The Date of Mark

October 19, 2011
  • 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. 3.10.5; 3.16.3).
  • Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (ca 150 CE) cites Mark 3:17 for it alone refers to Zebedee’s sons by the name Boangeres, which is translated by Mark as ‘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 New Testament Gospels. For the dating and theological interests of the longer ending, see the definitive study by James A. Kelhoffer, Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark.
  • In the first quarter of the second century, likely around 110 CE (cf. Bartlet, Schoedel, Körtner, Gundry), Papias refered to Mark as “Peter’s interpreter” (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). This is debatable, but I am convinced that Papias was referring to New Testament Mark (and Matthew in 3.39.16), despite the critical issues over matching his problematic traditions with the NT Greek Gospels “according to Mark” and “according to Matthew.” Papias received his traditions from followers of the Elder John, so this tradition can be traced back to “the elderss” at the turn of the century.
  • It is arguable that Mark influenced the Gospel of John (cf. Barrett, Neirynck) and the passion narrative in the Gospel of Peter 50-57.
  • Accepting the consensus on Markan priority, Matthew and Luke copied Mark’s Gospel and it must have achieved fairly wide circulation to be used (independently?) by both authors in different locales. The Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and Ignatius (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2) knew Matthew, so Mark must be earlier still. A few conservative scholars date Luke-Acts to the 60s while Paul was still under house arrest in Rome (cf. Robinson, Hemer), but Luke 19:33-34 and 21:24 seems to presuppose the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Acts ends its narrative at the point where the Gospel has gone forth from Jerusalem to the capital of the Empire. Most scholars date Luke-Acts to the last quarter of the first century and a growing minority to the first quarter of the second century CE.
  • The Patristic tradition is divided between the view that Mark was written after Peter died (e.g., Irenaeus, A. H. 3.1.1.; anti-Marcionite Prologue) or while still alive (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Eusebius H. E. 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7). A few scholars dispute that the use of exodos in Irenaeus is a euphemism for death, thinking it merely means that Peter “departed” or left Rome, and insist that Irenaeus is speaking about the dissemination of Mark’s Gospel rather than its composition (Chapman, Ellis). Yet I think the more straightforward reading is that Irenaeus dates the publication of Mark’s Gospel after Peter’s death and later authors move it back into Peter’s lifetime out of apologetic interests.
  • Internal evidence:
    • 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 or prophecy after the fact or a genuine prediction (e.g., there is no mention of fire and 13:14 could be interpreted as a future antichrist figure who desecrates the temple)?
    • Does Mark 13 reflect the events of the Jewish War or are the vague hints of war, natural disaster, persecution, and the cryptic abomination of desolation apocalyptic tropes?
    • How much time is needed for oral traditions to be translated from Aramaic to Greek and developed into their present written form?
    • Does Mark believe that Jesus’ generation will be the last one before the coming of the Son of Man and have most, but not all, of Jesus’ disciples passed away (Mark 9:1; 13:30)? Notice how the extended “time of the Gentiles” in Luke 21:24 seems to move away from the earlier expectation that the eschatological judgment would be imminent.
  • Most scholars date Mark between 65-75 CE with the divide over whether it dates before or after the Temple destruction in 70 CE. Maurice Casey and James Crossley date it earlier to the 40s by correlating Mark 13:14 with the Caligula crisis when the emperor threatened to set up his statue in the Temple, proposing that Mark’s translations of Aramaic sources was still unrefined, and insisting that Mark assumes Torah observance before major debates on the issue (e.g. Jerusalem Council).
  • Misguided: The argument that a Gospel fragment was found at Qumran was advanced 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, 1992) and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity (New York: Palgrave, 2000). This claim was debunked: 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 (2001-2005): 27-35; Gordon Fee, “Some Dissenting Notes on 7Q5=Mark 6:52-53” JBL 92.1 (1973): 109-12; Graham Stanton, “A Gospel Among the Scrolls?” BAR; Daniel Wallace, “7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus?”  All that remains of this “parallel” is the insignificant Greek particle kai!

Scholarly Views

Martin Hengel (Studies in Mark) starts with the terminus ad quem for Mark in its use by Matthew/Luke, 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 eschatological enthusiasm encouraged the writing of a Jesus’ biography, the sayings tradition or passion narrative appear more worked over, a worldwide mission is presupposed (13:10, 14:9), 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 three 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 advocacy 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 Storylargely 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). Myers locates the evangelist in Galilee and Horsley in Syria.

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 another apocalyptic scenario (2 Thess 2:14) (422-26), but 13:1-2 frames the chapter 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., War 300-309; Lam Rab 1:31), they are uncommon and 13:2 is quite specific (430-31, 434).  After describing the Roman ritual of evocatio deorum to invoke alien gods to flee cities/Temples devoted to destruction (434-41), he finds evidence 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) that the ritual has taken place (448-49).  Similar omens occur in Josephus or Tacitus and Josephus’ apologetic is that Providence was on Rome’s side (442-44). The effectiveness of this ritual could only be narrated in historiography retrospectively after a successful siege (434, 444), so Mark is post-70 CE.

