February 1, 2013

Jesus' Eyewitnesses as Community

Anthony Le Donne has me thinking tonight about Memory and Eyewitnesses again. Googling (to see what/who Anthony might have been critiquing) was inconclusive, but the following quote sparked something worth posting on here. First, the quote, from D. E. Nineham, cited in Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (p.348):
The formal, stereotyped character of the separate sections, suggestive of long community use, the absence of particular, individual details such as would be irrelevant to community edification, the conventional character of the connecting summaries, all these point to a development which was controlled by the impersonal needs and forces of the community and not immediately by the personal recollections of the individual eye-witness. ... [Thus, the form critics conclude/d] that the Gospel tradition owed the form in which it reached our evangelists almost entirely to community use and its demands, and hardly at all to direct intervention or modification on the part of the eye-witnesses.
That makes good sense, to a point, but maybe I'm missing something. Why are Jesus' original followers seen as a collection of personally interested individuals, whereas the later christian associations are seen as "communities"?

Although Form Critical theory, as described by this quotation, may no longer be much in vogue, it does seem to have maintained its influence quite strongly. If nothing else, much of Bauckham's Eyewitness project seems designed to refute these basic claims, in attempting to show that eyewitnesses could indeed have produced the Gospel material as we now have it (or something close to that, perhaps). As you all know, I'm no expert on any of this; as usual, this is just enough bridge to make my own point, to ask my own question, today.

What if the Gospel traditions about Jesus were taking shape according to community needs even while Jesus himself was still walking around, leading them all? In my personal theory, the whole community enlisted their one or two members who were literate enough to start writing things down. Those original journals were eventually used by Mark, who brought his own agenda to the task (or perhaps, or if you prefer, that of his own later community). Then Matthew used Mark and the journals to make his own version. Then Luke came along and used all three.

But the foundation -- the first "oral traditions" or the first "collective memories", or the first "community versions" of FAQ talking points, or whatever -- regardless of however accurate or general they all may have been -- I still suspect much of that material had begun the transition (from social and oral to written journal form) long before Jesus marched into Jerusalem.

Point one: these guys thought he was that special. How could they NOT elect a parliamentarian some kind of record keeper? Point two: these guys weren't all soldiers in Jesus' marching retinue. They were as autonomous as he was approachable. But maybe that's the real sticking point that scholars haven't considered. (?) Seriously. Am I missing something or have I just nailed something here?

Why do scholars seem to think that latter 'early-christendom' developed "communities" as if Jesus' original followers were just mindless walk-behind-ers and occasional cheerleaders? Who decided Jesus must have been some kind of (gregariously) charismatic (ministerially) authoritarian preacher who did all the talking, took all the initiative, and encouraged his people to receive the content of his preaching, but not to reproduce or retransmit or re-represent any of that material during his lifetime?

Are we thinking too much of other powerful ministers we've known?


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