Friday, September 19, 2014

Of Eyewitnesses, Memories, and Mark Hamill



 Today we have a guest piece by frequent contributor W. R. Miller.

***


A common anti-Christian claim is that people can’t remember details of events after thirty or forty years.  According to biologist Richard Dawkins, “All four of the gospels, by the way, were written long after the events that they purport to describe, and not one of them by an eyewitness.” [1] Detroit, Michigan attorney Bruce Townley [2] writes, “If one follows the majority of biblical scholarship, Mark was written at or near 70 CE. This makes Mark (and consequently Matthew and Luke) 35-40 years after the death of Jesus. How many ‘eyewitnesses’ were still alive over that time period?”[3]  In the Oxford Annotated Bible, Pheme Perkins makes the claim, “Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings." [4]



On the contrary, the evangelists themselves testify to their own eyewitness accounts.


1 Peter 5:1
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed…


2 Peter 1:16-17
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.


1 John 1:1-3
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us…


John 21:24-25
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.


Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.


Acts 2:23-24, 32
“This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”


Acts 3:15
“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.”


Acts 4:20
“For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard


Acts 4:33
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.


Acts 10:39-42
We are witnesses of everything he (Jesus) did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”


These are a few of the many verses that appeal to the eyewitness value of Scripture, compiled here.



The evangelists’ testimony is documented in the New Testament.



What is a testament?



American Heritage Dictionary:

tes•ta•ment

“n. Something that serves as tangible proof or evidence" [5]



Oxford English Dictionary:

testament,

¶3.erron.= TESTIMONY; witness. [6]



What is testimony?



Oxford English Dictionary:

testimony, n.

1. a.  Personal or documentary evidence or attestation in support of a fact or statement; hence, any form of evidence or proof.

b.  Any object or act serving as proof or evidence. [7]



Websters College Dictionary:

testimony, n.:

1. The statement or declaration of a witness under oath, usu. in court.

2. Evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.

3. Open declaration or profession, as of faith. [8]



Experts in the science of jurisprudence acknowledge the eyewitness value of the testimony of the evangelists.  These include Dr. John Ankerberg, Richard J. Bauckham, Dr. Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University; Principal Ross Clifford of Morling College, Australia; Francis Bowen of Harvard; Thomas Arnold of Rugby; William Paley; John Warwick Montgomery, Emeritus Professor of Law and Humanities at the University of Luton; Simon Greenleaf, Royall Professor of Law at Harvard, “Upon the existing Law of Evidence more light has shone from the New World than from all the lawyers who adorn the courts of Europe,” according to the London Law Magazine; and many others listed here.



F. F. Bruce, M.A., D.D., F.B.A., of the University of Cambridge, wrote, “The evidence indicates that the written sources of our Synoptic Gospels are not later than c. A.D. 60; some of them may even be traced back to notes taken of our Lord’s teaching while His words were actually being uttered. The oral sources go back to the very beginning of Christian history. We are, in fact, practically all the way through in touch with the evidence of eyewitnesses. The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of this firsthand testimony, and appealed to it time and again. ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion. And it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years, when so many of His disciples were about, who could remember what had and had not happened. Indeed, the evidence is that the early Christians were careful to distinguish between sayings of Jesus and their own inferences or judgments. Paul, for example, when discussing the vexed questions of marriage and divorce in I Corinthians 7, is careful to make this distinction between his own advice on the subject and the Lord’s decisive ruling: ‘I, not the Lord,’ and again, ‘Not I, but the Lord.’ And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ but also, ‘As you yourselves also know’ (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective." [9]



At his website (and in his book), police detective J. Warner Wallace of Cold Case Christianity provides a thorough analysis of why the eyewitness testimony of the evangelists is reliable:







Why does Perkins believe the evangelists were not eyewitnesses?  Because, she says, “Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus.”  How would witnessing the miracles of Christ—the feeding of thousands of people, the healing of multitudes of people, calming a storm and walking on water, resurrecting Lazarus and himself—be forgotten forty to sixty years later?



Principal Drummond of Oxford said: “If we suppose that the Synoptic Gospels were written from forty to sixty years after the time of Christ, still they were based on earlier material, and even after forty years the memory of characteristic sayings may be perfectly clear. ... I have not a particularly good memory, but I can recall many sayings that were uttered forty, or even fifty, years ago, and in some cases can vividly recollect the scene." [10]