Joel Marcus (Sitz Im Leben), in contrast to Hengel’s claim that Mark had no actual familiarity with what transpired during the Jewish War in hearing the news from afar (i.e. Rome), argues that Mark was written from one of the Transjodan Hellenistic cities attacked at the beginning of the War (461-62). Mark protests that the temple became a house of revolutionary bandits (lēstēs) (cf. Josephus War 4.3.7-8; 5.1.2; for Zealots used for revolutionaries in general see War 2.17.9; 4.9.10) under Elezar son of Simon. The abomination is Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE. The Markan community was persecuted for its openess to Gentiles and protest in the Court of Gentiles in the Temple, since the Zealots wanted to cleanse the site of foreign influence, and the Zealots held mock trials of opponents. Mark’s triumphal entry is 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) interprets four passages as pointing to a post-70 date: 12:9 reflects that the tenants (religious leaders) will be destroyed and the vineyard (Israel) handed over to others (Romans), 13:2 reflects the fall of the Temple and any inaccuracies no more relevant than those in Josephus, 13:14 is not just the Temple’s profanation but its destruction with the Roman general or army standing in the courtyard now (nun) (13:9), and 15:38 is an omen of the temple’s fate (81-94). She situates Mark in post-war Galilee 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 (contrast with Myers, Horsley, and Winn) so as not to be seen as a subversive movement and get handed over by Jewish authorities in the region to the Romans.

Brian Incigneri (to the Romans; cf. Head’s article) dates Mark late 71 during Vespasian’s triumph. He defends a post-70 date: Matthew/Luke are no more accurate on the Roman siege (Luke 21:24 reflects 2 Kings 25:1), Jesus’ predictions are mostly fulfilled, the Romans had no policy of destroying temples (cf. Kloppenborg, 434), 13:2 is generally accurate while Josephus exaggerates the fire (cf. War, the desolator in 13:14 is Titus standing in the Temple and Josephus shows it was possible to flee (War 6.382), and Mark has temple replacement imagery such as throwing the temple mount in the sea as the community offers forgiveness (11:22-25) or rebuilding the temple in 3 days (117-55). His (excessive?) mirror-reading of Mark finds many allusions to Vespasian (cf. 156-252). The crucifixion scene is modeled on an imperial triumph (purple robe, crown, whole guard, Golgotha meaning “head” or Capitoline Hill, the 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 cut the ear of the Tribune guarding him (Hist. 3.84), Herod and Herodias are like Titus and Queen Bernice, James and John are like Vespasian’s ambitious sons, the Gerasene demoniac echoes the 10th Legion whose symbol was a boar, 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, and so on.

Adam Winn (Purpose) situates the Gospel in a similar time and place as Incigneri, though he sees the desolator in 13:14 as a future antichrist figure (69-75). He applies criteria to decide if Mark wrote pre- or post-factum: Specificity, Reasonableness, Similarity, Motivation, and Risk-Reward (58-67). Only his last two criteria rules for post-factum as Christian literature is largely silent on the Temple’s destruction pre-Mark 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 his thesis is that Mark countered the imperial propaganda about a messianic prophecy of Vespasian (Josephus, War 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 a product of a failed synagogue reform movement (cf. pronouncement stories) which turned bitter and threatened apocalyptic judgement on its opponents; Mark is the charter document and new myth of origins combining Jesus traditions with Paul’s kerygma for a community stressing its independent of the synagogue. Mack judges the concept of an anti-temple Messiah to be a contradiction in terms so Mark could only be formulated after the temple’s destruction (282). William Arnal (“Reflection on Exile and Identity”) also puts Mark in the early-mid 70s in some region affected by the Jewish War (60), though he questions 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 around 70 CE. He severs the connection of Mark 13 to the War (ch. 2) as there may be all kinds of referents (Herod Antipas conflict with Aretas of Nabatea, Caligula crisis, persecutions in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 or in Acts, a relatively early outreach to non-Jews, etc). He deconstructs arguments for a long period of development based on form criticism, Markan redaction reflecting the fall or replacement of the temple, alleged influence from Paul, and so on (ch. 3). He re-dates Mark’s Gospel to the 40s by arguing that it presupposes a Law observant movement that has not felt the impact of Paul’s law-free Gentile mission or debates of the Jerusalem Council, while Matthew and Luke respond to these developments (e.g. Matt 5:17; Acts 11-12). Hence, his last two chapters contend that none of Mark’s 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 opposes the oral tradition (cf. Corban) that unwashed hands render food unclean.