It is flat-out amazing to me how many New Testament scholars talk about the importance of eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus without having read a single piece of scholarship on what experts know about eyewitness testimony. Some (well-known) scholars in recent years have written entire books on the topic, basing their views on an exceedingly paltry amount of research into the matter. Quite astounding, really. But they appear to have gone into their work confident that they know about how eyewitness testimony works, and didn’t read the masses of scholarship that shows they simply aren’t right about it.
Here’s how I begin to talk about eyewitness scholarship in my book Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).
In the history of memory studies an important event occurred in 1902. In Berlin, a well-known criminologist named von Liszt was delivering a lecture when an argument broke out. One student stood up and shouted that he wanted to show how the topic was related to Christian ethics. Another got up and yelled that he would not put up with that. The first one replied that he had been insulted. A fight ensued and a gun was drawn. Prof. Liszt tried to separate the two when the gun went off.
The rest of the students were aghast. But Prof. von Liszt informed them that