Baker Academic

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Richard Bauckham Responds

Last week, I wrote a short blog post inspired by this fine article by Brent Landau. I took issue with a minor detail concerning "eyewitnesses." I felt that this detail - while minor - betrayed a larger problem within historical Jesus research. Focused and emboldened by this most serious matter, I wielded all of my best Michael W. Smith and whoopee cushion anecdotes to provide an example of what Landau called "quite minor events" decades removed from eyewitness experience. As is often the case when you write about pseudo-flatulence, a senior scholar whom you've admired for years emerges to defend his work.

Below I've copied and pasted the portions of the comments thread wherein Bauckham responds. There were many other interesting comments on this thread. Here I only reproduce those that find Bauckham in direct conversation. I've also tinkered with the chronology a bit to clarify who is responding to whom.

Richard Bauckham:
What is routinely ignored in discussion of my Eyewitnesses book, is that in the chapter on the psychology of eyewitness memory I explained that eyewitness memory can be very unreliable, but for that reason I drew from a an extensive study of the psychological research literature conclusions about what sort of things are most likely to be remembered well and under what conditions eyewitness memory is likely to be reliable. Therefore my arguments are not refuted simply by general claims that eyewitness memory is often unreliable. It is one of many points at which my critics simply have not read my work adequately.

Nor did I claim that direct eyewitness testimony is necessarily more reliable than eyewitness testimony at secondhand or thirdhand (which is what your examples amount to). My claim is that the way the eyewitnesses told the stories lies not far behind the text of the Gospels as we have them. With the exception of parts (not all) of John's Gospel (in my view), we have in the Gospels eyewitness testimony at second or thirdhand. My general argument was directed to showing that access to eyewitness testimony mattered in the early church and that, in a variety of ways, the Gospels do claim such access. This is quite contrary to the form critical view. People say, But that doesn't get us very far because the eyewitness testimony need not be reliable, are failing to recognise that it gets us a lot further than the form critical paradigm allows. It makes it worthwhile taking the Gospels to be potentially good historical sources and to start assessing that by appropriate means - means different from the failed criteria of authenticity that were the best that could be done if the form critical paradigm of the transmission of Gospel traditions were right. Historical method is generally about evaluating sources as generally reliable and then trusting them - or not. Even the most reliable sources will be unreliable in parts but (unless we have really ample multiple sources) we often just have to take that risk. It's what history is always like - more or less probable, never 100% certain. And that's all without taking the subjectivity of eyewitness testimony in to account, as I do in the last chapter. It still remains the case that one condition for the reliability of a source is usually that it had plausible access to eyewitness testimony.

And what is the "philosophical assumption" you accuse me of making?


Anthony Le Donne:
Richard,

I cannot claim to have read all your critics. Certainly you know them better than I do. I've only read a handful of essays that criticize you on this point. At least two I can think of take you to task for building your case atop a superficial survey of psychological studies. I simply do not know the field of psychology well enough to know if this is the case. From my limited view, I would not point to this as a weakness in your work. One person’s “superficial” is another person’s “judiciously selective.” I would point, furthermore, to the first three chapters of McIver's book on the Ebbinghausian forgetfulness curve to fortify your case. My own criticism would take a different tact.

There are two matters, it seems, that are on the table here. (1) Did the Gospel writers think that they were conveying eyewitness testimony? And if so, did they think that this was important? (2) Should we place a higher value on source material that seems to have derived from what "Mark" et al. considered eyewitness testimony? I suspect that we will agree on the first and disagree on the second.

One point that I've tried to make in various publications is that earlier tradition is not necessarily better. In the same way that you say that history is never 100% certain (yes!) we can point to episode after episode in history wherein the first generation misunderstood the details and/or significance of their own events. Subsequent generations rewrite the narratives of their forebears because they benefit from a Wirkungsgeschichte that “eyewitnesses” can’t see. We are always revising our memories and histories. Sometimes we are able to improve our histories via revisionism. What interests me about appeals to eyewitnesses is not that they are “reliable” or generally trustworthy sources but in the way that the rhetoric promotes a perception of continuity with the past. I.e. Luke’s sources don’t need to be reliable; they only need to have distorted according to reliable patterns of memory distortion.

Also I'm quite happy to call Luke a historian. As long as we agree that we often project anachronistic categories when we use this term.

-anthony



Richard Bauckham:
In response to your last paragraph, I would say, for a start, that all later revisions and reinterpretations of historical events are still ultimately dependent on accounts by eyewitnesses. We can reinterpret the significance of events, but we can't supply the information that only an eyewitness could have had in the first place. If we find reason to correct the eyewitness's information (this is sometimes possible) we are still in fact dependent on the eyewitness's account.
Your last sentence seems to imply that you are not interested in the events (of the history of Jesus) at all but only in how later Christians perceived what they took to be the past. If you are interested in the events, then part of an assessment of Luke as a source would be precisely whether or not his sources "distorted according to reliable patterns of memory distortion." And to identify such patterns, I would say we need precisely psychological research and the sort of arguments I pursue in my book on the basis of psychological research (though of course there is scope for a great deal more work on those lines).


