Date: Sun, 6 Dec 1998 15:58:01 -0500 (EST) From: Yuri KuchinskyClick here to go one level up in the directory.
To: Synoptic-L Subject: testimony of Papias TESTIMONY OF PAPIAS The idea that Papias had a special liking for the Gospel of John, and was a proponent of its wider use, is well accepted among patristic scholars today. So could Papias' rather vague and arguably somewhat dismissive comments about the Gospels of Mark and Mathtew have been motivated primarily by his judging the Synoptics somewhat unfavourably by the higher, for him, standard of Jn? This seems reasonable to me. This view in fact has been advanced by quite a few commentators, such as, Julicher, Adolf, _Einleitung in das Neue Testament_ (in Verbindung mit Erich Fascher), T|bingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1931, 7th ed, pp. 283, 396; W. Bauer, _Das Johannesevangelium_, 3rd ed, HbNT 6 (1933): 241 f. And of course we also need to keep in mind that we only know what Papias said as it was reported by Eusebius. It is quite probable that Eusebius chose not to report some things that Papias said. Specifically, why do we hear nothing from him about Papias's attitude towards the gospel of John? There is a very curious silence there... This seems like an interesting and important question, and I think the answer is possible to find. But first, we will need to deal with the question of the man, or more likely men, named John. Papias was supposed to have been a disciple of "John". But which John? We may suppose that there were at least 3 men named John who would be relevant here. 1. John the Apostle, the brother of James. These were the Boanerges brothers. 2. John the author of Revelation. Most biblical scholars nowadays consider that the author of the Revelation was not also the author of the gospel, although in ancient times, the opinion on this was divided. While for the most part common authorship for these two documents was assumed, some ancient commentators already doubted this. We can note here especially Dionysius the bishop of Alexandria (latter half of the third century), a surprisingly perceptive literary critic, who purported to demonstrate conclusively that these two works could not have been written by the same author. Dionysius, while accepting that John Boanerges indeed wrote the gospel, also suggested that it was John the Elder who wrote the Revelation (Eusebius, vii. 25). 3. John the Elder. While the identity of this personage is not entirely clear, he was most likely a historical character, and we will see further what his role may have been. Now, Eusebius mentions both John the Apostle and John the Elder as being present in Asia Minor. According to Eusebius, Papias was a pupil of the former and a colleague of the latter, but such version of events doesn't seem historically valid on the whole. We have to keep in mind here that the authorship of the Fourth Gospel was an extremely important matter in the second century. Jn was a late arriving gospel for the Greater Church. Theologically it was substantially different from the Synoptics, which were older and better established, and there was some opposition to its canonisation. In these circumstances, it was exceedingly important to maintain that the author of Jn was none other than John the Apostle -- the apostolic authority of this gospel was crucial for its acceptance. And the apostolic authority of Jn was basically unquestioned in the patristic sources that came through to us. We only hear some distant and muffled echoes of some Christians questioning the apostolicity of Jn, or even rejecting it completely (i.e. Alogi of the mid-second century, and the followers of Gaius, end of the second c. -- early third c.; more about this was mentioned in Synoptic-L discussions previously). Is this where the key to the solution of our problem may be? Is it possible that the reason Eusebius tells us _nothing_ of what Papias said about Jn -- and it cannot be doubted that Papias was familiar with Jn -- is that what Papias said about Jn was perhaps too confusing and controversial for Eusebius? Is it possible that Papias may have said something about the authorship and/or apostolicity of Jn that Eusebius preferred not to quote? Could have Papias in fact said that Jn was written by _someone else_, someone other than John the brother of James? This is indeed how it seems to me. Alfred Loisy has analysed these very complicated questions in great detail (ORIGINS OF NT, p. 73ff). He has looked carefully into the question of who may have been the Elders on whose opinions Papias was basing his views about the history of the gospels, and who may have been John the Elder. There seems to exist quite persuasive evidence that John the brother of James was martyred early and never made it to Asia. Were the two brothers perhaps martyred at about the same time? We can see Mk 10:39 as evidence for this, "Jesus said to them [the two brothers], The cup I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." But in this connection we will need to deal also with Acts 12:2, where only the martyrdom of James is recorded. Was the reference to the martyrdom of John omitted from this account by a later editor anxious to ensure that John Boanerges could perform service as the author of Jn? This is what Loisy thinks, and there is evidence from a variety of sources to indicate that this was so. In particular, the Syriac calendar from the fifth century commemorates John and James together as martyrs on Dec. 27 (Locton, THEOLOGY, 5 , 83; as cited by Schoedel, p. 119; Schoedel, William R., _Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragment of Papias_, in Grant, Robert M., _The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation and Commentary_, 6 vols; New York: Nelson, 1964-68, vol. 5). So, seeing the unlikelihood of John the Apostle, and of John the Apocalyptist having been the mentors of Papias, this leaves us