Tuesday, December 04, 2012

is Mark a post-war document?

I'm reading Mark Goodacre's Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas's Familiarity with the Synoptics (Eerdmans, 2012). I'll comment on the book as a whole later, though let me say I cannot praise Goodacre enough for his meticulous attention to detail and his clear (and clear-headed) writing.

In his discussion of the date of the Gospel of Thomas, he makes the (obvious) point that, if Thomas knew and depended upon the synoptic Gospels, then Thomas must have been written after them. A first step in dating Thomas, then, is to attempt to date the synoptics. So far so good.

But then we find the following paragraph, which I will reproduce in its entirety. Note that there are no footnotes in this paragraph, which is part of why I'm raising a question mark against it. But first, Goodacre:
Second, the case for a post-70 dating for Mark is strong, and gaining in momentum in recent scholarship. Although it might be overstating the case to speak about a post-70 Mark as an emerging consensus, several recent works place the onus on those wishing to argue the opposite. The importance of this is obvious. Since Mark is the first in the sequence of literary works, dating Mark is a very helpful way of moving forward. If Mark post-dates 70, so do Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. (Goodacre 2012:161)

I was surprised by the strength of Goodacre's statement. I can't say that the date of the synoptics is my area of expertise, but I'm familiar enough with the field that I think Goodacre has, indeed, overstated the case even that the onus is on those who argue a pre-70 date for Mark. Here I'd make two points.
  • First, there are some fringe arguments that date Mark considerably earlier than 70 CE. For example, James Crossley argued in his doctoral dissertation that Mark is nearer the Caligula crisis (41 CE). As far as I know, James has not found an impressive following (though his doctoral supervisor, Maurice Casey, accepts his argument in the latter's Jesus of Nazareth). R. T. France, a Matthean scholar, also dates Mark early, though for completely different reasons. As I have already conceded, these are fringe arguments. Because they are fringe, however, they are more easily disregarded than disproven. At the very least, these arguments force us to temper our confidence in the consensus.
  • Second, my own impression is that the developing consensus fixes the date of Mark's Gospel in the vicinity of the war with Rome, either in the buildup to hostilities or in the war's immediate aftermath (viz. 65–75 CE). Especially significant here are the details of Mark 13, details which (i) echo biblical themes pertaining to the destruction of the First Temple and (ii) do not correlate precisely to Titus' destruction of the Second Temple.
Scene from Titus' Arch depicting the triumphal procession and the spoils from the Jerusalem Temple.
Perhaps I'm wrong here, and Goodacre is right. In fact, my first instinct is to trust Goodacre. But I was under the impression that the case was just as strong that Mark dates to immediately before the war as it was that Mark was written after the war. You Markan specialists out there, let me ask: What are your impressions regarding any potential "emerging consensus" among Markan (and historical Jesus?) scholars? Is there broad agreement that Mark is a post-war document?

UPDATE: Goodacre does consider specific arguments for dating Mark (including Crossley's; see Goodacre 2012:162–64). In rereading this post after it was published, I realized I might give the impression that Goodacre simply ignores Markan scholarship. That impression would be false.


James McGrath said...

I didn't have the impression that that was the consensus, but Mark is not my area. I too would be interested to hear what those who work specifically on Mark have to say about this!

Stephen Carlson said...

I wouldn't push the difference between "post-70" and "vicinity of the war with Rome ... (viz. 65-75)" too much. There's still a period of time, e.g. 70-75, that fits both positions pretty well.

Rafael said...

Thanks, Stephen. But later, when Goodacre affirms a particular "literary impact" of Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction (2012:165), that impact is dramatically different if Mark was written 65–70 or 70–75. Was Mark 13 "about when prophecy succeeds" (Goodacre 2012:165; italics in the original), or was it enjoining a particular position among Jesus' followers on the escalating tension between Judea and Rome?

Stephen Carlson said...

Well, Rafael, I think you're putting your finger on the incoherence of the 65-75 dating range. If it really does make a big difference whether it's pre- or post- destruction, even within this narrow range, then I'd say that the supposed consensus on 65-75 is artificial, collecting very different and incompatible views of understanding Mark in relation to the War under the same umbrella.

Rafael said...

That's nicely said, Stephen. Thanks.

J. L. Watts said...

I think that the consensus, if there is one, is that Mark is post 68. See Adam Winn's monograph for the arguments here. I date Mark based on internal artefacts post 72/73 and no later than 75ish-ish.

Joel Marcus may be of some help here.

(and, cough cough, my future book - Wipf and Stock, 2013).

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