The Missing Testimony of the Earliest Gospel

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by Neil Godfrey

Now that’s what I call missing.

Of all the debates and controversies surrounding the Gospel of Mark, the one I find the most teasing is its absence from the record when it was supposed to be present.

No explicit clues till the mid-second century

There is no explicit hint that it was known to anyone until around 140 c.e. when Justin Martyr spoke of the names of three disciples being changed by divine fiat. It is widely assumed that he is referring to the passage in Mark that speaks of this.

140 c.e. is two generations after the date most New Testament scholars suggest it was composed.

But those scholars who still argue that Mark was the last composed of the canonical gospels appear to be a small minority now. At least one exponent of this late date that I have read seems to have a Church-based confessional interest in arguing this point and maintaining the argument for the primacy of Matthew.

But there is little doubt among most scholars, it seems from the range of literature and discussions I have encountered, that Matthew and Luke knew about Mark’s gospel, and used large chunks of it. Some strongly argue that John’s gospel also shows signs of using Mark. So whatever date we assign for Mark’s first appearance into the world, we need to allow room for the other gospels to follow.

Why the need to reuse Mark?

But why would Matthew and Luke lean so heavily on Mark when they clearly had a different agenda about Jesus, his teaching and his disciples to push? (Here I’m thinking within the parameters of my previous post, Tactics of Religious Innovation.) Mark’s gospel was originally almost certainly “Separationist“. (See also my Jesus nobody post.) Jesus the man was just a man, while the Son of God was a heavenly spirit that entered and possessed that man at baptism, but left him at the crucifixion, presumably reuniting with him in the resurrection.

So why would Matthew and Luke, pioneers of what became the orthodoxy, ever rely so heavily on Mark and bother to re-write him? Why not create alternative “correct” gospels without the taint of such an opposing theological agenda?

Does not heavy reliance on Mark imply that Mark was very well and widely known, and that it had a widespread authoritative status? Does it suggest that the authors of the later gospels felt a need to take on Mark and use his gospel against his theology? Was anything as innovative as a new gospel from scratch so unlikely to take hold that it was simply a non-starter? Was Mark so well established that subtly rewriting it, and expanding on it in ways that subtly overturned its message, the only opening for rival theologians?

But if it were so well grounded as the earliest gospel and for some time the only gospel, how is it we hear nothing of it — and that is only a hint of it — until the mid-second century c.e.?

Matthew or Matthew’s matrix?

Another significant fact is that early church documents show a decided preference for the Gospel of Matthew. But this is an interpretation of the evidence. There is a wealth of evidence for early church documents citing passages that also appear in Matthew.

How can we be sure that these sources really are quoting “our Matthew” rather than a collection of sayings, or that they are not simply drawing on a cloud of sayings in the culture that were later set down in Matthew’s gospel?

Mid second century Justin Martyr speaks of the Memoirs of the Apostles, and the little he speaks of their contents matches material in our canonical gospels. And when he describes the birth of Jesus he comes tantalizingly close to something we read in Matthew’s gospel, but he also even more frustratingly moves away from Matthew’s account and brings in other images from his interpretation of the prophets. In fact, his whole birth narrative is, not unlike Matthew’s, openly drawn from his interpretation of the Old Testament prophets. He does not appear to be citing a gospel or Memoir of an Apostle at all.

The earliest indisputable evidence

The earliest overt evidence we have of Mark’s gospel itself is from the first harmony of the four gospels to have been composed. This was by Tatian, sometime between 160 and 175 it is believed. So when we first see Mark clearly we also see the other canonical gospels at the same time — in a gospel harmony. And this is up to three generations after the gospels are widely assumed to have been composed.

One more question before I go

Now another question. Tatian’s harmony is touted as the earliest gospel harmony. Can we really imagine no widely distributed harmony following the appearance of four varying and contradictory gospels until after the passing of three generations?

It is human nature to establish patterns in what we see. We are creatures that like to tie things together as well as blow them apart. We don’t like leaving loose threads or contradictions hanging. I would think a harmony would be the very next publication to follow any general awareness and overlapping acceptances of four different gospels.

It is generally accepted that Mark was written soon after or around the time of the first Judean rebellion against Rome (around 70 c.e.) — the one led by Simon and John. Is it just barely conceivable that it was rather written soon after or around the time of the second Judean rebellion instead (around 135 c.e.) — the one led by Simon Bar Kochba?

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Neil Godfrey

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46 thoughts on “The Missing Testimony of the Earliest Gospel”

  1. Hi Neil,

    A post-Bar Kochba date for Mark is proposed by Hermann Detering:


    However, Detering also believes Matthew and Luke are post-Bar Kochba, so this doesn’t imply Markan posteriority. I’m still undecided on this issue, but Detering’s views deserve more credit than they get.

    A late date for Luke-Acts is definately gaining ground and the only thing that appears to be holding back a late-Matthew date (in addition to the obvious Christian bias) is the view that Ignatius knows Matthew’s Gospel (texts like the Didache, 1 Clement and Barnabas further complicate matters). Ignatian dependence on Matthew is not at all that clear though and we can’t even be all that confident about the standard 110-117 dating for Ignatius.


  2. Hi Bill,

    My recollection of Detering’s article is that it argues:

    (a) a late date (Bar Kochba war) for the “Little Apocalypse” (Mark 13 and Matthew 24), and

    (b) that Matthew’s version is earlier than Mark’s, with Mark being an edit of Matthew’s.

    His discussion is only of this passage in the synoptics, and it assumes (states?) that Mark 13 is a later insertion into the Gospel.

    Others (Kelber, I think, for one) see Mark 13 as integral to the original composition of Mark. Such lengthy prophetic passages delivered before a decisive adventure of a hero are certainly standard fare in popular epics and novellas of the day, and I see this as another support for the chapter being original to Mark.

    I certainly agree with your comment re Ignatius.


  3. “Was Mark so well established that subtly rewriting it, and expanding on it in ways that subtly overturned its message, the only opening for rival theologians?”

    Absolutely! When Justin Martyr writes his First Apology (circa 138) he makes no claims about the Catholic church being universal, but he says of Mark-ion in Chapter XXVI “And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who…has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies…” showing that Catholicism was merely a newcomer to a world already full of Mark-ionism. Of course they would have to rewrite his dominant gospel.

    Remember my crazy idea that Markion’s gospel was a variant Mark? Turns out that Huller found that Hippolytus (who edited Ireneaus’ Against Heresies to make it more accurate, saying himself that Ireneaus refuted the heretics with and ‘unrestrained spirit’ and made mistakes) says that Mark-ion’s gospel was a variant Mark! [link]:

    “When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark.”

