bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 3

Question 1: What are Hinman’s Central Claims about Polycarp?
As with his discussion about the external evidence of Papias,  Hinman begins his discussion of Polycarp with some strong claims:
III. Polycarp:
Knew the Apostle John and studied with him. He speaks of where the apostle sat when they studied together.
The first sentence is lacking a subject.  But the heading just above the sentence implies that the subject of the sentence is Polycarp.  The first sentence uses the pronoun “him”, and this pronoun clearly refers back to the phrase “the Apostle John”.  So the first sentence makes two strong claims:
A.  Polycarp knew the Apostle John.
B.  Polycarp studied with the Apostle John.
The subject of the second sentence of Hinman’s article is “He”,  and once again the heading over the first paragraph (as well as the content of the sentence) implies that the subject of this second sentence is Polycarp.  The phrase “the apostle” in the second sentence is a clear reference back to the fuller phrase “the Apostle John” in the first sentence.  The pronoun “they” in the second sentence presumably refers to the only two people that have been mentioned so far: Polycarp and the Apostle John.  Thus, the second sentence makes a third strong claim:
C. Polycarp speaks of where the Apostle John sat when Polycarp and the Apostle John studied together.
Most of my post here will be concerned with claims (A) and (B).
Claim (C) can be immediately dismissed, because Hinman provides ZERO evidence in support of this strong claim, which seems odd given that he makes the claim in the second sentence of the opening paragraph of his article about Polycarp.
Perhaps Hinman believes that he has provided evidence in support of (C), because in the quotation he provides in that first paragraph, we find the following words:
…I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse…his [i.e. Polycarp’s] general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he [i.e. Polycarp] delivered to the people…  (emphasis added)
The quotation that Hinman provides in his first paragraph is from Eusebius, who is himself quoting from a letter written by Irenaeus to Florinus.  Given this context, it is clear that the pronoun “I” refers to the person who wrote this letter, namely to Irenaeus.  So, this quotation shows us that Irenaeus “speaks of where” Polycarp “sat when they [Irenaeus and Polycarp] studied together.”
It looks suspiciously like Hinman has misread the quotation that contains the key evidence for his claims.  Hinman appears to be confused about the reference of the pronoun “I” and seems to be mixing up the student/teacher relationship between Irenaeus and Polycarp with an alleged student/teacher relationship between Polycarp and John the Apostle.
Interestingly, this sort of misunderstanding and the confusion of people, names, and relationships that Hinman’s confusion illustrates  might well explain the very evidence that he provides in this key quotation.  Many scholars believe that Irenaeus could have misunderstood or misremembered his childhood experiences of Polycarp and became confused and mixed up people, names, and/or relationships, and thus failed to accurately characterize Polycarp (in the above quotation).  Hinman’s confusion illustrates why we should be cautious about accepting Irenaeus’ characterization of Polycarp.
You can find plenty of articles on Polycarp on the internet that agree with Hinman’s other strong claims about Polycarp, claim (A) and claim (B).  For example, one article that came up near the top of a Google search on “Polycarp” is an article on the “Christian History Institute” website:
https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/
The article “#103: Polycarp’s Martyrdom” asserts the following as if it were an historical fact:
Polycarp was an old man, at least 86…, and probably the last surviving person to have known an apostle, having been a disciple of St. John.
However, it is NOT a fact that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle (i.e. it is not a fact that Polycarp had “known an apostle” named John, that he had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle).  The problem with this article, and many other similar articles, is that (despite the official-sounding name of the website “Christian History Institute”) this is simply religious propaganda masquerading as objective history.
Scholars who study the issue have significant doubts about whether Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle.  Just as in the second and third centuries,  Christians are still hard at work lying to, and deceiving, uncritical thinkers and true believers about the history of Christianity.  Facts don’t matter; truth doesn’t matter; scholarship and objectivity don’t matter: just say whatever it is that will strengthen the faith of Christian believers, and that will suffice to justify any lies or deceptions or misinformation that one wishes to promote.
Some websites avoid engaging in outright deception by using hedging phrases.  A good example of this is on the Christianity Today History website, which is one of the top sites that came up in my Google search on “Polycarp”:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/polycarp.html
This article supports the claim that Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, and that Polycarp “was personally discipled by the apostle John”, but it does so with the use of the hedge “Tradition has it that…”:
He [Polycarp] lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles. (emphasis added)
The use of this hedging phrase gives the author an escape hatch: “I was just describing the content of a tradition, not asserting that the tradition was true.”  But, an obviously important question is begged:  IS THIS TRADITION TRUE OR FALSE?  The author of the article never indicates whether these claims are true or false.  The author never indicates whether these claims are probable or improbable.  The author never discusses any evidence for or against these claims.
