2010-06-14

How to date the gospels

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Four Evangelists, miniatures from the Gelati (...

Image via Wikipedia

One who identifies himself as an Irish Anglican here has asked me if I would like to address the arguments of John A. T. Robinson in Redating the New Testament. While I have had such an exercise on my list of “to-do” items for some time, it is unlikely that I will get around to doing anything in depth for quite some time. I would have thought, from the fact that Robinson’s arguments for early dates seem to have made little significant impact on mainstream scholarship, we can see the arguments have not been overwhelmingly persuasive — apart from the more apologetically inclined who have a theological interest in seeing the gospels dated as early as possible to the events they narrate. (But not being a part of academia I might be misinformed on this point.)

As if the narrative is itself some external historical reality and not, indeed, just a lot of creative words making up the theological parable or story. Sound historical method, at least as found practiced outside the sheltered ranks of historical Jesus studies, and as well recognized by the likes of Albert Schweitzer himself, requires that there be some indisputable reference point or control that is external to the narrative itself before one can rightfully assume any narrative has some historical basis. But Schweitzer lost that battle and it appears that today many mainstream believers in the historical Jesus can only respond with insult in place of reasoned argument when challenged with this basic premise. That’s understandable. There is no reasoned rebuttal available to them.

Well, let’s see. I’m digressing. Back to dating the gospels.

There is one simple reason John A. T. Robinson’s dating arguments fail. There are a number of more detailed reasons. But one overall methodological reason undermines his entire effort.

That is, he is openly tendentious. The whole point of his exercise is to see how early he can date them with justifiable arguments. Accordingly, references to arguments for later dates are as a rule dismissed on the basis of what in logical fallacy lists is known as the fallacy of incredulity. Generally his dismissal, whenever he does address a reason sometimes offered for a later date, takes the form of expressing some inability to see a reason why X if Y. Of course, this is an easy enough fallacy to commit. All it takes to undermine it, however, is another student with a little more reading and imagination based on a wider knowledge of possible circumstances to explain X and Y together.

The reason I am bothering with this very generalized post is that these principles came to mind on reading a short passage in Revealed Histories by Robert Hall. In his chapter on the Odes of Solomon, he discusses the dating of the Odes.

Consistent with their character as hymns, the Odes of Solomon make few allusions to datable historical events. Dating must rely on the use of the Odes by other authors or on the contacts of the Odes with various circles of thought. (p. 148)

As simple as that. Hall proceeds to note points of contact between the thoughts of the Odes and those found in Ignatius, hymns of Qumran, New Testament christological hymns, Johannine Christianity, Ascension of Isaiah, and Valentinian gnosticism.

And that is how the Odes must be dated.

In other words, there are two types of evidence. There is the evidence of the narrative content itself. And there is the external evidence. The external evidence might not necessarily demonstrate a specific knowledge of the document in question, but if it expresses the same topical interests, themes and cultural specific imagery, one might reasonably suggest a possibility of the documents belonging to the same time and cultural matrix.

It’s a while since I read Robinson’s Redating, but I don’t recall his work containing any extensive discussion of the external evidence. And in the case of the gospels, the external evidence does indeed point in the direction of a second century provenance.

But should not the internal evidence outweigh the external? No. Or at least not necessarily.

Internal evidence — what an author writes — requires external controls for us to be able to objectively evaluate its status and character. An author — and ancient authors often did this — might well create a literary or narrative voice that reads as if the tale is being told in a particular time and from a particular place, even by a particular circle of witnesses. And the whole kaboozle can be literary artifice from start to finish. That is not hyperscepticism. It is a basic detail that anyone familiar with ancient texts soon learns to understand. We even see examples of it in the New Testament. 2 Peter is generally regarded as a pseudepigraph. That’s a polite scholarly term for forgery. But this is something I’ve discussed many times on this blog, along with scholarly works discussing this fact and its history in ancient times.

