Richard Bauckham is one my favourite New Testament scholars. Is that because he once passed me in an important exam? I could not possibly say! He is great because he writes well - a compelling case with all sorts of fascinating insights which draws me through an article or book like a good mystery writer - and because he resurrects old views and makes us think, 'Why did we stop believing that! It's common sense really.' Recently he won a prestigious award for one of his latest books Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Here is part of an interview published in the Church Times (H/T to Anglican Taonga) - read the whole here:
What is the crux of your argument about the import ance of eyewitnesses in the Gospel stories?
Richard Bauckham: The central idea is to put the eyewitnesses back into our thinking about how the Gospels originated. My argument is that they are not just people who started a long process of tradition that eventually took form in the written Gospels. They must have been people who had known Jesus and stayed around, who were well known in the Early Church — people you would go to if you wanted to learn about Jesus’s teach ings or Jesus’s life.
If you think about the eyewitnesses in this way, it helps you to think differently about the process of oral tradition, and it becomes a great deal more likely the Gospel-writers would have been in a direct, or very close relationship, with the eyewitnesses.
You make it sound like a common-sense view. But in fact it’s quite a radical view at the moment, isn’t it?
It is true that when I speak to ordinary people, churchpeople who might know nothing about modern scholarship of the Gospels, they often say: “Isn’t that rather obvious?” And, of course, it was the accepted view for many centuries. But it has really been discredited in modern scholarship. In a sense, I am restoring a traditional view, but I am doing so with a great number of new arguments. I am not just going back to the kind of argu ments that people used to use.
Does it matter who the eye witnesses were, or where the Gospel stories emanated from?
I think it comes down to the question: when we read the Gospels, are we in touch with the real Jesus? In other words, is this how Jesus really was? I think the trend of modern scholarship has been to say: in order to get at the real Jesus, we have to dig behind the Gospels and do a great deal of historical reconstruction of a figure who in many ways may be quite different from the figure the Gospels present.