Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Anthony Le Donne: Is Richard Bauckham guilty of a "philosophical assumption and methodological tendency" in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses?

In the comments of a recent blog post on, Anthony Le Donne - Assistant Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary - claimed that Richard Bauckham - in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - is guilty of a "philosophical assumption and methodological tendency" in relation to eyewitnesses providing "very reliable source material". Connected to this is the claim that Luke "*must* ... have had access to some *very reliable* sources".

Le Donne's blog was actually focussing on a Bible Odyssey entry by Brent Landau titled 'Was Luke a Historian", in which the issues of eyewitnesses and reliable sources were discussed. I copy the key section in his blog post as background for understanding Le Donne's claim about Bauckham, together with my question in the comments, Le Donne's response, Bauckham's immediate response, and in conclusion brief reflections on Bauckham's relevant work.

Le Donne: "Luke may even have a reliable source that has conveyed the specific events mentioned in Luke 13:1-5. But why *must* Luke have had access to some *very reliable* sources? I think that Landau climbs out too far on this limb. Finally, why should we imagine - as Landau seems to - that eyewitnesses provide very reliable source material? ... There is a philosophical assumption and methodological tendency here that requires more conversation. So to my challenge: firsthand testimony is not necessarily better and sometimes much worse than secondary or tertiary works of reflection. This is true of 'quite minor events' and even more true of significant, life-changing events.

Mulder question: "Interesting Anthony. Do you think Richard Bauckham - in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - is guilty of the 'philosophical assumption and methodological tendency' you highlighted in Landau?"

Le Donne response: "Yes. -anthony".

Bauckham's response: "What is routinely ignored in discussion of my Eyewitnesses book, is that in the chapter on the psychology of eyewitnesses memory I explained that eyewitness memory can be very unreliable, but for that reason I drew from a an extensive study of the psychological research literature conclusions about what sort of things are most likely to be remembered well and under what conditions eyewitness memory is likely to be reliable. Therefore my arguments are not refuted simply by general claims that eyewitness memory is often unreliable. It is one of many points at which my critics simply have not read my work adequately ..."


Having read Eyewitnesses myself, I was quite intrigued by Le Donne's "Yes" to my question. It didn't seem that Le Donne had the intention to qualify his answer until Bauckham himself joined the conversation. For what it's worth, I thought it helpful to highlight a couple of relevant sections in Bauckham's chapter on "Eyewitness Memory"(pp. 319-357).

In preparation for a discussion about a psychological approach to the memories of the eyewitnesses of Jesus, Bauckham presents two anecdotal instances that illustrate both how unreliable and how reliable eyewitness testimony in ordinary life can be. The second concerns an eighty-three-year-old man remembering accurate details of an event that happened more than seventy years previously. The first - relevant for our current discussion - concerns reminiscences of the pianist Rossini about his early meeting with Beethoven. Bauckham cites Jan Vansina who reflects on Rossini's reminiscences as a warning of how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be:

"The famous story of the reminiscences of Rossini about his early meeting with Beethoven may serve as a warning to the unwary. When first told, a few years after Beethoven's death, Rossini said that he went to to Beethoven's house, had great difficulty in being admitted, and in the end did not speak to the master whose command of Italian ... was insufficient. This last bit we may doubt - at least from this source. Towards the end of Rossini's life the story had become quite a tale. It involved the tortured master, in the throes of creation, receiving Rossini, advising him to continue his great work, and above all praising Il Barbiere di Siviglia as the greatest comic work ever written".

Bauckham argues that this example "illustrates how an eyewitness may himself reshape an autobiographical memory radically during the course of retelling the story over many years. The motive in this case is obvious. Rossini emerges as a thoroughly untrustworthy witness".

Later on, reflecting on Recollective Memory, Bauckham argues that the purpose for which the memory is recalled and communicated may strongly affect the construction of memory.

"Memories are not freely constructed. There are clearly constraints in the remembering process that account for the relative accuracy and the broad element of stability in memories recalled on different occasions ... If a person cannot recall sufficient accurate detail to reproduce an experience, the mind may fill in the gaps from its other stores of knowledge. The experience of one woman recalling her early memories is a nice illustration. She writes that one day she was reliving a memory of the Russian revolution of 1905, when she was five years old ... Her memory has misled her by supplying for this episodic memory information from a generic personal memory ... that was close to, but not the correct generic memory ... Another way in which the reconstructive process can be misled so that distorted memories occur is though misinformation acquired by persons about an event they remember. Such misinformation can be unconsciously adopted into their memory and become part of it. In extreme cases persons told about an event that allegedly happened to them can come to believe they actually remember it, even though the event never happened".

