Friday, April 22, 2011

Gospels as Histories, iTunes U. Part Three

Now the wheels suddenly go back on the bus. This was (by far) the most interesting lecture in this series, making me glad I stuck with it.

Dr. Bauckham focuses on two examples for similarity to the Gospels—the Biography of Appollonius of Tyana and Life of Homer

Appollonius, allegedly lived during the 1st century, and would therefore be a contemporary of Christ. He was a philosopher, miracle-worker and holy man who defied the Roman Emperors. Not surprisingly, his story has been compared to Christ—indeed the reason we even know of Appollonius is that later writers attempted to differentiate Appollonius from Christ.

Dr. Bauckham focused on a few issues:

1) He noted Appollonius was an elite. Although he did give up his wealth.

2) Appollonius focused more on the elite. Two examples given were Appollonius finding a treasure to help a wealthy person avoid debts, and him providing a dower for a girl he raised from the dead.

[Bauckham did not mention these works, but it was interesting to me the similarities to Acts of Paul & Acts of Peter. Which also had interaction with the elites in town by the apostles. And people dying and reuniting for marriage.]

Eventually Dr. Bauckham differentiated it from Christ as the Gospels were more “bottom up” (from the common person perspective) and Appollonius was an elite catering to elite.

The second work was even more fascinating to me—Life of Homer.

One must remember how influential The Odyssey and the Iliad were within this culture. These works were seen as THE way to write. They were performed for the common people, utilized for teaching and the characters were well-known types exemplified throughout contemporary writing.

Not surprisingly, people were interested in the author—Homer. (Who lived 100’s of years earlier.) This first century work was Homer’s biography, explaining how he was an illegitimate child, raised by a hard-working single mom who eventually married a school teacher. Homer goes blind (of course) within the story, and becomes a vagrant, scraping out a living, but generally receiving charity.

Homer finally becomes a schoolteacher, establishing some secure income. Many of the persons he meets along his journey become the characters within his epic works.

Bauckham differentiates Life of Homer, as this was written about a person long dead, rather than a contemporary. He puts it as a biographical genre, closer to novel then historical.

The thing I found so intriguing was how Bauckham attempted to differentiate these works by specifics when talking about genre. If I wrote a biography about George Washington, it would (by necessity) be about a person who existed 200 years ago. If I wrote a biography about Oprah, it would be about a contemporary. While the sourcing may (or may not!) be more substantial—doesn’t the genre stay the same? Aren’t they both biographies?

Whether I write about kings or paupers—aren’t they both biographies?

I found this interesting because when talking about what qualifies as a bios Dr. Bauckham found strength in the generality of the definition, to encompass a great many possibilities. Yet here he dismisses works from being the same genre because of specifics.

A question arising through this discussion—did the Gospels develop a unique genre? I think these two works, as presented by Dr. Bauckham greatly diminish such an argument. We have other works within the same time frame that would appear to be the same genre.

Finally, Dr. Bauckham mentioned “agency” to demonstrate this was a “bottom up” work. He indicated the “agency” of Christ’s death was the crowd. (The common people.) I found this to be a bit hair-splitting. Didn’t the Chief priests stir up the crowd? Arguably they were the agents. Pilate was convinced and gave the order. He was the agent, right? Actually, Christ had to die for all our sins—do the stories indicate we are the agents? Yet this was God’s plan—was Christ the agent?

It seemed to me, one could bend the “agent” for Christ’s death to about any entity one desired.


  1. My reaction to lectures 2 and 3 are up on my blogsite. I listened to lecture 4, but I will not be responding to it. In order to respond, I would have to listen to lecture 4 again, and I am not willing to do that. I admit, I am bailing.


    …indeed the reason we even know of Appollonius is that later writers attempted to differentiate Appollonius from Christ.

    There is a long biography of Apollonius written by Philostratus around the 3rd century. You can read it HERE.

    You should read it, if you have not already. It is really interesting!


    Bauckham did not mention these works, but it was interesting to me the similarities to Acts of Paul & Acts of Peter. Which also had interaction with the elites in town by the apostles. And people dying and reuniting for marriage.

    WOW – that is a really good observation. As Bauckham said, Apollonius is presented as severely ascetic, and that included his abhorrence of sex and women. I don’t recall any women mentioned in the story at all, but there may be that, and some other interesting parallels between that and the Apocryphal Acts after all. That is definitely something to investigate. I thought of using the stories in 1 and 2 Maccabbees as counter-examples of his uniqueness of the Gospels as a “people’s history” in my article, but ended up deleting it. Perhaps I should have left it in?