So, it appears that the writer of this “historical” article on Polycarp at the Christianity Today History website does not give a damn about whether these claims are true or false.  What kind of historian does not give a damn about the truth of such obviously significant claims?  I  know who does not give a damn about the truth of obviously significant historical claims: a worthless pseudo-historian who cares more about promoting Christian propaganda and pleasing the sheeple in the pews than about what actually happened in the past, that’s who!
It is possible that the author of that article on Polycarp did care about truth and objectivity to a degree, and did express some doubts about these claims in an earlier version of this article (e.g. “but this tradition is probably false, because….” ) but then the editors at Christianity Today objected and demanded that expressions of such doubts be removed from the article before it was published.  But if that were the case, the author is still to blame for caving in to pressure to conform his/her scholarly opinions to the goals of some Christian propagandists.  It would be better for the article on Polycarp not to be published, than to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity and objectivity to make the article more pleasing to Christian propagandists in order that the article would be published.
Joe Hinman, of course, is not to blame for the stupidity, ignorance, bias, and dishonesty of numerous Christian psuedo-historians or of modern Christian propagandists, any more than I am to blame for the stupidity, ignorance, bias, and dishonesty of Atheist pseudo-historians or modern Atheist propagandists.  Hinman and I are only to blame for our own stupidity, ignorance, bias and dishonesty, not for that of others who happen to share a similar point of view about God or Jesus.  I’m simply pointing out that there is a whole lot of bullshit about Polycarp on the internet, and that some of this bullshit is presented as if it was scholarly historical writing, when it is simply religious propaganda: BUYER BEWARE.
 
Question 2: What is the Logic of Hinman’s Argument from Polycarp?
As with Hinman’s argument from Papias, my initial guess at the logic of his argument focuses on the idea of a chain of face-to-face relationships:
(1) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
(2) John the Apostle had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.
THUS:
(3) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.
(4) If Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth, then Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
THEREFORE:
(5) Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
Premise (1) is highly questionable, as I will argue for most of the rest of this post.
But, as with my attempt to summarize Hinman’s argument about Papias, there is a premise in the above argument that clearly begs the question:  premise (2).   In order to determine that (2) is true, one must first determine that Jesus of Nazareth really existed, i.e.  that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.  Thus, to assert that premise (2) is true involves ASSUMIING that the conclusion (5) is true, which begs the question at issue.
Because premise (2) so clearly begs the question, and because Hinman did not clearly and explicitly lay out this argument, I hesitate to attribute this obviously bad argument to Hinman.  Perhaps he had some other line of reasoning in mind,  some other bit of logic that connects the basic factual premise (1) to the conclusion (5) about Jesus.   The problem, therefore, with Hinman’s argument from Polycarp, is that his argument is incomplete.  There is a logical gap between his factual premise (1) and the implied conclusion (5).
I can provide a generic “warrant” premise to fill this logical gap, but Hinman needs to provide some line of reason or argument in support of the generic “warrant” premise:
(1) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
(W) IF Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, THEN it is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
THEREFORE:
(5A) It is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
I will focus my remaining objections on the factual premise (1),  but I also have serious doubts about the warrant premise (W).  Hinman has not provided any reason or argument to believe that (W) is true or correct, and the most obvious way to support (W) begs the question.  It is not clear to me that there is any good reason to accept (W).  Apart from a convincing reason to accept (W),  Hinman’s argument fails even if the basic factual premise (1) was proven to be true.
 
Question 3: Was Polycarp a Student of John the Apostle?
Hinman quotes from Eusebius, who quotes from the contents of a letter from Irenaeus to Florinas:
For, while I [Irenaeus] was yet a boy, I saw thee [Florinus] in Lower Asia with Polycarp, distinguishing thyself in the royal court, and endeavouring to gain his approbation. For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse— his going out, too, and his coming in—his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through, God’s mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God’s grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind. (AnteNicene Fathers, Volume 1, Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeusemphasis added)
Note that Irenaeus does not here speak of “John the Apostle”.  However, he does imply that Polycarp knew a person named “John” who had “seen the Lord”.  But many Christians claimed to have “seen the Lord” long after Jesus had been crucified.  So, this “John” could have been just a Christian believer who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (perhaps in a vision, like Paul “the Apostle”).
The additional comments about Polycarp learning about the miracles and sayings of Jesus from “those who had seen the Lord” does, however, indicate that Irenaeus is talking about literally seeing a flesh-and-blood Jesus prior to the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.  In that case, “John” could be the “John the Apostle”, but it is also possible that this “John” was some other follower of Jesus, outside of the inner circle of “the twelve” disciples of Jesus (perhaps the “beloved disciple” mentioned in the Fourth gospel).
Since “John the Apostle” was a central figure in the early church,  let’s grant the assumption that IF the above words are an accurate representation of the words of Irenaeus, then it is probable that Irenaeus intended to assert that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle, and that this was intended to mean or imply that Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
Granting this assumption, however, does not mean that it is probable that Polycarp did in fact have face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, because Irenaeus might well have been mistaken (or possibly dishonest) about this matter.
