Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Intellectual Integrity and Bart Ehrman.

I originally like Bart Ehrman's work.  I thought that his courses on the Teaching Company were very good.  However, as I've listened to Ehrman's popular stuff, such as his debates and interviews, I've come to wonder how much I can trust Ehrman.  Simply put, Ehrman says stuff that he knows is either overstated or wrong. 

It's not just me who says this.  William Lane Craig points out that there is a "Good Bart" and a "Bad Bart."  "Bad Bart" will make the claim in popular circles that there are more errors in the Bible than there are words, and will foster the impression that we really can't know for sure what the original text said.  However, when called out on it, "Good Bart" will forthrightly admit that we actually do know what the original text said and that the "errors" can be corrected or aren't all that significant. 

Similarly, in one debate, in support of his argument that the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus were delusions, Ehrman argued that grieving people have such delusions all the time. When it was pointed out that people don't often have the same delusion, Ehrman said, "yes, they do", leaving the impression that he had some academic support for the claim that groups of grieving people have been known to have the same delusion.

It turned out that Ehrman was conflating different events.  Individually, grieving people have been known to have visual and tactile experiences of their dead loved ones, but not in groups.  Ehrman's reference to "group delusions" was to things like the vision of Our Lady of Fatima, which have never been shown to be delusions.  They might be delusions and atheists might assume they are delusions, but most people would never confuse an individual grieving person with the mass phenomenon of Fatima.  By carefully omitting the important details, Ehrman was using his role as "neutral academic" to mislead listeners.

Darrell Bock issues a similar warning with respect to Erhman's academic writing.  Bock discusses Erhman's The New Testament: An Historical Introduction:



This volume is one of the most popular texts for early Christianity classes in the USA, which is why we are discussing it in the class. It is clearly written and engaging. It summarizes many commonly held positions that are held about the Bible and New Testament in some scholarly circles. It is important to know what generations of college students are being taught in the name of knowledge and understanding. I am discovering that it is what Ehrman does not mention that is often important.

For example, in treating the authorship of the gospels (all of them), he does not address any of the external evidence for authorship that comes from sources like Eusebius or Irenaeus or any of the canonical church lists. This is historical evidence and ignoring it prejudices his volume's work, cutting out one of the two key factors one has to address in treating authorship, namely external evidence for a work's authorship. Vincent Taylor and C. E. B. Cranfield regarded such evidence as decisive in treating this question in terms of Mark's gospel.

I am quite aware that many think the internal evidence is against such an authorship claim for Mark (and Ehrman does present those arguments). Those arguments can be addressed. So given a fair debate over the issues that lead one to think about who wrote a gospel, here is a point the claim Mark did not write the gospel has to deal with. What commends Mark as the author, if we are going to simply pick someone to enhance the reputation of a gospel when no one supposedly who knows the author is (which is what the alternative view claims is the situation)? What is Mark's reputation? He failed to survive the first missionary journey and caused a split between Paul and Barnabas according to Acts. So how does randomly attaching his name to the book enhance that gospel's credibility? Such a theory does not work here. Mark's reputation, such as it was, on its own does not enhance the credibility of the work. More than that, the tradition also consistently associated Peter with Mark, so why was this gospel not simply called the Gospel of Peter, if one is free to name any author the church could choose? Given a choice between Peter and Mark on the basis of reputation, Peter would be the obvious choice. Something else must be at work, namely, a tradition careful about who it called an author, naming someone who in this case had an otherwise less than stellar resume. Arguments like the ones I just noted go completely ignored in his volume (and these are fair historical questions). So user beware that if you are being asked to use this text in a college class, some key points are not even being raised.
That really does sound like the "Bad Bart" of the debates and popular lecture. 

74 comments:

Vinny said...

I have never heard anyone say that Mark's name was randomly attached to the a gospel. The point is that the first record we have of its attachment doesn't come until Irenaeous in 180 A.D., a century after it was written. Moreover, Irenaeous provides us with no explanation for why he attached the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to the gospels. If he had some evidentiary basis, why doesn't he mention it? Bock asserts that he must have had a good reason for not attaching Peter's name, but Bock does not mention the fact that there was already a gospel attributed to Peter.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

In fact, the Gospel of Mark is ascribed to Mark before Irenaeus. Specifically, Papias writing before the second half of the First Century identifies Mark - identified as being associated with Peter - as the author of Mark. In contrast, the Gospel of Peter is identified as having an existence no earlier than the second half of the Second Century.

In short, Mark predates Peter.

Thus, Bock's point is well-established. As time went on, later fabricated Gospels were associated with more famous Apostles in order to take advantage of the authority that such Apostles had. The earlier Gospels, in contrast, that are identiifed as existing earlier, are identified with non-apostles or spear carriers. The issue is if the attribution of these Gospels was a product of fiction, then they would have been associated with the famous apostles - particularly since the field was open. The fact that they are not is evidence that the traditional attribution is based on a real tradition.

Vinny said...

Actually, the passage from Papias is not sufficient to identify Mark as the author of the Gospel that bears his name in the New Testament. Papias says that he heard that Mark had written down the acts and sayings of Jesus, but not in order, whereas canonical Mark is written in narrative form. Papias does not quote from Mark's writing or otherwise indicate that he has seen it. Papias is sufficient to establish the existence of a tradition regarding a writing by Mark, but not any specific writing.

The passage from Papias would also seem to undercut Bock's claim that Mark was an insignificant figure in the early Church.

It may well be that canonical Mark was written before apochryphal Peter, but I don't think the evidence is sufficient to establish that its authorship was ascribed first.

Yeah, I know... said...

Peter,

I've seen this tendency toward neglect in Ehrman's popular appearances as well. I remember one debate in particular with Richard Swinburne on the problem of evil. If you haven't listened to it, I would recommend you do. Swinburne makes some very interesting points, and I think Ehrman was a bit overwhelmed. Several times in the debate, Swinburne would distinguish, in standard philosophical fashion, the logical problem of evil from the emotional problem of evil, and provide a response to logical complaints, to which Ehrman would throw back an emotional response and never attempt a rebuttal of Swinburne's point. The tendency to "miss the point" is irritating as well. Swinburne is subtle, but surely a scholar of Ehrman's reknown can follow a presentation designed for a popular audience with some clarity. Whatever his academic credentials may be, Ehrman could definately do with some more rigor in his thought. I do not think he is incapable of it, I think he simply chooses not to.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Notice how your argument has shifted. Your first contention was that the first evidence we have of an attachment of the name "Mark" to the "Gospel of Mark" doesn't come until Irenaeus in 180 and Irenaeus doesn't explain why he made such an attachment. The gist of this argument is two-fold: (a) the first time that any mention is made of a "Gospel of Mark" is in the late Second Century - after the Gospel of Peter and (b) the attachment of Mark's name to a Gospel has no explanation.

When I point to Papias mentioning a gospel written by Mark, you drop those argument and after implicitly admitting that there was an early tradition of a Gospel written by Mark, you raise a new argument - to wit, that the Gospel we know as "Mark" wasn't the one written by Mark.

Well, what has happened to your claim that Irenaeus doesn't say why he attached Mark's name to one of the four canonical gospels? That may be technically correct, but you weren't offering that point as an interesting observation about Irenaeus. You were offering it as evidence that the attribution of Mark's name to a gospel was a later invention. You apparently knew about Papias, and, if so, you knew that Papias is evidence of an earlier tradition that Mark wrote a gospel. Obviously, if that's true, then that is an explanation for why Irenaeus mentions a Gospel of Mark, even if Irenaeus doesn't mention why he attributes a gospel to Mark.

In other words, by omitting a mention of Papias, you did the same thing that Bart Ehrman does - give an impression of certainty when the data actually is far more nuanced. This tactic works particularly well in this area because most people aren't going to know about Papias and are going to be impressed by an intrinsically meaningless factoid like "Irenaeus doesn't tell us why he refers to a gospel of Mark."

The second thing you've done is shift the discussion to an issue that has no real bearing on whether there was an early tradition that Mark wrote a gospel - a tradition that predates the "Gospel of Peter." You make the claim that Papias wasn't referring to our Gospel of Mark because he says that the Gospel of Mark wasn’t written “in order” and you conflate “written in order” with “narrative form.”

First, even if you are right in conflating “written in order” with “narrative form” this doesn’t detract from the evidence that there was a tradition that Mark wrote a gospel.

Second, you don’t provide any reason for why “written in order” means “narrative form.”

Third, “written in order” could well mean written in chronological order. Most scholars agree that Mark and the Synoptics are not written in chronological order.

Fourth, perhaps, the narrative structure of Mark was added after Pappias and before Irenaeus.

Fifth, if there is another gospel written by Mark, where is it? Where is there any evidence outside of your interpretation of Papias that there is this “lost gospel of Mark” that wasn’t “written in order”?

Sixth, why isn’t the best explanation for Irenaeus’ mention of a Gospel of Mark that there was a Gospel of Mark ? Your argument sounds a lot like the apocryphal story of the scholar who spent his life attempting to prove that the plays of Shakespeare weren’t written by Shakespeare but by a person with the same name.

Finally, the point is that Mark is an unimportant figure as compared to Peter. If the traditional identification of the Gospels with their authors was simply made up we would expect to see them attributed to more important figures in the Christian Church, as we do see with Gospels written after the canonical gospels. You can’t bootstrap Mark into an important figure by pointing to the fact that he was traditionally identified with his gospel because apart from that identification, he simply wasn’t.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Yeah, I know...I said...

Fair point. One of my breaking points about Ehrman was in his first debates with Licona where he just could not seem to understand Licona's point about Paul's vision of Jesus. After spending his time saying that grief causes visions, Ehrman coninually misunderstood and misrepresented Licona's point that Paul was hardly someone who could be called grieving. In anyone else I would have said that Ehrman was being deliberately evasive, but Ehrman just sounded so darn confused.

I concluded that if Ehrman didn't get that point, he couldn't be all that smart, and why should I trust his scholarship. On the other hand, if he was that smart and did understand the point, then he wasn't all that honest, and I shouldn't trust his scholarship.

Vinny said...

I did say in my comment that I did not think that Irenaeous picked Mark’s name at random. I assume he had some reason for doing so which could well be that he knew of a tradition attributing a gospel to Mark. Nevertheless, he doesn’t tell us what his reason was. Bock would have us believe that he must have had some solid reason to believe that Mark really did write the document that he identifies as canonical Mark, but I don’t find that persuasive.

I would still maintain that Irenaeous is the first record we have of Mark being identified as the author of canonical Mark. I did not claim that it was the first mention of such a gospel. I apologize if I misled you as to my knowledge of Papias. Nevertheless, Papias does not provide sufficient information about the book he knew for us to identify it as canonical Mark. Moreover, Papias does not seem to have been very discriminating in the stories that he passed along. Eusebius did not consider him to be very bright. As to what happened to the document Papias was referring to, it may simply have been lost along with most of what Papias himself wrote.

The reason I equated “order” to “narrative” is that Papias seems to. Eusebius quotes Papias as follows: And the presbyter said this: Mark the interpreter of Peter, wrote down exactly, but not in order, what he remembered of the acts and sayings of the Lord, for he neither heard the Lord himself nor accompanied him, but, as I said, Peter later on. Peter adapted his teachings to the needs [of his hearers], but made no attempt to provide a connected narrative of things related to our Lord. So Mark made no mistake in setting down some things as he remembered them, for he took care not to omit anything he heard nor to include anything false. As for Matthew, he made a collection in Hebrew of the sayings and each translated them as best they could.

I’m not sure that we can say that the tradition of attributing a gospel to Mark predates the gospel of Peter. Many scholars believe that a manuscript fragment of the Gospel of Peter dates to 150 A.D. This is pretty close to Papias and before Irenaeous.

The problem with accepting Irenaeous on Mark really writing canonical Mark is that there were people at the same time who believed that Peter really wrote apocryphal Peter. Why should I take Irenaeous at face value and not them? Irenaeous said that only the four gospels he identified could be authentic because cherubs had four faces but that does not seem very convincing to me.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I assume he had some reason for doing so which could well be that he knew of a tradition attributing a gospel to Mark.

Papias shows that there was such a tradition. Why is it such a leap to think that the reason that Irenaeus attributes "Mark" to Mark is because of that tradition?

It seems that this argument is just straining at gnats. It also ignores the interconnectedness of the Christian community at the time. Irenaeus personally knew Polycarp who personally knew Ignatius. Papias was a "companion of Polycarp." So, we don't have to scratch our heads and say, "gosh, we'll never know why Iranaeus attributed a gospel to Mark." We can reasonably infer from how we know the world works that the attribution of a gospel to Mark by Papias was not unrelated to Irenaeus making the same attribution. Maybe that inference is wrong, but that's the kind of inference that is made all the time in historical research.

Likewise, there is no reason to think that Papias was inventing the attribution of a gospel to Mark. He was reporting an even earlier tradition given to him from other people in the Christian community.

Finally, given the close proximity of these people over the course of years, what is the likelihood that Papias, the companion of Polycarp, was talking about a different gospel than Irenaeus, the student of Polycarp was referring to? Not bloody likely given how we understand the way the world works, and that people with a common interest who are "companions" actually talk about their interest.

Incidentally, this New Advent site advises that Irenaeus had "great veneration for the work of Papias." If true, that makes the likelihood of Irenaeus relying on Papias for the tradition of ascribing "Mark" to Mark even stronger.

My problem with this approach - and Ehrman's - is two-fold. First, it treats the various texts we have as little diamonds existing independent of the community in which the texts were written, instead of as the smallest part of a much larger world of knowledge and discourse. (In Ehrman's case, that is undoubtedly because of his background as a fundamentalist.) Second, it denies to Christian history the usual kinds of reasoning that we permit in other kinds of history.

I would still maintain that Irenaeous is the first record we have of Mark being identified as the author of canonical Mark.

As a lawyer, this reminds me of a tactic used in motions for summary judgment of claiming that the fact that it is undisputed that a witness said something in a deposition. As a court says, the statement is undisputed insofar as it is immaterial, and immaterial insofar as it is undisputed. In other words, the material thing isn't the undisputed fact that the person said something, the material thing is whether the thing he said is true.

