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.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)’.
(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”.
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.