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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Scholarship -- Intriguing Speculation
This book sets out to establish that the Gospels compare favorably with other historical and biographical literature from the Classical period, and it makes an admirable case for that proposition. The author recounts the methods of Classical historians and biographers and posits certain literary conventions they used to warrant the accuracy of their text. He then turns to...
Published on 3 July 2007 by George R Dekle

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31 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly disappointing!
This book will primarily be of interest to readers who are happy with the basic principles of the form critical approach. Bauckham's assumption that the dates of writing of the Gospels can be set around 50 years after the events they narrate has been robustly challenged by many scholars in recent years: if so, why no reference anywhere to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70...
Published on 24 Jan 2008 by Martin Johnson


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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Scholarship -- Intriguing Speculation, 3 July 2007
By 
George R Dekle "Bob Dekle" (Lake City, FL United States) - See all my reviews
This book sets out to establish that the Gospels compare favorably with other historical and biographical literature from the Classical period, and it makes an admirable case for that proposition. The author recounts the methods of Classical historians and biographers and posits certain literary conventions they used to warrant the accuracy of their text. He then turns to the Gospels, finding that they not only conform to good Classical historiographic methodology, they also make use of the Classical literary conventions warranting accuracy.

Basically, he finds that Classical historians highly valued eyewitness testimony as a basis for their works, and that the Gospels showed the same care to base their accounts on eyewitness testimony. He also demonstrates how, through the use of Classical literary convention, the Gospels identify the eyewitnesses to the various events they recount.

Bauckham engages in a statistical study of the names of minor characters mentioned in the Gospels, and his findings should raise more than a few eyebrows. It is a complex study, but the bottom line is that the statistical distribution of names of minor characters validates the historical accuracy of the Gospels.

Bauckham also tackles the identity of the Beloved Disciple, drawing parallels between the Beloved Disciple's relationship to Jesus and Porphyry's relationship to Plotinus. Porphyry was a disciple of Plotinus who wrote a biography of that philosopher, and whose self-portrayal in that biography mirrors the portrayal of the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel. Bauckham identifies the Beloved Disciple as the author of the Fourth Gospel and the three letters of John, and names the Beloved Disciple as John the Elder of Ephesus, a young Jerusalem disciple of Jesus who was not a member of the Twelve.

Interesting reading, to say the least.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An evidence - based approach to the writing of the Gospels, 22 April 2014
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This review is from: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Perfect Paperback)
This is a fresh look at the way the Gospels were written based on evidence rather than on assumption. The book looks at some of the archaeological and documentary evidence for life at the time of Jesus, especially the frequency of personal names used, and notes that the Gospels fit the picture of other evidence very closely. The names provide an analytical tool which is used to probe the way in which the Gospels were written.

