Date of Mark's Gospel
One of the reviews I just mentioned is, obviously, a review of my book by Lois Fuller of McMaster Divinity College/Emmanuel Bible College. I’m still not sure about the scholarly etiquette of responding to reviews in print but it seems that not many scholars do (correct me if I’m wrong). Someone once told me that they use general phrases such as ‘it should be obvious…’ to refer indirectly to criticisms made in reviews. But this blog isn’t a refereed journal or book so it’s as good as any place to respond more directly. Rest assured that I will give myself a firm telling off if I think I have transgressed such etiquette.
Some points I have are a bit pedantic but are worth noting to clear a few things up. Fuller claims that I believe Mark 13 only allows a date between 30 CE and 70 CE. To be precise, I actually said between the mid to late 30s and c. 70 partly because I am not convinced that there is much possibility that Mark 13 was delivered by Jesus and it reflects too many events from the early church. Fuller also seems to imply that I date Acts no later than 60 CE. If this is what she is implying then this is inaccurate. I reviewed this kind of argument (associated with Harnack, Robinson and several conservative scholars) but disagreed with it going for a post 70 date for Luke-Acts.
Fuller aims some criticisms at some of my arguments. Against my contention that Mark’s audience included Jews and gentiles who were largely law observant (I’m not too happy about the term ‘proselytes’ in this instance which Fuller attributes to me), Fuller asks why then does Mark have to explain Aramaic terms and Jewish custom. In response I would point out that Mark explaining Aramaic terms tells us nothing more than some people in Mark’s audience not knowing Aramaic. This has no bearing on law observance. There were no doubt plenty of law observant Jews and gentiles attracted to Jewish law throughout the Roman Empire who knew little or no Aramaic. As for explaining Jewish custom, this would have been necessary for people who did not know the specifics of Palestinian halakoth which can be extremely complex for some Jews, not to mention gentiles. If my overall argument is correct this was also necessary because they were the kinds of practices Mark and the Markan Jesus were criticising.
Fuller also suggests that Mark’s Latinisms may suggest a gentile audience in the western Empire, possibly Rome, and notes that I don’t address this. Leaving aside the various alternative explanations for the Latinisms in Mark, let’s assume Fuller's suggestion is correct: would this mean very much so far as the date of Mark is concerned? I don’t think so. I remain agnostic as to where Mark was written but even Rome would be possible for an early date. Compare Romans 15.20 which shows that there was a community founded sometime prior to the mid-50s. It could also be added that some probably secondary patristic traditions are quite happy to say Mark was written in Rome in the time of Claudius. If there was a largely gentile audience (although any real precision about the ethnicities in the Markan audience is no easy task) this does not say anything about their observance of the Law. Incidentally, Paul has serious problems with people (gentiles included) observing the Law in Rome and Galatia.
Fuller also comments on the crucial part of my argument: Mark 7 and the transmission of impurity. Against my argument that Mark is criticising the transmission of impurity from hands to food to eater, she suggests that ‘surely Jesus is following his usual strategy of pursuing the spirit rather than the letter of the law’. I'm not sure how this is supposed to be Jesus’ ‘usual strategy’. This is not much of an argument. There has been a lot of detailed work done on Jesus and the Law in recent years and it would have been hoped that such vague Christian concepts of Jesus pursuing the ‘spirit of the Law’ would no longer be used. I provided three chapters on Jesus and the Law in the synoptic tradition with most detail on Mark 7.1-23 so an alternative argument was there to see.
Fuller also says it is unclear why Matthew and Luke would portray Jesus as a Law observant Jew and have to make this explicit. She points out that here have been arguments that Matthew has such an idea but for Luke ‘it is unlikely’. Firstly it is difficult to respond to criticisms such as ‘it is unlikely’ which are not really backed up by an argument. Besides, this is hardly the most radical implication of my book. There are plenty of arguments (which I noted) that have been put forward for Luke portraying Jesus as law observant and having what may be loosely called a revelation history. Luke makes it very clear that it is with Peter that the origins of non-observance begin justified by a divine vision (Acts 10-11.18) and it is surely no coincidence that Luke omits the potentially dangerous and (for Lukan theology) potentially contradictory Mark 7. This kind of argument has been around for some time. Why Luke would want to do this could be for a number of reasons sometimes mentioned in secondary literature (e.g. to stress the Jewish origins of Christianity for Jewish members of his audience, a strong tradition of Jesus’ law observance in his sources).
Still, it is good to read reviews and I hope the tone doesn't suggest that I'm not grateful for such comments.