    Why would Markion or his followers care about Mark and whether his doctrines had been in it or not if his gospel was a mutilated Luke? But if his gospel was the original Mark, because he was Mark, then he would care, or rather his followers would care because he was certainly dead himself in Hippolytus’ time. What Hippolytus is responding to is clearly, as Huller points out, a Marcionite claim that Marcion’s gospel IS the authentic and original Mark. To this claim the ‘orthodox’ person must respond: “none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark.”

    1. Notice again what Hippolytus is responding to, for he certainly gives us a glimpse into the Marcionite claims when he says:

      “For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark. But (the real author of the system) is Empedocles, son of Meto, a native of Agrigentum. And (Marcion) despoiled this (philosopher), and imagined that up to the present would pass undetected his transference, under the same expressions, of the arrangement of his entire heresy from Sicily into the evangelical narratives.”

      In other words, Hippolytus shows us that the Marcionites claim that the authentic Mark says that the Demiurge is bad and Jesus is the son of a Better God. But Hippolytus says that instead, the author of these doctrines is Empedocles and that Marcion has added them to the gospel of Mark.

      We clearly have a competition between two candidates for the title of ‘authentic gospel of Mark’ here: the gospel of Markion, understood by the Markionites to be the authentic Mark; and the Catholic gospel of Mark, understood by the Catholics to be the authentic gospel of Mark.

      1. Don’t let the phrase “evangelical narratives” trick you into thinking more than one gospel must be in view, for this phrase probably should have been translated “gospel stories” meaning not that Hippolytus is accusing Marcion of injecting Empedocles’ doctrines into multiple gospels but rather into multiple ‘gospel stories’ in the gospel of Mark.

    1. “Marcion’s opponents never accused Marcion of adding to their Gospel”

      Here’s the history of the accusations:

      1. Ireneaus says he mutilated Luke.
      2. Hippolytus says Ireneaus wrote against the heretics with too unrestrained of a spirit and made mistake. He corrects Ireneaus on the particulars of the Marcosian redemption ritual, and he now claims that Marcion added his peculiar doctrines to Mark and says the orthodox must say Mark never wrote such things.
      3. Tertullian takes Ireneaus’ work and builds a structure for a supposed Marcionite gospel based on Luke. This is the same Tertullian who uses the Shepherd of Hermas but when his views on marriage change all of the sudden reveals that Hermas (long dead) was excommunicated for seducing a virgin. He is not above subterfuge and lying for the cause of orthodoxy.
      4. Epiphanius takes Tertullian’s work and regurgitates it maybe adding one or two details of his own inventing. He also is not above making up a story, for he creates a man named Ebion and swears up and down that he was the founder of the Ebionites even though the Ebionites deny that any such man ever existed.
      5. Fortunatian writes in his preface to John that John dictated the gospel correctly to his scribe but the scribe was Marcion the heretic who did not faithfully copy what John dictated.

      So, we have three accusations from all these opponents:

      1. Marcion mutilated Luke.
      2. Marcion added to Mark.
      3. Marcion changed John somehow.

      Did Marcion do all three of these?

      Or did he perhaps author a super gospel that had elements of all three of these gospels and of Matthew. Remember that Tertullian claims to be quoting from Marcion’s gospel and he quotes sermon on the mount in Matthew form “blessed are they…” not Luke form “blessed are ye…” not to mention he accuses Marcion of removing things from Luke that were in Matthew only.

      It seems then that Marcion put forth a long gospel containing bits of things we now find in Matthew, in Mark, in Luke, and in John, and he claimed that the whole composition was the gospel of Mark.

      Remember that the introductory note in the Borgian MS of the Arabic Diatessaron assigns symbols to the four evangelists, using them to spell out Mark in Aramaic, MRKH. What is the purpose of this?

      Tatian according to Victor of Capua (in his preface to the Codex Fuldensis harmony and Sangallensis 56) fell into the error of Marcion. This is quoted from Eusebius. But if Tatian fell into the error of Marcion, we should expect him to use Marcion’s gospel. Was the Diatessaron, then, a redaction of Marcion’s gospel? And since the Arabic Diatess. spells out Mark by assigning symbols to each evangelist seemingly to suggest that the whole work is to be understood as being by Mark, does this not imply somehow that Marcion’s gospel (which according to Tertullian is Luke, according to Hippolytus is Mark, and according to Fortunatian is John) was a predecessor of the Diatessaron that was understood to be a gospel of Mark?

      1. I should also mention, that once you remove the orthodox interpolation of the birth stories from the Arabic Diatessaron and Codex Fuldensis / Sangallensis 56 (for Tatian is well know to have left this out) then you have the Diatessaron beginning with John 1:1-5 then jumping to Luke 3:1 “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” Based on the fact that Tatian is said to have fallen into the error of Marcion it seems unlikely that he had John 1:1-5 in the Diatess. at least he couldn’t have had verse 3. So, chop off John 1:1-5 from the Diatessaron, and what do you have? The Diatessaron begins with “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” just like Tertullian says Marcion’s gospel began!

  4. “Some strongly argue that John’s gospel also shows signs of using Mark. So whatever date we assign for Mark’s first appearance into the world, we need to allow room for the other gospels to follow.”

    You may have already done this previously but would you care to suggest your personal opinion re:
    [a] a gospel chronological sequence for the 3 synoptics and g”John”
    [b] dating ranges thereof?

  5. My opionions are, like most people’s I suppose, always in flux. I don’t know the chron sequence of the gospels, but I do wonder if our canonical Luke was the final gospel, written (or going through a final redaction) after John, which was written after Matthew (it has some signs of Matthean editing, at least) which was written after Mark. Tyson argues reasons for thinking there was a much earlier form of Luke and that our canonical Luke was a late production; Matson, Shellard and some others argue for Luke being the last written on other grounds.

    So 1st: Mark, then Matthew, then John, then canonical Luke. (but both John and Luke (ur-Luke?) were undergoing revisions for a while, probably in parallel.

    I am still open to rearranging the above the more I learn. I have in the past toyed with the idea of John being the earliest, and Mark being the last.

    Though in discussions I sometimes assume, for the sake of argument, the conventional dating of the gospels, I really wonder if Mark was written around 135 c.e., with Matthew and John soon afterwards (maybe a decade or more afterwards — around the time of Justin Martyr. And Luke written sometime soon after those. I wonder if Justin Martyr’s writings both point to and are in themselves evidence of a flurry of wider interest in the mid-second century in creating Jesus narratives from allegorical interpretations of the OT.

    I have no idea if Paul’s letters were first or second century constructions.

