After spending this month looking at the various proposed dates and social contexts for Mark, I am much less certain on dating it with precision though perhaps we can establish a terminus a quo (limit from which) and terminus ad quem (limit after which). Mark has to be written after 39-40 CE because the Caligula crisis seems to have influenced the warning about the abomination of desolation in 13:14. In my opinion, I think 70 CE is the terminus ad quem because I believe Mark does not have knowledge of the outcome of the War and may envision a very different future scenario (a future antichrist figure desecration the Temple [13:14] before its destruction [13:1-2, by God or the Son of Man?]) and I think Mark has a real insider political critique of the current political order in Judaea rather than just trying to apologetically distance “Christianity” from “Judaism” and the cult after the disastrous results of the revolt. Although I am very open to a reading of Mark as involved in an intramural Jewish debate rather than the Gentile “Christian” context it is usually set in (my discussion on provenance was open to Syria-Palestine or Galilee, though there was a sizeable Jewish population in Rome), my own inclination is still to date it closer to the conventional date some time in the 60s, though in the next post I hope to interview my advisor and friend James Crossley on his reasons for dating Mark earlier.
A few years ago there was a good discussion on the blogs about the dating of the New Testament books in general, and Mark in particular. Here are some posts worth checking out from Mark Goodacre (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), April DeConick (here), James Crossley (here, here, here) and Michael Barber (here, here, here, here, here, here). Let me know what you think?
If the external evidence puts Mark in the first century, does the internal evidence enable us to pinpoint that date more precisely? Many would say yes and place it on either side of 70 CE. Below I provide a range of scholarly efforts on arriving at a date from clues in the gospel itself (see full Bibliography). But the main points of the debate are as follows: 1) is the focus on the downfall of the Temple (13:1-2; cf. 11:12-14, 20-25; 14:57-59, 15:29) vaticinium ex eventu (prophecy after the fact) or a genuine prediction, 2) does Mark 13 reflect the Jewish War or just vague apocalyptic imagery (wars, earthquakes, famines, cryptic abomination of desolation), 3) how long does it take for the tradition to develop (as required by form criticism, for translation from Aramaic to Greek, for theological developments, etc), 4) is the end expected within a generation of Jesus’ first hearers and how many original witnesses are still alive (see my post on 13:30 or the debate of Crossley, 53-4 [contra Hengel, 8] and Winn, 53-54 on 9:9), and 5) what of the recent efforts to overturn the consensus and date Mark back to the early 40s CE?
Martin Hengel (Studies in Mark) was one of the best traditionalist biblical scholars who defended the basic reliability of the patristic view on Mark. Hengel notes that the terminus ad quem for Mark must be its use by Matthew/Luke and the reference to “this generation” and some original witnesses who had not yet ”tasted death” (7-10) The terminus a quo is established on several grounds: the time it takes to translate traditions from Aramaic to Greek, the waning of initial eschatological enthusiasm to desire to write a Jesus’ biography, the sayings tradition or passion narative appear to be more worked over, a worldwide mission is presupposed (13:10, 14:9) and the ritual laws have been relaxed for a Gentile audience (Sabbath, food, universalism), the martyrdoms of the sons of Zebedee has taken place (10:39) and Mark 13 distantly reflects news of the War (12-14). But the advice in 13:14 to flee would not make sense once Titus set up a circumvallatio around the city and the abomination of desolation could not be Titus who immediately left the temple and city (18-20); he dates it before 70 in the year of 3 emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) which provoked fears of Roman Christians of crisis all around and of a future Nero redivivus (22-28).
Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man, 41) argues that Mark must be prior to 70 but during the revolt in order to understand its political/economic ideology and critique of the current temple state and political order and its advocation of revolutionary non-violence, while he lambasts those who date Mark after 70 as influenced by a “docetic” tendency to remove the political critique and see Mark in light of a “theological” rift with the cult and with “Judaism.” Richard Horsley (Hearing the Whole Story) has his differences but largely agrees that Mark is a story of a village-based Israelite renewal movement against the Roman-designated Jerusalem elites (48-50), obscured by its reduction to “Scripture” and “theology” (27-28), and that the advice of 13:14 and the warnings of false messiahs/prophets would be pointless if the results of the War were already known (131). They differ on provenance, with Horsley settling on Syria and Myers leaning towards Galilee.
