Dating Mark's gospel

Ten reasons why Mark is wrongly dated to around AD 70. Updated 29 Sept 2020 Introduction
  1. A history of dating Mark
  2. Oral tradition
  3. The death of Peter
  4. The abomination of desolation
  5. David Strauss and the supernatural
  6. The synoptic problem
  7. Mark's local knowledge
  8. The messianic secret
  9. Paul
  10. Parallelomania
So what? (Why Mark matters)



Overview Methodology Jesus Mark Acts

Quick overview


This essay uses more sociology and less parallelomania. More Rodney Stark, less Bart Ehrman. New Testament scholars generally have little training in sociology. And no experience of being in a new religious movement. It shows! They rely too heavily on untestable theories, and not enough on seeing how new religions really work. While I may lack their knowledge of Greek, I do have experience inside a new(ish) religion. I was a Mormon missionary, then a Mormon Branch President (leader in a remote area), then a Mormon apologist. I believed in my church, so I took a great interest in my church's early years. I saw other churches as a threat, so I took an interest in their early years well. I saw that all new religions face the same four realities. I call these the four "T"s of new testaments: the Tests, Truths, Tallies, and Times.
  1. TESTS:

    Potential converts will test what you offer. Why do some people join? Why do other people not, or perhaps even hate the church? It is never about doctrine, that would be too easy. Doctrine is merely branding. People join because they test the church's real benefits: friends, status or money.
  2. TRUTHS:

    Truth claims matter. How true is each historical claim? Young churches rely on unpaid believers, motivated to sacrifice everything because they sincerely believe every word. For a church to succeed, many of these believers need to be educated and competent. So like any successful new business, a church's advertising has to be strictly true, but highly selective and massively interpreted, in order to make the mundane and cynical look magical and holy.

    Tallies of membership numbers are less than you think. Exactly how many people are in each group? Far fewer than you think. But the church history will pick its words carefully to make it sound like a lot more. E.g. if a crowd of curious strangers watch, it because a multitude following you. If a hundred say they believe, the odds are that ninety nine are back in their old life a month later. But if one of those people was sick and happens to feel better in the heat of the moment, you record that as a miracle healing. If you send twelve friends to stay with relatives in adjoining countries, that becomes preaching to the whole world. The real numbers come from compound growth: five percent growth per year leads to tens of thousands of followers after a hundred years. Then that established religion looks back and desperately wants to believe the early magical stories, because their lived experience of faith after a hundred years is usually disappointing.
  4. TIMES:

    The time needed for changes is less than you think. How long do major changes take? Because the church is small, and doctrine changes to fit realities, changes can be very fast. In Mormonism for example, within twelve months (March 1830 to March 1831) they published the Book of Mormon, organised the church, moved the church to a new location (Kirtland), changed the nature of the church (from everyone being equal to a hierarchy), began preaching to the native Americans, planning to lead them as an army to take over the United States (see Naked Mormonism for details) and found their own version of Paul: Sidney Rigdon, leader of a rival church, who then devised Mormonism's unique theology. Luckily Mormonism arose in an age of printing, so we can trace every change. But all successful new religions seem to change at a similar speed: they have to, or they lose momentum and potential converts lose interest.
These lead to four rules for reading religious texts. We shoudl read religious texts in the same way that we read any other advertising:
  1. Tests: Look for the concrete teachings and benefits.
  2. Truths: Assume the text is true, but with carefully chosen words to make the bad seem good.
  3. Tallies: Look for evidence that numbers are far smaller than they appear.
  4. Times: Expect early changes to take months rather than decades.
These tenets are not perfect, but they have to be better than the alternative: parallelomania. Paralellomania relies on ignorance: parallels only look good until you read the alternative view that gives opposite parallels. In contrast, the four "T"s are based on experience and can be tested: this is how real religions work in the real world. Now let's apply those tests to Mark and Acts. This is the essential background to all the material in this essay.