  6. Thanks for the response.
    The 2 reasons I asked is that firstly I am fairly convinced [as much as one can be] that “Mark” was written around the turn of the 1st century, or slightly later, followed by some sort of interval by “Matthew” and “Luke” with nary a ‘Q” in sight.
    Then, bringing up the rear, is “John” [who/which [?]] is somehow related to “Luke” and either through that relationship to “Mark” or perhaps even directly.
    Now whether the Luke/John chronology goes L->J or J->L or intertwined I have not considered but either way they are 3rd and 4th in the chronology. For me that is.

    I find it hard to put “Mark” as late as 135 ce plus but only because it compresses things a bit too much. Maybe.

    The second reason is I must have struck you in your ‘early “John” phase at IIDB some time ago when you deconstructed my, I thought careful, reasons for “John” being clearly last.
    I retreated, wounded.
    Not to worry.

    I have collected about 10 little hints and clues from within the text of “Mark” which give, with varying degrees of credibility and strength, a suggestion that such was written definitely post 7O ce, decades later up to the early 2nd century at least.
    Which then squeezes the rest into the early-mid 2C depending on dating other persons eg Ignatius, Clement , Papias etc.

    And I’m wide open on the number of and dating of ‘genuine’ Pauline epistles.

    And, I’d better add, I like your site.

    1. Can you remind me of that exchange we had over the relative chronology of John? When/where was it exactly?

      I’d be interested in your “10 little hints and clues” re the post 70 Mark. Care to share?

      I have little problem with a turn of the century date for Mark. But I am also prepared to reopen the question that it was the last gospel written — not so much compressing things but simply selecting and reusing bits of material to express an unorthodox theology. But against that, it seems unlikely that Irenaeus and co would have accepted an unorthodox and late gospel into their “canon”.

      Thanks for the site compliment, too.


  7. I’ll post them one by one, if you think they are old hat, just say so.

    “Mark” 12. 1-9. “the allegory of the vineyard” aka the parable of the wicked husbandmen

    The owner [god] of a vineyard [Israel] sends servants [the prophets] to the tenants [Jews] of the vineyard to collect rent. The Jews kill the prophets so god sends his son [JC] and the Jews kill him also. God destroys the tenants [Roman Jewish War] and gives the vineyard to others [non Jews and Christians].

    Suggested date:
    Post 70CE. Perhaps post Second Jewish War.
    I’ve seen this described as an allegory in several books [eg D.E Nineham “Saint Mark” Pelican] where the various elements are I/D as above, often with reservations.

    Anyway there’s #, suggesting a post 70ce date.
    Over to you.

    ps. The discussion on “John” at IIDB was concerning ‘trajectory’, the adding of detail to stories common to 3 or more gospels in later gospels. I considered, as one example, Malthus the slave to be the most detailed of the garden stories hence John the oldest gospel. You disagreed persuasively with the concept.
    Its history [the discussion I mean] and of no import now.

  8. Thanks. Agree. I think of Mark and his likes debating with Pharisees who had fled from Jerusalem and surrounds mostly to Galilee after 70 c.e. as they rivaled for the support of displaced and traumatized Judeans and other Jews who had had the heart of their identity ripped out.

    I am also reminded of Justin’s and other Church Father indications that it was understood that the Romans swept in to punish Jerusalem hard on the heels of the crucifixion of Jesus. It is only because of Acts and our superior awareness of the chronological details that we try to force a 40 year gap into the finale of that parable. Are Mark and Matthew incorporating into their gospels a well-known parable in their day?

    But is there an implicit contradiction between this parable and the Little Apocalypse of Mark 13 which does clearly point to a long gap between the conquest and the crucifixion? If so, then we have support either for the chapter being a later insertion or the gospels of Mark and Matthew being late enough not to have had any impact on the thinking of Justin Martyr around 140 c.e.

    Comments? Next?

  9. I’m wary, even when the weight is on its side, of using the argument that a particular element of any gospel is a later interpolation.
    Except in extreme cases eg “John”21.
    I’m also wary of making the presumption that any one gospel should be internally consistent even with itself. I think that presumes a higher level of ‘proof reading’ and smoothness of writing, particularly when source texts are being used by the author, than what probably existed in that era.
    Ken Olson [?] shows how difficult it would have been for an author using source material in those days in his thesis which looks at how “Luke”‘s internal handling of purported Q material is consistent with problems of using “Matthew’ as a source.
    And we know the author of ‘Mark’ was using the Jewish bible as a source [BTW what is the accepted term for such without using ‘OT’?].
    So the implicit contradiction between this allegory [and I prefer to call it such as a bit of political spin] and other elements of ‘Mark” can be explained quite simply as the carelessness, as in care less ness, of the author. The author didn’t realize the contradiction or care even if he did notice.
    Anyway thats getting off my aim.

    I’ll keep this one brief.
    Because it is a field [pun] of enormous potential and effort and controversy which I’m deficient in and would love to find out more.


    As in synogogues with a religious function, existing ‘everywhere’ [to exaggerate slightly] in Galilee at the alleged time of JC who is described specifically as using them in a religious sense frequently [well at least three times from memory] by “Mark”.

    As a sweeping statement to get the ball rushing downhill try this:
    Despite exhaustive archaeological research, and contrary to the claims of some apologists, no religiously oriented synagogues have been identified in the Judean/Galilee area prior to the Roman–Jewish War of 66-73 CE.

    I begin to back that statement up with:
    -“Mark’s presumption that there were synagogues throughout Galilee during Jesus Christ’s time [M 1.21,1.39, 3.1], an assumption that archaeologists and historians have not been able to substantiate”
    Mack “Who Wrote the NT” p.159

    -“Only during and after the first century CE does literary and archaeological appear for Palestine ….Whilst prayer appears to have been an integral part of the religious services in the Diaspora, its presence in Palestinian synagogues before 70CE is unattested….As for the Roman Diaspora references before then are practically nonexistent [and what does exist refers to the Disaspora]. ” Oxford Companion to the Bible” Eds Metzger and Coogan page 721

    And there are others.

    I have limited access to books in general, this area of interest in particular, and nil access to journals. I am envious of people who have access. So I realize I am a real amateur particularly re synogogues.

    Looking at Donald Binder’s website I came to a tentative conclusion that:
    1 Evidence exists for one religiously oriented synagogue in Palestine pre First Jewish War [Gamla].
    2. All other evidence cited is contraversial and subject to apologetics.

    So, I suggest that “Mark”‘s references to religiously oriented synogogues in Palestine is an anachronism that points to a post 70ce date, at the extreme earliest, and more likely the latter part of the first century and even later.

  10. I likewise lean to Mark 13 being integral to the original gospel composition. Such lengthy prophetic monologues delivered on the eve of grave danger were common enough in popular literature of the day, and there are some nice verbal allusions tying it to surrounding chapters, and it makes for a neat Markan centre of an “inclusio” structure to the gospel.