John Kloppenborg (“Evocatio Deorum“) grants that 13:14 may be part of an older apocalyptic tractate reflecting apprehension over Caligula’s plans to put his statue in the temple before his assassination in Jan 24, 41 CE (cf Theissen, Context, ch 3) or some other apocalyptic scenario (2 Thess 2:14) (422-26), but 13:1-2 frames chapter 13 around the Temple destruction, a central theme from chapters 11 to 15 (427-28). While oracles of the destruction of the Temple are in the Tanakh (e.g., Deuteronomic history, prophets) and later (e.g., 1 En. 98:20-30; Jos., J.W. .300-309; Lam Rab 1:31), they are uncommon and 13:2 is quite specific (430-31, 434). He finds evidence of the Roman ritual of evocatio deorum, to invoke alien gods to flee cities/Temples devoted to destruction (described on 434-41), in Mark’s narrative recasting of a Q saying (Matt 23:38/Lk 13:35) and account of the cosmic darkness and tearing of the curtain (15:36-38) (448-49). Similar omens occur in Josephus or Tacitus and Josephus’ apologetic is that Providence was now on Rome’s side (442-44). The effectiveness of this ritual could was narrated in historiography in retrospect after a successful siege (434, 444).
Joel Marcus (Sitz Im Leben), in contrast to Hengel’s claim that Mark had no actual familiarity with what transpired during the Jewish War but heard the news from afar (i.e. Rome), argues Mark was written from one of the Transjodan Hellenistic cities attacked at the beginning of the War (461-62). Mark protests that the temple had become the house of revolutionary bandits (lēstēs) (cf. Josephus J.W. 4.3.7-8; 5.1.2; for Zealots used for revolutionaries in general see J.W. 2.17.9; 4.9.10) had taken over the temple under Elezar son of Simon. This explains the abomination as Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE, Mark’s openess to Gentiles and protest in the Court of Gentiles in the Temple (the Zealots wanted to cleanse it of foreign influence), the persecutions as the Zealots held mock trials, and Mark’s triumphal entry as the anti-type of the messianic entry of Simon bar Giora in April-May 69 (448-59). Mark is writing in hindsight and sees the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as punishment for closing the door on Gentiles and turning the place into the seat of revolutionary violence (461-62)
Hendrika Roskam (The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark) argues 4 passages point to a post-70 date: 12:9 reflects that the tenants (religious leaders) will be destroyed and the vineyard (Israel) handed over to others (the Romans), 13:2 reflects the fall of the temple (mistakes are irrelevant as Josephus made mistakes), 13:14 is not just the Temple’s profanation but its destruction with the Roman general or army standing in the courtyard (note the nun [now] in 13:19) and 15:38 is an omen of the temple’s destruction (81-94). She situates Mark in post-war Galilee (cf. a Galilean provenance) and argues that 13:9 accurately depicts the post-70 political situation where the eastern part was ruled by a king and the western part by a Roman legate (112-13). Mark’s depoliticizing of the kingdom or the title Christ (note the contrast with Myers, Horsley or Winn below) was to not be seen as a subversive movement and avoid being dealt with by Jewish authorities acting to prevent Roman reprisals.
