Response to Joe Wallack on Papias
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Over at the internet infidels discussion board here a guy by the name of Joe Wallack has some criticisms of my essay "Papias's Testimony to the Existence of Jesus" in Shattering the Christ Myth: Did Jesus Not Exist? (James Patrick Holding, ed.; Xulon: 2008). The main issues he's brought up (as of 7/30/08) are as follows:

  1. Is the fact that we don't have the extant work of Papias, but only quotations from later writers a problem? Wallack's basic point is that we can't rely on the quotations of Papias in Eusebius and Irenaeus because when you don't have the original source, the source which is citing the original source might be citing it inaccurately.

    The important distinction here is between direct and indirect quotations. If all we have is an indirect quotation from Papias then we have to watch out, because the citer might have honestly misunderstood what Papias said. And it looks like this is what happened when we have Irenaeus saying Papias was a hearer of John. Irenaeus does not quote the passage in Papias that led him to this conclusion, he just tells us Papias supposedly said it, but since he doesn't give a direct quote he may have just misunderstood Papias. But in the case of Papias's prologue and the Elder's statement's on Mark, we have direct quotations from Papias by Eusibius. Thus, Eusebius cannot have just misunderstood Papias; the options are only that either Eusebius quotes it accurately (in which case what we have from Eusebius is just as good as extant Papias) or Eusebius just made it up. Wallack hasn't said explicitly that Eusebius made up the citations, but if he's going to complain about not having extant Papias, then that is the position he has to take.

  2. Wallack spends a lot of time arguing that Philip of Side is correct about Papias mentioning the reign of Hadrian, and thus that Papias should be dated late. I don't have time to review all the material there; for a discussion of the date of Papias one can consult the Yarbrough article I reference. But it is really not important whether or not Papias wrote during the reign of Hadrian or earlier. The important thing is that, whenever Papias wrote, he tells us he collected the information for his book when some of Jesus' disciples were still alive, which at the very latest must have been the early second century. If Papias collected his information in c.100 and didn't write it down until c.130 that is not very important.
  3. Wallack has a ridiculous criticism when he says that the fact that the material in question is old (that is, old relative to us) makes it problematic to use as evidence for Jesus' existence. Jesus is purported to have lived in ancient times; obviously any evidence for his existence will date from ancient times and thus be old.
  4. Wallack is correct that I was mistaken to speak of a geographical proximity between Irenaeus and Papias. (Update, 9/08: In fact, I was not incorrect. Wallack is right that at the time Irenaeus wrote he lived a long way away from Asia Minor, however as someone on the IIDB mentioned, he had lived in Asia Minor during his youth. Thus Papias and Irenaeus are both from Asia Minor).
  5. Ironically, Wallack seems to agree with my conclusion that Papias is evidence for the existence of Jesus, so apparently he doesn't think his criticisms are that strong anyway. This is rather confusing.

Editor note: Please be sure and check the link above for more on Wallack. He was "matrixed" on TheologyWeb for making crude anti-Semitic jokes and for other reasons.

-Jake O'Connell