    Ah yes, the anachronisms. Definitely point to post-70 date — and long enough “post” for them to have become part of the landscape of Galilee after war. Pharisees, too, in Galilee are another that you are probably about to point to.

    You reminded me that I think I have written something about this too, so I did a search and came up with this long-forgotten post on some obscure blog, “Why I like to be late when dating the gospels“. Not sure how much of it I would still think the same way about now.

    But you’re giving me the chance to look at this afresh, so please do continue.

  11. Ahh, lovely, a link to a scholarly article on coins/synagogue/Capharnaum, just the grist my mill lacks.
    I’ll check it out in detail later.

    I note in your linked post above that a commenter [JD] cites Capernaum as a established early 1C synagogue site.
    Thats contrary to my reading.
    The site JD links to is Donald Binder’s, which I referred to above.
    In my opinion, the detail in that site fails to back up the assertion that ‘several pre 70 ce Palestinian synagogues have been found’.

    Now I would love to pursue this synagogue question in detail, mainly as a learning exercise. I have no resources to offer I’m afraid.
    But its a field that is laden with contoversy and strong opinions and I’m not qualified to judge due to lack of expertise and information. Two huge gaps.

    Have you read Binder’s site?
    It is certainly interesting and I spent some time there years ago skipping from link to link and using google to chase down references, often, but not always to no avail.

    Do you wish to pause the list to pursue the synagogue question or continue onwards merrily?
    see ya.

  12. Not to intrude on the discussion, but does the lack of synagogues in 1st century Galilee necessarily point to a late date for Mark? I think it’s a great bit of evidence for suggesting that the gospel of Mark is not a history report, but does it really help with the dating? If “Mark” were not a native of Palestine, but rather a Christian/Jew somewhere else in the Empire, and if he were not reporting history but rather either gathering together various traditions he knew of or even creating an allegorical story whole cloth, then he might just have been imposing his own life experience onto the Galilee area. If he expected synagogues, there would be synagogues in his story. If he expects a sea, then there’s a sea in his story.

    From what I understand there are a lot of good reasons to believe that “Mark” was not from Palestine. His apparently poor grasp on Palestinian geography comes up in a number of places that I’ve read. It may be that Mark didn’t know and didn’t care about the religious organization of Palestine not because it was some point in the past and now the Palestine he knew was different, but because Palestine was geographically far away from him and he just projected what he expected onto the setting as he was writing.

    I could be missing something and if I am please let me know. But it seems like this can’t be used as evidence for a late date unless we believe that “Mark” thought what he was writing was history or we believe that “Mark” lived in the area of Palestine. I am currently at the position that I don’t think that either of those things are true – though I’m much shakier about the latter given that as far as I know the only “evidence” that “Mark” was from anywhere is that tradition says that the gospel came from Rome. But I’m not sure how much weight that should be given.

  13. Gidday Jer,
    I just about absolutely agree with all that you say.

    I agree that the author of ‘Mark’ was probably not only NOT a Palestinian, that is he was from elsewhere in the empire, that there are good reasons, the errors regarding geography and customs for example that you mention, for presuming lack of direct knowledge of Palestine etc and that he may simply be in error in assuming the Judaism that he sees in the diaspora, from wherever he is, Rome or wherever, is the same as that in Palestine.

    So that seeing synagogues with religious functions in his neck of the woods he presumes such exist in Palestine.

    But there is a cost to that viewpoint.
    It strips the author of anything approaching eyewitness status and even strips him [presuming he is male] of anything approaching an intimate knowledge of Palestine and the Jews.
    That may not worry me, or you, but I think it would be contentious for many christians.

    But the reason why I am presenting this last particular point, re synagogues, is that it can also suggest anachronism.
    An alternative to writing from afar is to be writing from a chronological distance so that his description is based on what Palestine is like at a later date than the alleged era of JC. When synagogues, with religious functions, did begin to be built in Palestine many decades after the destruction of the temple.

    So we end up with alternatives.
    1.”Mark” the eyewitness Palestinian contemporary of JC and the events he describes.
    2. “Mark” the ‘foreigner’ incorrectly describing places, customs and events of which he has no direct knowledge.

    3.”Mark” the foreigner ..etc… writing at a later date when synagogues did exist in Palestine but thus equalling an anachronism to the purported era of JC.

    The last possibility [there are probably others?] has both elements of distance, time and place, so they are not mutually exclusive. He can be distant in both time and place.

    And I’m collecting those bits of the text of g”Mark” that suggest a later date, whether the suggestion is strong or weak, credible or not, able to be differently interpreted or not.
    Just suggestions.
    To be discussed as you have.

    I have 8, excluding the destruction of the Temple ‘prophecy’ which is well covered generally.

  14. It’s an important question, and agree that the answer is all about probabilities — as is most interpretation of evidence. What are the odds that an author would ignorantly describe a time and setting that did in fact exist only at a later date, against the author writing at a later date and projecting his contemporary conditions back into the past?

  15. #3 “RABBI”
    “Mark” 10.51 [and other]

    1.Jewish Encyclopedia entry “rabbi”

    “Sherira’s statement shows clearly that at the time of Jesus there were no titles; and Grätz (“Gesch.” iv. 431), therefore, regards as anachronisms the title “Rabbi” as given in the gospels to John the Baptist and Jesus, ..”

    2. Geza Vermes p. 26 of “The changing faces of Jesus”

    “Nor was he a “rabbi” in the technical sense despite being repeatedly addressed as such….It is even questionable whether the term ‘rabbi’ in the specialized meaning was current in the early decades of the first century AD. The great Jewish masters who lived in the age of Jesus, Hillel, Shammai, Gamaliel, are all called “elders’ not ‘rabbis’.”

    3.Hyam Macoby ‘The Mythmaker’ p 21

    “Thus the assembly of sages [as the Pharisee leaders were called before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70; after which they became known as ‘rabbis’ …..”

    Date suggested:
    Post 70, ce stretching to the time when calling Jewish sages “rabbi’ became common enough for the author of “Mark” to [incorrectly] and anachronistically place it in the earlier purported era of JC. Ah but when did it become common? Some time after the turn of the century?
    Which thus suggests a second century date for the writing of g”Mark”.

    1. The use of the term rabbi to address Jesus is an obvious standout in the text, and I doubt it was put there by the original author. It seems like clear anti-Marcionite polemic from a Catholic editor to me. The use of Hebrew or Jewish words, especially when they have to be translated, certainly occupy this function. As in John 1:38 “They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?” Undoubtedly the original author simply wrote “Master” and the anti-Marcionite Catholic editor has added “Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted” to give the document a more Jewish and less Marcionite flavor.

      BTW, interesting that the KJV says “Lord” in Mark 10:51 while NKJV has Rabboni. I never would have caught this if it weren’t for your comment! And its not a case of following the Vulgate since it also has Rabboni.