Brian Incigneri (to the Romans; cf. Head’s article) dates Mark in late 71 during Vespasian’s imperial triumph. He defends a post-70 date in that Matt/Luke are after 70 but no more accurate on the Roman siege than Mark (Lk 21:24 just reflects 2 Kgs 25:1), that Jesus’ predictions are mostly fulfilled, that the Romans had no policy of destroying temples (cf. Kloppenborg, 434), that 13:2 is generally accurate while Josephus exaggerates the fire (cf. J.W. 18.104.22.168-253, no fire in Synoptic parallels), that the desolator is Titus (J.W. 6.382 show many were able to escape) and that Mark has temple replacement imagery (throw the [temple] mount into the sea as the community offers forgiveness [11:22-25], rebuild temple in 3 days) (117-55). His close reading of Mark, or what critics charge as excessive mirror-reading or allegorization, finds many allusions to Vespasian (cf. 156-252). The crucifixion scene is modelled on his imperial triumph (purple robe, crown, whole guard, capital [Golgotha meaning "head"], time of day, etc), the healing of a blind man with spittle (7:32-38; 8:22-26) echoes Vespasian (Tacitus, Hist. 4.81), 14:47 reflects a supporter of Vitellius who cuts off the ear of the Tribune guarding him (Hist. 3.84), Herod/Herodias are like Titus/Queen Bernice, James/John are like Vespasian’s ambitious sons, the Gerasene demoniac echoes the 10th Legion whose symbol was a boar (Myers, 191 also sees Vespasian’s sending of Lucius Annius to Gerasa with a calvary & foot soldiers [JW. 4.9.1]), the dividing of Satan’s kingdom reflects prior civil war in Rome, the controversy on taxes becomes acute with Jews forced to pay for the Temple of Jupiter in Rome, 15:38 reflects the parading of the outer curtain of the Temple in Rome, etc. Adam Winn (Purpose) is similar (though he has differences as, for example, he sees the great tribulation and the desolator as still future for Mark- cf. 69-75). To arrive at a post 70 date, he applies several criteria to decide if Mark wrote pre-factum or post-factum (Specificity, Reasonableness, Similarity, Motivation, Risk-Reward) (58-67), yet only in his last two criteria does he decide for post-factum as Christian literature is largely silent on the Temple’s destruction pre-Mark (i.e. Paul) and Mark would not risk so much by linking Jesus’ prophetic powers to the Temple given a chance the prediction could be falsified (61-67). He agrees on allusions to Vespasian and argues Mark countered imperial propaganda of a messianic prophecy of Vespasian (Josephus, J.W. 6.312-13; Tacitus, Hist. 5.13.1-2; Seutonius, Vesp. 4.5) (157-67)
Burton Mack (Myth of Innocence) argues that Mark was written in the 7os in southern Syria, close enough to feel the vibrations from the Jewish War but without direct involvement (315). It is the product of a failed synagogue reform movement (cf. the pronouncement stories) which turned bitter and became an apocalyptic sect threatening judgement on its opponents; Mark is the charter document and new myth of origins (combining its traditions with Paul’s proclamation of the Christ) for a community stressing its independent of the synagogue. Mack also judges the concept of an anti-temple Messiah to be a contradiction in terms that could only be formulated after the temple’s destruction (282). William Arnal (“Reflection on Exile and Identity”) also sees Mark as written in the early to mid 70s in some region affected by the Jewish War (60), though he does question the confidence of how much we can know about a discrete “Markan” community in a particular location since this is creatively obscured by the author (59). Instead, Arnal views Mark as a commentary on the experience of exile, social dislocation and ethnic identity in light of the fall out of the Jewish War (60, 65).
James Crossley (Date of Mark`s Gospel) challenges the consensus of dating Mark shortly before or after 70 CE and dates Mark much earlier. He is not alone - in the last two posts we saw early daters for good or bad reasons (e.g., re-reading patristic evidence – J. Chapman, E.E. Ellis) and M. Casey backs it up that one would expect greater editorial revision of the Aramaic sources if Mark was written later (Aramaic Sources) and that Mk 13 reflects the Caligula crisis (Jesus of Nazareth, 69-71). Crossley spends much time deconstructing the confidence of scholarly dating: he severs the connection of Mk 13 to the War as their may be all kinds of referents (Herod Antipas conflict with Aretas of Nabatea, Caligula crisis, persecutions in 1 Thess 2:14 or throughout Acts, a relatively early outreach to non-Jews, etc) (ch 2) and arguments for a long period of development based on form criticism orMarkan redaction reflecting the fall/replacement of the temple or alleged influence from Paul, etc (ch. 3). His argument for re-dating to the 40s is that Mark presupposes an entirely Law observant movement that has not felt the impact of Paul’s law-free Gentile mission or debates of the Jerusalem Council (Matt/Luke-Acts have a law-observant Jesus but respond to these developments [e.g., Matt 5:17; Acts 11-12]). Thus, his last two chapters argue that none of Jesus’ legal verdicts on Sabbath, divorce or purity violate biblical law; he re-reads 7:1-23 as a coherent whole dealing with hand-washing (7:2-5) and that Jesus rejects the oral tradition (as he does with Corban) that unwashed hands render food unclean, hence cleansing all foods (that is, foods already permitted by Torah).
Some of the arguments above I find more convincing than others, but I want to first ask what you think of the various reasons scholars have given for their dating of Mark and when you would date it?
