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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The problems with eyewitnesses

More blog reports of the Bauckham session have come through and again there is this strange reporting about my paper being an attack on miracles themselves. Now I have my views on miracles and people may know or guess them but I never discussed this in my paper in SD. This is particularly interesting because it shows some contemporary insight into the ways in which eyewitness testimony works. A good example is on the Upper Register blog, where Lee Irons gives an account of the session. It is available here.

Irons says,
Collins and Crossley both made a big deal out of the fact that if we accept the gospels as containing eyewitness testimony, then we are forced to accept the miracles as literally true events which cannot be explained by scientific reasoning, and that’s unacceptable.

It vaguely represents me but not quite. I simply asked questions: if gospels contain eyewitness testimony did they see the miraculous? If they saw the miraculous then presumably we have to revolutionise the discipline of history. I never once mentioned anything about acceptable or unacceptable. Already, then, eyewitnesses are adding significant details to what I genuinely said. Now isn't that interesting?!!! Did they get the gist? Sort of, I suppose.

And this:
Basically, the debate was over form criticism.

Was it? My own memory may be faded but I'm not so sure (others present feel free to correct me). There were some comments but it hardly dominated the debate.

Then it continues:
What’s fascinating is that the three respondents seemed to admit that Bauckham had made a strong case, and that form criticism had lots of problems. But they still wanted to believe it: (a) because it has to be true since there’s no other explanation for the formation of all these fanciful stories about Jesus, and (b) because if we accept the reliability of the gospels then we have to believe in miracles, and we modern people can’t do that.

I did mention problems with FC and praised Bauckham on this but it was more a debate between AYCollins and Bauckham, and one in passing. On b) I made no comments about what we modern people can or cannot do.

And again:
It was the old debate over the historical critical method which rules out supernatural divine intervention in history on a priori grounds. That’s just the way history is done, and if you want to play that “game” you have to play by the rules. Bauckham clearly had these people a little scared because he wasn’t playing by their rules and yet he was making some pretty good points that they couldn’t answer.

Well there's a statement. I did mention the ways in which historians act (I quoted Carr on history as a game played without a joker in the pack) and that if Bauckham is right then his book challenges the very rules of academic history (don't we all agree on that?). I never said what HAD to be done. I never said what was right or wrong. I was very explicit about this.

But I really like the running scared bit!!! I didn't notice anyone running scared on any side quite honestly. All seemes a nice debate with not too mcuh in the way of polemic. As for not being able to answer his points, I have no idea what is going on here. The very format meant that Bauckham answered the 3 of us and then we asked one question each to Bauckham before opening questions to the floor. Given this it wasn't even possible for the 3 of us to answer! That is just plain hero worship, it has nothing to do with the session. But it was witnessed.

Hmmm Mk 2:23-28. Jesus defeats opponents in in argument, or at least they cannot answer his point so it would seem. So the opponents just kept quiet, right? Not quite an exact parallel but there's something in there...

Now to make things even more interesting there is another blog report reporting the eyewitness report. And embellishments too!
It's really great to hear that Bauckham was able to defend his thesis with such clarity and conviction in light of such a high profile and rigorous attack. I wonder if there are any other straws that these critical scholars can grasp at. Right now, it doesn't look very promising...

Some people, it seems, will believe anything they are told.
Now the really interesting thing here is that I was, I think, very clear that my paper was a 'what if...?' thing. I was clear not to make a judgment on rights or wrongs or what academics should believe. I simply asked two major questions about whether this means there were eyewitnesses to miracles or whether stories could be made up. A few times now it has been reported otherwise. I accept misrepresention happens commonly enough but in such instances I suspect that the dominant questions of the secular/evangelical debate (or whatever you want to call it) in popular culture has interfered too much with in such instances (note the language: 'against the onslaught of three pretty hard-nosed liberals'). I barely made a critical remark on Bauckham's book. But you'd never know it if certain eyewitness testimony were to be believed!

Oh, and Irons did say this:
Judging by the laughter and the clapping, there was clearly a contingent of evangelicals or evangelical-sympathizers at the Bauckham discussion.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Jim said...

I've opined here:

http://drjimwest.wordpress.com/2007/11/24/how-we-now-know-eyewitness-testimony-doesnt-exist/

November 25, 2007

 
Anonymous steph said...

Almost as frustrating as Tintin. Did they get the gist? Not really...

November 25, 2007

 
Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

James, could you send me your paper? I emailed you to ask at your sheffield address and it got bounced back

November 25, 2007

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

There is another possibility, and it is one I have convinced myself about for a long time. The documents of the NT were not purely theological produced out of thin air, as West would seem to imply. They are expanded, edited and garbled versions of original documents written by eyewitnesses, and in the case of the Gospel of John possibly derived from a document written by the prophet himself. Indeed the extant texts have all the signs of having been through an extensive editorial process. I cannot believe that the NT text we have did not have behind it a real Jewish prophet and that the original documents were written entirely in and for a Jewish culture. Prophets did signs, not miracles.

November 25, 2007

 
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 27, 2007

 
Blogger Randy said...

I noticed no one has commented on the most provocative part of your paper, the relationship of gospel stories to haggadah. What was the name of the scholar you cited for that? I didn't catch it. But I thought that appealing to haggadah as a Jewish form of story invention creates an explanation that undercut Bauckham's objections and is not based on the form critical model with which he has such problems.

November 27, 2007

 
Anonymous steph said...

Roger Aus: you should perhaps get hold of his work and read it if you haven't already.

November 27, 2007

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

It is standard Christian apologetic that eyewitnesses give different accounts of what happened.

Was there one woman present at this SBL session?

Or two women?

Or 3 women?

Or more than 4 women?

Eyewitnesses will vary in saying how many women were there at the SBL session.

Especially if you ask them 30 years after the events.

November 27, 2007

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

The most amazing thing about Bauckham's book is the way it illustrates the incredibly low standards of Biblical scholarship.

Such a collection of ad hoc hypotheses, unevidenced assertions, circular reasoning and selective data would never be taken seriously , if the same standards of scholarship were presented in a scientific field.

November 27, 2007

 

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