Gospel History: Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

One of the surprising pleasures of my professional life this past year has been leading a class on liturgy for clergy of other denominations who are in the process of being received as Episcopalians. In partial fulfillment of the canonical requirements for their reception, we’ve been meeting once a week and working our way through the liturgies and theology of the Book of Common Prayer. The opportunity has allowed me to return to my own notes from the classes I took with Prof. (now Bishop) Paul Marshall back in the day and add to them my own experience after nearly twenty years of using the liturgies in regular worship. Answering their questions of “why?” has gotten me to revisit my own pat answers and realize that there’s now more nuance to them than they used to have.

I guess because the Bishop here saw how much fun we were having, he asked if he and couple of others could occasionally crash the party. (Well, not actually, but it sounds good.) He and the Canon to the Ordinary join us a couple of times a month. When that happens we put away our regular lesson plan and substitute a seminar like discussion of challenging recent book that would be of interest to all of us. Right now we’re reading through Antony Flew’s latest “There is a God” and next up is Rene Girard’s “Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World”. Our first book was Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

Bauckham’s book, which won the Ramsey prize for theological writing last year, was not exactly a page turner. His academic writing style slows the reader down and forces us to pay attention to his line of thinking. He marshals an incredible amount of data, often presented in table form, and the reader needs to pour over these if one is hoping to read his book with any sort of academic integrity so as to ask him to convince them of his thesis.

And it’s a thesis that’s worth the work. He argues contra much of the academic tradition of the latter part of the twentieth century that the oral traditions of the New Testament writing are very reliable. Furthermore he points out that the time between the founding of the Church and the writing of the gospels was so short that there were still eyewitnesses who could and would challenge details of the narratives if they were fanciful or fraudulent.

He begins with a return to the fragments of Papias’ writing found in Eusebius’ Church History. Papias has been granted some recent notoriety for his claims that he disdained the written accounts of Jesus life preferring instead to hear the accounts of the eyewitnesses to the events who were still alive in his day. Bauckham reexamines these words and finds not a disdain, and makes a rather sophisticated argument that the gospels and the actual writings of Papias are written in the form of best historical works of their day.

Bauckham then spends a goodly portion of the rest of his book pointing out that what we can actually test of the narratives (context, sitz-im-leben, narrative style, names, etc) is consistent with this idea.

The point of the argument seems to be this: The gospel authors intended to write accurate accounts. They wrote in a form that was recognizably a historical biography (of which most of the contemporary examples of the genre have been lost). They wrote in a period in which there still people who could write challenges if they made claims that weren’t true.

People who have dismissed the gospels as clumsy pieces of propaganda written by unlettered rubes, making up a genre as they went have to confront this challenge. The writers, according to Bauckham’s view, wrote in the form of the best history of their day. They wouldn’t have done so if they weren’t trying to convince their readers of the veracity of their account. If they are as unlettered as is argued, then they wouldn’t have had the sophistication to use the form they did. If they we sophisticated liars, then why didn’t they do a better job smoothing over the rough spots of the gospels?

I’m not sure the critics of the gospels as historical documents really can answer this challenge satisfactorily.

And if this is all so, then rather than read the Gospels as something quaint, we can approach them as reliable documents, certainly of the quality of other documents of the same period which we have traditionally used as primary sources for doing academic history.

The reading group I led did not follow uncritically to this idea. But we all arrived in agreement that except for a few quibbles of side issues, Prof. Bauckham proves his point.

And that point, that the Gospels are not to be dismissed as narrative fiction, but reliable accounts of something unique in human history, forces one to once again ask the question: “Who do I say Jesus is?”

As a believing Christian I’ve answered that question the same way most of my life: “My Lord and my God.” But now I say that with a greater degree of certainty that I’m referring to the historical Jesus of Gospels as well as the full revelation of the Divine in the man Jesus that the early Church followed.

If you’re a preacher, put this book on your reading list.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

19 thoughts on “Gospel History: Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”

  1. I’m 58, ordained at 50, with 2 prior grad degrees. Taking the Gospels seriously was the first major cliff I had to climb after feeling my call. Now I have come to the point where I measure the value and meaning of all of the rest of scripture by the Gospels. It seems obvious to me to discount the OT slaughters and wars as contra the Word of love, forgiveness and inclusion. As one who does not believe that Jesus knew ‘who he was’, it is also easy to presume that some of the predictions of death and resurrection from Jesus are later additions, likewise the Great Commission. I discount John pretty much other than as an exemplar of late 1st cent. theological development. arrogant as that sounds, I also concede I have no more ability or right to say such things then certain scholars do! If I believe that Jesus is God made flesh, how can I not measure all of the rest of scriptural revelation vs. what that Word says and does?

