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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stephen Carlson's review of The Date of Mark's Gospel

Biblioblogger Stephen Carlson (hypotyposeis) has a very detailed review of The Date of Mark's Gospel. I am obviously pleased by the comments he has made and that he has paid it such a degree of attention. I am also particularly pleased that he has paid a lot of attention to the legal material and Mark 7 because I think this is the real heart of my case.

I'll only respond briefly for now on the Patristic material as presently can't check things. On Irenaeus I am not entirely hostile to the idea that he thought Mark was written after Peter's death but I just think that the evidence is ambiguous. I'm not hostile either to the idea of the post-Clement testimony for an early date being later polemic with little historical value for reconstructing first century events. This is because, ultimately, I am not convinced that the Patristic evidence holds much weight largely due to the suspicious linking of Peter and Mark and a gospel criticised for, among other things, a lack of order. I don't think this proves that Markan authorship is invented but that the internal evidence and internal evidence which contradicts the external evidence can start to carry serious weight.

I note that Stephen is happy with the minimal engagement with the whole 'Secret Mark' thing. I was always very uncomfortable with the use of 'Secret Mark' in scholarship but thankfully Stephen's book has now come out and looks like it is having a significant impact.

Stephen focuses mostly on my legal arguments and I should immediately point out that he has well and truly grasped the key point I make, one which has often been overlooked or misinterpreted in other engagements with my book. As he says:
This is where Painter’s criticism of Crossley that “the proverbial saying has implications in relation to the food laws as well as hand washing” is a little bit off: if Crossley is right about the Mark’s historical context, those implications would not be actually be perceived until the historical context changes. I think this shows how important it is to the get the context right for interpretation. If Mark was written in the 60s or 70s, Mark 7:19c clearly means what it is traditionally thought to have meant, but, if the text actually goes back to the 30s or 40s, then Mark 7:19c would have to mean something different.
Again, I would stress again, that is precisely the issue at hand.

Stephen, however, ultimately comes down against me on the historical context of Mk 7.19c.
If this redactor was sensitive enough to include vv. 3-4 for the benefit of the Gentiles in the gospel’s audience, then it stands to reason that this redactor should have clarified the true scope of v. 19c, also for the benefit of the Gentiles. The redactor’s failure to do is difficult to account for (editorial fatigue, perhaps?). On the other hand, if v. 19c was added for the benefit of Gentiles, then it places this layer of Mark in the context in which the food laws were being controverted. As Mark can be no earlier than its latest portion, this dates Mark no earlier than the 50s and consistent with modern scholarship.
In response I would argue that in a law observant gentile context where the few if any in the Christian movemnt had yet to stop observing major biblical laws (at least in the presence of the law observant), Mk 7.19c is not the kind of thing that would require further explanation for gentiles dedicated to biblical laws because it would not be an issue. We also have a historical problem here about how far gentiles had 'converted' and what kind of purity laws they were supposed to be observing. If gentiles dedicated to observing major biblical laws did not go so far as being circumcised (such people appear to be around in the ancient world) then it is difficult to see how purity laws would have any impact on them, particularly in the light of Klawans' and Hayes' respective challenges to Alon's notion of gentile impurity: i.e. there was no such thing at the time and therefore (I would add) it would have no bearing on purity issues at the meal table. In that case Mk 7.19c may have more relevance for Jewish Christians (and any gentile who gone the whole way and been circumcised) not dedicated to hand-washing. Furthermore, the whole of Mark 7.1-23 is grounded in terms of clean and unclean in relation to expanded purity and therefore there would be no need to explain what all food being clean meant: food permitted in the Bible was ok to eat and, from their perspective, the Pharisaic notion that it was unclean due to unclean hands is wrong.

I would re-stress on this point the tendency in both Mark and the synoptic tradition of portraying a Law observant Jesus coupled with the consistent and very clear emphasis on commandment versus tradition in Mk 7.1-23. With the above arguments on purity laws I think this provides an argument of collective weight for Mk 7.19c as a rejection of hand-washing rather than biblical food laws.

Stephen also raises some interesting questions relating to a potential source. Like Stephen, I'm not quite ready for this as a part of a solution to the synoptic problem but let me just add another (admittedly speculative) possibility which I'm not convinced is necessarily right but, well, whatever... Instead of thinking in terms of a source, what about sources? This would also fit Maurice Casey's work which Stephen mentions. If pushed I would probably count myself among those who kind of work with the model of Markan priority and Q but who are also open to the idea of a much looser version of this model. E.g. a great deal more randomness in the transmission of the sources. In fact Casey argues for a more chaotic approach to Q - Q as a kind of shorthand for independent traditions in Aramaic and Greek rather than a fixed literary document. Perhaps pre-Markan traditions could be labelled as Q material in this sense? But as I say I'm speculating...

Anyway, back to it. Not only should I thank Stephen for such a detailed review but I should also mention that I enjoyed reading it, particualrly the fact that he has discussed my legal arguments thoroughly and fairly. The legal material, as Stephen righty points out, is an area which deserves more serious attention, not least because it is one of the central concerns in NT texts.


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