I’m not saying that we must assume the gospels are “forgeries”. I am saying that we have no external controls by which to assume their narrative is historical. In that absence, we cannot assume that there ever was a Jesus walking the rounds in Galilee and who visited Jerusalem one Passover to meet his demise if the gospel narratives are the original source of evidence for all this. So to seek to date the gospels as close as possible to a story for which we have no objective evidence to evaluate its facticity seems a bit like shadow-boxing.

The best that John Robinson’s book can achieve is to show us the possibility of a very early range of dates for the gospels.

A work that is serious about addressing the question of dating the gospels will do much more than Robinson has done. Robinson states that his goal was to see how early he could date the gospels. That’s fine. But an objective look at dating must consider Robinson’s work along with in depth arguments for other  possible time periods.

We need to justify a tendency to wish to date the gospels early or late or “on time” if that’s the way we want to go. But I would have thought that any attempt to date the gospels would seriously weigh all the options and possibilities. I have read somewhere that the late second century dates of the gospels have long been rebutted. Specifically, it was apparently Lightfoot who “demolished” them. I would feel more secure in accepting that assessment if I could locate the articles or papers where that rebuttal is supposed to have closed the door on that possibility so decisively. I sometimes get the impression it is just “one of those things” that “everyone who knows, knows”. Be that as it may, I’d like to keep searching till I find it and see those arguments for myself. I have found many Lightfoot articles on the web, but none yet that addresses this question.

It’s not a sin to be biased. But it is a sin to argue in ignorance of one’s biases. And it is an unforgivable sin to knowingly dismiss later possibilities with a wave of the logical fallacy of incredulity.

Enhanced by Zemanta

33 Comments

  • Steven Carr
    2010-06-14 04:36:26 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

    Robinson has nothing but arguments from silence of the very worst kind to offer.

    If a work does not mention the destruction of the Temple, it was written before the Temple was destroyed.

    This is a classic example of a bad, bad argument from silence.

    I like the review on Amazon which praises the book enormously and says ‘For want of data, absolute proof of Robinson’s thesis is impossible….’

    Yes, there is no data to support Robinson’s thesis, as even the most ardent reviewer says.

  • Jim
    2010-06-14 06:10:13 UTC - 06:10 | Permalink

    Robinson’s goal was to demonstrate that an early dating does not raise any contradictions either within or without; that is to say either internally or through the use of external evidence. It does not prove that the Gospels were written early, but it does demonstrate that there is no compelling reason to reject an early dating. I think that is a significant accomplishment.

    In the absence of actual autographs, originals penned by the authors which are signed and dated, the evidence will always remain partial and ambiguous. So we are left with scenarios that are more or less likely. That, in turn, implies that several competing, and contradictory, scenarios may end up being equally compelling.

    Personally, I thought your response to Robinson was evasive. The lack of any mention of the destruction of the Temple isn’t the only evidence Robinson offers for early dating (though it is one he places a heavy emphasis on). There are also actual positive references to features of Jerusalem, stated in the present tense, which support Robinson’s efforts. This is not proof in the sense of mathematical certainty; instead it is what I would call a “good case”, one that is worthy of consideration.

    Best,

    Jim

    • 2010-06-14 12:39:06 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

      You might notice that the title was “How to Date the Gospels” and that in my opening paragraph I said that I planned to address the specific arguments of Robinson some time in the future. In the meantime, I made clear, I was posting here on one broad methodological principle or approach to the question.

      So your thought that my response to Robinson was “rather evasive” was based on a misreading of the post.

  • 2010-06-14 08:04:11 UTC - 08:04 | Permalink

    The absence of any reference to the destruction of the temple is an argument from silence. It may or may not be a persuasive argument from silence, but it is certainly an argument from silence. How persuasive one finds it depends on how likely one thinks it that the gospel writers would have mentioned the destruction of the temple had they known about it.

    By the same token, the lack of any clear external references to the gospels in other first century writings is also an argument from silence. How persuasive one finds it depends on how one assesses the likelihood that the epistle writers would have mentioned some of the teachings or miracles of Jesus had they known about them.