Instead of turning to Christianity Today’s propaganda on Polycarp, let’s turn to a more scholarly and objective source: The Anchor Bible Dictionary (hereafter: ABD)one of the best Bible reference works in the English language.
In his argument based on Papias, Hinman quoted from an ABD article by William Schoedel, a scholar who specializes in the study of early Christianity.  In the article quoted by Hinman, Schoedel asserted that Eusebius was probably correct about the meaning of the preface of the book by Papias, namely that Papias was NOT an “eyewitness of the holy apostles”, and thus that Papias did not have face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
Hinman does not quote from Schoedel’s article relating to Polycarp, but if he had, he would have seen that Schoedel also supports my skeptical view about the claim that Polycarp had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle:
In spite of all this [evidence like the letter from Irenaeus to Florinus], a link between Polycarp and John [the Apostle] is not assured.  Irenaeus was young when he heard Polycarp and may well have taken references to John the elder (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7) as references to John the apostle.  Polycarp himself certainly makes no appeal to having known any of the disciples of the Lord, and he does not claim to have been appointed by one of them over the Church in Smyrna.  He does not even lay claim to the title of bishop….Yet even Ignatius makes no use of the idea of apostolic succession in this connection.  When he writes against Docetism on Polycarp’s behalf (Ign. Smyrn. 1-9), he never appeals to the special authority of John [the Apostle].  A link between Polycarp and John, then, seems about as unlikely as a link between Papias and John.  In any event, Irenaeus evidently remembered very little of what Polycarp may have said concerning his mentor John.  For it is significant that he presents the story of the encounter between the apostle and Cerinthus–a high point of his account of the bishop of Smyrna [i.e. Polycarp]–as derived from others. (ABD, “Polycarp (Epistle Of)” by William Schoedel, emphasis added)
Schoedel is a serious scholar who cares about the truth and who does not sugar-coat his findings to please Christian propagandists or the sheeple in the pews.  Schoedel is very much aware of the passages attributed to Irenaeus about Polycarp’s alleged relationship with the apostles, and with the apostle John in particular, but his considered and well-informed judgement is that it is UNLIKELY that Polycarp had personal, face-to-face contact with John the Apostle.
If you read the letters of Ignatius, you will see that he was obsessed with the importance of the role and authority of bishops in Christian churches.  Ignatius repeats over and over how Christians must respect and obey and follow the bishop of their local church. But when Ignatius writes to the church in Smyrna, he says nothing about their bishop (allegedly Polycarp) having been appointed by Apostles, or having personally known and conversed with various Apostles, or having been a student of John the Apostle.  Any one of those points would have helped Ignatius to convince the Christians at Smyrna to respect, obey, and follow Polycarp, but there is no mention of any direct relationship between Polycarp and any of the Apostles.  Similarly, Ignatius makes no mention of any such relationship with any of the Apostles in his letter addressed to Polycarp (which was also intended to be read by Christians who belonged to the Church in Smyrna).
There is only one document that exists that is believed to have been written by Polycarp: The Letter of Polycarp to Philippians.  In that letter, Polycarp makes no mention of having had been appointed bishop of Smyrna by some of the Apostles, there is no mention of his having personally known and conversed with various apostles, and he does not mention having been a disciple of John the Apostle.  Any one of these points would have helped Polycarp to persuade the believers in Philippi to take his moral guidance and his theological teachings seriously.
Although mentioning that Polycarp had been appointed by Apostles, had personally known and conversed with some of the Apostles, or had been a student who had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, would have clearly provided support and authority to Polycarp and his words, neither Ignatius nor Polycarp mention any such relationship between Polycarp and the Apostles.
This casts doubt on Irenaeus’ claims that Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle, and that Polycarp had face-to-face conversations with various other Apostles, and “how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance.”  In the one letter we have from Polycarp, where speaking about such relationships and conversations with John the Apostle and other Apostles would have clearly helped him to persuade his audience to take his guidance and teachings seriously, Polycarp says nothing about any such relationships and conversations.
 
Question 4: Was John the Apostle a Teacher of Polycarp?
This is basically the same question as the previous question: “Was Polycarp a student of John the Apostle?”  The difference is that Question 4 is focused primarily on John the Apostle rather than on Polycarp.   William Schoedel is an expert on Early Christianity, especially on Papias, Ignatius, and Polycarp.  But other scholars have expertise on John the Apostle, so we can flip the question around and see what scholars who focus on John the Apostle have to say about the alleged relationship between Polycarp and John the Apostle.
