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An Annotated Bibliography on the Date of Mark’s Gospel

Martin Hengel (Studies in Mark) sets the terminus ad quem for Mark in its use by Matthew and Luke, the reference to “this generation,” and some original witnesses who had not died (7-10). The terminus a quo is based on the time it takes to translate tradition from Aramaic to Greek, the waning of eschatological enthusiasm encouraging the writing of a Jesus’ biography, the re-working of the sayings traditions and Passion Narrative, the presupposition of a worldwide mission (13:10, 14:9), the relaxation of the ritual laws for Gentiles, the martyrdoms of the sons of Zebedee (10:39), and the distant reflection of the news of the Jewish War (12-14). The advice in 13:14 to flee would not make sense once Titus set up a circumvallatio around the city and the abomination cannnot be Titus who immediately left the temple and city (18-20); he dates it to 69 CE in the year of three emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) which provoked fears of Roman Christians of a future Nero redivivus (22-28).

Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man, 41) argues that Mark must be prior to 70 but during the revolt in order to understand its ideology and critique of the current temple state and political order and its advocacy of revolutionary non-violence. He critiques post-70 daters as influenced by a “docetic” tendency to remove the political critique and see Mark in light of a “theological” rift with the cult and with “Judaism.” Richard Horsley (Hearing the Whole Storylargely agrees that Mark is a story of a village-based Israelite renewal movement against the Roman-designated Jerusalem elites (48-50), obscured by its reduction to “Scripture” and “theology” (27-28), and that the advice of 13:14 and the warnings of false messiahs/prophets would be pointless if the results of the War were already known (131). Myers locates the evangelist in Galilee and Horsley in Syria.

John Kloppenborg (“Evocatio Deorum“) grants that 13:14 was part of an apocalyptic tractate in response to Caligula’s plans to put his statue in the temple before his assassination in Jan 24, 41 CE (cf. Theissen, Context) or another apocalyptic scenario (2 Thess 2:14) (422-26). Yet 13:1-2 frames the chapter around the Temple destruction, a key theme from chapters 11 to 15 (427-28). While oracles of the Temple’s destruction are in the Scriptures and later (e.g. 1 En. 98:20-30; War 300-309; Lam Rab 1:31), they are uncommon and 13:2 is specific (430-31, 434). After describing the Roman ritual of evocatio deorum to invoke alien gods to flee locales devoted to destruction (434-41), he finds evidence of the ritual in Mark’s narrative recasting of a Q saying (Matt 23:38/Lk 13:35) and account of the cosmic darkness and tearing of the curtain (15:36-38) (448-49). Similar omens occur in Josephus or Tacitus; Josephus’ apologetic is that Providence was on Rome’s side (442-44). The effectiveness of this ritual could only be narrated in historiography retrospectively after a successful siege (434, 444).

Joel Marcus (Sitz Im Leben), in contrast to Hengel’s claim that Mark had no familiarity with what transpired during the Jewish War in hearing the news from Rome, argues that Mark was written from one of the Transjordan Hellenistic cities attacked at the start of the War (461-62). Mark protests that the temple was a house of revolutionary bandits (lēstēs) (cf. Josephus, War 4.3.7-8; 5.1.2; for Zealots used for revolutionaries in general see War 2.17.9; 4.9.10) under Elezar son of Simon. The abomination is Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE. The Markan community was persecuted for its Gentile inclusiveness and protests in the Temple’s Court of Gentiles, since the Zealots wanted to cleanse the site of foreign influence and held mock trials of opponents. Mark’s triumphal entry is the anti-type of the messianic entry of Simon bar Giora in April-May 69  (448-59). Mark wrote in hindsight and sees the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as punishment for closing the door on Gentiles and turning the place into the seat of revolutionary violence (461-62)

Hendrika Roskam (The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark) interprets four passages as pointing to a post-70 date: 12:9 reflects that the tenants (religious leaders) will be destroyed and the vineyard (Israel) given to others (Romans), 13:2 reflects the fall of the Temple and its inaccuracies no more relevant than those in Josephus, 13:14 is not just the Temple’s profanation but its destruction with the Roman general or army standing in the courtyard now (nun) (13:9), and 15:38 is an omen of the temple’s fate (81-94). She situates Mark in post-war Galilee and argues that 13:9 depicts the post-70 context where the eastern part was ruled by a king and the western part by a Roman legate (112-13). Mark’s depoliticized the kingdom and the title Christ so as not to be seen as a subversive movement and get handed over by Jewish authorities in the region to the Romans.

