Recently, Jim West has argued that "Eyewitness testimony does not exist." He uses an example of persons who attended the Richard Bauckham panel at SBL (a panel discussion on Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses book). Evidently, at that panel, James Crossley questioned Bauckham's thesis. Afterwards, some who were there for the discussion, according to West, "misinterpreted" Crossley's statements. This may be a legitimate statement but that is not really of concern to me. What is of concern to me, however, is the logic West uses, he asserts: because some heard and/or interpreted Crossley wrong, that "eyewitness testimony does not exist."
For starters, to draw such a huge conclusion (that eyewitness testimony does not even "exist") from this one instance is, in my opinion, logically irresponsible. I'm not attacking West here, I am just questioning his statements (much like he did when he questioned Mike Bird on Markan Christology).
Next, is it logical or honest to not even consider someone's word when they tell you they were an eyewitness? I think not. Luke tells us that he cross-examined eyewitnesses of Jesus' life (Lk. 1.2-3). Paul says that he met with and in a sense, cross-examined Peter (Gal. 1.18; historia). If we take the word of the Church fathers about how the Gospels were composed, then we have an incredible eyewitness account (many doubt their words though). Sure, we can approach the texts that profess to be eyewitness accounts with a hermeneutic of suspicion but when the evidence proves our suspicions wrong, we must go with it. In a court setting today, eyewitness testimony always has a ring of suspicion but when coupled with cross-examination and evidence, its credibility shines forth.
To use a modern day example (actually, there are numerous examples of this in the Bible), it often comes down to judges deciding on whether eyewitness testimony is credible or not. Are we to assume that the early Church, as it decided on a canon, did not use honest and truthful discretion? Not at all. They wanted to combat heresy and they used true, trustworthy stories of Jesus' life to do it.
I would also argue that another strong case for the existnce of eyewitness testimony, even in relation to the Gospels, is how they (1) recreate the settings and enviroment of Jesus, and (2) they details they often use, which otherwise seem insignificant. These are two pieces of evidence that would go far in any court of law then or now. We see that the Synoptic accounts are quite reliable, even if they each have some of their own shape to them.
I could really go on and on about eyewitness testimony and how it really does exist (that's really the only point that I wanted to make here: that it does exist). I reported on Pisteuomen a few weeks ago that the Church where I serve was robbed and broken into. At this point, I am aching for eyewitness testimony of the person who robbed us. Probably, when most of us are backed into a tough spot like this, we would really value an eyewitness' word. If we had an eyewitness, much of the problem would be settled.
Lastly, I find it interesting that Jim West in debunking the idea of eyewitness testimony, actually goes on to cross-examine (those who misquoted Crossley) and in fact, stand in for Crossley as an eyewitness himself. It seems, then, that the value of eyewitness testimony is not only important but that it surely does exist.