Richard Bauckham’s Scholarship is Full of Holes

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Gary:  Nine out of ten times that I ask a conservative Christian apologist for evidence for the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, they will point to the scholarship of conservative evangelical New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham,  in particular his book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, published in 2006.  Dr. Bauckham believes that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of the life and death of Jesus primarily because:

“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.”

–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” p. 39

“It is the contention of this book that, in the period up to the writing of the Gospels, gospel traditions were connected with named and known eyewitnesses, people who had heard the teachings of Jesus from his lips and committed it to memory, people who had witnessed the events of his ministry, death, and resurrection and themselves had formulated the stories about these events that they told.  These eyewitnesses did not merely set going a process of oral transmission that soon went its own way without reference to them.  They remained throughout their lifetimes the sources and, in some sense that may have varied for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell.” 

–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p. 93

Gary:  What is the evidence given for this claim?  Answer:  Assumptions and conjecture, nothing more!  But let’s take a look at a truly shocking statement that Bauckham makes later on in the book which directly undermines his claim that these named characters in the Gospel stories “remained throughout their lifetimes the authoritative guarantors of these stories”.  First, Bauckham explains why he does not believe that the disciples Levi and Matthew are the same person:

“…the identification of Matthew with Levi the son of Alphaeus—a traditional case of harmonizing the Gospels in view of the parallel passages Matt. 9:9 (about Matthew) and Mark 2:14 (about Levi) must, on the same grounds of the onomastic evidence available, be judged implausible.  Mark tells the story of the call of Levi the son of Alphaeus to be a disciple of Jesus in 2:14 (followed by Luke 5:27 where the man is called simply Levi) and lists Matthew, with no further qualification, in his list of the Twelve.  It is clear that Mark did not himself consider these two the same person.  In view of the other details Mark does include in his list of the Twelve, he would surely have pointed out Matthew’s identity with Levi there had he known it.”

–Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.108

Gary:  Here Bauckham explains why the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who Bauckham does not believe was Matthew the Apostle, invented a fictional tale in this Gospel:

The most plausible explanation of the occurrence of the name Matthew in [Matthew] 9:9 is that the author of this Gospel, knowing that Matthew was a tax collector and wishing to narrate the call of Matthew in the Gospel that was associated with him, but not knowing a story of Matthew’s call, transferred Mark’s story of Levi to Matthew.  The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple.  There is one feature of Matthew’s text that helps to make this explanation probable.  In Mark, the story of Levi’s call is followed by a scene in which Jesus dines with tax-collectors (Mark 2:15-17).  Mark sets this scene in “his house”, which some scholars take to mean Jesus’ house, but could certainly appropriately refer to Levi’s house.  In Matthew’s Gospel, the same passage follows the narrative of the call of Matthew, but the scene is set simply in “the house” (Matthew 9:10).  Thus, this Evangelist has appropriated Mark’s story of the call of Levi, making it a story of Matthew’s call instead, but has not continued this appropriation by setting the following story in Matthew’s house.  He has appropriated for Matthew only as much of Mark’s story of Levi as he needed.”  (bolding, Gary’s) 

—Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, p.111

GaryWow!  The author of Matthew has inserted a fictional story into the inerrant Word of God!  How could that possibly have happened if Bauckham is correct that the named characters in these stories safe-guarded the integrity of these stories until they passed them on to the Evangelists?  The fact that even evangelical Christian scholars believe that fictional tales exist in the Gospels (evangelical scholar Michael Licona believes that Matthew’s “Dead Saints Shaken out of their Tombs” story is also fiction) indicates that either the “guardians of truth” were not very reliable…or…Bauckham’s theory is full of holes!

Just how historically reliable can the Gospels be if even evangelical scholars admit that they contain invented, fictional material???

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12 thoughts on “Richard Bauckham’s Scholarship is Full of Holes

  1. Gary says “What is the evidence given for this claim? Answer: Assumptions and conjecture, nothing more! ”

    And, of course, Gary evidently thinks that’s something different than Ehrman or Brown does. Go figure.

    Gary says Wow! The author of Matthew has inserted a fictional story into the inerrant Word of God! How could that possibly have happened if Bauckham is correct that the named characters in these stories safe-guarded the integrity of these stories until they passed them on to the Evangelists? ”

    Evidently he’s missing the fine point: Bauckham is equally one of those that (evidently) think there is fiction included in the gospels.