  16. According to the Blue Letter Bible ALL the versions, eleven of them, [I didn’t look at the KJV] have ‘rabbi/rabboni’ for “Mark” 9.5, including the Vulgate, TR and mGNT.
    “Mark” also uses ‘rabbi’ at 14.45 according to the notes on my RSV, so that is 3 times he uses it to refer to JC.
    As I said before I prefer not to go into possible interpolations so I’ll just bow to your point.
    I take it you agree, whoever the author[s], that it constitutes a second century [?] anachronism?

    1. I’m not really expert enough to know if rabbi is an anachronism or not. I just think it sticks out like a sore thumb. The text is Greek so the Greek equivalent will do just fine and has been used at times. If you’re going to use the term rabbi, why not also call the priests kohanim? and use Hebrew terms for everything like a modern Messianic Jewish version? It smacks to me of obvious revision to re-Hebraify the text just like the Messianic Jews do to English translations. This revision may very well be anachronistic. A later editor could very well simple assume that since the apostles probably spoke Aramaic the text probably had said rabbi in the Aramaic version or something to that effect. So I will concede your point about it being anachronistic.

      It is amazing that the KJV doesn’t have the word rabbi once in Mark. Yet I see it occurs 3 times in the Greek text, the two you mentioned plus 11:21, and of course rabboni in 10:51. If I had been raised on a translation that actually said rabbi in all these places I think I would have come to realize that inerrancy was a false doctrine much earlier.

      For example, take Mark 10:51 “And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.”

      Its implied that the blind man believes in him as God, Adonai, but in reality he only said Rabboni. To call someone rabbi is not a striking confession of faith at all and doesn’t at all merit the response “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.” Seeing that the KJV is suppressing the actual word here is astounding.

      Especially since one of the rules king James sent to the translators was that they keep the wording of the Bishops’ Bible unless it had to be changed to match the original language.

      Bishops’ Bible in 10:51 is “And Iesus aunswered, and sayde vnto hym: what wylt thou that I do vnto thee? The blynde sayde vnto hym: Maister, that I myght see.”

      At least here we have a translation of rabboni, rather than revision to Lord. That they did not retain this shows a willful manipulation of the text to make the confession more striking and less (pardon my saying so) ridiculous.

      And they couldn’t have been copying Tyndale, since he also says “Master.” They actually copied the Geneva “And the blinde sayd vnto him, Lorde, that I may receiue sight” and did so without Greek authority?

      I think probably what we have here by the KJV translators is a conjectural emendation. They saw how utterly ridiculous it is for a confession that Jesus is ‘rabbi’ to be praised for being a great faith, so they ‘restored’ the word they thought must have originally been there, i.e. Lord. I have to think their conjecture was probably right because I do think there are interpolations in these texts.

      1. Mark uses a form of kuriou for Lord. Lord may mean something religious to modern believers, but it was an everyday term, not unlike our “Sir”, in the days of King James.

        Translators generally seek words that convey the meaning of the original’s intent. There is no reason to presume “suppression” on the part of the KJ translators. Jesus was not portrayed elsewhere in the gospels as Jewish Rabbi so the transliteration of the word could well be seen as misleading, and translation alternatives like the KJ “Lord” or Sir or Master or Teacher all have arguments in their favour.

  17. #4 SHROUDS
    “Mark” 15.46
    “And he bought a linen shroud, and …wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb … and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

    Jewish Encyclopedia [see headings]
    “Gamaliel insured the perpetuation of his memory by his order to be buried in simple linen garments, for the example which he thus set put an end to the heavy burial expenses which had come to be almost unbearable …(Ket. 8b).”

    2.Mo’ed Katan
    “It was not until after Rabban Gamaliel had been buried in simple linen garments that this custom became general.”

    “This caused R. Gamaliel, about fifty years after the destruction of the Temple, to inaugurate the custom of using a simple linen shroud for rich and poor alike (M. Ḳ. 27b).”

    So, according to the JE, about c120ce the custom was started of burial in a linen shroud thus suggesting this anachronism was written sometime after that date.

    1. Interesting. On the other hand it is also worth noting that Mark uses clothing symbolically: For John the Baptist it is used to inform readers that he is Elijah. The absence of Jesus’ clothing is striking after such detail being given to John’s — so one can’t help but wonder of the symbolic intent in the burial description, too. A death without shame?

      Compare Bartimaeus tossing his garment aside, symbolizing his leaving his “old man” behind, and the young disciple fleeing from Jesus naked symbolizing his shameful spiritual nature; the naked one from whom Legion had been exorcised was restored clothed in a manner similar to the young man in the cave — and the clothing is reminiscent of the baptismal garment worn by early Christians.

      What is the earliest evidence of this baptism ceremony involving the linen garment?

  18. Gidday, Neil,
    All I on this topic comes from the JE. Absence of resources I’m afraid. Sometime around the same era, very approximately, the Romans apparently changed their funeral customs and swung back to being buried in the traditional togas, complete with rank markings, as opposed to special funerary clothing. But cotton was the textile of choice, not linen as specifically mentioned in “Mark”.

    Its interesting that dating linen clothes [shrouds] as turn of the century also has ramifications for the “Shroud of Turin”.

    Anyway riffing off the last bit of “Mark” 15.46 as quoted above we have:


    And I’ll simply quote Richard Carrier.


    “Amos Kloner, in “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, Sep/Oct 1999, pp. 23-29, 76), discusses the archaeological evidence of Jewish tomb burial practices in antiquity. He observes that “more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, “the Second Temple period…ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common” (p. 25).
    Why is this significant? Three of the four Gospels repeatedly and consistently use the word “roll” to describe the moving of the tomb’s blocking stone (“rolled to” proskylisas, Matthew 27:60; “rolled away” apekylisen, Matthew 28:2; “rolled to” prosekylisen, Mark 15:46; “roll away” apokylisei Mark 16:3; “rolled away” apokekylistai Mark 16:4; “rolled away” apokekylismenon Luke 24:2). The verb in every case here is a form of kyliein, which always means to roll: kyliein is the root of kylindros, i.e. cylinder, in antiquity a “rolling stone” or even a child’s marble. For example, the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9:20 “rolls around” on the ground (ekylieto, middle form meaning “roll oneself,” hence “wallow”). These are the only uses of any form of this verb in the New Testament.
    Kloner argues that the verb could just mean “moved” and not rolled but he presents no examples of such a use for this verb, and I have not been able to find any myself, in or outside the Bible, and such a meaning is not presented in any lexicon. His argument is based solely on the fact that it “couldn’t” have meant rolled because the stone couldn’t have been round in the 30’s C.E. But he misses the more persuasive point: if the verb can only mean round, then the Gospel authors were not thinking of a tomb in the 30’s C.E. but of one in the later part of the century. If the tomb description is flawed, this would also put Mark as being written after 70 C.E., and it would support the distinct possibility that the entire tomb story is a fiction.”