    As for me, I find the absence of the Jesus of the gospels from the epistles much more difficult to explain than the absence of the destruction of the temple from the gospels. Both are strange, but I find the latter more strange.

    • 2010-06-14 12:23:06 UTC - 12:23 | Permalink

      The 70 argument is also an appeal to incredulity. In other words, a lazy (or more likely tendentious) argument for a date within a generation of the story’s events whose strongest claims for justification are its lack of imagination and its lack of effort in investigating the alternative arguments.

      Have plans one day to do a cross reference table of the arguments for pre 70 and post 70 and “other”.

      Damn. I scheduled this post to be released too soon after my previous one about the re-imaging of Jesus through the ages. I personally found that one much more interesting and challenging. Now it’s hidden by this one. Even Hoffmann said it was “useful” and a “good job”, so I think it’s not all bad.

  • 2010-06-14 08:47:41 UTC - 08:47 | Permalink

    How could I consider a spiritual or divine reason? By definition, wouldn’t it be beyond the capacity of my reasoning to assess the likelihood that a divine or spiritual reason existed for something? I would either have to accept it on faith or not at all.

    As far as Acts 20:35 goes it is much less persuasive evidence of Paul’s knowledge than things that Paul wrote himself.

  • rey
    2010-06-14 10:41:16 UTC - 10:41 | Permalink

    Irish, just read Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts. He deals with the epic fail of Robinson.

  • irishanglican
    2010-06-14 04:21:33 UTC - 04:21 | Permalink

    Neil,

    Wow, you mucked that up, i.e. Robinson. Not one word about his major premise! – The destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.! This is the whole point, Robinson was no conservative either, but a NT scholar type “seeking” to understand the history and making of the NT. We simply don’t have all the information, and we should be humble about that fact. But not “you” mythicists! I think Keener’s book also puts your position in grave jeopardy! But again, will you interface with it? I seriously doubt it!

    • 2010-06-14 12:31:41 UTC - 12:31 | Permalink

      And not one word from you about the stated topic of my post:

      There is one simple reason John A. T. Robinson’s dating arguments fail. There are a number of more detailed reasons. But one overall methodological reason undermines his entire effort.

      Re-read my opening paragraph, also.

      Maybe I need Rich to tell me if you also are just here to troll.

  • 2010-06-14 13:31:53 UTC - 13:31 | Permalink

    What I haven’t seen mentioned here yet is why the apologist-scholars want an early dating of the gospels. And that’s because the of the rickety foundation of the oral-transmission argument. Recent research continues to confirm that oral cultures do not preserve stories word for word. The concept of “being faithful to the text” arises only after there’s a text to which one can be faithful. In oral cultures, the story changes to fit the audience, the conditions, the times.

    You’ll still see them rehash the debunked argument of pristine oral tradition, but it’s getting harder and harder for them to say it with a straight face. So it’s no surprise that they want to push the dates of Q and Mark back as early as possible. Perhaps Mark started scribbling his notes as early as Monday after the resurrection?

    However, the early-daters appear to have failed to notice that pushing back the publication dates of Q, Mark, and perhaps even proto-John (or at least John’s sources) intensifies the glaring problem of early fragmentation of the Christian movement. In fact if Paul, the other epistle writers, the writer(s) of Q, and Mark had such widely divergent views of who Jesus was, how to obtain salvation, and what happened back in 30-ish C.E., then maybe Doherty is right. Maybe the whole thing started from a fragmentary beginning.

    Let’s say we push Mark and John so far back that they both were written while the supposed eyewitnesses were still alive. Well, one of them must’ve gotten a lot of hate mail, eh? Because either Jesus died on Passover or on the day of preparation for the Passover. Either Jesus gave a whole lot of signs, or he refused to give any signs except the sign of Jonas. Either he was almost silent in front of Pilate, or he was a blabbermouth. Either he carried his own cross, or Simon of Cyrene carried it. Somebody got it wrong.