In the last post, I argued that a date for Mark in the first century as the most plausible option can be reasonably established just from a consideration of the external evidence. Before I go on to look at the internal evidence in the Gospel of Mark itself, I want to consider two other external arguments for an earlier dating of Mark that are misguided in my opinion. The first argument by José O’Callaghan, ‘New Testament Papyri in Qumran Cave 7? JBLSup 91.2 (1972): 1-14 and Carsten Peter Thiede The Earliest Gospel Manuscript?: the Qumran Papyrus 7Q5 and its Significance for New Testament Studies. Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1992; The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity (New York: Palgrave, 2000) (cf. his argument summarized here, critical review of latter book here) is that a fragment of Mark has been found at Qumran and so Mark should be dated before 50 CE. However, after the strong debunking of this claim below from conservative or liberal quarters alike (see links below), virtually nothing remains of this alleged parallel except for the very common Greek particle kai. This is familiar to first year undergraduates who have taken an introductory course on the NT, but as the internet is prone to conspiracies it cannot be said strongly enough that there are no references to Jesus or early “Christianity” whatsoever in the Dead Sea Scrolls (note scholarly bloggers with expertise in the scrolls like Jim Davila or Robert Cargill).
The second argument is based on the earlier dating of the book of Acts before 62 CE and, by implication, Mark must be dated even earlier. The early dating of Luke-Acts has some strong supporters (J.A.T. Robinson, Colin Hemer, Craig Blomberg, some commentaries on Luke or Acts), but Luke 19:33-34 and 21:24 seem to me to reflect the Jewish War and destruction of the Temple. It can be protested that Luke’s imagery could be derived from scripture and from commonplaces of war, but that Luke alters the “abomination of desolation” standing in the temple (Mk 13:14; Matt 24:15) suggests to me that the author is reinterpreting a more ambiguous oracle about some antichrist figure defiling the temple in light of the events of 70 CE. I am part of the panel at San Francisco SBL where we will discuss the possibility of an early second century dating based on the arguments of Richard Pervo et al (his case is that Acts is familiar with a corpus of Pauline letters, Josephus’ Antiquities, and shares terminology/themes with the apostolic fathers and other 2nd cent texts, my contribution will be to look at a possible relationship with Papias and the depiction of John Mark in light of our various traditions of a Mark in Paul’s letters, 1 Peter and Papias), but even on the more conventional dating places Luke-Acts in the late first century (80-100 CE). Thus, while I do not think these two arguments are strong for dating Mark earlier than conventional (late 60s – early 70s), in the next post I will turn to the internal evidence to see whether the consensus dating is secure or if Mark can be dated much earlier.
For articles responding to the claim about the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Robert H. Gundry, “No NU in Line 2 of 7Q5: A Final Disidentification of 7Q5 With Mark 6:52-53“. JBL 118 (1999): 698–707.
Hans Förster, “7Q5 = Mark 6:52-53 A Challenge for Textual Criticism?“ JGRChJ 2 (2001–2005) 27-35.
Gordon Fee, “Some Dissenting Notes on 7Q5=Mark 6:52-53.” JBL 92:1 (1973) 109-112.
Graham Stanton, “A Gospel Among the Scrolls?” BAR online
Daniel Wallace, “7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus?” at the blog http://bible.org/article/7q5-earliest-nt-papyrus
In order to pinpoint a date for a literary work, it is important to establish a terminus a quo (limit from which) and terminus ad quem (limit to which). For instance, if we have evidence of a later author explicitly mentioning Mark or signs of literary dependence specifically on Mark (rather than some apostolic fathers just quoting oral tradition or triple tradition material in all three Synoptic Gospels), then we know that Mark must date before that text. So the external evidence:
- The earliest manuscript evidence comes from the Chester Beatty papyri (p45) in the 3rd century that contains all four gospels.
- Irenaeus (ca 180 CE) has a specific tradition on the evangelist Mark along with the other three evangelists (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and explicitly cites the text of Mark’s Gospel (e.g. A.H. 3.10.5).
- Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (ca 150 CE) cites Mk 3:17 which alone refers to the sons of Zebedee by the name Boangeres, which is translated by Mark as the ’sons of thunder’ (Dial. 106.3).
- The Longer Ending of Mark (16:9-20) is written some time in the first half of the second century by a scribe dissatisfied with the abrupt ending at Mark 16:8 and wanting to harmonize it with the resurrection narratives of the other three NT Gospels (the definitive study is by James A. Kelhoffer, Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark).
