A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 7

“The fact that Mark does not usually shift the internal focalization in passages introduced by the plural-to-singular narrative device is further proof that he uses this characteristic narrative feature deliberately and with a view to its function for internal focalization.”

—Richard Bauckham, page 163

In chapter 7, Bauckham presses hard for his claim that the Gospel of Mark is non-other than the eyewitness testimony of the Apostle Peter…just as Papias claimed in the early second century.  How does Bauckham make his case for this claim?  Answer:  By identifying hidden literary devices subtly placed in the text of the Markan gospel to indicate to only the most attentive of readers (Bauckham argues that even most modern scholars miss these hidden clues) that Simon Peter was the eyewitness source for this Gospel.

What are these literary devices?  The first Bauckham calls, “inclusio”:  identifying the source of your eyewitness testimony by mentioning this person as the first and the last person named in your narrative (gospel, in this case).  The second literary device is called the “plural-to-singular narrative device”.  Bauckham believes that the author of Mark has an unusual habit of using this device extensively in his Gospel.  This technique involves using sentences that start out with a plural verb and end with a singular verb, such as,

“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he (Jesus) was hungry.” Mark 11:12.

Bauckham claims that this style of sentence formation is much more common in Mark than in the other Synoptic Gospels, indicating to Bauckham that Mark was repeating Simon Peter’s personal testimony, substituting “they” in sentences where Peter would have said “we”.  The third literary device which Bauckham believes the author of Mark used is called “internal focalization”.  This technique “enables readers to view the scene from the vantage point, spatial and (optionally) also psychological of a character within the story”.  Bauckham believes that Mark’s usage of the plural-to-singular narrative device “meets the test of internal focalization, making it possible to rewrite the passage, substituting first-person forms for the third-person references to the focalizing character”.

Could all this be true?  Yes.  Is it possible that John Mark really did write down a collection of sayings which he had heard from the Apostle Peter?  Yes.  Is it possible that John Mark not only spoke Greek, but was trained in advanced literary composition using subtle literary devices?  Sure!  Anything is possible, folks!  But is it probable that the traveling companion of an uneducated Galilean peasant fisherman would possess such literary skills???  Answer:  Hell, no.

And think about this, friends:  What was the purpose of the Gospel of Mark?  Was this book written to save souls (a work of evangelization) or was it written to win the first century equivalent of a Pulitzer?  Come on!  Hidden literary devices?  Give me a break.  If the purpose of the Gospel of Mark was to propagate the Good News of salvation through belief in Jesus the Christ, why would the author of the Gospel of Mark hide the identity of his source?  Why would he require his readers to play “Literary Hide and Seek”?  That makes no sense!  If “Mark’s” goal was evangelization, the most important piece of information he could have given, after the message of Good News, was to state that his source of information was not only an eyewitness, but the chief apostle himself, Simon Peter!  But no, the author of Mark preferred hiding his source and only subtly indicated the identify of this source with tricky literary “devices”.

I don’t buy it.

And get this:  If the early Church knew that the first Gospel written, Mark, was a collection of the eyewitnesses statements of the chief apostle, Simon Peter, why then did the author of the Gospel of Luke, writing possibly a decade later, say the following in the opening passages of his Gospel:

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

Gary:  Why would the non-eyewitness, Luke, need to write down an orderly account of the Jesus story, if he knew that Mark had already written down the Jesus story as told by Jesus’ chief apostle, Peter? We know that Luke knew of Mark’s Gospel because Luke copies large portions of Mark’s Gospel into his Gospel, sometimes word for word!

This evidence suggests that Luke did not have that high a regard for Mark’s “Jesus story”, indicating that Mark’s Gospel was most likely NOT the eyewitness statements of Peter.  And think about this, Papias never identifies the “Gospel” written by John Mark; he never quotes a single passage from this Gospel.  Therefore, it is entirely possible that Papias was referring to a text that is not the Gospel of Mark what we know today.

The evidence for the conservative Christian claim that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels is getting weaker and weaker with every chapter of Bauckham’s book that I read!

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