11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias

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by Earl Doherty


Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 11

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 1: Papias



  • Papias’ Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord as revealed by Eusebius
  • Papias’ uncertain chain of oral transmission
  • Had Papias read any Gospels?
  • Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew”: not the canonical Gospels, and not read by Papias
  • Papias quotes nothing from any version of our Gospels
  • The bizarre things Papias does give us as sayings of the Lord
  • By c.125, no written Gospels have reached the bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor


* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 98-101)




Ehrman now turns to three Christian writers of the late first and early second centuries who “convey information about the historical Jesus and certainly attest to his existence” in alleged ways which are “independent” of the Gospels. The first is Papias, a Christian bishop in Asia Minor writing around 120-130 CE, for whom we rely on Eusebius two centuries later, since Papias’ one known work is lost.

Despite Eusebius’ judgment that Papias was “a man of very small intelligence,” what is quoted from his Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord is supposed to represent good evidence of an historical Jesus. Ehrman quotes from Eusebius’ quote of Papias introductory words (History of the Church, III, 39.3-4), in which we learn:

that Papias will give an orderly account “of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders. . . . Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said . . .

Juggling Elders, Companions and Disciples

Of key interest here is the question of what Papias meant by these “elders”. Scholars will admit to an ambiguity, that “elders” may not refer to the disciple followers of Jesus subsequently named (as some older scholars have preferred to read it), but only to earlier Christians who themselves had known those disciples of Jesus. (That is, “inquire after their words” refers back to the preceding “elders,” but not to the men he goes on to name, which are two different groups and layers of tradition.) This would give us a chain of:

disciples → elders → companions of elders → Papias

And indeed, such a chain would make better sense given the amount of time between the disciples’ activity supposedly following Jesus’ death and Papias himself.

that Papias enquired of anything said by “Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew” or “any of the other disciples of the Lord.” But then he goes on to refer to things said by “Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord.”

This is exquisitely confusing.

While the first seven names coincide with disciples of Jesus of Gospel repute, nothing else is known of “Aristion.” And “the elder John” will hardly be synonymous with the just-mentioned disciple “John” (although some scholars—but not Eusebius—have chosen to interpret them as the same). Yet he and Aristion are labelled in the same way as “disciples of the Lord.” Either Papias’ listing of the first seven names is not derived from the Gospel story (which in any case would not have included an Aristion), or the phrase “disciples of the Lord” was being used a lot more loosely than we think, perhaps with the same meaning as “brethren of/in the Lord” of Pauline fame.

Are those first seven names legendary early leaders in the movement, who were at some point inducted into the Gospels as followers of Jesus? (The Peter, James and John known by Paul were undoubtedly such before two of them were co-opted by Mark to become members of the Twelve.) And with the phrase “the elder John” not being included with those named seven, this ought to rule out that the term “elder” in Papias’ quote ever refers to a disciple-follower of Jesus himself. In fact, the Greek word for “elder” here is “presbuteros” which is never used elsewhere for the disciples of Jesus. (Bauer’s Lexicon skirts the issue of apparent ambiguity in Papias by simply noting that the meaning of “presbuteros” there is “much-discussed.”) Normally it refers to a prominent and respected official, by reason of his age, holding some leadership capacity in Christian communities.

Thus Papias has presented us with a chain going back no further than seven named individuals who are simply referred to as “disciples of the Lord,” using the same phrase applied to two other individuals who were not followers of the historical Jesus. (The term disciples, mathētēs, can be used simply of someone who is a member of the faith community, and not necessarily one who sat at the feet of the master.)

We are thus left wondering whether there could be a difference between what that historical chain originally represented (perhaps with no historical Jesus at its root?) and what Papias and his contemporaries now understood by it.

What had Papias read?

In any case, we need to keep in mind that according to Papias’ introductory words, he has made an extensive and careful inquiry through apostolic tradition of what he evidently interpreted as sayings of Jesus; and we could assume that all of these would have gone into his Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord.

Now Eusebius, quite predictably, took Papias’ words to mean that Papias himself had “received the words of the apostles from those who had been their followers” (as does more than one modern scholar, such as J. Kleist, Ancient Christian Writers, p.105-6), despite the incompatibility of such an interpretation with Papias’ actual words. Ehrman quotes this remark of Eusebius without calling attention to that fact.

