Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Dating Game VI: Was Mark written after 70?

In the previous post in this series, we concluded by looking briefly at James Crossley’s commendable effort to rethink the dating of Mark. If that attempt is unsuccessful, it is nevertheless worth asking how secure the standard scholarly dating is. One of the values of challenges to the consensus is that they can send us scurrying back to the texts to think again about the issues and to reexamine our reasons for coming to particular views. My own thinking on the subject has been strongly influenced by three recent studies which successfully reinforce the grounds for locating Mark in the aftermath of 70, Brian Incigneri’s The Gospel to the Romans, H. M. Roskam’s The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in its Historical and Social Context and John Kloppenborg’s article Evocatio Deorum and the Date of Mark”. Although these three disagree with one another on the details (e.g. the precise referent of Mark 13.14), all agree on the significance of the key text:
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.

7 comments: said...

" '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;"

But on the basis that there is no smoke without fire, I am very inlcined to think that the prophet really did say something similar that was possible, namely the destruction of the altar built from loose unhewn stones that could have easily been rolled down.

It might be interesting to ask what word was used to describe the large blocks from which the temple was built. The term 'stone' hardly seems appropriate.

And I can't bring myself to think in terms of a New Testament document having one date of production, no matter what its final issue date was. All the NT documents have been developed over a period surely.

James Crossley said...

Just want to raise some possible objections (naturally!)...

On the temple predictions, if there was a prediction by the historical Jesus that could have carried some weight in tradition and ultimately in the final narrative? Moreover, in the context of the Caligula crisis it may very well have seemed like it was coming true so it would still be plausible to put 2 and 2 together and get Mark 13 (cf. esp. 13.14). Could not the Caligula crisis (partly) account for the Temple theme in Mark, if not in the sense of proving then at least casting doubt on the traditional view?

If, for the sake of argument, we accepted a later date, there seems to have been some paranoia about Rome doing another Caligula, so to speak, to tying the destruction predition with the abomination could have been anytime after. Moreover, in in the run up to the destruction in 70CE could a prediction of destruction not have been seen as finally coming true? I'm not saying these arguments require yours to be wrong but wouldn't they raise some doubts over the post-70 dating?

As an important aside, the idea of 'the deity departing as the curtain is torn' could be interpretated another way. You may have come across it but Roger Aus has argued in detail that the background to this is in haggadic traditions of God's mourning. In the Markan passage, Aus argues, it is stressed further as great mourning for his son.

I'd also add, that we do have people making predictions of dramatic events (and getting them wrong). The end of Daniel suggests that the original prediction of days was wrong and had to be revised. Also 1QpHab suggests that predictions of the end were made and they got it wrong. So at least we know people were making predictions and even writing them down (this is esp. important in the case of Daniel). I'm thinking on the go a bit here but is that worth thinking about?

Jim Deardorff said...

A possible complication here, which I find likely, is that the main source for the Gospels was written pre-70 (circa 40?), with Jesus indeed being a true prophet, while the Gospels themselves weren't written until post-70 (perhaps early 2nd century).

marco said...

Surely the biggest argument that the prediction in Mark 13 makes more sense before than after 70 is that it so patently failed to come true. Rather like the curses against Capernaum, which was never destroyed, or Bethsaida, which was not destroyed for quite a while, so it would be plainly evident to any post-70 visitor to Jerusalem that the phenomena on display would correspond much better to a *vague* prediction of destruction than to a claim that "not one stone will be left on another". That is what did NOT happen. If Mark did have any retrospective ideas about what in fact took place in Jerusalem in 70, he would surely want to edit the prediction to correspond to the facts a little better.

And on a related note, the "abomination of desolation" passage is, as Gerd Theissen nicely showed a few years back, much more intelligible in the context of Caligula than of Vespasian.

Drastic Plastic said...

If the argument is that no-one in 30 AD walking around the temple, watched by jeering Roman guardsmen, could possibly have predicted that said Romans would tear the whole place down and give the sacred vessels the Antiochus Epiphanes treatment, then it seems somewhat weak to me. :)

Anonymous said...

Suggesting that the author of Mark wrote those words after the fact to bolster the credibility of his work rather than to accurately report what Jesus said is to suggest that the author of Mark blatantly lied about what Jesus said in order to use deception to make his work sound more credible.

I'm sure many believe that is possible, but I do not. I do not believe an author who held reverence for Jesus as the Messiah would be so brazen as to lie about what his Messiah said for the purpose of bolstering his own work.

I apologize if that is not considered to be scholarly reasoning.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate the article. I find issues related to the dating of the Christian Greek Scriptures to be very interesting. So I appreciate the insight it provides. It also reveals a bit how much the Scriptures may be under attack by non-believers as well.

My view is this, nothing can be said unless there is some really key point that is made as to whether the manuscript was written before 70 or after 70. It is convenient to say that it was after the fact but this could very well be false. Therefore, more than one point would have to be made in addition to this point to provide any reason to fix the date after 70 with any certainty.