Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 4a

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by Neil Godfrey

4. Palestinian Jewish Names

This chapter “temporarily steps aside from our investigation of the eyewitnesses” to explore a topic that “will usefully inform” that study when resumed (p.67). Unfortunately Bauckham does not clarify with any precision his terms here or offer cogently supported rationales for accepting some names and rejecting others from the lists he works with. I was left wondering if he was trying to establish a point about the gospels with tools that were simply not designed for the job.

My references to the evidence used by Bauckham are to Tal Ilan’s “Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I: Palestine 330 bce – 200 ce.” Bauckham discusses Ilan’s list in some detail and gives his reasons for differing with her over certain entries (which ones are fictional and which not) and ways of counting (occurrences of names or occurrences of persons) and whether the provenance of specific cases was Palestine or elsewhere.

Palestine and/or Galilee?
Thus while Bauckham speaks of “Palestinian” names, I was left constantly wondering about “Galilean” Jewish names — a distinction not addressed in this chapter. And the distinction is very likely of considerable significance. Sean Freyne in his “Galileans, Phoenicians, and Itureans: A Study of Regional Contrasts in the Hellenistic Age” (ch. 9 in “Hellenism in the Land of Israel” ed by John J. Collins and Gregory E. Sterling, 2001). The simple fact that a separate chapter is allocated for Galilee in a book about “the land of Israel” is itself informative. Freyne reminds us that there is often a tension between the archaeological and literary evidence as they point to different conclusions. And the evidence for the culture of Galilee is mixed and uncertain, and even varies significantly across the different regions within Galilee itself. Galilee was renowned as far more ethnically diverse than other parts of Palestine. How much the literary evidence about the area indicates Jerusalem-centric colonialist ideology rather than the reality certain regional classes among whom Jesus was said to have mixed belongs to a study of its own. Given the complexity of the evidence and wide mix of ethnic and religious and cultural and linguistic influences across the different regions of Galilee it is not possible to assume that “Galileans” (whatever that means) followed the same naming practices as “Palestinian” Jews.

Peter is said to have been marked out as Galilean by his accent. Should one therefore expect Galilee to find a wider spread of certain names differing from those more popular around the Jerusalem area in the same way the popularity of certain names in Wales, Scotland or Ireland vary from those in south-east England?

Alternate Conclusion:
So if we read Bauckham’s conclusions in this chapter with the differences between Galilee and what we normally take to represent “Palestine” of the period, and for good measure toss in Mark’s oft cited ignorance of the details of Galilean geography, then we might fairly conclude that the author has taken “Palestinian” based names and anomalously applied them to his Galilean setting. This would not be the only anachronism, of course. Synagogue and Pharisee life in the area, the evidence tells us, was a feature of Jewish life post 70 ce. That being the case, then who can say if along with the influx of Pharisees and other refugees from the Jewish War came a change in the representative name mix of the Galilee, another possible pointer to a cause for anachronistic errors of a later author?

The scope of the evidence
Although Bauckham boasts the extent of the known names and persons from the period 330 bce – 200 ce — “it may come as a surprise to many readers that we know the names of as many as three thousand Palestinian Jews . . . . ” (p.68) — this needs to be set against the conclusions of those specializing in ancient demographic studies. Again I refer to a chapter from “Hellenism in the Land of Israel“, Pieter W. Van Der Horst’s “Greek in Jewish Palestine in Light of Jewish Epigraphy”.

Demographers of the ancient world constantly have to struggle with the problem of the scarcity and the questionable representativeness of the sources.To give an example: Of the various classes into which ancient Greek and Latin inscriptions fall, by far the largest numerically is that of epitaphs. In many tens of thousands of these inscriptions the age of death is mentioned. But, as a specialist in the epigraphy and demography of the Roman Empire [M.Claus] has calculated, even so we only know the age at death of about .015 of all people in the first five centuries of the Empire. . . . Even if these numbers needed to be substantially corrected, the overall picture would hardly change. We will always remain far below 1 percent of the total population. This fact raises the serious problem of how representative this less than 1 percent is for the population of the Empire as a whole. (p.158)

