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Literary Eyewitnesses: The Appeal to an Eyewitness in John and Contemporaneous Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2018

M. David Litwa*
Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Locked Bag 4115, Fitzroy MDC, Victoria 3065, Australia. Email:


This essay supports the thesis that the Beloved Disciple is a purely literary character employed as a literary device of authentication recognisable during the late first and early second centuries CE. As evidence, three works are thoroughly compared with the Fourth Gospel in regard to their eyewitness appeals: Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana (a biography), the Wonders beyond Thule by Antonius Diogenes (a historiographical novel) and the Diary of the Trojan War (a revisionary history) attributed to Dictys of Crete. All three works are roughly contemporaneous with the Fourth Gospel and offer important insights into the sophisticated use of an eyewitness as a literary character to guarantee the (spiritual and moral) truth of a narrative.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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1 Bauckham, R. opts for the former position (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) 319–57)Google Scholar. His arguments have been criticised by Schröter, J., ‘The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony? A Critical Examination of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’, JSNT 31 (2008) 195209Google Scholar; Catchpole, D., ‘On Proving Too Much: Critical Hesitations about Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’, JSHJ 6 (2008) 169–81Google Scholar; Redman, J. C. S., ‘How Accurate are Eyewitnesses? Bauckham and the Eyewitnesses in the Light of Psychological Research’, JBL 129 (2010) 177–97Google Scholar.

2 Scholars who classify this work as a romance do not, in my view, take sufficient account of its presentation as historical discourse.

3 Bowersock, G., Fiction as History: Nero to Julian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) 129Google Scholar; Mheallaigh, K. Ní, Reading Fiction with Lucian: Fakes, Freaks and Hyperreality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) 261–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Homer, Odyssey 8.487–91. All translations in this article are my own.

5 Polybius, Histories 12.27.1.

6 Herodotus, Histories 1.8.2.

7 Quoted by Lucian, How to Write History 29.

8 Polybius, Histories 12.28.4–10.

9 Polybius, Histories 12.27.7.

10 Lucian, How to Write History 47.

11 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 5.26.5.

12 Josephus, Against Apion 1.55–6.

13 By contrast, the author of Luke's appeal to αὐτόπται (1.2) remains vague.

14 Dunderberg, I., The Beloved Disciple in Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) 166–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 201–2.

15 For identifying the Beloved Disciple, see Charlesworth, J. H., The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John? (Valley Forge: Trinity, 1995)Google Scholar.

16 Lucian, How to Write History 29.

17 Lucian, True History 1.3. Compare Photius, Library codex 72 (49b39–50a4)): ‘Ctesias, writing as a fabulist, says that he writes the plainest truth, adding that he writes what he himself saw (αὐτὸς ἰδῶν γράφει) and learned from those who saw.’ See further Holzberg, N., ‘Novel-like Works of Extended Prose Fiction ii’, The Novel in the Ancient World (ed. Schmeling, G.; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 619–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 629–33.

18 [Dictys], Diary 1.13.

19 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.22.

20 [Dictys], Diary 5.17.

21 [Dictys], Diary 2.32; 3.14 (‘our commander’); 2.37 (‘our men’); 2.38 (‘our commanders’).

22 Malalas, Chronography 5.10–11 in BNJ 49 T2a. Other important Dictys testimonia are surveyed by Gainsford, P., ‘Diktys of Crete’, Cambridge Classical Journal 58 (2012) 5887Google Scholar, at 65–74.

23 Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11.92; Philostratus, Heroicus 43.7.

24 [Dares], De excidio Troiae historia, prologue, lines 13–16.

25 Gainsford, ‘Diktys’, 58.

26 H. J. Marblestone, ‘Dictys Cretensis: A Study of the Ephemeris Belli Troiani as a Cretan Pseudepigraphon’ (Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, 1969) 377.

27 On Dictys, see further Merkle, S., Die Ephemeris belli Troiani des Diktys von Kreta (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1989), esp. 5662Google Scholar; idem, Telling the True Story of the Trojan War: The Eyewitness account of Dictys of Crete’, The Search for the Ancient Novel (ed. Tatum, J.; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins, 1994) 183–96Google Scholar; idem, ‘Truth and Nothing but the Truth: Dictys and Dares’, Novel in the Ancient World, 563–80; idem, News from the Past: Dictys and Dares on the Trojan War’, Latin Fiction: The Latin Novel in Context (ed. Hofmann, H.; London: Routledge, 1999) 155–66Google Scholar; Horsfall, N., ‘Dictys's Ephemeris and the Parody of Scholarship’, Illinois Classical Studies 33–4 (2008–9) 4163Google Scholar.

