Note: This post was written last week, but due to the Thanksgiving revelries it languished, unposted, until today. Enjoy!
Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I am composing this post at an altitude of 30,000 feet as I return home from the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego. (Of course, I won’t be able to actually post it until later today; cyberspace yet doesn’t extend this far above ground!) The past few days have been busy, but productive. I attended a number of insightful and stimulating panels and although I don’t have the time nor the dedication to produce detailed reviews of them all, I wanted to list a few personal highlights.
Julie Faith Parker, one of the PhD students in the Hebrew Bible division (as well as an ordained Methodist minister and an all-around wonderful person), led an interactive presentation entitled “You Are a Bible Child,” which invited listeners to experience the lives of some of the marginalized children who appear in the Elisha cycle. To set the mood, Julie passed around coarse cloth, thin bread, dates, and figs and displayed slides while reading a fictional account of a young girl living in pre-exilic Israel, before turning to the biblical texts themselves. It was a masterful presentation. I’m not really a Hebrew Bible guy, but I know good, instructive work when I see it, and this was it.
Adela Collins, one of my favorite professors at Yale, joined with John Kloppenborg and James Crossley in a panel review of Richard Bauckham’s latest provocative offering, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. I was unable to finish the entire book before the review session, but I believe that I read enough to capture its spirit: the canonical gospels were largely based upon eyewitnesses testimony (and the Gospel of John was itself written by an eyewitness). Both ancient historiographical practices and modern memory theory are cited in support of this argument, which stands contrary to the dominant view that the gospels’ authors utilized anonymously transmitted oral tradition in their work. Bauckham places the gospels within an innovative literary category—that of (eyewitness, or reliable) testimony—which presumably provides sufficient justification for readers’ acceptance of their claims.
Of the reviewers, Prof. Collins provided the most direct critiques of the book’s methods. (What would you expect me to say… I’m her student!) She spoke of the “elephant in the room,” which indeed remains very much in the room: the miracle stories, long a plague upon historical Jesus scholars. What are we to make of these stories? Are we to blithely accept them, simply because the supporting witnesses have been deemed “reliable”? Prof. Crossley delivered a number of interesting comments entitled “What if Richard Bauckham Is Right?”, but my personal pressing question in this category remained essentially unasked. Even if the gospels were based upon eyewitness testimony--that is, people who were active disciples of Jesus of Nazareth during his lifetime--how do we address the blatant discrepancies and obvious redactional material? Bauckham himself is forced to admit that several traditions were altered to various degrees by their final authors/editors; how does this admission affect the gospels’ reliability? Aren’t we right back where we started? But all in all, this is a book which will have the biblical studies world in a tither for quite some time.