How skewed is this small sample?
Horst calculates that evidence provides us with one inscription for every 37,000 Jews. Any way of massaging the figures gives us no more than evidence for .025 percent of Jewish names in the surviving inscriptions. “From a statistical point of view that is a hopeless situation. . . .” But can it be said that our 1% points to the small educated elite while the bulk of the rest would never have left a funerary inscription? Horst demonstrates that this “hope” defies the evidence we do have. He demonstrates that Greek was widely spoken (even pointing to evidence suggesting that Greek was more widely spoken than Aramaic or Hebrew in Palestine in the Roman era), and that many of the surviving inscriptions we do have (sloppy craftsmanship, poor spelling) show clear signs of poorly educated and lower class origins.

Most inscriptions we have found are from urban areas. The countryside is not well represented. What was true for major cities need not have applied to small towns and villages. (Recall that while the gospels speak of Nazareth they indicate no knowledge of the major cosmopolitan neighbouring city of Sepphoris.)

Despite Bauckham’s assurance that it is enough that the bulk of our Jewish names come from the period in the middle of his 500 year range (330bce-200ce) Horst notes distinct chronological variations within that period that may or may not also suggest shifts in naming customs. Thus after 70 ce there was a drop in Jewish production of Greek literature the proportion of Greek inscriptions as opposed to Hebrew and Aramaic ones increases after that period. Does this indicate a cultural broadening of what was once upper class characteristics to other social classes? If so, were or to what extent were our gospel authors influenced by this post 70 ce shift?

About 90% of our epitaph evidence derives from just one area, the catacombs of Beth She’arim (p.163). This became a renowned rabbinic centre in the southern Galilee area after 70 ce and the evidence tells us that many Diaspora Jews were buried there. Despite assurances that non-Palestinian Jews are not included in his comparisons, it is not specifically clear from Bauckham’s chapter if these non-Palestinian Jews buried at Beth She’arim have had their names teased out from the evidence he uses for comparison with the gospels. But even if they have, we are still left with the bulk of inscriptional evidence deriving from a centre established by those Jews who migrated to this area after 70 ce.

But I might be being unfair here. Bauckham does not specifically mention the Beth She’arim inscriptions at all, as far as I noted. Yet I don’t see how they could be avoided in Ilan’s lexicon — and therefore would logically be included in B’s figures. B breaks down Ilan’s list between New Testament occurrences, Josephan literature, Jerusalem ossuaries, Jewish desert and Masada texts and early rabbinic literature. I don’t know where Ilan fits Beth She’arim of lower Galilee in this breakdown.

The names of the Seven in Acts 6:5
Bauckham omits these names from his comparisons because “it is not easy to tell” and “it is far from certain” if they represent people born in Palestine or in the Diaspora. This is just one case that illustrates my concern that B is attempting to use a lexical tool that is simply not designed to yield the sort of evidence he wants. The database creator, Ilan, on the other hand does include these names in her list of Palestinian Jews. When Bauckham speaks of his judgment differing from Ilan’s no rationales for his differences are explained and it is difficult to avoid the impression that his variations in judgment are essentially subjective to say the least. Let’s look at this first example:

Firstly, the reason for ditching the names in Acts 6:5 as non-Palestinian. I have already referred to the dominance of the Greek culture and language even in broader Palestine and south of Galilee discussed throughout Collins’ and Sterling’s “Hellenism in the Land of Israel“. At the very least the authors in this book demonstrate that we cannot make simplistic assumptions about Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek culture in our period of interest. Bauckham himself discusses the propensity of Palestinian Jews to have both Semitic and Greek names, and that in our sources we should expect only one of these two names to be used on any particular occasion (p.72). So by B’s own statement of the evidence we cannot be swayed by the Greek nature of the names alone. The most popular of Palestinian names, Simon itself, after all, is itself a Greek name equivalent of the Hebrew Simeon (p.74); and the name of our leading Simon’s brother, Andrew, was also a Greek name (p.83).

And the story of Acts 6 concerns different factions labelled Hebrews and Hellenists (surely not a surprising parochial division in a land dominated by Hellenistic culture since 330 bce) — and I know of no definitive understanding of what the author actually meant by these terms in this context. (But please to bring me up to date if this question has at last been resolved!) What is clear in our evidence in Acts 6:5, however, is that only one of the seven names is distinguished by the author as not being ethnically Jewish or from Palestine:

. . . and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.

