2007-02-03

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Other, 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Have updated my collected after-thoughts on my chapter 1 /WIFTA In brief, I remark that there is simply no such “phenomenon” as “named and unnamed characters” in the bulk of literary fiction and nonfiction stories that “cries out for explanation”. That an author does not name every single character making an appearance is simply to avoid the clutter of overburdening an audience with too much pointless detail. In the case of the first written of our gospels, Mark, it is clear that when the author does decide to employ a name for a character it is for the mnemonic/theological/message point of aligning an event with a name representative of that event. Thus in a healing of raising a girl “from sleep” we have the name “enlightened/awakened”, Jairus; in the restoring of a man from the shame of begging to following the royal “son of David”, we have the Son of Honour, Bartimaeus; and others I have also mentioned in earlier posts.

Meanwhile, another thought here:

Bauckham excludes anonymous groups from his discussion. Someone let me know if I missed it, but I do not recall reading his justification for this. The closest rationale appears to be that those who first told the stories would not have known anyone from such crowds or groups who was worth remembering (p.40). Well, if that is the reasoning, it surely implies that the so-called story originators were not particularly careful about verifying their sources but were rather quick to pick up and elaborate on any anonymous rumour.

Yet it is very clear that if we accept the gospels as historical and sourced to characters found in the gospels, then some events had to have been originated by members of these anonymous groups.

The story of the execution of John the Baptist could, if historical, only have been sourced to unmentioned servants of Herod who were present at the dinner, via disciples of John the Baptist. (An alternative, and my preference for its simplicity, is to treat this story as employing the omniscient narrator rhetoric of fiction.) Similarly the detail that Judas was given thirty pieces of silver by the chief priests in return for his offer to hand over Jesus could only have come from among the chief priests themselves. Would no name be worth recording, whether to shame the guilty party or honour the newly converted one? The mocking of Jesus by the military garrison could only have been sourced to members of that garrison. There were no disciples present and the next words of Jesus were his dying ones on the cross. And the witnessing of the young man in the tomb could only have come from some unmentioned lurker in the area since the only named “witnesses” are said not to have spoken a word to anyone. And to whom could we source the detail that the temple curtain was torn at the same time as Jesus died?

No, such omniscience on the part of the narrator is the common trade tool of the author of fiction. And insofar as we find this phenomenon in “histories” we know that in those passages at least we are reading the creative efforts, not the historical research, of the author.

And it is inconsistent of Bauckham to dismiss anonymous groups from his classification of named and unnamed sources. From the narrative itself it is clear that, if treated as history, there are stories that could only have originated from among such anonymous groups.

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Neil Godfrey

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