Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 13

"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
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 9
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 10-11
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 12
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 13


One pestering question I've been asking myself as I read and blog through Dr. Richard Bauckham's book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony regards the reliability of eyewitness memory. As the Jesus traditions were spreading and shortly thereafter found their way in the Four Gospels, how can we trust that the eyewitnesses remembered the events of Christ as they actually and historically happened?

This is the question Dr. Bauckham tackles in chapter 13. He puts the question this way:
Even if our argument so far in this book is valid to the effect that the Gospels put us in much closer touch than has often been thought recently with the traditions as the eyewitnesses themselves framed and transmitted them, can we have any confidence in these eyewitness memories? (319)
This is a crucial question to raise. Even if the Gospels record accurately the traditions of Jesus from the eyewitnesses, none of it matters if the original eyewitnesses misremembered the actual events.

At this point, Bauckham points out that New Testament scholars have rarely made any use of modern discoveries and studies regarding memory (319). This seems to be true particularly among conservative scholars. In this chapter, Bauckham breaks new ground and applies what we know about memory to the Gospels.

There is no doubt that eyewitness memories can be at times very reliable while at other times worthless. Bauckham provides the reader with a simple example of each. At this point, Bauckham launches into a detailed survey of what modern scholarship has discovered regarding memory. For our purposes, one aspect is worth highlighting.

Bauckham's survey leads to this important question: What sort of events are remembered best? What sort of memories are more likely to be reliable? (330) He answers with the following nine:
  1. Unique or Unusual Events
  2. Salient or Consequential Events
  3. Events in which a Person is Emotionally Involved
  4. Vivid Imagery
  5. Irrelevant Detail
  6. Point of View
  7. Dating
  8. Gist and Details
  9. Frequent Rehearsals
Interesting enough, these sort of events appear in the New Testament in general and the four Gospels in particular. I will highlight a few of them.

The first memory regards unique or unusual events. Bauckham points out, rather obviously we should state, that much of the Gospels are unique or unusual. Any reader of the Gospels could immediately identify a number of such events: Gabriel's announcement to Mary regarding her pregnancy and the countless miracles come immediately to my mind. It is rare, if ever, the Evangelists record anything normal regarding the story of Jesus.

The third memory regards events in which eyewitnesses were emotionally involved. Most of the miracles, especially the healings and exorcisms, clearly meet this criteria. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were deeply and emotionally involved in the resuscitation of Lazarus. Or consider the crucifixion of Jesus and the details we are given from eyewitnesses who would have been emotionally involved with the execution of their Rabbi.

Furthermore, the memory of vivid imagery and detail is important. Strikingly enough, the Gospels do not provide us with a lot of details. Even more striking is that Mark, the briefest of the four, usually gives the most detail in parallel accounts. This suggests that the Evangelists were not interested in modifying the story to make it more fantastic, but stuck to the "just the facts ma'am." A easier way to see this is to compare the two writings of Luke. A cursory reading of Acts will reveal an increase of detail, much of it unnecessary, in the later half of the narrative for the simple reason that Luke himself was one of the eyewitnesses. This change give credence that Luke, and the other Evangelists with him, record reliable, eyewitness traditions of Jesus, not legends.

More could be said, but this should suffice. Bauckham does go on to note that All this was neglected by the form critics (347). It does, after all, call into question some of their conclusions and that is ultimately the point. Yet again, Bauckham shows through a careful study of the evidence that the Gospels, contrary to the form critics and others, are reliable, historic documents because they are based on eyewitness testimony. We can trust their stories. We can trust their witness.


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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