Eusebius goes on to say (39.11)

[Papias] sets forth other matters that came to him from the unwritten tradition, including some bizarre parables of the Savior, his teachings, and several other more legendary accounts . . .

Whether we can rely on Eusebius’ paraphrase here, he seems to have interpreted Papias as deriving his Expositions content from “unwritten tradition,” ruling out any source that Papias might have identified as the Gospels or any other written document.

One wonders, then, and for additional reasons to be seen, why Ehrman can state with such confidence that Papias

had read some Gospels, although there is no reason to think that he knew the ones that made it into the New Testament. (p. 98)

But Ehrman seems quite willing to assume that Papias had “read” the two documents which Eusebius reports he referred to, although he does not agree that they can be identified with canonical Mark and Matthew. (If Papias had in fact not read these documents one wonders just what gospels Ehrman thinks he would have read.)

And how does Eusebius lay out Papias’ own words about the documents he refers to? Eusebius first introduces the matter by setting two statements side by side (op.cit. 39.7):

This Papias . . . acknowledges that he received the words of the apostles from those who had been their followers . . .

. . . and he indicates that he himself had listened to Aristion and the elder John . . . and in his books he sets forth the traditions that they passed along.

Eusebius seems not quite sure what to make of the relationship between the two sources and what they supplied. He assumes that the earlier quoted “John” and “the elder John” are two different people, even if both are called “disciples of the Lord.” It seems evident that Aristion and the elder John were Christians Papias was personally acquainted with, either at the time he was writing or perhaps earlier in his life. And while specifics about the information received from the more distant elders and their companions remain vague, Eusebius lays stress on the fact that Papias “obtained from Aristion accounts of the Lord’s sayings” and similarly also “learned (about such accounts) direct from the elder John.”

Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew”

He then proceeds (H.E. III, 39.15-16) to set forth two important examples of these accounts (here in Ehrman’s translation):

And this is what the elder [i.e., the elder John] used to say, ‘When Mark was the interpreter of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord’s words and deeds—but not in order’ . . .

And this is what he says about Matthew: ‘And so Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted [or translated] them to the best of his ability.’

Though Eusebius is not specific (or perhaps Papias was not) as to who gave the latter information to Papias, one can perhaps assume that it was “the elder John” as well. So however we interpret Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew,” he knows of them through one or two Christian notables in Papias’ own time, with no direct indication of where they got their information.

Now, Ehrman is quite willing to admit that, despite the preferred opinion of conservative scholars, Papias cannot be

referring to the books that we call Mark and Matthew. In fact, what he says about these books does not coincide with what we ourselves know about the canonical Gospels. He appears to be referring to other writings, and only later did Christians (wrongly) assume that he was referring to the two books that eventually came to be included in scripture. (p. 101)

However, Ehrman fails to point out that it is quite clear from Papias’ words that he himself had not seen the two documents he refers to. He has only been told of them by the elder John. We cannot even be sure that, whatever they were, the elder John himself had personally seen and read these documents. Indeed, Papias has so little to say about them that one wonders if they constituted anything other than unsubstantiated rumors and wishful thinking.

But if we allow some basis for them in reality, we know no more than that there existed somewhere in the Christian world at that time a collection of sayings in Hebrew (this, more likely, being a reference to Aramaic), along with another collection of sayings and anecdotes, both of which were currently being attributed to a source in legendary figures attached to the early faith movement and allegedly recounting words and deeds of an historical Jesus. What in fact those collections were originally about, who they were applied to (the teachings and miracle-working of a kingdom-preaching sect in general is a quite feasible option) cannot be said.

Once again, Ehrman is tracking down some theoretical ‘source’—in this case, even more removed and surrounded by uncertainty than his previous ones, with no knowledge at all of any particular item they contained—and labelled it “testimony independent of the Gospels” to an historical Jesus.

Where are Papias’ quotes from the Gospels?

