Over at Like a Child’s Blog I recommended looking at courses on iTunes University as such courses are 1) free and 2) convenient. DoOrDoNot suggested listening and discussing a course together; D’Ma and I readily agreed. Anyone else is free to join as well.
It was settled we would listen to Gospels as Histories--a four part lecture by Dr. Richard Bauckham. (If the iTunes Link does not work, it is under iTunes U/Humanities/Religion. Scroll through the pages ‘till ya find it.)
I am familiar with Bauckham, having read Jesus and the Eyewitness: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimonies--as this covers similar ground, so far my impression is much the same.
How does one review an audio course? I decided to listen as I normally would; my commute takes 45 minutes, so an hour lecture would be spread over one day, with a long break. I don’t take notes while driving—in keeping with that, I didn’t take notes for this lecture. If I forgot something that means it didn’t resonate enough for memory.
Simply put, I listened as my ordinary routine, and here are a few thoughts after the first lecture:
I found, at times, Dr. Bauckhan’s accent to follow. My mind worked a bit harder, sometimes figuring out what the word was after. Two examples. He referred to a genre in Greco-Roman literature as “acuna” (as far as I remember)—where a person is praised. I’ve tried finding the word, and cannot.
Or he mentioned making up a word “biographee” or “biographeed” (again it was difficult to tell which, because if there was a “d” at the end of the word, it was very soft) as being the person to whom a biography was about. Say this sentence out loud, “The biography about the biographee places the biographee within the world of the biography.” As you can see “biographee” and “biography” sound amazingly the same!
He laid out the genres in Greco-Roman writing:
2) Bios (biography);
4) Acuna (?) – praise of a person.
*Dr. Bauckham points out (correctly, in my opinion) there is a difference between “history”—what happened and “historiography”—the actual recording of what happened. The records we have, and utilize, are peoples’ stories about events, including the person’s biases, impressions, preferences, choice of words, etc. It may not be precisely what actually happened.
He then indicated genres did not have rigid demarcations—genres are porous, blending and merging, sometimes utilizing elements of other genres. In indicating the gospels are bios he stated “of course the most closely related genre would be histories.”
I wondered why? Couldn’t acuna (?) be closely related? Or novels?
Then Bauckham went on to relate how histories were considered more reliable when written by people who were actually involved in events, then slightly less reliable if written by contemporaries and finally the least reliable if written by persons long after the events occurred. He claimed it was “plausible” if histories were considered this way, then the close genre of bios would be too.
Ah…THERE’s the Bauckham I remember from his book. I felt (again this is my impression) he tended to make an argument to stretch to a point which was plausible, but then in the next chapter take the point as a certainty to make his next stretched point. Eventually, I felt like saying, “What a minute—isn’t this speculation upon speculation? Isn’t this getting thinner down the line?”
Here we have bios genre that can utilize elements from historiography genre. And we have historiography which tended to favor contemporary accounts. Therefore, according to Bauckham, bios genre favored contemporary accounts See what I mean?
I also wondered about Mark’s use of chiasm—a Greco-Roman element within novels—as being a merger of bios genre with novel genre. Not to mention the typography similar to midrash in aligning Tanakh stories with Jesus’ accounts.
Bauckham then stated some writers of historiography would (to boost credibility) falsely “insert” themselves into their stories. I wonder if Bauckham will talk about Matthew? (He indicates in his book one of the reasons he does not think Matthew was the author of the Gospel was Matthew’s “insertion” into the story of Levi to make himself one of the disciples.)
Three categories of bios were given:
1) Political or Military Figures;
3) Holy men.
Baukham noted that traditionally Jesus was placed in the “philosophers” category, due to his teaching. He then goes on to argue it would be more appropriate to place the bios in the political arena, as the Gospel authors considered Jesus to be the Messiah. He utilized the beginnings of Matthew and Luke to demonstrate the authors considered Jesus as a King. He did not deal with Mark (the Messianic Secret) nor John’s prolific teaching.
Curiously, Bauckham argued the gospels are NOT like bios in that they are unique—they are discussing a Messiah, not a philosopher. They are discussing the son of God—not a king. I found this to be both question-begging and a bit of “having one’s cake and eating it, too.”
Question-begging as ALL biographies are unique. Indeed, the very reason one biographs a particular biographee with a biography, is their unique nature. Ghandi was unique. George Washington was unique. Alexander the Great (who Bauckham acknowledges comes close to Jesus in terms of bios) was unique. So what?
Further, it was bothersome he wanted to equate a genre—biography or bios--as applicable when convenient, and then abandon it when it was not, because Jesus was unique. Thus leaving us with no method whatsoever, so why talk about genre at all?
At this point (after Lecture One) I am left with the familiar feeling—can any one really approach the Gospels as a literary work? It seems we all—even Bauckham—have baggage when doing so. We can read the Lives of Roman emperors and discuss which events occurred. But come to the Bible and all of a sudden the methodologies become mixed. Many become consumed with pursuing an agenda.
Next will be Part Two