    1. You can still roll a square stone just like you can roll a flat tire, so that by itself is rather weak. Haven’t you ever rolled a heavy box by pushing it over, over and over again?

  19. Gidday Neil,
    My material for this is essentially confined to the Jewish Enc I’m afraid. Absence of resources.
    I recall reading that a similar process of reverting to traditional clothing occurred in Rome very roughly around the same era, when the neglected custom of being buried in cotton togas was revived.
    And the absence of linen shrouds in JC’s purported era should be read by the ‘Shroud of Turin” proponents.

    Do you agree that this case of the linen shrouds is ‘suggestive’ of a much later date than the orthodox version?

    Anyway riffing off the last part of “Mark” 15.46 quoted above brings me to:

    5. The ROLLING STONE [no, not Mick].

    From Richard Carrier.

    “Amos Kloner, in “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, Sep/Oct 1999, pp. 23-29, 76), discusses the archaeological evidence of Jewish tomb burial practices in antiquity. He observes that “more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, “the Second Temple period…ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common” (p. 25).
    Why is this significant? Three of the four Gospels repeatedly and consistently use the word “roll” to describe the moving of the tomb’s blocking stone (“rolled to” proskylisas, Matthew 27:60; “rolled away” apekylisen, Matthew 28:2; “rolled to” prosekylisen, Mark 15:46; “roll away” apokylisei Mark 16:3; “rolled away” apokekylistai Mark 16:4; “rolled away” apokekylismenon Luke 24:2). The verb in every case here is a form of kyliein, which always means to roll: kyliein is the root of kylindros, i.e. cylinder, in antiquity a “rolling stone” or even a child’s marble. For example, the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9:20 “rolls around” on the ground (ekylieto, middle form meaning “roll oneself,” hence “wallow”). These are the only uses of any form of this verb in the New Testament.
    Kloner argues that the verb could just mean “moved” and not rolled but he presents no examples of such a use for this verb, and I have not been able to find any myself, in or outside the Bible, and such a meaning is not presented in any lexicon. His argument is based solely on the fact that it “couldn’t” have meant rolled because the stone couldn’t have been round in the 30’s C.E. But he misses the more persuasive point: if the verb can only mean round, then the Gospel authors were not thinking of a tomb in the 30’s C.E. but of one in the later part of the century. If the tomb description is flawed, this would also put Mark as being written after 70 C.E., and it would support the distinct possibility that the entire tomb story is a fiction.”

    Suggested date:
    Post 70ce to ‘later part of the century’ as a beginning point.


    1. The linen shroud is certainly open to that interpretation. I’m only pointing out an alterative possibility, too. Ditto for the rolling stone — if the intent was to deploy images that pointed to prophetic fulfilments, then being buried in a rich man’s tomb was one of these (Isaiah 53:9), and that would imply a “rolling stone” at an earlier period. I am not implying these alternatives overturn your points. Only that they are something to be taken into account. The cumulative weight of any such points being on the side of anachronistic detail is certainly another consideration to be tossed into the balance. Looking forward to the others in your list.

  20. Yes each, thus far, is open to various interpetations.

    There is no absolute ‘smoking gun”, if there were I’d write a book that would either be a best seller or totally ignored/rejected. Maybe Dan Brown would be interested in co-authoring same.

    The first one , the allegory of the vineyard, has received a totally different interpretation in some quarters, concerning feudal and absentee landlords, peasant rebellion, for example.
    And I welcome alternate, possibly more logical and credible alternatives, I’ll check out Isaiah later.

    Really I was just checking to make sure I’m not being seen as doing the conspiracy nut trick.
    Cos the next one, can be seen as lightweight in some ways altho’ really interesting cos of the multiple twists to it. It has spirals within wheels.

    6. LEGION.
    “Mark” 5.9ff

    Legion, the demon inside a man, inhabits the bodies of 1000s of pigs who jump off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee [SOG].

    This impossible story [“Mark” has set the story 50 kms from the SOG, thus later editors have tried to change the setting] may have been sourced from any of 3 stories, all in the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus’ work who wrote his Greek history of the war c 75 CE or later and his “Antiquities” some 15 years later. I have just acquired a copy of Josephus’ works [Whiston trans] and will start to work my way through it.

    My favourite possible twist to the plot, tho’ not necessarily the most plausible, is the naming of the demon as ‘Legion’ maybe a thinly veiled reference to the Roman Legion X Fretensis, consisting of 1000s of soldiers [5000 as a full legion and 2000 plus as an auxiliary legion years later], which was involved in the War, and the resident Roman legion in the region for decades later, responsible for the capture of Masada in 73 CE and whose standard included the sign of a boar.

    Really this one is multi dimensional. Claims for the source of this story being any of 3 [I think] incidents in Josephus, real history as in knowledge of theses events but not dependent on Josephus, other antecedents, are all plausible. “Plausible’ is such a flexible word.

    Date of writing suggested ….post War or even post Josephus publication say 80ce.

  21. Right here goes a controversial one.

    7. “ALL the Jews wash their hands…..
    “Mark” 7.3

    From Nineham “St.Mark” p.193

    “According to the Jewish experts, the evidence of the Talmud is that in the time of Jesus ritual washing of the hands before meals was obligatory only on the priests…..but the ordinary layman -including the Pharisee and the scribe- was not concerned about such questions …except …
    It is agreed by everyone that about 100AD, or a little later, ritual washing did begin to become obligatory on all;….”

    Apparently E.P.Sanders has contributed to this debate, essentially, so I gather, questioning the idea that the Pharisees and others were concerned about purity to the level supposed by “Mark” and others. Unfortunately I can’t get a direct quote but googling suggests such.

    So it seems possible that “Mark”s statement that “ALL the Jews wash their hands, is inaccurate for the purported era of JC but possibly accurate for a time several decades later.
    Suggested date:
    Early 2C

    1. Sanders writes, p. 186 of Jesus and Judaism (1985)

      Mark says that ‘the Jews’ washed their hands before eating (7:3), but in Jesus’ day it would have been a small number of them. The Rabbis eventually made handwashing ‘normative’, and it is worth nothing that it is one of the very few practices of ritual purity which have continued. But before 70 the common people did not accept the practice. That is so by definition: had they done so they would have met one of the requirements of the haberim [akin to the notion of Pharisees].

      Unfortunately James Crossley in “The Date of Mark’s Gospel” references Mark 7:3 only as an example of Markan exaggeration.