The other reason why we can be reasonably sure that Papias had not seen these documents is that there is no sign anywhere that he ever included a saying or anecdote from them. (It is astonishing how often modern scholars state, based on nothing, that Papias’ work would have included sayings from the Gospels.) Even Eusebius, having the Expositions open before him, throws a light on nothing which resembles anything in the canonical Gospels, or even anything that might have been in the documents Papias has referred to — unless those documents were quite unlike anything scholars would like to read into his “Mark” and “Matthew.” Following his above-quoted words by Papias about them, Eusebius mentions one saying from Papias ‘catalogue’ “a story about a woman falsely accused before the Lord of many sins.” But this Eusebius identifies as something that is found in the Gospel of the Hebrews.

It is indeed curious that Eusebius can say,

In his own book Papias gives us accounts of the Lord’s sayings obtained from Aristion or learned direct from the elder John. Having brought these to the attention of scholars . . .

Yet what are these “sayings” Eusebius has brought to our attention? What is the end result of all Papias’ “careful learning from the elders” which he has “carefully recalled”? According to Eusebius, these are (using the G. A. Williamson translation):

. . . passages in which he tells us of certain miraculous events and other matters, on the basis, it would seem, of direct information [meaning, one assumes, oral tradition]…Philip the apostle resided at Hierapolis with his daughters: it must now be pointed out that their contemporary Papias tells how he heard a wonderful story from the lips of Philip’s daughters. He describes the resurrection of a dead person in his own lifetime, and a further miracle that happened to Justus, surnamed Barsabas, who swallowed dangerous poison and by the grace of the Lord was none the worse . . .


Papias reproduces other stories communicated to him by word of mouth, together with some otherwise unknown [better translated as “strange,” or “bizarre” as Ehrman does] parables and teachings of the Savior, and other things of a more legendary nature (op.cit. 39.9,11).

There are over a dozen fragments surviving from Papias’ work, and a few other references to him, found in Eusebius and several other 4th and 5th century commentators, such as Philip of Side. With the exception of the floating pericope mentioned above about Jesus rescuing a woman accused of adultery from stoning which, though usually allotted to John after 7:52, has no secure place in any single Gospel, nothing attributed by anyone to Papias could be said to derive from any version of a canonical Gospel.

What Papias does tell us

In fact, as in the examples quoted above, some of them are indeed bizarre and even repugnant, such as the gruesome death of Judas attributed to Papias by Apollinarius. Others relate to fanciful predictions about the coming thousand-year reign of the Messiah on earth. Papias even assures us that some of the dead raised by Christ survived until the reign of Hadrian (117-138)!

One wonders, if Papias truly had access to people who had known companions of Jesus’ apostles, why something of a better quality than all this could not have been gleaned through such a chain of transmission. Should traditions going back to “Andrew, Peter, James and John” not have given us something resembling the Gospel accounts or a few reasonably commendable teachings such as are found in those Gospels?

Or is this failure a sign that the Gospels were not preceded by, or founded upon, an actual historical figure with actual teachings, while Papias’ collection of oddball sayings represents the sort of things that began to be attached willy-nilly to the figure generated by the Gospel story. (Irenaeus reports [fr. 2] that Papias allotted to the Lord a saying closely paralleling a messianic prediction in 2 Baruch!)

It is clear that no Gospels have yet reached Papias

Any basis on which Ehrman can claim that Papias read some Gospel(s) seems non-existent. If anything from “Mark” and “Matthew” appeared in Papias’ Expositions, it is impossible that Eusebius would have passed up mentioning it. And the “sayings of the Lord” which the various fragments show were included makes Papias’ work look like a sensationalist product of a less than rational mind. Upon such a source, mentioning unknown documents Papias had not even seen or read himself, does the only supposed reference to the existence of written accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings rest prior to the time of Justin — or, if one prefers, prior to reports that Marcion slightly earlier was using a version of the Gospel of Luke.

Yes, we can postulate through literary relationships between the Gospels that earliest autographs, or Ur-gospels, probably went back a few decades prior, perhaps to around 90 CE for Mark. But the situation that Papias reveals has implications which Ehrman doesn’t even come close to acknowledging. Around the year 125 CE, the Christian bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor has access to nothing resembling a narrative Gospel of Jesus’ life, let alone anything remotely organized into a coherent account; and nothing of the standard of teachings found in our canonicals. This, supposedly 50 some years after the first Gospel was written, with the other three following before the end of the first century!