The Encyclopædia Britannica has an article called “Saint John the Apostle“.  The article was written by Henry Chadwick, who was “Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Cambridge; Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1987–93. Author of The Early Church and others.”  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this scholar:
Henry Chadwick, … (23 June 1920 – 17 June 2008) was a British academic and Church of England priest. A former Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – and as such, head of Christ Church, Oxford – he also served as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, becoming the first person in four centuries to have headed a college at both universities.
A leading historian of the early church, Chadwick was appointed Regius Professor at both the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. (emphasis added)
Here is an important conclusion that Henry Chadwick asserts in his article about John the Apostle:
John’s subsequent history is obscure and passes into the uncertain mists of legend. (emphasis added)
According to Chadwick, at a certain point in time, historical data on the life and activities of John the Apostle become “obscure” and any further events in the life of John the Apostle beyond that point in time pass “into the uncertain mists of legend.”  In other words, up to a certain point in time, there is sufficient historical data to use as the basis for probable claims about the activities of John the Apostle, and after that point in time, there is NOT sufficient historical data to use as the basis for probable claims about the activities of John the Apostle.
But what IS that point in time, when, according to Chadwick, the life and activities of John the Apostle pass “into the uncertain mists of legend”?  The word “subsequent” in the above sentence, refers to an event described in the previous paragraph of the article:
John’s authoritative position in the church after the Resurrection is shown by his visit with Peter to Samaria to lay hands on the new converts there.  It is to Peter, James (not the brother of John but “the brother of Jesus”), and John [the Apostle] that Paul successfully submitted his Gospel for recognition. What position John held in the controversy concerning the admission of the Gentiles to the church is not known; the evidence is insufficient for a theory that the Johannine school was anti-Pauline—i.e., opposed to granting Gentiles membership in the church. (emphasis added)
This event when a decision was made by the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem to grant Gentiles membership in the church is known as the “Apostolic Council” or the “Jerusalem Council” (see Acts 15:4-29).  This event is usually dated to 49 CE.  Thus, Chadwick’s Historical Principle (hereafter: CHP) about the history of John the Apostle can be re-stated as follows:
(CHP) Claims about any activities of the Apostle John that allegedly occurred after 49 CE cannot be determined to be probable based on the availavble historical evidence.
But, according to Hinman,  Polycarp was born about 69 CE.  So, if Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle, that means that the alleged face-to-face conversations between Polycarp and John the Apostle would have occurred in the 80s or 90s, when Polycarp was a teenager or a young man and John the Apostle was a very old man.  This alleged activity of John the Apostle is well beyond the year 49 CE, and thus this alleged activity of John the Apostle has, according to Chadwick, passed “into the uncertain mists of legend”.  In other words, the claim that John the Apostle engaged in teaching Polycarp is a claim that cannot be determined to be probable based on the available historical evidence.
Chadwick is not the only scholar who accepts (CHP).  John Meier is a leading Jesus scholar, and he has carefully investigated the history of Jesus’ disciples.  In Volume III of Meier’s multi-volume work about the historical Jesus (A Marginal Jew), Meier discusses the various people and groups with which the historical Jesus allegedly interacted.  One chapter is on “The Disciples”; another chapter is on “The Existence and Nature of the Twelve”, and another chapter is on “The Individual Members of the Twelve” (John the Apostle was one of the members of the Twelve).
Here is the skeptical conclusion that Meier reaches about our knowledge of the Apostle John:
In fact, all we can say of John the son of Zebedee after Easter is that he remained in Jerusalem in the company of the Twelve in the early days of the church (Acts 1:13),  was active with Peter in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (Acts 3:1,3-4,11; 4:13,19; 8:14,17) and that, along with James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter he was considered a leader (“pillar”) of the Jerusalem community as late as the “Jerusalem Council” held ca. A.D. 49 (Gal. 2:9).  After that, we must admit total ignorance of John’s life and fate.  (A Marginal Jew, Vol. III, p.219-220, emphasis added)
Henry Chadwick and John Meier both agree with (CHP).  Both are highly-respected N.T. scholars and historians, and both have carefully studied the historical data concerning the life and activities of John the Apostle.
Because Hinman’s claim (A), and his claim (B),  and premise (1) of his argument imply claims about alleged activities of John the Apostle which occured (if they did occur) long after 49 CE,  Chadwick and Meier would clearly reject these claims by Hinman as not capable of being shown to be probable based on the available historical evidence that we have about John the Apostle.
There is another problem that puts the final nail in the coffin of claims (A), (B), and premise (1).  In all likelihood, John the Apostle would have died before Polycarp became old enough to become a disciple of John the Apostle.
Hinman suggests that Polycarp was born about 69 CE.  We don’t know when John the Apostle was born, but John was probably in his twenties when he was a disciple of Jesus,  so if John was in his mid-twenties when Jesus was crucified (around 30 CE), then when Polycarp turned 16, the year would be 85 CE, and John the Apostle would have been about 80 years old.  A scenario in which Polycarp became a student of John the Aposlte in the 80s is not impossible, but it is very unlikely, given that people usually did not live very long back in the first century.