How can one assume from this evidence that the other names are likewise not intended to be understood as “from Palestine”?

The question is further complicated by a subsequent reference to some from a “Synagogue of Freedmen” who are singled out as originating from the Diaspora and whose religious preferences appear to be far more “Jewish-orthodox” and “Palestine-focussed” than the Christians, both “Hebrew” and “Hellenist”. Compare this with Acts 2 where the author again draws the readers’ attentions to whenever Diaspora Jews are present at this early stage of Church History. One goes way beyond the available evidence if one assumes that a faction called “Hellenists” in an area dominated by Hellenistic culture since 330 bce are not local Jews, and are not singled out as belonging to the Diaspora when other names either side of Acts 6:5 are so distinguished.

Ananias of Acts 9:10 goes too
Nor does B give an explanation for why he thinks this Ananias was a Syrian and must therefore be removed from a list of Palestinian Jews. He simply says he disagrees with Ilan’s inclusion of the name in her Palestinian list. Again the rationale appears without objective foundation. The story of Acts up to 9:10 has been of the parochial outlook of the local Christian community as they seem to completely forget Christ’s command in 1:8 to go out and witness to the world. The only thing that initially got them moving was the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom (8:1-4). So the narrative leads the reader to directly perceive the Christian populations suddenly popping up in Samaria and Damascus as being the direct consequence of this scattering.

The author draws this link directly to Ananias in Damascus by having him speak to God a reminder of Acts 8:3 — the persecution and scattering of Christians that followed the death of Stephen — a persecution that this Ananias had been, by narrative implication, lucky enough to escape. Following Stephen’s martrydom there was a great persecution in which Ananias escaped, and this persecution is some short time afterwards centred on the specific actions of Saul, who was clearly not responsible for the first persecution immediately following Stephen’s death.

The author draws this link between Ananias’s presence in Damascus and the Jerusalem persecution again in 9:21 when Saul’s Jewish audience suspect he has come to ferret out and drag back to Jerusalem those Jewish Christians who had escaped after Stephen’s lynching.

This Ananias of Acts 9 is further presented as someone well-experienced in the Christian faith. It makes little sense to think that Saul would be sent for instruction to a novice. Saul then himself begins to preach to the Jews of Damascus and the direction of the narrative indicates that this was the first time Damascus Jews had heard the gospel. Saul’s audience prepare to murder Saul, not Ananias or earlier Christians who had taught there and converted him.

Against all this narrative evidence Bauckham dismisses this Ananias as a probably non-Palestinian Jew, and so discounts this instance of the name from his list of “Palestinian Jewish Names”.

The scope of the Diaspora?
Bauckham writes that names from the Jewish Diaspora were very different as a group from those of Jewish Palestine. My thoughts immediately raced to areas that have most commonly been under consideration as possible provenances of our gospel stories — Syria, Asia Minor, Rome, Greece — and wondered what we know of Jewish names in those areas. Regrettably the only illustration that Bauckham gives of Jewish Diaspora names being at odds with Jewish Palestinian names is the Jews in the Egyptian Diaspora.

I would have thought that Ilan’s Lexicon could have allowed for a bit more comprehensive analysis of Diaspora names, given that 90% of the funerary inscriptions are from Beth She’arim and most of these apparently indicate a birth place beyond Palestine. I would also prefer some specific reassurance that these names (all post 70 ce) were not lumped with the other count of “Jewish Palestinian names”.

But without this, and by comparing exclusively Jewish Egyptian names with Jewish “Palestinian” name, Bauckham’s following assertion is without any serious foundation:

Thus the names of Palestinian Jews in the Gospels and Acts coincide very closely with the names of the general population of Jewish Palestine in this period, but not to the names of Jews in the Diaspora. (p.73)

A look at the comparative figures presented by Bauckham does nothing to assist his case. Of the 7 most popular Jewish male names in Egypt (of which we have only 45 instances), 4 of them are found in both Jewish Palestinian name lists and the New Testament. The only exceptions are Dositheus, Pappus and Samuel. All of these exceptions are found among Jewish Palestinians but not the New Testament. Nevertheless, within Palestine, these 3 exceptions are even ranked as more popular than two Jewish Egyptian names that are found in both Jewish Palestine and the New Testament — Barsabbas (Sabbataius) and Bartholomew (Ptolemaius). Thus one could well argue from this data that the New Testament was at least as likely to select a popular Jewish Egyptian name as it was a less popular Jewish Palestinian name!