Brian Incigneri (to the Romans; cf. Head’s article) dates Mark to Vespasian’s triumph in 71 CE. He defends a post-70 date: Matthew or Luke are no more accurate on the Roman siege (Luke 21:24 reflects 2 Kings 25:1), Jesus’ predictions are mostly fulfilled, the Romans had no policy of destroying temples (cf. Kloppenborg, 434), 13:2 is generally accurate while Josephus exaggerates the fire (cf. War 6.4.5.249-253), the desolator in 13:14 is Titus standing in the Temple and Josephus shows it was possible to flee (War 6.382), and Mark has temple replacement imagery (11:22-25; 14:58) (117-55). His mirror-reading of Mark finds many allusions to Vespasian (cf. 156-252). The crucifixion is modeled on an imperial triumph (purple robe, crown, whole guard, Golgotha meaning “head” or Capitoline Hill, the time of day, etc), the healing of a blind man with spittle (7:32-38; 8:22-26) echoes Vespasian (Tacitus, Hist. 4.81), 14:47 reflects a supporter of Vitellius who cut the ear of the Tribune guarding him (Hist. 3.84), Herod & Herodias are like Titus & Queen Bernice, James & John are like Vespasian’s ambitious sons, the Gerasene demoniac echoes the 10th Legion whose symbol was a boar, the dividing of Satan’s kingdom reflects prior civil war in Rome, the controversy on taxes becomes acute with Jews forced to pay for the Temple of Jupiter in Rome, 15:38 reflects the parading of the outer curtain of the Temple in Rome, and so on.

Adam Winn (Purpose) places Mark in the same time and place as Incigneri, but he sees the desolator in 13:14 as a future antichrist figure (69-75). He has criteria to decide if Mark wrote pre- or post-factum: Specificity, Reasonableness, Similarity, Motivation, and Risk-Reward (58-67). Only his last two criteria rules for post-factum as Christian literature is largely silent on the Temple’s destruction before Mark and Mark would not risk linking Jesus’ prophetic powers to the Temple given a chance the prediction could be falsified (61-67). He agrees on allusions to Vespasian and judges Mark to counter imperial propaganda about a messianic prophecy of Vespasian (Josephus, War 6.312-13; Tacitus, Hist. 5.13.1-2; Seutonius, Vesp. 4.5) (157-67).

Burton Mack (Myth of Innocence) argues that Mark wrote in the 7os in southern Syria, close enough to feel the vibrations from the Jewish War but without direct involvement (315). It is a product of a failed synagogue reform movement (cf. pronouncement stories) that turned bitter and threatened apocalyptic judgement on its foes; Mark is a charter document and new myth of origins combining Jesus traditions with Paul’s kerygma for a community stressing its independent of the synagogue. Mack judges the concept of an anti-temple Messiah to be a contradiction in terms formulated after the temple’s destruction (282). William Arnal (“Reflection on Exile and Identity”) puts Mark in the early-mid 70s in a region affected by the Jewish War (60), but he questions the confidence of what we can know about a discrete “Markan” community in a specific locale since this is creatively obscured by the author (59). Instead, Arnal views Mark as a commentary on exile, social dislocation, and ethnic identity in light of the fall-out of the Jewish War (60, 65).

James Crossley (Date of Mark’s Gospel) takes on the consensus of dating Mark 65-75 CE. He severs the link of Mark 13 to the War (ch. 2) as there may be several referents (Herod Antipas conflict with Aretas of Nabatea, Caligula crisis, persecutions in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 or in Acts, an early outreach to non-Jews, etc). He deconstructs the case for a long period of development based on form criticism, Markan redaction reflecting the fall or replacement of the temple, influence from Paul, and so on (ch. 3). He re-dates Mark’s Gospel to the 40s by arguing that it presupposes a Law observant movement not yet impacted by Paul’s law-free Gentile mission or debates of the Jerusalem Council, while Matthew and Luke respond to these developments (e.g. Matt 5:17; Acts 11-12). His last two chapters contend that Mark’s legal verdicts on Sabbath, divorce, or purity do not violate biblical law; he re-reads 7:1-23 as a coherent whole dealing with hand-washing (7:2-5) and opposes the oral tradition (cf. Corban) that unwashed hands render food unclean.

Other interesting dissertations to note:

Hyun Chul Won’s PhD Thesis “The Date of Mark’s Gospel: A Perspective on its Eschatological Expectation

Jesse Luke Richards’ MA Thesis “Jesus, the Jewish Law, and the Gospel of Mark: A Critical Evaluation of a Proposed Early Date for the Composition of Mark

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