The skeptical historian Richard Carrier writes about this issue in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (hereafter: HOJ):
Even in the best of times, no more than one in three people made it to 55 or above.  Yet if anyone started in the apostolate at, for example, age 15 in the year 30, they would be 55 in the year 70.  And it is far more likely the first apostles were in their 20s or 30s, not teenagers, which would make them around 65 or 75 in the year 70.  Teenagers would have incredible difficulty earning the respect or deference of those in their 20s or 30s, much less of elder folk, and therefore would be ineffective as evangelists.  So it is very unlikely the first apostles were of teen age.  Indeed, such a thing would be so remarkable it could not have failed to have been remarked upon in the sources we have.  Yet only one in five teenagers would reach age 65, and barely one in twenty would make it to age 75–and that’s without wars, famines, and persecutions reducing their survival rate.  Factor those in, and we can expect none of the original ‘twelve’…will have made it much beyond the year 75 (to which age the chances of a 25-year old surviving are one in eight in normal conditions).  Combine these prior expectations with the lack of any reliable evidence of anyone so surviving, and the silence of the evidence against it…, and we must conclude that in all probability all the original leaders were by then dead.  (HOJ, p.151-152)
NOTE: Carrier’s statistical remarks above are based on “the data provided in T.G. Parkin, Demography and Roman Society…Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992…You can see some calculations for survival odds at http://www.richardcarrierinfo/lifetbl.html…” (footnote #207).
If “only one in five teenagers would reach age 65”, then even if John the Apostle was only 15 years old when Jesus was crucified (about 30 CE), then John would have beeen about 65 years old in the year 80 CE and Polycarp would be only about 11 years old that year.  Although this is a possible scenario (Polycarp becoming a disciple of John the Apostle in the 80s) the probability of this scenario is significantly less than .2  (less than one chance in five), because (a) John the Apostle was probably in his twenties or thirties when Jesus was crucified (not a teenager), and (b) this survival rate does not factor in wars, famines, and persecutions, which did happen in the first century.  At best the probability of John the Apostle teaching Polycarp in the 80s or 90s is .1  or one chance in ten, based on survival rates.
Given that we have insufficient reliable historical evidence to support a claim that John the Apostle lived beyond the year 50 CE, let alone that he survived beyond the year 80 CE, and given that the rate of survival makes it IMPROBABLE that someone who was a teenager or in his twenties in the year 30 CE would have survived beyond the year 80 CE, we must conclude that in all probability John the Apostle died before he had an opportunity to become a teacher of Polycarp.
 
Q5: How Reliable is Irenaeus Concerning John the Apostle?
In the above discussion, we saw that three scholars with expertise on this issue (William Schoedel, Henry Chadwick, and John Meier) clearly do NOT view Irenaeus’s assertion that John the Apostle was the teacher of Polycarp as constituting significant evidence for that claim.  Thus, these well-informed scholars do NOT view Irenaeus as a reliable source of information about John the Apostle.
According to Irenaeus, the following are true claims about John the Apostle:

  1. John the Apostle was the “beloved disciple”. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1)
  2. John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John(Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1)
  3. John the Apostle wrote the 1st Epistle of John. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 16, Section 5)
  4. John the Apostle wrote the 2nd Epistle of John. (Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 16, Section 3)
  5. John the Apostle wrote Revelation. (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 11)

Each one of these claims is probably false, so it is very probable that at least three of these claims are false.  Thus, it is very probable that Irenaeus asserted at least three false claims about John the Apostle.  But if Irenaeus asserted at least three false claims about John the Apostle, then Irenaeus is an unreliable source of information about John the Apostle.
In the ABD article on John the Apostle, Raymond Collins makes the following relevant comment:
The [ecclesiastical] tradition maintained that John was once banished to the island of Patmos, an island not far off the coast of Asia Minor relatively near Ephesus, but that he later returned to Ephesus where he lived until the time of Trajan.  Since the [ecclesiastical] tradition ascribed all five books in the NT’s Johannine corpus (John, 1-2-3 John, Revelation) to John, the Patmos exile allowed for John’s presumed composition of Revelation (Rev. 1.9).  Historical criticism has, however, convincingly shown that all five works could not have been written by the same author and that it is highly unlikely that John, the son of Zebedee, was the author of any one of them.  (ABD, “JOHN (DISCIPLE)”, see section E. Ecclesiastical Tradition, emphasis added)
Just as scholars have generally set aside “Ecclesiastical Tradition” about the authorship of the Johannine corpus (which includes Irenaeus’s assertions about the authorship of those writings), so we should set aside the assertion of Irenaeus that John the Apostle was the teacher of Polycarp.
Given all of the above reasons in this post to doubt the truth of premise (1) of Hinman’s argument, and given that Irenaeus is an unreliable source of information about John the Apostle, we ought to reject premise (1) on the grounds that it is probably false.

bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 2

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NOTE: This post is now complete, as of 11:25 pm pacific time on Saturday, July 2, 2016.
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The first sentence of Joe Hinman’s argument from the external evidence of Papias makes a very dubious claim:
Papias was the student of the Apostle John.
By this, Hinman means that Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with the Apostle John.
This claim was explicitly rejected by Eusebius, the the first historian of Christianity:
Yet Papias himself, in the preface to his discourses, indicates that he was by no means a hearer or eyewitness of the holy apostles, but shows by the language he uses that he received the matters of the faith from those who had known them… (Church History 3.39 quoted in: The Apostolic Fathers, edited & revised by Michael Holmes, p.563)
Hinman quotes from the Anchor Bible Dictionary article by William Schoedel on “Papias (PERSON)”.  In that article Schoedel agrees with the view of Eusebius that Papias was NOT an “eyewitness of the holy apostles”:
Eusebius already doubted the reality of a connection between Papias and the apostle John on the grounds that Papias himself in the preface to his book distinguished the apostle John from John the presbyter and seems to have had significant contact only with John the presbyter and a certain Aristion (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7). …Eusebius’ analysis of the preface is probably correct…
Schoedel is not the only scholar who accepts the view of Eusebius.  An N.T. scholar who has looked carefully into this issue has also concluded that Papias did not have direct contact with John the apostle.  Richard Bauckham has examined this issue and provided a careful translation of the passage from Eusebius that quotes from the preface of Papias’ book:
I shall not hesitate also to put into ordered form for you, along with the interpretations, everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down carefully, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I took no pleasure in those who told many different stories, but only in those who taught the truth. Nor did I take pleasure in those who reported their memory of someone else’s commandments, but only in those who reported their memory of the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the Truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders arrived, I made enquiries about the words of the elders – [that is] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples [said], and whatever Aristion and John the Elder, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. ( Papias and the Gospels” by Richard Bauckham, October 6, 2012, p.11.  Phrases in brackets were provided by Bauckham as part of his translation of the passage.)
Bauckham provides this footnote about the translation of this passage:

My translation. Compared with my translation in Jesus, 15-16, based largely on Lightfoot, Harmer and Holmes, this is a more careful translation that embodies in a number of ways what I consider to be my better understanding of the passage in the light of further study.
Based on Bauckham’s translation and interpretation of this passage, Papias implies that there are several layers between him and Jesus (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
Chain of Tradition
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
That there were at least this many layers between Jesus and Papias makes perfect sense, given that Papias was probably writing between 110 and 130 CE.  If we suppose that there was an average of twenty-five years for each succeeding generation of Christian- tradition keepers, this puts Papias as receiving the Christian oral traditions about Jesus and the apostles shortly before 110 CE (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
 25-Year Generational Cycle
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Given that “John the Elder” is presumably a member of the group called “the elders”,  this implies that “John the Elder” received his information about Jesus from the apostles, just like the other people referred to as “the elders”, and NOT directly from Jesus.
In addition to probably being a member of the group called “the elders”, who received oral traditions “from” the apostles, the person “John the Elder” is presumably situated a couple of generations prior to Papias, and based on the reasonable estimate of a 25-year cycle for passing oral traditions on to the next generation of Christian-tradition keepers, this puts “John the Elder” and other elders (such as Aristion) chronologically about halfway between Jesus and Papias in the chain of Christian-tradition keepers.
So, we have at least two good reasons for doubting the claim that “John the Elder” (and Aristion) had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.  Thus, we have good reason to suspect that (assuming that “John the Elder” and Aristion are being called “the Lord’s disciples”)  the expression “the Lord’s disciples” does not logically imply that they had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
Presumably (in the view of Papias), the apostles had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, and Papias is claiming to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with people “who had been in attendance on the elders” or (based on the translation Hinman provides) with people  each of whom “had been a follower of the elders”.
But it is unclear whether “a follower of the elders” had face-to-face conversations with the elders, and it is unclear whether the elders had face-to-face conversations with the apostles.   For a decade of my life,  I considered myself to be a “follower” of Jesus, and a “disciple” of Jesus, but I never had a face-to-face conversation with Jesus, at least not with a physical, flesh-and-blood historical Jesus.  At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus commands his closest followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  Clearly, Jesus did not expect to have physical, face-to-face conversations with every convert to Christianity.  Jesus believed that a person could be a “follower” or “disciple” of a man who was unavailable for face-to-face conversations.
In the book of Acts, Luke says that Saul (who became the apostle Paul) was making “murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” (Acts 9:1, NIV).  But it is clear that Saul was not just persecuting the apostles, but rather anyone who was “among those who call on this name ” (Acts 9:21) [i.e. the name of Jesus].  Saul was persecuting any Jew who converted to the Christian faith.  Most such Jews never had a face-to-face conversation with a physical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth.  The expressions “disciple” and “follower” do not, in and of themselves, logically imply the occurance of personal, face-to-face conversations.