    Does Bauckham “undermine” his own claim by noting that business about Levi / Matthew?

    Gary quotes Bauckham’s “own claim”: “These eyewitnesses did not merely set going a process of oral transmission that soon went its own way without reference to them. They remained throughout their lifetimes the sources and, in some sense that may have varied for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell.”

    What does this say? “In SOME SENSE that may have VARIED for figures of central or more marginal significance, the authoritative guarantors of the stories they continued to tell”.

    “In Some Sense – that varied, depending on which person is being talked about – the authoritative guarantors of the stories THEY [ Not the gospel writers ] continued to tell”.

    This whole statement is purposefully vague and undetermined. Why, it’s almost as if the writer is getting ready to write a whole book to explain what he means in this statement. But, phrases like “in some sense”, and “may have varied for figures” (based on their significance) offers nothing to be “undermined”.

    [Sentence deleted. Personal attack.]

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  2. I left a comment on Robertson’s blog after you replied to Kilpatrick..
    They are both a pair of disingenuous arsehats with almost no integrity at all when it comes to these matters.
    To admit your argument is on the money means to deny what they are, never mind what they believe and they will never do that.
    Nevertheless, you are doing a Sterling job of making him look like an idiot.
    I am beginning to think the pair of them are a classic case of what Dennett calls someone who believes in belief not in the actual thing itself.

    I had a chuckle at Kilpatrick’s comment when he said a better term than ”eyewitness authors” ( the term Robertson had asserted) would be ”eyewitness testimony” and straight after added the caveat about not stepping back from his position or something! FFS!
    .

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      1. When you can have a brilliant mind such a Francis Collins who can quite happily study genetics and dna all day long and still uphold belief in the Resurrection story, is it really any surprise one can never get a reasonable, and more to the point, straightforward and honest answer from lessor minions such as this pair?
        But every former fundamental Christian knows this game and some must cringe at such antics, especially as many acted in much the same way when they were entrenched in this nonsense.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well said.

          We have now gotten into interesting territory: What did the eyewitnesses actually claim to have seen? A body? A bright light? How would we know without any undisputed eyewitness testimony?

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  3. Gary,

    You bring up great problems, serious problems regarding modern Evangelical Apologists desperately clinging to strictly “Gospel eyewitnesses” as some sort of reliable proof of his Greco-Apotheotic nature, or as staunch apologists like to hyper-extrapolate the 1-in-3 Son (of God) caricature of the Hellenic Godhead. But the authentic/contextual historical, historiography, and historicity of Yeshua/Jesus the Rabbi/Reformer of the Nasoraeons in Second Temple Judaism/Messianism… is an utterly different figure. In fact, the two persons have almost nothing in common and 400-years of theological fighting and runaway imaginations of Patristic Fathers regarding a Yeshua/Jesus Greek Christ — versus what Yeshua’s own Syro-Palestinian-Nabotean people remember/portray — will do that because it is human nature.

    After just 10-20 years all human beings’ CHANGE their remembrances, intentionally or not. And as my graphic below indicates, around 40-years passed before the FIRST known Gospel was penned: Mark. With Luke and Matthew over 50-years had passed. And with John, the most theological/geopolitical, retro-active Gospel of the four, 80-years had passed! That’s well beyond the lifetime of a person living in Antiquity, especially when Rome and Roman Consuls, Tribunes, and the aristocracy loathe (hate?) zealous, Jewish rebels and insurrectionists and exterminate you and your people like they did from 66 – 73 CE during the First Jewish-Roman War and the fall of Masada.

    And let us not forget that the oldest, extant canonical Gospel (Mark) — the gospel written first — does NOT record anything, NOTHING about a “resurrection of Jesus.” That is a later invention by Hellenic church leaders. How can a Gospel scribe forget something THAT PARAMOUNT and yet include all sorts of other less significant events/words!? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

    Yes, Bauckham’s book is merely popular Evangelical propaganda built on unreliable legends/myths, not eyewitness testimonies. Any reputable honorable book store would only keep 1 or 2 copies in the back, out of sight of the public. Unless of course they choose to put his book in the Fantasy-Fiction section. 😉

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  4. Gary –

    Setting the Gospels aside, can you tell me what a resurrected person is supposed to look like? Like, for instance, how do you know a resurrected person is NOT supposed to “appear” as some kind of nearly-impossible-to-describe, “bright light with a voice and an un-determinant shape”?

