Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 4
Click here for the series outline.
Chapter 2. Papias on the Eyewitnesses
An earlier (and less well presented) version of Bauckham’s argument in the second chapter can be found in his article in the inaugural Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (for which I translated an excellent article written by Rainer Riesner: Back to the historical Jesus through Paul and his school, 1. 2003, 2. - page 171-199). The chaps at Apollos.ws have uploaded the whole article here, and the relevant pages are pp. 31-44.
Papias was a third-generation Christian, ‘and therefore to a generation that had been in touch with the first Christian generation’, who, in his last years, lived in Hierapolis. The passage Bauckham analyses is from the prologue to his major work, Exposition of the Logia of the Lord, as recorded in Eusebius (of Caesarea), Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4. Bauckham’s translation can be found on page 31 of the above linked to article, and it will be important to keep that before you as I summarise his case.
His argument involves analysis of:
1) The categories of people mentioned in the material (suggesting four groups, building on the works of Schoedel)
2) The date about which the material testifies (arguing that it speaks about a period around the 80s – even if it were written much later). This dating ahs the consequence that ‘what Papias says in this passage can be placed alongside Luke's reference to the eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2) as evidence for the way the relationship of the eyewitnesses to Gospel traditions was understood at the time when the Gospels were being written’.
Of course, the immediate upshot of this line if reasoning is clear: ‘The oral traditions had not evolved away from them but continued to be attached to them, so that people like Papias wanted to hear specifically what any one of them said’.
3) The authenticity of the material. Not only does the geographical location of Papias (Hierapolis) suit very comfortably a collection of Jesus traditions, but the tone of the passage is quite modest, and is therefore unlikely a mere apologetic exaggeration.
4) The phrase, ‘a living and surviving voice’. This is not evidence of a prejudice against written materials in preference of oral tradition as many have supposed, but rather is alluding to a common proverb which meant to indicate that ‘what is preferable to writing is not a lengthy chain of oral tradition, but direct personal experience of a teacher’ - a typical piece of wisdom reflected in Greco-Roman historians such as Polybius.
To appreciate Bauckham’s argument, that Papias prefers not oral tradition to books, ‘but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events - in this case “disciples of the Lord”’ it is necessary to understand that his reading of Papias is set against a historiographical background. While ‘a living and surviving voice’ points in this direction, Bauckham wants to argue that ‘Papias deliberately uses the terminology of historiographical practice’. Thus he also notes the significance of Papias’ use of the verb anakrinein, a word appearing in Lucian of Samosata’s historiographical work and prominently in that of Polybius. Furthermore, the first sentence of the Prologue, accepting Kürzinger’s revised translation, indicates that: ‘Papias is describing the stages of producing an historical work precisely as Lucian, in his book on how to write history, describes them’.
However, it is to be noticed that Papias adds his own words to this proverbial historiographical wisdom alluded to in ‘a living and surviving voice’. Given the time concerning which Papias reminisces, and that the ‘voice’ refers to the very real voices of eyewitnesses associated with specific groups of people, the words ‘and surviving’ can be better appreciated. What Papias ‘seeks are the reminiscences of those who knew Jesus and in which the passage of time has now been such that few of those people are still alive’. Not only is this how Jerome understood Papias, but this would then make sense of the immediate context of the Prologue in which Papias mentions that which ‘Aristion and the elder John ... were saying (legousin)’. The ‘surviving voices’ here are thus like those mentioned in 1 Cor 15:6 (and cf. Joh 21:22, 23).