    I have to think that early dating of the gospels opens up a real can of worms for them. Do they really want to go there? I say, let’s give ’em a do-over. If they want to go back to the magical date of 70 AD for Mark and the mythical and arbitrary date of 100 AD for the rest of the gospels, go ahead. And we’ll just pretend this embarrassing little adventure never happened.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-06-14 15:36:05 UTC - 15:36 | Permalink

      TIM
      What I haven’t seen mentioned here yet is why the apologist-scholars want an early dating of the gospels.

      CARR
      They desperately want their claims about Jesus to be as early as the claims that a second gunman shot JFK.

      This proves just how desperate they are for any evidence, if that is all they have – an early claim.

      Perhaps Mark’s claim that the early Christian followers thought they could access the tomb if only some big, strong men (perhaps fishermen) could be found to roll away the stone really is early?

      If so, it explains the consternation in Matthew’s Gospel as he invents guards to counter the obvious fact that Mark’s Gospel has such a basic plot error that it left no defense against the charge of grave-robbery.

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-16 06:11:12 UTC - 06:11 | Permalink

      The fact that the gospel writers did not get their story right – in that they don’t agree in some important areas – could be put down to human nature – people don’t remember correctly. However, from a mythicist position, the contradictions within the gospel storyline could be viewed as being part and parcel of the writers intent. In other words; if one is creating a storyline re Christian origins, a faith based storyline, and one wants the central character to have a veneer of historicity (a pseudo-history) then developing four different versions would be par for the course! In fact were the gospels to be in agreement with one another on everything they say (some recording different events but no gospel contradicting the other) then questions could be raised re the possibility of four people getting their stories to match one another!

      While the gospel contradictions can be embarrassing for historicists they need not be for a mythicist position. A mythicist position allows for a developing gospel storyline – it does not have to be set in stone as would a historicist position.

      As to dating the gospels – GJohn, with the Nisan 14 crucifixion storyline is easily dated prior to 70 ce – when such a storyline would not raise a ruckus as to its historical plausibility. On the other hand, imagine, prior to 70 ce, the outcry of a storyline of a crucifixion on Nisan 15 that went against Jewish sensibilities regarding the Passover week. After 70 ce, with the temple no more and the old traditions having to be re-interpreted re that temple – then playing around with the details of the Passover observance would more easily get a pass. And thus allow for a development of the gospel storyline – as seen in the synoptic storyline re the blood and flesh symbolism of the new covenant on Nisan 15.

      A mythicist position allows for a developing gospel storyline – the historicist position sinks into a quagmire of its own assumed contradictions.

  • irishanglican
    2010-06-14 06:16:26 UTC - 06:16 | Permalink

    The destruction of the Jewish Temple is hardly an argument from silence. It is an historical question itself why the NT does not seem to mention it? Again, from more of the internal evidence itself. I can see that Mr. Carr does not have an open mind toward scripture or history really. It seems he just wants to try and prove “his” premise. Those that knew John A.T. Robinson, knew he was no closed minded man or scholar. NT scholars in fact know the importance of this historical reality. And just because it is not in vogue today, really means little. As scholars change their minds like the wind sometimes. It is a good thesis and supposition. Also like the Jewishness of 2 Peter, with its many Hebraisms in the Text, which points to a Jewish author (Peter), and an early date. We must look at the internal evidence always also. And this Robinson knew well too. Thus his premise of the early dating on the whole NT itself. He had no conservative axe to grind for sure!


    Good post Jim thanks. The present tense is very important in the text, as to Jerusalem! Another internal evidence, and indeed worthy to consider.


    Note, for those who care? Find and read, ‘The Human Face of God’, by John A.T. Robinson. Also Barth’s: ‘The Humanity of God’. We must be seekers! We were made to seek “God”! But finding HIM is always a real journey, not works..but surprise!