Jesus' goal: cleanse the temple, helped by the diaspora

Jesus' teaching is explained right at the start, in Mark 1:1-3. It is what got him killed. He wanted to cleanse the temple (and with it, the nation), with the help of the diaspora. "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [i.e. Malachi 3 - cleanse the temple] The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. [i.e. Isaiah 40 - bring the diaspora]" In later gospels, a wedge was driven between John the Baptist and Jesus, as if they were in different movements (rather than Jesus growing from the same movement). So it has become normal to see Mark 1:2-3 as referring to John the Baptist and not Jesus. But Mark says this is the gospel of Jesus, then quotes the scriptures. It would make no sense for a book about Jesus to open by talking about somebody different. Jesus was John's successor, completing what John started (even though some of John's followers did not accept him: Mark 2:18-19). How did Jesus expect to cleasne the temple and the nation? Jesus expected the Judean state to first descend into chaos: "And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows." ... "But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains" (Mark 13:7-8,13) This was a reasonable guess given events in AD 36 or 37. Jesus saw this approaching chaos as the opportunity for a stronger society to emerge from the smoking wreckage: "And then shall they see the Son of man [i.e. the common man] coming in the clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26) To achieve this, Jesus planned to gather the diaspora (first at Jerusalem, then Damascus, then elsewhere), arrive at Jerusalem as society collapsed, and use this kingdom of God, based on loving their neighbours, to fill the vacuum. They would dismantle Herod's gaudy temple, and rebuild it in a simpler form as God intended. But the plan failed. The expected chaos did not happen, and the expected mass converts did not appear. The believers, unwilling to admit they were wrong, gradually changed the message to make it more supernatural. This essay is only about the new supernatural message. It is about the original message, as stated plainly in Mark 1:1-3: cleanse the temple, with the help of the diapora.

Mark: a footnote to Josephus

The gospel of Mark is really very simple: Mark is just a small footnote to the story of John the Baptist (that we read about in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews). Mark fits just after Book 18, chapter 5. Josephus records how Herod expected John to start a rebellion, and so he put John in prison (and later killed him). "Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, [Josephus then discusses John's teachings]. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 5) What always happens when a rebel leader is put in jail? One of his followers will of course say "now is the time to act!" They will perhaps march on the capital city, and be executed as rebels. If the number are small, why would anybody bother recording it? You know it will happen, and it just slows down the story: the historian has already moved on to more important matters.

The gospel

The message of Mark - the "good news" or "gospel" of John's successor, is explained in the first three verses: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Mark 1:1-3) These references explain everything in Mark. They are extremely famous: even today many of us have them memorised (thanks to Handel's Messiah, which sets the most famous scriptures to music). The first reference is to Malachi 3: "Behold, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple: the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight:see, He is coming, says the LORD of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire, like a launderer's soap. And He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD, as in days of old and years gone by." (Malachi 3:1-4) That is, Mark is about cleansing the temple. This theme was popular in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other radical Jewish literature at the time: the temple had been defiled and must be destroyed and rebuilt. For more about this, see the section on the Abomination of Desolation. The second reference is to Isaiah 40, which comes immediately after a description of Judea's greatest ever shock and tragedy: how the nation was conquered and its rulers carried away to Babylon. This was the defining event of the Old Testament: how Judea was conquered due to her sins and how the people would return and finally live as God intended: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 40:1-5) That is, Mark is about bringing foreign Jews back to live in Judea: make a straight road to Jerusalem, where we shall live as God intended! Mark then introduces John the Baptist. John foretold a leader to come: "And [John] preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." (Mark 1:7-8) In the context of Malachi and Isaiah, this leader would be the one to lead the foreign Jews to Jerusalem and cleanse the temple. Mark then implies that Jesus might be this leader: And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11) The imprisoning of John was the catalyst: Jesus then began saying "the time is fulfilled"! That is, no more waiting! It is time to act! "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15) The "gospel" is the "good news" - the "ev-angelon", where "ev" means "good" in Greek, and "angelon" means "from angels" - that is, from messengers. Recall Malachi and Isaiah: messengers are to go to foreign lands telling the Jews the good news: it is time to return!