  2. Let me encourage you to read Bauckham’s book then Fr. Craig. He makes a strong case for view contra yours. He does a very careful analysis of the historicity of the Fourth Gospel as well.

  3. Thanks for this brief review, Nick. I became aware of this book a little while ago, and noticed that it was available in a Kindle edition, so I sent for the free sample (which I then read a minute later, after it had arrived!). My reaction was, yes, I want this book; but I want it in print rather than on my Kindle. I haven’t bought it yet, because my birthday is coming up and my family has forbidden me to buy anything on my wish list until then. But on the basis of the sample I am struck by the reasonableness of Bauckham’s case. Unlike some scholars, he seems to understand how the memories of people and of communities really work. The Gospels were composed within approximately sixty years of the earthly ministry of Jesus — Mark and the sayings source(s) within forty. I remember back forty-fifty-sixty years — not always clearly, and certainly not without interpretation, but I remember! And I think we should assume that there were still some first-generation Christians around at the end of the first century, and whose testimony was formative of the Gospel traditions.

  4. And that point, that the Gospels are not to be dismissed as narrative fiction, but reliable accounts of something unique in human history,
    Does this apply, do you think, to the gospel writers’ direct reporting of the exact words spoken by various people?
    I have in mind how often our gospels’ writers “quote” other people. Besides Jesus’ the gospels also record words of the disciples, Herod, angels, demons, Satan, tax collectors, and crowds of people all saying the same words all together. The gospels even record long speeches spoken in dreams, and verbatim accounts of inner thoughts that were never spoken, but that Jesus knew because He could read minds.
    Here’s our historical reliability question : How’d they do that? How did the gospel writers know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—what the angel said in Joseph’s dream, or Herod said in his secret meeting, or the Pharisees thought in their private thoughts but never spoke? What possible method could our gospel writers have used to come up with the verbatim quotations they claim to give?
    Or did the gospel writers get all those “quotations” by just making them up? Is it more likely that “Matthew” knew the words Herod spoke in a secret meeting, or did “Matthew” probably, like everyone else back then, just make up quotes because that was the standard way to tell a story?
    And if the only reasonable non-magical explanation is that the gospel writers got their “quotations” by making them up, then …. our gospel writers made stuff up. Just made it up. And it is not true the gospels are historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about in them actually happened.
    Bino Bolumai
    / In Bino Veritas /

  5. Bino – they are historical, according to Bauckham, in that they are written in the same style as other histories of the day of their creation. They are not historical according to the rules of 21st century historical science.
    But that doesn’t mean the authors meant to deceive. And I think that’s the key point for us in the 21st century to hear – because we’re conditioned to read something that contains authorial license as fiction.
    And Bauckham’s point is not to dismiss the characteristics you point out, but to try to help us understand them for what they are.
    Let me encourage you to read the book, I think you’d enjoy it.

  6. The reading group I led did not follow uncritically to this idea. But we all arrived in agreement that except for a few quibbles of side issues, Prof. Bauckham proves his point.
    And that point, that the Gospels are not to be dismissed as narrative fiction, but reliable accounts of something unique in human history,
    they are written in the same style as other histories of the day of their creation. They are not historical according to the rules of 21st century historical science…But that doesn’t mean the authors meant to deceive.
    I’m confused. What exactly did your Reading Group conclude?
    Are the gospels reliable in the sense that the events recounted in them actually happened?
    Bino Bolumai
    / In Bino Veritas /

  7. Bino Bolumai asks the right question. We can stipulate that the gospel authors didn’t intend to deceive. That still doesn’t answer the question whether, decades after the reported events, they got their reporting right.
    I got halfway through Bauckham a couple of months ago. (I hope to finish it when time permits, but I suspect I’ve gotten his point.) I just spent a few minutes skimming my fairly-extensive margin notes and their associated passages. The book strikes me as yet another epistemological house of cards, erected as an alleged justification for intellectual assent to the Nicene Creed, while rationalizing away (or ignoring) the compelling contrary evidence.
    As I said elsewhere a few years ago, it’s like a real estate agent in the California hills, proudly pointing out the beautiful design and workmanship of a home for sale — while neglecting to mention that the home is built on a hillside that’s prone to wildfires and mud slides.

