guessing. Against this “hypothesis” there is one question to which B appears quite oblivious. How on earth could any Christian community in those early generations have possibly treated lightly the names of any persons they believed to have had experience — especially a miraculous experience with the very Jesus himself!!??? What difference that the names were not know in to them personally? No Christian today cares to lightly dismiss names of those associated with miracles back then. The names carry significance quite apart from the fact that a particular community does not know the people personally! Especially if news of the miracle was coming to a community via mere hearsay then would not the community want all the more enthusiastically to note the names associated with it in order to add some more real life touches to it to make it just a little less ‘hearsay’, and to be able to produce the sound of authority in reciting it by citing a name that they might hope to learn more about in the future?
The women at the cross and tomb
Bauckham explains in depth how the named women are associated with words to do with “seeing” thus reinforcing their value as eyewitnesses. The variations that numerous commentators over the years have taken as signs of inconsistencies in the accounts are for Bauckham evidence of the scrupulous historical accuracy exercised by each of the authors. I personally think the most economical explanation is the one that assumes rival traditions or theological interests and associations with the names. In B’s detailed explanation for why the differences should be taken as evidence of the honesty of the authors (one author did not personally know a name mentioned by a predecessor so omits her, but he did know someone else so added her, etc.) One can only wonder, if we take this explanation as adequate, why each author did not trouble to explain to this method to their readers who, as B says in a previous work (I know, I said I wouldn’t mention it again!), knew the other gospels anyway! Why confuse their readers with such honesty? If trying to be good witnesses then make clear and explain to those they are witnessing to why they are departing from a previously known account. I think B’s hypothesis again raises more questions and problems than the more economical explanations.
witnessing what, exactly?
Surely of equal or even more importance than the names is the event they are used by the author to demonstrate. But with so much detail about variation in names one is likely to lose sight of what it is that these women are being named for. The names and care taken to get them “just right” by each author (which unfortunately results in them all falling over each other’s feet) is for the sole reason of providing a real eyewitness ground for believing in the resurrection of Jesus.
So we are asked to believe that when history meets theology we find we have historical witnesses for the historicity of the theological event of the resurrection? Surely Bauckham will discuss this in later chapters so I will reserve further comment till then, except to note once again that so far B has only ever referred to resuscitations, never once yet to a resurrection of anyone.
Simon of Cyrene
Crossan and others have shown that when a Roman crucifixion of a criminal took place it was most commonly a brutal quick business with no opportunities given to allow followers to line up and act as witnesses. Other scholars (e.g. T.E.Schmidt) have demonstrated the similarities between Mark’s crucifixion account with what is known about Roman Triumphal processions, providing plausible evidence that he ironically structured his story about Jesus around that event. If so, this makes far more sense of the Roman dragooning of Simon from the countryside to carry the execution instrument to the scene of the crucifixion. A feature of the Roman triumphal processions was a country person carrying the sacrificial weapon in the procession that took the victim to the place of sacrifice. (A country person was selected presumably over a city person because the former were more likely well practiced in slaughtering animals.) Why look any further for the reason for this person’s inclusion in the narrative? He is a theological character with a theological meaning, not a historical one. That was not the way Romans did executions on criminals.
Bauckham says Mark named Simon of Cyrene because readers would have wondered who was Mark’s information source for this part of Jesus’ life. But all scholarly works of Mark that I have read treat it as a gospel written for believers or neophytes — not for outsiders. Why would believers be wondering “who was your source for that chapter and verse?” Mark is too brief, cryptic, ironic, esoteric, to be for the purpose of persuading pagans who have never heard of Jesus.
and his sons
Bauckham also sees the names of this Simon’s sons as evidence that it was through these sons that the testimony of their father was conveyed to the churches. No evidence. Just a guess, again.
I personally suspect the identification of Mary and Simon by their sons at the end of Mark is another one of those many cryptic things found in this gospel whose significance is lost to us now. He begins the gospel by identifying 4 disciples by 2 parents (James and John sons of Zebedee; Levi and James the sons of Alphaeus) and concludes with 2 parents being identified by 4 sons (Mary mother of James and Joses; Simon father of Rufus and Alexander). Since it is unusual in the extreme for persons to be identified by their offspring, and the fact that Mark does it twice in succession here, makes one wonder if they are meant as some sort of esoteric bracket to the converse in the opening chapters.
Be that as it may, if Simon’s testimony here was relayed via his sons, why is it that the son’s names are dropped by later authors yet Simon’s name retained? Why would not Matthew and Luke simply make him another unnamed person if they lost interest in or did not personally know of his sons? And why did John contradict the need for this person completely? The whole question takes on a different complexion if one wonders if the docetic sect that believed Simon was crucified in Jesus’ place were a factor in any of this.
While B says that names like Jairus and Bartimaeus would have been noted because they were the persons who originated the traditions associated with them, I am left to wonder how much witnessing the disciples themselves had to do. If the disciples themselves were not the originators of these stories, then how much witnessing or traditions were left for the disciples to pass on? The disciples are said to have been present at most of the events where these named persons appear.
Vivid detail neither here nor there
B concludes with an observation that colourful detail does not prove an eyewitness account, that that sort of thing can just as easily come from narrative skill of the author. Agreed. But on the other side of this coin, if we find stories that are as sparse in their detail as their apparent OT counterparts, then why do we need to postulate any eyewitness of an historical event as a source in the first place? Isn’t literary borrowing the simpler explanation, with fewer problems associated?
(I’m sure something else came to mind as I wrote this but it has escaped me now…. another one for a chapter 3/WIFTA next time, and I am sure there is much.)
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