6. Eyewitnesses “from the Beginning”
“From the Beginning”
According to Bauckham, if the Gospels embody eyewitness testimonies then at least some of the eyewitnesses must have been able to testify to the whole story of Jesus, the story beginning with John the Baptist and ending with the resurrection appearances. In Acts 1:21-22, Peter says that the replacement for Judas Iscariot must have accompanied the Eleven, beginning (arxamenos) from the baptism of John until the ascension, and become a witness (martyra) to the resurrection. Acts 1:23 states that two disciples were proposed to replace Judas Iscariot and thus indicates that the Twelve were not the only witnesses to the entirety of Jesus’ ministry, but that they had a specifically authoritative role. In Acts 10:36-42, Peter summarizes the gospel story. In 10:37 the word arxamenos is used when Peter says Jesus’ preaching began in Galilee after the baptism announced by John the Baptist. This same verb (archein) is used elsewhere by Luke to draw attention to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Luke 3:23; 23:5; Acts 1:1).
The Gospel of John also contains the concept that certain disciples were especially qualified to tell the Gospel story because they had participated in it from beginning to end. In the farewell discourse, Jesus tells his disciples, not here limited to the Twelve, that they would testify on his behalf because they had been with him from the beginning (ap arches) (John 15:26-27). It is doubtful that this concept was confined to only these two authors. The rest of this chapter considers whether the Gospels show indications that they embody the testimony of disciples who had witnessed the entirety of Jesus’ ministry.
The Preface to Luke’s Gospel
Luke’s preface reads (1:1-4, ESV):
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
The Greek word autoptai, translated as “eyewitnesses” in verse 2, means a firsthand observer of the events. Among extant historians, only Polybius (3.4.3) and Josephus (C. Ap. 1.55) use the term “with reference to the observation of events narrated in a history in a preface or other methodological passage” (p. 119). Within the total context of Luke-Acts the term refers to those who witnessed firsthand the events of Luke’s Gospel.
The phrase “from the beginning” (ap arches) also belongs to the same “historiographic complex of ideas” (p. 119). Philo of Byblos writes “Sanchuniathon, truly a man of great learning and curiosity, who desired to learn from everyone about what happened from the first (ex arches) . . . quite carefully searched out the works of Taautos” (p. 119).
Bauckham continues on by noting a fictional, pseudonymous account written by Plutarch purportedly from a witness to the symposium of the Seven Sages in the sixth century BCE. Though the account is fictional the preface is meant to give it verisimilitude and thus it is in accordance with the conventions of historiographic writing at the time of Plutarch. It contains a line that reads: “Since I now have a lot of free time, and old age is not trustworthy enough to delay my story, I will recount everything from the beginning (ap arches hapanta diegesomai), since you are eager to listen.” Here the phrase “from the beginning” is used to assure the reader that the author is an eyewitness and can give a better account than those who only heard what happened.
Regarding his history concerning the Jewish war, Josephus says: “I, on the contrary, have written a veracious account, at once comprehensive and detailed, of the war, having been present in person at all the events” (C. Ap. 1.47). King Agrippa sent a letter congratulating Josephus on instructing his readers about everything “from the beginning” (archethen) (Vita 366).
Ancient historians considered it important to choose the right beginning and conclusion to their works (e.g., Polybius, Histories 1.3.1-5; 1.5.1; 1.12.5; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, De Veterum Censura 11). The “beginning” for Luke is the ministry of John the Baptist. Like Polybius (1.12.5-7), he includes, in the infancy narrative of chapters 1-2, some material from before his starting point to provide background and context. In a similar fashion, Josephus summarized the events of the Jewish people prior to his lifetime before focusing predominately on the Jewish war (War 1.18).
Luke’s phrase “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” refers to a single group of people. Acts 1:21-22 explains that the Twelve were both eyewitnesses and proclaimers of the gospel. However, Luke’s preface is not limiting the group of eyewitnesses to the Twelve.
The Greek word parekolouthekoti, translated above as “having followed,” means “to follow with the mind” and indicates that Luke understood what the eyewitnesses had passed on to him. The Greek word anothen, translated above as “for some time past,” parallels “from the beginning” (ap arches). Thus, Luke is saying he has been familiar with the traditions from the eyewitnesses from the beginning.
The Inclusio of Eyewitness Testimony in Mark
According to Bauckham, the Gospels employ a literary device, the inclusio, to indicate that their eyewitness sources were qualified to tell gospel story.
The first disciple named in Mark is Simon Peter and particular prominence is given to Simon’s name in this verse (1:16). Instead of writing “Simon and his brother Andrew” he writes “Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon.” None of the Twelve witness the events of Mark’s Gospel after Jesus is handed over to Pilate, yet Peter is named at the end of the Gospel. The women who arrive at the empty tomb are told to tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee (16:7). Thus Peter, who was one of the disciples, is featured prominently at the end of the Gospel as well as at the beginning. “The two references form an inclusio around the whole story, suggesting that Peter is the witness whose testimony includes the whole” (p. 125). As will be discussed in chapter 9, this confirms Papias’ claim that Peter was the source of the traditions in Mark.