As we shall see in the case of Ignatius, Gospel elements of a basic sort seem to have filtered out to reach Christians like Papias, but actual copies of written Gospels are hard to perceive, or even to get a suggestion of, until at least three or four decades into the second century.

One explanation is that by Papias’ time, a number of Gospels may have been written, but as yet enjoyed little or no circulation beyond the narrow circle of communities which produced them. This was because they were initially regarded as allegorical stories, with only ‘rumors’ of them, misinterpreted by such as Ignatius as historical accounts, penetrating outward in piecemeal and haphazard fashion. Wide circulation would also have been impeded by the very absence we see within the broader Christian movement of any tradition about an historical founder on whose life these Gospels would have thrown an eagerly sought-after light.

And yet Papias is presented by Ehrman as one of his pillar sources outside the Gospels for the “conveying of information about the historical Jesus and attesting to his existence.”


. . . to be continued


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28 thoughts on “11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias”

  1. Eusebius said
    that Papais said
    that the elder said
    that Mark said
    that Peter said
    that Jesus did and said various things.

    How could one possibly doubt that Jesus existed?

  2. Good point RoHa. Also wasn’t it the case that the eastern regions of the Roman empire were crawling with many religious charlatans and fools and loons who followed them? How does Erhman and the HJ posse rule out that poor ole stupid Papais wasn’t a victim (mark) of a confidence game?

    1. You’re right.
      This Papias sounds as if he was acting as the local National Enquirer of the times, collecting hearsay tales and rumors of dubious provenance. Judging by Eusebius’s testimony, Papias must have been a simpleton, a naive fool for believing in his tales. And his book may have been deemed not worth recopying and preserving because of the too bizarre stories collected (and possibly embellished) by him, especially once the canonical Gospels were firmly established all around.

  3. Earl,
    If the idea that Jesus had lived on the earth originated with the Gospels (Marks in particular), how could it have been that the idea of his life during the time of Pilate became widespread without any corresponding Gospel traditions also circulating? Moreover, if the Gospels were thought to be allegorical and thus ignored, how did the idea that Jesus really had lived at that time take hold?

    I still think that a more likely alternative scenario was that some Christians from the middle of the 1st century thought of Jesus as having lived on the earth, and this view informed the Gospels and other independent (but equally inauthentic) sources of Jesus anecdotes and quotes that appear in early 2nd century writings, such as those of Papias.

  4. From Eusebius HE 3.39
    “. That Philip the apostle dwelt at Hierapolis with his daughters has been already stated. But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead. And he tells another wonderful story of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm.”

    If one, not this one I’m thinking of someone else, wishes to cite Papias [via Eusebius] as a reliable witness when ‘reporting’ stuff 3rd hand whatever, then when he, Papias, ‘reports stuff’ 2nd hand he must be doubly reliable.
    Therefore: resurrection of the dead is not confined to that of JC, no big deal. Next.

  5. I find it interesting to compare this presentation of the value of Papias with G. A. Wells’s own in his article “Ehrman on the Historicity of Jesus and on Early Christian Thinking” (Quotations from: Free Inquiry June / July 2012, Volume 32, Number 4), shown at

    “On Papias

    “In this connection, Ehrman adduces the second-century bishop Papias as ‘an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus’ (98). He refers to his discussion of Papias in his 2009 book Jesus Interrupted. But what he claims there (108,110) is merely that ‘in reading Papias we have access to third- or fourth-hand information’ and that Papias ‘passes on stories that he had heard, and he attributes them to people who knew other people who said so. But when he can be checked he appears to be wrong.’ It is conservative Christian apologists who continue to make an enormous amount of Papias’s remarks, which many scholars regard as one and all historically worthless.”

    Of course, Wells has to cover all his points in the context of a tight 1,000-word article, and is under pressure to come to the point pretty quickly. But his summary is good and covers the essential points worth remembering.
    The conclusions are the same with both Wells and Doherty. But Doherty’s discussion is far more detailed and more precise, chewing on every bit that the text offers, and presenting all the sides. He has the luxury of unlimited space and continuous expansion into the many chapters of a full book.

