Sunday, April 22, 2007

[dating mark] high stakes and rational deception

Mark's Gospel is generally agreed to precede Luke and Matthew and must take into account the dating of Acts.

In dating Acts one must consider no mention of: the fall of Jerusalem, of Nero's persecutions in the mid-60s, of the martyrdoms of James (61), Paul (64), and Peter (65) and the general tone of Acts toward the Roman government being irenic. Acts ends with Paul in jail. Paul was executed by Nero in 64 A.D.

William F. Albright wrote, 'We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.' (Recent discoveries in Bible Lands, 136)

Clement of Alexandria, claims that Mark wrote while Peter was preaching in Rome (cited in Eusebius, Historia ecclesiae 6.14.6-7). This is supported by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Papias and Origen.

The 7Q5 Fragment and the question of Q, used by apologists to early-date Mark, is not safe to use and won't be invoked here.

Paul N. Tobin, the eminent sceptic, stated the sceptics' case thus: "We know that the Jerusalem temple and, in fact, the whole city, was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE. If we take this utterance as a prophecy after the fact, this points to a date of composition of Mark after the fall of Jerusalem."

Thus, he assumes because Mark couldn't have had Jesus prophesy the fall of the temple on the grounds that Jesus could not have predicted that, therefore Mark must be dated after 70 A.D. The logical fallacy in that is breathtaking and a 70's date is clearly based on philosophical naturalism.

Doctor Bo Reicke put it more forthrightly: "it is nothing short of jingoistic and uncritical dogma to claim in New Testament criticism that the gospels must have been written after the Jewish revolt [AD 66-70], simply because they contain prophecies of the destruction of the second Temple which could only have been inserted at a later date". [Bo Riecke, Synoptic Prophecies on the Destruction of Jerusalem, in Nov. Test. Suppl. Leiden 1972, 121-134.]

It's the shoddy scholarship of the rationalists which is so upsetting, in any other field eminent but in the matter of Jesus, corner cutting in the worst way. An example is Wikipedia's assertion 'Gospel of Mark [anonymous]'. No, it's not anonymous at all. There is ample evidence of its authorship.

Regarding Jesus from non-biblical sources

It depends how one wishes to use Josephus. To prove divinity, it's shaky indeed because of the supposed insertion but enough is consistent with both his style, source material and purpose [his referring to the stoning of James]to establish the historicity of Jesus. Miami University Professor of History, Edwin M. Yamauchi is the foremost authority here.

Tacitus is more unequivocal and establishes Jesus beyond doubt but refers to superstitions and to believers believing, which of course does not establish divinity.

Suetonius is more flawed but is useful as viewed as additional material.

Pliny the Younger, around 112 A.D., provided an excellent record of the early Church, of course not specifically confirming the Resurrection but with one small reference to His followers believing in it.

The point of this

The divinity of Jesus depends not only on his prophecy in Mark but on the empty tomb and that's another field in itself. This article confines itself to the dating of Mark because as every atheistic, humanistic and rationalist 'scholar' infesting institutions of higher learning knows, to accept a pre-70 A.D. date provides a strong argument negating their position.


Not Saussure said...

To be strictly accurate, James, Tacitus (writing some 50 years after the Great Fire of Rome) records his understanding, at the time of writing, of the event. The fact that someone, at some point, has told Tacitus that the 'Christians' whom Nero blamed for the fire were followers of someone called Christ who was executed by Pontius Pilate doesn't actually prove very much other than that tradition was known to Tacitus in 116 and that he accepted it.

It doesn't actually prove that Christ was an historical character who was crucified by Pilate (though I believe he was), any more than the fact something appears in the cuttings library of a newspaper and is repeated by a journalist who's consulted it means it's an accurate account of what actually took place.

An historian wouldn't, at least if he were at all cautious, take a reference he found in a work written in the 1780s about the Great Fire of London in 1666 to something that had supposedly happened in another part of the world during the last years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and accept it as evidence for that event.

Gracchi said...

Intriguing article.

James by the way what do you make of the canon of the biblical books decided at Nicea and for instance the other gospels like the gospel of the Shephard.

conefor4200 said...

Being not a scholar, still proud of being a friend of Geza Vermes.

He has drawn a historical framework for Jesus.
Full of facts.

Being Son of God is a nice concept, and has kept mankind busy.