Anthony Le Donne:
I am indeed interested in historical events. But I am not comfortable divorcing the impact of said events. In order for them to become "historical" they must emerge and make sense within an/many interpretive framework/s. I.e. the interpretation is integral to the event. For more see my The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Baylor Univ. Press).

And thanks for chiming in. This has been an unlooked for but welcome discussion!

-anthony


Richard Bauckham:
I note also in Anthony's piece this sentence: "He is not only interested in defending Luke’s status as “historian” and he knows very well the anachronism involved in projecting that category onto an ancient author." The point about anachronism will sound ridiculous to anyone who has studied the historiography of the ancient world. If he just means that they didn't do or write history in the same way as 21st century historians, that is no reason for saying they were not "historians." Thucidydes, Polybius, Josephus not historians?? Of course, there have been and still are many different sorts of history, but that is no reason to deny that people in the ancient world who enquired about the past with serious standards of evidence and method were not historians.


Anthony Le Donne:
Richard, concerning this comment: "...note also in Anthony's piece this sentence: "He is not only interested in defending Luke’s status as “historian” and he knows very well the anachronism involved in projecting that category onto an ancient author." The point about anachronism will sound ridiculous to anyone who has studied the historiography of the ancient world."

The part that you quote here was meant to point out that Dr. Landau is not primarily an apologist. I wanted to indicate that Laudau is not *only* in the business of defending Luke's reliability.

-anthony

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Chris Keith:
Thanks for this, Anthony. To complement what you've said, it's also important to remember that in ancient historiography, claiming "eyewitness" status or information held an important rhetorical value irrespective of the quality of the information being transmitted. I'm always surprised at this not receiving more emphasis among those who want to stress the significance of eyewitness testimony. It was important for ancient historians to make this claim, but it didn't necessarily mean that they had more information than non-eyewitnesses.

My point here is simply that the value of the claim about the past has to be assessed separately from just noting the claim. I know you agree here, but just wanted to clarify my ramblings.



Richard Bauckham:
This is true in the sense that reference to eyewitness put your work in the category of serious historiography for which eyewitness testimony was regarded as essential. Therefore bad historians made fraudulent claims to access to eyewitness testimony that they didn't possess. Lucian exposes them mercilessly. But we shouldn't take "rhetorical" to mean, as it were, just rhetorical and so not fraudulent. Ancient readers cared whether the claims to eyewitness testimony were genuine or invented.


Chris Keith:
Richard, while we have you here, I have a question for you. In your future work, will you be doing anything more with the category of "testimony"? This was, for me, one of the more interesting aspects of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and I think it has the capacity to serve an important role as it underscores the inherently hermeneutical nature of any presentation of the past. It has much in common, I think, with much of what Anthony and I and others have emphasized in our work.



Richard Bauckham:
On eyewitness claims, I wasn't necessarily disagreeing with you. I just wanted to underline that they were rhetorical only because ancient historians really thought that good history must be based closely on eyewitness testimony. They are "rhetorical" in just the same sense that footnote references to archival sources might be for readers of a modern historian.
I am planning a sequel to Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and I might take up testimony again if I find I have anything more to say about it. But if so, I guess I'll be mainly interested in taking issue with the epistemological scepticism about testimony that is rife in our postmodern atmosphere and insisting that testimony is a very ordinary, indeed indispensable, means of real access to the past.


Jonathan Bernier:
History is a funny thing. The truth is, I don't know how I would decided specifically which if any of Jesus's healing acts recorded in the gospels describe events that actually occurred. I do know that Jesus as healer is sufficiently deep in the tradition that I have a hard time imagining how a Jesus who wasn't considered to be a healer could lead to the accounts that exist before us. That is, "Jesus as healer" is a far stronger conclusion than "Jesus performed this specific act of healing." This is part of the problem with the criteria approach, and more generally with addressing the question of "reliability" towards the level of individual pericope: it wants to begin with the least certain, and so little surprise if it yields such little historiographical fruit. The question is not "Is this pericope reliable? Is this one? This one? This one?" but rather "Why this particular assortment of pericopes and only this particular assortment in our data?"


Chris Keith:
I agree entirely, Jonathan. As you know, I think this focus upon individual pericopae is rooted in form criticism. I've just written an essay that argues this even further, noting that this is why form-criticism-inspired Jesus studies tend to ask questions about the historical value of individual traditions whereas more recent approaches tend to ask questions about general claims of the narratives.



