Friday, February 10, 2012

More on Mark and Peter (and Also Matthew, John, and Thomas)

There were quite a few interesting items in my latest reading of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

Bauckham continues his argument that the Gospel of Mark is based on eyewitness testimony from Peter. Against critics who argue that the Gospel of Mark puts Peter in a bad light, and that Peter would not give eyewitness testimony that does this because Peter needed to uphold himself in controversies, Bauckham responds that Peter himself was not controversial in the early church, which largely accepted him, and that Peter very well could have portrayed himself as a flawed yet sympathetic character. Against critics who argue that the Gospel of Mark is not Peter's eyewitness testimony because it does not provide deep, one-on-one impressions of Jesus, Bauckham retorts that perhaps Peter's aim was not to do that, but rather simply to record Jesus' sayings and deeds.

The anonymity of certain characters in the Gospels was revisited by Bauckham. Earlier in the book, Bauckham says that certain characters are anonymous in one Gospel but named in another Gospel because at one point they were known to the Christian community, but there came a point where they were unknown and thus their names were meaningless to the Christian community, explaining why they were dropped. In my latest reading, however, Bauckham goes a different route: he proposes that certain characters are left anonymous in order to protect them, since their lives would be at stake if it were well-known that they were key participants in a controversial Messianic movement. When John was written, however, some of the problems and characters had passed on, and so the characters were named.

I appreciated a point that Bauckham makes in response to the scholarly argument that Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead did not happen because it is absent from the synoptics. Bauckham says that Lazarus was left out of the synoptics in order to protect him, which I consider to be rather speculative, but Bauckham's point that I liked was that not every Gospel contains every single miracle that Jesus did. Luke, for example, contains Jesus' resurrection of the son of the widow from Nain, but that is not present in Mark. The Gospel authors chose the miracles that they chose. John considered the resurrection of Lazarus to be especially significant, but the other authors may have preferred to talk about other miracles.

Another issue that Bauckham addresses is Papias' statements regarding Mark and Matthew. Eusebius refers to Papias to show that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony, but Papias had a different agenda: Papias assumed that the Gospels contained eyewitness testimony, but he was wondering why, if that were the case, Mark and Matthew presented events in a different order from what is in John. Papias' conclusion was that Peter simply gave Mark his random memories, and Mark did not place them in order, and that Matthew's order was messed up when it went from Aramaic to Greek. Bauckham does not entirely agree with Papias here, for Bauckham believes that Mark contains order, but he believes that Papias' impression was different from his because Mark was unlike more sophisticated works of historiography. Bauckham also dismisses the argument that Papias made up the idea that Mark's Gospel was based on Peter's eyewitness testimony. Bauckham notes that Papias states that he got such a concept from John the elder, but, if Papias wanted to make up the concept, he could have said that he heard it from Peter himself, rather than John the presbyter.

Bauckham believes that Mark was from Palestine and reflects Peter's testimony, even though many scholars have argued that Mark has a distorted understanding of Palestinian geography (see here). Unfortunately, Bauckham just refers readers to scholarly writings that seek to refute that point, instead of addressing it himself. But I guess that's academia: I have to be used to tracking down sources!

A final point that intrigued me was Bauckham's argument that the Gospel of Thomas is aware of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. The Gospel of Thomas presents Matthew saying that Jesus was a philosopher, and Bauckham believes that the Gospel of Thomas here is aware of Matthew's Gospel because Jesus teaches a lot in Matthew, like a philosopher.

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