Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapters 4-5

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 1
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 2
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 3
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapters 4-5


If your like me, a name in the biblical text in general and the Gospels in particular are mostly simple details of the story. Is it really important to know that the man Jesus raised from the dead in John 11 was named Lazarus or that a "wee little man" in the sycamore tree was named Zaccheus? To scholars, the answer is an emphatic yes.

Of the eighteen chapters in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gsopels as Eyewitness Testimony, Dr. Richard Bauckham dedicates three (chapters 3-5) to the subject of names in the Four Gospels (click here for our discussion of chapter 3). That is one sixth of the book regarding the subject of names.

Admittedly, chapters 4-5 are difficult to get through. The subject matter is rather tedious, at least in how Bauckham presents it. This is an academic work and thus the author walks the reader slowly through his argument presenting all the evidence. He begins by making the observation that Names area valuable resource for ancient historians, but one of which New Testament scholars have made relatively little use (67). That is changing, however, especially with the release of the book Lexicon of Jewish names in late antiquity: Part 1: Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE by Tal Ilan which serves as a dictionary (or lexicon) of every Jewish name uncovered from literature, like the Bible, and archeological finds. Such a resource informs us as to what were the most common Jewish names in Judea during the time of the Gospels.

In case your interested, the top five male names, according to Buackham relying on Ilan, are Simon, Joseph, Eleazar, Judah, Yohanan, and Joshua. But why were these names popular? One might see a biblical connection to them; Joseph and Judah were patriarchs and Joshua led Israel to the Promise Land. Yet, Bauckham argues, that is not why they were likely the most popular. They are connected to the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks during the Intertestimental period. This is significant. He writes:
It is therefore rather clear that, no only the names of the Hasmoneans, but also several of the other most popular male names were popular because of their association with the nationalistic religious expectations of national deliverance and restoration by God. Of course, this does not mean that such associations were in the minds of every parent who chose a name for their child. Once names become popular for some reason, they are also popular just because they are popular. Moreover, there were also family traditions, especially in aristocratic families, of repeating the same names from one generation to another. But these are secondary factors that do not nullify the rather clear general reasons for the really rather extraordinary popularity of a rather small number of names. (77)
He then goes on to explain how people commonly separated persons of the same name. A phenomena we see both in non-canonical texts and in the Gospels This includes variant spellings (Zakkai for Zachariah, attaching one's father ("son of . . ." or "bar" as in Barabbas), attaching one's husband or son ("Mary of Clopas), using nicknames ("Simon the leper"), attaching one's origin or dwelling (Mary Magdalene), using two languages ("Joseph Barabbas"), attaching one's ocupation ("Simon the tanner" in Acts), etc. This leads to Bauckham's conclusion:
Onomastics (the study of names) is a significant resource for assessing the origins of Gospels traditions. The evidence in this chapter shows that the relative frequency of the various personal names in the Gospels corresponds well to the relative frequency in the full database of three thousand individual instances of names in the Palestinian Jewish sources of the period. This correspondence is very unlikely to have resulted from addition of names to the traditions, even within Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and could not possibly have resulted from the addition of names to the traditions outside Jewish Palestine, since the pattern of Jewish name usage in the Diaspora was very different. The usages of the Gospels also correspond closely to the variety of ways in which persons bearing the same very popular names could be distinguished in Palestinian Jewish usage. Again these features of the New Testament data would be difficult to explain as the result of random invention of names within Palestinian Jewish Christianity and impossible to explain as the result of such invention outside Jewish Palestine. All the evidence indicates the general authenticity of the personal names in the Gospels. (84)
This leads to his discussion of the Twelve. He begins by restating his thesis:
It is the contention of this book that, in the period up to the writing of the Gospels, gospel traditions were connected with named and known eyewitnesses, people who had heard the teaching of Jesus from his lips and committed it to memory, people who had witnessed the events of his ministry, death, and resurrection and themselves had formulated the stories about these events that they told. These eyewitnesses did not merely set going a process of oral transmission that soon went its own way without reference to them. They remained throughout their lifetimes the sources and, in some sense that may have varied for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell. (93)
Being that the Twelve serve as the inner circle of Jesus' ministry, they are important to Christianity. Some, like Peter, Matthew, and John, would go on to contribute to the New Testament. In addition to this, however, Bauckham points out that they were eyewitnesses to the events recorded in the Gospels and the writers mention them by name.

It is for this very reason that the Synoptics include similar lists of the twelve. Though some of the disciples play little to no role in the narrative, Bauckham argues, they did play a major role in the formation of the Gospels as the main eyewitnesses. Bauckham writes:
However, it could well be that the Twelve are listed as the official body of eyewitnesses who formulated and authorized the core collection of traditions in all three Synoptic Gospels. They are named, not as the authorities for this or that specific tradition, but as responsible for the overall shape of the story of Jesus and much of its content. (97)
Though there are a few minor differences between the three lists, Bauckham argues we can be certain of their accuracy. The evidence he points to is how the Twelve are identified. As the above list shows, many of the ways the Jews wrote peoples names are reserved for us in these lists of the Twelve.

Why does all of this matter? For reasons that will be examined more in later chapters, Bauckham shows that because these lists reflect a historic group of twelve followers of Jesus and the writers of the Gospels present them as key eyewitnesses of their books, we can be confident that the Gospels are not oral legends, traditions, or myth. Instead, the Gospels present strong eyewitness evidence for the events they record including the miracles, the teachings, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Furthermore, how the Twelve are identified follow the same pattern common in 1st century Israel adding strength to Bauckham's thesis that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts of historic events written by and collaborated with those who were there.



For more:
"The Historical Jesus": A Lecture by Ben Witherington
"The Story of Jesus" Documentary
We've All Heard This Before: "Zealot" and the Same Search For the Missing Jesus  
12 Proofs of Jesus' Deity From the Synoptic Gospels
Ravi Zacharias' 12 Arguments For the Historicity of the Resurrection
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
"Raised With Christ" by Adrian Warnock: A Review
NT Wright: Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?
"The Jesus Inquest" by Charles Foster: A Review
"The Case for Easter"
"The Case For the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
The Quest For the Historical Satan: The Entire Series
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