Richard Bauckham:
I absolutely agree that the dire result of form criticism was the attempt to assess individual pericope one by one. But I'm also opposed to the retreat to generalities (Dale Allison style). For one thing, I find "Jesus was a healer" pretty uninteresting, as opposed to all the hugely interesting stuff in the stories. But I also think it was the stories that were remembered. Dale Allison seems to me to have an odd sort of memory when he says he remembers general things about his grandparents but no specific incidents. When I remember (for example) an aunt I knew quite well, what come at once to mind are a whole lot of vividly remembered occasions in which she featured, which have stuck in my memory for a variety of reasons. To come up with generalities about her, I would have to think. That would be a process of abstracting from the particulars which are what I actually remember. Am I odd in that respect?

People remembered specific headings Jesus did that were important enough to them or unusually enough to stick in their memories - stories that they then told over and over (a condition of remembering well). Jesus was only remembered as a healer because lost of these specific stories were remembered. (After all, there's not much in the sayings traditions to tell us he was a healer.) In some cases, we can in fact find indications of eyewitness origins: names (Bartimaeus) or locations not otherwise known in the Jesus traditions (Nain, Cana). It doesn't mean that these stories are more plausibly reliable than others. It's that such cases give us reasons to suppose most of the stories are basically reliable (of course, details are often storytelling variations). That some of them may not be and we can't tell which they are doesn't bother me at all. History is like that. But if we have historical access to Jesus it is through these specific stories, as it is through specific sayings (not just - "he talked about the kingdom of God": so what?). What form criticism distracted us from was from looking at the mass of traditions in the Gospels and looking for the historical indications that make the general run of them credible. There are ways of thinking about that that have been grossly neglected for a long time.


Chris Keith:
Richard, I think we agree about the impact of form criticism upon historical Jesus studies and approaches to the Gospels in general. I also agree with your earlier comment that any interpretation is necessarily dependent, in some form or another, upon the earliest interpretations, even of eyewitnesses. I think you've undersold Dale's argument here, however. Let me ask a question that your comment here prompts and preface it by saying that, in general, I am actually in favor of a form of Gerhardsson's idea that the disciples and others actually played a role in controlling the tradition in the early stages. That notwithstanding, you've here said specific names like Bartimaeus or locations like Nain and Cana are "indications of eyewitness origins" that indicate that the stories are "basically reliable." But you also state that these indications don't necessarily mean that "these stories are more plausibly reliable than others" and that you aren't worried about the fact "that some of them may not be [reliable] and we can't tell which they are." How, then, do you get from the facts that (1) these indications don't, in and of themselves, necessarily mean that the stories are plausibly reliable and (2) we can't, at the end of the day, necessarily know which are reliable and which aren't, to the conclusion that the stories are generally reliable? Could not an ancient tradent have inserted such details (not necessarily with ill motives) in order to give the story the ring of authenticity? Stated otherwise, how does the modern historian distinguish between a usage of such details that reflects the fact that the tradition is reliable and a usage of such details that reflects the fact that the tradition is designed to look reliable? This is where I would say that the value of eyewitness testimony must be assessed separately from the claim for eyewitness status. But I'm wondering how you might deal with this historiographical issue.



Richard Bauckham:
My argument was too brief to be clear. 

For a start, one has to go back to the way form criticism understood the transmission of Gospel traditions in the early church and how they reached the Gospels. This meant that, if one were to identify “authentic” Jesus material, one could not proceed (as historians most often do) by a assessing the general reliability of a source containing a lot of material. One could only assess items of tradition one by one. Moreover, the nature of the transmission meant that the odds against authentic material surviving were high (more or less, depending on the scholar). So one could only proceed at all by using criteria that were thought to be highly rigorous in order to isolate a few bits of authentic stuff in this mass of very unpromising material and go on from there. This seems to me to have got Jesus scholars into a frame of mind in which they want arguments for authenticity to be foolproof in a way that one doesn’t normally either in history (so many of them have never done any other sort of history) or ordinary life. The retreat to generalities seems to me (I could be wrong) just another way of trying to deal with the same general situation and rescue something from the very unpromising pool of traditions as the form critics pictured them.

Some people are now using memory studies to argue that, leaving form criticism aside, we are nevertheless in much the same sort of situation as the form critics left us in, because memory is unreliable. I think, as far as the psychology of memory goes, this is a mistake. The results of research tell us more detailed and interesting things about how and when memory is reliable or not. And once again, as historians, we are only looking for the degrees of reliability we ordinarily depend on all the time in ordinary life (and without which we cannot function). We’re not looking for infallibility.
Plausible access to eyewitness testimony is one condition of a historically reliable source. Of course, not the only condition, but a hugely important one. I and others have emphasized it because the form critics denied that the evangelists had plausible access to eyewitness testimony, even at several times removed, and (importantly) said that neither the evangelists nor other tradents were at all interested in it. For the form critics, eyewitness testimony was a late apologetic claim by Luke and John. That’s why so much of my argument in the book was directed to arguing that the Gospels do, in various ways, claim eyewitness testimony and that it was important in the early church long before the Gospels. People complain: That doesn’t get us very far (claims can be false, eyewitnesses get things wrong….). But in terms of getting us back behind the whole form critical approach to a position where we can start again in a different way, actually it does get us a long way. 