Against this background, it is indeed not the case that Bauckham is guilty of a philosophical assumption and methodological tendency which holds that eyewitnesses necessarily provide very reliable source material. In the section "The Reliability of Recollective Memory", Bauckham focuses on nine factors underlying the sort of memories that are more likely to be reliable:

(1) Unique or unusual events
(2) Salient or consequential events
(3) An event in which a person is emotionally involved
(4) Vivid imagery
(5) Irrelevant detail
(6) Point of view
(7) Dating
(8) Gist and detail
(9)Frequent rehearsal

Bauckham concludes by citing the results of two studies (cf. D.C. Rubin and M. Kozin; G. Cohen and D. Faulkner), illustrating how some of the nine factors determining memorability come together to promote and preserve memory of specific events:

"Rubin and Kozin asked a group of students to describe three of their clearest memories, and to rate them for national importance, personal importance, surprise, vividness, emotionality, and how often they discussed the event. The most commonly reported events concerned injuries or accidents, sports, and encounters with the opposite sex. Memories which were more vivid also received higher ratings for importance, surprise, and emotionality. Cohen and Faulkner also reported that memory vividness correlated significantly with emotions, importance, and the amount of rehearsal. In their study, the relative power of these factors shifted with the age of the person who was remembering. For younger people the amount of rehearsal was the most powerful factor. The vividness of their remote memories was preserved because the events were often thought about and talked about ... Events in which the subjects were actors were remembered better than events in which they were only bystanders, and unique occasions and first times were remembered more often than generic events or last times".

According to Bauckham, these studies illustrate the way several of the nine factors discussed tend to occur in combination, making it difficult to gauge their relative importance. On pp. 341-346, Bauckham applies these factors to the eyewitness memories behind the Gospels, concluding as follows:

"The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases, and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event. They did not need to remember - and the Gospels rarely record - merely peripheral aspects of the scene or the event, the aspects of recollective memory that are least reliable. Such details may often have been subject to performative variation in the eyewitnesses' tellings of their stories, but the central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably. We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory".

Thursday, 16 July 2015

"Joy and sorrow in great and equal measure" - Completing a New Testament PhD by Dr Colin Bullard

Colin Bullard completed his PhD in New Testament under Simon Gathercole a while ago. I really enjoyed reading Colin's reflections back after the viva.

I discovered some pictures I took of the Bullards somewhere on my desktop. Great memories!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Scottish origins of the Dutch Reformed Church revival and seminaries in South Africa

Ever heard the names Andrew and John Murray? 

Their father, Rev Andrew Murray was one of several Scottish ministers who came to the Cape of Good Hope in the 19th century and became ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Why was a seminary established at Stellenbosch in 1859?

Andrew and John Murray, who studied in both Aberdeen, Scotland and Utrecht, Holland saw the need for an evangelical and reformed seminary in light of the devastating liberalism in Holland at the time. The latter under the leadership of the likes of the young W.C. Opzoomer from Utrecht rejected things like Jesus' virgin birth, his miracles, bodily resurrection and uniqueness. Jesus was followed for being a good moral example. Also, God had to be stripped of his personal and supernatural attributes, and became the panentheist god constructed by Karl C.F. Krause, whom Opzoomer followed.

It is always special for me when a British journal publish good and interesting theological stuff from South Africa. Recently, the reformed Baptist journal Reformation Today (available here at Tyndale House, Cambridge) published an article by Rev Erroll Hulse in which he reflects on the 19th century revival in South Africa in which the Murray's played an important part. Two excerpts:

"Some pinpoint the beginning of the 1860 revival in the Cape to a prayer by Dr Andrew Murray Junior. It was so powerful and moving that it lit fires in the hearts of those present. They took these strong convictions home to share with others.
It is important to note that gifted-pastor preachers were given to the churches in the Cape. The best known of these was Andrew Murray Senior. For over thirty years he had prayed specifically every Saturday night for revival. He had two sons, Andrew and John, both of whom became well-known pastors".