But we all know what they say about statistics so I won’t go there! 😉

Anyway, this is getting long enough by far for one post so will continue this chapter next time, and hopefully get on to a discussion of my additional tables then too.

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Neil Godfrey

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26 thoughts on “Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 4a”

  1. You raise some interesting questions, but do not really answer them. It is not enough to wave a magic wand of doubt by suggesting that there may have been regional or temporal variations in the frequency of names. You would need to demonstrate that there WERE such variations AND show that they result in conclusions different from those that Bauckham draws. Bauckham’s statistics are the right ones to use until such a time as greater regional and temporal definition becomes possible.

    Concerning diaspora Jewish names, I suppose we can look forward to Ilan’s other volume. There will be a problem, however, in that diaspora Jews are often identified by their name alone, so the data will be skewed. In general, though, it is clear that diaspora Jews generally took names that were indistinguishable from those of their non-Jewish neighbours.

    If you are suggesting that the gospel writers made up the names that they used, I wonder how you deal with the fact that Acts correctly identifies the names of Paul’s associates (as well as Peter, Barnabas, and James, who are all independently mentioned by Paul). Are you suggesting that Luke’s gospel was in a different genre?


  2. Hi Richard,

    I think it is valid to put out questions and reasons to doubt “certainty” in this topic. At its best the scientific approach proposes tentative solutions pending new observations and data. It is essential that we keep in mind just how scant our sources, and even more scant our knowledge of the provenance and early history of our sources, are. It is not valid to build black and white answers on such sources, but it is valid to criticize answers that rely on too many “in between hypotheses” to link them back to the sources. (I think also that there are several simpler interpretations of the evidence than those offered by B. and not just one alternative — and most of my questions are pointing back to many of the longstanding ones. Will think about being more direct re these in future posts.)

    As for Acts, if the author knew of Paul and his journeys then it is not surprising that he also knew of associates of his. But I find it strange that Acts and its basic narrative appears to have been unknown until the late second century. (There seems a flurry of interest in Paul from the early to mid second century, demonstrated by the appearance of the Pauline canon and Acts of Paul and Thecla and Marcionism and apparently our Acts — which I suspect knew of Paul’s letters but hid them from view deliberately. This is something I’ve discussed elsewhere, in the context of apparent anachronisms in Paul’s epistles — but I intend eventually to add those pieces here too.)

    Piecing together what is seems to be known of GLuke and GJohn I would not be surprised if the author of Acts also heavily redacted Luke to fit it with his Acts and even adapt it somewhat to GJohn. But this is an area I am still exploring.


  3. Neil,

    Paul’s itinerary in Acts is very consistent with what we learn by piecing together details from various of the undisputed letters. This is very different from the Pastorals, which show dependence on the undisputed letters and are ultimately inconsistent with them. For example, 1 Tim has Paul leaving Timothy in Ephesus while he goes to Macedonia and the author surely inferred this scenario from 1 Cor 16 where Paul is about to go to Macedonia and is expecting Timothy back in Ephesus. However, we know from 2 Cor that Timothy did not stay in Ephesus. The author of the Pastorals failed to do the jigsaw and has been caught in a blunder. Acts is very different in this respect in that we do not find such blunders. I believe that the historicity of Acts is demonstrable, at least for its second half.

    I do not agree that Acts is dependent at all on Paul’s letters. I was totally unconvinced by William Walker who has attempted to argue for dependency.