The Honorable Justice Ken R Handley, AO OStJ QC, observed, “This is a remarkable piece of historical evidence written at a very early date, when eyewitnesses were still alive. Anzac Day this year has reminded us that there are still survivors of the First World War, 81 years after it ended, who remember what happened. I had first-hand experience as a judge of a remarkable parallel. In February 1964, HMAS Melbourne sank HMAS Voyager. In October 1996, over 32 years later, I sat on the Court which heard the appeal by the Commonwealth from the award of damages by a jury to a Mr. McLean who had been a sailor on Melbourne and claimed to have suffered post traumaticstress disorder. Our decision is in the official Law Reports.  (Commonwealth of Australia v McLean (1996) 41 NSWLR 389.)  Survivors gave evidence at the trial and had the clearest recollection of what had happened. Under the Evidence Act 1995, Mrs. McLean was able to say in court in 1996 what her husband had told her in 1964 shortly after the collision. (Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) s 64.)   Hearsay evidence, such as Luke has incorporated in his Gospel and Paul included in his letter to the Corinthians, is now accepted in court in civil cases if it was fresh in the memory of the original speaker. The 32 years in this case was longer than the interval of 20 years or so to the date of 1 Corinthians." [11]



Actor Mark Hamill, best known as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series, has been able to recall dialogue after nearly 40 years almost verbatim.



Here is his audition, in which he speaks the line, “Fear is their greatest defense. I doubt if the actual security there is much greater than it was on Aquilae or Sullust and what there is is most likely directed towards a large scale assault.'






The line is never used in the movie.  Yet, he is able to recite it 22 years later for the BBC programme, Omnibus: [12\






Twenty-nine years after the audition, Hamill recalled in the documentary, Empire of Dreams, [13] “I can remember a line from the screen test which I don't think ever will leave me.  Luke says, 'But we can't turn back.  Fear is their greatest defense. I doubt if the actual security there is any greater than it was on Aquilae or Sullust and what there is is most likely directed towards a large scale assault.'
“And I read that line and I thought, 'Who talks like this?'  So I just did it sincerely.”






The documentary played both the audition and Hamill recalling the dialogue 29 years later.



On June 6, 2014, thirty-nine years after his screen test, Mark Hamill recalled his screen test thirty-nine years after the fact, and once again recited the “Fear is their greatest defense” line. [14]






Hamill—as well as Handley and Drummond—demonstrate that it is possible to recollect minutia decades in the past.



What the evanglists believed was more than minutia.  What they believed was the Gospel, with the power to change lives.



Jesus commissioned his disciples to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [15] Henceforth, the disciples did exactly that, presenting the Gospel orally in the beginning, and in written form years later.



Again, in Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”



Do you see the word, “witnesses”?



Jesus had also told his disciples, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." [16]



So for the evangelists, memory would not be a problem.  And how could the miracles of Jesus Christ be forgotten, or for that matter, the miracles God did through the disciples?



Perkins also claimed, “Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis." [17]



The eminent legal scholar Dr. John Warwick Montgomery points out, “Far from avoiding contact with secular history, the New Testament is replete with explicit references to secular personages, places, and events. Unlike typical sacred literature, myth, and fairytale (“Once upon a time...”), the Gospel story begins with 'There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.'“



He adds, “Modern archaeological research has confirmed again and again the reliability of New Testament geography, chronology, and general history. To take but a single, striking example: After the rise of liberal biblical criticism, doubt was expressed as to the historicity of Pontius Pilate, since he is mentioned even by pagan historians only in connection with Jesus' death. Then, in 1961, came the discovery at Caesarea of the now famous 'Pilate inscription,' definitely showing that, as usual, the New Testament writers were engaged in accurate historiography." [18]



After many years of research, Oxford archaeologist Sir William M. Ramsay concluded, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statement of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose.  In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." [19]



Such is the trustworthiness—and reliability—of the New Testament accounts.



For more details on the topic, see J. P. Holding, “Dates and Authorship of the Gospels.”









[1] Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, Free Press, 2012, pp. 254-255.


[2]Townley is identified here.


[3] Stated online here.

[4] Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, 2007 edition, “Introduction to the Gospels,” p. 4.


[5] “testament.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 11 Aug. 2009.


[6]Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989. Accessed online August 11, 2009.  © Oxford University Press, 2009.


[7] Ibid.


[8] Websters College Dictionary. © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


[9] The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, Fifth edition, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1960.


[10] Cf. Marcus Dods, The Bible, Its Origin and Nature, 1921, p. 184.


[11] Ken Handley, A Lawyer Looks at the Resurrection”. Reprinted from Kategoria: A Critical Review, v. 15. 1999, pp. 3-4.  Handley’s copious credentials are listed here.
[12] Omnibus--George Lucas: Flying Solo,” BBC-1, March 23, 1997.


[13] Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, 2004 documentary on A&E Network and DVD supplement. 


[14] In the first of three interviews by James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Ben Kenobi in The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels.  Hamill was visiting Disneyland promoting “Star Wars Weekends.”


[15] Matthew 28:16-20.


[16]  John 14:26.


[17] Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, “Introduction to the Gospels,” 2010 edition, p. 1744.


[18] Montgomery, Human Rights and Human Dignity, pp. 143-44.



[19] Ramsey, Luke the Physician, pp. 177-79, 222.

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