Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 8

"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
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 6
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 7
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 8

Thus far in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Dr. Richard Bauckham has made a big deal about names in the Gospel narratives. In general, he has argued that persons identified were key eyewitnesses to the events recorded, many of whom were followers of Christ at the time of the Gospel's composition. This explains why some characters are identified seemingly unnecessarily while others are not.

However, in the Gospel of Mark there are a number of persons who remain anonymous during the Passion story (from chaptes 11-16) that should not be. The examples Bauckham highlight include the disciple who cuts off the servant of the high priest's ear, the servant whose ear was cut off, the strange character who fled away naked, and the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with her hair.

There are two questions Bauckham answers in this chapter. First, why did Mark not identify these characters? Secondly, why does such anonymity matter particularly as it relates to his thesis that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts.

First, Bauckham argues that Mark's hesitancy to identify some of these individuals is for their own protection. Quoting from Gerd Theissen's essay, Bauckham writes:
It seems to me that the narrative motive for this anonymity is not hard guess: both of them [had] run afoul of the "police." The one who draws his sword commits no minor offense when he cuts off someone's ear. Had the blow fallen only slightly awry, he could have wounded the man in the head or throat. This blow with a sword is violence with possibly mortal consequences. The anonymous young man has also offered resistance. In the struggle, his clothes are torn off, so that he has to run away naked. Both these people were in danger in the aftermath. As long as the high priests slave was alive (and as long as the scar from the sword cut was visible) it would have been inopportune to mention names; it would not even have been wise to identify them as members of the early Christian community. Their anonymity is for their protection, and the obscurity of their positive relationship with Jesus is a strategy of caution. Both the teller and the hearers know more about these two people. (185-186)
He goes on, from here, to defend this thesis more fully returning to the same point: Mark protec some of his eyewitnesses. We should not be surprised, in my judgement, that these eyewitnesses under protection are primarily during the Passion narrative as these events took place in and around Jerusalem. The most dangerous place to be a follower of Jesus was in Jerusalem.

The strongest defense of his argument, I believe, regards how the Gospel of John treats these narratives. Bauckham shows how many of these anonymous eyewitnesses are identified in John's Gospel. Peter is the one that strikes off the ear of Malchus, the slave of the high priest and Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, is the one that anoints Jesus' feet with her hair. Why would John identify them without fear and not Mark.

The answer is found in the dating of the two writings. Mark writes while these individuals, and those who pose a threat to them, are still alive. John, on the other hand, writes at the end of the first century at a time when such protection is unnecessary.

But what about the man who runs from Gethsemane naked? Who is he? John, we should note, nowhere explicitly identifies him and any attempt to identify him is speculative. However, Bauckham argues, intriguingly, that the unidentified man in Mark's Gospel is actually Lazarus, the one in whom Jesus raised from the dead. One key defense of this argument lies in what John says about the result of Lazarus' resuscitation. Not only did the Jewish leaders want Jesus to be killed, but also Lazarus. In the end, however, though such a speculation is intriguing no degree of certainty seems possible (200).

With all of this said, why does this subject matter? What difference does it make why Mark fails to identity certain key individuals in his Passion narrative? Recall Bauckham's key thesis for the book: the Gospels are eyewitness accounts. Thus not identifying some of the individuals in the narrative, for reasons Bauckham adopts, gives credence to both the dating of the documents (Mark mid-first century and John late first century) and to the reliability of the Gospels' content. We can trust the narrative given by the Gospels because lives were at risk and thus protection was in order. John does not, then, add names proving a growing legend around them, but because such anonymity was no longer necessary.

Overall, I found this to be an intriguing chapter. Though it alone does not adequately defend Bauckham's main thesis, it does add a little fuel to the fire. Bauckham's suggestion that some of the anonymous characters are the result of "protective anonymity" needs further study from other academics as it is not widely held or been investigated. The power of it is that it explains some of the unusual elements of Mark's Gospel.

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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