Chris Keith:
Ok. I got it and am in agreement for the most part. In my own work, I have given much attention to the way form criticism undergirds the quest for "authenticity" via criteria and have criticized this approach pretty heavily. I tend not to see the "retreat" to generalities as something of the same thing, however. I think there's a different epistemological assumption as well as a different methodology in terms of how one does "history" at work in folks like Allison, Schroeter, and, if I may say, myself. It's not an attempt to rescue bits of the tradition that can be recovered; rather, it's an attempt to account for the interpretations we see in the Gospels. In other words, it doesn't chop the narratives up but rather starts with them as what must be explained. I think this lines up with your approach in the Eyewitnesses.

You're right that some people are using memory studies in order to argue that we are in the same position as form criticism left us. I think that's a misuse of the theory, in particular sociological approaches to memory but also many cognitive approaches to memory. I think the theory shows that memory is capable of being both reliable and unreliable, but the theory itself does not demonstrate any given instance to be either . . . it's up to the historian to do that, in my opinion. You're absolutely right, though, that this puts us regardless in a much different position that form criticism left us.



Richard Bauckham:
Part 2:
So now we can look holistically at the contents of the Gospels and ask for general historical indications that these are good sources or not. Bear in mind that, especially in ancient history, one can more or less always come up with SOME sort of alternative possibility to explain the evidence. Was Julius Caesar really assassinated by Brutus and Cassius? Maybe our sources had reasons for suppressing the real truth. But we’re looking for reasonable probabilities and the case for the Gospels is going to be cumulative, based on a whole lot of different considerations. The form critics inculcated a methodologically fragmented way of looking at all this stuff. Fragments are particularly vulnerable to historical scepticism. Good history, in my view, is about a whole lot of things coming coherently together.

On the healings (my computer keeps changing this to headings – why?) my point about names is part of an argument I can’t repeat now, that does make it stronger than you take it to be, Chris. But what I meant was: There may be some stories that have particular features that especially favour their authenticity. But that doesn’t mean other stories are less likely to be reliable. It increases the probability that the healing stories in general are reliable. Then I made a separate point that there could have been some inauthentic accretions to the general stock of such stories and we may not be able to distinguish these. You are pressing me to put the two points together, and I guess it means the stories with particular indications of authenticity can be exempted from this possibility of being legendary accretions or have a lower such possibility. If there’s an inconsistency there it’s because I’m trying to say (a) the general grounds for treating the general run of these stories as reliable are increased by the presence of particular indications in some (I was guarding against the view that the marks of authenticity in some stories implies the unreliability of the other stories), (b) as a general principle a degree of agnosticism is built into such arguments because – this is what history is like!


Chris Keith:
I agree entirely that what we should really be about is "a whole lot of things coming together coherently" and that, of course, there is much we cannot know. I apologize if I portrayed your comments as less potent than the full argument, with which I am very familiar and find incredibly thought-provoking, but I was indeed trying to parse through what you just said on the blog and get you to connect your two points. I may be drastically misreading you (I hope not), but in my opinion your argument isn't as far away from Allison's argument about gist as you may think. I should add, though, that I do not think we always have to be content just with assessing generalities, though they are perhaps the places where we can have the most confidence. I do think that, on occasion, we can deal with specific details.



Richard Bauckham:
Thank you, Chris, for your detailed attention to my arguments. I'm glad that we are in agreement about a lot of things. As you know, I esteem your work. We are both (and Anthony) facing up squarely to the key question: Where do we go now that form criticism has collapsed?


___ ___ ___

Thanks again to Richard Bauckham for this lively and robust exchange! The original post and comments thread can be found here. 

-anthony

26 comments:

  1. Thanks much to everyone for this important, quotable, possibly even watershed discussion.

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  2. This was great! After having read some of Anthony's work and Richard's work I have been looking for an engagement. I have borrowed from both in my preaching and teaching, but I think in my cherry picking I am not always being fair.

    Anyhow, if I could have a Christmas wish I would love to see an SBL discussion between: Chris, Anthony, Richard, and Dale regarding these issues, recorded and placed on Youtube of course!

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  3. Thanks for a great discussion. The Gospel of Mark records two incidents at Jerusalem that the other Gospels leave out: Jesus coming to the Temple, but not doing anything, because it is too late in the day; and the young man who leaves his linen garment behind to escape capture. Neither incident does much to further the plot, and in fact the former seems rather anticlimactic. I think taking both stories together suggests reliance on an eyewitness, likely someone who lived in Jerusalem. The healing of Bartimaeus just outside of Jericho, which is just fifteen miles from Jerusalem is interesting. If Mark is the eyewitness, it might explain how he came to know the blind man's name. What is interesting is that the John Mark of Acts seems to come from Jerusalem.

