Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Evocatio Deorum and the Date of Mark

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Evocatio Deorum and the Date of Mark

Article excerpt

The date of the Gospel of Mark is generally set a few years either side of the destruction of the second Temple on the 9th of Av, 70 C.E.1 The grounds for this dating vary. Earlier commentators tended to place considerable stock in the patristic testimony, which claimed that the author of the second Gospel was a companion of Peter, which in turn implied a date for the Gospel either during Peter's lifetime or shortly after his death-in any event, before 70 C.E.2 More recent scholarship has insisted on internal evidence of date, with attention mainly falling on Mark 13. There is no strong tendency apparent: although perhaps the majority hold that Mark looks back on the destruction of the second Temple,3 a few recent commentators, usually combining patristic testimony with internal evidence, hold that Mark ought to be placed shortly before 70 C.E.4

The pertinence and reliability of patristic testimony are much in question, but in any event do not take us back much earlier than Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus at the end of the second century.5 The best place to begin is with the internal references. Several texts are routinely cited that point to a relatively early dating, but none of these permits us to narrow down the date to one side of 70 C.E. or the other. Mark 9:1 and 13:30 predict that some of Jesus' contemporaries will live to see the parousia, predictions that, given a mean life expectancy of forty years, would point to a date not too much later than 70 C.E. Such indications of date are not very strong, however, since Matthew, usually dated in the 80s, has taken over the two Markan predictions almost unchanged. If Matthew was able to tolerate failed or obviously failing predictions, then so might Mark.6

Likewise, details such as the explicit naming of Alexander and Rufus as the sons of Simon of Gyrene (15:21) or Mark's unelaborated references to "the high priest" (14:53) and Pilate (15:2), in contrast to Matthew and Luke, who identify the high priest as Caiaphas (Matt 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2) and Pilate as "the governor" (Matt 27:11; Luke 3:1), presuppose an audience that does not need explanations for these persons.7 Or again, Mark's presentation of Jesus' opponents, which, unlike Matthew's account, distinguishes between scribes and Pharisees (Mark 2:15) and, unlike Matthew (3:7; 16:1), restricts the Sadducees to the environs of Jerusalem, reflects a greater awareness of the religious topography of Judea prior to the first revolt.8 These data, however, point only to a relatively early date for the Gospel and do not permit any greater precision.

Thus, it seems unlikely that Mark 13:14 was specifically formulated with Titus's desecration of the temple area in view, since it so poorly fits the details.17

The disadvantages of this solution mount, however, when one considers Mark s inclusion of the wish that the events leading to flight "not occur during the winter" (13:18). This fits well the Caligula crisis, which was escalating during the summer and fall of 40, just before the onset of the winter rains, but it hardly fits the events of August 70 C.E.22 Thus, once again it would be necessary to posit a negligent editor, who missed the fact that the desecration of the sanctuary by Titus and its subsequent destruction occurred before the winter of 70 C.E. This is certainly possible-the redactors of the Gospels elsewhere are guilty of clumsy editing23-but it is not an entirely happy solution. Since both Matthew and Luke were quite capable of alleviating the tensions created by w. 14 and 18 when read in a post-70 situation, it is odd that a post-70 Mark could not or did not.24

Without abandoning the advantages of positing a pre-Markan apocalypse to account for the anachronistic reference to flight in winter,25 several authors have alleviated the tensions created by w. 14 and 18 by arguing that Mark was composed prior to 70 C.E. Accordingly, for the author of Mark, the expectation of a desecration of the sanctuary, either by the installation of a pagan altar similar to that used by Antiochus IV Epiphanes or by a cult image such as that planned by Caligula, was yet unrealized, but under the circumstances of an impending threat by the Romans, scarcely an unrealistic apprehension. …

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