- Some time in the first quarter of the second century (though most likely 110 CE), Papias refered to Mark as the “interpreter of Peter” (quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). I know this is more debatable, but I am convinced that Papias was referring roughly to our NT Mark (and Matthew, cf. 3.39.16), despite some of the critical problems about matching the tradition with what has come down to us as the “Gospel according to Mark” or the ”Gospel according to Matthew.” Also, I think Papias genuinely received it at an earlier time from followers of the Elder John, so this tradition can be traced back to ”the presbyters” at the turn of the century.
- Assuming the dominant scholarly consensus on Markan priority, Mark must have been written before Matthew and Luke and there must be certain amount of time for Mark to have achieved wider circulation to have been independently (?) used by both.
- When the patristic authors write about the origins of Mark’s gospel, the patristic tradition seems divided between the view that Mark was written after Peter had died (e.g., Irenaeus, A.H. 3.1.1.; the anti-Marcionite Prologue) or that he was still alive (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Eusebius H.E. 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7). However, at least a few scholars have disputed that the use of exodos in Irenaeus is a euphemism for death and intend think it means that it refers to after Peter and Paul “departed” (i.e. left) Rome, Mark transmitted the Gospel to Rome (J. Chapman, E.E. Ellis; see bibliography). For more on the patristic traditions and some critical doubts, see my post here)
Thus, if we just rely on the external evidence, I think we still have enough to safely date Mark sometime in the latter half of the first century. The next step is to turn to the internal evidence to see if we can narrow that date further (around 70 CE? Late 60s CE? Even earlier?)
Searching for some references for my Bibliography on the “Date of Mark,” I found an online PhD ethesis from the University of Birmingham by Hyun Chul Won entitled The date of Mark’s gospel: a perspective on its eschatological expectation (2009). The abstract caught my eye, though I have not had the opportunity to read it and only a portion is available online. Since there is much debate on the social circumstances reflected in Mark 13 - local persecutions in Rome under Nero, the political crisis in Rome during the civil war and year of 3 emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) (Hengel), the fear of Christian’s in Rome in 71 CE in light of Vespasian’s triumph and news that the revolt in Judaea was crushed(Incigneri), mock trials of pacifist Christ followers by Zealot leaders who took control of the Temple in 67-68 CE (Marcus), indiscriminate persecution of Jews/Christians as backlash against the Jewish revolt in Syria, or some other local forms of persecution (cf. 1 Thess 2:14; 2 Cor 11:23-29; persecutions in Acts) - perhaps trying to date Mark by tracing certain eschatological developments may be a useful area to explore.
Just as I covered the provenance and authorship of Mark, this month I will start a series on when scholars usually date the gospel and why. In the opening post, I want to list some of the sources that I consulted and that may be useful for interested readers who want to study these issues in more depth than will be provided in the brief overviews on my blog. So excluding major commentaries, here is a short bibliography:
- Arnal, William. “The Gospel of Mark as Reflection on Exile and Identity.” Pages 57-67 in Introducing Religion: Essays in Honour of Jonathan Z. Smith. Edited by Willi Braun and Russell McCutcheon; London; Oakville: Equinox, 2008.
- Crossley, James. The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity. JSNTSS 266; London: T&T Clark, 2004.
- Casey, Maurice. Jesus of Nazareth. London: T&T Clark, 2010.
- Chapman, J. “St. Ireneaus on the Date of the Gospels” Journal of Theological Studies 6 (1905): 563-69
- Donahue, John R. “Windows and Mirrors: The Setting of Mark’s Gospel.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57 (1995): 1-26.
- Ellis, E.E. The Making of the New Testament. Leiden: Brill, 1999.
- Head, Ivan. “Mark as a Roman Document from the Year 69: Testing Martin Hengel’s Thesis.” Journal of Religious History 28 (2004): 240-59.
- Hengel, Martin. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.
- Horsley, Richard A. Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville; London; Leiden: Westminster John Knox
- Incigneri, Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2003.
- Kee, Howard Clark. Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark’s Gospel. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977.
- Kloppenborg, John S. “Evocatio Deorum and the Date of Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature 124 (2005): 419-450.
- Mack, Burton. A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
- Marcus, Joel. “The Jewish War and the Sitz Im Leben of Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature 111 (1992): 441-462.
- Roskam, H. N. The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context. NovTSup 114; Leiden: Brill, 2004.
- Theissen, Gerd. The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition. Translated by Linda M. Maloney.
Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991.
- Winn, Adam. The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperialism. WUNT 2.245, Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008.