    In other words – let’s say Peter (et al) did, in fact, just see something that was inexplicable, and impossible to describe accurately. Does that necessarily mean that what they saw / perceived was NOT a real, external, and objective event?

    If you could tell me what a resurrected person is supposed to look like – and – you can show me how you know what he/she is supposed to look like, then you might have real reason to actually make a real argument out of your “bright lights” thing.

    But, on the other hand, if it’s possible that a resurrected person just might appear with an other-worldly, supernatural, and pretty-much indescribable appearance, then, even if Peter (et al) just saw/perceived this, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real and resurrected person. It very well could have been.

    Since you’re not posting any of my comments, I’m hoping you’ll come up with a brilliant write-up in which you describe exactly how a resurrected person is supposed to look.

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  5. The supposed resurrected Jesus had, according to Acts 1.3, to demonstrate to his ‘chosen apostles’ that he was just that: ‘he presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs’.

    What does this even mean, that he had to prove to them he’d returned? Could they not see that for themselves? Couldn’t they recognise the man with whom they’d spent the last three years? Or if they could, were they not convinced he was back from the dead so he had to prove it? How? How did he prove it? With a death certificate? By letting them poke his holes? And this took forty days?

    Isn’t it much more likely, if this event even happened, that Jesus’ old chums were subject to group hysteria and some sort of hallucination, so that they set about convincing each other that what they’d experienced was really Jesus? No wonder it took forty days to concoct a ‘plausible’ story, to arrive at ‘the many proofs’ that Acts speaks of.

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      1. Yes. In the studies of neuropsychology and behavioral sciences it is well known, called the Placebo-effect. The “placebo” (in this case a fictitious divine being) is amplified by a very sensory-stimulated performance — in auditoriums — of a crowd/congregation. It is very much like the phenomena of Mob-Herd mentality, but usually without the resulting violence. After repeating this ritual once, twice a week for many years… to that person and that group it becomes reality, despite whatever other human rituals are performed on the other side of the world.

        Dr. Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Karin Jensen of the Karolinska Institute have both done extensive research on “The Placebo Phenomena” and “Placebos Can Be Activated Unconsciously,” Here is a portion of what they found:

        “The [theater of performance and belief, i.e. placebo] results were not surprising: the patients who experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care. But in an age of rushed doctor’s visits and packed waiting rooms, it was the first study to show a “dose-dependent response” for a placebo: the more care people got—even if it was fake—the better they tended to fare.”
        Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, Harvard Magazine, The Placebo Phenomenon, Jan-Feb 2013

        “Such a mechanism would generally be expected to be more automatic and fundamental to our behavior compared to deliberate judgments and expectations”, says Karin Jensen. “These findings can help us explain how exposure to typical clinical environments and routines can activate powerful health improvements, even when treatments are known to be ineffective.”
        Dr. Karin Jensen, Placebos Can Be Activated Unconsciously, Karolinska Institute, June 2015

        Yes Gary, worked up into a stupor and fervor people do indeed hear and see all sorts of neuropsychological abstracts. The reality check is that none of it is Universal or exactly one experience felt/seen by all. Hence, in and from an individual’s brain. 🙂

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  6. Acts 1:3 says “To these [original apostles] He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”

    First, there’s nothing in this snippet that says any of the “original apostles” required “many convincing proofs”. It just says that many such proofs occurred. They could have been convinced by the first “appearance”, but, from Jesus’ end, it wasn’t just left at that. He went on and did more, whether any of the orig apostles “required” it or not.

    This bit of scripture could refer to a whole bunch of things, .none of which had to do with poking holes or death certificates. What would be some of the “proofs” that this person (formerly known as “dead Jesus”) was in fact “Jesus, alive”? What did Jesus do in his lifetime that was indicative of who he was? He did healings, he preached of the Kingdom, he forgave sins, interacted freely with “publicans and sinners”, performed miracles, and so on. From this particular, single line from the book of Acts, there is no telling what these “proofs” included, but, since the question has come up, one could – by using a little thought – come up with a whole bunch of things this scripture could be in reference to. And none of them would have to do with poking holes or showing death certificates.

    Why is it that so many of you skeptic guys post rhetorical questions as if that’s supposed to prove something? All it proves to me is that the one asking the questions didn’t look into the matter long enough to come up with possible answers….

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