    It’s a pleasure to read Doherty when he uses direct, immediately understandable prose, with clear breaks and telling paragraph titles which guide us in the meandering discussion. And I, for one, am delighted when he leaves his attempts at embellishing his prose with forced poetic imagery to his novel writing.
    The only problem I find is that Doherty tends to use so many parts, all neatly numbered, with subparts and subnumbers, a bit like a lawyer’s text (rather than “poetry”) that after a while, the numbering and subnumbering start obfuscating one’s memory of the flow of argumentation. It’s good for the very moment of reading, but does not stick in memory later. But that’s only me, and that came after having read a monstrously huge quantity of Doherty’s text, all neatly catalogued on his site, with a huge quantity of numbers and subnumbers. My memory seems to work far better with key words and meaningful paragraph titles rather than with the numbering of parts, and subparts. Both effects are valuable, but not for the same use.

    It’s worth remembering that, when the tales of the Gospels were fresh and made their initial impact in public readings to the populations of the Mediterranean, the texts had no division in chapters nor in verses, well into the fourth century AD. Those came much later, once the texts were getting used as items of argumentation to make a point by scholars. By that time, the global effect of the Gospel stories on the congregations was well taken for granted.

    1. If I want to understand and learn I scarcely ever rely on the way the information comes to me. I will mark it, go slowly, skim and revise, write notes, re-think things in my own ways, re-write points myself. The source material comes in all shapes and sizes and no one shape or size will fit all — especially in an age when communication methods and media are being revolutionized.

      1. Neil, of course you’re right.

        But if you care to reread Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” (1795 and 1807) you will notice that Doherty is simply copying the style of structuring laid out by Paine, of Part I, section 1, etc… with further internal divisions which Paine often does not bother to even clearly label.

        This was also the scheme of Edward Gibbon in the “Decline and Fall”, with a lot of succeeding parts, often with little indication of contents, and abhorrence of divisions into inner sections or even paragraphs.
        This exaggerated emphasis on numbering parts as titles, as against summarizing the key thought or concepts in a telling heading (be it of potential part, section, paragraph) may have been inspired by the university teachers of the 18th century. And it is still retained in legal contracts.

        But following this antiquated structure nowadays is no longer encouraged in the States for clear and immediate communication with readers, who need to be informed in advance on the very first line, of the contents of their reading. For this is the best way to focus readers’ attention from the outset to the following discussion and anchor the new fresh material in reader’s memory.
        The heavy numbering and subnumbering of parts and subparts, etc… works against this modern method of effective communication.
        You only need to read a report by McKinsey to a top US corporation executive to appreciate the efficiency of these rules of presentation. Discreet I, II, etc…are fine, but they are immediately followed by a summarizing heading which gives out the conclusion IN ADVANCE. This is not only what top management consultants do, but also what top professional editors recommend, at least in New York.

  6. The problem with Earl Doherty is that is PROVES NOTHING!! Earl is just giving his impressions on the small and problematic evidence concerning the historical Jesus which is at odds with almost all other skeptical scholars. I will grant that Earl is a scholar as he has invested much time in this work but Earl is an amateur scholar. Those skeptics with a Ph.D in the field such as Crosson, Mack, Miller, Edwards and even Ehrman, disagree with Earl. Plus I’m of the impression Earl wants badly that NO Jesus existed due to his dislike of the Christian faith in particular in religion in general. Earl, like most who hold to the Jesus myth theory, have an ax to grind with Christianity either because they were once a Christian and no feels they were tricked and told lies or like Earl, they find Christianity a hindrance to the further evolution of man and his accent into a rational world led by science rather than faith and more particular, an ancient faith.

    Just two examples are sure to make my point. 1) Josephus; Most skeptical scholars hold that the “TF” is a not a complete forgery but has been slightly edited and that the “James brother of Jesus called Christ” passage is genuine. Earl rejects both on holds the James passage originated in the margin & later was moved into the narrative by a scribe. But that is ONLY speculation!!! NO PROOF is provided. And 2) Tacitus: Tacitus did not make a mistake about Pilate being a “procurator”! Earl supporte, but far more educated and astute in this matter than Earl, Richard Carrier, PhD has RULED that Pilate during the time of Jesus was governor, perfect AND procurator and Tacitus just used one of his titles and the one that Tacitus’ readers knew best.

