I leave the following quotations from Bart Ehrman for readers to peruse and draw their own conclusions on what they indicate about pots, kettles and scholarly professionalism. My own bolded emphasis, I admit, is designed to lead you.
In Did Jesus Exist? (2013) Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .
. . . The great church historian of the fourth century, Eusebius, dismissed Papias by saying that he was “a man of very small intelligence” (Church History 3.39).
Intelligent or not, Papias is an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus. He had read some Gospels although there is no reason to think that he knew the ones that made it into the New Testament, as I will show in a moment. But more important, he had other access to the sayings of Jesus. He was personally acquainted with people who had known either the apostles themselves or their companions. The following quotation of his work, from Eusebius, makes the point emphatically:
I also will not hesitate to draw up for you, along with these expositions, an orderly account of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders; for I have certified their truth…. 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, or what Philip or what Thomas had said, or James or John or Matthew or any of the other disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that what came out of books would benefit me as much as that which came from a living and abiding voice.2
Eusebius summarizes what Papias claimed about his sources of knowledge about Jesus, a passage worth citing at length:
This Papias, whom we have just been discussing, 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 so he often recalls them by name, and in his books he sets forth the traditions that they passed along. These remarks should also be of some use to us….
And he 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….
And in his own book he passes along other accounts of the sayings of the Lord from Aristion, whom we have already mentioned, as well as traditions from the elder John. We have referred knowledgeable readers to these and now feel constrained to add to these reports already quoted from him a tradition that he gives about Mark, who wrote the Gospel. These are his words:
And this is what the elder used to say,
“When Mark was the interpreter [or translator] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord’s words and deeds—but not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him; but later, as I indicated, he accompanied Peter, who used to adapt his teachings for the needs at hand, not arranging, as it were, an orderly composition of the Lord’s sayings. And so Mark did nothing wrong by writing some of the matters as he remembered them. For he was intent on just one purpose: to leave out nothing that he heard or to include any falsehood among them.”
So that is what Papias says about Mark. 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.”
And he set forth another account about a woman who was falsely accused of many sins before the Lord,3 which is also found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews…. [Eusebius, Church History 3.39]
This is such a valuable report because Eusebius is quoting, and then commenting on, the actual words of Papias. Papias explicitly states that he had access to people who knew the apostles of Jesus or at least the companions of the apostles (the “elders”: it is hard to know from his statement if he is calling the companions of the apostles the elders or if the elders were those who knew the companions. Eusebius thinks it is the first option). When these people would come to his city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, Papias, as leader of the church, would interview them about what they knew about Jesus and his apostles. Many conservative Christian scholars use this statement to prove that what Papias says is historically accurate (especially about Mark and Matthew), but that is going beyond what the evidence gives us.4 Still, on one point there can be no doubt. Papias may pass on some legendary traditions about Jesus, but he is quite specific—and there is no reason to think he is telling a bald-faced lie—that he knows people who knew the apostles (or the apostles’ companions). This is not eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus, but it is getting very close to that.
Where conservative scholars go astray is in thinking that Papias gives us reliable information about the origins of our Gospels of Matthew and Mark. . . .
Bart D. Ehrman (2013-03-18 17:00:00-07:00). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 1510-1540). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
In Jesus, Interrupted (2009) Bart Ehrman on the unreliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .
In any event, Papias does not seem to provide us with the kind of information we can place a lot of conﬁdence in. I should point out, in this connection, that scholars have almost uniformly rejected just about everything else that Papias is recorded to have said in the surviving references to his work. Consider another piece of fourth-hand information:
Thus the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, remembered hearing him say how the Lord used to teach about those times, saying:
“The days are coming when vines will come forth, each with ten thousand boughs; and on a single bough will be ten thousand branches. And indeed, on a single branch will be ten thousand shoots and on every shoot ten thousand clusters; and in every cluster will be ten thousand grapes, and every grape, when pressed, will yield twenty-ﬁve measures of wine. And when any of the saints grabs hold of a cluster, another will cry out, ‘I am better, take me, bless the lord through me.’”
(Eusebius, Church History 3.39.1)
No one thinks that Jesus really said this. Or that John the disciple of Jesus said that Jesus said this. Did the elders who knew John really say this?9
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 (Matthew really wrote Matthew) and have decided to trust Papias when he conﬁrms their views, and not trust him when he does not.
The result of this quick examination of Papias is, I think, that he passes on stories that he has 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. Can he be trusted in the places that he cannot be checked? If you have a friend who is consistently wrong when he gives directions to places you are familiar with, do you trust him when he gives directions for someplace you’ve never been?
(Jesus, Interrupted, pp. 109-110)
Then three years after Did Jesus Exist?, this time in Jesus Before the Gospels (2016)
My readers will need to forgive me if I cover something here that I already talked about in my earlier book Jesus Interrupted. . . .
And so Papias is not himself an eyewitness to Jesus’s life and does not know eyewitnesses. Writing many years later (as much as a century after Jesus’s death), he indicates that he knew people who knew people who knew people who were with Jesus during his life. So it’s not like having firsthand information, or anything close to it. But it’s extremely interesting and enough to make a scholar sit up and take notice! . . . .
There is, though, a still further and even more compelling reason for doubting that we can trust Papias on the authorship of the Gospels. It is that that we cannot really trust him on much of anything. That may sound harsh, but remember that even the early Christians did not appreciate his work very much and the one comment we have about him personally from an educated church father is that he was remarkably unintelligent.
It is striking that some modern authors want to latch on to Papias for his claims that Matthew and Mark wrote Gospels, assuming, as Bauckham does, that he must be historically accurate, when they completely overlook the other things Papias says, things that even these authors admit are not and cannot be accurate. If Papias is not reliable about anything else he says, why does anyone think he is reliable about our Gospels of Matthew and Mark? The reason is obvious. It is because readers want him to be accurate about Matthew and Mark, even though they know that otherwise you can’t rely on him for a second.
Does anyone think that Judas really bloated up larger than a house, emitted worms from his genitals, and then burst on his own land, creating a stench that lasted a century? No, not really. But it’s one of the two Gospel traditions that Papias narrates. . . .
The only traditions about Jesus we have from his pen are clearly not accurate. Why should we think that what he says about Matthew and Mark are accurate? My hunch is that the only reason readers have done so is because they would like him to be accurate when he says things they agree with, even when they know he is not accurate when he says things they disagree with.
Ehrman, Bart D. (2016-03-01). Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (pp. 95-96, 100-102). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
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