A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 13

“Considering how grossly it is overloaded, memory in the real world proves remarkably efficient and resilient.”  

—Gillian Cohen, quoted by Bauckham on page 357

My review of chapter 13:

The above quote by Cohen is the last sentence of chapter thirteen of Bauckham’s book.  This chapter is long and tedious.  The principle theme of this chapter is the review of recent research on the reliability of human memory.  Why is Bauckham interested in this subject?  Answer:  He wants to demonstrate that human memory is actually very good at remembering the “gist” of very dramatic events in one’s life—we may forget some of the trivial details, but we don’t forget or confuse the core facts of dramatic, very emotionally charged, rare experiences in our lives.  Bauckham wants to use memory research to persuade us that the eyewitnesses to the life, death, and alleged resurrection appearances of Jesus would not have forgotten or confused the core facts of these events.  They may have confused some of the trivial details, but Bauckham believes that modern memory research strongly supports his belief that eyewitnesses would not have forgotten the core details of the dramatic events in the life of Jesus.

If we add this claim to the claims in the previous chapters of Bauckham’s book, this is what we have:

  1. The culture of Jesus’ time was an oral culture which carefully maintained oral traditions, often appointing individuals (“tradents”) to memorize individual pericopes (vignettes) of a larger tradition.  Therefore each pericope of the Jesus Story was memorized and its accuracy meticulously maintained, ensuring the accuracy of the entire Story.  (Evidence for this claim:  the behavior patterns of oral cultures today, in particular, nomadic Arab communities in the Middle East.)
  2. Eyewitnesses and “tradents” were alive at the time of the writing of the Gospels.  The Gospel authors were either eyewitnesses themselves (the author of the Gospel of John–John the Elder) or were persons who obtained their information directly from eyewitnesses (the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  (Evidence for this claim:  Papias, writing in circa 80 CE, and, hidden literary clues left by the authors in their Gospels, such as the use of the inclusio by the authors of the Gospels of Mark and John.)  
  3. Other eyewitnesses to the life and death of Jesus were alive at the time of the writing and distribution of the Gospels who would have pointed out any inaccuracies or embellishments to the Jesus story.  (Evidence for this claim:  Papias and conjecture.)
  4. The core details of the dramatic events of Jesus’ life and death would have been accurately remembered by the eyewitnesses of these events. (Evidence for this claim:  modern memory research).   The accuracy of the details of these dramatic (and therefore memorable) events would have then been meticulously maintained by the eyewitnesses to these events and by tradents, in an oral culture with a long history of accurately preserving such oral traditions.  These persons then passed on these historically accurate stories to the authors of the Gospels who wrote them down as the four Gospels we have in our Bibles today.
  5. The four canonical Gospels are therefore trustworthy sources of eyewitness information.

Dear Readers:  Notice how much of Bauckham’s evidence is based on the testimony of Papias, a man whom Bauckham believes was “carefully” writing down the oral testimony of two of Jesus actual disciples and traveling companions, Aristion and John the Elder, in circa 80 CE.  (Papias states he never personally met either one of these “eyewitnesses”.  He states that he received their testimony second hand from the traveling disciples of these two men.)  If this story is true, that would mean that Papias was “carefully” writing all this eyewitness testimony down…when he was TEN YEARS OLD…if the majority of historians are correct that Papias was born in circa 70 CE!

Ten years old!

Bauckham’s entire argument for the reliability of the four canonical Gospels is based on the reliability of a TEN YEAR OLD!

And here is what Bauckham says in this chapter about the reliability of the memory of children:  “Another way in which the reconstructive process [of memories] can be misled so that distorted memories occur is through misinformation acquired by persons about an event they remember.  Such information can be unconsciously adopted into their memory and become part of it.  In extreme cases, persons told about an event that allegedly happened to them can come to believe they actually remember it, even though the event never happened.   …Entirely false memories of this kind…seem very often to be memories of childhood.

Perhaps a child’s memory is particularly susceptible, either to its own imagination…or to visualizing events talked about by others.” p. 328  (emphasis, Gary’s)

And Mr. Bauckham wants us to believe that two thousand years ago, a dead man walked out of his sealed tomb with a superhero-body and later levitated into outer space, all based on the testimony of a ten year old!

My goodness.

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