We have only a few brief quotes from Papias, and he does not provide a definition or clarification of what he means by “a follower of X”  or “a disciple of X”, so we cannot be sure that these expressions imply that personal, face-to-face conversations occurred between, for example “a follower of the elders” and one or more of “the elders”.   Nor can we be confident that “John the Elder” had personal, face-to-face conversations with the apostles or with Jesus.
If the average generational cycle was 20 years instead of 25 years, then there would be room for an additional generation of “elders” between the apostles and the followers of the elders (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
20-Year Generational Cycle
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Based on Bauckham’s general interpretation of this passage from the preface of the book by Papias, and given the unclarity of whether “followers” or “disciples” implies personal, face-to-face conversations, it is likely that there are either three generations (Apostles–>Elders–>Followers of Elders)  or four generations (Apostles–>1st Generation Elders–>2nd Generation Elders–>Followers of Elders) in the chain of Christian-tradition keepers between the Jesus and Papias.
Hinman admits that there is uncertainty as to whether Papias had contact with John the Apostle or John the Elder or both.  So, he broadens the basic premise of his argument to include both possibilities.
Here is how I would summarize Hinman’s argument concerning Papias (at least initially):
The Argument from the External Evidence of Papias
(1) Either Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, or Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Elder.
(2) John the Apostle had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
(3) John the Elder had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
THEREFORE:
(4) Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
(5)  If Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, then Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
THEREFORE:
(6) Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
I have already indicated some significant reasons to doubt the truth of premises (1) and (3).
As it stands, this argument clearly begs the question.  In order to know that premise (2) was true, or that premise (3) was true, one would have to first know that Jesus existed, that Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.  So, the assertion of premise (2) begs the question at issue, as does the assertion of premise (3).
But it would be unfair to charge Hinman with the fallacy of begging the question, because he did not clearly and explicitly lay out this argument.  This argument is my attempt to get at the unstated reasoning that bridges the logical gap between (1) and (6).  So, the problem of question-begging points to the need to revise the argument, to attempt to reformulate the argument in a way that does not so clearly and obviously beg the question at issue.  Such a revised version of this argument would more fairly be attributed to Hinman.
Presumably, Hinman would admit the possibility that John the Apostle (or John the Elder) was a deceiver who lied about having had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, when no such conversations had actually taken place.  Presumably, Hinman would also admit the possibility that John the Apostle (or John the Elder) honestly believed that he had had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, but was honestly mistaken about this belief.  Perhaps someone had deceived John the Apostle (or John the Elder) by pretending to be “Jesus of Nazareth” when in fact there was no “Jesus of Nazareth”.
Presumably, Hinman would also admit the possibility that John the Apostle (or John the Elder) communicated truthfully and honestly to Papias about their experiences and memories, but there was a miscommunication or misunderstanding by Papias in which Papias thought that John the Apostle (or John the Elder) was claiming to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, when no such claim had been asserted or intended (e.g. perhaps John the Apostle had visions or dreams about Jesus in which he had conversations with Jesus, and his descriptions of these experiences were misunderstood by Papias as being ordinary memories of physical events).
Hinman would, presumably, admit that these are all possibilities in which his argument would fail, but Hinman would argue that these skeptical scenarios are unlikely, and that it is more likely the case that there was a truthful and accurate claim made by John the Apostle (or John the Elder) to Papias about having had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
So, the above argument needs to be revised to take into account the idea that Hinman would (presumably) allow the possibility of the various skeptical scenarios that I  just described.  One way to modify the argument for this purpose would be to revise premises (2) and (3) to be about claims made by John the Apostle or John the Elder.  However, if we modify (2) and (3), then we also must modify premises (4) and (5) in order to maintain the logical correctness (validity) of the argument, as well as the conclusion (6):
The Argument from the External Evidence of Papias (Rev. A)
(1) Either Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, or Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Elder.
(2A) John the Apostle claimed to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
(3A) John the Elder claimed to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
THEREFORE:
(4A) Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had claimed to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus.
(5A)  If Papias had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who claimed to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, then it is probable that Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
THEREFORE:
(6A) It is probable that Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
With this revision, however, new problems appear.  Premise (5A) is doubtful.  Just because someone has claimed to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus does not mean that it is probable that this is the case.  To the extent that there were many Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah, the divine Son of God, and the savior of mankind, the claim to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus would have been an easy way to gain favor, power, and influence among those people.