  8. I cannot comment for the rest of the group, but for this one member, I came away from Bauckam’s book convinced that when I read the gospels I am reading the best history of the day rather than the doctrinaire product of a later group trying to get me to sign off on the Nicene Creed.
    It sounds as if some may be assuming that the group is reads the scriptures in a fundamentalist manner. I do think that I can speak for the group in saying that none of us, either before or after the reading of Bauckham’s book, is from the camp that is convinced that they are reading a flattened caricature of a single “Bible” written in the King’s English by a hand scribbling only what an unseen force dictated.
    I was convinced, consistent with Nicholas’ portrayal, that the four gospels were documents written during the lifetimes of people alive to see and hear the events, that those events were recorded from memories and traditions in a basically reliable way and that the documents were subject to refute by the same audiences they were written for and from. I personally found Baukham’s conclusion to be consistent with Occam’s Razer.
    Bauckham was torturous to read-he lays out a preponderance of evidence. His book was the theological equivalent of piling on: “ok, the guy is down, can everyone get up all ready.”

  9. events were recorded from memories and traditions in a basically reliable way
    Are the gospels reliable in the sense that the events recorded in them actually happened?
    If so, let me focus on the verbatim “quotations” recorded in the NT, and ask you how you imagine the authors acquired their knowledge of the speakers’ exact words.
    How did Mt. 1 know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—what the angel said in Joseph’s dream?
    How did Mt. 2 know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—what Herod said in his secret meeting?
    How did Mt. 3 know, all those decades later, exactly—word for word—John the Baptist said out in the desert before there were any Jesus’ apostles?
    Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Matthew records a long conversation between Jesus and the Devil, who were at the time alone in the desert. How was “Matthew” able to record their conversation, alone in the desert, word for word?
    According to Mt. 5 – 8 Jesus sat down up on the mountain and spoke, in English translation, 2,400 words. He spoke them once, and “Matthew” wrote them down. Decades later. Verbatim.
    Here’s a test. Right now go read those 2,400 words. Then write them down exactly. Check your work. How’d you do?
    What “Matthew” claims to do is not possible .
    What “Matthew” claims to do is not possible. “Matthew” made these conversations up. “Matthew” made stuff up. The stuff we read in “Matthew” did not happen the way “Matthew” said it did. “Matthew” cannot be trusted. The New Testament is not historical, not in the sense that the sayings and events we read about there actually happened.
    and that the documents were subject to refute by the same audiences they were written for and from
    Q1 Do you have specific evidence of any ancient audience refuting any claim made by any religious story teller?
    If not, does this indicate to you that, say, the God Aesclaepius really did heal disease at His sanctuary at Pergamon?
    Q2 Do you imagine that in fact no one did refute the claims made in the NT? If so, on what evidence do you make this claim?
    Bino Bolumai
    / In Bino Veritas /

