(response to recent comments on earlier post Dating Mark Early)
Crossley presents three specific arguments to date Mark before 40 ce:
- the way he wrote about the disciples plucking corn on the sabbath could be interpreted by the unwary to mean that Jesus was abolishing the sabbath; but since other arguments “establish” this was not the case, the ambiguity in Mark’s narrative “demonstrates” that he wrote at a time when all Christians would have understood that Jesus plainly did not abolish the sabbath — and therefore at a time when all Christians were taking sabbath keeping for granted — i.e. before 40 ce.
- the way he worded Jesus’ saying in the divorce controversy appears on the face of it to mean that divorce is not allowed under any circumstances; but since it can be argued that Mark’s Jesus was always a stickler for the biblical law, and the biblical law did allow for divorce, it is “clear” that Mark did not mean his audience to read his words literally, but to assume that Jesus “meant” to allow for divorce for “the obvious reasons” anyway — and this also “proves” that Mark wrote very early before any divorce discussions arose in the church — i.e. before 40 ce.
- the way Mark chose his words in describing the handwashing controversy left it open for later readers to think that Jesus was declaring all foods clean, thus abolishing the biblical food laws; but since on other grounds it can be argued that Mark’s Jesus always observed biblical laws on principle, we can infer that Mark was writing at a time when his audience took this for granted and understood Jesus was not abolishing the food laws at all. — i.e. even earlier before 40 ce.
Any one of these arguments, Crossley admits, may not be persuasive for all readers, but together they become an argument of “cumulative weight” and therefore much stronger. The maths proves it: 0+0+0=3.
In one place in his book, The Date of Mark’s Gospel, he says that the first two arguments are the strongest case; but elsewhere he says the third is the strongest. I’ve dealt with one part of #1 here, and will deal with #3 in this post. (more…)
Image by mizinformation via Flickr
In order to know how to interpret a document it is very often helpful to know when it was written. Maurice Casey (Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel) and James Crossley (The Date of Mark’s Gospel), however, turn this around and use their interpretation of the Gospel of Mark to determine when the Gospel was written. They date this gospel to within ten years of the supposed death of Jesus.
They begin by falling in line with the untested and unquestioned assumption of their peers that assumes that the gospels are based on a historical Jesus. There is no evidence for this proposition, so biblical scholars proceed by means of a circular methodology to discover the evidence they need to support it by analyzing different parts of the gospel texts. Cultural tradition and contemporary public and institutional support for this process enables it to flourish unquestioned, and give licence to its practitioners to ignore or ridicule any attempts to expose their circularity. Words of practical advice from Schweitzer and Schwartz to Hobsbawm and Thompson are dismissed. Discussions by Elton and Carr on historiography are misrepresented. They have learned nothing from the exposure of the same methodological flaws at the root of Albrightianism. All this has been addressed in previous posts and comments.
One passage addressed by Casey and Crossley in support of their case that the Gospel of Mark was written before 40 c.e. is Mark 2:23-28
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
Even though there is no historical evidence for a strong presence of Pharisees in Galilee until after the Jewish war and the fall of Jerusalem in 70; and even though we have no evidence that the laws of Leviticus were widely practiced in Galilee in the time of Jesus; and even through Casey and Crossley concede there is no evidence that there was any sabbath law regarding the picking of grain until late rabbinic times, and even though there is evidence that the Pharisees were in fact far more lenient towards the poor and did not make crushing burdensome rules for them and were popular among the poor, Casey and Crossley, and many of their peers, are convinced that scenes like this are historical.
Importance of an Aramaic source (more…)
James Crossley’s argument for the historicity of the Temple Act of Jesus (in The Date of Mark’s Gospel) demonstrates the hollowness of biblical historical assumptions generally. It’s not that James Crossley is any different from other biblical “historians” (e.g. E.P. Sanders, James McGrath, Craig Evans, James Dunn, Maurice Casey, Richard Bauckham, etc) in what he does. I am using here his response to David Seeley’s argument that Jesus Temple Act never happened to illustrate how biblical “historians” base their arguments for historicity on arbitrary assumption.
A surreal game
Seeley takes the view, in effect, that if Jesus had really gone into the temple and started throwing tables around and angrily shouting for the money-changers to get out, the most natural thought that would have come to the minds of onlookers was that he lost his cool on discovering he was cheated over the price of a dove. (D. Seeley, ‘Jesus’ Temple Act’, CBQ 55, 1993 pp. 263-283)
He is specifically responding to Craig Evans’ claim that Jesus was protesting against a corrupt priesthood. There are two problems with this, he argues:
- Jesus is giving the money-changers the hard time, not the priests.
- There is no evidence for such financial abuse anywhere outside the gospels.
The first thing to notice here is that Seeley does not address any evidence for historicity that Evans might have advanced. Evans is
- simply making an assumption that the Temple Act is historical
- attempting to find plausible rationales for what he assumes really happened.
Seeley responds by challenging Evans’ rationales and showing they are either not plausible or lack supporting external evidence.
This is a strange game being played here. In order to knock down one scholar’s rationale, another scholar declares that it lacks supporting external evidence. Yet neither scholar appears to notice that the absence of supporting external evidence for the very historical existence of Jesus or historical origin of any of the gospel narrative! It’s like those cartoon characters who are so preoccupied with making the most of a task at hand that they fail to see that they have run off a cliff and are standing in mid-air while continuing obliviously in myopic “reality” until they decide to look down. But these scholars never seem to look down. They are standing on nothing but tradition.
But Crossley takes Seeley to task and attempts to restore grounds for believing this Temple Act really did happen in history. Recall the first of Seeley’s points in which he discounted the rationalization that Jesus was protesting against corrupt priests: