Response to Mark Goodacre's SBL dating paper
I have been meaning to respond to Mark Goodacre's stuff on dating from his SBL paper. There are some general issues I have about the idea of a session on dating, esp. if it will say anything new and, if not, is there a need for such a session...? I don’t mean that polemically, I was and am curious because I sadly wasn’t able to attend that session though I dearly wanted to. Perhaps someone present can help...? Anyway, I initially meant to respond to the whole of this SBL paper but because of nasty old time I’ll get egotistical and respond to the places where I was mentioned. I’m of course grateful to Mark G [I’ll use this name so not to confuse with the gospel writer – I suppose ‘Goodacre’ seems too formal for a blog] for interacting with me, giving arguments the time and for being typically non-polemical and engaging. It also seems like we agree on Jesus as law observant (this seems to be the most agreeable part of the book for most) and if I remember there was an old blog debate where Mark G had some reservations on the conventional reading of Mk 7.19, as do I (see ch. 7 of Date of Mark). But let’s get away from the nice bits…
Mark G claims that I argue that the ‘originating circumstances of the tradition correlate directly with perspective of the evangelist’ and this is ‘problematic’. However, this would depend on what is meant by ‘directly’. In general terms I think a) that the historical Jesus was law observant and b) Mark thought that too. If that is direct then yes. But, as for precise correlation between individual traditions, it would depend and often I’m agnostic and so no. I don’t make too many precise claims about historicity in the book for this reason (and others). As an aside from the law issues, on some occasions in that book, I am quite happy to talk of invention and difference between Jesus (e.g. on kingdom and eschatology in Mk 13 – see ch. 3; see also the conclusion of the book for a chaotic model of tradition). Mark G talks of the difficulty in tallying up assumptions between tradition and gospel and I quite agree, hence I spent a chapter (ch 4) on the tendencies in Mk, Matt and Luke and their portrayal of Jesus and the law before moving on to specific passages which were treated as both individual passages and part of the tendencies (chs. 6 and 7).
Mark G also talks of Markan redaction in Mk 7 that points way from argument, especially the phrase ‘all the Jews’ which sets up a difference and does not point to an intra-Jewish dispute. I think this actually misses my point. My point was that the legal debate is intra-Jewish in the sense that debates over hand-washing were the kinds of halakic debates known in early Judaism. As for issues of identity and Mk this is much more difficult, as identity usually is. Mk may well have identified his group in distinction from the rest of Judaism or over against Judaism but this does not mean he could have portrayed Jesus as a legal debater. Elsewhere in Mk there are supportive Jews, inc. those not seen as being over against Judaism, and there are hostile Jews. So, then, the picture is more complex.
But as it happens, that’s another issue in terms of my arguments for dating. The legal issue is the point of my argument, not the identity issue. Mark G says that I concede ground here when I say Mk was exaggerating (though I’m not exactly sure what he means by this – any help Mark G or others?). Mark G refers to my reference to Aristeas 305f. and exaggeration and says that the persona of an outsider changes things. In this case, not really. The exaggeration about ‘all the Jews’ washing hands in the water is an exaggeration so why could Mk not make an exaggeration about all Jews washing hands etc? Besides, as I pointed out, Mark makes various other exaggerations that are clearly exaggerations and not meant to be taken wholly literally so I don’t see the problem making another. Mark G says that his counter argument undermines my case for Mark being accurate and precise but it does not. My case on Mk 7 being accurate etc involved the referencing to cups and beds etc (Mk 7.4) and the very precise details of hand-washing and the transmission of impurity from hands-to-food-to-eater. This wasn’t discussed by Mark G and it *precisely these details* that are so crucial. In terms of my argument, does Mark G not have to show that *these details* are inaccurate and *not* the generalisation?
As for Talbert’s comments, which Mark G cites, on the law observant issue possibly being a memory of him, yes, it could be and I think it was. But this a) this quotation used by Mark G doesn’t change anything and b) it needs qualifying.
A) It doesn’t change anything because Matt and Lk still have to make it clear that Jesus was Law observant as I explicitly argue. So I’m not sure how this functions as a counter argument for Mark G. This also stands for Mark G’s reference to Gower and that these things could have been referred to in the 60s. Sort of but I think with qualification. Matt and Luke make qualifications not in Mark so why did they make qualifications? The obvious reason is that law observance had changed and this started to happen in the 40s so the Gower quotation in Mark G’s paper does not work as a counter argument to me, if Mark G is using it as a counter argument rather than simply adding an opinion (presumably a counter argument though…?). A counter argument (or supportive quotation) would need to show why Mark did not feel the need to qualify in *direct contrast* to Matt and Luke. That is really the heart of my argument and I don’t think it is addressed by Mark G.
B) As for qualification, on the whole, as far as we know, but John’s Jesus, as I argued, does look a little different (see e.g. John 5).
As for early gentile observance and non-observance, I would add that issues of perception were important and how this fed into the Pauline view. I’ve argued that at length in Why Christianity Happened (esp. ch 5) and won’t repeat here.
On the whole then, while being obviously grateful to Mark G for engaging with my arguments, I don’t think he has engaged with the heart of my arguments in Date of Mark, such as the details of the legal debates and the qualifications made by Matt and Luke and why these qualifications were made. So there you go.