Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 9

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by Neil Godfrey

9. Papias on Mark and Matthew

In this chapter Bauckham investigates the words of Papias to further test his claim that Peter’s teachings were indeed the direct source of Mark’s gospel. I found this chapter the most “meaty” so far in Bauckham’s book and enjoyed the wide-ranging discussion and up-front way he addressed the arguments of other scholars rather than relegating contrary thoughts to footnote citations.

I thought it interesting that in one of his conclusions he came closer to one of Loisy’s, of all people, whose views on Papias and the Gospel of John I posted here recently. Bauckham sees Papias’s claim that Mark’s gospel lacked “order” as being made by way of comparison with the Gospel of John. Clearly the Gospel of Mark as we know it does not in itself lack order, and I found Bauckham’s demonstration of this fact (p.230) pleasantly refreshing. I have never understood why so many scholars seem willing to take Papias’s complaint about Mark’s lack of order at face value.

Another interesting observation by Bauckham was his comment that the Gospel of Thomas (saying 13) can be seen as an attempt to belittle the Gospels of Matthew and Mark by comparison with Thomas’s gospel. I found his argument in response to Matthew plausible but wanted to tap him on the shoulder and remind him of the possibility of another gospel also with wide popularity among the Syrian churches (the provenance of GThomas), the Gospel of Peter, — and consider GPeter, at least in addition to Mark, as a more direct possibility for the gospel being addressed by Thomas. Another instance of the tyranny of the canon!

Bauckham, like most scholars, does not consider another possibility, that Papias was not addressing the gospels of Mark and Matthew as we know them today. Apart from the 4th century Eusebius’s reference to Papias we have no indication that our canonical gospels acquired their authorial attributions until the time or Irenaeus at the end of the second century. If Papias was not decrying the lack of order in Mark by comparison with John’s gospel, then by B’s own demonstration of the order we do find in Mark, Papias was not addressing the gospel we know as Mark at all.

B discusses Justin Martyr as well, and sees his Memoirs of the Apostles as a reference to our gospels. I personally doubt this. If Justin knew our canonical gospels he contradicts them in major ways in his writings —

  • he denies Jesus any genealogy at all;
  • has Herod (not Pilate) crucify Jesus, although he has Pilate as part of the conspiracy to kill Jesus;
  • says the disciples deserted him AFTER his crucifixion;
  • that Jesus instituted the eucharist AFTER his resurrection;
  • that the Twelve (no room for a Judas betrayer) went out immediately to proclaim the gospel throughout the world;
  • and that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans immediately as a consequence of their sin against Jesus.

I’ve posted the links to the relevant data in my Justin Martyr category.

Another point that occurred to me while reading this chapter, given that here B is discussing Mark’s order and techniques of orality, was seeing the inclusio feature in the context of the sort of memory techniques discussed by Whitney Shiner in his chapter titled “Memory Technology and the Composition of Mark”, published in Performing the Gospel. If the (oral?) narrator was using the symmetrical architectural and relief sculpture features of well-known buildings as mnemonic devices, then that architectural symmetry would more directly account for the inclusio phenomenon without having to postulate an otherwise unknown ‘code’ that it pointed to the author’s information source.

Bauckham considers the testimony of Papias of importance in the question of Mark’s source. I am less convinced of this since we only have a few paragraphs selected and annotated by a fourth century propagandist, Eusebius, who makes his dislike of Papias on other accounts well known. While Bauckham can find translations of these paragraphs that he sees as more congenial to his views, and I do not dispute these, the fact remains that what we know of Papias is at multiple levels open to dispute.

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Neil Godfrey

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