  4. I have no problem with Luke not being related to the Pastorals. When I spoke of the Pauline canon first appearing I was referring to it in the 10 epistles (7 churches) format, probably the Apostolicon compiled by Marcion. (If Marcion sounds too late for many they may like to try Hoffmann’s thesis that date’s Marcion closer to the turn of the century. 🙂

    Whatever the case (and the whole Pauline/Acts thing is something I seem to always be shifting on), as you point out, the Pastorals certainly show no concern to match up with the earlier letters of Paul. But they do match up in interesting ways to the Acts of Paul — thus pointing to a common debt to different set of legends quite apart from those we read in our Acts. I know the common answer is to say that the Acts of Paul drew on the Pastorals but MacDonald gives a pretty hard pull on the rug beneath that easy answer. (This is another one of many things I would like to write up here soon — frustrating that I can’t do it all at once.)

    I have yet to read Walker’s work on this, but if you have time I would not mind reading thoughts about specific arguments of his.


  5. I read Peter Wallace Dunn’s PhD thesis on the Acts of Paul. If I remember rightly, he concludes that it is dependent on the Pastorals. I believe that the author simply plucked names of Paul’s companions from the Pastorals. The author of the Pastorals, in turn, simply plucked names from the genuine letters, I think (and may have invented others). The author of Colossians did the same. Acts is different because it has the named characters in appropriate contexts. Colossians, the PE and the Acts of Paul, on the other hand show historical errors in the details that they give on the minor characters. Also, when Acts names individuals it often gives different name forms than Paul. Consider Prisca-Priscilla, Sosipater-Sopater, and Silas-Silvanus. This is different from the practice of the other authors that I mentioned and is evedence that Acts was not dependent on the letters. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the author of Acts independently knew the names of Paul’s companions and others in the early church. Given this, it is natural to suppose that he did not invent the names in his gospel either.


  6. I have never meant to imply that the author of Acts was “dependent” on the letters of Paul. I suspect he knew them, or of them, however — but I was not meaning anything more than that, except to say that, letters or no letters, he appears to have been opposing the Paul “of the letters”. I don’t mean to be oversubtle and I should have made my point clearer.

    A big part of the problem, I am sure, is that the waters have been muddied. How can we tell what Paul’s letters looked like at the time Acts was written? We know that the evidence pushes us to assume that there has been interpolations since their original composition. (Okay, some dispute this, but again, this is belongs to another topic that will have to take place at a later time.)

    It strikes me that there were many Pauls — or at least many Pauline legends. There was:

    the Paul of the so-called “authentic” letters,
    the Paul of the Pastoral epistles,
    the Paul of the Acts of Paul and Thecla,
    the Paul of our Acts,
    the Paul of the gnostics,
    the Paul of Marcion (not necessarily the same as the gnostics),
    then later the ‘Paul’ of the Clementine literature,
    and maybe even the Paul who was Simon Magus.

    I don’t know how one judges that the details in Colossians or the Pastoral Epistles were in error while those in Acts were correct. For all I know it could just as likely be the other way round — or more likely, neither was “more correct” than any other. The author of Acts is, after all, writing a mini Hellenistic novel, and there were different stories and legends about Paul floating around out there.


  7. Richard in his first post took me to task for asking questions but not answering them: “You raise some interesting questions, but do not really answer them. It is not enough to wave a magic wand of doubt . . . ”

    I have been looking back over old posts of mine that I am preparing to add here to my blog and Yes, It’s true, I plead guilty.

    I do ask far more questions than I answer. I’d like to think the reason is that I’m still a history teacher at heart, and still feel it’s the job of my bones to unsettle preconceptions and provoke debate and enquiry.

    Or maybe it’s just my past history in a religious cult that thought it had all the answers and this is part of my “coming out” of that. I used to say Questions liberate; Answers bind.

  8. ‘Paul’s itinerary in Acts is very consistent with what we learn by piecing together details from various of the undisputed letters. ‘

    Perhaps Acts was dependent upon the letters?!?

    ‘Also, when Acts names individuals it often gives different name forms than Paul. Consider Prisca-Priscilla, Sosipater-Sopater, and Silas-Silvanus’

    So what? Priscilla is just a nickname for Prisca. How on earth can anybody take these small changes of name as being evidence that Acts was not dependent upon Paul’s letters?