  10. Posting this for Matt, who’s having trouble getting this online for some reason…
    Hello Bino,
    I appreciate the response. I am really not equipped to answer you with any type of expertise as I am neither a biblical scholar, a middle east expert or a trained philosopher. However, here is my best shot…
    Q1: There are a plethora of things I am not “prepared to offer evidence” about the ancient world. I would also not be able to offer specific evidence that first century Jews went to synagogue on Saturday, whether or not they ate food or even whether they could hold their bladders for weeks on end. I am not trying to be flip- just to illustrate how little I know. However, I use modern experience and my meager knowledge of the New Testament to make my best guess assuming the best of the writers and assuming they are writing with an eastern world view- much less interested in “the facts” than we are and very interested in weaving a good yarn.
    In the gospels, Jesus was apparently doubted at the time. The religious leaders oppose him time and time again…and in John 21, John tells his readers “Jesus said ‘if he is to remain what is that to you?'”. So there is evidence that Jesus and elements of the story were being received skeptically and with ample questions at the time.
    Q2: I think is answered in Q1- that Jesus was apparently being refuted. I can offer no opinions about other religious teachers.
    Again, I am not a biblical scholar, and I don’t have a need for every word to be recorded as if from a tape recorder for something to be a dependable record. I am not sure any court of law today would be able to make any decision if absolute verbatim were the standard for eyewitness testimony-you seem to be arguing for a standard that is modern in outlook and completely impractical even today. The assumption made by Bauckham is that the gospels were first century documents. That they were stories. Your argument that “Matthew” “made things up” is not troubling for anyone except those with a verbal-plenary view of inspiration. However, if I did hold such a view, It would be hard to imagine that the story of Joseph’s visit from an angel would not have been told to his wife, Mary, who outlived both Jesus and apparently, Joseph. That they wouldn’t talk about the experience that kept him from “putting her away” over their married life together seems absurd. That Mary wouldn’t have reported this also seems hard to believe.
    Matt 2, the Herod meeting: Again, I don’t need for it to be exact. However, it isn’t difficult to imagine that either someone in the house of Herod became a follower of “the way” or that one of the wiseguys joined the movement.
    Matt 3 & 4: Again, I don’t need for it to be exact. However, if I did, why is it hard to imagine? If Matthew spent 3 years with Jesus and the boys around the fire every night, wouldn’t they would tell and retell specifically those stories?
    Matt 5-8: Have you read Matthew much? It is organized around long teachings and sermons (oral traditions). I would imagine that with thousands sitting there that someone (or dozens of someones) was taking sermon notes. There are speeches and sermons from modern times that we know of only from the notes (such as Patrick Henry’s speech before the Virginia Convention “Give me liberty or give me death!”). So, no, 2400 words doesn’t give me much trouble.
    I don’t know that “Matthew” made stuff up. And I don’t know that he didn’t. You don’t know that Matthew made stuff up. And you don’t know that he didn’t. Saying it over and over doesn’t make it more or less so.
    I pasted your answer into google and found that you have posted the same words into multiple websites. Is there a specific answer you are looking for but have not received from other places? You seem to be very interested in this. If you live in Phoenix I am certain that either Nicholas or I would buy you coffee and welcome getting to know one another face to face.
    Blessings,
    Matt

  11. Thank you for the careful response. Rather than quibble about every detail, let me get to the main point.
    I don’t know that “Matthew” made stuff up…. You don’t know that Matthew made stuff up.
    Well, Mt picked up his pen, dipped it in ink and wrote “Jesus said ….” And we agree, I think, it is not possible Jesus actually spoke the words Mt wrote. The immediate source of the “quotations” in Mt is Mt’s imagination. So you DO know Mt made stuff up.
    What you seem to be saying is, you don’t mind that Mt made stuff up because you’re convinced he used his imagination to faithfully report the gist of what people actually really said – he only made it up a little bit. You imagine he’s an honest broker of the facts.
    I acknowledge this is theoretically possible. I expect you will acknowledge it is theoretically possible Mt was mistaken. Or a nutter. Or an ancient whose standards of reality and truth differed from your and mine.
    To sort out whether Mt is an accurate recorder or something else, it is appropriate to look at each invented “quotation” in Mt and imagine how it might have come about. How could an accurate recorder have come by this information?
    I observe that lots of NT “quotations” have no plausible accurate recorder source. Their dialogue is knowable only in the sense that your capacity to invent convoluted improbabilities is unlimited. As in “there were people in the audience taking notes”
    Matt 5-8: Have you read Matthew much? It is organized around long teachings and sermons (oral traditions). I would imagine that with thousands sitting there that someone (or dozens of someones) was taking sermon notes. There are speeches and sermons from modern times that we know of only from the notes (such as Patrick Henry’s speech before the Virginia Convention “Give me liberty or give me death!”). So, no, 2400 words doesn’t give me much trouble.
    You imagine Mt’s 2,400 words are the words of Jesus because….because someone sat in the audience with a quill and an ink pot and a sheepskin – or is it several sheepskins — and took it all down as Jesus spoke the words. And decades later gave it to “Matthew”.
    Fine. We have reached the point where our theories diverge.
    Bino Bolumai
    / In Bino Veritas /

  12. Hi Bino,
    Have you read Bauckham’s book? This is exactly the stuff he writes about in great length and with a level of scholarship I am not sure that I would even want to have as it renders one tedious (and probably bad company at cocktails).
    Do you attend public lectures? Most public speakers have a series of lectures that they give over and over. The information is virtually identical. It isn’t hard to assume that Jesus gave that talk 15 times in different venues over a 3 year period…with different people in the audience taking notes each time. I am not all that concerned with the idea that Matthew records a verbatim “sermon”. But reconstructing “dang close” doesn’t seem all that tough to imagine to me. Does it really seem that impossible to you?
    You should really read that Bauckham book. When you discuss this with me it is a bit like discussing my opinion of an expert on cinema’s book. I make a rather poor third hand defense of Bauckham’s scholarship.