This book deserves to be read by anyone who is about to take a look at the way the New Testament was written. It will no doubt become a classic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transformative, 19 Aug 2013
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This is the most exciting book i have read on a serious subject for as long as I can remember. It is not easy going but it brings home powerfully the historical reality of theChristian story and is a fascinating work of scholarly detection
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82 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but deserves to be treated with caution., 3 Sep 2007
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This is an important, scholarly and absorbing book. It should be read by anyone involved in New Testament studies. Yet its central thesis deserves to be treated with caution. The thesis might be summed up in Bauckham's own words.
The "period between the `historical' Jesus and the Gospels was actually spanned, not by anonymous community transmission, but by the continuing presence [sic] and testimony of eyewitnesses, who remained the authoritative [sic] sources of their traditions until their deaths" .
As a historian I have many reservations about the way in which Bauckham deals with evidence especially eyewitness evidence which is traditionally treated by historians with caution especially when it is first recorded many years after the event. It is a sad fact that eyewitnesses seldom remember what historians want them to have remembered! His concept of `testimony' is also difficult to deal with as it seems to imply than the evidence of anyone who heard Jesus is somehow more reliable than eyewitness accounts of other events. Yet the emotional drama surrounding many of Jesus' reported activities, large crowds, open disputes, apparent miracles and the trauma of the crucifixion are precisely the kinds of events which do not get reported accurately. Participants are hardly likely to maintain the level headed approach needed for accurate reporting. One sees this everyday in the press!
Bauckham talks of the `continuing presence' of eyewitnesses. Excavations of burials at the Qumran community suggest that few men lived beyond forty in this period. Someone who was the same age as Jesus was more than likely to have been dead by AD 40, someone ten years younger by AD 50. The likelihood of any eyewitness surviving into the 70s, let alone the 80s and 90s, is certainly remote. Those close to Jesus appear to have suffered a high rate of martyrdom and others alive must have perished in the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. Even if there had been a few survivors they would not necessarily have been the best eyewitnesses and their memories would have become distorted with time. Two useful books here: D. Draaisma, Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older: How Memory Shapes the Past, 2006, David Patterson, Sun Turned to Darkness, Memory and Recovery in the Holocaust Memoir, Syracuse, 1998. (This last book is important in view of Bauckham's attempts to link Holocaust memories with those of the gospel eyewitnesses. Holocaust testimony is not as accurate as he would suggest.) There is a mass of evidence relating to the ways in which memory distorts with time. A lot of it comes from diaries which have not been read for many years. There is often an enormous discrepancy between how an event was recorded at the time and how it is remembered many years later. Rather too much of Bauckham's thesis appears to rest on the maintenance of accurate memories over long periods of time.
Other points 1) Bauckham assumes the gospel writers were more immersed in Greek culture, specifically that of history writing , than any evidence from their own writing suggests. Where can one find in Mark, Matthew and even Luke much evidence that they had read widely in Greek literature or know of any Greek historians? Read, for instance, Plutarch's Lives (early second century, a few years after the gospels) which show just how sophisticated a leading Greek scholar of the day was in dealing with his sources in comparison to the gospel writers. Readers should make their own comparison but if they do I think few would be convinced by the argument that the gospel writers compare favourably with the more highly educated Greek historians. Plutarch, and his predecessors, Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius (The Rise of Rome), all reflect on their sources, point out their strengths and weaknesses, and then explain their own conclusions. The only example I know of a gospel writer doing this is to be found at John 19:35 where the writer vouches for the testimony of an eyewitness.The evidence suggests that the gospel writers were writing within the traditions of Greek-speaking Jews, not highly educated upperclass Greek speaking pagans. The Greco-Roman empire was culturally very diverse, different schools, followers of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus , tended to develop their own traditions. I felt that Bauckham had rather too rigid a definition of Greek culture. It was also difficult for anyone without considerable resources to accumulate more than a few literary sources as each would have had to be copied out by hand. The vast majority of literate Greek speakers would have had no access to the long, and therefore very expensive classic texts,although they may have heard some of them recited at fesitvals if they attended them.
2) Papias' memories. Doesn't Bauckham assume too easily that the reminiscences that Papias attributes to a Mark recording the sayings of Peter are the same as the gospel that Irenaeus attributed to Mark (which is the gospel we know today as Mark) ? (Irenaeus' attribution is probably c. 185 and many scholars believe that the names he gave to the gospels were somewhat arbitrary.) Papias had heard from an elderly Christian informant that a Mark took down Peter's sayings but not in order: Peter `used to adapt his instructions to the needs of the moment but not with a view of making an orderly account of the Lord's sayings.' Papias goes on to suggest that his Mark's account is rather lengthy -'he made it his aim to omit nothing he had heard'. This is just what one might expect from Peter, a man of little education but brimming, of course, with powerful memories, contributing his reminiscences to a devoted scribe, which is why Papias might well be a reliable source. If he was, his Mark seems very different from Irenaeus' Mark's taut narrative. The 'Papias Mark is 'our' Mark' thesis also assumes that Peter spoke good Greek- Mark is not a translation from Aramaic. This view is sometimes sustained by the view that Bethsaida, Peter's home' was a Greek colony. Twenty years of excavation at the supposed site of Bethsaida by the University of Nebraska have found only fragmentary remains of building in this period, but much evidence of fishing activities. The real importance of the site was much earlier, in the Iron Age. In fact the archaeological evidence (as it exists so far) for this New Testament period seems to support the lonely place mentioned in Luke (9:13) as a fishing village (other gospel references) . So it is unlikely that Peter would have picked up Greek in Bethsaida or anywhere else. It stretches the imagination to believe that Peter spoke good enough Greek to provide eyewitness material which Mark could use in the relatively sophisticated way he does. On balance the identification of Papias' `Mark's gospel' with that of Irenaeus Mark's gospel ('our' St Mark's gospel) seems very unlikely- they appear to be two different documents. It is, however, a central thesis of Bauckham's book that they are the same. (The tragedy is ,of course, that we have lost Papias's document. Think how much our knowledge of the 'historical' Jesus would have been enriched if the reminiscences of Peter as Papias describes them had actually survived! We all (except, I assume, some fundamentalists) live in hope that early documents such as these will be found one day in a cave. ) The more I read the more I felt that Bauckham's thesis, although not impossible, rested on very shaky foundations . If Papias was an accurate recorder then 'his ' document does not seem to be what we call Mark's gospel, if he not an accurate reporter then why rely on him at all?

