Monday, April 18, 2011

Gospels as Histories, iTunes U. Part Two

History “from below.”

Here, the wheels start to come off the bus a bit. This particular lecture bored me, as it covered very familiar territory for me. Not sure I would have continued after this, but for our discussion.

Bauckham goes on to indicate we should not use 21st century historical methods to apply to the histories of the 1st Century, due to the differing cultures, methodologies, etc.

Yet then he goes on to say, “But we can current historical method to provide illumination and some insight.”

So…can we use them or not? Again, he straddles the fence nicely, allowing one to both do so and not.

Another introductory statement he made that greatly concerned me was how we shouldn’t bother studying who the gospels were written to--as if such study was a waste of time. Personally, I think it is extremely important to know the intended audience. Imagine if Mark was written as a play to a Roman audience to mock the start-up religion. Wouldn’t that have a huge impact in how we view Markan historiography? Or if Matthew is written to a Judaic community? Or Luke written to a predominately female audience?

I think such questions are imperative to our study of the gospels.

A current historical trend he mentions, is to do history “from below.” Rather than typical history about the elites—the movers and shakers in a society such as political, military or academic leaders—look at history from the perspective and about the common crowd.

He admits the farther back we go, the less material we have to do history “from below” as people (prior to the 20th Century) focused more on the elites. He notes Greco-Roman History tended to be written “by the elite; for the elite.”

He then goes through some of the social classes of the society. Anyone who as interacted with me, knows if they ever ask for a book recommendation, I am sure to include Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. You may note the second author of the work is Richard Rohrbaugh, who Bauckham mentions a number of times at this point of the lecture.

Again, this is my review, I’m not saying this might be interesting for someone else, but for me this was dull. Due to his time constraints, Bauckham could barely hit even the highlights, so I learned nothing new here.

Essentially, there were social classes in Roman Society—some were better off than others.

I suspect he is leading up to saying the authors of the Gospels were in the lower classes, and were doing history from below.

This is about all I can say for the second lecture.


  1. What is the significance of the gospels being history from below? He concludes the lecture by asserting that they fall in this category, but what does this mean for the gospels?

    DagoodS, You should feel free to abort the mission if the lectures are too tedious. I don't want you to feel compelled to sit in utter boredom! This wasn't the most engaging lecture, I agree. however, I did actually learn a few things.

  2. DoOrDoNot,

    Actually, after the third lecture, I was glad I stayed with it. I am posting my impressions at the time.

    I suspect Bauckham is utilizing this to support his theory the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. In thinking about your question, I realize he has been a bit all over. If asked at one point, I would have said, “Oh, he fits the gospels into the biographical genre.” Yet in looking at your question, I see he spent the two middle lectures discussing historical genre.

    Perhaps it is how my mind works, but (again, personal preference) would have enjoyed it more if he presented it as:

    “The Gospels fit the genre of Biography because:

    “2) …

    “However, this not straightforward, and they likewise demonstrate traits of historical genre such as:


    and so on. While after his lecture I could frame some of this argument, I think it has become more opaque.

    Is that good or bad? Hmmmm…

  3. While I'm not fond of Bauckham's speaking style, I did find this probably a little more interesting than you since this is my first foray into the gospel histories.

    I had never considered how history was written (i.e. from the top down vs. from below). His points about the gospels being flipped and written from the perspective of the common people rather than the elite were interesting. Apparently the norm was for history to be written from the perspective of the elite and how the commoners impinged upon them. The common people were typically written about as a faceless mob. So the gospels being written from the perspective of the commoners gave voice and face to them and were written from the perspective of how the elite impinged upon them instead of vice versa.

    He pointed out that there were basically only two classes of people-the elite and the common people. There were different categories within those, with no middle class. That wasn't to say that there weren't some commoners that were better off than others. But most commoners didn't see themselves as poor. Some earned enough to manage to save a little. The poor were the people who lived hand to mouth. Mostly the day laborers who didn't have steady employment. Some were forced to join gangs of bandits or to beg. This could make it attractive to sell oneself into slavery as a master would have incentive to take care of his slaves. Owning slaves or employing day laborers did not necessarily mean you were among the elite. Many commoners had need of people to help them work their land or assist in fishing.

    Jesus family apparently owned a farm. This was passed down to his nephews, Jude's sons. He concluded that Jesus probably worked the land and that he probably used carpentry to supplement the farming income. Bauckham pointed out that most families owned approximately 4 acres of land that would sustain a family of 6 to 9 people. Many common people took on artisan trades to supplement the farming income.

    Bauckham noted that archeology has shown Nazareth to be a villiage of approximately 500 commoners. He concluded that Jesus probably did carpentry in the larger surrounding cities.

    I did notice at the beginning of the lecture he talks about the hazards of using 21st century historical methods to apply to the histories of the 1st century. One runs the risk of anachronism in doing so. But we can use it to shed light on history in the first century to see things we haven't noticed before that are staring us right in the face. I'm not sure what the difference is there, so I was a bit confused.

  4. Hmmm...I posted a comment here earlier. Is blogger eating them again?

  5. Ugh Thank’s D’Ma for pointing it out. My e-mail tells me there is a comment…I generally read it through there. I presume (since my friends make such excellent comments) that it posted. Glad you mentioned it did not post.

    Bugger blogger. I like that it screens out Korean porn posts. But still.

    I was going to post a comment later. Today was a weird, busy/non-busy day.

  6. I don't know how excellent it is, but it was here one minute and gone the next. Weird! :)