  13. Bauckham indulges in far too many speculations with thin if any evidentiary support. For example, at page 94:

    If [the Twelve] were close companions of Jesus throughout his ministry … [and also] the first leaders of the mother church in Jerusalem and of its initial outreach elsewhere, we should certainly expect them to have been authoritative transmitters of the traditions of Jesus and to have had something like official status for their formulations of those traditions.

    Authoritative transmitters, perhaps. But reliably accurate transmitters? That’s another matter. Let’s ignore for now the crucial question whether the reporters got their story right — think of how many modern-day sources have complained that journalists, trained to be as accurate as possible, screwed up the story. Even leaving aside that critical issue, Bauckham’s speculation unacceptably ignores some very human possibilities, namely:
    1) the distinct possibility that various members of the Twelve did not uniformly remember, nor uniformly interpret, Jesus’s teachings.
    We see indirect evidence of this in Acts’ description of the disciples as baptizing in the name of Jesus alone (that is, when they are said to have baptized in the name of anyone at all), instead of in the name of the Trinity as Jesus had supposedly commanded them — that’s not the act of someone who reliably remembered the Teacher’s putative instructions, nor does it give us confidence that the community corrected errors of this kind when they cropped up.
    (And if Acts got it wrong about the baptismal formula, or Matthew about the dominically-commanded formula, that should make us wonder what else those authors got wrong.)
    (2) the nearly-inescapable possibility that the Twelve’s various memories and interpretations were influenced by their own ideas and opinions. The Gospels tell of the Twelve questioning and even arguing with Jesus, suggesting that some of them indeed had their own opinions about at least some things. And granting that our insights into the workings of human memory barely scratch the surface, we have enough knowledge to be confident that people’s pre-existing opinions can make big differences in their perceptions, memories, and interpretations. The legal system’s approach to assessing witness testimony is based on millennnia of practical experience in that regard;
    (3) the very-plausible possibility that one or more of the Twelve had their own ideas and agendas that they felt called to promote. That’s precisely what we’d expect of dynamic leaders — like (sort of) Peter — and also of men who aspired to status — like (evidently) James and John the sons of Zebedee.
    We see traces of this phenomenon in Acts as well — after all, the circumcision party’s strict views about praxis had to come from somewhere, right, and so far as the Gospels tell, they certainly didn’t come from Jesus. (And let’s not leave out Paul, who wasn’t one of the Twelve but sure did have an agenda.)
    ————–
    Bauckham seems to stake his entire thesis on the notion that, when the Synoptic Gospel writers used what he calls the inclusio, they intended implicitly to claim that their accounts were based on eyewitness testimony of one or more of the Twelve.
    That’s not categorically implausible: A modern analogy might be the books of Bob Woodward; many readers assume that people whom he treats favorably were among his main sources.
    But then, Woodward’s sources usually didn’t want to be identified as sources. The Twelve presumably would have had no such concern, at least if we accept Bauckham’s view that they had an official status as authoritative transmitters of the tradition.
    So here’s (one place) where Bauckham’s reasoning breaks down:
    Suppose that, as Bauckham claims, (1) the Twelve were indeed official, authoritative transmitters of the traditions of Jesus; and (2) they indeed served as direct- or indirect sources for the Gospel authors.
    Suppose also that the Twelve felt no particular need to remain unidentified as sources, for their stories to remain “on background.”
    If we accept these hypothetical premises, it seems very difficult to explain why the Gospel authors would have relied only on cryptic, almost steganographic claims of eyewitness authority, in the form of Bauckham’s so-called inclusio device. It would have made far more sense for them to have expressly asserted that that their accounts were based on eyewitness testimony of such authority, because:
    • such assertions — if believed — would have made the Gospel authors’ accounts all that much more appealing to their audiences;
    • it’s not like contemporary authors didn’t know know to make such express claims of eyewitness authority for their sources: The Fourth Gospel does exactly that (albeit without expressly identifying the disciple in question); moreover, Bauckham notes at p. 120 that Josephus made just such an express claim, namely that he had been an eyewitness of the events he described.
    It’s especially surprising that Luke didn’t make such a claim. His preamble suggests that an investigation had been necessary, that inaccurate accounts were floating around and needed someone to get to the bottom of things. Given that context, if Luke had interviewed eyewitnesses having first-hand knowledge, it’s hard to explain why he didn’t come right out and say so.
    —————
    One more point: I’ve never been persuaded by the argument that “the community” would have corrected errors in the early oral transmission of the tradition. That doesn’t always happen even in today’s world of instant global communications; plenty of urban legends seem to be able to stay in circulation almost indefinitely because they just “fit” some people’s preconceived notions. So it’s hard to imagine why we should think errors in transmitting the tradition would have been corrected in the far-flung early church — and that the corrections would have been accepted — when communication was so much more limited.
    ————–
    In conclusion, to reiterate the point I made a couple of days ago: Bauckham’s arguments simply aren’t persuasive — they strike me as an intellectual house of cards that he erected to try to rationalize believing what he thinks he should believe.