But it is time for me and for you to read Spinoza, and end the era of faith.

Decency can be found in reasoning about our existence without the ancient revelations.

james higham said...


There is one mention of 'Christus' in Book XV, Chapter 44, as follows:

Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated by the people for its late appearance in the 5th century, word for word and the fact that it was not generally quoted before the 15th century somehow proves its non-authenticity.

They also question whether it was gleaned from the Roman annals, which would not have used such a term as Christus. And what? They also claim that it was based on Christian hearsay.

The employment of the term 'hearsay' is interesting. And what is history but the eyewitness accounts [in a non-scripted tradition] which are then set down in writing? What is any reportage?
But the use of the word 'hearsay' carries with a it a negative connotation which is meant to detract.

Better to say: 'based on previous history', as that's what history is. As for the authenticity of the collective memory of the church, Paulus cannot be put aside in this.

There is a rationalist attempt to play down the early church's collective memory as somehow defective and lesser than that of other historians. On what basis?

And even after this it does not negate the point to be proved - that such a character indeed existed . This is the weakness of the rationalist argument. If thousands of people see something but the rationalist doesn't like that, he terms it 'false memory syndrome'.

If he does like it, he calls it history.

That so many were moved to follow the teachings of an obscure Essene is strange in itself and certainly doesn't establish divinity - that's another question. But it certainly indicated the presence of the figure in question.

As for nitpicking, such as the way Tacitus describes Pilate as a procurator rather than a prefect, what does that show? That Tacitus was fallible? Error of minor fact does not negate in any way the usage of the term Christos [or -us], nor that Pilate existed and did as he did.

Essentially, as I said in one article, the statement has been made and evidence supplied to support it. Now it is up to the rationalist to dimantle it but the arguments thus far proffered in no way do this.

Let alone the other circumstantial evidence, the modus operandi of the church and the nature of the severe reaction against it. The historian must consider all things.

james higham said...


Are you referring to the 1st or 2nd Council of Nicaea?

Nicaea was invoked by Constantine and had a specific purpose - that of laying down the correct dogma on paper as a result of the plethora of red herrings - especially the Arian 'heresy'and their detractors the homoousians.

The moment there is any sort of state or other official involvement in matters of this nature, the process of the secularization of a movement has begun, as you well know.

The moment there is schism and each side use the suffix -arian or -ist, then the whole question has passed from divine into human hands and is from then onwards suspect.

That is why it is best to confine oneself to earlier scholarship, however primitive it was.

Just as Mark was quite raw, even so it was original.

The 2nd Council concerned icons and their suppression. The moment that sort of thing starts up, the religion is gone. This was very much the intention of certain parties or, if you are Christian, of the Dark Side.

This, in turn, has implications for the Crusades which had as much to do with Christianity as my bottom.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very interesting post, James. I can see what you mean about shoddy scholarship in the first part. You and commenters here prove yourselves to better scholars!

Not Saussure said...

I wasn't questioning the authenticity of the passage, James. I've not studied the history of the text, but I'm perfectly prepared to believe those are the words that Tacitus wrote. And I'm certainly not trying to downgrade the importance of the tradition of the early Church. All I'm saying is that, if you want to use the Tacitus passage of historical evidence, all you can use for is to show that Tacitus was aware, in or around 116 AD, of a tradition that the founder of this group called 'Christians' was someone called Christ who was executed by Pilate.

This isn't an attempt to play down the collective memory or traditions of the early Church; it's just to say that oral traditions may well be accurate, but you can't know that without independent evidence. Not a problem for me, at least in this context, because I take it as a matter of faith that Jesus was the Son of God, suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose from the dead on the third day. If He'd wanted us know this a matter of historical fact, though, He'd certainly been able to, would He not?

james higham said...

Fair comment, NSS and forgive the tone - it's just that I'm usually on the defensive in these matters.

Wolfie said...

When using Tacitus as a reference one should also remember context.

I don't think Tacitus had any doubt in his mind about the historical authenticity of the existence of a man called Jesus, he could not know that one day this might be called into doubt. At the time there may have been many other scholarly references which have since been destroyed. We should account for that possibility.

Also one must remember that the flow of information in the ancient world did not progress at the modern speed, what happened say 70 years ago might be considered relatively recent whereas to day we see that as a long time ago.

james higham said...

Good comment, Wolfie. I was forgetting that.