In the example you offer, Irenaeus may have been the first person to identify Mark with "Mark." So what? Does that mean that such an identification was never made previously? Does that mean that "Mark" i.e., canonical Mark didn't exist until the late 2d Century? What then was Papias talking about? Where is Papias' Markan gospel? How is it that Papias and Polycarp could have different versions of Mark and apparently never discuss it or mention that there were different versions of Mark floating around? How could Irenaeus who "greatly revered the writings of Papias" be dumber and more ignorant about the existence of this other "Mark" that Papias was writing about than you are with your benefit of nearly 2,000 years of distance?

In other words, the material claim you are making is that Irenaeus and Papias were talking about two different things. Perhaps that case can be made, but it requires a rather more coherent explanation than simply assuming that Papias never spoke to Polycarp or that Irenaeus knew less about Papias than we do.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Continued...

The problem with accepting Irenaeous on Mark really writing canonical Mark is that there were people at the same time who believed that Peter really wrote apocryphal Peter. Why should I take Irenaeous at face value and not them?

The material difference between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Peter are large. For example, I can point to specific people who attest to Mark as having an apostolic antecedent and I can identify by name witnesses who accepted Mark as an authentic gospel before the Third Century – Papias and Irenaeus. Can you do the same thing for the Gospel of Peter? In other words, who were these people? Did they really believe that Peter wrote “Peter”? How do you know that?

As far as I know, the first reference to a "Gospel of Peter" is a letter by Serapion in the late Second Century to some churches in Syria which used "Peter" saying that "Peter" was not authentic. Outside of that small set of churches, "Peter" wasn't used. That is vastly different from universal and unchallenged use of Mark.

In other words, you shouldn’t take Irenaeus at “face value.” Instead you should look at the context to make some kind of reasoned decision. As Bock points out, sometimes making such a decision involves looking at all evidence, not just the facts that line up in support of a preferred thesis.

I also think another problem here is the tendency of people to decontextualize these gospels. So, we have 4 canonical gospels but there are 100s of non-canonical gospels, it is claimed. Clearly, just by numbers, the non-canonical gospels have some authority. But the fact is that gospels were used weekly in the churches. The 4 gospels were used universally before Irenaeus. Irenaeus' "explanation" for the reason there were 4 gospels was a post hoc explanation. He wasn't saying that since cherubs have four faces and "four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds" that he was going to pick out 4 gospels. No, rather, he had four gospels and had to explain why there were 4 instead of some other number.

There would have been a clear difference, in other words, between those 4 gospels, which were used throughout the Christian world, and the Gospel of Peter which was an idiosyncratic usage in a couple of churches in Syria.

Vinny said...

I do not claim to know exactly why Irenaeous thought that Mark wrote Mark. If it was because Papias was considered reliable, why isn't that reflected in Serapion's letter? If the historical pedigree of Mark had been generally accepted, I would expect him to say to the church in Syria "We know that your Gospel of Peter is inauthentic because we know that it was Mark who wrote down Peter's teachings in his gospel." Serapion's letter shows us the determination of authenticity being driven by theological criteria rather than historical criteria.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I do not claim to know exactly why Irenaeous thought that Mark wrote Mark.

This is disingenuous for two reasons. First, you are denying the conclusion that Irenaeus said that Mark wrote “Mark” because of an early tradition that Mark wrote “Mark” despite the evidence that Irenaeus would have known that tradition from Papias. You are basically throwing your hands up and pretending its some sort of mystery even though (a) Papias was the companion of Polycarp who was the teacher of Irenaeus and (b) Irenaeus had a “great devotion” to Irenaeus. Second, you are taking the position that it Irenaeus attribution of “Mark” to Mark is a mystery because you are actually denying that there was an early tradition – a tradition predating Irenaeus – that Mark wrote “Mark.”

Simply claiming ignorance isn’t sufficient after making the buried claim that the attribution of “Mark” to Mark occurred only with Irenaeus, particularly since the evidence shows the contrary.

If it was because Papias was considered reliable, why isn't that reflected in Serapion's letter?

See? This illustrates my point. You claim to be ignorant about why Irenaeus attributes “Mark” to Mark – when we know he read Papias – but suddenly you have all kinds of ability to make inferences about what Serapion ought to have done.

The answer is that people don’t often affirm things that are common knowledge. It is the unusual and problematic that attracts their attention. So, I wouldn’t expect Serapion’s letter telling the church in Syria that was using “Peter” to discuss the historicity of “Mark.” My expectation is formed by all kinds of experience in writing letters dealing with issues where I don’t rehearse extraneous facts that I expect the recipient to know as common knowledge.

And let’s be clear about this – we know of only one church that ever used “Peter” and it was a small church that Serapion accidentally visited. So, lets tally that up as a reason that we can’t compare “Mark” to “Peter.”

But notice how your question has all kinds of buried assumptions. If you are going to make a claim, even one disguised as a question, those buried assumptions have to be fleshed out.

If the historical pedigree of Mark had been generally accepted, I would expect him to say to the church in Syria "We know that your Gospel of Peter is inauthentic because we know that it was Mark who wrote down Peter's teachings in his gospel."

This is an example of buried assumptions that need to be fleshed out. For example, Serapion said that “Peter” was false and unknown. Here is what Eusebius reports:

"For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the rest of the apostles as Christ Himself. But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name, we as experienced persons reject, knowing that no such writings have been handed down to us. When, indeed, I came to see you, I supposed that all were in accord with the orthodox faith."

Why should Serapion have offered your explanation after saying that “Peter” was falsely inscribed.

Serapion's letter shows us the determination of authenticity being driven by theological criteria rather than historical criteria.

This is an ad hoc argument that grasps at straws for the simple reason that one way of determining authenticity is the resemblance of a text to the style and subject matter of authentic texts. Scholars themselves date texts by looking at the themes and subject matters of the text. Scholars know that Gnostic texts date from the middle Second Century and therefore conclude that if a pseudo-gospel is Gnostic, then that Gnostic theme is a good reason for preliminarily dating it as having been written no earlier than the middle Second Century.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Continued...

So, why would it have been wrong for Serapion to use the same criteria for determining authenticity that modern scholars use? Incidentally, by the beginning of the Third Century, Christian scholars were as adept in textual analysis based on style and other criteria, for the simple reason that they were having to establish whether the pseudo-gospels were false. Read Robert M. Grant’s “Heresy and Criticism” on this point, and on the well developed discipline of literary criticism in the ancient world, which most people today are completely ignorant about. These people were gullible yokels. They had as well-developed knowledge of style and theme as we do, for the simple purpose of detecting forged writings attributed to Plato and other philosophers.

Further, “Peter” was used in only one church in Syria in the outback and there had never been any knowledge of any gospel written by “Peter” within the Christian community until Serapion accidentally discovered its use circa 190 A.D.

Finally, note that Serapion notes that “Peter” was explicitly attributed to Peter, which was similar to other forged gospels, and unlike the canonical gospels, a fact that you have attempted to exploit. Let’s tally that difference as another reason for believing that “Peter” didn’t date from the same era as the canonical gospels.

Vinny said...

The problem with assuming that Irenaeous relied on Papias is that Papias was known to pass on unorthodox traditions. According to Eusebius, The same writer gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some other more mythical things. To these belong his statement that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth. I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses.

One of the few passages of Papias that survived is a story that directly contradicts the biblical account of the death of Judas: Judas walked about as an example of godlessness in this world, having been bloated so much in the flesh that he could not go through where a chariot goes easily, indeed not even his swollen head by itself. For the lids of his eyes, they say, were so puffed up that he could not see the light, and his own eyes could not be seen, not even by a physician with optics, such depth had they from the outer apparent surface. And his genitalia appeared more disgusting and greater than all formlessness, and he bore through them from his whole body flowing pus and worms, and to his shame these things alone were forced [out]. And after many tortures and torments, they say, when he had come to his end in his own place, from the place became deserted and uninhabited until now from the stench, but not even to this day can anyone go by that place unless they pinch their nostrils with their hands, so great did the outflow from his body spread out upon the earth.

If Eusebius is correct that Papias’ writings are full of stories like this, then Irenaeous would have had good reason not to rely on him in the identification of Mark as the author of canonical Mark. If he affirmed the reliability of the traditions passed on by Papias, he would be undercutting the very gospels that he was trying to establish as authoritative. He might well have revered Papias as a shepherd of his people while recognizing his shortcomings as a theologian and a historian.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

The problem with assuming that Irenaeous relied on Papias…

First, Irenaeus doesn’t have to “rely” on Papias to be aware of the tradition ascribing “Mark” to Mark. My point has always been that there was such a tradition prior to Irenaeus and that Irenaeus had access to it.

Second, we don’t have to “assume” that Irenaus knew what Papias wrote since Irenaeus says he knew what Papias wrote. See this passage in Irenaeus Contra Heresies. Irenaeus writes:

“4. And these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled (συντεταγμένα) by him. And he says in addition….” (Adv. Haeresis, V, 33, 5.)

I’ve already pointed out that Irenaeus and Papias knew many of the same people and so would have had access to the traditions that pre-existed them both – after all Papias didn’t make it up.

Your arguments seem to assume that Irenaeus existed in glorious isolation and never had any exposure to the common Christian world that existed, where subjects like “where did Mark come from?” would have been discussed. You have to assume a singular lack of curiosity – and a radically different human nature - for your buried assumptions to make any sense.

Papias was known to pass on unorthodox traditions…

The example you provide via Eusebius is the 1,000 year reign of Christ.

Why is this “unorthodox”? Because Eusebius writing in the 4th Century says it is.

A lot of modern Christians hold to this kind of eschatology, based, they would claim, on the text of the canonical gospels. How is their interpretation obviously wrong?

More importantly, was it unorthodox for Papias? Was it unorthodox for Irenaeus? Doctrines develop and what is considered within the realm of speculation in one century may be determined to be unorthodox heresy in another century. So, why should we believe that because Eusebius thought that chiliasm was unorthodox in the 4th Century, either Papias or Irenaeus would have shared that view in the Second Century?

Again, you’ve got some explaining to do if you want to advance the conclusion based on your buried premises.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

One of the few passages of Papias that survived is a story that directly contradicts the biblical account of the death of Judas: Judas walked about as an example of godlessness in this world, having been bloated so much in the flesh…

The account ascribed to Papias by Apolonius of Laodicea in the late 4th Century doesn’t “directly contradict” the biblical account – Apolonius uses Papias to harmonize the biblical accounts. There are two seemingly conflicting accounts of Judas’ death in the New Testament:

'Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.' (Matthew 27:5, NRSV)

And:

'Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.' (Acts 1:18, NRSV)

Apolonius introduces the account from Papias with this observation:

“Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before choking. And this the Acts of the Apostles makes clear, that falling headlong his middle burst and his bowels poured forth. And Papias the disciple of John records this most clearly, saying thus in the fourth of the Exegeses of the Words of the Lord…”

Apolonius then explains that before Judas “bowels gushed out” he was a walking indictment of his evil.

But, ultimately, so what? Assuming that Papias was accurately represented by Apolonius, all this means is that Papias was familiar with an oral tradition that is consistent with the account in the Acts of the Apostles. It doesn’t mean that Papias believed that tradition or that this tradition was right or that Irenaeus had to accept it.

All it means is that this was a story that was being circulated in the Christian community in the late First/early Second Centuries, which supports my point that early Christians like Irenaeus weren’t limited to text – as we are – and so had a better grip on what was known than people who seem to think that if it isn’t written down it couldn’t have been known.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

If Eusebius is correct that Papias’ writings are full of stories like this, then Irenaeous would have had good reason not to rely on him in the identification of Mark as the author of canonical Mark.

When you say this you reveal that you deeply in debt to the modern monomania for footnoting to "expert witnesses." The important thing here - which you don't seem to understand - is that Papias is important here only insofar as he records a pre-exising tradition that Mark wrote a gospel.

Your claim was that the first time Mark is attributed to Mark was with Ireneaus, as if that attribution was novel with Irenaeus and never existed before him.

In response, I have shown that we know that there was a tradition that Mark wrote a gospel that pre-existed Ireneaus, i.e., from Papias, and that this tradition pre-existed Papias since Papias was collecting stories, i.e., traditions.

"Tradition" is not a euphemism for "bullshit." Most traditions are actually very accurate, and deserve the benefit of the doubt in the absence of other evidence to the contrary. But, in any event, your passive-aggressively stated claim that the idea that Mark wrote a gospel suddenly originaged in the late Second Century with Irenaeus is clearly wrong, even if Papias wrote down all kinds of silly stories, i.e., even if all of Papias' stories were silly, that wouldn't disprove the point that these stories were being told at the time.

In any event, I don't care about the other stories. Here, I care only about the tradition that Mark wrote a gospel and that this tradition existed in the early Second Century, which clearly it does.

Do you agree?

Peter Sean Bradley said...

If he affirmed the reliability of the traditions passed on by Papias, he would be undercutting the very gospels that he was trying to establish as authoritative.

Doesn't it depend on the tradition?

By the way, what makes Eusebius the arbiter of Papias? Eusebius was an Arian. Perhaps, the stories that Eusebius considers as being untrustworthy cut against Arianism.

Likewise, the only thing we know for certain that Eusebius considered Papias to be naive and ignorant about was "chiliasm." I'm not a chiliast, but there are modern Christians who aren't. They don't rely on Papias, so why should we discount Papias just because of his chiliasm. Here is a site that argues that chiliasm is biblically right and that Eusebius and "Romanism" are the heretics.

In other words, you are simply stealing second base when you say that Irenaeus would never have relied on Papias for anything because of Papias' chiliasm. Perhaps chiliasm was an open question in the Second Century. Perhaps Irenaeus wouldn't have agreed with Eusebius, who did come 100 years later. Perhaps, Papias' opinion was viewed by Irenaeus as wrong but not insane. You have a lot of work to do to make the point that Irenaeus must have agreed with Eusebius.

By the way, I am not in the slightest surprised or distressed that an early church father might get some doctrine "wrong." Part of the way that doctrine is established and recognized is by discussion, which requires that somebody has to take the "wrong" side. For example, Aquinas didn't believe in the Immaculate Conception, but he didn't have to since it wasn't defined as dogma during his lifetime. His position was part of the options available in his lifetime. I suspect that if he had the benefit of subsequent intellectual history, though, that he would have accepted the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, because he certainly believed that Mary was sinless throughout her entire life.

He might well have revered Papias as a shepherd of his people while recognizing his shortcomings as a theologian and a historian.

Maybe, but you are speculating.

The one thing we know with certainty, though, is that Irenaeus would have known that there was a tradition that Mark wrote "Mark" from reading Papias, even if Irenaeus never heard that tradition from anyone else, which he undoubtedly had.