    • Steven Carr
      2010-06-14 15:30:12 UTC - 15:30 | Permalink

      The destruction of the Jewish Temple is hardly an argument from silence. It is an historical question itself why the NT does not seem to mention it?

      CARR
      IA claims it is hardly an argument from silence. It is an argument from not being mentioned….

      Vive la difference!

      Why should the Epistle of James not mention the destruction of the Temple? Obviously, it must have been written before Jesus said and did anything, as it never mentions Jesus doing or saying anything.

      The Epistle of Jude never mentions John the Baptist. It must have been written before the Baptist was alive, as John the Baptist was so central to Christianity, according to Jesus Himself….

      IA
      Also like the Jewishness of 2 Peter, with its many Hebraisms in the Text,

      CARR
      Another person who claims he can read a Greek document and see another language.

      Apparently, ‘Hebraisms’ denote an early text. Which means it was written by a Jew?

      This is all fantasy. None of that follows. No wonder Biblical scholarship flounders hopelessly as they are building on sand.

      NT Wright claims one of the central messages of the Gospels is the forthcoming destruction of the Temple.

      JAT Robinson claims the Gospels hardly mention the destruction of the Temple.

      Real Biblical Scholars can’t even agree on what the text says…..

  • irishanglican
    2010-06-14 08:27:35 UTC - 08:27 | Permalink

    I note, you have not commented on Acts 20:35? And I agree with the so-called “absence” somewhat. But what if there is a spiritual and divine reason? Have you considered that? (Eph.3..St. Paul)

  • irishanglican
    2010-06-14 09:33:25 UTC - 09:33 | Permalink

    Wow, that’s it huh Vin? Sad, guess were done mate. But Acts 20:35 is really tough on your logic and method. I am always amazed at the depth of unbelief! That is one reason I am so close to Augustine, and his “Augustinian” doctrine.

    • 2010-06-14 09:57:18 UTC - 09:57 | Permalink

      That’s it! My logic and method is to figure out what Paul knew based on what he wrote. My inference that Paul did not know about the gospels because of his silence regarding their subject matter in his writings could certainly be incorrect, but the fact that the author of Acts has him quoting Jesus doesn’t seem relevant to the inference at all. By the same token, Paul never indicates that anyone he knows was a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry. The gospels claim that James and Peter were, but Paul doesn’t indicate it.

      In any case, if Paul attributing a saying to the Lord in Acts is tough on my logic and method, then the teachings he attributes to the Lord in his own letters would be much tougher. However, in his own writings, Paul indicates that his knowledge of the Lord came by direct revelation rather than from anyone who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. Even if I were to accept Acts 20:35 as accurately reflecting what Paul said, it could still fall into that category.

  • 2010-06-14 21:10:05 UTC - 21:10 | Permalink

    Why would Diaspora Jews and/or non-Jews care about the Temple in Jerusalem? Greek was the language of non-Jews and Diaspora Jews. The NT in its entirety was written in Greek.

    Would it be such a stretch to say that the NT was written by Diapsora Jews and/or non-Jews? Thus I don’t see why the Temple would be such a concern for this group of people.

    • 2010-06-16 12:07:25 UTC - 12:07 | Permalink

      “Thus I don’t see why the Temple would be such a concern for this group of people.”

      Because the competing factions within Judaism needed an explanation for the destruction of the Temple. Was it because the Judean leaders killed James the Just? Was it because, as the Essenes said, they had defiled the Temple? Or was it because they killed Jesus? Or is it simply a sign of the impending apocalypse?

      If the center of your religion — the only place where you can sacrifice — is burned to the ground, then you’re going to have to look for “Plan B.”

  • 2010-06-14 21:33:02 UTC - 21:33 | Permalink

    Two thoughts:

    1. The temple was long gone and no longer hot news by the time of the 130-135 Jewish war that, I understand, witnessed the temple of Zeus in the place where it had once stood;

    2. The Gospel of Mark does indeed refer to the temple midrashically: the tomb of Jesus carved out of rock appears to be taken from Isaiah 22:16, the metaphor of the temple as a tomb carved out of rock. In this way Mark depicts Jesus as the new temple in the place of the old.