    It is not enough to wave a magic wand of doubt by suggesting that there may have been regional or temporal variations in the frequency of names. You would need to demonstrate that there WERE such variations AND show that they result in conclusions different from those that Bauckham draws

    Apparently, Richard is not aware of the fact that somebody who proposes a hypthesis bears the burden of finding evidence for it.

    It is perfectly obvious that names vary over regions and time, and it is up to Bauckham to show that he has considered such factors, rather than engaging in hand-waving.

  10. hmm. On the difference between Galilean names and Palestinian names, Til Ilan’s lexicon of Jewish names contains Palestinian and Galilean names, and from what I’ve been able to gather, there was no major difference in naming practices (and I dont think Bauckham was being dishonest in telling me this)

  11. What is the evidence for your claim? If there was no statistical difference (you will have to explain what you mean specifically by “major difference” — are you implying there was a minor difference?) then fine. But I have presented prima facie reasons for at least raising the question, so if the question is to be answered one way or the other then I would welcome the evidence for either answer.

  12. I’m sorry, all I have is Bauckham’s word on the names in Til Ilan’s lexicon. This was his response when I ran this point by him

    “When I say Palestinian, I include Galilee. Tal Ilan’s catalogue includes Galilean names. There does not seem to have been any difference in the naming practices of Judea and Galilee.”

    and also your point about geographical errors in mark, how would Mark’s account of names correlate so closely to known naming practices, and yet his knowledge of palestinian geography be shoddy, if he was making up Bull****?

    and To my knowledge, the correlation is the same in the rest of the Gospels as well as Mark. I’ve never encountered problems with palestinian geography in the other Synoptics or John

    That being said, have you read Boyd and Eddy’s response to this claim about Markan geographical blunders in “The Jesus Legend”?

  13. Part A, I rest my case.

    As for your next argument, No, I have not read Boyd and Eddy yet. But you are most welcome to hit me here with a highlight or two of theirs that will demolish any doubts I might have.

  14. “I rest my case”

    I’m sorry, can you elaborate? Sarcasm and satire is notoriously hard to detect in text

    “No, I have not read Boyd and Eddy yet.”

    ooooh! you really should!

    anyway, you will find their discourse on pates 447-452

    The geographical errors in mark are usually found in Mark 5:1, 6:45, 7:31, and Mark 10:1,

    Now to each geographical blunder in order: Robert Gundry has argued that the town should be called “Gergasenes” and is reflective of the original. The modern town of Khersa is on the east side of the sea, and there is a slope which ends 50 yards from the sea. cave tombs have been located 2 miles from the site, and there was in fact a 5th century chapel located there, which suggests a recognized tradition of this site (the chapel) being the place where Jesus performed the exorcism. Khersa may be the original gergassa, and that the dropping of the “G” in the manuscript tradition caused it to be rendered “gerasa” or “gedara”. This would have been copied because these towns were better known than gergassa. As Eddy and Boyd Concluded, the ignorance was not of mark himself, but of hte later copyists. The second explanation given for this incident involves Gerasa being part of hte original reading, but it being in the vicinity of Gerasa.

    on 6:45, the storm could have caused the boat to go towards the other side of Galilee. They wouldent’ continue to their destination, given that drying off and getting onto firm terrain would have been higher priorities than getting to Bethsaida

    on 7:31, why assume that Jesus was trying to go directly from Tyre to teh sea of Galilee? He was on an itinerant ministry, and a missional visit to Sidon or Decapolis (or the villages around those cities)

    on 10:1, again, why assume that he was trying to set some land speed record?

  15. My “rest my case” reply was in response to your assertion that your argument rests solely on “Bauckham’s word”. (“I’m sorry, all I have is B’s word . . .”) I had asked for evidence, but your argument is from authority, not evidence.

    As for not having yet read Boyd and Eddy, you are right, I “really should”. It is one of the few books from my “still to read” collection that I have brought with me to Singapore, and I certainly do hope to read it more completely soon enough.