We've moved far afield from your original point.

My questions therefore are:

1. Do you agree that there was a tradition that Mark wrote a gospel before Irenaeus?

2. Do you agree that Irenaeus was exposed to that tradition?

3. Are you really meaning to imply that there is any real possibility that the tradition attributing "Mark" to Mark didn't exist before Irenaeus?

Vinny said...

Of course I could resolve every unknown by assuming whatever facts necessary to harmonize it with the orthodox Christian position, but then I would be doing apologetics rather than history.

Thanks for the discussion. It's been interesting.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Vinny, you are really a piece of work. Peter didn't just "assume whatever facts" he found necessary to harmonize with orthodoxy. He provided detailed arguments and asked you some relevant questions.

You have ended your part in this dialogue (apparently) with an unfair and unhelpful ad hominem against Peter, rather than by answering Peter's eminently fair questions. (Your avoidance of his questions is telling.)

Too bad, because it was an interesting discussion.

-JSD

Vinny said...

Just to make JSD happy.

1. Do you agree that there was a tradition that Mark wrote a gospel before Irenaeus?

Yes.

2. Do you agree that Irenaeus was exposed to that tradition?

Yes, but I don’t know what Ireneaus thought of that tradition.

3. Are you really meaning to imply that there is any real possibility that the tradition attributing "Mark" to Mark didn't exist before Irenaeus?

You are once again making the transition from “Mark wrote a gospel” to “Mark wrote the gospel that is attributed to him in the New Testament.” Many (if not most) scholars think that the gospels circulated anonymously for a considerable period of time. I think there is a real possibility that the need to attribute them to specific apostolic sources did not arise prior to the time that Marcion sought to establish a heretical canon of scripture. Therefore, I think there is a real possibility that Irenaeus’ reason for attributing that particular gospel to Mark were primarily theological rather than historical.

Now here are my questions: If you think that traditions usually have something behind them, why don’t you accept the Gospel of Peter? How about the Gospel of Thomas? Are there any historical facts about Mohammed that you would accept based on Muslim tradition? Are there any historical facts you would accept about Joseph Smith based on Mormon tradition? Are the only traditions that you accept those that support orthodox Christianity.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Vinnie, thank you for making an effort to engage with some of my questions. I think JSD is right. I didn’t just make some assumptions. I pointed to facts, exposed my assumptions to the light of day and explained why I thought my assumptions and inferences were reasonable in light of human experience. I have also asked you to look at your buried assumptions – which your penultimate response, frankly, had in spades, to wit, that I was just making things up.

You wrote:

You are once again making the transition from “Mark wrote a gospel” to “Mark wrote the gospel that is attributed to him in the New Testament.”

This argument fails to interact with the data. We know that there was a tradition that Mark wrote “a” gospel. We know that Papias attributed “a” gospel to Mark. We know that Irenaeus attributed “a” gospel to Mark. We know that Papias knew Polycarp. We know that Irenaeus knew Polycarp. We know that Irenaeus had a “great devotion” to the writings of Papias and that they were in the same community. Now it is certainly possible that there were two different gospels that Papias and Irenaeus had in mind – like two identically named ships in Raffles v. Wichelhaus – but that kind of “mistake” is like drawing to an inside straight. You would have to explain how such a mistake could happen in a community where people knew each other for decades and you would have to offer some evidence for the existence of this other Mark that was a completely different text from “Mark” and not just a revision or edit. Of course, the existence of another Mark is pure speculation and there just isn’t a good explanation for how Papias and his companion Polycarp would have to different “Marks,” particularly since the purpose of “Mark” was to read it aloud in public liturgy.

I look forward to your explanation of how your thesis could be made to fit the facts.

Many (if not most) scholars think that the gospels circulated anonymously for a considerable period of time.

While I’m sure that form critics might believe that, the current trend seems to be a return to the idea that the Gospels were what they are represented to be, i.e., the works of individual, known authors. Much is made of the fact that there is no attribution of authorship within the gospel texts, but – so what? – this is true of a lot of classical works. Books would have been scrolls, and the names of the authors would have been found on a seal outside the scroll.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

continued...

Also, explain how Gospels would have been read in liturgy without any idea of authorship? How would anonymity work in that context? Were people in the early church indifferent to authorship, but – voila! – in the Second Century knowing who an author was suddenly became important?

I am going to ask that you keep in mind something that most people don’t seem to understand. These gospels were used weekly in reading aloud. They weren’t just quietly stored in a library. In the former context people would have been wrestling with the “name” issue every week.

I think there is a real possibility that the need to attribute them to specific apostolic sources did not arise prior to the time that Marcion sought to establish a heretical canon of scripture. Therefore, I think there is a real possibility that Irenaeus’ reason for attributing that particular gospel to Mark were primarily theological rather than historical.

This puts the cart before the horse. In fact, the Marcionites and Gnostics ascribed their recently-concocted pseudo-gospels to apostolic authors in order to give their writings a veneer of authority equal to that of the canonical gospels. It was this kind of tactic that led to literary criticism on the part of orthodox Christians to defend the authenticity and originality of the canonical gospels, a project that has withstood the test of time. Again read the Grant book I recommended earlier.

Now here are my questions: If you think that traditions usually have something behind them, why don’t you accept the Gospel of Peter?

Obviously, because I can account for the tradition of the Gospel of Peter. It was used in one church. It was discovered by accident by Serapion after 190 AD. If it had been written in the early church, we would have expected that it would have disseminated more widely, such as occurred with the canonical gospels. Moreover, it has a kind of Gnostic flavor to it which suggests that it was written after 150 AD. Further, it is expressly ascribed to an apostle – an important apostle – unlike the canonical gospels which we know were written at an earlier date, which we know because we find such gospels being quoted in sources earlier than the Gospel of Peter, and, by the way, the Gospel of Peter isn’t so quoted.

So, that’s why I’m skeptical about the Gospel of Peter. It’s history and form are not consistent with a gospel written in the First Century, which Serapion and every bishop recognized.

Could the Gospel of Peter be authentic? Sure. Raymond Brown thought it contained an authentic tradition going back to the First Century, but I don’t know how he accounted for the historical difficulties. He probably didn’t. It is a sad fact that a lot of modern bible scholars are suckers for novelty and really seem to have a need to find the “lost gospel.” My estimation is that Brown was one of them.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

continued...

How about the Gospel of Thomas?

The same thing for Thomas. There are clear Gnostic statements in Thomas that are inconceivable as having been uttered by a First Century Jews. Statements that tell followers to “render unto Caeser, what is Caeser’s, to God what is God’s , and to Jesus what is Jesus’s” contemplate a dichotomy between God and Jesus which fits nicely in with the Second Century Gnostic view that the Jewish God was the evil creator of the world, which just is not found in First Century Palestine.

Are there any historical facts about Mohammed that you would accept based on Muslim tradition?

See this? This is where you are blowing it. This is the kind of argument that is used for miracles, i.e., do I believe in Muslim miracles.

Sure, I think that there are historical facts about Mohammed that I accept on the Muslim tradition. In fact, here’s the reason that your insinuation is so weak – the truth is that everything we know about Mohammed comes from the Muslim tradition, either the Koran or the Hadiths. We know nothing about Mohammed that doesn’t come from Muslim tradition. If you took the same approach to Islam that you take to Christianity, you would deny the historicity of Mohammed.

This allows me to point out the hypocrisy in the position that I believe you represent. People on your side will accept virtually anything about anyone else based on “tradition” but when it comes to Christianity, suddenly all is unknowable.

Are there any historical facts you would accept about Joseph Smith based on Mormon tradition?

Yes. Are there any specific traditions you would care to discuss?

Of course, as with my assessment of Christian tradition, I would look at the context and the data available to understand and weigh my assessment of how much credibility I give to any particular testimony or tradition.


Are the only traditions that you accept those that support orthodox Christianity.

Clearly not.

I understand that the point of this last set of rhetorical questions was to play the “Christians are hypocrites” card, but the point I am making is that much of what we know about history – and about the world for that matter – comes from our knowledge of the testimony and traditions given to us. We don’t have access to primary data about most things, e.g., is light speed the absolute limit on velocity? I’m told it is. I’m told that there are experiments that prove this. I have no reason to disbelieve the people who taught me. Etc. etc.

It’s just that most people don’t realize that you know the things you know based on second hand explanations that you simply accept as being true because it never occurs to you to questions them.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

JSD,

It seems that if you do history that disagrees with orthodoxy, you are doing "history."

But when you do history that agrees with orthodoxy, you are doing "apologetics."

This would seem to assume that all real "history" must of necessity disagree with orthodoxy.

Are there any buried assumptions in that view?

Vinny said...

May I share a little anecdote regarding traditions? My mother-in-law was from Arkansas and there was a tradition in her family that her great-grandfather had been a Confederate spy in the Civil War who had been shot trying to infiltrate the Union Army. There was even a written version of the story as her great-grandmother had told it which suggested that he had been caught and shot while the Union Army was outside of Vicksburg. When he was killed, her great-grandmother was pregnant.

After my mother-in-law retired, she started working on her family genealogy and she discovered that her great-grandfather had been a farmer in Illinois who left a wife behind when he enlisted in the Union Army. She also found that he had married, impregnated and abandoned her great-grandmother in 1862 whereas the Union Army wasn’t outside Vicksburg until 1863. She eventually discovered his muster card from the Union Army which showed that he had gone AWOL after the battle of Shiloh in April, 1862, which is when he married and impregnated her great-grandmother. He then rejoined the Union Army after which he went AWOL again. There was some evidence that he might have gone out to Salt Lake City after that and married a third woman but my mother-in-law never quite pinned that down.

I’m sure my great-great-grandmother-in-law just didn’t want her son to be ashamed of the father he never knew, but the fact is that there wasn’t a lick of truth in the tradition. She told the story because she thought it would do her son some good.

I can assure you that I am equally skeptical about all traditions. Stories often get told and retold just because they are good stories that people want to believe. I don’t think traditions can ever be taken at face value. We know that the early church had problems with false authorship claims going all the way back to the first century. Even if we assume that Papias was talking about canonical Mark (which I don’t think we can), it was still as much as a half century after it was written.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Vinnie,

We may be getting close to the heart of the matter in that - perhaps based on your anecdotal experience - you think that "tradition" does mean "bullshit." But there are two "meta-concerns" that I might raise.

First, certainly you understand that your experience with family tradition is entirely different from the experience of tradition that I am talking about? What I am talking about is public knowledge held by a number of people who have divergent but nonetheless objective reasons for maintaining the information. The authorship of Mark wasn't maintained by a family in isolation from the Christian community. "Mark" gets called "Mark" throughout the Christian community - and there is zero evidence of anyone having a different name for it, unlike other apocryphal gospels. Also, there is a public need for a name since people are reading it publically every week, and calling it "this here anonymous gospel A as opposed to that there anonymous gospel B" really requires a belief in a radically different human nature than the one I'm used to.

Your anecdote, in contrast, is a private story that was not publically revealed where it could be questioned. Moreover, there was a face-saving reason we can point to with respect to some portions of your family tradition.

At which point your critique falls apart. If your bogus family tradition were analagous to the tradition that Mark wrote Mark, then the tradition wouldn't have been that Mark wrote Mark but that Peter wrote Mark.

So, your story about your family tradition being embroidered to make your family more illustrious actually supports Bock's thesis.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

The second "meta" concern I have is that I'm not clear where your "all tradition is bullshit" doctrine leaves us. Note, that it is a doctrine and not an argument or a presupposition because it seems that you are not amenable to reasoned discussion of the trustworthiness of anything that isn't written down explicitly.

But where does that leave you about anything in history? Should we consider Mohammed to have been a pious fiction invented to explain the Koran, inasmuch as everything we know about Mohammed comes from either hadiths or the Koran? What about the fact that most histories are written hundreds of years after their subject based upon oral traditions or upon earlier writings that are lost to us but which aren't per se more trustworthy because of having been written down?

Moreover, consider how much of your family's tradition was accurate. Your great-grandfather was a soldier in the Civil War, he was a Union soldier (explained in the tradition as being actually a Confederate spy in the Union army) and he did disappear during the war. Was your great-grandmother lying? Or was she basing her story on surmises for the data that she had available to her?

Moreoever, why am I supposed to learn that tradition is to be disregarded in the face of contemporaneous written evidence? Maybe the written evidence was forged or doctored? Who knows? And doesn't your family tradition provide the context for understanding the subsequently discovered written documents?

Long story short, it's all data that has to be processed by using reason and inferring the best explanation. Establishing the doctrine that "tradition is per se false" is irrational.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Finally, I note that you never really do interact with my arguments or with the uncontested data that I have offered. You have changed positions several times, until now, we have you offering a doctrinal statement that nothing is trustworthy unless it is written based upon your private experience, to which I do not have accesss.

Well, ok, but what part of your argument involves the use of reasoned argument? Obviously, you have accused me of being an apologist and inventing arguments to suit my doctrinal position, but isn't your approach more obviously subject to that criticism? Hence, where I make arguments based on practices and common human nature, you offer speculation. I support Bock's point that if the tradition that Mark wrote Mark was fabricated, then, for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, why would such a low-level functionary have been chosen? Your response - strangely - is to offer an untrustworthy fabricated story where the purpose of the story is self-aggrandizement for the family? OK, but I have to ask, don't you see that in your family's case there was self-aggrandizement, and that you have never offered any explanation about how attributing a gospel to Mark would - or could - have served a self-aggrandizing purpose inasmuch as Mark was not an apostle?

Honestly, I'm completely mystified by the logic of your arguments. I understand entirely your point that you dont' trust any statement about Christian history that supports orthodoxy, but straining at gnats while swallowing camels seems like more of an emotional position than an intellectual one.

I put some final questions to you, since you have felt free to move into thise area, do you think that Mohammed really existed? If so, why do you think that, given that there is no evidence for Mohammed outside of Muslim tradition?

Vinny said...

I don’t mean to be obstreperous, but I am not sure how different my wife’s family’s tradition is from the Marcan authorship tradition. It might be very different and it might not. I think you might agree that the authorship tradition regarding the Gospel of Peter was similar. Someone in a particular community thought it would be good for people to think that the book they were using had been written by someone who knew Jesus. So he invented or embellished or exaggerated or otherwise created a false impression. Like my great-grandmother-in-law, he probably thought that he was telling a noble fib. It is possible that what Irenaeus did with the Gospel of Mark is entirely different, but I don’t think that the evidence compels that conclusion.