Peter is mentioned frequently in Mark and is present throughout most of the narrative from 1:16 to 14:72, the exceptions being 6:14-29; 10:35-40; 14:1-2, 10-11, 55-65. This indicates that we do not rely solely on Papias’ statement when ascribing a Petrine character to Mark.
Luke, who used Mark as a source, also has Simon Peter as the first (4:38) and last (24:34) disciple mentioned, despite the fact that he re-worked Peter’s calling (5:1-11) and does not have the angels at the tomb mention Peter by name (24:6-7). Moreover, the first appearance of Simon in Luke also reiterates Simon’s name. Bauckham believes that this shows Luke acknowledged “the extent to which his own Gospel is indebted to the Petrine testimony he recognized in Mark” (p. 127).
The Inclusio of Eyewitness Testimony in John
Bauckham believes that John knew and expected many of his readers to know Mark’s Gospel. However, he does not believe that Mark was used as a source for John. His argument for this position is in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences. In John the first two disciples to follow Jesus were initially followers of John the Baptist (1:35). In 1:40 we learn that one of the disciples is Andrew. Since Andrew introduces his brother Peter to Jesus we know that the unknown disciple in this passage is not Peter. To readers of Mark it would appear that John is displacing Peter from the priority he has in Mark by his brother Andrew and by the unknown disciple. This anonymous disciple has often been identified as the disciple known elsewhere in John as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In this passage, the first meeting of Jesus and this disciple, he could not yet be called “the disciple Jesus loved.”
Why does Bauckham identify the disciple Jesus loved with the anonymous disciple of this passage? First, because the beloved disciple is portrayed as the ideal witness and, as the ideal witness, he must have fulfilled the Gospel’s qualification for being a witnesses to Jesus. It is the beloved disciple’s witness that is embodied in the Gospel (21:24). In 15:27 Jesus tells his disciples that they are to testify because they have been with him from the beginning. Thus, we should expect the beloved disciple, the ideal witness, to have been with Jesus from the beginning. Second, because John links the beloved disciple to the anonymous disciple through the use of vocabulary. After calling the first two disciples “Jesus turned and saw them following” (1:38). At the end of the Gospel we learn that “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following” (21:20). After the calling of the first two disciples they ask Jesus where he is staying (meneis) (1:38). Jesus invites them to find out and we read: “So they came and saw where he was staying (menei), and they remained (emeinan) with him that day” (1:39). At the end of the Gospel, in response to Peter’s question about the beloved disciple, Jesus says: “If I will that he remain (menein) until I come, what is that to you?” (21:22-23).
Readers of John also see a kind of rivalry between Peter and the beloved disciple in the later chapters of the Gospel. For example, the beloved disciple races to the empty tomb and arrives before Peter; he does not enter the tomb, rather Peter is the first to enter the tomb. However, the beloved disciple is the one who “saw and believed” (20:3-8). This rivalry is not meant to denigrate Peter for Peter is to be the chief shepherd of Jesus’ sheep and will lay down his life for Jesus. Rather it is meant to show that the beloved disciple is an especially qualified witness to Jesus.
John’s Gospel thus uses the inclusio of eyewitness testimony in order to privilege the witness of the Beloved Disciple, which this Gospel embodies. It does so, however, not simply by ignoring the Petrine inclusio of Mark’s Gospel, but by enclosing a Petrine inclusio within its inclusio of the Beloved Disciple. In ch. 1, the anonymous disciple, along with Andrew, appears just before Peter, whose importance is then stressed by Jesus’ bestowal of the name Cephas on him (1:41-42). In ch. 21 Jesus speaks to the Beloved Disciple (21:22-23) just after Jesus’ dialogue with Peter, in which he has made Peter the chief shepherd of his sheep and predicted that Peter will lay down his life for Jesus and his sheep (21:15-19). The giving of the name Cephas (assuming that the name alludes to Peter’s role after Jesus’ departure, as in Matt 16:18-19) and the giving of the role of chief shepherd doubtless correspond, thus reinforcing the signficance of the Petrine inclusio. The proximity of the two ends of the inclusio of the Beloved Disciple to the two ends of the Petrine inclusio functions to indicate that this Gospel’s distinctive contribution derives not from Peter’s testimony but from the Beloved Disciple’s witness. But at the same time it acknowledges the importance of Peter’s testimony, as it appears in Mark’s Gospel, and the extent to which the narrative of the Gospel of John runs parallel to Mark’s, while also diverging to a considerable extent. (p. 129)
Luke’s Inclusio of the Women
Though Mark 15:40 and Matthew 27:55-56 record that Jesus had female followers from Galilee who followed him to Jerusalem and witnessed his crucifixion, Luke is unique among the Gospels in that he refers to female followers in his account of the Galilean ministry (8:3). Moreover, at the empty tomb the two angels remind the women to “remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (24:6-7). These words indicate that these women were among the disciple whom Jesus privately taught in Galilee (9:43-45). Luke acknowledges his incorporation of the Petrine witness of Mark’s Gospel by having Simon Peter be the first (4:38) and last (24:34) named disciple in his Gospel. However, Luke also contains an inclusio regarding the women (8:1-3 and 24:10) indicating that they were qualified witnesses to Jesus’ ministry (though perhaps not as qualified as the Twelve). This suggests that some of the special material in Luke came from one or more of these named women.