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    1. Julian, I think many would disagree with you about whether the temple incident and naked young man further the plot of Mark's Gospel, including me. But let me ask a different question. If your argument is that these things made it in, basically, because they really happened and not necessarily because they help Mark's narrative, what do you do with the thousands and thousands and thousands of other things that happened in Jesus' life in front of eyewitnesses, wouldn't necessarily help the narrative of Mark's Gospel if included, but weren't included? How did Mark decided between things to include and things not to include if (according to your theory) we're talking about things that don't help the narrative?

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    2. My hypothesis is that the author of Mark was a native of Jerusalem, who wasn't an eyewitness of Jesus' Galilean ministry, but was an eyewitness to some of the events involving Jesus in Jerusalem. This would account for the absence of the thousands of details in Jesus' life from Mark's Gospel, but for the couple that did make it in to his narrative, but got left out by the other Gospel authors, who did not consider those details important to the story.

      My hypothesis may also help explain why the blind man (Bartimaeus) is identified by Mark, but not by the other Gospels. Mark names him because he had actually met him.

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    3. I just noticed Mark 15:21,

      "A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross."

      Besides Mark's mentioning both Simon's name and his sons, he seems to write from the point of view of a native of Jerusalem, who might customarily talk about visitors to Jerusalem as "in from the country."

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  4. Critically, Bauckham himself admits that most accounts (except for John's, he says) are not from eyewitness, but are second- or third-hand reports.

    Richard seems to then claim however, that we can still establish that those second- and third-hand reports were reliable. That there were real witnesses ultimately, behind it all.

    However, many sudies of culture, oral culture, and myth, suggest that even eyewitness themselves are not entirely reliable. And worse, the cultural transmission of stories more than 20 years old, produces even more problems.

    Not to mention the possibilities of outright deception or fiction.. By 167 BC or so, Greeks especially were accomplished and inventive writers, who were easily capable of inventing realistic details to advance a dramatic narrative, or to give the appearance of realism.

    Of particular interest here in any case however, would be the simple (or complex) fallibility of human memories of the past.

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    1. Anonymous, I don't think anyone involved with this thread would disagree with your general observations. But (for about 20 years now) we've been in the business of trying sharpen vague categories like "not entirely reliable" and "fallibility of human memories of the past." The discussion takes these observations for granted; we're now talking about how memory evolves and the various patterns that are typical to memory distortion.

      -anthony

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    2. Further to what Anthony has said here, I'd be more inclined to say that the effects of the transmission of tradition over periods of time (even up to 20 years and more) don't necessarily produce "problems" but simply produce byproducts of the process of transmission. In other words, I think your rhetoric, anonymous, assumes that there's something else, like a pure version of the past, that we can measure a line of transmission against. But we don't have access to that. We only have access to the line of transmission. From my view, the continuities and discontinuities of such a line of transmission are simply what they are.

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    3. Chris, I think that it depends on what you want to do with the text. If you want to use it as empirical proof of some historical event at the level of fine detail, then the transmission effects produce problems, big problems. If you say ' this is what we have and therefore this is what we know', then yes, they are simply what they are and we work with them accordingly. I think that the current challenge is to be clearer both about what we have and how we can work with it authentically.

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    4. I think that now and then a general summary overview is useful. Especially one which includes findings by the social sciences, that still invoke the notion of a knowable objective truth.

      I feel that you hold to the poststructuralist notion of the ultimate unknowability of truth. The Nietzschean notion that all we ever have are interpretations, not facts. However, for various reasons, that notion in turn came under heavy Philosophical criticism in the 1990's. In favor of a return to a claim of objectivity.

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  5. Thanks for pulling the threads of this discussion together, Anthony, especially since it happened while I was away at a conference and with minimal internet contact, so didn't get involved as it was happening.

    I think that many of both Richard's critics and his supporters have not read his work through carefully enough. Many of both his critics and his supporters seem to think that he is saying that eyewitness testimony = accurate account and I admit that that was my initial response to 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses'. He has, however, written more on this than just the book and he finesses his arguments both in the 2008 volumes of JSHJ and JSNT that focus on the book and also in other articles. I think it is quite clear both from these and from what he says above that he is not trying to say that eyewitness testimony = accurate account. I think that an important point emerges from our being reminded that the gospels arise from eyewitness memories of real events is that it is actually far more likely that what we are reading is *what eyewitnesses remember* than that it is material that was intentionally adjusted by the gospel authors* to fit in with their particular worldviews. The latter is what the language of criticism implies when it talks about Matthew taking Mark and Q and changing them to say something different.

    Anthony, very early in this conversation, you say ‘One point that I've tried to make in various publications is that earlier tradition is not necessarily better. In the same way that you say that history is never 100% certain (yes!) we can point to episode after episode in history wherein the first generation misunderstood the details and/or significance of their own events. Subsequent generations rewrite the narratives of their forebears because they benefit from a Wirkungsgeschichte that “eyewitnesses” can’t see.’

