Chapter 2: Papias on the Eyewitnesses
Bauckham begins with a discussion of Papias apparently to verify the historicity of his eyewitness model: — That eyewitnesses of Jesus provided a living source and confirmation of the oral reports circulating about Jesus; and that the earliest written accounts of Jesus (Papias’s book, and therefore plausibly the gospels, too) were composed by drawing from among the last surviving of these eyewitnesses.
Eusebius clearly thought Papias was a bit of a twit (or more gracefully, “a man of very little intelligence”). Bauckham says there is no reason that we today should share Eusebius’s prejudice against Papias, which he puts down to disagreements over doctrine and gospel origins. Bauckham is surely guilty of a most inexcusable omission here which for me hung like unbreathable smog over the remainder of his discussion in this chapter. Not once does this chapter breathe a word of Papias’s most gullible and outlandish “reports”. Not a word of his report (from Philip Side) about Judas swelling up wider than a chariot, urinating worms, his eyes sinking into his skull, his testicles growing to enormous size, his stench . . . . but enough, I planned to eat soon. Bauckham fails to address Papias’s reputation as a teller of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” type tall tales (including stories of surviving snake poison, of one resurrected from the dead surviving till the time of Hadrian) and consequently fails to persuade me not to share Eusebius’s judgment.
But what about the words of Jesus? Is there any reason to doubt Papias’s claims to have written down from reliable eyewitnesses reports the teachings of Jesus? In Irenaeus (Against Heresies, V. 33) we read that Papias passed on a lengthy passage spoken by Jesus describing life in the coming millennium. The passage is copied from 2 Baruch 29:4-8.
How can a modern reader be persuaded to accept any surviving writing by Papias at face value? Even if he really did faithfully record reports he believed for good reasons to be from eyewitnesses, how can we take him as anything other than gullibly naive at best?
Nor does Bauckham address another major question hanging over the scant surviving fragments of Papias. What can we possibly know with any certainty about the writings of Papias? How can we ascertain whether the name ‘Papias’ was the name of the real author or the name of a narrative character created by the author? Was his book a novel, a biography, a history? Were the surviving fragments from tropes or rhetoric that would put a completely different spin on them to the modern scholar? How can any significant historical weight be placed on fragments when we simply cannot establish with any certainty (to express it as positively as possible) the real author, provenance, purpose or genre of the book from which they were taken?
But here I am getting ahead of the argument of the chapter.
The date of Papias
Bauckham works within the mostly widely accepted date for the writing of Papias’s book, 130 c.e. But he concedes that his hypothesis would work better if Papias were dated earlier so cites scholars who argue for a date twenty years earlier. So throughout the remainder of the chapter Bauckham will present dates in this earlier to mainstream-view range. So Papias’s book could have been written 110-130 c.e. Papias could have interviewed the disciples of the eyewitnesses 80-90 c.e. He could have been born 50-70 c.e. This of course has the effect of making the related arguments slightly more plausible. And in the case of the 80-90 c.e. date range B does not fail to remind readers that this is the period commonly assigned to the creation of the canonical gospels after Mark.
What Bauckham has failed to take into account here, however, is the dates of those scholars who vary from the majority view by arguing for considerably later dates — into the latter half of the second century. Even the 130 date that B works with as the majority view is misleading. Many texts discussing Papias will not be so precise. They will say approx 130 to 140 c.e. It does appear that Bauckham’s case, as far as Papias is concerned, is resting on a debatable chronology — certainly one that is impossible to know with any certainty. I would have preferred Bauckham to have give more space to alerting his readers of this fact.
(Not having the names of specific scholars with me I will have to add their names to another WIFTA post.)
Will also have to continue this chapter with a second part tomorrow. Too dog tired to continue right now.
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