At first glance, I think I have to say that Irenaeus has the same motivation to attribute the writings he favors to apostolic sources as the unknown person who attributed the apocryphal gospel to Peter. That doesn’t mean he did it. It means that the attribution can’t be taken at face value and other evidence must be considered.

The most important evidence we have is Papias. If Papias was in fact identifying Mark as the author of a specific writing that was generally known to the Christian community of his day, that would indicate that the Marcan authorship tradition is significantly different than the tradition for the authorship of the apocryphal gospel. That would be the most favorable reading of Papias for the orthodox position but it is not the only possible reading of Papias. I think the fact that we have so little of Papias’ work makes it difficult to definitively say what he was doing.

For example, we don’t know whether Papias had heard of many such writings. The passage quoted by Eusebius relates how Papias came to hear about writings attributed to Mark and Matthew, but it does not indicate whether Papias had ever seen them. Perhaps there were other passages where Papias told of how he had heard of the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Apocalypse of Thomas, and many other apocryphal writings. Maybe it was just Papias’ practice to write down everything he heard about in order to make a complete record of the early church.

Papias also doesn’t indicate what happened to Mark’s writing or whether it was still in existence during his time. Perhaps Papias wrote the story down simply to assure his readers that the traditions about Jesus that they knew actually went back to apostolic sources. Maybe he did not intend to authenticate the authorship of a book that was currently in use. Given how little we know about what Papias wrote, I think there are a number of possibilities that cannot be definitively eliminated. You have mentioned the widespread liturgical use of the gospels, but I don’t think the evidence is terribly clear regarding which ones were used where or when. I understand that Justin Martyr first applies the term “gospel” to written “memoirs of the apostles.” I’m not sure we can establish this was going on in Papias day, but I haven’t studied the matter that closely.

One thing I find interesting is that at about the time of Justin Martyr, Tatian was composing the harmonization that became the standard text in the Syrian. It has always seemed to me that this pointed towards the gospels being anonymous documents. I cannot imagine anyone trying to compose a harmonization of multiple epistles. Nor can I imagine anyone trying to harmonize the gospels or anyone accepting such a harmonization if each gospel was believed to be the work of a specific apostolic source. I can only imagine someone trying to do it if the gospels were simply considered anonymous collections of stories and teachings taken from the oral tradition.

I don’t claim to know exactly what happened, but I would argue that the orthodox position you are arguing is merely one possible interpretation of the evidence and that reasonable scholars could prefer other interpretations without being biased against Christianity.

Vinny said...

A couple years ago, I listened to The History of Ancient Rome from the Great Courses series and the professor, Garrett Fagan of Penn State, frequently acknowledged that there were stories in the traditions that historians could not corroborate. For example, historians couldn't verify the historicity of the story of Caesar's wife warning him not to go to the forum on the ides of March because of omens she had seen in a dream. It was a wonderful story, but there was no way to say whether it had actually happened. (BTW, I am not claiming that this is directly analogous to Papias, however, I suspect that if I went back and listened to the whole course again, I might be able to find something closer.)

I don't think that my doubts about the authorship of Mark are any different than the kind of doubts that historians express all the time, particularly when it comes to the ancient world. Historical narratives written for popular audience tend to suggest that historians have a lot more certainty about things. More scholarly works are more likely to acknowledge that often the best that can be done is to lay out a range of possibilities. This problem becomes more acute as one goes farther back in time.

Fagan analogized doing ancient history to looking through a keyhole at a great hall in a palace. The historian is trying to figure out what the whole room looks like based on the very tiny fraction that he can see. Of necessity, he has to allow for many possibilities.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I don’t mean to be obstreperous…

I don’t think you are being obstreperous. I think you are showing an exemplary amount of civility, but I don’t think you are actually thinking logically about the subject or that you are consistently applying your reasoning.

, but I am not sure how different my wife’s family’s tradition is from the Marcan authorship tradition. It might be very different and it might not.

This is called an "example." I happened to be reading Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics this morning. Aristotle identified a form of rhetorical argument called the “example” – which is a form of induction, albeit weaker because it relies on a single instance. The strength of the “example” is found in how close we can argue the example is to the subject under discussion. Since you raised the example of your family, you clearly thought there was some similarity, so the burden is on you to spell it out. I’ve already explained how your example favors Bock’s argument. Simply waiving your hand and saying you don’t know leaves me confused as to what you thought you were showing in the first place.

I mean this not to be insulting but to suggest how we ought to try to think about these issues from a perspective “above the trenches” of a particular issue.

I think you might agree that the authorship tradition regarding the Gospel of Peter was similar….It is possible that what Irenaeus did with the Gospel of Mark is entirely different, but I don’t think that the evidence compels that conclusion.

Here’s the problem. Under your “example”, you have someone attaching the name of an Apostle – the chief of the Apostles – to “Peter,” a gospel with no provenance prior to 190 AD. [By the way, the earliest actual fragment of “Peter” dates to the 8th or 9th Centuries.] We understand why someone with a fictitious gospel would want to attach Peter’s name to his fabrication.

The “example” breaks down because the identity of Mark is in no way analogous to that of Peter. As Bock points out – which I have affirmed several times – Mark was not a “player” in the Christian community except for his role as “second fiddle” to Peter. So, if the author of “Mark” – or the community - had the same motivation for giving “Mark” an apostolic provenance, why wouldn’t they have picked “Peter” or some other apostle? That is where your argument based on an “example” breaks down. We can explain how the two situations are not similar on their face.

I think I have to say that Irenaeus has the same motivation to attribute the writings he favors to apostolic sources as the unknown person who attributed the apocryphal gospel to Peter. That doesn’t mean he did it. It means that the attribution can’t be taken at face value and other evidence must be considered.

Why would you “have to say” that Irenaeus had the same motivation in attributing “Mark” to an apostolic source, when Mark was not an apostle. Yes, Peter was an apostle and “Mark” therefore has an apostolic source through Peter, but if the Gospel of Peter is an “example” of what people do when they are engaged in pure fictional attribution – which I think it is – then the gist of the example would have had Irenaeus ascribe “Mark” to Peter, not to a spear carrier in the backdrop.

The point is that your “example” favors Bock.Now, you can say “we just don’t know but at that point why are you even talking about the subject. For you all is skepticism to justify your pre-established belief because you are unwilling to use reason and the traditional forms of argument to arrive at something that seems more probable than other explanations.

On which point “truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to be plausible.” The attribution of “Mark” to Mark has verisimilitude because what happens in real life is that minor characters do act as the amanuensis of major players. Boswell and Johnson is an example. There are others.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Papias also doesn’t indicate what happened to Mark’s writing or whether it was still in existence during his time.

This point assumes that Papias’ “Mark” isn’t the one that we have. This is a naked assumption on your part. I would like to see some evidence or argument to support this contention.

Again, you refuse to respond to my point that Papias knew Polycarp (and others) who knew Irenaeus. So, offer an explanation how this community – which read books aloud and in common as a normative practice – would not have knows that they were referring to two different “Marks.”

I gave you’re the example of the “Peerless” case which involved two ships with the same name. The strength of that case is that it is undisclosed understandings that foster that kind of mistake. In a culture which read books aloud – there was no tradition of silent reading – the chance of people in the same community making that kind of mistake is virtually nil.

Answer that point, which is fundamental to your “mistaken identity” thesis.

Perhaps Papias wrote the story down simply to assure his readers that the traditions about Jesus that they knew actually went back to apostolic sources. Maybe he did not intend to authenticate the authorship of a book that was currently in use. Given how little we know about what Papias wrote, I think there are a number of possibilities that cannot be definitively eliminated.

Papias explained that his purpose was to collect all stories that were known by the apostles. He relied on eyewitnesses who spoke to the apostles. This is what he said he was doing. According to Richard Bauckham, this was the standard form of historiography for the period and reliance on eye-witnesses was believed to give assurance of the credibility of the story because the eyewitnesses were known and could be examined by other people.

You have mentioned the widespread liturgical use of the gospels, but I don’t think the evidence is terribly clear regarding which ones were used where or when.

There is evidence that the four canonical gospels were in general use throughout the Christian world at any early age. The first bit of evidence is that when the gospels are identified as canonical in the late 2d or early 3rd Centuries, all four gospels are so identified. This allows the inference that these gospels had spread and/or been carried by the different communities where they originated throughout the Christian community as a whole.

Second, we have other early texts that contain references to the gospels. Hence. First Clement contains passages similar to or taken out of Mark and Matthew. First Clement is usually dated to the late First Century, which then offers an independent bit of evidence to the antiquity of these gospels.

Again, hand-waiving about things not being terribly clear is not an argument.

I understand that Justin Martyr first applies the term “gospel” to written “memoirs of the apostles.” I’m not sure we can establish this was going on in Papias day.

Justin was writing just shortly after Papias. Accordint to Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses,” Justin’s practice was to refer to the “gospels” as the “memoirs of the apostles” because the term “gospel” itself was reserved for the message of salvation, but that in the middle of the Second Century, Justin used the term “memoir” individually only once in identifying a story from the Gospel of Mark as Peter’s “memoir.”

So, we have evidence that of what we should find in “Peter’s memoir” and we have evidence that Mark was the author of “Peter’s memoirs” and we actually have a gospel of Mark that has the story in question. So, at this point, why doesn’t Occam’s razor work? Why do you have to assume the existence of other entities – gospels that have never been found or identified – when Occam’s razor would suggest that the best explanation is that there is only one text.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

One thing I find interesting is that at about the time of Justin Martyr, Tatian was composing the harmonization that became the standard text in the Syrian.

Tatian was Justin’s student. If Justin knew or believed that one of the memoirs was sourced from Peter, Tatian knew the same thing. Further, it is clear that the Diatesseron was compiled from the four gospels we know, which attests to their provenance and universality at an early stage, which is consistent with the tradition ascribing the gospels to the apostolic or sub-apostolic era.

It has always seemed to me that this pointed towards the gospels being anonymous documents.

Why? This needs an argument.

In fact, what it points to is the desire of Tatian to eliminate the apparent inconsistencies in the different gospel accounts. The Muslims engaged in the same strategy much more successfully with respect to the Koran, even going to the point of destroying variant versions of the Koran, which they could certainly trace to particular witneses, in light of their ability to trace hadiths. I am assuming that you know what I’m talking about. If not, tell me. The point of this “example” is that knowledge of testamentary identity does not seem to inhibit harmonization.

I cannot imagine anyone trying to compose a harmonization of multiple epistles.

But everyone at that time knew that they were multiple gospels. That is why it was a harmonization – there were multiple gospels that were being harmonized.

People attempt to do the same thing today by offering explanations for the apparent inconsistencies in the gospels, and they know that they are written from different authors to different communities.

Nor can I imagine anyone trying to harmonize the gospels or anyone accepting such a harmonization if each gospel was believed to be the work of a specific apostolic source. I can only imagine someone trying to do it if the gospels were simply considered anonymous collections of stories and teachings taken from the oral tradition.

This is your belief, and it may seem facially tenable as an initial hypothesis. The problem is that it washes up against the hard fact that Justin described one “gospel” as “his,” i.e., Peter’s, “memoir,” which means that there was a recognition that the “memoirs” had apostolic sourcing, and Tatian was Justin’s student, which suggests that your view of human nature is probably wrong, and that my “example” from the Muslim’s harmonization of the Koran is more likely right.

Also, your theory is inconsistent with the fact that Papias – prior to Tatian – was casually passing on the stories he was getting from the eyewitnesses of the apostles that the gospels were sourced to the apostles. In fact, Justin’s offhand comment about “his memoir,” i.e., Peter’s memoir, is entirely consistent with idea that the gospels were sourced to the apostles, which is what both Papias and Irenaeus were saying.

I don’t claim to know exactly what happened, but I would argue that the orthodox position you are arguing is merely one possible interpretation of the evidence and that reasonable scholars could prefer other interpretations without being biased against Christianity.

I don’t claim to know “exactly” what happened, but there is enough data out there to make a belief that the gospels were anonymous until – hey, presto! – Irenaeus gave them identities in the late 2d Century is too incredible to believe. That view cuts ascribes a level of unimaginative, incurious credulity to people that (a) may be gratifying to atheist stereotypes, but is not found outside of such stereotypes and (b) requires a whole bunch of special pleading about the language of each text that we do have to make the argument work.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

, historians couldn't verify the historicity of the story of Caesar's wife warning him not to go to the forum on the ides of March because of omens she had seen in a dream. It was a wonderful story, but there was no way to say whether it had actually happened.

So, do the historians say it didn’t happen?

I doubt it.

I’d say that it is unlikely. It sounds like a wonderful way of building dramatic tension through foreshadowing, but is something false because it happens to be truthfully dramatic? Not necessarily.

It could well have been the case that Caeser’s wife had put together all of the vagrant data points available to her and had a “bad feeling.” One of the great truths of life is that “there are no secrets.” Conspiracies are never really secret. If you listen to the Learning Company’s lecture series on “Critical Decisionmaking,” you will hear a lecture on how “intuitions” are often right because they are based on data processed through experience that we can’t really articulate until after the fact.

Or maybe the Caeser’s wife story was really meant to convey the sense that a lot of people had that foreboding and ignored it when they should have listened to it. So, even if it wasn’t true in an empirical sense, it may be true in conveying something that really happened.

Who knows? Until we have good reason to think that it was an invention tacked on by someone far removed from the historical event, I think that we have to toss it out there as data, but we place whatever weight we think the data supports, which is, most likely, not much.

Historical narratives written for popular audience tend to suggest that historians have a lot more certainty about things.

But some historical narrative – particularly modern ones about Christianity – want to stress the role of ignorance more than the data warrants. I don’t think that the idea of gospels circulating anonymously until the late 2d Century is credible in the slightest. Even if the provenance of the gospels were invented, human nature being what it is, the invention wouldn’t have taken over a century. Further, it takes a great deal of ideological skepticism to ignore Papias and Justin who attest to a conventional understanding of the sources of the gospels in the early to mid-century. That doesn’t mean that the gospels were anonymous until then. What those sources attest to is the existence of an even earlier tradition that the gospels were not anonymous.

Fagan analogized doing ancient history to looking through a keyhole at a great hall in a palace. The historian is trying to figure out what the whole room looks like based on the very tiny fraction that he can see. Of necessity, he has to allow for many possibilities.