3) Bauckham's view that John the Elder was the eyewitness responsible for John's gospel is already subject to dispute in website discussion. There are too many other possible 'John" candidates even if it was a John who actually wrote the gospel ( was it simply another case of Irenaeus putting an authoritative name to an unnamed document?). Again the lateness of John's gospel, ?90 AD, perhaps ten years later, makes it very difficult to argue that a surviving eyewitness would have been able to contribute a direct oral record.

It always takes three or four years for a book of this importance to find its niche.There does seem a lot to argue about and the enthusiastic and perhaps rather uncritical reception this book has received in some quarters may prove premature when scholars have reflected on its claims. A historian testing the historical accuracy of the gospels would hope that as many eyewitness memories as possible were recorded as soon as possible after the events so that the recorder could have a hope of checking accuracy and resolving discrepancies while the eyewitesses were still alive. Then the results would need to be written down before they became distorted in the mind of the recorder. This is what the Greek historians hoped to do even if they did not always have access to the eyewitnesses they would have liked. If this is (contra to what Bauckham argues) had happened then one might be able to trust the historical accuracy of the gospels as Bauckham believes we should. Again as with the Papias thesis, Bauckham's view that these very later eyewitness testimonies ( if such they were) would lead to an accurate record, goes against the assumptions with which mainstream historians work.
One looks forward to seeing how the debate unfolds. I have simply set out here some obvious objections to the thesis of this book which need further discussion. It in no way reflects my admiration for the breadth of Bauckham's scholarship -it is just that I feel that his central thesis might all too easily crumble under pressure from other biblical scholars and readers should be warned of this. I am only giving a historian's response to his thesis.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and interesting review of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, 26 Aug 2009
By 
Helen Hancox "Auntie Helen" (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Perfect Paperback)
This is a chunky book with over 500 densely-packed pages, footnotes and exhaustive indices. Initially perhaps appearing rather formidable, I found myself drawn into the book very quickly Richard Bauckham discusses whether the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts and his thorough survey of documents from the time, the early church fathers, names in Palestine and more gives a coherent and persuasive argument that the gospels would have been recognised as coming from eyewitness accounts at the time.

Although a complex subject which is deeply explored, the book is never boring. Some facility with Greek might aid the reader (although the Greek is transliterated into the Roman alphabet) and a basic knowledge of critical methods and early church fathers would be helpful, but this is the sort of book that offers many interesting insights to the reader, whether or not they are New Testament scholars. Whether other scholars will agree with Bauckham's conclusions is not clear, but his book sets out his arguments in a convincing way for this reader.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavyweight scholarship, but can be dry & dull at times, 31 Aug 2011
By 
S. Meadows (UK) - See all my reviews
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A word on the rating, first of all. I was very torn between giving this 3 or 4 stars. If Amazon allowed us 3.5 stars, then that's what I'd give it. On the one hand, it is a work of immense scholarship that is very worthy of careful consideration. On the other, it is extremely dry and in places, really rather dull. Also, not all of the arguments made are convincing, though others may disagree on this.I would not recommend this for the casual reader, unless your definition of "casual" involves nuanced analysis of ancient Greek grammar, amongst other things.