Preaching to the nations

Galilee was known as "Galilee of the nations" - that is, "Galilee among the foreigners", because it was so far from Jerusalem (over seventy miles!) and was the route to other nations: the important trading cities of Phoenicia, and the fertile crescent that led to Syria then the Roman empire or Parthia (old Persia, Babylon). Many Jews suspected that Galileans were half foreign. Samaria was bad enough, and Galilee was even farther away. Galileans were less strict in their rituals, and spoke with a strange accent. So Galilee had one foot in foreign lands. In the very small world of ancient Judea, any small time preacher who wanted to preach to the nations, but had to walk everywhere, would start in Galilee. And Jesus was from Galilee anyway, so this was the obvious place to start. After this, the next step to "preach to the nations" would be either Jerusalem at Passover, because Jews from all nations came there to worship, or up the road to Damascus, the great city on the King's Road between Rome, Parthia and Africa. Or preferably both. That was Isaiah's main message, to tell the diaspora to come home. It's right there in Isaiah chapter 2, Isaiah's call. Chapter 1 is where Isaiah introduces the problem to be solved: Israel's sins that must end. The message of Isaiah is the same as the message of Jesus: so that "all nations" can come to a purified temple: "The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord." (Isaiah 2:1-5) So Jesus' gospel is no secret. It is the central message of Isaiah, and Malachi, and all the great prophets. John told the people to repent, and Jesus told them to gather to the temple.

More evidence that Jesus was John's successor

After Peter was killed in AD 42 Jesus' brother James took over running the church. The gospel of Thomas says that Jesus always wanted him in charge, and either way he would have known Jesus better than anybody. James the Just was known for his ascetic ways and very strict keeping of the law, much like John the Baptist. He was also widely respected and liked, like John. So the guy who was closest to Jesus modelled himself on John the Baptist. That's a good clue to how Jesus imagined the church. The rest of the gospel of Mark is Jesus spending a few weeks trying to raise support in Galilee, then going to Jerusalem for Passover. Where he was executed on suspicion of wanting to demolish the temple. The whole adventure probably took less than two months, as we will see.

The date of the events in Mark

Everything happened in early AD 36 (or possibly 37)

Everything in Mark (and Paul's conversion, and hence all Christianity), is triggered by a single event. This is the defeat of Herod's armies by Aretas IV. THis is the sign mentioned by Josephus that got the Jews excited. Here are the key events:
  1. The sign: Herod's armies are defeated. The Jews see this as punishment for killing John the Baptist.
  2. Jesus reacts: This sign will be particularly important for John's successor, Jesus. News of a victory in battle was called "ev-angelon" (literally "good messenger"). Good news! Clearly the time has come for the ancient prophecies to be fulfilled! God will remove the evil rulers! Scattered Jews can return! The temple will be cleansed! Just as Isaiah and Malachi said!
  3. The "B" team goes south to tell Jerusalem: Jesus gathers followers in Galilee. He marches south to Jerusalem for passover, to tell the people what to expect. (Jerusalem is 75 miles from Jesus' headquarters at Capernaum, as the crow flies).
  4. The "A" team goes north to tell "all nations": Jesus said he would send the good news "to all nations". The obvious destination is via Damascus, the crossroads of the world (60 miles away as the crow flies). Damascus is where Rome, Parthia and Africa meet on the "king's highway". This is where near where God's sign took place: near where Aretas beat Herod's armies. So it is the obvious place to tell the Jewish diaspora. We know that Jesus had some secret wealthier followers. It was natural for them to visit this trading hub when the new ruler took charge.
  5. Saul follows, and joins them: Saul follows, planning to stop these zealots from causing trouble at this sensitive time. But along the way he decides to join them: this is just too exciting to oppose!
  6. Result: Christianity What we call "Christianity" was created by Saul (also called Paul). Christianity was originally just the belief that Jesus would come back with the diaspora and cleanse the temple. Yes they saw him be crucified, but he expected that and planned to use his secret Roman followers to take him down from the cross and nurse him back to health. As the months passed, and it became clear that he was dead, nobody wanted to admit the plan had failed. So the belief arose that Jesus would come back in a supernatural way.
Notice how this interpretation is very small scale. This is based on the four "T"s of interpretation: tests, truths, tallies and times. That is, a new religion will try to make its origin sound as spectacular as possible (Jesus preached to all nations! Saul was causing havoc!) But a close look at the timeline shows that the words in Acts are carefully chosen to make very small events seem large. This is how the timeline is calculated:

When did Aretas defeat Herod's armies?

March 16th, AD 37 is the starting point for dating: the death of Tiberius. This is such a big event that it can be dated with great confidence. It allows us to calculate the other dates, because it is limits the possible dates for Jesus and for Paul. For details, see Douglas A. Campbell, "An Anchor for Pauline Chronology: Paul's Flight from 'The Ethnarch of King Aretas' (2 Corinthians 11:32-33)" in the Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 121, No. 2, pp. 279-302.

The AD 37 scenario

Jesus acted as a response to John the Baptist's death, and surely in response to the sign from God: the defeat of Herod's armies. But when was that defeat? Josephus tells is that Herod complained to Tiberius, and Tiberius told Vitrellius to help Herod. But before he could fight, Vitrellius heard that Tiberias had died, so he want back home. So the latest date for the defeat of Herod's armies was March AD 37, minus the time it took for the message to get to Rome and back. The excellent site "Orbis" gives the time it took for messages to travel the Roman empire. The fastest journey from Damascus to Rome was 25 days each way, using a normal merchant ship. This includes stops for other passengers. If you were a king, in time of war, and your survival depended on speed, the time would of course be less. So the latest possible date for the battle would be January AD 36. This would place the events of Mark between January and April (passover) AD 37. AD 37 would explain why Pilate was willing to release a prisoner: he had just lost his job, or was about to lose it, and Vitrellius (his far more powerful neighbour) was in town, and wanted the Jews to be appeased. (Due to the ongoing tension with the nearby Parthian empire: he could not afford to spare troops). However, this also relies on a very tight schedule: Pilate was visiting Rome to defend his job when he heard that Tiberius died. So he would need to return to Jerusalem very quickly. Of course, the knowledge that Vitrellius might be there to fire him would make speed his number one goal: Pilate had to get back to show that he was in charge, and running things just how Vitrellius liked (e.g. personally handling whatever issues arose, such as the Jesus situation, and appeasing the Jews by releasing a prisoner) A date of 37 also makes the Caligula crisis (Mark 13) easier to predict, and the general chaos would increase Jesus' feeling that everything was changing. Jesus does not specifically name Aretas or Caligula or Vitellius in Mark, but these would just merge into the general chaos prediucted in Mark 13. Those precise names would be less important in AD 42 when Mark wrote his text.