All too true of course. But what I find interesting is the strategic placement of this skepticism. It is played against Christianity, but not elsewhere. Again, I ask you doubt the historicity of Mohammed? If not, why not? We have better evidence for the existence of Christ, than we do for Mohammed.

ELC said...

May I share a little anecdote regarding traditions?... I feel like I have been led down a blind alley and hit over the head with a red herring by somebody grasping at straws with his other hand.

Vinny said...

When I wrote that “Papias also doesn’t indicate what happened to Mark’s writing or whether it was still in existence during his time,” I was not assuming anything about whether Papias’ “Mark” is the one we have. I was simply noting a fact that you can see by reading the passage yourself:

And the presbyter said this: Mark the interpreter of Peter, wrote down exactly, but not in order, what he remembered of the acts and sayings of the Lord, for he neither heard the Lord himself nor accompanied him, but, as I said, Peter later on. Peter adapted his teachings to the needs [of his hearers], but made no attempt to provide a connected narrative of things related to our Lord. So Mark made no mistake in setting down some things as he remembered them, for he took care not to omit anything he heard nor to include anything false. As for Matthew, he made a collection in Hebrew of the sayings and each translated them as best they could.

Read it for yourself. Papias doesn’t indicate whether he has ever seen that writing, whether he knows what happened to it, whether it is still in existence, where it might be found if it is, or how it was ever used. He simply reports a story he heard about something Mark did. You may wish to assume that everyone was familiar with this book because it was regularly used in liturgy and that Papias told Polycarp who told Irenaeus, but you are reading things into Papias that are not there.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Vinnie,

You are passively-aggressively asserting that there is a question as to whether Papias read “Mark.” Your argument, such as it is, runs as follows:

1. Papias doesn’t explicitly say that he read or saw “Mark” in the extract we have preserved in Eusebius.

2. Papias talks about what the “presbyter” said about how Mark wrote “Mark”

3. Therefore, assuming that Papias was familiar with “Mark” is unwarranted speculation.

When I lay it out in that way, I hope that you can see that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

Papias wasn’t writing a treatise on “Mark.” He was explaining the origin of “Mark.” Eusebius preserved this fragment of Papias because it explains the origin of “Mark.”

What your analysis misses is that the only reason that anyone would care about the origin of “Mark” – the only reason that Papias would care about who wrote “Mark” - is if he knew “Mark” and “Mark” was important enough to wonder about it sourcing with the apostles.

I have consistently said – and you have never clearly denied – that people in the past were amazingly like us. The wondered about things. They wanted to know where things came from. Of course, they were only interested in those things that they knew. [I take it you will agree that know one is curious about something they don't know anything about.] We have no evidence that Papias collected – or Eusebius preserved – stories about the Protoevangelium of James or the Gospel of Barnabas because those weren’t as important to the Christian community at the time – or known to that community – at either the time of Eusebius (definitely) or at the time of Papias (potentially). The only reason we have the origination story of “Mark”, in other words, is because it was important enough for Papias and Eusebius to collect the story, and the only way it could have been important is if it was known, which means that it would have been available to Papias.

Now, if you have a reasonable and logical explanation as to why Papias would have collected a story about some text that he never bothered to read and which was not important to the Christian community, lay it out there. But trying to restrict the language of the fragment we have to its “four corners” is absurd. You are simply projecting your own limited knowledge back into time. Papias wasn’t limited to what he wrote. He was a human being living in a community, a community that – as I’ve demonstrated – was marvelously interconnected. He was not a character in a book. All things being equal, as a human being he actually would have cared about something he gave his life to and would have asked questions – which is the entire point of why he was collecting these stories. For you to say that he would have spoken to the “presbyter” about “Mark” but would never have said, “hey, can I have a copy of this memoir of the Christ” is absurd on its face, particularly since we know that people transmitted texts that way and used the texts in public liturgy and since we know that Papias was curious about stories about Christ.

But if you think otherwise, give me an argument supported by some evidence to the contrary.

Let me contextualize my point a bit. Are you a “birther.” You ought to be a birther, because you have never seen Obama’s birth certificate. You should be demanding an investigation into why we have elected a foreigner as president. Sure, we have a birth announcement in the Honolulu paper for Obama, but that isn’t a birth certificate. Also, the birth announcement doesn’t mention a birth certificate and doesn’t expressly say that Obama was born in the United States, albeit it implies that he was.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Continued...

My point is that if we take your standards, and eliminate our natural knowledge of context, you can make some really absurd but logical arguments, and you would sound like a nutcase, because we know (a) that a birth announcements are generally truthful when it says where a person was born and (b) we have good reason from our experience with human nature to think it unlikely that a middle class family was scheming so as to allow their newborn child to be elected president 40+ years later.

You also never account for the phenomenon of “continuity.” We know that public liturgy and the identification of the gospels were in existence throughout the Christian community by the middle of the Second Century. These practices were either in place from the beginning and maintained as a deposit of tradition as the smaller group grew into a larger group, or they developed later and were disseminated throughout the larger Christian community.

Given the universality of these traditions, and the absence of any record of disputes over these traditions, the most likely explanation is that they were part of a common tradition that was preserved over time. We have examples of disputes about tradition – the dating of Easter, for example – so that if “Mark” suddenly emerged out of the woodwork in the late Second Century, someone would have said “we do not know this,” which you will recall is exactly what happened with the “Gospel of Peter”!

So, if you think that these are later developments, you need to offer a model for why these later developments became universal. You are debarred, however, from arguing that the reason was stupidity, gullibility or the desire to forge a tradition back to the apostles since we affirmatively know at least one case where the Christian community rejected a gospel, i.e., the Gospel of Peter, that would have fallen within that explanation. The logical point - pace Aristotle - is that if you are going to use inductive logic, a single counter-example nullifies the inductive argument.

As long as we are talking “meta” issues, I am still interested in how you distinguish your acceptance of any biographical claims about Mohammed from this issue. Also, if you aren’t a birther, please explain why you are not.

Vinny said...

2. Papias talks about what the “presbyter” said about how Mark wrote “Mark.”

This is not my premise and it is false. Papias says that the “presbyter” told him about something Mark had written.

What your analysis misses is that the only reason that anyone would care about the origin of “Mark” – the only reason that Papias would care about who wrote “Mark” - is if he knew “Mark” and “Mark” was important enough to wonder about it sourcing with the apostles.

I think this is just silly. That people close to the apostles wrote things down would be important for the church to know regardless of whether those writings existed or not. Suppose Mark’s writing had been seized and destroyed in one of the persecutions. Wouldn’t Papias still want to record the story in order that the church would know that Peter’s followers had sought to preserve his teachings and to show that even the oral traditions went back to the apostles?

I agree that people in the past were similar to people today. They often accept uncritically those things that they wish to believe. For example you accept William Lane Craig’s assessment of Bart Ehrman. Are you aware that Craig has said that even if he found the weight of the evidence going against his faith that he would continue to believe because the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart would trump the empirical data? Wouldn’t you rather go with the scholar who at least professes that it is the objective evidence that matters?

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I wrote: “2. Papias talks about what the “presbyter” said about how Mark wrote “Mark.”

Vinnie wrote: “This is not my premise and it is false. Papias says that the “presbyter” told him about something Mark had written.”

Papias wrote:And the presbyter said this: Mark the interpreter of Peter, wrote down exactly, but not in order, what he remembered of the acts and sayings of the Lord, for he neither heard the Lord himself nor accompanied him, but, as I said, Peter later on. Peter adapted his teachings to the needs [of his hearers], but made no attempt to provide a connected narrative of things related to our Lord. So Mark made no mistake in setting down some things as he remembered them, for he took care not to omit anything he heard nor to include anything false.

Papias is clearly saying more than that something by Mark was written. Papias is (a) attributing his source of information to an eye-witness, i.e. the “presbyter”; (b) describing how Mark had access to information about the acts and sayings of the Lord, i.e., not personally but through Peter, and (c) describing how Mark wrote down Peter’s stories, not “in order”, i.e., chronologically (See Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”), but accurately.

In other words, Papias’ point is to explain how Mark can give accurate testimony because Mark is sourced from Peter’s eyewitness testimony.

So, Papias relates what the presbyter told him about how “Mark” was written, because he wants to preserve for his readers the basis on which they can believe that “Mark” is trustworthy. What Papias was doing was typical of the ancient approach to vouching for historical information. (See Bauckham.)

Vinnie’s explanation that all Papias was doing was providing information that Mark wrote a gospel is wrong because (a) it doesn’t understand the historiographic tradition of vouching for the written word by reference to the living testimony and (b) it doesn’t account for why Papias goes into all the detail about how Mark wrote his “memoir” if Papias’ only point was to say that Mark wrote a memoir. Incidentally, another problem in Vinnie’s account is that he is retrojecting the modern preference for the written word over the spoken word into the past. In fact, the ancient tradition was that the spoken word – the living word of eyewitnesses – was preferred to the written word simply because the eyewitness could be examined about what they claimed. (See Bauckham.)
So, if Vinnie wants to make his argument, he needs to account for all the detail that Papias provides about how the presbyter is an witness and Mark is a witness and Peter was a witness.

Finally, why spend such time vouching for the trustworthiness of “Mark” if it isn’t around? Spending time vouching for the accuracy of a text that no one cares about because no one has seen it is something that, all things being equal, people don’t do. If Vinnie thinks that “all things” are not equal, he needs to provide a persuasive explanation that accounts for all the other facts, such as the acceptance of "Mark" by the the Christian community as “Mark” as “Mark,” rather than speculating about “lost Mark” for which there is no evidence outside of a speculation designed to support a strained reading of a text.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Vinnie wrote: Suppose Mark’s writing had been seized and destroyed in one of the persecutions.
Suppose that the writings were seized? Do we have any evidence for that in light of people – you know – actually quoting or using “Mark” throughout the length and breadth of the Christian community from the early First to the late Second Centuries and calling it – you know – “Mark” or “Peter’s memoir” or “Mark wrote down Peter’s memoirs.”

Evidence, please.

Vinnie wrote: Wouldn’t Papias still want to record the story in order that the church would know that Peter’s followers had sought to preserve his teachings and to show that even the oral traditions went back to the apostles?

Yes, exactly!!!! That’s been my point all along. The Christian community wanted to vouch for the traditions it believed in. That is why they weren’t going to accept bullshit later inventions that came out of nowhere. If there were such bullshit later inventions, people would have said, “I’ve never heard that” just like Serapion did with the Gospel of Peter!!!!

Likewise, Vinnie’s explanation is why Papias was collecting his testimony about why “Mark” was trustworthy. This is what I’ve said all along.

But for Vinnie to say that Papias cared enough to collect stories vouching for “Mark” but wouldn’t have cared to see if his “Mark” was the same “Mark” as that used throughout the Christian community is self-contradictory.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Vinnie wrote: I agree that people in the past were similar to people today. They often accept uncritically those things that they wish to believe.

Vinnie forgot to add, “and I thank God that I am like other men.”

Yet, notice how when pressed Vinnie has to accept that people in the past were concerned about whether the data they had was trustworthy. The evidence is found in Papias’ collection of information about “Mark.” It is also found in the rejection of the “Gospel of Peter.” So those are counter-examples that intrude on Vinnie’s smug “everyone who doesn’t agree with me is an uncritical yokel” argument.

Since Vinnie is willing – again – toss out a snide statement about “wish to believe” concerning others, let me point out that in this discussion, all of Vinnie’s arguments are unsupported by data, or are negative by data, and lack any kind of persuasive appeal once we stop assuming that the people involved were dupes. To me that reads like Vinnie believes what Vinnie wishes to believe.

For example you accept William Lane Craig’s assessment of Bart Ehrman. Are you aware that Craig has said that even if he found the weight of the evidence going against his faith that he would continue to believe because the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart would trump the empirical data? Wouldn’t you rather go with the scholar who at least professes that it is the objective evidence that matters?

Notice this shift of argument and poisoning the well tactic. Because I agree with Craig’s assessment of Ehrman, I must accept his other positions? Alternatively, if I disagree with those positions, then I must also reject Craig’s assessment of Ehrman?

How is this logical in the slightest?

It’s not. Perhaps I made my own assessment of Ehrman and thought that Craig had a particularly effective way of phrasing that assessment. Perhaps, I respect the fact that Craig debates, and in his debate shows an ability for incisive thinking. But I don’t have to endorse Craig on everything, which obviously I don’t.

Likewise, Vinnie assumes that Erhman – I guess – is a scholar that “goes with the evidence.” I don’t think he does. That’s the point of pointing out how Ehrman ignores inconvenient evidence and spins the evidence he permits against reason. Ehrman’s “I don’t get why you keep bringing up Paul” strategy was a particularly pathetic point. Ehrman was either intentionally dishonest, or he is so wedded to his world-view that his world-view doesn’t let him see the blinking obvious.

Likewise, when Vinnie contorts himself in the face of the evidence to claim that “Mark” was either anonymous or that Papias was referring to a different “Mark” with the same name or that there was no “Mark”, all of which are inconsistent positions, I have to believe that we don’t have someone “objectively going with the evidence” but someone with a vested interest in making the evidence fit the position.

Vinny said...

Suppose that the writings were seized? Do we have any evidence for that in light of people – you know – actually quoting or using “Mark” throughout the length and breadth of the Christian community from the early First to the late Second Centuries and calling it – you know – “Mark” or “Peter’s memoir” or “Mark wrote down Peter’s memoirs.”

Evidence, please.


I don’t need to give you any evidence on this because I was merely answering your claim that the only possible reason for Papias relating the story of Mark’s writing is that he was familiar with the writing itself. When someone makes an “only possible reason” claim, it is only necessary to show that other plausible reasons exist, not to provide proof of another plausible reason.

It seems to me that apologists love these “only possible reason” arguments while historians are more circumspect. Historians usually talk about the best or most likely explanation for something, but going back to the keyhole analogy, they know that they are only looking at a small part of the room and that there could be all sorts of things in other parts of the room at which they cannot begin to guess. Apologists, on the other hand, have no qualms about making categorical statements about the only possible reason for what we observe being the truth of the orthodox Christian position.