  • Jim
    2010-06-16 02:47:38 UTC - 02:47 | Permalink

    Regarding the “argument from silence”: I think there is some misunderstanding as to what Robinson was attempting to accomplish. His approach was to see if any contradictions with history, or contradictions internal to the Gospels and other NT documents, appear if one assumes an early dating, pre 70, of the material being examined. Robinson’s approach resembles the method that was used to generate non-Euclidean geometry. By assuming different forms of the Fifth Postulate, mathematicians hoped to generate a contradiction within the Geometric system, and this would thereby prove the Fifth Postulate and hopefully show that it could be deduced rather than assumed. What they discovered was that they could change the Fifth Postulate in such a manner that no contradictions were found and new systems of geometry emerged.

    I think Robinson’s approach is similar. Many modern scholars have taken for granted a late dating of the Gospels, but their reasons for so doing are inferential and tentative. Furthermore, among those who argue for late dating there is no broad based agreement on just how late. Robinson was testing the hypothesis of late dating by examining if any insoluble problems arose by, instead, assuming an early dating, pre-70. What he discovered, and others have concurred with his work, is that no insoluble problems emerge.

    NT research isn’t geometry, granted. But in the absence of positive, definitive proof for late dating, and in the presence of any lack of insoluble difficulties when an early dating is assumed, I think one should grant that the early dating view is as plausible as other views. As I mentioned in my previous post, absent an autograph copy, signed and dated, the evidence will remain ambiguous. That’s not a bad thing in my opinion, it allows for continued research and investigation.

    Best,

    Jim

    P.S. Sorry about the use of the term ‘evasive’; that was uncalled for.

    • 2010-06-16 03:16:52 UTC - 03:16 | Permalink

      Prior to the middle of the second century when external references to the gospels start appearing, I would not think that any proposed date would present “insoluble” problems. The hypothesis that Matthew composed his gospel on the day after the ascension using the notes he took during Jesus’ life wouldn’t present any insoluble problems either, would it?

      • Jim
        2010-06-16 23:14:29 UTC - 23:14 | Permalink

        Hey, Vinny, if you want to go with that hypothesis, go for it! See what you can come up with!

        Best,

        Jim

      • 2010-06-16 23:42:28 UTC - 23:42 | Permalink

        Jim,

        Why would I bother? The existence of leprechauns, pixies, and gnomes doesn’t present me with any insoluble problems either, but that doesn’t give me any positive reason to believe in their existence. I just don’t think that “lack of insoluble problems” is a meaningful criteria.

        On the other hand, I would agree that the failure to reference the destruction of the temple is probative of an earlier date. However, as I commented earlier, the lack of external references in other first century writings strikes me as more significant.

    • 2010-06-16 20:07:38 UTC - 20:07 | Permalink

      Hi Jim,

      It seems to me a little odd to call the common dating of the gospels from around 70 to 90 “late” datings, — to me the “late” date is well and truly into the second century. 🙂

      I think there are more than ‘inferential and tentative’ reasons for this “middling” date. The whole tendency, or motive even, of both the middling and the early datings is to get the gospels as close as possible to the supposed events of the narrative. And this strikes me as an ideological bias. The closer they are to that point the more reliable they can be considered as “history”. If this is mistaken I’d welcome evidence to broaden my understanding.

      A less biased approach would be, I would think, to weigh all the evidence for all possibilities dispassionately. If we do that, we find we have to concede, surely, that external witnesses do tilt the balance at least somewhat in favour of the time of those witnesses than any period where they are lacking. Of course we can always speculate reasons for an absence of external witnesses appearing any earlier, but speculation is not evidence.

