Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 18e

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by Neil Godfrey

Holocaust Testimonies (pp. 493-499)

Bauckham proceeds to wax lyrical over a paragraph of recorded oral testimony from Auschwitz survivor, Edith P. He concludes:

“The most accomplished Holocaust novel could not equal the effectiveness of that story in conveying the horrifying otherness . . . . [Her testimony] discloses to us her world, the Nazi’s kingdom of the night, in a way that no novelist could surpass and no regular historian even approach. This is truth that only testimony can give us.”

Bauckham elaborates in reverential tones speaking of how “deep” and “authentic” is the “unique” experience. Some instances:

“the deep memory reaches us and we are stunned by its otherness”

“in its visual and emotional clarity we hear an authentic moment . . . ”

“This too is ‘deep memory’ that he relives by remembering it . . .”

So how ironic to read the same reverential tones with the same “deep” and “authentic” in the following words written by a former inmate of Auschwitz (Israel Gutman):

“Wilkomirski has written a story which he has experienced deeply; that’s for sure . . . He is not a fake. He is someone who lives this story very deeply in his soul. The pain is authentic.”

Guess what. The book of which Gutman spoke, Wilkomirski’s Fragments, was a literary hoax. Wilkomirski was a fraud. Fragments was “widely hailed as a classic of Holocaust literature” but it was a fiction! The fact that a fiction could be so “real” meant nothing to Israel Gutman since he wrote the above to declare that it did not matter if Wilkomirski’s Fragments was a hoax. Author Julie Shulevitz also wrote that it did not matter that Fragments was a lie:

“I can’t help wishing Wilkomirski . . . had been more subtle in his efforts at deception, and produced the magnificent fraud world literature deserves.”

Other award winning hoaxes that have won the acclaim of genuine Holocaust survivors include Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird (especially admired even by the very inventor of the use of the word “holocaust”, Elie Wiesel), and J.T.Gross’s Neighbours (apparently written to redeem his reputation among literary circles who ostracized him after exposing selected Jewish betrayals of Polish Catholics to the Soviet authorities).

So much for Bauckham’s rapturous reverence over the supposed inimitability of Holocaust testimonies.

“What is important to notice is that its narrative skill in no way detracts from its authenticity as testimony. There are no typically literary embellishments, such as we do find in written memoirs by survivors and which can, unless which can, unless skillfully employed, seem to get in the way of our contact with the truth of the testimony.”

Bauckham appears to be asserting that literary skill consists exclusively of use of patently obvious “literary embellishments” — that a stark account lacking these cannot be imitated! It appears that Bauckham has spent way too long in circles that naively and ignorantly insist that they can just know that the Gospels and Acts contain historical truth because they “ring true” or the literary style is so “unique” or “true to genuine memory”!

The same applies to oral testimony. The Edith P. discussion is about oral as opposed to written (“literary”) testimony. Yet Bauckham admits that the passage he discusses in unlike many other oral testimonies for its emotionally moving articulation. More to the point in this particular case, Bauckham fails utterly to see that his emotional response to the passage is not the passage in and of itself, but the passage in conjunction with what Bauckham himself already knows about the facts of the Holocaust. Bauckham is quite correct in stressing how the passage stresses something new, “other”, than what its narrator had previously experienced. But it would mean absolutely nothing if a reader knew nothing of the Holocaust of which it is a product. It is Bauckham’s knowledge of the Holocaust from other sources that is in large part responsible for the emotional response this passage elicits. The scene of the kissing of the baby carries its weight in the mind of the hearer/reader who from other sources knows the experiences the narrator had recently endured.

Bauckham also follows the received wisdom that the Holocaust was “uniquely unique” — and this serves his point as well as can be that it is a polar match for the miracle stories of the Gospels. But the uniqueness of the Holocaust that is at the root of B’s argument is without foundation. Every historical event is unique.

Bauckham relies heavily on Elie Wiesel (referenced above) in both his terminology and argument about the Holocaust testimony. One can read a critique of Elie Wiesel’s argument about holocaust “uniqueness” and holocaust testimony here.

Fuller discussion of J. T. Gross (also referenced above) can be found here.

Ditto for the hoax by Wilkomirski here and here.

And on Jerzy Kosinski here.

The above sites linked are also the sources of the non-B extracts above.

The next stage of B’s argument rests on the inimitability of testimony about a “uniquely unique event”. The Elie Wiesel link above addresses the uniqueness of this event. The remaining links address the so-called inimitability of testimony about such an event. On these foundations of clay and sand Bauckham will proceed to push his argument for the historical reliability of the gospel stories.

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Neil Godfrey

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