BTW, I wouldn’t expect you to agree with absolutely everything that Craig writes, however, if you are going to cite his opinion of Ehrman’s scholarship, I would assume that you believe that Craig’s assessment of scholarly integrity in general is worthy of respect. I don’t assume that Ehrman always “goes with the evidence,” but I have found him to be reliable. I have not found Craig so reliable and he admits that he wouldn’t go with the evidence if it contradicted his subjective spiritual experience. I was quite impressed with the one scholarly book I read by Bock, although I don’t think his criticism of Ehrman is well-founded. Bauckham on the other hand did not impress me at all.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I don’t need to give you any evidence on this because I was merely answering your claim that the only possible reason for Papias relating the story of Mark’s writing is that he was familiar with the writing itself. When someone makes an “only possible reason” claim, it is only necessary to show that other plausible reasons exist, not to provide proof of another plausible reason.

A plausible theory is one that is supported by and explains the available evidence. You could have posited an alien invasion followed by a mind-wipe and I would have said “Evidence, please.”

Positing that the “original Mark” was lost is not plausible in light of the fact that people were quoting from “Mark” before and after Papias, and one of those people – Justin – identifies that Mark as “His memoir”, i.e., Peter’s memoirs, and another – Papias – explains the historical provenance of “Peter’s memoirs” through Mark. That’s the data. You haven’t touched the data except to construe it in such a way that each of these data points stand alone and point at different objects for no reason than that “it could have been that way.”

So, no, your explanation isn’t “plausible” in light of the data. If you have something other than construing the meaning of language of Papias and Justin and Irenaeus in such a way that it doesn’t fit the data and then creating a fact that has no support whatsoever, then share it. Otherwise, you were obviously projecting when you accused me of “creating facts to fit the theory.”

It seems to me that apologists love these “only possible reason” arguments while historians are more circumspect. Historians usually talk about the best or most likely explanation for something, but going back to the keyhole analogy, they know that they are only looking at a small part of the room and that there could be all sorts of things in other parts of the room at which they cannot begin to guess.

Historians begin that way and then start creating grand tapestries of how things must have been. Ehrman is a classic example with his “telephone game” approach to history. He thinks that Christianity advanced along the models of his experience with Evangelical Christianity circa 1970 rather than as a school of philosophy akin to Stoicism or Pharisaism, which is the model that First Century Christians would have been familiar with, since they weren’t 1970s Evangelical Christians.

So, no, having listened to and read to many historians who start with their keyhole approach and then pile up supposition on supposition, I’m not impressed with the bow to “keyholes” and “lack of certainty.” Ehrman communicates his absolutely certainty about his position and there is nothing wrong with doing that if that is what he believes.

Apologists, on the other hand, have no qualms about making categorical statements about the only possible reason for what we observe being the truth of the orthodox Christian position.

This is just more self-congratulation on your part. What you call “apologists,” I may call open-minded thinkers and vice versa. Actually , I don’t know because you don’t tell me who you are talking about.

Nonetheless, throughout our discussion you constantly mistaken “being open to the evidence” with “reaching the conclusion that Vinnie agrees with.” Being open to the evidence doesn’t mean holding a particular opinion, it means being able to articulate a reasoned, plausible explanation that doesn’t contradict the available data.

Finally, I am curious about your answers to my questions regarding our knowledge of Mohammed and Obama’s birth certificate. Do you hold those issues up to the same level of plausibility, that you hold this issue up to?

Peter Sean Bradley said...

BTW, I wouldn’t expect you to agree with absolutely everything that Craig writes, however, if you are going to cite his opinion of Ehrman’s scholarship, I would assume that you believe that Craig’s assessment of scholarly integrity in general is worthy of respect.

I hold Craig’s integrity in debate to be much higher than Erhman’s. Craig tells up front that he holds opinions. He doesn’t try to ingratiate himself with the audience by claiming that he was “one of them until he started thinking about the subject.” Craig treats his audience as if they are capable of understanding an argument supported by data, rather than Ehrman who constantly appeals to his special expertise within the cult of historians such that “history is only that which historians agree on.” Craig actually understands what his opponents are saying, as opposed to Ehrman who constantly feigns ignorance – or is actually ignorant of – things he ought to know before he offers an opinion. Ehrman constantly misrepresents or distorts data, such as mass appearances being tantamount to individual appearances to the grieving.

I debated. I’m a lawyer. I can assure you that Erhman is a “bad” i.e., untrustworthy debater.

I don’t assume that Ehrman always “goes with the evidence,” but I have found him to be reliable.

So, you would agree that the resurrection appearance to Paul falls within Ehrman’s model about individual appearances to grieving friends and family?

You think that the mass appearances of say Mary are explained in the same way as we can explain how individual widows and widowers claim to have seen their lost loved ones?

Ehrman implied that all of those things were equivalent in one debate, and it wasn’t until a second debate with Mike Licona that we found out that Ehrman was absolutely bullshitting in the first debate. Ehrman did what a lot of bad debaters and lawyers do – lie and see if they can get away with it. That may work at the time, but it means that they forfeit their right to claim intellectual integrity forever once they caught.

I have not found Craig so reliable and he admits that he wouldn’t go with the evidence if it contradicted his subjective spiritual experience.

Terrific. I haven’t held a brief for Craig in this discussion. Except I have no idea what you think you are claiming. Craig is uncommonly conservative in the factual claims he makes.

If you have an example of him trying to pull the wool over his audiences eyes, give me the example and a citation so I can verify it for myself.

I was quite impressed with the one scholarly book I read by Bock, although I don’t think his criticism of Ehrman is well-founded. Bauckham on the other hand did not impress me at all.

I assume that this means that you have read “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”? Or are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes by implying that you have. After all, if we hold this statement to the same level of scrutiny that you hold Papias to, I should be able to say that your failure to actually say that you actually have read Bauckham's specific book that I have referred to is evidence that you have not. [And, for the record, I suspect you haven't because there is every reason for you to make claim to familiarity here and I have experience with that tactic in other situations (which I offer as an example of how we reason from experience.)]

If you had read that book, then how did you miss the various points that I’ve raised? How come you haven’t discussed Papias as falling within the ancient historiographic tradition?

Also the issue here isn’t whether you were “impressed” with Bauckham, but, rather, is Bauckham wrong when he discusses the historiographic tradition and other issues?

Vinny said...

I think I would trust a lawyer's assertion that Ehrman is a bad debater about as much as I would trust Craig's assertions that he is a bad scholar.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Ah, yes, the case-clinching gibe against attorneys. That is most definitely the clearest evidence of a devotion to logic and reason that can be mustered.

Let's deconstruct Vinnie's statement.

1. I didn't merely assert my case against Ehrman. I gave examples and a location to verify my claim - i.e., Ehrman's debates with Licona.

One thing that the practice of law does train is the importance of being able to support arguments with facts and facts with citations to the record. It's what we do. It is what I have done repeatedly throughout this discussion. It is what Vinnie has failed to do.

So, a stereotypical gibe against attorneys misses the strengths that attorneys have in argumentation, a strength that is sharpened by the adversarial system.

2. Vinnie doesn't support his gibe dismissing my fact-based argument with facts or arguments of his own. We get simply a waive of the hand as if that was sufficiently persuasive. In other words, if we assume with Vinnie that lawyers are - what? deceitful, dishonest? - then we reach Vinnie's conclusions.

But hasn't Vinnie's buried criticism along been that this kind of assumption is wrong? How does he justify it here? He doesn't.

3. How is the analogy from lawyers to Craig valid? There is simply no explanation.

4. I asked Vinnie to provide examples and sources that would prove his complaint against Craig. He didn't. If he had, I could have weighed his claim instead of taking it on faith in Vinnie alone. I would, in fact, have been very interested in seeing that Craig was as untrustworthy a debater - in the sense of making factual assertions he ought to know are wrong - as Ehrman. But we get nothing.

5. Again, objective, rational thought is not a particular conclusion. It is a form of transparent reasoning in which biases are admitted, arguments are exposed and data is shared. We get nothing on this point from Vinnie.

What we get is Vinnie's stereotype of the believer clinging on to a belief by his fingernails in the face of overwhelming data and arguement to the contrary, and, then, dismissing the argument with an ad hominem.

How does this differ from Vinnie's claim for why he distrusts William Lane Craig? It doesn't.

Finally, I am still curious whether Vinnie is honest to his principles and is a "Birther" and/or believes that we can know nothing about Mohammed. But I suspect we never will know the answers to those questions because, in my experience, when we get to the "you're a liar because you're a lawyer" stage, it's all over.

I have found the discussion interesting. My purpose in this last comment is to expose the obvious ideological commitments that have been lurking in the background throughout this discussion. My ideological commitments have always been open - and Vinnie has taken "shots" at them - but he has been less willing to acknowledge his own. My hope is that he will acknowledge his ideological commitment and take a fresh, open-minded look at the data.

Vinny said...

I graduated 8th out of 225 in my law school class. Where did you finish in yours?

I no longer practice law for a living, but I still know the difference between tactics and substance. The only thing you have proved is that you have a lot of time on your hands.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

So, now we're going into full ad hominem mode?

Your snide attempt to "poison the well" with respect to my arguments, through an irrelevant ad hominem attack on lawyers as lawyers, was not worthy of anyone who has ever practiced law. If you actually practiced law, then you must have experienced that "we don't have to listen to you because you are using those lawyer mind-control tricks" things.

You have repeatedly patted yourself on the back for siding with people who are "open to the arguments" but time and time again I have asked you to apply your principles to analagous situations, which you refuse to do. I have also asked you to provide factual support for your claims. You have refused to do that. I have pointed out the flaws in your logic and principles and you have refused to respond.

Terrific. You are allowed your beliefs, but let's not pretend that they are somehow the product of an open minded willingness to follow the argument.

Do I have a lot of time? Hardly. While I've been corresponding with you, I've been raising three daughters by myself, cranking out meet and confer letters, writing a brief against a TRO and other things. I do make time to read and think about issues. I wasn't joking about reading Aquinas Commentary - which I was reading while waiting to take one daughter home from ice skating. Undoubtedly because of my practice with writing, I can turn out three times the amount of "product" than someone who doesn't have my job could do in the same amount of time, but how is my skill something that supports your position? Unless you're saying it's somehow unfair and you deserve a handicap?

Further, insofar as your posts forced me to think and reflect about - and look up and read - subjects and texts that I needed to examine, I count it as all gain and do not begrudge a second of it.

I am very pleased that you finished so high in your law school class. Since we are sharing, let me ask you: What law school was it? Did you take and pass the bar? What did you practice and for how long?

For my part I was just outside the upper 10% of my class at UCLA Law School - so anywhere from 31 to 60 out of a class of 300, but UCLA didn't keep track of class standings. I have been practicing law since 1983.

Also, are you willing to answer my questions about where you stand on Mohammed and the "Birthers"?

And while we're at it, where does Craig make factual misrepresentations like Ehrman?

Also, have actually read Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses"?

Vinny said...

I understand the tactic where you raise six issues for every one that I address. That way, if I don't take the time to address every issue you raise, you can keep hammering on the points that I choose not to address in order to create the impression that I am being evasive. Then we never get around to addressing the question of what it was that Papias actually claimed to know about the document he heard that Mark wrote and the extent to which what Papias actually wrote actually supports Ireneaus.

Anonymous said...

Vinnie,
Both you and Peter know a lot more about these issues than I do. I am impressed with both of you, your knowledge of these ancient sources, and of the issues involved. I mean that sincerely. That's why I keep checking in here; I am learning a lot from you guys.

Having said that, I am disappointed that you went off the rails with your last ad hominem, and with your continued pretension to be doing "history" while Peter is doing something less noble: mere "apologetics." Your implication that there is something wrong with Peter's arguments because he is a lawyer is another low blow, one unworthy of you. You became desperate, and it was obvious.

Now as far as I can tell, in terms of pure historical reasoning--historian vs. historian--Peter's arguments have bested yours on these matters, and by a long shot. You have also been exposed as pretending to know more than you do, and as pretending to a level of objectivity that you think superior to Peter's. It seems obvious to me, though, that you are the one "defending a thesis at all costs" (to borrow Aristotle's phrase).

You have also been, as lawyers like to say, "non-responsive" to several of Peter's points and questions, which is revealing.

Again, I say this to you with all due respect: admittedly, you know more about these historical issues than I do. But why not admit (at least to yourself) that you had your ass handed to you here--several times--and take it like a man?

Don't be too embarrassed; it's part of being rational and honest to admit it when we come out wrong, and to move on, all the wiser. It's happened to me many times.

-JSD

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I understand the tactic where you raise six issues for every one that I address. That way, if I don't take the time to address every issue you raise, you can keep hammering on the points that I choose not to address in order to create the impression that I am being evasive.

Readers, please note that it has been Vinny who brought in the extraneous issues. For example, Vinny offered his family history to show that "tradition" are inherently fictitious, and Vinny asked me if I accepted traditions of different religious faiths as having a historical basis, in a transparent attempt to catch me out as a hypocrite, and Vinny brought up the idea that the Mark of Irenaeus was a completely different Mark, and Vinny who brought up lawyers as not being trustworthy, and Vinny who brought up his class standing, and Vinny who brought William Lane Craig's dishonesty into the discussion, etc.

I have responded to his claims, usually in detail. I have also asked him to justify these new extraneous claims with some kind of logic and empirical data.

Now, the claim is that I have been "spreading" my arguments to prevent him from answering?

I am still curious if Vinny distrusts all traditions - such as the traditions by which we know anything about Mohammed, of if is critical scrutiny is limited to skepticism about Christian history? I think that's fair since he intoduced that question into the discussion to try to paint me as being inconsistent in my standards.

Also, since Vinny has implied that William Lane Craig has made factual statements designed to mislead his audience, I'd like the supporting data for that implication. Because if it is true, it is worth knowing.


Then we never get around to addressing the question of what it was that Papias actually claimed to know about the document he heard that Mark wrote and the extent to which what Papias actually wrote actually supports Ireneaus.

I think that we have, in detail. What I haven't heard is any empirical evidence from Vinny to question the evidence I've pointed to. What I've heard from Vinny is speculation that invents multiple hypothetical texts, which is hardly persuasive in light of the heuristic device of Occam's Razor, something that atheists typically swear eternal allegiance to.

Vinny said...

Vinny offered his family history to show that "tradition" are inherently fictitious . . . .

This absolutely untrue. I make no claims that tradition is inherently fictitious. I assert that traditions are often driven by reasons that have little to do with accurately transmitting historical facts and that tradition alone is not a sound basis for believing a thing to be true. I think I have acknowledged that I am skeptical of all traditions. I have not examined the traditions regarding Mohammed much, however, it would not surprise me if the vast majority of them were no more reliable than the American tradition that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and said to his father “I cannot tell a lie.”