  14. But reconstructing \”dang close\” doesn\’t seem all that tough to imagine to me. Does it really seem that impossible to you?
    1 You start with your answer, NT true, and reason backwards to fit the evidence to that answer. Your privilege. But not persuasive. The fact that you must choose this as your method is persuasive that a direct examination of the evidence fails to prove the NT is reliable.
    2 It doesn\’t seem tough to imagine \”dang close\” in a vague general sense. But whenever you are given at specific facts, specific quotations, it turns out \”dang close\” IS tough to imagine. You set off on a fantasy of invented improbabilities — dozens of scribes carrying ink pots and sheepskins up on a mountain, or Jesus drilling his disciples to memorize the exact words of every conversation he ever had, or Mary, with a new baby, memorizing word for word all the conversations of everyone around her, so she could give them to Mt decades later.
    3 A much simpler explanation is immediately at hand. Ancient\’s made up dialogue. They told myths with invented dialogue. There was in fact a long Jewish tradition of making it up. Consider this from the OT book of Jonah:
    \”But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.
    6 The captain went to him and SAID , \”How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.\”
    7 Then the sailors SAID to each other, \”Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.\” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
    8 So they ASKED him, \”Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?\”
    9 He ANSWERED , \”I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.\”
    10 This terrified them and they ASKED , \”What have you done?\” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
    11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they ASKED him, \”What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?\”
    12 \”Pick me up and throw me into the sea,\” he REPLIED , \”and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.\” \”
    People back then made it up. Jews back then made it up. The Jews who wrote the book of Jonah made up dialogue. The Jews who wrote the NT made up dialogue. The NT is not reliable in the sense that the stuff recorded there really happened.
    Bino Bolumai
    / In Bino Veritas /

  15. Bino, it seems to me you’re falling into the trap of the false dichotomy. You appear to be arguing that, because we have no evidence that anyone took verbatim notes or memorized speeches in toto, it therefore follows that the Gospel authors must have engaged in wholesale fabrications. But that doesn’t follow at all. Memories can be unreliable, and even capricious, but that doesn’t mean we have to discard them in their entirety, only that we have to be alert [because the world needs more lerts] for signs of possible story mutation — a phenomenon of which we do indeed see evidence in the NT.

  16. You appear to be arguing that, because we have no evidence that anyone took verbatim notes or memorized speeches in toto, it therefore follows that the Gospel authors must have engaged in wholesale fabrications.
    Not must have. May have.
    That the NT quotations are not the verbatim words the authors claim is beyond reasonable doubt. They therefore derive at least in part from the creative imagination of the authors. They are nothing more than a record of what happened as the authors interpreted it.
    The only question is A little invention, or a lot?
    In deciding how much is faithful reporting of fact and how much is authors\’ imagination, it is useful to consider how an author, writing decades later, might have accessed the \”facts\” in the story. I observe that, like the Jonah myth, much of the NT narratives consists of detailed intimate ephemeral \”facts\” that no one writing decades later could possibly have had access to, even if they had been involved in the events themselves. Human memory just doesn\’t work that way.
    I observe further that ancient Jews told myths by making up such \”facts.\” Witness Jonah.
    We are faced with a simple choice: 1 a straightforward explanation with wide precedent in Jewish culture, or 2 a great mass of convoluted, unfounded fantastic invention with no precedent in human history.
    Bino

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