28 Bowersock situates the work in the reign of Domitian (Fiction, 37). J. R. Morgan opts for a slightly later date (Lucian's True Histories and the Wonders beyond Thule of Antonius Diogenes’, ClQ 35 (1985) 475–90, at 490Google Scholar). E. L. Bowie assigns it to the decade after 98 ce (The Chronology of the Earlier Greek Novels’, Ancient Narrative 2 (2002) 47–len , at 58–60Google Scholar).

29 An English translation of the summary and papyri can be found in Stephens, S. A. and Winkler, J. J., eds., Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Commentary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995) 101–57Google Scholar.

30 Photius, Library codex 166 (109a13–14; 109b7–10).

31 Photius, Library codex 166 (111a30).

32 Both names are attested elsewhere (Arrian, Anabasis 2.12.2; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 18.22; 19.59.3), though they are not said to be husband and wife.

33 Photius, Library codex 166 (109a6–b31).

34 Photius, Library codex 166 (110b24–5).

35 Photius, Library codex 166 (111a35–40). See further Mheallaigh, Reading Fiction, 11–16, 144–70. I disagree with Mheallaigh (ibid., 112–14) that Antonius’ cover letter is designed to advertise the work as fiction.

36 Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 10, 32. Compare Photius, Library codex 166 (109a29–110b15).

37 Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 11–12. Chapters 32–6, 44 also go back to Antonius.

38 For Antonius Diogenes, see further Morgan, J. R., ‘Readers Writing Readers, and Writers Reading Writers: Reflections of Antonius Diogenes’, Readers and Writers in the Ancient Novel (ed. Paschalis, M., Panayotakis, S. and Schmeling, G.; Gröningen: Barkhuis, 2009) 127–41Google Scholar.

39 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.3.1–2.

40 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.3.1.

41 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.19.2; cf. 3.43.

42 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.19.3.

43 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.3.1.

44 Eusebius, Against Hierocles 2.24–32.

45 E. Meyer attacked the historicity of Damis in a lengthy article (Apollonios von Tyana und die Biographie des Philostratos’, Hermes 52 (1917) 371424Google Scholar). His views were advanced by Dzielska, M., Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History (Rome: L'Erma, 1986) 19Google Scholar; Bowie, E., ‘Philostratus: Writer of Fiction’, Greek Fiction: The Greek Novel in Context (ed. Morgan, J. R. and Stoneman, R.; London: Routledge, 1994) 181–99Google Scholar. G. Anderson's qualified defence of Damis’ historicity (Philostratus: Biography and Belles-Lettres in the Third Century ad (London: Routledge, 1986) 165Google Scholar) was refuted by Edwards, M., ‘Damis the Epicurean’, ClQ 41 (1991) 563–66Google Scholar.

46 Jones, C. P., ‘Apollonius of Tyana's Passage to India’, GRBS 42 (2001) 185–99Google Scholar.

47 See the essays edited by Aitken, E. B. and Maclean, J. K. Berenson, Philostratus's Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century ce (Atlanta: SBL, 2004)Google Scholar, esp. that of J. Rusten, ‘Living the Past: Allusive Narratives and Elusive Authorities in the World of the Heroikos’, 143–58, at 143–7.

48 Speyer, W., ‘Zur Bild des Apollonius von Tyana bei Heiden und Christen’, JAC 17 (1974) 4763Google Scholar, at 50; Flintermann, J.-J., Power, Paideia, and Pythagoreanism: Greek Identity, Conceptions of the Relationship between Philosophers and Monarchs and Political Ideas in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius (Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1995) 81Google Scholar.

49 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.45. See further T. G. Knoles, ‘Literary Technique and Theme in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana’ (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1981) 25–62.

50 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.41.1.

51 E.g. Life of Apollonius 6.10.1; 7.28.1.

52 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.27.1. See further G. Anderson, ‘Philostratus on Apollonius of Tyana: The Unpredictable on the Unfathomable’, The Novel in the Ancient World, 613–18, at 615–16.

53 Whitmarsh, T. J. G., ‘Philostratus’, Narrators, Narratees, and Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature: Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative, vol. i (ed. de Jong, I., Nünlist, R. and Bowie, A.; Leiden: Brill, 2004) 423–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 428. See further Gyselinck, W. and Demoen, K., ‘Fiction and Metafiction in Philostratus’ Vita Apollonii’, Theios Sophistes: Essays on Flavius Philostratus’ Vita Apollonii (ed. Demoen, K. and Praet, D.; Mnemosyne Supplements 305; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 95128Google Scholar, at 101–5.