    I'd like to take issue with some of this in two respects. First, my reading of the psychological writing about eyewitness testimony and human memory suggests that the hindsight of subsequent generations cannot correct the *detail* of historical events that have been passed on orally, although hindsight may well give them a better understanding of the *significance* of those events. Second, I agree that an earlier tradition may not necessarily be a better tradition, but this has more to do with the fact that for most of the Jesus events, there were many eyewitnesses to most of the Jesus events and an earlier tradition may have come from fewer and/or less accurate observers than a later one, or may have been (more) contaminated by input from . The problem, of course, is that we have no way of knowing which one is more accurate because we know nothing about the authors from any sources external to their writings, so we have no way of assessing what factors might have affected their memories of events or how.

    I don’t think that Richard’s work gives us any more hope of being able to determine with any certainty what Jesus actually said or did, but do think that it and the various responses to it require us to think in a different way about exactly what kind of material we have in the gospels and therefor what conclusions we can reasonably draw from it if we are not simply going to say ‘I believe it is God-breathed and therefore totally historically accurate at every point.’

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    1. Thank you, Judy. Nice to have your voice in this conversation! As I mentioned to Richard, I am not well-read on the psychological side of things. I've read a bit, but not nearly enough to contribute in a meaningful way. My expertise is on the sociological and philosophical aspects of memory. Sociologically, I will say that we do remember more (not necessarily "better") together than we do as individuals. Sometimes external pressures force our mnemonic idiosyncrasies into typical memes. This tendency can spin our autobiographical accounts in ways that lack continuity with previous mnemonic frames (often without our knowing). But sometimes we are able to see that our families, friends, previous generations, future generations, professional remembrancers etc correct/enhance our memories in a way that improves their continuity with the perceived past. In both cases, we're dealing with forms of memory distortion (what I have called memory "refraction"). If we're working with categories -- and forgive me for quoting these phrases from your reply -- like "more contaminated," "certainty," "actually said or did" the realization of memory distortion might lead us to lament that we can't really talk about Jesus. But (and now we move here to the philosophical) if memory is always only memory refraction in various forms, perhaps we need to think with different categories and measure these categories differently. The point here is that we *always* lack the baseline or control case of "undistorted memory" when we talk about history. So much more with ancient history! I don't think that I'm saying anything too contradictory to your reply. Rather I'm just speaking to your points from different angles. But maybe I've missed something?

      thanks again for jumping in!

      -anthony

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  6. Hi Anthony,

    The psychological literature definitely backs up the idea that we can remember more as a group than we do as individuals, but interestingly, if you get say 10 people to provide individual eyewitness accounts and then pool their accounts you get a fuller, more accurate account than you get from either any one of the individual accounts or version that you get if you put the 10 of them in a room together and ask them to construct an agreed account. Sometimes one person's memory will trigger something extra from another, but sometimes an inaccurate memory will contaminate the memories of others, especially if the person making the mistake is confident about it. This is even more of a problem in an interdependent society such as the ones in the Middle East where being 'right' isn't as important as valuing each person's contributions. Thus in western society if one person remembered a red hat and another a green, the group would generally try to decide who was correct, but in an interdependent society, they might well decide that the hat was red with a green brim, or that the hat was red, but the shirt was green...

    And yes, we want our memories to have continuity with a perceived past. The problem is that we tend to want our perceived past to make sense of who we are today and that sometimes means that we don't want to remember unpalatable things about it. Richard in his book uses the example of the way that Rossini's memory of his attempt to see Beethoven when Rossini was a young man changed over Rossini's life. His earlier accounts of it were of a frustrating encounter where they couldn't communicate because of the language barrier, whereas when he told the story later in life, he remembered that Beethoven had said that The Barber of Seville was a wonderful work. The psych literature suggests that he could well genuinely have believed that this is what happened, rather than having deliberately adjusted the story.

    Other than that, yes, I think we agree and you're speaking my points from different angles. And even here, I am not actually disagreeing with you...

    Yes, I think we do need to think with different categories and measure them differently.

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    1. Don't forget that according to social or any science, it IS possible to judge whether some ancient statements were true or objectively false. If witnesses for example claimed to have seen a " miracle" for example, or something scientifically improbable, then a scientist might suggest the witness was not reliable.

      Often scholars in the humanities simply forget that most sciences still retain at least some confidence in objective, knowable truth. One which could in fact label some witnesses as false.

      Though the humanities seem to think this claim is naive, science may be less naive than many think.

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    2. It is for this reason that I have from the beginning encouraged and supported Richard Bauckham's earlier, more critical position. That the language of the Bible often hints at very serious sins even in our holiest men and alleged witnesses, like St. Peter.

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  7. I hope you allow me to chime in a bit after enjoying this compelling discussion.