    There is NO knock out punch that Jesus did not exist! The percentages are on the side of the Ehrman’s in the world. It is most likely that Jesus DID exist as a man. Carrier does disagree and holds that most likely Jesus did NOT exist as a man. Second most likely is Jesus was existed as Ehrman holds and third most likely Jesus existed as Mack, Miller & Crosson hold. The lest likely is that Jesus existed as the church claims. Indeed Carrier rules that out completely. And what a surprise. Carrier is an atheist!

    1. Why do people insist on judging others by their credentials. No matter how good Ehrman’s other work might be, it doesn’t make his latest book magically good. Its good or bad based on the quality of its scholarship.

      Similarly, Doherty’s arguments stand or fall on their merits, not whatever credentials he has. I won’t comment on his own theory here, but he’s absolutely right to lambast Ehrman about these points.

      Appeals to authority are *always* fallacious. We might expect people with credentials to make better arguments, but that is very clearly not the case here. Ehrman’s argument is horribly put together, and his evidence stinks.

  7. The double standard for evidence is in full effect here. Papias’s hearsay regarding some unidentified apostles is considered valid evidence for the historical Jesus. Yet when Origen reports in Contra Celsum 1.47 that Paul denied that James was the biological brother of Jesus, this is routinely ignored. Ehrman doesn’t even discuss the saying in his book.

    1. Origin doesn’t go as far as to state that Paul denied that James was a biological brother of Jesus, but one can infer from his remarks that Paul states that James was called a brother of the Lord on account of his virtue and doctrine without mentioning anything about a biological relationship between them. Still, it is quite a striking passage, for both the Paul reference and the Josephus one.

      1. Origen does deny that he was a biological brother as far as I can tell: ” Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine.” Origen refers to a statement of Paul saying that James was not related by blood or brought up with Jesus.

        1. You quoted the only line in Origen that I am aware of that addresses this matter. All that this states is that Paul said James was regarded as a brother of the Lord because of his virtue and doctrine. One could infer from this that James was not Jesus’ blood relative, but clearly Origen does not, because he is reading Paul with Gospel-colored glasses. Certainly Paul didn’t actually say that James wasn’t a biological brother of Jesus, which Origen doesn’t quote him as saying either. In fact, if Paul actually did state that explicitly, it would constitute a good argument for the historical Jesus hypothesis, since no contemporary of James would bother pointing out that Jesus wasn’t James’ real brother if they all knew that Jesus had not been on earth in living memory (if at all).

          1. Dear gmalcolms. As stated above, Origen says “Paul… says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine”

            For you to maintain that “clearly Origen does not,infer from this that James was not Jesus’ blood relative” indicates capacity for “clarity” on your part that rivals Big Brother’s ability to affirm that black is white. Many apologists would envy your exegetical effrontery here. Are you giving Bart Ehrman lessons?

            The Origen text in Contra Celsum is utterly destructive for any authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum. Origen had the very chapter of AJ open in front of him, and quotes from it to show that Josephus discussed James. In one of the key early theological books devoted to proof and evidence for Jesus, Origen’s failure to see the TF is only explicable by its absence from his copy of AJ 18.

            1. Robert,
              I think what we have here is a different understanding of the English phrase “A not so much on account of B as because of C.” I take it to mean that the reason for A is C, not B, but not necessarily that B is false; it just isn’t the reason for C. If I said that I liked a woman not so much on account of her looks as because of her intelligence, I wouldn’t be necessarily saying that she is ugly – indeed I may even find her attractive – but it’s just not the main reason why I like here. That’s how I understand that phrase in English, but, of course, what’s really important here is what the exact meaning is in Latin. I can’t read Latin, but if someone who can were to read Origen and indicate whether this phrase actually means that either Paul or Origen thought James was not the biological brother of the Lord, I’d appreciate it. (I will add that in some circumstances this kind of construction would negate B; for example, “he was not so much a man as a blancmange.”)

              Next we have to ask, did Paul’s original writing say this or is Origen inferring it? As I pointed out before, if Paul actually stated that James was not Jesus’ brother, this would be strong evidence that Jesus was an historical person. OTOH, it could be that Paul said something to the effect that James was called Brother of the Lord because of his virtue and doctrine, without mentioning anything about a lack of biological relationship, and Origen jumped to the conclusion that Paul meant that a biological relationship was not the motivation for this title.