54 If the Beloved disciple is identified with the anonymous disciple in John 1.35–40, then his discipleship status ‘from the beginning’ (ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς, John 15.27) is confirmed.

55 P. N. Anderson, The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Modern Foundations Reconsidered (LNTS 321; London: T&T Clark, 2006) 4–5. This is not an indication of historicity. As Horsfall notes, ‘the more varied, complex and specific the details of the text and its survival, the more they proclaim their falsity’ (‘Dictys's Ephemeris’, 45). The following authors seem unaware of this point: Bauckham, R., The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007) 93112Google Scholar; Charlesworth, J. H., ‘The Historical Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: A Paradigm Shift?’, JSHJ 8 (2010) 346Google Scholar.

56 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 8.13.2.

57 Josephus uses the same technique in Jewish War 6.297–8: ‘There appeared a daimonic apparition, passing belief (μεῖζον πίστεως). What I will relate, I think, would be deemed a fairy tale were it not reported by eyewitnesses (παρὰ τοῖς θεασαμένοις) … Before sunset throughout the whole country chariots appeared in the air as well as armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and surrounding the cities.’

58 Although we do not know their ages, presumably Dictys and Damis were also elderly when they completed their works.

59 Bauckham is correct that the Beloved Disciple is portrayed as the ideal author (Testimony, 73–93). Yet he (wrongly) extends ‘author’ to mean not just source but composer of the finished product (Eyewitnesses, 358–411). The narrator, speaking as narrator, distinguishes himself from the Beloved Disciple (‘we know that his witness is true’, John 21.24). See further Lincoln, A. T., ‘Beloved Disciple as Eyewitness and the Fourth Gospel as Eyewitness’, JSNT 85 (2002) 326Google Scholar, at 16.

60 See further Larsen, M. D. C., ‘Accidental Publication, Unfinished Texts and the Traditional Goals of New Testament Textual Criticism’, JSNT 39 (2017) 362–87Google Scholar.

61 See e.g. Lincoln, ‘Beloved Disciple’, 23. Further sources in Bauckham, Eyewitnesses, 394 n. 16.

62 Later Christian authors told stories about Jesus’ positive relations to kings and emperors (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.13; 2.2.2–6; Tertullian, Apology 5.2).

63 Christians later employed the book-discovery convention to good effect: Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History 7.19.10–12 (the finding of the Apocalypse of Paul); Cedrenus, Compendium of History 385.2 (discovery of the ἰδιόγραφον of Matthew in Barnabas’ grave).

64 E.g. Bauckham, Eyewitnesses, 409. For other arguments that the Beloved Disciple is a fictional device, see Kügler, J., Der Jünger, den Jesus liebte: Literarische, theologische und historischen Untersuchungen zu einer Schlüsselgestalt johanneischer Theologie und Geschichte. Mit einem Exkurs über die Brotrede in Joh 6 (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1988) 478–88Google Scholar; Lincoln, ‘Beloved Disciple’, 3–26, esp. 18–19. See further Charlesworth, Beloved Disciple, 134–8.

65 Brown, R., The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist, 1979) 31Google Scholar.

66 Dunderberg, Beloved Disciple, 124.

67 Ehrman, B., Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), especially 529–48Google Scholar. Though he criticises Ehrman, A. D. Baum agrees with him on this point (Content and Form: Authorship Attribution and Pseudonymity in Ancient Speeches, Letters, Lectures, and Translations – a Rejoinder to Bart Ehrman’, JBL 136 (2017) 381403Google Scholar, at 381–2).

68 See further Pelling, C. B. R., ‘Truth and Fiction in Plutarch's Lives’, Antonine Literature (ed. Russell, D. A.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1990) 1952Google Scholar; Francis, J. A., ‘Truthful Fiction: New Questions to Old Answers on Philostratus’ “Life of Apollonius”’, AJP 119 (1998) 419–41Google Scholar.

69 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 5.15.3.

70 Augustine, Soliloquies 2.9.16.

71 Bauckham claims that readers ‘would not have deliberately colluded in such rhetorical fabrication’ (Testimony, 20), but he gives no reason why. As the apocryphal Acts literature shows, Christians regularly used fiction in the cause of truth. Although Bauckham often appeals to historiographical conventions, he seems unaware of the scholarship on rhetorically customary mendacity in all forms of ancient history. See for instance Wiseman, T. P., Clio's Cosmetics: Three Studies in Greco-Roman Literature (Leicester: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979)Google Scholar; Woodman, A. J., Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies (London: Croom Helm, 1988)Google Scholar; Grant, M., Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation (London: Routledge, 1995) 6199Google Scholar; and esp. the essays in Gill, C. and Wiseman, T. P., eds., Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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