Furthermore, what is the evidence that shows that John the Apostle claimed to have had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus?  The Gospels assert or imply this was the case, but we don’t know whether John the Apostle read any of the Gospels.  He might well have died before any of the Gospels were written.  Furthermore, even if he had read one or more of the Gospels, we don’t have any good historical evidence indicating that this happened and what his reaction was to those Gospels.  The problem is even more challenging when it comes to “John the Elder”  since we have virtually no information about this person.  So, premises (2A) and (3A) also seem doubtful, thus rasing doubts about premise (4A) which is inferred from (2A) and (3A).
It would be more fair to attribute the Rev. A version of this argument to Hinman than to attribute the initial argument to him.  However, there are various significant problems with the Rev. A version, even though it avoids clearly and obviously begging the question in the way that the initial version of the argument did.  Given the significant problems with the Rev. A version of the argument, and given that this argument was not clearly and explicitly stated by Hinman, I hesitate to attribute it to Hinman.
It might be that Rev. A is the argument Hinman had in mind, but there is a good chance that he had some other argument in mind, some other bit of reasoning to bridge the gap between premise (1) and the conclusion (6A).   I could continue attempting to make adjustments to the above argument, or to generate other potential arguments, but I think it would be more reasonable to throw the ball back into Hinman’s court and ask that he clarify his argument by explaining how it is that (1) is relevant to (6A).  Apart from such clarification, I might just be wasting my time tilting at windmills.
=================
There are a few more points in Hinman’s post on Papias that I want to specifically address.
POINT 1:
Does that [i.e. the view that Papias only had contact with John the Elder and not John the Apostle] weaken the case for the connection to Jesus?  I don’t think so because Aristion and elder John knew Jesus, they are called disciples.  He probably knew both [i.e both “Johns”] but if he only knew they [sic] latter two they were disciples.
The word “disciples” does NOT imply personal, face-to-face conversations with the teacher in question.  Hinman has not provided an argument showing that the word “disciples” has this meaning, nor that Papias uses the word with this meaning.  Given that we have only a few fragments of second-hand quotes of Papias, I doubt that there is sufficient evidence available to construct a plausible argument for this claim.
POINT 2:
There are indications from Eusebius that Papias had extended contact with the Elder John and with other disciples.  Eusebius writes “in his writings he trasmits other narratives of the words of the Lord which came form [sic] the afore mentioned Aristion and others which came from John the Elder”  moreover he goes on, “the elder used to say this also: … ” And here Eusebius is quoting Papias.  This phrase “the elder used to say…” indicates a personal acquaintance in more than one meeting.
The phrase “the elder used to say…” does NOT imply “personal acquaintance” nor does it imply that the speaker had ANY meetings with “the elder”.   This should be fairly obvious, but if not, one can simply refer to a quote from Irenaeus, which was provided by Hinman in his post on Papias:
Just as the Elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord, recalled hearing from him how concerning these times he used to teach that the Lord would say: … (part of a quotation by Hinman from Against Heresies 5.33.3-4, emphasis added)
By Hinman’s logic the phrase “he used to teach that…” implies that Irenaeus had personal, face-to-face conversations with John “the disciple of the Lord” (i.e. John the Apostle).  But clearly, Irenaeus did NOT have any such conversations, and never claimed to have any such conversations.  So, use of the phrase “he used to teach” does NOT imply that Irenaeus had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, and use of the phrase “the elder used to say” does NOT imply that Papias had any face-to-face conversations with John the Elder or with Aristion.
POINT 3:
Moreover, he changes tenses when he speaks of Aristion and Elder John, the [sic] he speaks in present tense, as though he’s still in contact with them.
Use of the present tense could indicate that Aristion and John the Elder were still alive at the time that Papias was inquiring the followers of Aristion and John the Elder about their knowledge of the sayings of the Apostles.  The translation by Bauckham says Papias was asking about what Aristion and John the Elder “were saying”, which is compatible with the idea of refering to a time in the past when Papias was inquiring about the words of Aristion and John the Elder who were (at that time in the past) still alive.  That time in the past might be several years  or even a decade prior to the time Papias got around to writing his book.
POINT 4:
…and he [i.e. Papias] moreover asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John.  Accordingly he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions. …  (part of a quote from Eusebius provided by Hinman)
Note that this does not appear to be a quotation of Papias by Eusebius, but rather an interpretation of Papias by Eusebius.  Since we are not given the exact words of Papias, we are being asked to rely on Eusebius to correctly interpret the words of Papias.  But what follows the word “Accordingly” appears to be the reason or reasons that are the basis for this interpretation: “he mentions them frequently by name” and “in his writings gives their traditions”.  If these are the reasons for this inference, then they are weak reasons, and that raises significant doubts about the inference or interpretation provided by Eusebius about what Papias was asserting.  Furthermore, if Papias did in fact have face-to-face conversations with Aristion and John the Elder, we would expect him to have mentioned that in his preface, rather than to imply that he received his information from people who were “followers of the elders”.  So, this is a second reason to doubt the interpretation provided by Eusebius in the above quote.