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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

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.


Anonymous mfbird said...

When I read David Du Toit's comments about you decisively refuting Wright on Mark 13 I did manage a wry smile. How did I know you were gonna bring that up in your blog? Who did you have in mind when you mentioned that? Probaby me and Sean Du Toit (I wonder if they're related?)
Good to see another Aussie like John Painter sticking it to you as well. Personally, I still think Mk. 7.19c is the Achilles heal in your argument. I also wonder if Mark's use of euangelion mirrors Paul's use of the word which could make for a date well into the Pauline mission (early 50s - mid 60s). You did well, these were some good reviews and I think you came off well. I look forward to reading more of your conservative-evangelical argumentation some time soon!

January 24, 2006

Anonymous steph said...

Hi Mike (Aussie in exile!

Even if euangelion does belong to the original manuscript of Mark (and is not as Koester suggests, a later addition reflecting it's use in Matthew, therefore omitted by Luke) .... why should it's correspondence with the missionary terminology in the Pauline writings necessarily equate the gospel with a post Pauline date? Or do you suggest that there is evidence Mark is dependent on Paul?

And just to strike back at Painter - I think it was he who missed the point. There was no circularity.

Enjoy the skiing!

January 25, 2006

Anonymous steph said...

I mean if it was in the original manuscript of Mark, left out by Luke, and not a later addition using Matthew....why should it be post Pauline?

(Bracket wrong place)

January 25, 2006

Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

Steph, I think Mark stands in relation to Pauline Christianity for several reasons (James, feel free to comment afterwards):
a) The use of euangelion in Mk. 1.1; 8.38; 13.10; 14.9 etc, sounds Pauline.
b) Paul's idea of Jew then Gentile (Rom. 1.16), is mirrored in Mk. 7.27 and the feeding narratives where the Gentile side of the lake get fed later.
c) Mark's atonement theology is Pauline, esp. lytron in 10.45 and material in 14.24.
d) And Mk. 7.19c sounds an aweful lot like Rom. 14.14. See the article by Joel Marcus in NTS.
The reason why Luke does not use euangelion is because he prefers the verbal form euangelizomai.

January 25, 2006

Blogger James Crossley said...

This is weird Mike: shouldn't it be me arguing for Markan dependence on Paul?? Anyway, I'm more conservative than you I reckon ;-)

Anyway... The Marcus article has the usual problem in that it assumes Mark used Paul rather than the other way round (or that Paul used similar tradition. Also, remember Paul was obviously active before the letters we have. Now I know Marcus doesn't actually assume Mark was later - he argues it elsewhere but it is true that you have to first identify when the gospel was written before saying if one was dependent on the other.

On Mk 1.19: this is based on a 3 things. 1. a tendenecy in Mark and the synoptics to portray Jesus as a Law observant Jew. 2. Mark 7 provides a narrative seting of Law versus tradition. 3. Jewish handwashing laws involves food becoming unclean (and consequently defiling the insides; cf. Mk 7.15) and the debate is after all framed in the context of handwashing. Together then I think there is an argument of collective weight for Mk 7.19 being part of a dispute which has Jesus rejecting handwashing but not biblical food laws.

The identity of the Wright comment was aimed at not only the Birds of this world but also a few people who know my views on things including students who like to torment me with things Wright.

January 25, 2006

Anonymous steph said...

By the way I wasn't suggesting that the euangelion uses weren't similar - of course I see all the parallels. I was only questioning what I thought was an assumption that this meant that Mark "mirrored" the writings of Paul (and not the other way around or use of similar tradition

January 25, 2006


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