    In the meantime, which one of the 2 explanations re the Gergasenes argument do you yourself accept, and why? Are B&E suggesting that the possessed man saw Jesus from 2 miles away and ran to him, and that the pigs ran down a slope that ended 50 yards from the sea and kept on running till they drowned in the sea? (I am sure they don’t?) I suspect the simplest explanation will turn out to be that the original name in Mark was chosen to have the same function as many other names Mark uses — its symbolic meaning for a theological message. All the problems arise only when we try to historicize a parable.

  16. “I had asked for evidence, but your argument is from authority, not evidence.” *facepalm*

    Godfrey, the only way Bauckham could be wrong about this one is
    A: He was lying outright
    B: He can’t read Til Ilan’s lexicon

    I dont think he would have a job if either were the case.

    and regarding the problem of the gergasenes, I would be more inclined to say that the copyists copying mark from 700 miles away in Rome were the ones who were ignorant, not the author of Mark’s Gospel.

    oh, and I didn’t say that the chapel was located 2 miles away, just cave tombs. I was not aware that people would put tombs in the middle of towns

    but I would like to ask, If this story is symbolic, what DOES it symbolize?

  17. I can only point you back to the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy. You have repeated the error. By setting up your own limited strawman opposing cases you can claim victory all too easily.

    I don’t fully understand why it is so important for the author of Mark to have been perfect with his geography. Some have argued he himself wrote in Rome. Why is it so important that he not make a single error here? Is the fear that if he is wrong in just one detail then a whole belief system crumbles?

    The village cemetry was 2 miles away? That made for awfully long funeral processions and time taken for regular gravemarker visits. (Who suggested anything about a cemetry being “in the middle of” the town? Most cemetries I have seen in today’s world are on the very edges of townships. You do not seem to recognize the logical fallacy of the false dilemma. Your regular black and white false dichotomies are suggesting those who disagree with your arguments are stupid. That is not very charitable.)

    I have discussed Mark’s symbolism several times elsewhere. And I will do so again (though my arguments will not be originally mine at all) in a future post on some of Boyd and Eddy, which I thank you for reminding me about.

  18. “I don’t fully understand why it is so important for the author of Mark to have been perfect with his geography.”

    I dont see either to be honest mr. Godfrey.

    “the village cemetary was 2 miles away?”

    I was reading the story once more, and the encounter was between Jesus and the man posessed, and it was probably near the cave tombs. 2 miles is reasonably close, it only says that teh spirits posessed pigs which ran off a hill that was close.

  19. Let’s agree then that Mark probably made some geographical blunders that caused his copyists and later evangelists to exercise their different imaginations in how best to resolve them and correct the record.

    Mark 5:2

    And when he had come out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit . . .

    Only a most tortuous reading can try to argue that that verse is implying that there was a 2 mile distance between the two. (Why this cemetry anyway — was there not another similar cemetry closer to Gerasa, Mark’s original, 30 miles inland?)

    We have the man possessed seeing Jesus and running to him “from afar”, but 2 miles does not give him a good starting point for “seeing” Jesus let alone running to him, and then we have swineherds and townspeople all making the same “2 mile” trip and more in the same episode. To try to historicize this story makes it a nonsense. Mark is telling a fast moving story with a certain oomph, and is creating a clear image in readers minds about the scene that one must reject only at the expense of ruining the story.

    And the story is told as theology, not as history anyway. It is clearly to be compared for its theological messages beside the story of the stilling of the wind and the subsequent fear of the disciples.

    Jesus shows his total power over the demons and the elements (not a huge difference in ancient world views), and the disciples and townspeople all have the same response — total fear. And the healed man in the cave tombs sitting clothed beside Jesus is a clear foreshadowing of the young man in linen sitting in the hewn out rock-tomb of Jesus at the end of the gospel.

    Mark is writing theological parables. Not history.

    The man whom Mark says declared all foods clean (7:19) did not really ruin the livelihoods of swineherds and their families or that of the owner of the pigs to teach Mark’s audience a spiritual lesson. The existence of demons is a pre-scientific belief and there are no such creatures that talk and jump into animals and make them commit mass suicide.

  20. *sigh*

    oh boy. You seem to be reading your own presuppositions into the text of Mark, and my own comment.

    The only way you could possibly say that there was a two mile distance between Jesus and the posessed man would be if Jesus and his disciples dismounted the boat very near the hillside. I dont quite remember saying that, and I dont quite remember seeing that detail in Mark 5.