with John the Elder as the likeliest candidate. Patristic witnesses translated by Schoedel provide additional evidence for such a version of events. An epitome of Papias' work based on Philip of Side (fifth century) states, "Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, having been a hearer of John the theologian and companion of Polycarp, wrote five treatises on the DOMINICAL ORACLES. In them he made an enumeration of apostles, and after naming Peter and John, Philip and Thomas and Matthew, recorded as "disciples of the Lord" Aristion and another John whom he also called "elder"." (p. 117-118) [LATER CLARIFICATION: While I accept information supplied by Philip of Side as generally quite valuable, I also note here my view that the tradition Philip is reporting about Papias being a "hearer of John the theologian" was probably not well based. By "John the theologian" here Philip may have meant John the Elder, although this is not so clear (see below where this identification is seemingly contradicted). Either the text may be corrupt here, of Philip, himself, may have been confused about the matter. So, while I accept the rest of what Philip says, the interpretation of this particular statement is difficult.] So this, as preserved by Philip, is what Papias probably said about the two Johns, and what Eusebius may have omitted. If we accept this as indeed having been said by Papias, this would explain quite a lot. So there would have been two apostles (or disciples) named John according to Papias -- the brother of James, plus John the Elder. And the same epitome continues further on, "Papias in the second treatise says that John the theologian and James his brother were slain by the Jews." (p. 119) [Note here that this is the second mention of "John the theologian" by Philip that we're seeing. And here he identifies "John the theologian" explicitly as John Boanerges, thus seemingly contradicting himself. A bit of a puzzle here, but it should not distract from the bigger points.] Now, this is quite a statement by Philip. Papias, it seems, was well aware that John the brother of James was martyred early. And is it possible that he also thought that the gospel of John was written by another John -- not John Boanerges, although also apostle? I think this is quite possible, so let's call this hypothesis #1 (implying John Boanerges did not write Jn). And yet another interpretation is possible here, as noted by Schoedel. Let's call this hypothesis #2: perhaps, according to Papias, John Boanerges _was_ martyred very early, but he wrote his gospel _also_ very early, perhaps ca. 44, i.e. at the time of Claudius? In this case Papias may have also believed that the Revelation was also written at about the same time. For my own part, I think this version is rather less likely, but it would still explain why Papias' account may have been censored subsequently by Eusebius -- it would have been too different from the version accepted by the Church in later times. And what would have been the role of the apostle John the Elder according to this reading? This would remain unexplained on this hypothesis? So, myself, I prefer the previous one. (It may be noted that both our hypotheses #1 and #2 agree that John Boanerges was maryred early together with James. They would disagree only about which John of the two wrote Jn.) In his commentary, Schoedel outlines these two possibilities, both of them assuming that Papias could not know John Boanerges in person, thusly, [This is in accord with our hypothesis #1, i.e. John Boanerges did not write Jn, according to Papias] "... Eusebius either does not know or suppresses what Papias had to say about James and John." (p. 118) [This is in accord with our hypothesis #2, i.e. Jn written very early by John Boanerges] "Revelation and the Gospel of John, then, were regarded by Papias as early authorities (consequently in HE 3.39.15-16 John is the standard whereby Mark and Matthew are judged). Eusebius did not report all this because it flew in the face of the current traditions about John and his writings." (ibid) Is it any wonder that Eusebius would have suppressed uncomfortable information of such a sort had he found it in Papias? One can well see why he would have done so, since this would have contradicted the established orthodox traditions about John Boanerges living to the ripe old age and mentoring Papias. To summarize, Papias probably did say something about the authorship of Jn in his commentary, and what he said was either unknown or, yet more likely, omitted by Eusebius. What Papias probably said [Hypothesis #1] was that John Boanerges was martyred early together with his brother James, and that Jn was authored by yet another John, viz. John the Elder whom Papias, possibly, took to be also one of the 12. Since such an account would have come into serious conflict with the traditions of the Church that were solidifying soon after the time of Papias, it is entirely possible that this account of Papias was omitted by Eusebius. It should also be noted that John the Elder, himself, assuming he was indeed part of Jesus' circle of disciples, would have been an amazingly long-lived disciple of the Lord to meet Papias in person. For this reason alone, a commentator may indeed wonder if Papias could know him in person. More likely, as Loisy notes, would have been that Papias simply received both the gospel and the tradition of John the Elder from the other Elders with whom he was familiar in his younger years. Earlier we've been discussing some vague traditions that Papias may have contributed to authoring Jn in some way. This, to me, could refer to the possibility that Papias may have been active in editing or expanding Jn. It seems quite clear on the whole that Jn had been substantially re-edited, and some additions were made to it before its final edition was accepted as canonical. (copyright 1998 by Yuri Kuchisky)