The AD 36 scenario

The AD 37 dates rely in extreme speed. Most scholars assume that this is just too fast. Plus it relies on Pilate returning to Jerusalem before being fired (or after he was fired, to tidy his desk). This is very plausible, but is not mentioned by Josephus (though why would be mention such a minor footnote?) So most scholars assume a leisurely journey with long stays, putting the battle back to late AD 36. But there is good reason why it might have been even earlier: Vitrellius had every reason to drag his feet: he did not want to help Herod. Vitrellius was an extremely capable leader: he handled the border between Rome and Parthia, against a very capable Parthian leader. Later when Claudius campaigned on Britain he left Vitrellius in charge of the whole empire. Te Herod boys, in contrast, were mediocre, selfish and often incompetent. Vitrellius would not want to risk the empire's borders by sending troops to help Antipas in a minor war that was Antipas' own fault. And Vitrellius particularly hated Antipas after the middle of 36: Antipas had hosted an important meeting between Vitrellius and the ruler of Parthia. Vitrellius showed excellent diplomacy and kept Rome's borders safe again. but before he could report to the emperor, Antipus ran to Rome and told him first, no doubt exaggerating his own role. This was very bad manners. So Vitrellius had every reason to delay when told to help Antipas against Aretas. Vitrellius almost certainly liked the wise and capable Aretas better than the spoiled man-child Antipas. How long could Vitrellius drag his feet if he wanted? A skilled foot dragger could find good reasons to delay for months or even years: see the crisis of Caligula's statue for example. Vitrellius could easily say that the best time to attack Aretas was on such and such a date in the future. Or he could argue that it was best to try diplomacy first because of the sensitive Parthian situation. Of course, if he waited too many months then Antipas could just go whining to Tiberius again. So it is quite reasonable to push the defeat of Herod back to early AD 36, but not much before that. In conclusion, because foot dragging was more likely than extreme speed, the AD 36 date is more likely date. It could even be pushed back to late AD 35: The Encyclopedia Britannica refers to "Aretas's victory over Herod in 35-36". But the speedy scenario, AD 37, is still possible and has much in its favour.

Mark covers just a few weeks

This dating suggests that all the events described in Mark took place within a few weeks. This explains why Mark often says they "immediately" did this or "immediately" did that, as if everything was happening very quickly. For example, the "walking by the water" incident happened a few hours after the four thousand were fed, and the temple prophecy was given as Jesus was walking out of the temple after seeing the widow donate her money. In Mark's account everything happens very quickly. While gathering followers at one point Jesus picks ears of grain to eat. This confirms the very short time, as the grain was planted in Autumn, and most grain was harvested by the time of Shavuot (Pentecost, 50 days after Passover). The still growing grains would be worth picking, though small, in the weeks before Passover, but not much before that. The alternative is that we add an extra year just for the grain but nothing else in the text or the possible dates suggests that. We can check this rapid speed from the journeys. All of Jesus' travels could be as little as three hundred miles. If he averaged ten miles per day (more on the final journey to Jerusalem, less in Galilee) his mission would take around a month. Double that to allow for minor detours and longer stops. We can reconstruct Jesus' activities as follows. The longest time period, forty days in the wilderness (Mark 1:13), takes place before Jesus starts to preach. The next verse records how John is imprisoned, and so Jesus starts where John left off (Mark 1:14). He choose his disciples and then "preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee": even a fairly long journey, like Nazareth to Tiberias, was only fifteen miles as the crow flies, or four hours' walk. So he could easily visit one town per day for two weeks and cover all the major towns in Galilee. Most of these towns were just small villages by modern standards. There are only three more gaps before Passover: Mark 2:1 refers to "after some days", Mark 8:2 refers to a three day mass meeting, and Mark 9:2 has a gap of six days. THis last gap is surprisingly long, and during it Jesus may have organised his more secret followers, because this led to a mountaintop meeting with two unknown followers codenamed Elias and Moses. (This was presumably early in the morning, because looking up the slope the followers were dazzled by the light reflected from Jesus' clothing.) Other than those three gaps, totalling perhaps two weeks, all the events appear to happen very close together. So the minimum time needed was two weeks to visit the major synagogues in Galilee, two weeks of gaps, a week to walk to Jerusalem, and a week for everything else. That's six weeks plus Passover. Even if we double this time it's not very long.

The size of Jesus' following

Later gospels make it seem like Jesus was very popular, right from the start. In Matthew, his first sermon was outside and thousands came. In Luke, Jesus already had a great reputation even as a child. In John, Jesus did not hesitate to use great miracles to attract people. But in Mark, Jesus had to rely on his friends in the fishing village of Capernaum, and could only find an audience by preaching to whoever was in the local synagogue. Jesus the found a problem: instead of attracting other righteous men, he only attracted the "unclean" - that is, people with problems. They heard the local boy was now famous and heard that he could help with their illnesses or other difficulties. But followers are followers, and eventually his popularity peaked when five thousand local people came to see. But it is not clear how many of them followed him to Jerusalem: it may have been just his twelve friends and a few others. The numbers would only seem larger because this was Passover, and plenty of people were making the journey anyway. So we see that historians are wrong to look for a major figure called Christ in the AD 30s. And they are wrong to assume that he could only be motivated by a major event like the destruction of Herod's armies. Mark describes just the events of a few weeks, caused by John being imprisoned. And this is exactly what we would expect from reading Josephus:

Jesus compared with John

Mark 2:18 draws a distinction between what the disciples of John used to do, and what the Disciples of Jesus do now: "And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast." (Mark 2:18-19) This is typical of whenever somebody new takes over. "It wasn't like this under the old guy." The reference to the Pharisees is needed to show that the old guy's way is the normal and right way. No doubt many of John's previous followers did not want to follow the new guy, or did not hear of him.

Why was Jesus killed?

Why did the authorities want Jesus dead? Because of his beliefs? No: the Dead Sea Scrolls and other sources show that wild beliefs, including messiahs, were common in first century Judaism: just read Philo of Alexandria. He tried to merge Judaism with the hated Greek philosophy, saying the scriptures were only allegories, and Philo was chosen by the Jews of Alexandria as their representative to Rome! No, it's never about doctrine. Opposition is always based on more serious matters. Mark records: "And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together." (Mark 14:57-59) Destroying the temple was serious. The temple was the foundation of the Jewish state. Now the witnesses were false and confused: they made it sound like Jesus was destructive, or perhaps might rebuild the temple in his own image. And the three days was nonsense. But as we saw in Isaiah and Malachi, Jesus' goal was to cleanse the temple. When the Macabbees cleansed the temple they removing its stones to rededicate and then replace them: see the discussion of Mark 13 for details. So yes, Jesus probably wanted to take down temple stones and rebuild, but the false witnesses made it sound like an act of terrorism. Since they could not agree on details, the case turned to Jesus' character: "Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death." (Mark 14:61-64) Notice the reference to blasphemy, a capital crime in Moses' law (see Leviticus 24:16). But Rome was in charge, and legally this usually meant damaging temple property (see "Blasphemy And Sacrilege In Roman Law" by Olivia Robinson). E.g. Josephus records how the Jews believed that the Greeks were stealing money intended for the temple. They were able to get the Roman authorities to agree that such a person "shall be severely punished". That case did not require death, but Jesus was accused of a more serious crime: destroying the temple itself. So Jesus's trial was just like a typical terrorist trial today. It is hard to prove exactly what a terrorist is planning, because they rely on secrecy and euphemism. But when you take the fragments of evidence, then add the terrorists's extreme rhetoric, that is enough to convict him. Of course, Jesus was not a terrorist, but he was essentially charged with terrorism. So this is not about belief. It's far more serious.

What happened next? A clue from Galatians

A line in Paul's letter to the Galatians gives us a big clue to what happened next. Galatians is considered indisputably by Paul, and for various reasons is dated very early (perhaps late 40, certainly by the early 50s). The early date adds importance to the part where Paul introduces himself: "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed." (Galatians 1:13-23) So Saul was not known by face in Jerusalem. But this appears to contradicts the story in Acts. Acts of course was written later, and tries to make the early church seem distinctive and important: "there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. [...] As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house" (Acts 8:1-3) Why would the apostles be spared? And if "the church which was at Jerusalem" was so badly persecuted, why are the apostles free to argue in public, and why is there no evidence of persecution other than the single case of Stephen? It looks like Saul's job was to hunt down believers in towns outside of Judea (Damascus, for example, is in Syria), but the book of Acts wanted to make it look like he was persecuting them "at Jerusalem". There are several other contradictions between Paul's letters, over his relationship with Peter (Acts tries to turn enemies into friends, his attitude to the law of Moses (Acts has Paul preach in synagogues and require a man to be circumcised), over his conversion story (different every time), over what he did after his conversion (Acts says he went to Jerusalem and then to his home town, but Galatians 1:17 said he spent three years in Arabia before visiting Jerusalem, over how often he visited Jerusalem (Acts implies often, the letters say only three brief visits), and so on. This is important because it means that Acts was trying to change history. So Galatians is older and more reliable than Acts. And at the very start (the late 30s or very early 40s) Saul was hunting down Jesus' followers in the Jewish diaspora. So the believers were doing what Mark said: preaching to all nations, telling them to "make a straight path" to Judah, as Isaiah said.