The discussion of the 1902 revival in the Prisoner of War Camps  is absolutely amazing:

"After the Boer War (1899-1902) the Afrikaners found themselves in a depressed and poverty-stricken state. They had lost their farms and suffered terrible loss of life in the notorious prisoner of war camps. 26,400 women and children died in those camps through starvation and epidemics.
During the Boer War which eventually consisted of 400,000 British soldiers seeking to overcome about 80,000 farmers who were skilled marksmen. Captured Boer soldiers were exiled to prisoner of war camps in Ceylon, India, St Helena and Bermuda. It was there that they experienced very remarkable and powerful spiritual revivals.
They did not enjoy telephone or e-mail communication. Research needs to be done to establish the details of these revivals. We do however know how the revival began in Ceylon. Two prisoners engaged in a quarrel.  The British encouraged chaplains to minister to the prisoners.and so it was that the resident minister exhorted the two unhappy prisoners to go out to the field that they used for rugby football and there pray together. They heeded this exhortation and came back later with the testimony that the Holy Spirit had fallen on them. The next evening four returned to that spot to pray together. They came back with the same report. This proved to be the beginning of the revival with an ever increasing nightly prayer meeting. When the war ended, it was calculated that 2,000 out of the 5,000 were committed to Christ".

So what happened after the war?

"After the war the seminaries were filled with men who dedicated themselves to the ministry and to missions. A mighty missionary movement spread across Africa. Throughout her history a battle with liberalism has taken place in the NG Kerk. Since the 1950s a downgrade has taken place. The spiritual decline has been catastrophic. Unregenerate liberal professors have been allowed to destroy the faith of the seminary students.  
We must pray that the Lord will give the gift of faithful leaders again. And we must pray that the Afrikaans believers will study their history and again be blessed with spiritual awakening".

Thank you Reformation Today!

Friday, 12 October 2012

FF Bruce's integration of academic and church life, and how he embarrassed Ernst Käsemann

Today 112 years ago, Frederick Fyvie Bruce, one of the most influential British New Testament scholars of the 20th century was born in Scotland. As a small tribute, I thought I will share two little excerpts of Tim Grass' biography of Bruce's life and academic work, published in 2011. Two specific sections caught my eye as I glanced over a few sections tonight. The first is the occasion of his presidential address, after being elected president of the SNTS in 1975 (with interesting comments about Ernst Käsemann's body language!); and the second, the lack of tension he experienced between his academic study of the Bible and his approach to the Bible in personal or church life:

The 1975 SNTS Lecture

"... in 1975 he became president of the SNTS ... His presidential address, delivered at Aberdeen, was on the subject of 'The New Testament and Classical Studies'. In it he contended that the classicists were uniquely placed to study the New Testament because it was part of the cultural world which was their field and because the skills required to do so were those which they used in studying ancient writings. As a test case he took the writings of Luke, and especially the book of Acts, arguing controversially for the essential historicity of the speeches recorded in it. His conclusion was that 'the Graeco-Roman contribution to early Christianity should not be depreciated as though it were an alien accretion upon the pure gospel' ... Bruce was probably well aware that his emphasis on the importance of the classical background and his attempt to achieve objectivity in his handling of the text would run counter to the more conceptually orientated and philosophically committed approach of many continental scholars, and that his lay status would not be approved of by some clerical scholars present, but his lecture was the best (his close friend Ward) Gasque had ever heard him give, 'bearing witness to his convictions as a scholar and as a disciple'. Ernst Käsemann, a distinguished if sometimes combative German scholar, was seen to grow redder as the lecture progressed, but it may be a mark of his respect for Bruce that he does not appear to have entered into debate with him at the conference" (p. 115).

The lack of tension between academic and church life

"The Christian acceptance of the Bible as God's word written does not in the least inhibit the unfettered study of its contents and setting; on the contrary, it acts as an incentive to their most detailed and comprehensive investigation" (p. 131 [F.F. Bruce, "Matter of Call" (letter), Christianity Today, 26 March 1965, p. 38]).

"I am sometimes asked if I am aware of a tension between my academic study of the Bible and my approach to the Bible in personal or church life. I am bound to say that I am aware of no such tension ... Naturally, when I discharge a teaching ministry in church I avoid the technicalities of academic discourse and I apply the message of Scripture in a more practical way. But there is no conflict between my critical or exegetical activity in a university context and my Bible exposition in church; the former makes a substantial contribution to the latter. At the same time, membership in a local church, involvement in the activities of a worshipping community, helps the academic theologian to remember what his subject is all about, and keeps his studies properly 'earthed'" (p. 131 [F.F. Bruce, In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past (London: Marshall Pickering, rev. edn, 1993)]).

*  This pdf is a related lecture delivered at the John Rylands University Library with the title: "Is the Paul of Acts the Real Paul?".