I have yet to see you cite any empirical evidence that Papias had access to the document he mentions being written by Mark, that he knew it was being used liturgically at the time he wrote, that he knew it was extant, or that the document he described was the same one that Irenaeus subsequently attributed to Mark. You simply believe these things because it supports the orthodox position. You keep referring to Irenaeus knowing Polycarp who knew Papias but this is simply begging the question until you first establish that Papias knew canonical Mark.

BTW, there is nothing hypothetical about the existence of multiple texts. The author of Luke says that “[m]any have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us.” Of course, he doesn’t identify any of the many nor does he identify himself. Assuming that Luke meant many and not just “Mark” and “Matthew,” then it is reasonable to assume that many texts that were in existence at the time Luke wrote have been lost. That is of course unless the many consisted of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and other apocryphal works.

Now, the claim is that I have been "spreading" my arguments to prevent him from answering?

This is also untrue. I don’t claim that you are spreading your arguments to prevent me from arguing. I admit that I am free to argue every point ad nauseum. I claim you are spreading your arguments so that you can portray me as evasive by coming back to points I choose not to address, e.g., the birthers. It is a standard debating tactic which Craig uses to great effect.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Vinny,

Take a step back here. The gist of my last point was that it was inconsistent for you to complain about the introduction of “distracting” issues when you have been the one introducing those issues into the discussion. I listed some of the issues that you had introduced.

Your response is not to deny the gist of my claim but to take issue with how I formulated the thrust of the topic that you introduced – and then dropped. I have to ask, how does your response deal with my point, which is that you do not have good grounds to complain about my inundating you with “off topic” points when you have been the one engaging in the tactic?

Now, I’m sure that you will view this question as an example of my “dwelling” on an “off topic” point but you raised the subject as an attack on me, so I responded, and my custom is not to let people get away with such “hit and runs” because my hope is that by exposing the tactic, we can drop this kind of illogical distraction from discussion.
Now, I have no particular interest in getting into a discussion about what you meant when you offered the example of your family history, but since you raised the issue let me point to the illogic of this statement:

I make no claims that tradition is inherently fictitious. I assert that traditions are often driven by reasons that have little to do with accurately transmitting historical facts and that tradition alone is not a sound basis for believing a thing to be true.

So you are not claiming that tradition is inherently fictitious? But you admit that you are asserting that “traditions are often driven by reasons that have little to do with accurately transmitting historical facts.” So, excuse me for pointing out that you are saying that traditions are untrustworthy sufficiently often that you don’t deem them trustworthy without corroboration because of a dynamic within the structure of traditions – i.e., they are not inherently intended to communicate historical truth. This is different from describing your position as saying that traditions are “inherently” – i.e., “driven” by reasons other than historical accuracy – “fiction” – i.e., sufficiently untrustworthy because not historically accurate – in what material way?

You also write:

I think I have acknowledged that I am skeptical of all traditions. I have not examined the traditions regarding Mohammed much, however, it would not surprise me if the vast majority of them were no more reliable than the American tradition that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree…

Well, thank you for answering this finally, but your answer is a non sequitur. We know that the cherry tree story is a pious fiction because we know that Parson Weems intended it to be a pious fiction. Don’t you think that when you apply the same standard to things you admit you don’t know anything about you are engaging in something other than “critical thinking,” but are in fact indulging in your “prejudice”? After all, what is “prejudice” but pre-judging an issue?

That, in fact, has been my point about your approach during our discussion.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I have yet to see you cite any empirical evidence that Papias had access to the document he mentions being written by Mark, that he knew it was being used liturgically at the time he wrote, that he knew it was extant, or that the document he described was the same one that Irenaeus subsequently attributed to Mark. You simply believe these things because it supports the orthodox position. You keep referring to Irenaeus knowing Polycarp who knew Papias but this is simply begging the question until you first establish that Papias knew canonical Mark.

Actually, you have been presented with “empirical” evidence, you just choose to deny that it exists.

As you may recall from taking Evidence in law school, admissible evidence can include things like “custom and practice” and “habit.” The “empirical” evidence of the habit or practice coupled with the “empirical” evidence of testimony permits the inference that a person’s conduct was consistent with the practice or the habit because it is more likely than not that the person followed the practice or habit. The burden shifts to the other party to rebut the inference.

This rule simply incorporates the understanding that people are more likely to follow a practice than not. Although we may also acknowledge that it may be the case that in a particular instance the practice was not followed, that’s the way to bet. Logic and probability favor the practice; opposing the assumption of “all things being equal this is what was done” is therefore illogical and irrational in the absence of evidence suggesting that the practice was diverged from.

So what do we know? We know:

A. Papias believed that Mark was sufficiently important to obtain and preserve information from the Presbyter about “how” Mark was written, i.e., what its provenance was and why it accurately set forth apostolic testimony. In doing this Mark was following the practice of writing history that was followed during his time, which we know from Bauckham was followed with other histories, and for that matter was the approach followed with respect to Islamic Hadiths in the 8th Century. We also know that Papias was interested in preserving actual traditions.

B. We also know that the practice of literate people at that time was to read aloud. We also know that the practice of early Christians was to read “hymns” to Christ as to a God and to read from literary texts, i.e., scriptures, and to share stories about Christ. (Pliny the Younger, Paul, Matthew, Acts, etc.) We also know that early Christians had a practice of preserving and disseminating apostolic texts (see the distribution of the letters of Paul.)

C. The contents of Mark are found in First Clement (circa 90 AD) and Justin (circa 150 AD).

When you put together “A” with “B” and “C” you have a clear inference that Papias knew what text he was talking about. He lived in a culture where if he was interested, he could not have helped but to actually hear “Mark,” and we know that he was interested.

Now, in the past I have asked you a variety of questions at this point, which apparently you consider to be a “cheap debating trick.” But, really, I must insist that you provide an evidence that Papias did not care about what “Mark” really said or that Papias was never in a position to have been exposed to Mark.

Long story short, Papias writes as if Mark was well-known to his readers and the practices we know about from the period support the inference that the contents of “Mark” was known to Papias.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

BTW, there is nothing hypothetical about the existence of multiple texts. The author of Luke says that “[m]any have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us.” Of course, he doesn’t identify any of the many nor does he identify himself. Assuming that Luke meant many and not just “Mark” and “Matthew,” then it is reasonable to assume that many texts that were in existence at the time Luke wrote have been lost. That is of course unless the many consisted of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and other apocryphal works.

So, what you are doing here is “multiplying entities” in order to make your theory work. As I’ve noted, this is what is called violating “Occam’s razor.”

Occam’s Razor is basically a rule of thumb that says the strongest argument is the one that makes appeals to the fewest hypothetical entities (or, usually, assumptions.)

Luke could have been referring to Mark and Matthew. He was certainly referring to at least Mark and Matthew since both sources seem to find their way into Luke. Accordingly, the simplest assumption to make is that “many” means Mark and Matthew.

We know that Luke is not referring to GPeter or GThomas because those texts do not find their way into Luke. That is “empirical” data that suggests that Luke was not referring to those texts. There is the “special Lukan material” which may have been textual, but then what do you do with Luke’s statement that he obtained his sources from eyewitnesses?

And what does any of this have to do with Mark, except rebut your argument? Mark was a source for Luke. Mark was incorporated into Luke. Papias describes the origination of Mark. Luke’s use of Mark shows that Mark was important and known to the Christian community. Papias’ account of the origination of Mark is consistent with Mark having been known to Papias and the Christian community.

Now, you’re going to hate this but the burden shifts to you to provide non-speculative data – i.e., not inventing stories about “different Marks” whose only evidence is that they fit your theory.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

This is also untrue. I don’t claim that you are spreading your arguments to prevent me from arguing. I admit that I am free to argue every point ad nauseum. I claim you are spreading your arguments so that you can portray me as evasive by coming back to points I choose not to address, e.g., the birthers.

“Choose not to address”???

Isn’t that the problem? I’ve been saying that you are inconsistent in what you accept as evidence. If you were consistent you would be a “Birther” in the same way that your refuse to believe that Papias actually knew the contents of Mark.

The fact that you choose not to address my contention is the best evidence that you realize that my logical point is correct.

Now, I’m sure that you vehemently deny being a “Birther.” That’s why I chose an example that you couldn’t stomach, but my point was to illustrate that in your real life you have a lower threshold of what counts as “sufficient evidence” than you have when it comes to Christian history, which, in turn, makes my point that you are not the objective, analytical entity following the argument to wherever it leads.

To which I say, welcome to the human race, but let’s stop pretending that only one of us has the keys to logic and objectivity, shall we?

Also, let me point out that my questions came only after you tried to test my consistency with respect to other religious traditions. I "chose to answer" your questions because I knew that if I didn't, I would look inconsistent.

It is a standard debating tactic which Craig uses to great effect.

First, citation please.

Second, it’s a standard debating tactic when the other side makes points that are susceptible to multiple attacks on both logic and fact.

If Craig uses it to “great effect” might that not be some evidence that he has the truth on his side?

Vinny said...

Accordingly, the simplest assumption to make is that “many” means Mark and Matthew.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “many” as “a large but indefinite number.” Two is neither large nor indefinite. Does Occam’s Razor say that we can redefine words to mean whatever we need in order to confirm our assumptions?

We also know that Papias was interested in preserving actual traditions.

According to Eusebius, who had access to all of Papias’ writing, Papias was interested in passing along “certain strange parables and teachings, and some other more mythical things” and “he appear[ed] to have been of very limited understanding.” Of course this doesn’t fit with your thesis, so you and Bauckham just ignore it.

“Choose not to address”???

Yes. I choose not to address your birther analogy because I cannot make any sense of it and I choose not to invest the time in trying to figure it out.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Webster’s Dictionary defines “many” as “a large but indefinite number.” Two is neither large nor indefinite. Does Occam’s Razor say that we can redefine words to mean whatever we need in order to confirm our assumptions?

So, you’re saying that Papias had access to Webster’s dictionary?

I mean... seriously… ”words are not crystals with fixed, invariant meanings; words are the living skin of thought.” (O.W. Holmes, Jr.) “Many” means what Papias meant it to mean, not what Webster’s Dictionary or you thought it should mean. Perhaps Papias meant “2” as “many.” Maybe he meant “more than two.” We don’t know. But we have no evidence that he was talking about more than Matthew and Mark, and for that matter the Pauline Epistles. For you to assume that he meant more than we have evidence for and then assume the existence of those texts that you assume that he was referring to and then for you to assume that there was another “Mark” and then for you to assume that this other “Mark” was not the one referred to in Clement and Justin and for you to assume that this other “Mark” simply disappeared without a trace apart from your speculative, ad hoc interpretation of Papias amounts to an invention of multiple entities contrary to the rule of parsimony.

You can make the argument, certainly, and you can make the argument based on nothing except your insistence that a dictionary definition control what Papias really meant, but your argument looks strained and unpersuasive because it is strained and unpersuasive.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

According to Eusebius, who had access to all of Papias’ writing, Papias was interested in passing along “certain strange parables and teachings, and some other more mythical things” and “he appear[ed] to have been of very limited understanding.” Of course this doesn’t fit with your thesis, so you and Bauckham just ignore it.

First, tell me what Eusebius was referring to. Do you know? Of course you don’t because out of Papias’ 5 volumes we have a single snippet preserved by Eusebius. Could Eusebius have been referring to the things he didn’t think worth including in his history? Certainly, because that is what real human do.

Second, why did Eusebius include this snippet? The reasonable inference is because while Eusebius thought that Papias was generally unreliable, he concluded that this snippet was reliable. Why should we make that conclusion? Because Eusebius included it in his history and wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t think that Papias was reliable on this point.

Third, pace your snide comment about my ignoring this point, in fact you have never answered my previous points about Eusebius’ assessment of Papias. Why do we trust Eusebius’ opinion of Papias? Eusebius was an Arian. Could the “strange parables” and “myths” have been stories that don’t fit the Arian ideology? I don’t know, but you need to answer the question of why we should accept Eusebius over Papias and show that Eusebius’ assessment is even germane to this particular issue.

In fact, as you will recall, I pointed out that Eusebius’ distaste for Papias stemmed from Papias’ “chiliasm.”(“Eusebius' skepticism was no doubt prompted by his distaste - perhaps a recently acquired distaste (Grant 1974) - for Papias' chiliasm and his feeling that such a theology qualified Papias for the distinction of being "a man of exceedingly small intelligence" (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.13).”) If you want to make an argument that Papias is prima facie wrong and stupid on this point, then do so, but I previously made this point, and you never responded. Simply dredging up your previous “throw-away” claims and then asserting that I have never considered the issue, when I have, does not advance this discussion.

Also, Eusebius “appears to vacillate in his judgment of Papias; for whereas in iii. 36 he calls him "a man most learned in all things, and well acquainted with the Scriptures" in iii.39 he says he had "a small mind" [referring to his allegorizing tendency].”

So, if you want to advance this discussion, please outline why Eusebius’ negative conclusion is so obviously correct, but please, please, please, don't ignore Eusebius' positive judgment, as you have. Namely, show that Papias is a dunderhead for having a chiliastic theology.

Finally, Papias is described by Eusebius of collecting eyewitness testimony according to the historiographic traditions of the First Century. The issue, ultimately, is whether Papias actually collected these traditions. Your argument is a distraction since you are not saying that Papias didn’t actually hear an eyewitness describe how “Mark” was written. If Papias was theologically naïve, that fact doesn’t detract from his ability to pass on what he heard.

Even "small-minded" people can be witnesses.

Please respond.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Yes. I choose not to address your birther analogy because I cannot make any sense of it and I choose not to invest the time in trying to figure it out.

Well, it’s obvious. You have been fishtailing around trying to deny that we have “any” evidence that “Mark” was written by Mark prior to Irenaeus because you are a skeptic and you demand “evidence.” But what “evidence” do you have that Obama was born in the United States. Sure, there is a birth announcement in Hawaii, but that doesn’t “prove” that Obama was actually born here. Perhaps, that was a different Barrack Hussein Obama with identically named parents. Perhaps, the purpose of that announcement was to create a fiction that he was American.

Based on the standards that you apply to Papias, you ought to be a Birther.

I don’t think you are a Birther because I suspect that outside of Christian things you exercise common sense and prudent judgments. It’s just when we get to Christianity that you think it plausible that someone would be talking about a book attributed to Mark but entirely different from the book everyone else attributed to Mark, which “other Mark” was never seen by anyone and has disappeared without leaving a trace in the historical record.

