Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Starting "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses"

Richard Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" is the next focus in my New Testament studies. Monday evening I read the introductory chapter. In it, Bauckam makes the case that the search for the historical Jesus is misguided. What is meant by the search for the "historical Jesus" is that attempt to discover who Jesus was in the context of an everyday Jewish setting, what he was really like, as opposed to only what we read about in the Gospels. Those who engaged in this quest have been suspicious that what we read about Jesus in the Gospels is not completely truthful, so we must look to evidence outside the Gospels, or reconstruct them to gain a more accurate picture of who Jesus really was and the message he proclaimed. It is true that Jesus did live in a first century Jewish setting and to understand this culture will give us a much clearer picture of Jesus. Yet as Bauckham points out, even those engaged in searching for the historical Jesus who have a high opinion of the veracity of Scriptures, are just substituting their own picture of who Jesus is that rivals the portrait the Church and the world has had available to them for 2000 years. The author recommends the work of a German (?) theologian by the name of Bysok who challenges the practice of studying Scriptures from the vantage point of form-criticism. Form-criticism is a valid vehicle for studying oral traditions, such as folklore. To apply it to the study of the formation of the New Testament presupposes that the content of the Gospel was passed down the generations orally, changing in the process as the years go by and as different agendas require different messages. Yet the historical evidence indicates that the time elapsed between Jesus' earthly ministry and the writing of the different books of the New Testament was comparatively short, within the lifetimes of those who actually knew Jesus and ministered with him. This is not the book I had planned to begin my own New Testament studies with, but the book has generated so much comment, I thought I ought to stay current with the dialogue. I expect it to be a slow, but informative read.