Monday, 17 September 2012

Adam or Divine Christology in Paul? Chris Tilling takes on Dunn, Casey etc

I will never forget that rainy afternoon in Durham, England, when I, together with Nijay Gupta and two other students helped clear Prof James Dunn's loft. Prof Dunn needed a few students to help him remove the boxes stored in his loft, as he was preparing to sell his house and relocate to the south of England where his daughter lives. After we finished clearing the loft of all the dusty boxes, we had a nice cup of coffee in the kitchen, each having the chance to ask Prof Dunn a few questions. One of my questions went something like this: "Professor Dunn, which of the books you have written, do you regard as the most controversial?" Prof Dunn's answer? Christology in the Making. An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, first published in 1980. I agreed with him, in part, because I analysed parts of his book for  an essay on the pre-existence of Christ in Paul's letters for one of the modules for my MTh at the University of Pretoria. Agree or disagree, anyone working on the pre-existence of Christ in Paul, has to engage with Dunn's book. 
With this in mind, I was delighted to see Chris Tilling's 2012 WUNT monograph: Paul's Divine Christology arriving here at Tyndale House this morning. Tilling dialogues extensively with the big names when it comes to Pauline Christology. They include the likes of Bauckham, Dunn, Fee, Garland, Harris, Hurtado, Martin, Schnabel, Schrage, Thiselton, Thrall, Waaler and Wright.

Here are a few bits and pieces of Dunn's interpretation of Philippians 2:6-11 compared with Tilling, as well as a short excerpt of the latter's findings to wet your appetite:

Dunn: "It may ... be that the pre-existence-incarnation interpretation of Phil. 2.6-11 etc. owes more to the Gnostic redeemer myth than it does to Phil. 2.6-11 properly understood as an expression of first generation Adam christology - one way of outbidding and countering the appeal of the Gnostic systems. How much truth is contained in the last comment is hard to discern. What we can say with more confidence is that the reading of these passages with the presupposition of a pre-existent heavenly redeemer resulted in a critical shift in Adam christology - a shift from christology of death and resurrection to a christology of incarnation - and not only in christology, but also in the concept of redemption which goes with it ... it is certainly arguable that all these subsequent developments are the consequence in part at least of losing sight of the original meaning and intention of the Adam christology" (James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making. An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation [SCM Press: London, 1989 2nd ed.], p. 128).

Tilling: "... if the passage [Phil. 2.6-11] was used as a hymn in the corporate worship of the early church ... then the singing of this 'hymn' about Christ would have constituted a feature of the 'corporate devotional practise of early Christians'. Dunn's rejoinder that the 'hymn' is 'not addressed to Christ, but gives[s] praise to God for Christ' would be more realistic if the biblical Psalms were always addressed to God and did not sing about God, which is, of course, regularly not the case. Besides, it is far from obvious that Philippians 2:10-11 must be addressed only to God, not Christ, especially as it is at the name of Jesus that every knee bends" (p. 127).

Excerpt of Tilling's findings: "... Pauline Christ-relation is a divine-Christology expressed as relationship. In light of this way of constructing and contending for a Pauline divine-Christology, the claims of Dunn, Casey and others who deny a Pauline divine-Christology were critically examined, and it was maintained that none of the arguments hitherto employed can  carry weight. For example ... Dunn's notion that Paul's 'christological reserve' only slipped into high Christology occasionally, are seen to crumble under the weight of data concerning the Pauline Christ-relation, Paul's divine-Christology. This way of dealing with the data in terms of the divine-Christology debate arguably has certain strenghts. To name a few: not only does it build on undeveloped lines of thought in Fee's work, but it constructively engages with the Christ-devotion emphasis in Hurtado, and the relational notion of identity in Bauckham" (p. 256).

Monday, 10 September 2012

FF Bruce's skepticism about German doctorate programs

Over the past few years I've had the privilege of giving a few papers at German universities and having interesting discussions with German biblical scholars. I was recently struck after reading some of FF Bruce's thoughts concerning doctorate programs in Germany.
Tim Grass, in his 2011 "definitive biography" of Bruce states that the latter expressed a degree of wariness, even skepticism concerning German research doctorates. Apparently, in 1944, Bruce argued that German critical radicalism was due not to the national character in Germany, but to the doctoral dissertation system:

"As, generation after generation, German students submit dissertations for the doctorate of their faculty, they have the choice of confirming old views or presenting new ones. Naturally, more 'kudos' attaches to the publication of a new theory than to the re-establishment of an old one, and the most brilliant and ambitious students seek to put forth 'some new thing.' In some faculties the results of this tendency are wholly beneficial, but in such subjects as classical literature or biblical theology this is not always so. The number of probable hypotheses in these realms is limited, and these have long ago been exhausted, the chances are that improbable hypotheses will multiply" (p. 106).

Very interesting ...