My point is that your version of Papias has the same intellectual problems as “Birtherism,” it’s credible so long as you make all kinds of strained and possibly “conspiratorial” inferences.

So, explain by an appeal to neutral principles why the approach you take to Papias doesn't apply to the "Birther" claim. Isn't skepticism good? Aren't there multiple interpretations available? Shouldn't we distrust the conventional explanation? Etc.

Vinny said...

No. I don’t think that Papias had access to Webster’s dictionary. Of course that isn’t really relevant since I was talking about the assertion in Luke 1:1 that “[m]any have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” Of course I don’t think that the author of Luke had access to Webster’s dictionary either, but since he wrote in Greek he really didn’t need one. I do assume that the scholars who have uniformly translated as “many” had access to dictionaries and that they translated it as “many” because that is the word in English that most closely captures its meaning. You are of course free to ignore the commonly understood meaning of words a la Humpty Dumpty, but I think that would undercut your assessment of the intellectual integrity of others.

Speaking of intellectual integrity, did you not read the whole paragraph at EarlyChurch.org or did you just figure that I wouldn’t read it? “Eusebius appears to vacillate in his judgment of Papias; for whereas in iii. 36 he calls him "a man most learned in all things, and well acquainted with the Scriptures" in iii.39 he says he had "a small mind" [referring to his allegorizing tendency]. The former statement lacks satisfactory manuscript support, and is probably an interpolation.” If your own source declares Eusebius’ positive judgment to be an interpolation, I think that I can safely ignore it.

It is true that Eusebius did not approve of Papias’ Chiliasm and the influence it had on “so many of the Church Fathers.” Nevertheless, Eusebius does not criticize the intelligence of all those Church Fathers. Therefore, despite the fact that it fits Bauckham’s thesis, there isn’t any reason to limit Eusebius’ criticism of Papias to Chiliasm. Moreover, Eusebius says nothing about first century historiography. That is Bauckham’s fanciful interpretation.

BTW, Clement does not refer to any “Mark.”

Peter Sean Bradley said...

No. I don’t think that Papias had access to Webster’s dictionary. Of course that isn’t really relevant since I was talking about the assertion in Luke 1:1 that “[m]any have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” Of course I don’t think that the author of Luke had access to Webster’s dictionary either, but since he wrote in Greek he really didn’t need one. I do assume that the scholars who have uniformly translated as “many” had access to dictionaries and that they translated it as “many” because that is the word in English that most closely captures its meaning. You are of course free to ignore the commonly understood meaning of words a la Humpty Dumpty, but I think that would undercut your assessment of the intellectual integrity of others.

So, there is no metaphor, exaggeration, idiomatic expression or other linguistic imprecision in your world? When people say “I’m so tired that I could eat a horse” in your world, they really want to eat a horse? When someone says that he had “thousands” of opportunities, he really always means "thousands"?

Of course that’s not your experience. It is only in this discussion that you will break out a dictionary and insist that a word means what the dictionary means. The truth is that sometimes we do live in Humpty Dumpty land where “cool” means “hot” means “chilling” means “excellent.”

You are, of course, free to appeal to the standard of words as they are “commonly understand” but you need to explain “commonly understood” by whom, where, when, and how does idioms and literary style play into your analysis?

Your task is to show us that when Luke said “many” he necessarily had to mean more than Mark and Matthew and maybe Q. Get to work.

Your further task is to show that he really meant the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Thomas or the “other Gospel of Mark” of which there is not a scintilla of textual support. Get busy on proving that claim instead of playing a silly game of not understanding that language is a flexible tool.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Speaking of intellectual integrity, did you not read the whole paragraph at EarlyChurch.org or did you just figure that I wouldn’t read it? “Eusebius appears to vacillate in his judgment of Papias; for whereas in iii. 36 he calls him "a man most learned in all things, and well acquainted with the Scriptures" in iii.39 he says he had "a small mind" [referring to his allegorizing tendency]. The former statement lacks satisfactory manuscript support, and is probably an interpolation.”

Honestly, I didn’t read the whole thing. After I posted, I went back to the original source and couldn’t find the (iii 36) quotation and realized that something was amiss. On the other hand, you will note that I cited and linked the text I was relying on so that you could correct me if I got it wrong. I’ve done that repeatedly in this discussion.

In contrast, you have not cited or linked to anything thus far.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

If your own source declares Eusebius’ positive judgment to be an interpolation, I think that I can safely ignore it.

See? That’s what I’m talking about. Anything that supports your position is “good” evidence. Anything against your position is “not evidence.”

It seems that the description in Eusebius of Papias as “learned” is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Eusebius. That doesn’t mean that the description wasn’t written by Eusebius. In fact, it gestures at the possibility of an assessment by others in an early period that Papias was “learned.” So, if you are going to be intellectually objective you need to account for that view, instead of dismissing Papias out of hand.

It is true that Eusebius did not approve of Papias’ Chiliasm and the influence it had on “so many of the Church Fathers.” Nevertheless, Eusebius does not criticize the intelligence of all those Church Fathers.

And it’s not clear that Eusebius criticized the intelligence of Papias. Eusebius wrote: “13. For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses. But it was due to him that so many of the Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man; as for instance Irenæus and any one else that may have proclaimed similar views.”

You have some sort of private access to know definitely that “of very limited understanding” means “stupid” as opposed to “not having the proper understanding of doctrine”? To me, the latter is the more natural reading, particularly since the phrase “of very limited understanding” is specifically stated in connection with a particular doctrine that Papias was influential in spreading – which then raises the question of why he was so influential if he was such a moron.

But what is the point? Is it your contention that we should ignore Papias because Eusebius thought – let’s assume – he was stupid? How does that make Papias’ testimony as to the early tradition of Mark less credible? And why is Eusebius the arbiter of intelligence – I ask for the umpteenth time – inasmuch as Papias was influential?

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Therefore, despite the fact that it fits Bauckham’s thesis, there isn’t any reason to limit Eusebius’ criticism of Papias to Chiliasm.

Except – as I’ve pointed out repeatedly – the criticism of Papias is made specifically in connection with chiliasm as opposed to other things. [Compare iii, 39, 12 and iii, 39, 13.]

I find your argument amazing. You know that Luke meant “more than two” when Luke says “many”, but when Eusebius discusses Papias’ chiliasm and then says “For he appears to have been of very limited understanding…”, you just know that the two are not connected – despite the “for” – and that Eusebius really means that Papias is “stupid.”

Well, your self-confidence in your ability to understand texts is certainly not undermined by your skepticism at least.

Moreover, Eusebius says nothing about first century historiography. That is Bauckham’s fanciful interpretation.

Eusebius quotes Papias explanation of his mission as follows:

“3. He says: But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.

4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders— what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.”

That last part is the tradition of ancient historiography. That tradition is similarly stated by other authors, who you would not question. So, no, the idea that Papias was self-consciously writing a history by going to the “living and abiding voice” is not a fantasy; it’s what Papias is reported as saying.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

BTW, Clement does not refer to any “Mark.”

I never said that Clement did.

I said that Clement quotes or paraphrases from "Mark."

That's why your claim that Papias wouldn't have known the contents of "Mark" is nonsense. Everyone knew the contents of "Mark" - Justin, Clement, Matthew and Luke, etc.

For your thesis to work, you need an explanation - which you have not even attempted to provide - to explain how only Papias wasn't in on this "open secret."

That is why I have analogized your position to that of the Birthers.

Vinny said...

I never said that Clement did.

Of course you did. You talked about " the one [i.e., the "Mark] referred to in Clement and Justin." If you can't be bothered reading the stuff that you cite, could you at least read the stuff that you write?

I really wish I could prove to you that the author of Luke meant "many" when he wrote "many" as well as all the other things that you want me to prove to you, but if I we cannot agree that words mean what they are commonly understood to mean among rational people, I don't really know where to start.

Thanks for the discussion. It's been interesting.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

[PSB] I never said that Clement did.

[Vinny] Of course you did. You talked about " the one [i.e., the "Mark] referred to in Clement and Justin." If you can't be bothered reading the stuff that you cite, could you at least read the stuff that you write?

Your problem seems to be that you have no ability to read context. You seem to think that a dictionary and your own self-confidence that your interpretation must control are all that’s needed.

Putting aside your uncharitable shot at my honest admission that I hadn’t read the entire quote – which doesn’t mean that Eusebius didn’t write the disputed language - if you go back to the entire discussion you will find that I wrote the following:

[PSB] ”First Clement contains passages similar to or taken out of Mark and Matthew.”

[PSB] ”The contents of Mark are found in First Clement (circa 90 AD) and Justin (circa 150 AD).”

In other words, I repeatedly distinguished between a citation to “Mark” explicitly and referring to, i.e., quoting or paraphrasing from Mark. In fact, I explicitly noted previously that Justin referred to “his”, i.e., Peter’s , memoirs, and I quoted the passage, which doesn’t mention Mark as the author, but I repeatedly made the point that the contents of Mark were widely disseminated before Papias refers to the author of “Mark” as Mark, which puts paid to the notion that Papias could not have known which text he was calling “Mark.”

So, when I wrote:

”and then for you to assume that this other “Mark” was not the one referred to in Clement and Justin and for you to assume that this other “Mark” simply disappeared without a trace apart from your speculative, ad hoc interpretation of Papias amounts to an invention of multiple entities contrary to the rule of parsimony.”

You might charitably assume that I was talking about the same thing, particularly since I have linked Clement to Justin in the same freakin’ sentence that you use for your “gotcha” moment and we know that Justin didn’t identify Mark by name.

But you don’t make the charitable assumption. Instead of dealing with my point, you take an uncharitable interpretation, accuse me of dishonesty and ignore the serious questions and issue I’ve raised without ever once offering any support for your beliefs other than “Vinny says.”

I have learned a lot from this dialogue. What I’ve principally learned is just how weak the atheist/skeptic position is on this point. I’ve assumed that you are intelligent and know something about what you claim to be talking about, but if at the end of the day the best you can do is “strain at gnats while swallowing camels” then there simply is not much “there” there.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I really wish I could prove to you that the author of Luke meant "many" when he wrote "many" as well as all the other things that you want me to prove to you, but if I we cannot agree that words mean what they are commonly understood to mean among rational people, I don't really know where to start.

No, that’s not it. What you have to prove is that Luke meant texts other than the texts we have evidence for as being incorporated into Luke, ,i.e., your speculative lost Mark, when he wrote “many.”

I’m quite willing to assume that “most people today” in “general usage today” mean “more than two” when they say “many.” I don’t know that a writer trying to explain why his book should be read because it includes eyewitness testimony not found in other gospels actually meant “lost texts that Vinny says must have existed.”

You could convince of that with evidence. For example, if there was a tradition of numerical accuracy in the ancient literature, I’d be convinced. If you could show me that Luke was numerically precise in other parts of his gospel or Acts, I’d be convinced. If you could show me that Luke had an obsessive attention for other details, I could be convinced. But you haven’t tried to show any of that. In fact, I’d wager that the gospel’s cavalier attitude to numbers and dates is a prime weapon in your skeptical arsenal. It certainly is Ehrman's arsenal, e.g., how many angels? How many women? What day of Passover? etc.

Ah, but when we get to “many”, then we "know" that Luke was speaking as a scientist and not as a poet.

Excuse me for thinking this is just a tad inconsistent.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Thanks for the discussion. It's been interesting.

A last point. Throughout this discussion, you have sneered at Bauckham as if sneering was an argument. It’s not. I don’t know if you read the book I cited. I don’t know why you sneer at Bauckham. You never provided any arguments or citations for your sneer – in contrast to my arguments and evidence for why Ehrman is unreliable. Likewise, you sneer at Craig, but never provide anything to support your emotional attitude.

Excuse me for thinking that a large part of your apologetics is emotionally driven. We just are supposed to know that Bauckham and Craig are unreliable or stupid or wrong.

If you return I would appreciate some specific evidence on these points.

Vinny said...

Really? You’re going with lack of charity? You spew out whatever comes into your head (e.g., “So, you’re saying that Papias had access to Webster’s dictionary?”) and now you’re complaining that I haven’t construed your comments charitably. I think you are getting a wee bit desperate.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Really? You’re going with lack of charity? You spew out whatever comes into your head (e.g., “So, you’re saying that Papias had access to Webster’s dictionary?”) and now you’re complaining that I haven’t construed your comments charitably.

"In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation."

Part of applying the principle of charity would be to construe a particular statement in the context of other statements, rather than assuming that there has been a contradiction or irrational or dishonest statement, or otherwise playing "gotcha," such by assigning a meaning to the other person's statements on the supposition that the person doesn't read what he wrote.

My point was about your argument, not your personality.

Was I making an uncharitable assumption when I asked if you thought that Papias had access to a Webster's dictionary? Well, not really, inasmuch as you claimed that I was supposed to understand Papias as if he had access to a Webster's dictionary. What I was doing was making an argument ad absurdum to show what the implications of your argument were. What I didn't do was make a positive statement about your position as if you did believe that Webster's was around in the Second Century because I charitably assume that you don't believe any such thing.

If it stung, then good, because it should have stung, because it is a silly argument to make (in the absence of any evidence or argument that Papias did intend the Webster's definition), because Papias was not required to use any word according to its precise Webster's definition.

On the other hand, if I had made an arguement based on your (supposed) assertion that Papias actually had a Webster's dictionary, that would be uncharitable because I would be ignoring the context of your statement and assigning to you an irrational and artificial position you obviously never intended.

Which is what you did with your "gotcha" about my claiming that Clement identified Mark by name as the writer of the passages to which Clement alludes or references. My statement was susceptible of two different interpretations, one of which assumed - actually explicitly stated in light of your snide statement that I don't read what I type - that I was an idiot and the other which assumed that I was using the term "refer" in the same way that I had previously described Clement and Justin's use of the content of "Mark." You went with the former - uncharitable - assumption so you could score a quick "gotcha."

More power to you if you can get away with that kind of thing, but not here.

I think you are getting a wee bit desperate.

About what? So far you haven't answered any of my questions or offered any evidence to support your claims.

I did ask you to cite your specific bases for sneering at Bauckham and Craig should you return. Like my other questions, you haven't deigned to respond to that request either.

Lauran said...

You're quite the gentleman, PSB, even when you kick butt.

Nice job.

 
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