Can we trust Acts? Paul in his basket

A line in another of Paul's letters gives us another historical clue. Paul tells of a memorable event from after he became a Christian: "In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands." (2 Corinthians 11:32-33) This event is discussed in more detail in the section on Paul's conversion. It shows how Acts chooses its words carefully, to give a false impression, but the story in Acts is essentially true. Another example is Paul's conversion itself: Acts assumes it is after Jesus died, and chooses phrasing that exaggerates the events, but a careful reading shows that Acts is basically accurate. So we can probably use Acts as a reliable source, as long as we interpret each event in the smallest way that fits.

Acts: Peter as the Godfather

We can now use the book of Acts to construct a timeline of the church between AD 36 (Jesus) and AD 42 (the death of Peter and writing of Mark). Remember the methodology: we are not looking for parallels with other texts as much as we are looking for the four "T"s of any successful new religion: Tests (what concrete tests can potential converts apply - what makes them join?), Truth (what ugly truths are spun to look good?), Tallies (what numbers might be smaller than they appear?), and Time (what fundamental changes are happening quickly?)

Acts 1: Crucifixion, AD 36

Jesus is executed at Passover. We can date this to AD 36 because John the Baptist had just been killed, and Pilate was in charge. Other dates rely on nativity stories in Matthew and Luke, which are (1) supernatural, (2) contradictory, and (3) written much, much later. So where they disagree with Mark they should not be relied on. Acts says that Jesus miraculously went to heaven. What is more likely, that a miracle occurred, or he simply died? A miracle, by definition, is far less likely. So Peter tries to raise the twelve followers' spirits. Judas had betrayed them, so they find a replacement. Somehow they will continue without their leader!

Acts 2: preach to the nations, AD 36

Jesus's role was to preach to the nations. Lacking funds, the only way was to find those foreign Jews who had come for Passover and might be staying for a few weeks. Obviously they would need to first find people to translate. They then hired a room, fifty days after Passover (i.e. we are still in AD 36) and invited others to hear the message in their own language. This clearly impressed them, even if the translation was sometimes poor (so that many observers felt they were drunk). But Acts tries its best to make this sound like a supernatural event.

Acts 3: Peter is failing

The greatest need in a new religion is a charismatic leader. Jesus had charisma, but there is nothing to indicate that Peter did: he was probably just the only one available. So they continue to preach in the synagogues, apparently with little success. Acts says that Peter managed to "heal" one person: given that Peter was claiming supernatural power, and this would attract sick people, it is statistically probable that at least one person should happen to feel better. This is presented as a miracle healing. But just one healing is a failure, a sign of random luck. A good charismatic leader should mae lots of people feel better, and want to present themselves as healed. Conclusion: peter was not a charismatic leader. he was drifting, failing. How could he make people join?

Acts 4: communism

Peter lacks charisma, but he does understand being poor. So he finds the one sure fire way to get people to join a church: offer money. That is, share all the wealth. Acts claims that five thousand people now believe. This sounds like a reference to the five thousand people who once came to listen to Jesus: and then went back to their houses. When you talk money you can get large numbers of superficial believers.