    “Mark is writing theological parables. Not history.”

    Honestly, your argument in favor of that position seems just as stretched as you claim Bauckham’s arguments for the Gospels as rooted in eyewitness testimony to be. Your argument really is filled to the brim with preconcieved notions about the reliability of the Synoptic tradition.

  21. I almost forgot to add, You claim that demons are “a prescientific belief”. So, pray tell, has science disproved demons, or has science merely found no evidence for demons? Well if the latter is only the case (and I strong suspect that it is), then would this not be committing a category error? It seems that You’re essentially asking for empirical evidence for the non-physical and non-empirical.

  22. Hi Jake. My post was to make a nonsense of the suggestion of some (some whom I thought you had given some credence to) that there was a 2 mile distance. My point was to show that Mark does NOT make any such presumption. Who is reading what into whose posts?

    As for my observations of Mark’s text, they are not mine but well noted widely in the literature. And I have little doubt that many Sunday preachers would bring them out too, in a different context, to add spice to their sermons. But these well known and obvious features of Mark’s text have to be suppressed or denied by some historicists, it seems, because they really do give the game away: Mark was not writing history, but dramatic theology!

    My argument is certainly against the historical reliability of the gospels. (Some topics discussed widely by bible scholars are nothing more than hypotheses — but their regular repetition and assumptions in the literature does not make them fact.) If I have twisted any particular evidence to support my arguments (presumably because of “brimful preconceptions”) then point out just one example to me and I will re-examine it for prejudice. I was in fact trying to demonstrate that the evidence best supports my conclusions.

    Again, give me a specific example — not a generalized complaint — where I fail in this. I am quite sure I have made some mistakes and howlers. I would take it as a favour if you point one out.

    As for your post script, you are right. Science has not disproved demons. Nor has science disproved the existence of unicorns or fairies under toadstools in the garden, nor has it disproved the existence of all the Greek and Roman gods. Nor has it disproved the existence of leprechauns, nor the presence of a fiery hell beneath the earth, nor the claim that a teacup and saucer orbit Saturn. I’m in Singapore now and we have just passed through the Chinese New Year period. The Chinese community posted many displays of a god named Cai Shen, and there were many ceremonies involving ‘lucky lions’, dragons and other strange beings — presumably because science has not disproved their existence either. And I recently watched a Hindu Thaipusam festival where scores of men pierced hooks, knives and daggers through their skin, tongue and cheeks — I’d really love to be able to tell them science has disproved their gods too!

    But I trust we both agree that science HAS established medical causes of illnesses such as paralysis and deafness and muteness and epileptic fits and mental diseases, as well as physical causes of storms and lightning, and all the other things that pre-scientific people believed were caused by gods and demons.

  23. “Nor has science disproved the existence of unicorns or fairies under toadstools in the garden, nor has it disproved the existence of all the Greek and Roman gods. Nor has it disproved the existence of leprechauns, nor the presence of a fiery hell beneath the earth, nor the claim that a teacup and saucer orbit Saturn.”

    I really thought for damn-sure you were above this sort of new Atheist rhetoric.

    Good day to you mr. Godfrey

  24. Rhetoric? New atheist? Will you return if I delete that passage and replace it with a more prosaic explanation of what and how scientific hypotheses are established and tested?

    (I had actually hoped you would engage with the logic and content of my arguments, and with my requests for evidence for your claims.)

  25. Am I off base but I found it odd that Bauckham used the Jewish names in the Gospels as part of the denominator in his calculations. Shouldn’t the names in the Gospels have been extracted from the denominator first?

    For example, if I wanted to evaluate an alleged historical autobiography which claimed to have been written by and about an early nineteenth century American living in the United States, by looking at the authenticity of the male American names used in that book for the time period in which it was allegedly written, would I include the names in that book along with the names in other books I was certain were written in that time period to arrive at my statistical analysis?

    Wouldn’t I instead, leave OUT the names from that book and only after compiling the most common male American names from the early nineteenth century from the other, confirmed early nineteenth century books, would I THEN compare the names in the book in question to the names in my control sample.

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