    “Mark” 13.9ff

    1. Wiki ‘History of Early Christianity”
    “There is a paucity of evidence for Jewish persecution of “heretics” in general, or Christians in particular, in the period between 70 and 135.”

    2.Review of the book below in Christian Century, June 14, 2005 by Mark A. Chancey:
    The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited.By John Howard Yoder Edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs. Eerdmans
    “….Judaism did not reject Christianity, according to Yoder, at least in the first century. The parting of the ways between the two traditions did not begin until the Bar Kochba war (132-135 CE) …”
    3. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/wrestling.html
    [a] An important milestone will be the emergence of the word “Christianity.” This word appears for the first time in the writings of a church thinker of the early 2nd century of our era named Ignatius,… around the year 110 or 120 [Shaye I.D Cohen]
    [b] The one thing that does happen in the second revolt….. And at that point we really see the full-fledged separation of Jewish tradition and Christian tradition becoming clear. [L. Michael White]

    Late in the first century synagogues as a place of worship in Palestine developed in lieu of the destroyed temple.
    History, or legend, has it that c 90 CE the Jews instituted a new element in the daily prayer directed against the Christians [minim/Nazoreans], the birkat-ha-minim, and this some suggest, despite the claims in some of Paul’s writings, marks the beginnings of trouble between Jews and Christians now identified as a heretical sect.

    It’s a theme present in “John” at 9.22 where the author has this editorial
    “…for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue”

    John Marsh in his Pelican NT Commentary “Saint John” has this to say [page 383] re 9.22:
    “It is highly doubtful, as learned commentators remark, whether the authorities had at this stage, or ever during the earthly ministry of Jesus, decided upon excommunication from the Jewish religion for any sort of adherence to or confession of Jesus Christ”. Marsh seems to suggest ‘John”‘s words are some sort of anachronism without suggesting the time gap.

    So when did the split occur between the two groups, the Jews and whoever comprised those we believe “Mark” to be addressing?
    Was it in the era of Paul, whenever that may have been, or later, much later, even as far as the post second revolt period?


  23. Well thats my list Neil, I said about 10, its actually 9, but I didn’t bother with the ‘ not one stone left upon the other’ temple destruction ‘prophecy’ because its been done to death and I regard it as a slam dunk case for post 70ce anyway.

    Last night I found some extra quotes and cites in a notebook from more scholars who assert the ‘rabbi’ anachronism as probable [and some, eg Shanks, who disagree] , if you are interested I can reproduce them here but they are a bit messy.

    Really my aim here, and thanks for the opportunity to take up space to present the suggestions as a group, is to get recognition that there are more elements in “Mark” to consider when looking at dating that work than just the temple issue. Elements usually ignored.
    And I’ll add your point re the Pharisees to my list, that way getting to the magical number 10.

    I am aware that alternate explanations exist for each, some mere apologetics, some more scholarly.
    For example Crossley’s point, which I have not read but a similar explanation has cropped up elsewhere in my travels, possibly derived from Crossley, ignores Sanders and others who point out that ‘ALL’ Jews wash hands is not even valid when describing Pharisees and that it IS an an accurate observation but, critically, OF A LATER DATE.
    Although, to be honest, I’ve never been able to track down specific evidence for Nineham’s assertion that it was so.

    Oh and I think I overestimated the number of stories in Josephus that may be a basis for “Legion”, I said 3 and I think there are only two. There is, I believe, a possible Hebrew Bible potential source as well.

    So what is your overall reaction?
    Do these, individually or as a cumulative group, make a case for dating “Mark” later than orthodoxy prefers?
    At what degree of strength?
    And to what era?

    1. That’s great. I’m thinking I’d like to compile a similar list for the pre-70 date and have them both available online for anyone to cross-reference, compare. That might also involve a bit more elaboration of Mark 13 — including one of the points you avoided since it had been “done to death” already. If I do something I’d be sure to cite you as the contributor, of course.

      My overall reaction will have to wait till I have time to reflect more and absorb the details. I confess my work commitments have kept me doing stuff on the run with this blog (have been working on a simple post on and off for weeks now — here a minute, there a minute) — not very good for the sort of reflection this stuff requires. Probably why I’m spending more moments in Freeratio — easy to drop a quick off the cuff comment there.

      Thanks again — will give your comments more thought on how to best present online. . .

  24. My pleasure.
    Thank you for the opportunity to get my writings in order so as to present them here.

    I am aware of the nature of the ground underneath each and all of my 8 points, holes and quicksand and mud.
    I’m lacking in the detailed specialised knowledge that would be required to lift any one of them above more than a ‘suggestive’ status.
    I have a huge gap in things Jewish, so I have only presented what some scholars have opined in the past re issues like rabbi, hand washing, rolling stones, shrouds.
    Usually I have not been able to satisfactorily find primary sources for assertions so I have relied on statements from authority, not a good ploy normally.
    But at least it shows someone out there is/was, however minimally and reluctantly, noticing that the traditional dating may not square with whatever was the supposed reality..
    Similarly my access to first rate archeologist sites is minimal and I probably wouldn’t understand the significance of what was present if I did have access.
    That is a weakness of my ‘synagogue anachronism’ suggestion.

    And finally,ultimately, I/we are operating with two major disadvantages.
    The paucity of solid information concering the cultural and historical background to events in the relevant region during the first two centuries.
    More importantly the struggle to see what may have been there after nearly two millenia of distortion through apolgetics and, in particular, the presentation of purportedly ‘given’ facts after being derived through gospel tainted lens for so long.

    I have more thoughts on these 8 items that relate to the general context.
    Such as the issue brought up by Jer, the possibility/probablity that the author of “Mark” was not a Palestinian Jew but a semi informed ‘foreigner’, also IMO [obviously] anywhere up to a hundred years removed from the purported events he alleges to describe.
    The role of Josephus is an interesting directly relevant issue.
    I suspect that Josephus was an [in]direct source for the author of “Mark” as well as for “Luke”.

    Its a fascinating field.

    Finally on a lighter note and prompted by visiting FRDB comes this observation, one that sprang into my mind a few years ago.
    Neil are you old enough to recall the B@W TV series “The Mavis Bramston Show’, a channel 7 skit revue show of the 60s?
    In some of the skits starring Noeline Brown she was annoyed by an irritating character who intruded obnoxiously.
    Her response, usually present as a punch line in every programme, became a rather well known catch cry.
    “Piss off Jeffrey!”

  25. An interesting discussion. One of the things I like best about arguing religion is that the bias of Christian Bible scholarship has left an opening for amateurs like us to develop arguments against Christian Assertians, such as a late dating for “Mark”. I have previously walked these temple provoking grounds for late dating of “Mark” here at FRDB:


    but only looked at the External evidence which clearly does not identify “Mark” until the 2nd century. What supports this 2nd century dating is observing the gradual build-up towards Gospel assertions from Paul to Fake Paul to the intervening Fathers and into the Gospels. This argues against a 1st century Gospel that just was not identified until the 2nd century with anything extant.

