CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Today's Christianity Today has an interview with Richard Baukham, author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, entitled They Really Saw Him. Set up in a Q&A format, the article has some interesting insights into his book.

What it the importance of "testimony" for interpreting the New Testament?

I think it helps us to understand what sort of history we have in the Gospels. Most history rests mostly on testimony. In other words, it entails believing what witnesses say. We can assess whether we think witnesses are trustworthy, and we may be able to check parts of what they say by other evidence. But in the end we have to trust them. We can't independently verify everything they say. If we could, we wouldn't need witnesses.

It's the same with witnesses in court. Testimony asks to be trusted, and it's not irrational to do so. We do so all the time. Now in the case of the Gospels, I think we have exactly the kind of testimony that historians in the ancient world valued: the eyewitness testimony of involved participants who could speak of the meaning of events they had experienced from the inside. This kind of testimony is naturally not that of the disinterested passerby who happened to notice something. That wouldn't tell us much worth knowing about Jesus. That the witnesses were insiders, that they were deeply affected by the events, is part of the value of their witness for us.

In the book, I discuss testimonies of the Holocaust as a modern example of an event we would have no real conception of without the testimony of survivors. In a very different way, the Gospels are about exceptionally significant events, history-making events. In the testimony of those who lived through them, history and interpretation are inextricable. But this, in fact, brings us much closer to the reality of the events than any attempt to strip away the interpretation and recover some supposedly mere facts about Jesus.

Your reliance on personal names and characters—particularly those who were impacted personally by Jesus—is extensive. Has New Testament scholarship not made use of this data in the past?

Actually, not much attention has been paid to names in the Gospels. Even with a subject as intensively studied as the Gospels, it is possible to notice things people haven't thought much about, because we all employ ways of reading the Gospels that incline us to notice certain kinds of things. Also, we now have a huge amount of extra-biblical evidence (3,000 individually named Palestinian Jews in the New Testament period) that has only recently become easily accessible in a single database. This resource enables us to verify the authenticity of personal names and how they are used in the Gospels.

The article continues with more fascinating information. This is a fine interview and I encourage reading it in full.

1 comments:

As a trial lawyer (defence and prosecution), I can strongly recommend this book. I have borrowed a copy from the local library and am impressed.

The weight that attaches to a witnesses' testimony is a function of two things: (1) credibility [(a)plausible story, (b) honestly delivered] and (2) reliability [(a) powers of observation, (b) powers of recall, and (c) accuracy in statement].

This book is a valuable contribution to an assessment of the disciples' powers of recall. The core of the book is the chapter on "Memory". It's a bit overly and technically psychological, but well worth the price of the book. It undercuts the central premise of form criticism that the form of a pericope is shaped by the community not the witness.

Personally, I intend to use in my upcoming book "Putting Jesus on Trial: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John".

Robert Sutherland

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