Thus, Bauckham finds that three of the four Gospels use the literary device of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony to indicate the main eyewitnesses of their story (this does not rule out other eyewitness sources). The Gospel of Matthew does not seem concerned with claiming the authority of any specific eyewitnesses.
The Inclusio of Eyewitness Testimony in Lucian’s Alexander
According to Bauckham, only a “biography of a near-contemporary person dependent to a large extent on one major eyewitness could employ the inclusio of eyewitness testimony” (p. 132). There are few surviving biographies that fall into this category, but at least two of them contain the inclusio of eyewitness testimony. The first of these biographies is about Alexander of Abonoteichus. It was written after 180 CE by Lucian of Samosata and called Alexander or the False Prophet (Alexandros e Pseudomantis). Lucian wrote with the purpose of showing Alexander to be a charlatan and a man of many vices.
Alexander established a cult and oracle of the snake-god Glycon, who was understood to be the reincarnation of Asclepius, in his home town of Abonoteichus. Alexander functioned as the interpreter or prophet of Glycon, often answering questions that people put to Glycon. The reputation of the oracle grew rapidly throughout the Roman world, making Alexander a figure of influence and Abonoteichus a flourishing new religious center. Lucian attributed base motives to Alexander and exposed the apparently supernatural features of the cult and oracle as trickery. Lucian accused Alexander of avarice, adultery, sex with boys, and attempted murder.
The existence of Alexander and the nature of the cult of Glycon are confirmed in external sources. The accuracy of Lucian’s account is debated, but it has verisimilitude. Lucian claims to have been an eyewitness for a small part of his history. From what other source or sources did Lucian gain his information about Alexander? The most obvious candidate for the source of much of Lucian’s account is Publius Mummius Sisenna Rutilianus. Rutilianus was consul in 146 CE, was a propagandist for Alexander (§30-31), and married Alexander’s daughter in response to one of Alexander’s oracles (§35) despite Lucian’s advice (§54). Lucian wrote shortly after Rutilianus’ death so that he could portray Rutilianus as a fool driven crazy by superstitious religion (§30-31) without having to fear the consequences from the powerful Rutilianus. Lucian claims to have read a letter from Alexander to Rutilianus (§ 4) and quotes three oracular responses given to Rutilianus (§ 33-35). Rutilianus is mentioned more than any other character except Alexander. Rutilianus is the first and last character to be named, other than Alexander. It is noteworthy that Rutilianus does not figure in the story until Alexander’s fame reaches Rome halfway through the book (§ 30), yet he is mentioned first when a letter is cited from Alexander to Rutilianus (§ 4).
The Inclusio of Eyewitness Testimony in Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus
The second biography containing the inclusio of eyewitness testimony is On the Life of Plotinus and the Order of His Books by Porphyry, written at the beginning of the fourth century, about thirty years after Plotinus’ death (204-270 CE). Plotinus was the founder of Neo-Platonism and master of his own school in Rome. Porphyry was one of his pupils. Porphyry makes it clear that Amelius Gentillianus, a student of Plotinus, was an eyewitness for nearly all of Plotinus’ twenty-six year career as master of his school in Rome (244-270). By comparison, Porphyry was a pupil of Plotinus for five or six years.
“The Life of Plotinus shows a clear concern with indicating its eyewitness sources and meticulously indicates the periods of Plotinus’ life about which they were informed” (p. 139). Only the doctor Eustathius was with Plotinus at his death and so Porphyry states that Eustathius was his source of information about Plotinus’ death. Regarding Plotinus’ early life in Alexandria, Porphyry states that his information came from Plotinus himself.
Porphyry tells us that Amelius spent twenty-four years with Plotinus, thereby indicating Amelius is his eyewitness source for information that he did not witness himself (§3). Outside of Plotinus and Porphyry, Amelius is the first and the last person named in the work and the most prominent person in the work. “Thus the inclusio of eyewitness testimony, indicating that Amelius was the eyewitness source whose testimony extended to virtually all of Plotinus’ career, is easily seen to be coherent with what we could in any case gather from the rest of the work about Amelius’s importance as an eyewitness source” (p. 141).
Thus, contary to first impressions, with which most Gospel scholars have been content, the Gospels do have their own literary ways of indicating their eyewitness sources. If it be asked why these are not more obvious and explicit in our eyes, we should note that most ancient readers or hearers of these works, unlike scholars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, would have expected them to have eyewitness sources, and that those readers or hearers to whom the identity of the eyewitnesses was important would have been alert to the indications the Gospels acutally provide. (p. 147)