The book covers a range of topics that I don't have the space to cover adequately here. They include an analysis of the possibility that Mark's Gospel was largely based on Peter's testimony, the transmission of oral history (where he looks at the work of Kenneth Bailey and some of the form critics), the psychology of memory, the authorship of the gospel of John and the identity of the "Beloved Disciple."

Bauckham does not think that the 4 gospels were all first-hand eyewitness accounts. Rather, his assertion is that they faithfully record the eyewitness testimony of others, with few distortions between the eyewitness testimony and the written gospels we have today.

There is one interesting omission, which I felt was not dealt with properly, and that was the relation of Matthew & Luke to the nativity. In his chapter "Eyewitness from the beginning" Bauckham is clear that this refers to the beginning of Jesus' ministry, when he was around 30 (according to John). But there is no space given to the discussion of the possible eyewitnesses to the birth of Jesus or his early life.

In conclusion, it's not for the faint-hearted. It does get quite tedious at times and Bauckham's writing style is not the most lively I have read. Nonetheless, it is a book worthy of very serious consideration, with many important questions asked and challenges raised to those who would not accept the gospels as being grounded in the contemporary eyewitness testimony.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, 26 May 2014
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This book should be in the hall of fame of one of the best Historical Jesus books.The new insights and detail are very illuminating.I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lot's of useful information, 5 Feb 2014
By 
Nyall Davies (Diss UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Perfect Paperback)
There is a lot of useful information in this book. Richard Baukham proves that eye witness were involved in the writing of the Gospels. You can draw your own conclusions form the data he supplies. I found him somewhat confusing as he moved into discussing which John wrote the gospel of John and he could have produced a summary that sums up his finding rather than leave the reader in the air. I would still have bought it for the mass of useful information on the way through.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Convincing Case, 30 Sep 2011
This review is from: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Perfect Paperback)
Bauckham argues that: (a) the Gospels were written by people who had immediate contact with eyewitnesses of the events they describe, and (b) that this eyewitness testimony would have been accurately and reliably transmitted to the authors of the Gospels.

To this end, he discusses who the eyewitnesses would have been, models of oral transmission based on contemporary observations made in societies without a written history, and modern evidence of the accuracy (or otherwise) of eyewitness memory and testimony.

This a scholarly work; over 500 pages and fully referenced. It is not intended for a `popular' audience.

Bauckham is arguing against those Bible scholars who claim that the Gospels only tell us about the Christian communities in which they were written and practically nothing about the historical Jesus. He makes the point that there was never any actual evidence for this claim. Virtually every element in the theory of `Form Criticism' has been questioned and rejected by some or most scholars.

Overall he makes a convincing case.

I think that Charles Freeman, in his review, is too dismissive of eyewitness testimony. Apart from limited assistance from Archaeology, it is all historians have to work with. Even `Domesday Book' consists of reports of what the King's commissioners saw as they went round the country. Since the idea was to total up William the Conqueror's wealth, it would be reasonable to think that some, or many, of the informants were careful to keep some of their resources hidden from the commissioners.

Secondly, while Freeman may be right to be cautious about eyewitness descriptions of events and incidents, a great deal of the Gospels consist of the teaching of Jesus. In that culture, the Disciples would have been expected and required to memorise their master's teaching. The fact that much of that teaching comes in the form of parables (stories) makes it much easier to remember accurately. A misremembered parable loses its point, like a badly-told joke. Whatever we may think about the events of Jesus' life, we can be sure that we have his teaching substantially as he taught it.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and fascinating, 11 Sep 2009
By 
G. C. Brown "Neither them nor us" (Co. Down, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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A serious scholarly attack on much of modern Gospel scholarship which I found, in the main, compelling and fascinating. The book expounds that the gospels are based on eyewitness testimony of those who personally knew Jesus rather than circulating as anonymous community traditions - and should be understood in that context. Draws on internal literary evidence, evidence from Papias, Polycrates and Irenaeus - and also interesting evidence from Palestinian names of the time and the modern study of memory and cognitive psychology. Interesting sections on John's gospel/authorship (John - the beloved disciple, but not one of the twelve) and the gospel of Mark as the Petrine perspective.
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Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham (Perfect Paperback - 1 Nov 2008)
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