RBL reviews of The Date of Mark's Gospel: A Response
There are two reviews of the Date of Mark’s Gospel in the latest RBL by John Painter and David du Toit. Thankfully they are not scathing, they are gentle, they provide some serious engagement with the arguments and make some nice comments. There’s no point me repeating what they say (ok, one exception) so I will focus naturally enough on the criticisms and make a response.
While I’d prefer to focus on the criticisms made by the two scholars, I can’t resist in noting this comment by du Toit (which certain readers of this blog will enjoy more than others): ‘Crossley first refutes, convincingly so, N. T. Wright’s recent defence of the historicity of Mark 13.’ ;-)
While David du Toit seems to have some time for my argument on Mark 13 he does suggest that Mark 13.7-8 implies a retrospective look at wars, earthquakes and famines and therefore a later date. Even if we read this passage literally I did give evidence of such events in the 30s so this kind of reading would not contradict the early date.
One point made by du Toit is inaccurate. He argues that I make the assumption that there was a linear development of the Law in earliest Christianity based on Acts and Paul. He claims that we should look for a more non-linear and chaotic approach. But I never assumed this and do not believe it. As du Toit says it is an improbable assumption. In fact I am in complete agreement with what du Toit says, aside from the comments that it is an assumption I hold. What I was doing was showing when the first examples of non-observance were occurring. I am completely aware that there were Christians who held different views. As it happens I’ve used a kind of chaotic model of Law (non-) observance in a forthcoming book (this summer) on the spread of earliest Christianity.
On my argument concerning Mark 7 John Painter seems to imply that I rely on Matthew’s interpretation of Mark and tendencies elsewhere in Mark. This is true to some extent but my main argument is based on the role of impurity in Jewish hand-washing traditions where impurity is transmitted from unwashed hands to the food to the insides. This is why I do not think Mark 7.15, 19 necessarily goes against Jewish Law because both food and insides can be defiled in hand-washing law. Then the supplementary arguments about tendency in the tradition can be used to back this argument up.
A couple of general comments not based on the above review but more on the book and its reception. A consensus of the date of Mark variety was never going to be over turned by one book, no matter how strongly I believe it. My own view is that a consensus frequently needs wider social or intellectual shifts but that’s another question. One of my hopes about the Date of Mark’s Gospel was that it would at least make people wary about assumptions when dating the gospel. My main interest was in pushing even further for a more Law observant Jesus and Jesus movement (in certain quarters!). I think the latter now has enough scholarly backing (not to mention several big names) and will be a difficult argument to overturn.
I’m also interested in the idea of me being a conservative historian and using conservative arguments. I’ve never thought of myself in this way but I suppose in the case of the Date of Mark’s Gospel it is true as a few people have now pointed out. I plead sort of guilty. One Sheffield person now teases me by claiming I’m a maximalist! In my defence ;-) I did argue for Mark 13 being almost entirely secondary and most frequently I do tend to say that this or that could have gone back to Jesus not that it definitely does. I also argue that the tradition is pretty chaotic concerning historically useful material (about the historical Jesus that is) and that early date does not necessarily equal historical accuracy. But I’ve got to say that I’m perfectly happy to use conservative and evangelical arguments because statistically they are going to get something right. I’m not a great believer in following certain scholarly trends, as if one scholarly movement somehow is the path to the true understanding. Besides, as I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, my view of history is less concerned for ‘did this or that event happen’ or other such questions but more ‘why did this or that happen’. For me social, geographical and economic history is of more interest.
By the way, and if you hadn't already noticed, the irony isn't lost on me that I feel the need to defend my conservtive leanings concerning the historical usefulness of the synoptic gospels.