    Bauckham differentiates Life of Homer, as this was written about a person long dead, rather than a contemporary. He puts it as a biographical genre, closer to novel then historical…

    All these comparisons left me confused. Sometimes the Gospels similarities vindicated their historical uniqueness and authenticity. But sometimes the dis-similarities led him to the same conclusion! But he did it in such a way that he never, from what I remember hearing, exactly or emphatically said that – he left everything as inferred. I guess we listeners were supposed to make of it what we will, but if I understand his intentions correctly, the whole thing is just massive special pleading!

    Thanks again for the review.

  2. Hi DaGoodS. I placed a comment on this blogsite, but something ate it. Can you check? Thanks

  3. So DagoodS, would you put gospelsin the bios genre? Did baukham put Life of Homer in the genre of novel primarily b/c of the length of time elapsed from his death til the work was written? If so , then agree that his reasOning from specifics seems unwarranted and biased in favor of his thesis. I can't remember from the lecture, did it have nothing to do with evidence that the author created his own narrative apart from the historical?

    I was interested in listening about these other literary works , but I was left wondering what the import of this all was . Is he mainly trying to prove his thesis that gospels are history from below? If so , I continue to wonder what the significance of this is for the gospels.

  4. DoOrDoNot,

    I would put the gospels as bios with a definite tendency to utilize Jesus’ statements/actions for polemic purposes intended for particular recipients.

    Personally I am convinced the author of Mark made up most of Jesus’ life, other than the basics of a traveling rabbi from Galilee who was crucified in Judea around the time of Passover. I see Mark using contemporary style (chiasms) mixed with familiar allusions (Homer) and clever use of Tanakh. Almost midrashic, but not exactly. Rather than re-tell the story, use the same form, with enough hints to let the intended readers understand where it was coming from.

    What Mark didn’t realize was how the Christian audience craved Jesus stories. So Matthew re-worked Mark to make a point to his intended audience; Luke doing likewise. I vacillate every time I study whether John is closer to the actual historical Jesus or farther removed (both in time and locale.)

    Depends what day you catch me.

    I think Bauckham is arguing for the works being written by contemporaries—even eyewitnesses.

    It was my impression Bauckham put Life of Homer more as novella because:

    1) It was written so long after he lived; and
    2) There would not be contemporary sources to confirm the accounts.

    Although upon inspection that really smashes into one point, doesn’t it?

  5. Sorry it's taken me a while to respond. I've found myself having to listen to them several times to try to understand what point, if any, Bauckham is making.

    You've pretty much nailed what I was thinking. Now I just have questions. Was Apollonius of Tyana a real person? He speaks of these writings about his life as if he were. I don't remember the man's name, but Apollonius constant companion wrote a bios of him. I should think this would be a more accurate bios than any of the gospels for that very reason. Bauckham didn't dispute any of the miracles allegedly performed by Apollonius. Did he do these things? Where did he get this power?

    Forget for a moment who the subjects of his aid were. Forget for a moment history from above and history from below. Frankly I'm not sure what difference this makes other than the fact that there have been some in history who called Peter and Paul liars and magicians because they were uneducated (although I thought Paul was educated). I'm not even concerned with trying to make Apollonius and Jesus one and the same. You have two people running around in the first century raising people from the dead and healing people. One for the "elite" the other for the "common people". Still the similarities are too many to ignore. Bauckham never argues that these are made up stories about Apollonius. There are many who could testify because of the timing of the bios that this is untrue. Do we have such?

    In my opinion this in no way strengthens the gospels as histories. I'm confused as to what the point even is.

  6. D’Ma,

    Absolutely no apology necessary. My life has been pretty busy as well, recently. All in a good way.

    Was Apollonius a real person? *shrug* I would suspect (much like Jesus) there is truth at the core, regarding an ascetic philosopher who performed enough tricks and gained enough reputation to have myths develop.

    Having miracles occur, or even persons performing miracles was common within the stories of the time.

    The Satirist Lucian of Samosata mocks this tendency, noting in The Passing of Peregrinus how he (Lucian) made up a miracle about a Vulture flying out of Peregrinus’ funeral pyre, and shortly thereafter met a man who swore he had seen the vulture himself! The story Lucian made up was already circulated by others who testified to its truth! (See Paragraphs 38-40)

    To now separate “fact” from “fiction” (when the authors, the recipients and the general audience of the time had no such inclination) is a Herculean and perhaps ultimately fruitless task.