      So we have external witness to the existence of the gospels in the mid or late second century, and if we add to those explicit references a second century interest in the same themes and issues as we find in the gospels, then we have additional support for this time being their time of birth. Now if we have such evidence for the second century, and have nothing comparable for an earlier period, then where does the balance of evidence point except to the second century?

      To counter the evidence for the second century with “an absence of reasons” to prevent speculation that they “could” have been composed earlier, is not an argument of very strong weight. Vinny’s comment is spot on.

      Add to this the fact that an early date would raise more questions (or increase the import of existing questions) over why there is no external witness to the gospels until the mid/late second century? And not only why there is no external witness to them, but why the evidence we do have appears to either not know of them or even contradict their narratives?

      So we have on the one side (late second century date) some positive strands of evidence; while on the other side (early date) we have no positive evidence, but do have bigger questions that reduce in size the closer we come to the late date.

      Of course, as you point out, once we uncover the original autographed manuscript that can be carbon dated to within an error of a decade I may well have to reconsider my argument. 🙂

      • maryhelena
        2010-06-16 21:36:44 UTC - 21:36 | Permalink

        The length of the gap, re the gospel’s self dating and the appearance of non-gospel early Christian or secular sources that mention the gospels, would be a problem for historicists – hence their desire to have an early date for the gospels rather than a very late date. (memory and traditions being subject to forgetfulness etc.) But the opposite position, a mythicist position that prefers a late dating for the gospels does not in fact offer anything constructive re that gap. It seems to make no attempt to bridge that gap – generally just waving away the gospel’s dating system as of no real relevance for the Christian origin story.

        Here is an idea: If, as is the mythicist position, Jesus of Nazareth is not a historical figure – then early Christianity – lets say the Paul era – was not dealing with anything that needed an outside witness to its validity. Paul’s spiritual Christ figure (and its ‘fleshly’ counterpart in the Jesus storyline) was where things were at – a purely spiritual/theological/symbolic level. The writings themselves, the gospels and Paul etc were sufficient for those early believers. Now, when Paul dies (whenever, not tied to the dating that ties Paul as an automatic follow on from the gospel story time frame) then re-interpretations and controversy start to arise – re historicity of the Jesus storyline.

        It would be the historicity issue that would generate a re-view of the gospel storyline and lead to the gospels themselves becoming subject to both outside interest and thus lead to a series of external, to the gospels, attempts to support the now claimed, assumed, historicity.

        Thus, more likely than not, placing the gospel writings to mid/late 2nd century is dating the start of the historicity controversy, dating the attempts to give outside witness, evidence, for historicity. Such a dating would have no relevance for dating the gospels themselves.

        Early dating for the gospel writing is not support for historicity – and late dating has no relevance for a mythicist position.

      • Jim
        2010-06-16 23:24:50 UTC - 23:24 | Permalink

        My position is that at this time there is no definitive evidence which clinches the dating of the Gospels, pins them down, so to speak. All one can do with the evidence currently available is to present plausible scenarios. I’m not saying that a pre-70 early dating is better attested than a middling dating (70-90) or even a late dating. I’m saying that an early dating, pre-70, is a reasonably held position given the evidence available. I would say the same for some of the other dating theories. That’s just the nature of the material we currently have. Personally, I find the lack of any reference to the destruction of Jerusalem to be strongly evidential; but I recognize that reasonable people will weigh this differently. I tend to favor the early dating, but I’m not fixated on it in the sense that I am open to other possibilities. It’s just that I don’t think the arguments against early dating are very strong; I haven’t run into any arguments against early dating that would really finish off that hypothesis.

        One of the reasons I think these kinds of discussions go on and on is precisely because the evidence simultaneously supports various interpretations. I am comfortable with that.

        Best,

        Jim

  • 2010-06-16 22:02:12 UTC - 22:02 | Permalink

    I don’t think of the dating question as related to mythicism. I see the two as separate questions. The date of the gospels, I suggest, has more to do with understanding the historical development of Christian thought quite independently of the historical-mythical debate.

    In what way are you thinking of the gospels as “self-dating”? The “this generation shall not pass” saying?