    A number of points catch my attention. First, Richard, you mention that telling stories “over and over” is a condition of “remembering well.’ I think that’s right, and it reminds me of how lecturing over the years has chiseled some information in me, long term. Chris, your favoring a form of Gerhardsson’s notion of the disciples playing a role in “controlling the tradition in the early stages” begs my question, how early? If I re-member correctly (which I may not!), Gerhardsson imagined a lot of the tradition immerging when Jesus (the Rabbi) was teaching/being watched and listened to by his disciples (“students”)…In other words, they were there, along with other “eyewitnesses,” – and before death/resurrection – ready to exercise control over the talk before it spread too far too quickly. Which brings me to my point(s) re: the importance of speech and talk, at least in the re-membering of things that Jesus may have done and said in public, and not private.

    I have to admit I get uncomfortable about talk of eyewitnesses, even if an Evangelist thought s/he was relating events ultimately from “eyewitnesses’ re-membered experiences” of Jesus (better, at this earliest stage of speech and talk, than saying “testimony” about him), or worse, a single “eyewitness’ re-membered experience” – if they thought that. Why is that one’s better than others'?

    Not convinced by Birger’s pre-resurrection school-house scenario – I’m more comfortable with a post-resurrection attempt(s) to begin controlling re-membrances. The idea that prior to death/resurrection, the social-process of gossip and rumour likely, and naturally emerged among multiple (public) “eyewitnesses” in response to what I’ve called elsewhere “generative events,” imagines a highly informal and uncontrolled scenario – not that “uncontrolled” (a la Bailey) necessarily means distorted, either witting or unwitting.

    If we’re talking post-death/resurrection reception of re-membrances believed to be “eyewitness” re-membrances, the question is, again, “which one?” As soon as the event occurs, the talk starts – i.e. what Anthony refers to as “sense making” a/o “interpretation” – to which I might add “event (re)construction” and social identity (re)construction, too. And, if the “sense making” (gossip and rumor) continues over time and (literally) geographical space (from place to place – or “throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” – i.e. in multiple directions from multiple experiences – as Mark puts it; 1:28), then do we have a re-membrance of an event-becoming historical, in the Gospel tradition itself?

    Talk of eyewitnesses, and connecting eyewitnesses to generative events that are just gone, always seems rather porous to me.

    Hope this makes sense.

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    1. Sure. And thanks. Oral rumors and storytelling would have formed the ideas of even eyewitness talking to each other. For that matter, psychology and philosophy tell us that even what an eyewitness conceptually saw, even first hand, would be determined by his or her earlier mental Gestalt or mindset.

      Assuming that there even were eyewitness. Bauckham rightly notes that most of the New Testament is by a later narrative, editorial voice. One that is itself not an eyewitness, but tells us that it is recounting things heard from others.

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    2. Jack, I've just now noticed this, so I apologize for the failure to respond earlier. You've mentioned a lot here and asked lots of rhetorical questions as well (good ones!). I can't address it all but I'll respond to your direct question to me. I purposefully said that I'm in favor of a "form" of Gerhardsson's idea. I don't at all buy the schoolhouse idea, either, and I think that's one of the places where Gerhardsson let the rabbinic literature and his imagination have too much say. But I do think that *post-resurrection* especially, those regarded as Jesus' first followers would inevitably have had some influence over the growing oral tradition, in the sense that they would have functioned as recognized bearers of the tradition. I don't, however, think their control would have been universal or anything like that. But could they have exerted some control? Sure. I can't see why not.

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  8. I have only just caught up with this interesting discussion. Maybe I could just urge anyone who is interested in the psychology of eyewitness testimony (i.e. the research and theories in the cognitive psychology of memory) in relation to the Gospels to read or re-read my chapter on it (chap 13) in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. It remains the fullest discussion of the subject, apart from McIver's very useful book, and neither Judy Redman nor Dale Allison (nor anyone else so far as I'm aware) have even engaged with, let alone refuted my actual arguments. Most of what they say about the fallibility of memory I already said in that chapter. I also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that memory is always interpretative, even at the point of first encoding a memory. Reiterating those points does not refute my arguments. My purpose was to go beyond the "all or nothing" sort of approach which thinks either (1) "eyewitness testimony is always accurate" and we can be "certain" of what the Gospels say on the basis of it, or (2) "eyewitness testimony is unreliable" and we cannot trust anything an eyewitness says. In line with the approach that, e.g. Daniel Schacter, one of the experts on memory distortion, advocates, my purpose was to draw from the research more nuanced observations about what sort of events are well remembered and under what circumstances they are best remembered and recalled. One key point is to recognise, as I explained, that the study of eyewitness testimony in legal contexts, on which a great deal of research has been done, is only marginally relevant to the case of the Gospels. Another essential point is to notice that the psychologists who study the failures and distortions of memory are often at pains to point out that most of the time memory is reliable, even remarkably accurate. They focus on its failures because these help them to study the processes of memory, not because the failures are necessarily frequent. (How frequent they are varies according to the types of memory involved, conditions of retention and retrieval and so forth. We need to attend to these differences.)