    This blog has motivated me to now start a related list in the same Thread of Internal evidence that “Mark” is second century, specifically starting with anachronisms. Right now I think the best Internal evidence is what looks like “Mark’s” use of Josephus as a source:


    After likewise being motivated by a Neil blog to research the Patristic use of Josephus pre-Eusebius and demonstrating that the trail led directly to Eusebius as the creator of the TF:


    I was surprised to learn that Josephus was probably the most commonly referred to non-Christian author by Patristics so that a good assumption is that your average Father was well acquainted with Josephus. And why wouldn’t they be as Josephus was universally recognized as the official historian of 1st century Israel which is the time and place a Father would be obsessed with (and what else would they have to do?).


    1. If Josephus was so well cited then that is a pretty deadly blow against the argument that there was some core reference to Jesus (TF) beneath the “obvious” interpolations.

      I’m increasingly seeing something like you, lately — that Mark, though the first canonical gospel, only comes on the scene after a lot of other development over decades — only tiny scraps in some passages in Acts, gospels and Paul’s letters are the clues.

      Do you have a site for these sorts of pre-NT scraps, or know of one?

      Thanks for the extra links on wheels already invented, too.

  26. Hi, Neil
    Thanks to your earlier poster re the link to the article by Hermann Detering. I’ve had a look at it – and while readily admitting that much of it is above my head….I did find something that got me thinking!

    “If the SynApoc constitutes an independent literary unity, however, the question arises as to its function and meaning apart from its present context, i.e., in its own Sitz im Leben. The customary conception is that we are dealing here with an“apocalyptic handbill” which Mark appropriated and reworked. Despite numerous objections, this conception seems to fit in so far as the Apocalypse is concerned to provide not only a largely disinterested description of the signs of the end time, but has a very specific situation in view. As Schoeps aptly expressed it, it is “a warning at the last possible moment,” into which—like a real hand bill—it intervenes and calls for a concrete action by the reader, namely, flight into the Judean mountains.”
    Detering goes on, of course, to dating Mark to around/after the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132/135 CE.

    My interest is in the idea of an “apocalyptic handbill”. Could it be that such a document, documents, were doing the rounds, both prior to 70 CE and 132/135 CE. One has only to think of what has gone on in more recent years re ‘the time of the end’ and all the Daniel interpretations that have appeared, to find the idea of such theories, and documents, being likewise available in that earlier time.

    Thus, to attempt to date Mark either around 70 CE or 132/135 CE is simply to be dating something, an “apocalyptic handbill”, now attributed to Jesus, that could well have been added later to an original non-apocalyptic Mark. In other words, dating to either of these dates – to harmonize with the then current apocalyptic prophecies/fulfillment – is simply to be dating the updates, in this case the “apocalyptic handbill”, to Mark and, therefore, has no real relevance to the actual original, source, document, documents, re Mark.

    If, as is general in the mythicist position, a later viewpoint/interpretation, has been backdated to early in the first century, revising, updating that original storyline would be par for the course as the historical situation developed. Hence, to my thinking, dating a canonical version of Mark to either around 70 CE or 132/135 CE has little relevance to when the original – the source – documents would have been written. Thus, late dating of Mark does not really add very much to an investigating of the beginnings of Christianity. All that is testimony to is that there were updates to the original storyline as understanding, and interpretations became clearer. And, of course, once the canon was decided upon – end of updates…

    Detering poses an interesting question:

    “The question is whether, for the sake of his Gentile-Christian readers, Mark abridged Matthew by deleting Jewish-Christian elements, or did Matthew expand his source to appeal to his Jewish-Christian readers?”

    If, as you suggest in your subheading, Why the need to reuse Mark?, that “Mark was very well and widely known, and that it had a widespread authoritative status?” then perhaps such a source document was, to paraphrase Detering, further developed by Matthew by adding the Jewish-Christian elements to his version of the gospel storyline. But, that, of course, raises rather a very big question!

  27. I seem to recall having often come across the idea that Mark’s “apocalypse” was one of many of its kind circulating in the first century (and earlier). I don’t know what the strength of the evidence for this is, though.

    Yes, have also considered the possibility that Mark was originally written much earlier than its chapter 13. And since the most common reference in Mark for dating it is this chapter, that does seem to make a mockery of our ability to set the gospel as a whole post 70.

    McDuff in some of the comments above has listed about 9 different bits of data that can be seen as evidence that Mark was written after 70 — and they don’t refer to Mark 13 at all. Even without this chapter, there would be good reasons to date Mark some time after the fall of Jerusalem: Pharisees and synagogues being the backdrop of a life in Galilee is a post 70 setting. It was after this event that many of the Jewish leader classes moved to Galilee. That’s when Pharisees and synagogues popped up there for the first time in any noticeable extent.

    I’m not sure that Mark 13 was a later interpolation myself. It does seem to fit well into the gospel. There are quite a number of verbal links between it and the surrounding chapters. Recall the admonitions to “watch” both here and in Gethsemane, the cock crowing, the sleeping disciples, the fig tree, etc.

    It also forms a need central section surrounded by two gospel halves or “bookends”. Compare this inclusio technique of storytelling for smaller units throughout the gospel (some, I think, have counted around ten such units). It’s a favourite Markan structure.

    But also, if we think of Mark’s gospel as a literary accomplishment of some skill and unity, following other narrative structures from Greek literature known at the time, then this chapter fits in very well. A lengthy prophetic passage in which a god or prophet or leader passes on warning messages to devotees or followers as a severe trial is about to befall them all — this is the sort of thing Greek literature is fond of, especially as a build up towards climactic scenes. But if we see Mark’s gospel as a clumsy hotch potch of disparate narratives and prophecies, we are not likely to be impressed by this argument.

    I mentioned in my original piece a reason to think that Mark’s gospel was widely known. When I read your reminder that this is what I said I was a bit taken aback that I had suggested it at all. Of course this is a deduction. We don’t have evidence for it — but then again we might not expect evidence surviving of a widespread respect for a gospel that was later seen as deficient or heretical even.

    I think I agree with you that Matthew did adapt Mark’s chapter. — And that for the reasons I just gave for thinking that the chapter was part of Mark’s original gospel. I think I initially attempted to read Detering’s article through an online machine translation from the German. I have not come to grips with his article since then — something I still have to do — so I’m not yet up to speed with the details of his arguments for saying that Mark 13 was adapted from Matthew 24.

    Thanks for the thoughts. Further feedback on this topic welcome.

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