Friday, May 15, 2009

Three Chapters In Baukham on New Testament Names

This week I have read chapters 3, 4 and 5 of "Jesus and The Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" by Richard Baukham. All three chapters focus on the names of those who appear in the New Testament. Why focus on the names? Remember that modern Biblical scholarship has asserted that the New Testament was the product of some centuries of oral tradition and much of what appears in its accounts were added hundreds of years after the recorded events. Some scholars claim that the names associated with certain passages in the Bible were added centuries afterward for a "novel effect." Baukham's book challenges these assertions; he claims that the names associated with passages, such as the healing of blind Bartimaeus, were the actual names of those who were the original sources of information for these accounts. These sources were known to the Gospel writers who knew that these sources were reliable. These sources were those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ's earthly ministry, who committed what they heard and saw to memory. As Baukham points out, many modern scholars dismiss their value as eyewitnesses.

Chapter 3: Names In The Gospel Tradition: Baukham provides tables identifying who was named in Gospel accounts and those who were not. Those named: public persons such as Pilate and the various Herods, The 12 Disciples. Those unnamed: people who in one encounter received healing and persons who in their one personal encounter with Jesus refused to become disciples. There are exceptions to every rule. The story of Bartimaeus, who was healed of blindness is named, yet this can be explained by the Gospel accounts that state that he went on to follow Jesus. Mark names people that Matthew and Luke do not. Is this evidence of a lack of historical veracity among the different accounts. No. Mark is accepted as being the first of the 4 Gospels to be written. He could name people who were participants in Gospel accounts who later were neither alive or simply not available to the latter two writers. Not having anyone to give eyewitness testimony to certain events, they simply included the same accounts with the names not mentioned. Baukham also points out that over time, one of the first aspects of memory to fade,according to studies, is the memory for personal names. The later Gospel writers may have interviewed people who remembered events but could not remember all the names of those involved. Many of those named in the Gospel accounts lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem, so that they could be available to the earliest Gospel writers before the diaspora of the Jews. This natural forgetting of names accounts for the disagreement among the lists of women who witnessed Christ's death, burial and who found the tomb empty. But the fact that names were supplied, more than 2 in every case is important for the injunction from the Old Testament that the veracity of events be attested to by the presence of two or more witnesses. The most important point in the chapter is this: in oral traditions, the names of characters change with time, reflecting the language and preferences of the culture changing the previous versions of the story. Yet the names that appear in Biblical accounts are names that would have been used in the Israel of Christ's time and not in later centuries. Nor are the names of those who appear in the New Testament those that would have been used outside ancient Israel.

Chapter 4: Palestinian Jewish Names: The data from which Baukham derives his conclusions concerning the names in the New Testament come from a compiled list of all the known names of actual Jewish people for whom any public record exists for the period from 330 B.C to 200 AD. (Since this is my own blog and I am not writing to satisfy the demands of current Biblical scholarship, I choose to use B.C. and A.D. rather than BCE and CE.) This list is entitled "Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I." A large portion of the data contained in this source covers the period from the first century to the year 135. What this list shows is that there was a small number of popular names, such as Simon and Joseph, that were given to a large majority of males. This phenomenon is reflected in the names that appear in the New Testament, Simon being the most popular (Simon Peter, Simon the Leper). These names derived their popularity from the Hasmoneans, the Jewish Kings who established an independent Jewish state in the second century before Christ. The popularity of these names did not outlast the era of the events covered by the New Testament. Therefore the names of the New Testaments were not added in later centuries. The names of various characters in the New Testament are not always the same among the Gospel accounts. Why the difference? Some names are variants of the Jewish names of those mentioned in another Gospel. For example, one of the brothers of Jesus is named Joseph in Matt. 13:55, while Mark refers to him as Yoses, the Greek variant of Joseph, in Mark 6:3. Sometimes a character is referred to as being the son of his father, such as Simon bar Jonah, or the fathers name is the total substitute for the name of the son. Some are referred to by their nickname (Cephas) or have their nickname added to their name. Some characters have their place of origin, or their family's place of origin added, such as Judas Iscariot. Or their occupation is added, such as Matthew the tax collector. Some of these additions were made to distinguish among the disciples, since many shared the same name.

Chapter 5: The Twelve: This chapter focuses specifically on the names of the twelve apostles. The list of their names provides historical continuity. The genealogies of Christ detail history leading up to his earthly ministry while the list of Apostles shows that the ministry continued through the Apostles. Modern scholarship emphasizes the role of the twelve due to the recent trend of trying to understand Jesus in Jewish terms. The twelve symbolized the rule of Israel by the twelve tribes; this signified that the restoration of Israel was begun in nucleus. They were important for the formation of Biblical tradition who were connected with the named and known eyewitnesses of Christ's ministry.Some of the lists of Apostles differ. Does this signify that the Gospel accounts are in error? No. As many of the Apostles shared the same names, Gospel writers thought that some way of distinguishing one from another was needed. Thaddeus is a variation of Judas son of James. It was thought that Judas son of James should be distinguished Judas Iscariot. Baukham states that the writer of the Gospel of Matthew and Levi the tax collector are not one and the same because it was extremely rare that one person had two Semitic names, in this case, Matthew and Levi. At least that is what Baukham writes.

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