              Third, Origen believes that James is the biological brother of Jesus, as he clearly indicates in the sentence, “James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus.” Considering that this belief was common by the time he was writing (but not necessarily when Paul was), this would hardly be surprising.

              So if your interpretation of this sentence is correct, Origen would have done a double take; how could he not have noted how odd it was that Paul denies that James is Jesus’ biological brother, something which he takes as fact, based on the Gospels and Acts?

              Finally, I add that regardless of which meaning Origen intended here, this passage is still fatal to the authenticity of the Jesus references in Josephus.

  8. bob lackey> “…Most skeptical scholars…” : Bogus appeal to authority fallacy

    bob lackey> “…like most who hold to the Jesus myth theory, have an ax to grind with Christianity …” : Prejudicial language or variant imagination fallacy

    bob lackey> “…And what a surprise. Carrier is an atheist!” : if-by-whiskey fallacy

    If you wish to defend the partial reconstructed TF, Christianity, or theism make an argument in an appropriate place.

  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_source

    “Primary sources are original materials …..Information for which the writer has no personal knowledge is not primary …. .secondary sources, .. cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources ……..In contexts such as historical writing, it is almost always advisable to use primary sources if possible, and that “if none are available, it is only with great caution that [the author] may proceed to make use of secondary sources” ….In scholarly writing, an important objective of classifying sources is to determine the independence and reliability of sources.”

    Wise words from a wiki author on historical methodology.

    In classing Papias as providing a reliable and credible witness Ehrman has shown poor judgement and has failed to be aware of or apply simple historical criteria a stated above.
    There is no primary source in this example of Papias.
    The secondary source is Eusebius, hundreds of years removed from the events in question, and his reliability in this respect is very slight because his own credibility and veracity is in doubt. The Papias material is otherwise unknown and contains more than one layer of hearsay that a wise historian would normally treat with an extremely jaundiced view. Roo’s comment at #2 above is gentle.
    The chain of testimony is so weak that this material should be simply disregarded. That it is not is a reflection of the paucity of Ehrman’s HJ case and I really worry about the level of professional standards that Papias rates a mention in his book at all. It smacks of desperation, clutching at straws.
    Most unimpressive.

    1. I can’t help being a little amused by Ehrman’s discussion of historical sources. As far as I recall he avoids all mention of “primary” and “secondary” sources — perhaps he thought the notion too technical for a popular audience — and fudges the whole point by saying we need sources “as close as possible” — that is, as close as the NT documents are — to Jesus!

  10. Hello: I think Papais falsely claimed diligent collection and remembering of tradition from the elders or was falsely attributed as such by Eusebius.

    “3. He says: But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth ” ~ Eusebius, History of the Church: III,.39.3) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm

    Here’s an example of Papais’ reliability; Irenaeus cited Papias as his source for this saying of Jesus about the millennium:

    Against Heresies 5:33:3-4 ~ “As the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times, and say: The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five and twenty metretes of wine…And these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled by him”

    The source of this saying attributed to Jesus is not from any extant Christian writing or oral tradition – but Jewish apocrypha! Compare the passage below from 2 Baruch, a late first century or early second century Jewish pseudepigraphical text.

    2 Baruch 29:3-6 ~ And it shall come to pass when all is accomplished that was to come to pass in those parts, that the Messiah shall then begin to be revealed. …The earth also shall yield its fruit ten thousandfold and on each (?) vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine.

    Papais was not above plagerizing and lying via false attribution. The other surviving fragments show he was a credulous believer who would accept any thing told him. There probably would have been others like him viewed as prime marks for religious con-men or charlatans as the Didache’s warning would imply.

    “Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.” ~ http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html

    No scholarly person styling themselves “critical” should accept Papais as in any way reliable. Here’s an example of a critical scholar who agreed. (excerpted from my blog about Papais.)

    Supernatural Religion: An Inquiry Into the Reality of Divine Revelation (full view available on Google Books) Walter Richard Cassels presents a thoroughly convincing case that canonical Mark is not the same document as that spoken of by Papias. The argument starts on page 276 and runs through 286.

