Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 11/WIFTA

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by Neil Godfrey

Added about a day after the original post:

Knew it would be a mistake to rush that last chapter. (wifta: ‘what i forgot to add’). Had originally intended to address Bauckham’s Theissen reference:

Certainly something happened when the traditions were appropriated by the writers of the Gospels, but it could not have been so discontinuous with the attitude of the oral traditions themselves. The nature of the traditions . . . shows that they made reference to the real past history of Jesus. The fact that this is stated in the excellent textbook The Historical Jesus, by Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, shows how far the mainstream of Gospel scholarship has moved . . . (p.277)

B’s reference to the gospels recording “real past history” is to pp.102-104 of Theissen. Here are a few quotations from those pages in Theissen:

This intention of remembering, clearly attested in the sources, certainly does not prove that authentic Jesus material was indeed ‘remembered’ — as is shown by Acts 11.26, where a saying of John the Baptist (c.f. Mark 1.8) is transferred to Jesus. (p.103)

With childlike naivety (demonstrating the depth of their “will to believe”?) Theissen along with so many biblical scholars falls into the embarrassing assumption that the mere mention of historical characters in a text is evidence that the intention behind the text is to “record real history”. Ancient fiction, as much as modern, uses real places and real historical figures as settings for their stories. We all know that. But for some reason so many of the best scholarly minds take the presence of real places and persons in stories about people walking on water, rising from the dead, reading minds, etc. as evidence that those stories intend to present “real history” to us. Yet no-one argues that the presence of Herod and Pilate in the Gospel of Peter is evidence for the historicity of that gospel! For more discussion on this see Ancient Novels and the Gospels and notes on the history in the Hebrew Bible. What we have are theological stories told in an historical setting. We can by no means use the mere historical setting itself to justify claims that the stories themselves are “real history”. Yet Theissen writes (p.104):

The Gospels report about John the Baptist, Antipas and Pilate, doubtless in the awareness and with the intention of referring to figures in real history. Josephus also reports on all three in Book 18 of the Antiquities, and Dio Cassius reports about Antipas (55, 27, 6; 59, 8, 2), Philo (Leg Gai 302, . . .) and Tacitus (Ann. 15.44 . . .) on Pilate. Coins and inscriptions have been preserved from the first two. Now the interests of the evangelists in describing these figures are certainly different from their interests in the case of Jesus.

Comment: They certainly are. One set of figures functions to place the setting of the narrative in a historical time; Jesus is the central character of that narrative.

But the close interweaving of the memory of Jesus with these historical figures on the one hand documents the historical intention which is woven into all the kerygmatic narration about Jesus;

Comment: Historical intention is by no means equivalent to historical fact; authors of fiction have historical intention — to find a historical setting for their stories.

on the other hand, to the degree that in the case of John the Baptist, Antipas and Paul we can reckon with the historicity of the Gospel tradition, we can also presuppose a historical background to the Jesus tradition.

Comment: Would anyone use this logic to argue for the historicity of the Paul and Thecla tradition? or the tradition of John the Baptist and his pupil Simon Magus found in the pseudo-Clementine literature? More than this sort of logic is needed to establish historicity.

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Neil Godfrey

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