Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History


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Why isn't the Gospel of Thomas in the Bible? - Matt Skinner

Much of the story uses a "plural-to-singular" narrative device, a feature that is used five to ten times more often by Mark than any other Gospel writer. That is, the sentence starts off in the plural and then focuses on the singular: e. Another interesting feature is the way certain people aren't named in some of the Gospels but are in others. Bauckham argues that it had to do with legal jeopardy and persecution. Thus, Mark merely mentions that someone cut off the priest's servant's ear, but John, writing much later, tells us it was Peter against Malchus.

Why the secrecy, especially if Peter was the source? Because if the Jewish leaders had written evidence as to who had done the deed, Peter might have been able to be prosecuted for it.

This also explains why Peter so adamently disavowed being a follower of Jesus, even though he followed Jesus to the place where Jesus's trial was--if he had admitted to being a follower, others might have pointed to him as Malchus's assailant [John tells us that one of those who asked about Peter was related to Malchus]. Once John was writing, much later, Peter was long since dead--no troubles could follow from revealing his identity. Or take Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus , who annointed Jesus but who goes unnamed until John's account. The annointing, Bauckham argues, set up Jesus as the "annointed one," the "Messiah," thus adding to Jesus's followng and posing a threat to the Jewish powers, who would likely have wanted to persecute Mary for doing so.

Once she's dead, however, it doesn't matter to name her. Or what of the man who runs away naked when the priests come to get Jesus. He likely got involved in a scuffle with the priests and then to get away loosed himself from his robe; as with Peter, protecting the identity from being known as an assailant would have been important to prevent later prosecution.

THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW

Some have posited that this was Mark himself a sort subtle signature to the book , but Papias wrote that Mark never had any direct dealings with Jesus--only with Peter--and Bauckham finds it more probable that it was another disciple possibly not one of the twelve or even Lazarus. Lazarus's story isn't given in any account until John. Why is that, given that it is a major reason the Jewish leaders decide to do away with Jesus according to John? Bauckham suggests that it was to prevent the leaders from themselves killing Lazarus, something John says they sought to do.

Not putting the story in print would thus keep it from being spread about as easily and thus putting Lazarus in further jeopardy of being killed. Once he had died, however, once again, the reason to keep the story and Lazarus's identity somewhat hush-hush becomes less important. From here, Bauckham recounts different theories regarding the passing on of oral traditions, showing how the idea that the Jesus stories were largely folktales by unknown community traditions rather than stories related by specific persons is unlikely--that is, showing how the various theories don't pass muster.

This section, while easily understandable in Bauckham's deft rendering, was heavy on theory.

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What is interesting also is that Bauckam generally does not take the namesakes as being the authors of the various accounts. He thinks they're pseudonyms. Likewise, he accepts the generally accepted idea that the Gospel accounts were written at later dates--in his case, just as the witnesses were beginning to die out thus, the reason for rendering such information in writing.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book applies psychological theories of memory to how they would apply in the case of eyewitness testimony--and specifically with regard to how they apply to the Gospel accounts. What do we remember in detail, why, and how likely are those memories to be accurate and stable over time?

2. "Hosanna"

No doubt, memory is often unreliable--we conflate various events or we come to think, given the power of suggestion, that we witnessed something we actually only heard about. And yet courts rely on eyewitness testimony, as indeed virtually any account of a happening. And yet, in one example given, of a contemporary memory compared with a newspaper account from decades earlier, the person recounting the story, who was about ten at the time of the event and was part of the community where the event occurred, was amazingly precise and accurate.

How and why? Bauckham, drawing on the work of pscyhologists, lists several extenuating circumstances that make certain memories more accurate and precise than others: 1 uniqueness or unusualness of the event; 2 consequentionalness of event; 3 emotional connection to the event, and 4 frequent rehearsal. All four lend to our ability to remember the event. Other important factors that tend to be part of accurate memories were 5 vividness of the imagery--memories we remember well tend to be remembered with with more imagery than other memories; 6 inclusion of irrelevant detail--we tend remember inconsequential items that happened as part of or around the event; 7 point of view--we tend to remember an event both from our own first-person perspective and from a third-person observer perspective; 8 dates--we don't tend to remember specific dates of events but we will remember the season, the time, the locale; 9 gist and details--we are better at remembering the general idea of an event than specific details, but that does necessarily mean that the memory becomes inaccurate it's the way we begin to "interpret" the event in our memory.

No doubt, Bauckham notes, those healed by Jesus or who witnessed a spectacular event would have had good reason to have good recall about it--it was unique, often consequential, had emotional connection if you were the one healed , and would have been retold as a story frequently. As such, many of the accounts in the Gospels include vivid imagery, seemingly irrelevant detail, shifts in point of view, and elements of time and place. Even though the gist of a memory might be all that was recalled, often some details remain important in the recounting: the number of fish and loaves of bread, for example, and the size of the audience, as well as the baskets of leftovers taken up.

Bauckham then shifts his discussion to the Gospel of John, presenting several compelling arguments for why he believes the gospel to have been written not by John the apostle from among the twelve but by John the Elder, who he claims is the actual beloved disciple. In this sense, Bauckham departs from conservative tradition but is still more conservative than others who see the Gospel as not being written by any John at all.

Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels

Some of the major reason for this belief are that two Johns the elder and the apostle are mentioned by Papias. Likewise, Polycrates, when writing of John denotes him as being related to the priesthood, which seems unlikely of the brothers of Zebedee; indeed, the book of John references a disciple as being with Peter at the court during Jesus's trial--one who knew the various members of the council. The elder likely garnder his name because of the length of his life, as denoted near the end of the book of John, wherein some thought he would never die. That the apostle became associated with this John is not strange, as such mixing up of people with the same surname was typical of the period and after; as another example, Bauckham presents Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, who are often conflated even though it's pretty clear from the Gospel accounts that they were two different people.

