Date: Sun, 6 Dec 1998 15:58:01 -0500 (EST)
From: Yuri Kuchinsky 
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 [1922], 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)

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