Saturday, June 24, 2017

Is the Gospel of Mark based on Peter's eyewitness testimony?

In the second edition of his influential book, Richard Bauckham offers additional evidence to support his most controversial claim.    

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, by Richard Bauckham, is one of the most fascinating books I have read in the field of biblical studies. Nevertheless, upon completing the book, I remained skeptical of one of Bauckham's key arguments. After noting that Peter is the first and the last character (besides Jesus) to be mentioned in Mark, Bauckham argued that this inclusio (bracketing) was a technique used by ancient historians and biographers to indicate the primary eyewitness source of their information. However, ancient discussions of historiography never mention such a technique, and Bauckham was only able to produce two purported examples of this phenomenon in antiquity. It seemed to me that the inclusio found in these examples could be mere coincidence.

However, Bauckham recently released a second edition in which he provides additional evidence in support of his controversial claim.

In his account of Scipio's Spanish campaign, the ancient historian Polybius explains that his key eyewitness source was Gaius Laelius, one of Scipio's friends. Aside from Scipio, Gaius Laelius is the first and the last person to be named in Polybius' account:
"One of [Scipio's closest associates] was Gaius Laelius, who from his youth up to the end had participated in his every deed and word." (10.3.2)
"After regulating everything in Spain ... [Scipio] sailed to Rome with Gaius [Laelius] and his other friends." (11.33.8) 
Bauckham asserts that the first statement expresses a requirement for the ideal witness which is often expressed in ancient historiography. In the first edition, Bauckham argued that the following NT passages express this same requirement:
John 15:27: "You also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning."
Acts 1:21-22: "So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us - one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."
Luke 1:2: "Just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses." 
Concerning Polybius' final reference to Laelius, Bauckham observes, "The reference ... is made not so much in order to contribute to the event described but in order to assure the readers that Laelius has been with Scipio throughout. It forms an inclusio with 10.3.2, where the comprehensive nature of Laelius's testimony is also indicated" (519). He notes further that Polybius' final reference to Laelius is reminiscent of the final reference to Peter in Mark:
Mark 16:7: "But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." 
Thus, in addition to indicating the restoration of Peter, who had denied Jesus, the author reminds his audience that Peter was with Jesus from the beginning (1:16) to the end. Peter not only witnessed his entire ministry; he also saw Jesus alive from the dead.

Furthermore, Bauckham argues that when reading historical accounts of recent events, people were paying attention to the eyewitness sources that lay behind the account. Thus authors took care to leave subtle indications of these sources in their narratives. Bauckham provides several examples:
  • In his biography of Caesar, Plutarch refers to a key episode which Caesar did not narrate himself in his own famous account. Furthermore, this key episode occurred in Caesar's private carriage. Plutarch, however, notes that Caesar was accompanied at this time by some "of his friends ... who included Asinius Pollio" (Caes. 32.3-6). Elsewhere, Plutarch explains that Pollio was one of his eyewitness sources (46.2).
  • A similar example is found later in the narrative (52). Once again, when narrating an important event not found in Caesar's account, Plutarch specifically mentions that Pollio was with Caesar. 
  • When narrating the siege of a city that ended in mass suicide, Josephus mentions several specific people who escaped. The subtle implication is that these people could have provided Josephus with the information he relates in his account concerning the goings on in the city (War 4.81-82).
  • When narrating the siege of Masada that ended in mass suicide, Josephus once again mentions several specific people who escaped. Again, the subtle implication is that these people were the source of the inside information which Josephus includes in his narrative (7.398-99). 
Bauckham compares such passages to Mark 15-16. Here Peter has fled, and is no longer a witness to the events. Thus Mark introduces the women, whom he names no less than 3 times (15:40, 47; 16:1). Furthermore, Mark emphasizes that these women were eyewitnesses:
Mark 15:40: There were also women looking on from afar ...
Mark 15:47: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid ...
Mark 16:4: They saw that the stone was rolled back ...
Mark 16:5: And entering the tomb, they saw a young man ... 
Additionally, Mark names "Simon of Cyrene ... the father of Alexander and Rufus" as the man who carried Jesus' cross. (Alexander and Rufus were evidently known to the community for which Mark is writing.)

Thus the portion of Mark's narrative in which he gives the most attention to explicitly identifying eyewitnesses happens to be the portion where Peter is absent. As Bauckham argues, "[This is] an important confirmation of my claim that [Mark] portrays Peter as his principle eyewitness. It is precisely because Peter drops out of the narrative after chapter 14 that the women are needed as eyewitnesses in the rest of Mark's narrative" (524).

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