The Role Of Eyewitnesses In The Formation Of The Gospel Tradition. A Review Article Of Samuel Byrskog, “Story As History – History As Story” -- By: Peter M. Head

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 52:2 (NA 2001)
Article: The Role Of Eyewitnesses In The Formation Of The Gospel Tradition. A Review Article Of Samuel Byrskog, “Story As History – History As Story”
Author: Peter M. Head


The Role Of Eyewitnesses In The Formation Of The Gospel Tradition. A Review Article Of Samuel Byrskog, “Story As History – History As Story”1

Peter M. Head

Summary

The place of eyewitness reports within the formation of the gospel tradition remains controversial in contemporary gospel scholarship. This review article explains and engages critically with an important recent attempt to examine this subject, Samuel Byrskog’s, Story as History – History as Story. The introduction highlights the importance of the subject, and the lack of thorough treatments. We turn firstly to consider Byrskog’s first book, Jesus the Only Teacher, and then turn to a detailed exposition of the arguments, strengths and weaknesses of his new book.

I. Introduction

Over against the historically sceptical stance of the radical form critics (especially Schmidt, Dibelius and Bultmann), Taylor, who virtually pioneered the study of forms within British scholarship, is often quoted as a helpful and historically plausible antidote:

It is on this question of eyewitnesses that Form-Criticism presents a very vulnerable front. If the Form-Critics are right, the disciples must have been translated to heaven immediately after the Resurrection. As Bultmann sees it, the primitive community exists in vacuo, cut off from its founders by the walls of an inexplicable ignorance. Like Robinson Crusoe it must do the best it can. Unable to turn to any one for information, it must invent situations for the words of Jesus, and put into His lips sayings which personal memory cannot check.2

Taylor goes on to discuss some of the reasons why the form-critics did not take the presence of eyewitnesses into account, suggesting that the form-critics were (over)reacting to exaggerated under-standings of the role of eyewitnesses, but essentially accusing the form-critics of ignoring evidence which complicated their theories.3 The presence of eyewitnesses is not really compatible with the development of those ‘laws of tradition’ which reflect the development of anonymous oral traditions about Jesus. Taylor continued:

However disturbing to the smooth working of theories the influence of eyewitnesses on the formation of the tradition cannot possibly be ignored. The one hundred and twenty at Pentecost did not go into permanent retreat; for at least a generation they moved among the young Palestinian communities, and through preaching and fellowship their recollections were at the disposal of those who...

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