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-17 00:13:12 UTC - 00:13 | Permalink

      Agreed – should have been a bit clearer on that. Dating is only of relevance re ascertaining a historical development of Christianity – dating the NT documents is a secondary issue.

      Self-dating of the gospel – that relates to the time frame in which the gospel storyline has been put. Sure, one can reject the time frame as one can reject the Jesus storyline that has been put within that time frame. But the gospel storyline not being a historical storyline does not mean that the time frame in which that story has been put is itself of no relevance to the developing story of Christian origins. If the Jesus storyline is a spiritual type fulfilment of OT prophecy – then as with OT prophecy – historical dating, the historical timeframe re the placing of that prophetic fulfilment is important. The prophetic fulfilment, or prophetic interpretation, depends upon historical realities. And that is why the gospel self-dating is relevant.

      The 15th year of Tiberius of Luke – 29/30 ce. – is used by the gospel of Luke. Even if Luke (or whoever is writing that gospel) is using that date for prophetic interpretations, or prophetic forecasting, the date itself, by virtue of it being used by Luke, does suggest that in some way it was seen as meaningful to early Christian history. Sure, the gospel writers could have set their Jesus storyline wherever took their fancy – the time frame they chose involved the 15th year of Tiberius. That Jesus was not historical does not mean that the gospel timeframe can be similarly rejected. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater could prove very costly for a historical re-construction of early Christian history…

  • Jon Green
    2010-06-20 12:40:48 UTC - 12:40 | Permalink

    The NT appears to be post AD 70 for the following reasons.

    1) Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in AD70. A few years later arises the concept of the New Jerusalem, a (new age) spiritual city currently existing in heaven but which will also appear on earth when “all is accomplished”.

    2) The Temple was utterly destroyed in AD70. The gospels have Jesus referring to himself as the Temple (John 2:19) and Paul refers to each individual human beng as embodying “God’s temple” (more new age thinking) (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

    John 2:19
    Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

    1 Corinthians 3:16-17
    16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple

    3) With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews were no longer able to follow the law as they once did. So some Biblical justification had to be found for this new reality. Enter Paul and all of his talk about the law being a curse. Now each believer had to work out his “own salvation in fear and trembling” (more new age thinking).

    4) An authentic “proof text” was always kept in the Temple in Jerusalem, against which all other Torah scrolls would be checked. But after the destruction of the Temple this sort of proof-reading was no longer possible. Consequently, after AD 70 the textual basis of Judaism was de-emphasized in favor of a spiritual (new age) emphasis.

    2 Corinthians 3

    2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

    4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

    5) Without the written law (verifiably authentic Torah scrolls), God was now revealed through the creation, including the personal revelations of individual mortal human beings.

    Romans 1:19-20

    what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

    • 2010-06-20 15:03:17 UTC - 15:03 | Permalink

      Also, the archeological evidence strongly suggests that the Galilean synagogue as a separate, dedicated structure with “a ruler” (like Jairus) is a post-70 CE phenomenon. Before that, people probably met in the house of a wealthier person on the sabbath. After the destruction of the Temple, synagogues became more important as centers of worship. It’s probably then that tensions arose among the various post-calamity factions: Essenes, Pharisees, followers of John the Baptist, etc.

      By the time Mark writes, the Sadducees were a dim memory. People vaguely recalled that they were a dour bunch, that they ran the Temple, and that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. All we know of them from the NT is their job as a foil for the wise Jesus, who demolishes their argument about the woman who is the “One Bride for Seven Brothers.”

      • 2010-06-20 20:20:57 UTC - 20:20 | Permalink

        “People vaguely recalled” — or Josephus had left it for posterity to look back and visualize the neat classification of the 4 “philosophies” to emulate the Greek philosophies. There is nothing in the gospels about the Pharisees or Sadducees that is not found in Josephus. (And Pharisees were also evidently unknown as a significant presence in Galilee until after 70.)

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *