Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses Ch 4/WIFTA

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by Neil Godfrey

More afterthoughts, oversights, erratum, from the chapter 4 posts:

4th Feb 07, 9.00 am

Forgot to go back and check out the genealogies in Luke and Matthew, my constant self-reminders to do so falling like water off my duck-back brain. Bauckham surprisingly does not include any of the names from the genealogies of Jesus, claiming that inconsistencies or problems with them make it safer to omit them altogether. This does not appear to be fully consistent, however, with his inclusion of Alphaeus the father of Levi and Alphaeus the father of James despite the uncertainty whether Mark is referring to one or two persons by that name. It would appear that a father is permitted but not a genealogy of fathers where there is doubt about the historicity of competing lists.

I have not checked out the names of these genealogies against Bauckham’s/Ilan’s lists in any depth, but have scanned for a few names recorded as close to the time of the birth of Jesus. I selected Luke’s genealogy since Bauckham does opine that this list is likely more accurate than Matthew’s. At a glance I failed to see any mention in the lexicon table of Eli, Janna, Amos, Esli, Naggai who apparently cover the central period of 330 bce-200 ce where the thickest clusters of evidence gather. Maybe I have missed some, or maybe they are in the rest of the lexicon where the least popular names are listed but not included in B’s tables, or maybe I have simply been misled by variant spellings. But one can’t help wondering if B would be even less able to draw the same conclusion about the Palestinian Jewish and Gospel names coinciding if these were included.

4th Feb 07, 8.30 am

So the popular usage of Menahem supports the view that there was a popular widespread messianic expectation just as the non-usage of Moses, David and Elijah supports the same thing. Surely the simplest explanation is that some names sound too pretentious (not presumptuous as Bauckham speculated) and outdated or simply don’t jell with daily cultural (as distinct from literary and religious) heritage.

4th Feb 07, 7.30 am

Another statistical conflict
On page 74 Bauckham concludes from his statistical tables that Palestinian Jewish names coincide remarkably with the occurrence of names in the gospels and notes:

In Palestine we might expect the addition of popular names like Joseph, Judas, Jonathan, or Mattathias, but not Zacchaeus, Jairus, Nathaniel, Malchus, Cleopas, or Nicodemus . . .

So I checked his tables for these latter names and see there that Jairus, Malchus and Nicodemus are found outside the NT only in Josephus or rabbinic writings. (The only name in this list not found in Josephus is Cleopas, but it scores 2 instances in rabbinic writings compared with 1 in the Jerusalem ossuaries.) If this sounds like the statistics can be found to too facilely offer marginal support for the hypothesis of a late composition of the gospels then maybe we ought ask similar questions about how readily they may appear to support Bauckham’s hypothesis also.

More on B’s “reasons” for assigning names
Bauckham’s discussion of reasons for the popularity of certain names makes assumptions about Palestinian society that I suspect are ultimately grounded in modern western orthodox beliefs about the Bible rather than the available evidence of first century Palestine. Thus he appears to rely on canonical “Old Testament” writings to support his claim of a widespread expectation of the messiah. At least in the evidence cited. No doubt B would draw on studies by the likes of Horsley (Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs) for further support. What often appears overlooked in this assumption of a widespread popular messianic expectation is that the evidence for it is either from the literature of many generations earlier and interpreted through modern western religious perspectives; and/or from Josephus and/or the DSS whose evidence is ambiguous at least. I don’t dispute the possibility that there were some groups possibly waiting in expectation for an imminent messiah but have seen no evidence to stretch this to some widespread popular mood. Cultural “moods” don’t last for generation after generation without becoming empty or occasional ritual. I know of no evidence to support the assumption that early first century Palestinian masses were “like us” in their knowledge of and dedication to our favourite passages of the scriptures. Josephus does describe some rebel movements in terms that suggest a Moses or a Joshua figure, but those could just as readily be interpreted as the leaders “looking back” rather than “looking forward” — compare the way some relatively recent bandits have been compared to Robin Hood figures.

Margaret Barker (The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God and The Lost Prophet: The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity) has, moreover, demonstrated that there was far more to first century Jewish religious ideas than what became the canonical Masoretic text with its later rabbinic interpretations. Both early Christian and Jewish apocalyptic and gnostic literature also testify to pre-70 ce roots that were far more richly diverse than many of us can imagine today with our orthodox assumptions.

Error correction:
I typo-cited “Talbert” for my source on Mark’s symbolic use of the name Peter. The correct citation (and spelling) is Tolbert — Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel. I have since corrected this in the original post. (Talbert is, of course, a different scholar albeit of related areas.)

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Neil Godfrey

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2 thoughts on “Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses Ch 4/WIFTA”

  1. “Bauckham surprisingly does not include any of the names from the genealogies of Jesus, claiming that inconsistencies or problems with them make it safer to omit them altogether.”

    That is just insane! Bauckham wants us to trust the Bible when it tells us that a dead corpse walked out of its sealed tomb and later flew off into outer space, but he advises us to be skeptical about the same Bible’s genealogies for this corpse. Can’t educated Christians see the insanity of their belief system?

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