November 10, 2008

Dating the Gospel of Mark

Mark Goodacre, over at NT Gateway Blog, has been doing a very informative series about dating the NT documents. In one noteworthy piece, he discusses the dating of Mark, which he sets as post-70. One of the key elements in the discussion, of course, and the reason for 70 as the benchmark date, is the catastrophic and seismic changes in Jerusalem and Judaism with the destruction of the temple in that year. So of course, one looks to the text for evidence of this event. The much debated passage is Mark 13:1-2 ("not one stone will be left on another"). The more "progressive" or critical stance on the passage is often that this shows evidence of knowledge of the temple's fate, dating the document after 70. The usual "conservative" rejoinder is that this assertion of a post-70 date is dismissing the idea of predictive prophecy out of hand, and thus is imposing assumptions onto the dating of the text. All relatively simple, so far. But Goodacre makes a very insightful argument concerning the "literary function" of the prediction. If, as seems to be the case, Mark recounts the event to in a sense demonstrate Jesus' authority, this assumes that his readers will "get it," that is, they will recognize that Jesus was intimating that the Temple would soon be destroyed, and that this shows his authority because it in fact was destroyed. If the temple was still standing, the predictive reference would have no literary value and would demonstrate nothing about Jesus' power or knowledge, but would be just another prediction. Now, I concede that this argument is not a open-and-shut one, for there are clearly evidences in both testaments such "predictions" that can and should be argued to have been unfulfilled at the time of the document's writing, such as prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled. But at the same time, looking at literary function can influence the dating of a Gospel, for instance, without necessarily taking a hard-and-fast position of whether the predictor did in fact make the prophetic prediction. Thus, in this case, the argument could be made that Mark knew the Temple was destroyed, and thus used Jesus' prediction to that effect to point toward Jesus' authority. This does not inherently carry with it a judgment as to whether Jesus in fact made the prediction in question.

Some things to ponder . . .

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