    Cassels concluded that: “It is not necessary for us to account for the manner in which the work referred to by the Presbyter John disappeared, and the present Gospel according to Mark became substituted for it. The merely negative evidence that our actual Gospel is not the work described by Papias is sufficient for our purpose. Any one acquainted with the thoroughly uncritical character of the Fathers, and with the literary history of the early Christian Church, will readily conceive the facility with which this can have been accomplished. The great mass of intelligent critics are agreed that our Synoptic Gospels have assumed their present form only after repeated modifications by various editors of earlier evangelical works. These changes have not been effected without traces being left by which the various materials may be separated and distinguished ; but the more primitive Gospels have entirely disappeared, naturally supplanted by the later and amplified versions. The critic, however, who distinguishes between the earlier and later matter is not bound to perform the now impossible feat of producing the originals, or accounting in any but a general way for the disappearance of the primitive Gospel.

    Tischendorf asks : “How then has neither Eusebius nor any other theologian of Christian antiquity thought that the expressions of Papias were in contradiction with the two Gospels (Mt. And Mk.)?”

    The absolute credulity with which those theologians accepted any fiction, however childish, which had a pious tendency, and the frivolous character of the only criticism in which they indulged, render their questioning application of the tradition of Papias to our Gospels anything but singular, and it is only surprising to find their silent acquiescence elevated into an argument. We have already, in the course of these pages, seen something of the singularly credulous and uncritical character of the Fathers, and we cannot afford space to give instances of the absurdities with which their writings abound. No fable could be too gross, no invention too transparent, for their unsuspicious acceptance, if it assumed a pious form or tended to edification. No period in the history of the world ever produced so many spurious works as the first two or three centuries of our era. The name of every Apostle, or Christian teacher, not excepting that of the great Master himself, was freely attached to every description of religious forgery. False gospels, epistles, acts, martyrologies, were unscrupulously circulated, and such pious falsification was not even intended, or regarded, as a crime, but perpetrated for the sake of edification. It was only slowly and after some centuries that many of these works, once, as we have seen, regarded with pious veneration, were excluded from the canon; and that genuine works shared this fate, while spurious ones usurped their places, is one of the surest results of criticism The Fathers omitted to inquire critically when such investigation might have been of value, and mere tradition credulously accepted and transmitted is of no critical value. In an age when the multiplication of copies of any work was a slow process, and their dissemination a matter of difficulty and even danger, it is easy to understand with what facility the more complete and artistic Gospel could take the place of the original notes as the work of Mark.” – Cassels, “Supernatural Religion” p.285-286

  11. i’m starting to think that evidence like Papias is a bit like those ‘magic eye’ things that were popular in the early 90s, when you starred at a 2 dimensional patterned image for a while and all of a sudden another image would emerge right before your eyes.

    I think HJ scholars stare at the Papias fragments scattered around the first centuries of the common era – tendentious, tiny, unimpressive pods of unreliable hearsay at best -, and after a while they are magically transformed into something approached reliable historical evidence.

    Perhaps critical scholars will one day consider Thallus as sound evidence for the historical Jesus? The way things are going, I really wouldn’t be surprised.

  12. Ya gotta love Bart. Who else can write about Papias in Did Jesus Exist? the way he did after only three years ago having written the following about Papias in Jesus, Interrupted:

    If scholars are inclined to discount what Papias says in virtually every other instance, why is it that they sometimes appeal to his witness in order to show that we have an early tradition that links Matthew to one of our Gospels, and Mark to another? Why do these scholars accept some of what Papias said but not all of what he said? I suspect it is because they want to have support for their own points of view . . . and have decided to trust Papias when he confirms their views, and not trust him when he does not. (p. 110, my bolding)

    I was alerted to this through G. A. Wells’ review of Ehrman’s book, excerpts here: http://www.radikalkritik.de/Wells_Ehrman.htm

  13. And of course, the incredible assumption behind ANY modern views of any early Christian writer is that he is being honest! Any of them, including Papias, could just as easily be writing intentional fiction: there is absolutely no way for anyone alive today to know whether Papias is a reliable reporter, or a scheming liar.

    Since the known intentional fabrications in all of Christian literature are legion, to assume that any passage written by any early Christian is honest reporting is absolute nonsense, and could not possibly “prove” anything. It might be real reporting (we will never know), but what is stated in such writings can never ever be proof.

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