An Introduction to the Gospels

Personally, I still find it difficult to think that John of the twelve is not the supposed author--he seems to take on such importance with Peter and James that it seems odd that he would have more or less disappeared into history after the few very clear references to him in the Gospels and Acts, whereas John the Elder, who appears only in second-century sources and who presence is only implied in the Gospel of John played such a huge role in the first-century church.

That said, Matthias, who became one of the twelve after Judas's death, is noted as having been with them from the beginning, so it is indeed possible there were yet others who were not noted by name who witnessed a large number of Jesus-related events and who played a role in the early church, as indeed is Bauckham's whole point. The final chapter closes in on what the fact that eyewitness testimony can be and should be relied upon as part of historical analysis says about how historians should approach their subjects--that is, with more respect than perhaps has always been shown.

Dec 19, Matt rated it it was amazing Shelves: religion. If you are like me and have studied any New Testament scholarship at all, then you have probably felt the incredible frustration at how little support a scholar needs to make his or her argument. Any wild speculation is given credit so long as the scholar does not conclude that the gospels are based on any actual facts.

Bauckham's defense of his thesis -- that individuals who were eyewitnesses to the life of the the historical Jesus were the authoritative sources of the text of the Gospels -- is If you are like me and have studied any New Testament scholarship at all, then you have probably felt the incredible frustration at how little support a scholar needs to make his or her argument.


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  • THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW.

Bauckham's defense of his thesis -- that individuals who were eyewitnesses to the life of the the historical Jesus were the authoritative sources of the text of the Gospels -- is refreshing in way he lays out a plausible, reasonable case that appears to be supported by common historical methods used in non-biblical contexts.

His evidence was comprehensive -- writings from Papias, a church father who would have overlapped with some of the earliest disciples, on the origins of the Gospels, to comparative literary analysis of other biographic writings of the period, to modern assessments of how oral traditions and memory work, and on and on -- which he used to rebut commonly accepted arguments against an understanding of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony.

Altogether a fascinating and important work. It was probably too academic for the casual reader, and perhaps too accessible for a serious scholarly work. I can only hope that Bauckham, a former professor at St. Andrew's and current researcher at Cambridge, is widely read and taken quite seriously in his field. I added this book to my shelf over seven years ago, and within a few years it held the longevity record. As it wasn't available at my library, I kept moving to the next title and the next. Finally, I coughed up some dough and tracked it down online, and it was well worth the long wait and a little bit of money.

It takes the Gospels seriously as they are; it acknowledges the uniqueness of what we can know only in this testimonial form. It honors the form of historiography they are. From a historiographic perspective, radical suspicion of testimony is a kind of epistemological suicide. Gospels scholarship must free itself from the grip of the skeptical paradigm that presumes the Gospels to be unreliable unless, in every particular case of story or saying, the historian succeeds in providing independent verification. For such a suspicious approach the Gospels are not believable until and unless the historian can verify each claim that they make to recount history.

But this approach is seriously faulty precisely as a historical method.

It can only result in a misleadingly minimal collection of uninteresting facts about a historical figure stripped of any real significance. Neither in this nor in countless other cases of historical testimony can the historian verify everything. Testimony asks to be trusted.

This does not mean that historians must trust testimony uncritically, but rather that testimony is to be assessed as testimony. The question is whether it is trustworthy, and this is open to tests of internal consistency and coherence, and consistency and coherence with whatever other relevant historical evidence we have and whatever else we know about the historical context.

This is one context in which it is appropriate to hear what testimony can tell us This was the first whole book of serious Gospels scholarship that I've read. Bauckham deploys textual scholarship; knowledge about the art of writing history in the ancient world; Christian writings from the New Testament and 2nd century; and studies of memory, testimony, and the transmission of oral traditions to argue for the pervasive influence of eyewitness testimony in the writing of the gospels.

He posits the model of the careful guarding of traditions that were passed on to Christian comm This was the first whole book of serious Gospels scholarship that I've read. He posits the model of the careful guarding of traditions that were passed on to Christian communities against the view of form criticism, which holds that little historical information can be found in the gospels. Bauckham's views of Scripture are on the conservative end of the spectrum, though he does not hold to inerrancy of the Bible or the traditional views of the authorship of the gospels of Matthew and John.

I agreed with the main thrust of the book's argument, so I can't be a good judge of its persuasiveness. I can say that it was a fascinating look at the gospels and the world in which they were written. Sep 27, Brian Collins rated it really liked it. In this volume Bauckham provides a trenchant critique of form criticism and makes a strong case for the pervasive role of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels.

While I was not convinced with his discussion about the authorship of John and still have questions to Bauckham's suggestion that many of the named individuals in the Gospels are the sources for those accounts, Bauckham nonetheless provides a wealth of information about oral tradition, memory in ancient times, and Jewish names, along with In this volume Bauckham provides a trenchant critique of form criticism and makes a strong case for the pervasive role of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels. While I was not convinced with his discussion about the authorship of John and still have questions to Bauckham's suggestion that many of the named individuals in the Gospels are the sources for those accounts, Bauckham nonetheless provides a wealth of information about oral tradition, memory in ancient times, and Jewish names, along with close readings of Papias's comments about the gospels.

Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History
Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History
Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History
Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History
Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History
Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History
Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus--Memory--History

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