Monday, December 04, 2006

Bauckham responds

Time for the promised e-mail comments from Professor Richard Bauckham in response to certain criticisms. As I mentioned under point two of the previous post, Richard naturally doesn’t have the time to get muddled into all of the debates and questions in the comments of my posts on his work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (cf. here for the series outline). I am very grateful that he nevertheless wanted to dash off a few thoughts in relation to some of the criticisms, posted in the comments in parts 4 and 5 of my review, directed against his understanding of the significance of the Papias evidence. Do have a look at those posts and the following discussion, and enjoy Richard’s comments below:

“(1) Papias wrote 5 books of Gospel traditions with commentary. Why do writers who knew Papias quote so few of these traditions? Because most of them paralleled material in the canonical Gospels and they had no interest in quoting such material. For them, the canonical Gospels were a better source of this material, so why bother with Papias? What they quoted was interesting, otherwise unknown or otherwise paralleled only in apocryphal sources, material. I know no better explanation of why we have so few quotations from Papias’s book.
(2) Eusebius was highly prejudiced against Papias. The ‘strange parables’ is his evaluation of them. Especially if they were ‘millenarian’ in character he would have thought them worthless.
(3) I do not think Papias knew the Gospel of the Hebrews. Rather the story he told about the woman accused of many sins is a story that Eusebius knew in the Gospel of the Hebrews. Eusebius is interested in tracing references to use of canonical and noncanonical scriptures in the early period. I think if Papias clearly referred to the Gospel of the Hebrews we would expect Eusebius to make this clearer.
(4) However, supposing Papias did make use of the Gospel of the Hebrews, I don’t see any particular problem in this. We have very few fragments of this Gospel and so it’s very difficult to make judgments about it. But it may have contained lots of authentic traditions. Why not? I’m not in the business of claiming that the canonical Gospels were the only Gospels preserving good early traditions about Jesus. Why should Carr think I am? Because he casts me (without reading the book) in some kind of fundamentalist role.
(5) Doubtless the tradition about the death of Judas is legendary. I expect most oral history includes some legendary material along with good reminiscences. I’ve no problem with this.
(6) The story about Justus Barsabbas may be true. Who knows? It appears to be related to the Longer Ending of Mark.
(7) To say that Papias thought of himself as a historian and knew what good historical practice was supposed to be, is not necessarily to say he was particularly good at implementing such practice. I do not claim he was and it’s not the point I was interested in. We have far too little of his work to be able to judge the matter, I think, given that the quotations we have from him are likely (for reasons stated above) to be unrepresentative of his work as a whole. But there were plenty of historians in the ancient world who knew what good historical practice was supposed to be but didn’t practise it very well”.
At the end of his e-mail Richard made a point that I’ve been stressing throughout: ‘In general, this kind of criticism is much more worthwhile from someone who’s read the chapter itself, rather than just your summary (good as it is)’.

Indeed! I would add that I think this is all the more the case for those who seem - as far as I see it - to be finding Richard’s arguments somehow threatening.

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At 12/04/2006 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, thanks for this excellent review series and interviews with Richard Bauckham. I appreciate the time you have invested in summarizing some of the major arguments. My copy of his book will soon arrive, so I will withhold all judgments about the book until I have had a chance to read it for myself.

At 12/04/2006 6:55 PM, Anonymous Stephen C. Carlson said...

Many thank to Prof. Bauckham for taking the time for his email. And thanks to Chris for doing all this.

Re (6): Jim Kelhoffer’s study of the Justus Barsabbas episode in Papias shows that it was less miraculous than Eusebius’s description would have us believe. See James A. Kelhoffer, Miracle and Mission (WUNT 2.112; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 433-442.

At 12/04/2006 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been looking to get hold of a copy of the book for at least three months -- Eerdmans first slated it for release in September.

Like most people, I'm very busy between now and Christmas, but if I can find time to get to the local university campus and the theological bookstore there, I'll get a copy of this book. The manager there saw an advance copy many months ago, and has had it on order ever since, but last time I checked (24th November) it still hadn't arrived.

At 12/04/2006 8:08 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'Papias wrote 5 books of Gospel traditions with commentary. Why do writers who knew Papias quote so few of these traditions? Because most of them paralleled material in the canonical Gospels and they had no interest in quoting such material.'

How do we know that the 5 books of Gospel traditions with commentary paralleled what we read today in the Gospels?

Why were writers interested in using Tatian's harmony, which clearly paralleled the Gospels, but not in quoting Papias earlier traditions?

It is all very ad hoc....

At 12/05/2006 9:23 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, chaps. It is a pleasure for me to encourage interaction and to promote this work.

Anon, have you contacted Eerdmans?

At 12/06/2006 4:24 AM, Anonymous Apolonio said...

Ah, the book has finally come to my house!! It looks really good! I was talking to Ted Weeden, former member of the Jesus Seminar, about his criticisms of Bailey and I used the argument of Bauckham on the use of names. In my own study it seems that his argument is right. I have my own thoughts on how his work can contribute to Roman Catholic theology but I will reserve that when I finish the book and write something on my blog.

At 12/06/2006 10:50 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Greetings Apolonio!
Do be sure to let me know when you start the blogging series you mentioned. I'm interested to hear what you have to say!

At 5/18/2010 8:50 PM, Anonymous Greg White said...

I just wanted to share a free copy of 'The NET Bible Synopsis of the Four Gospels' here.

Please feel free to share it as well.

You can find the free download here:


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