A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 3

My review continues:  Bauckham’s third chapter is entitled, “Names in the Gospel Traditions”.

“There is one phenomenon in the Gospels that has never been satisfactorily explained.  It concerns names.  Many characters in the Gospels are unnamed, but others are named.  I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions.  In some cases the Evangelists may well have known them.”  p. 39

Gary:  Bold claim.  Let’s see if Bauckham can provide convincing evidence for it.

“…Rudolf Bultmann considered increasing detail a law of oral tradition.  Like other such details, he considered personal names…to be secondary additions to the traditions.”  p. 40

“With equal confidence, Henry Cadbury claimed an opposite tendency, stating (of oral transmission of narratives) that “the place, the person, the time in so far as they are not bound up with the point of the incident, tend to disappear…But Cadbury also recognized that there is evidence (for example, in apocryphal gospels) of the late introduction of names out of novelistic interest.” p. 41

Gary:  So there is a difference of opinion among the experts.  Bottom line, the addition of names in later Gospels and the elimination of names in later Gospels does not definitively prove the authenticity or inauthenticity of these stories.

“If we assume the priority of Mark (i.e., that where Matthew, Mark, and Luke have closely parallel material they are dependent on Mark), then, where Matthew and Luke have both taken over Markan material, they both retain the names in four cases (Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses).  Luke retains the name in one place where Matthew changes it (Levi), Luke retains the name where Matthew drops it (Jairus), and both drop the name in four cases (Bartimaeus, Alexander, Rufus, and Salome).  In no case does a character unnamed in Mark gain a new name in Matthew or Luke.  There is one instance in which two disciples whom Mark leaves anonymous (14:13) are identified as Peter and John by Luke (22:8), but this phenomenon of identifying unnamed persons in Mark with named characters already known from Mark should not be confused with giving characters anonymous in Mark new names not found at all in Mark.  The material common to the three Synoptic Gospels therefore shows an unambiguous tendency toward the elimination of names, which refutes Bultmann’s argument, so long as one accepts Markan priority, as Bultmann does.”  p. 42

Gary:  What does this prove? 

It was a common Jewish practice, in storytelling or commenting on the biblical narratives, to give names to characters not named in Scripture.    For instance, in Pseudo-Philo’s “Biblical Antiquities”, a first century Jewish Palestinian example of “rewritten biblical narrative”, we find names given to such characters as Cain’s wife, Sisera’s mother, Jephthah’s daughter, Samson’s mother, and the witch of Endor.  So it would not have been surprising to find Christians doing the same thing with the Gospels narratives from an early date.  But the evidence suggests that this did not happen.”

Gary:  Maybe…because the authors of the Gospels, if the current scholarly consensus is correct, were not Jews.  They were Gentile Christians living outside of Palestine.

“What we do need to explain is that some Gospel characters bear names while others in the same category [persons healed, disciples, demoniacs, etc.] do not, as well as the tendency to omit names that we can observe in Matthew’s and Luke’s redaction of Mark.  [These] phenomena have never been satisfactorily explained as a whole, but an explanation that could account for all the names…except for Jesus’ father and the names in Luke’s birth and infancy narratives is that all these people joined the Christian movement and were well known at least in the circles in which these traditions were first circulated. 

This explanation has occasionally been suggested for some of the names, such as Bartimaeus, Simon and Cyrene and his sons, and Joseph of Arimathea, though surprisingly not for Jairus.  It has been widely assumed (without much argument) for some others, such as Mary Magdalene and the sisters Mary and Martha.  But these piecemeal uses of the explanation can well be superseded by the proposal that this explanation provides a comprehensive hypothesis to account for all or most of these names.  We know that the four brothers of Jesus (named in Matt 13:35; Mark 6:3) were prominent leaders in the early Christian movement (I Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19), and, when Luke in Acts depicts some women with the Twelve and Jesus’ brothers, he probably intends his readers to suppose that at least the women named in Luke 24:10 were among the first members of the Jerusalem church.  There is no difficulty in supposing that the other persons named in the Gospels became member of either the Jerusalem church or of other early communities in Judea or Galilee.” pp. 45-46 (emphasis in bold, Gary’s)

Gary:  Holy Assumptions, Batman!  A lot of suppositions and baseless probabilities!

If [these] names are of persons well known in the Christian communities, then it also becomes likely that many of these people were themselves the eyewitnesses who first told and doubtless continued to tell the stories in which they appear and to which their names are attached.  A good example is Cleopas (Luke 24:18) :  the story does not require that he be named and his companion remains anonymous.  There seems no plausible reasoning for naming him other than to indicate that he was the source of this tradition.”  p. 47  (emphasis in bold, Gary’s)

Gary:  My godness!  How many assumptions must Bauckham paste together to maintain his hypothesis???

“It is natural to suppose that these women [the different women named in the four Gospels who witnessed the Empty Tomb on Easter morning] were well known not for just having once told their stories but as people who remained accessible and authoritative sources as long as they lived.

…The omission of Salome by both Matthew and Luke [among the women who arrived to the Empty Tomb] shows that the Evangelists did not retain the names of women who had become obscure.  Those named by each Evangelist were, like their stories, still fresh in the memories of that Evangelist’s informants, if not in the Evangelist’s own memory.”  p. 51

Gary:  Good grief.  Conjecture, upon conjecture, upon conjecture!  Do conservative Christians not see the problem with such an approach to evaluating historical claims?  Isn’t it obvious that Bauckham has first formed a conclusion as to what he believes happened regarding the formation of the Gospels, and is now desperately going about grasping for evidence to confirm his foregone conclusion?

Let the evidence determine the conclusion, not the other way around!

Read part 4 here.






8 thoughts on “A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 3

  1. Sounds like this book is going to be building a lot of castles in the air. I fear Bauckham’s faith dictates his conclusions. Not a surprise of course, but disappointing.


    1. Very true. What is his evidence that the named characters in the stories presented in the Gospels were responsible for maintaining the accuracy of those stories until they were finally written down?

      If you find the answer to that question, let me know.


      1. And even if we grant that, despite lack of evidence, they were responsible, we know from the endless splits in Christianity and even Trump type conspiracies that people aren’t going to just go “ok, I’m corrected, I will change the story to what you say is true.” Real life doesn’t work like that. Add in that the ancient world there was no communication other than letters or word of mouth. So the odds of a person even finding out his version of the story had been changed until much later, and too late, were very great. Especially if the act of changing the story was occurring hundreds of miles away.


        1. Sorry, that should read:
          So the odds of a person even finding out his version of the story had been changed until much later, and too late, were “NOT” very great.


  2. Here is 60 second youtube clip of Mike Licona trying to take the approach that stories were carefully preserved and making a martial arts analogy about how the katas were carefully passed down (he apparently has a Tae Kwon Do background). Yet don’t we have lots of examples were the stories were changed?
    My own experience in the Karate world was different. Katas were changed, not signifcantly, but still, small tweets here and there. Plus, just like Chrisianity, there are lots of different Karate styles and schools, many due to disagreements and anamosity where teachers start their own styles, and have different katas than others.


    1. The historical reliability of the Gospels all depends on the conservative Christian assumption that first century Jews would never allow alterations to their oral traditions. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Jewish scholars believe that these Jewish stories did become embellished and altered over the time period of decades before they were written down is the best refutation of this assumption.


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