Mark 13.1-2, Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.For many, so blatant a prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem settles the question of Mark’s date – it is written in full knowledge of the disastrous events of 70. For Kloppenborg,
“The fact that this seems to correspond so precisely to what occurred invites the conclusion that it was formulated (or reformulated) ex eventu” (431).For Roskam,
“The evangelist could not have presented the prediction of the destruction of the temple as an utterance of Jesus with such firmness unless he was very certain about its fulfilment” (86).Objections to this view are ably discussed by Incigneri (Chapter 3, "No stone Upon another"), who stresses Mark’s “over-arching concentration on the Temple” (154), the destruction of which is so important in his narrative that it is implausible that it was still standing when Mark wrote.
One of the standard arguments against the idea that Mark shows knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem is the reassertion of the text’s own character here as prediction. To take one example among many, David A. DeSilva, in his Introduction to the New Testament, suggests that
The primary reason many scholars tend to date Mark’s Gospel after 70 CE is the presupposition that Jesus could not foresee the destruction of Jerusalem – an ideological conviction clearly not shared by all (196).But this kind of appeal, while popular, tends not to take seriously the literary function of predictions in narrative texts like Mark. Successful predictions play a major role in the narrative, reinforcing the authority of the one making the prediction and confirming the accuracy of the text’s theological view. It is like reading Jeremiah. It works because the reader knows that the prophecies of doom turned out to be correct. It is about “when prophecy succeeds”.
The text makes sense as Mark’s attempt to signal, in a post-70 context, that the event familiar to his readers was anticipated by Jesus, in word (13.2, 13.14) and deed (11.12-21) and in the symbolism of his death, when the veil of the temple was torn in two (15.38). The framing of the narrative requires knowledge of the destruction of the temple for its literary impact to be felt. Ken Olson has alerted me (especially in a paper read at the BNTC three years ago) to the importance of Mark 15.29-30 in this context. It is the first of the taunts levelled when Jesus is crucifie:
So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!For the irony to work, the reader has to understand that the Temple has been destroyed; the mockers look foolish from the privileged perspective of the post-70 reader, who now sees that Jesus’ death is the moment when the temple was proleptically destroyed, the deity departing as the curtain is torn, the event of destruction interpreted through Gospel narrative and prophecy.
The point that is generally missed in the literature, especially that which comes from a fairly conservative perspective, relates to the attempt to understand the literary function of the predictions of destruction in Mark's narrative. John Kloppenborg is one of the few scholars who sees the importance of the literary function of the predictions, noting the role played by the literary motif of "evocation deorum" echoed here in Mark, e.g.
This raises a crucial distinction between omens and rituals that (allegedly) occurred before the events, and their literary and historiographic use in narrative (446).Discussions about whether the historical Jesus was or was not prescient may be interesting, but in this context they miss the point. The theme of the destruction of the temple is repeated and pervasive in Mark's narrative, and it becomes steadily more intense as the narrative unfolds. Jesus' prophecies in Mark attain their potency because "the reader understands" their reference.