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  9. Continuation of my previous comment:
    If we want "total accuracy" or to be "certain" about the historical Jesus, then of course we can't have that, and when I wrote the book it never occurred to me that we could, because that is not the nature of historical knowledge. Both memory and historical knowledge are probabilistic. Because I'm a trained historian I take that for granted and it doesn't bother me. What I was arguing was that the Gospels are close to eyewitness testimony - and that puts them into the same category as a huge amount of the historical evidence on which historians normally rely (most of which also has its own interests and agendas, of course).
    Incidentally I was not much concerned with the evangelists' redaction of their sources, which of course I took for granted, with a few caveats about seeing too much theological purpose in the kind of small variations that are normal in ancient storytelling. I was concerned with how the traditions reached the evangelists, and in that respect the form critical theory of the transmission of the traditions detached them from the eyewitnesses and postulated a kind of transmission that would most likely not be faithful to their origins. So putting the Gospels back into the category of accounts that depend closely on eyewitness testimony does make a big difference. If one simply responds by saying, "it makes no difference because eyewitnesses are fallible," then one must go on similarly to dismiss all narrative accounts of events that we have from the ancient world (and much later historical material too). Cognitive psychologists would not say that we need to do that.
    My approach cannot satisfy the "all or nothing" mentality. I understand why people want to be certain (it's related to the nature of religious faith) but I find it very surprising that other people seem to think that some degree of uncertainty prevents us from trusting sources that there are reasonable grounds for thinking probably reliable. In everyday contexts, every day of our lives, we trust eyewitness testimony (often in the form of information that goes back eyewitness testimony at some distance). We couldn't live our lives without doing so, no one could write history without doing so.
    Readers may be interested to know that I am adding some new material to the tenth anniversary edition of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which Eerdmans are bringing out next year, and I will be discussing the psychology again in response to Redman and Allison.

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    1. Professor Bauckham,

      May I ask, taking a different angle on the question, if the first followers of Jesus at least believed he had resurrected from the dead, would it be more likely they would have given more effort to accurately preserve his sayings and deeds?

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    2. Timothy: The form critics tended to think that, at least in a hellenistic environment, the early Christians were focussed on the exalted Christ and their relationship with him, and were not really interested in the remembered Jesus of the past. This is why the form critics could readily imagine the early Christians treating the traditions about Jesus in freely creative ways (e.g. including sayings of Christian prophets among the traditions of Jesus' sayings). I think many studies, from different angles, have shown this to be mistaken. Rather they thought the risen and ascended Christ was the earthly Jesus, so that remembering Jesus was the way to know who he still was, as risen and exalted and coming. So, yes, I think remembering the earthly Jesus and honouring the risen Christ went hand in hand.
      From the point of view of cognitive psychology, the two key elements in remembering well are (1) the nature of the event (distinctive and salient events are remembered best), and (2) early and frequent rehearsal of the memory (to oneself and/or to others).

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  10. http://resurrectionhope.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/anthony-le-donne-richard-bauckham-is.html

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  11. Don't know if this would be considered off-topic, but why doesn't Papias' story of the talking grapes (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33) hurt his credibility and justify suspicion toward his accuracy? It would appear that Papias was the National Enquirer of the second century, and concerned more to collect and disseminate, than to weigh.

    For example, "Judas did not die by hanging" (Theophylact quoting Apollinarius of Laodicea) directly contradicts Matthew 27:5, which due to the latter's unqualified nature would have left the originally intended Matthian community with the impression that the hanging is what caused his death. Either Papias knew the death-by-chariot-and-bloating story was false, meaning his choice to disseminate it anyway impeaches his credibility, especially as Bishop of a Church whom he is supposed to protect from believing corrupted gospel traditions, or, he did not know the story was false, necessarily requiring that his Matthew and today's Matthew disagree, the very definition of textual corruption of the canonicals.

    Either Matthew's original was far shorter and what we have today is embellishment, or what we have today has been divested of previously canonical material. I don't think conservative apologists can maintain historically reliable gospels in the face of the Papias problems outlined above.

    Papias is a sword that cuts both ways, and I find it unbelievable that conservatives depend on him as if his credibility were beyond suspicion, then go silent about his fanciful tales that contradict the canonical record and thus legitimately impeach his credibility.

    ...or maybe Judas really did not die by hanging, and Matthew 27:5 in the canonical version is a corruption.

    Mr. Bauckham, why doesn't your section on Papias in "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" mention these credibility-impeaching problems of Papias? Can these problems be explained in a way that allows us to distrust Papias when he mentions apocryphal fables/legends, but trust him whenever he happens to say something that agrees with today's canonical gospels?

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