Acts 5: Peter rules by fear

The rest of this review of Acts might sound like an attack on Peter. But what else could he do? The problem with communism is that people are greedy. Everyone wants more, but most of the people who join will be very poor. If Peter cannot get money from somewhere, then he cannot get the followers he needs. The survival of the church depends on squeezing the few followers who have money. How far would Peter go? Think of the pressure on Peter. All of Jesus' plans rest on him. Peter will do whatever it takes. The state could not be trusted to follow God's law, it was up to Peter. In the law of Moses, when people do not sacrifice enough, or share in an "ill favoured" way, the penalty is death: "Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the Lord thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the Lord thy God. [...] If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment: [...] And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously." (Deuteronomy 17:1,8-9,12-13) Let's see if Peter applied that law. Here, Peter heard that a believer had more money that he was not sharing. Remember that this is not supernatural: Peter is shaking the man down for money. So read this in the voice of Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone from "The Godfather": "But Peter said, 'Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.'' And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things." (Acts 5:3-5) Take note: "great fear came on all them that heard these things" When they heard - that is, they did not see what happened. Continuing: "And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him." (Acts 5:6) Like any Mafia boss, Peter had young men around him ready to wrap up and dispose of bodies. "And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in." (Acts 5:7) So the man was wrapped up and buried within three hours. Why the hurry? We get a clearer view with what happened to Ananias' wife: "Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband." (Acts 5:9-10) In other words he told her "you will die. The men who buried your husband are ready to bury you." Take away the supernatural gloss and this is nothing but a threat. "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." (Acts 5:11) "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch." (Acts 5:12) The words translated "signs and wonders" ("semeion" and "teras") can both be translated as "omens" or "warnings". Should we read this as good or bad? The next verse tells us: "And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them." (Acts 5:13) Other translations say "none of the rest dared join them." They outsiders did not dare join Peter's followers: this is fear again. The authorities try to imprison Peter: "And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth" (Acts 5:18-19) "Angel" just means "messenger". If we reject the supernatural explanation, it looks like Peters' fanatical followers sprung him from jail. This reading is supported by what happens next: "Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned." (Acts 5:25-26) Notice that: the authorities are afraid that the believers will stone the police! This confirms what we inferred: Peter thinks it is acceptable to stone people to death who oppose him. Peter is now a fully fledged cult leader. He has power of life and death, and no prison can hold him. Desperate people start coming to him in large numbers, believing he might heal them. And the city rulers were afraid to do anything. The communism worked. Peter's group is finally starting to grow! He finally has power!

Acts 6: Money and power!

Peter and co. continue to collect money from the diaspora in Jerusalem, but they won't share it with the diaspora's needy: "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration." (Acts 6:1) Instead, Peter argues that he should not work for a living. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables." (Acts 6:2) He chooses Stephen and six others to handle the business. Acts of course paints them as angelic and holy, but what kind of man would a Mafia boss hire? The government accuses him of the same thing they accused Jesus of: wanting to destroy the temple: "And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us." (Acts 6:12) Acts of course says these are "false witnesses" but they are consistent with Jesus' trial, and are not far from what Jesus himself said: that he came to cleanse the temple, by taking it apart first if needed (see the discussion of Mark 13).

Acts 7: We first meet Saul

Stephen is condemned for the same reason as Jesus: confused but real evidence of wanting to destroy the temple, plus his loud, angry hatred of the authorities. Put these together and today a person might be jailed for terrorism charges. Back then he was simply stoned. Here we first meet Saul, watching the trial of this scary gang member. Paul will be discussed in more detail in his own section.

Acts 8: Saul versus Peter, round 1

The apostles stay in Jerusalem, but the others go looking for the diaspora elsewhere (verse 1). We saw before that they would kill people to get money, and that the money did not seem to go to the poor and needy where it was intended. Saul follows them to report their scam to the authorities. We then get the story of "Simon Magus" - a believing member who thinks he can buy his way to the top. This was reasonable, because we previously saw that Peter loved getting money. And later we will see that Paul is allowed to do exactly that: by collecting money from the diaspora he is allowed to call himself an honorary apostle. But Peter does not want to say it directly, so like every Mafia boss he denies any underhand dealings and is shocked by the suggestion. Immediately after this, we see Philip targeting an Ethiopian: he was a Jew far from home so would welcome a friend. And he happened to be in charge of a great deal of money (verse 27: he controlled the queen's treasure). So while the church was not officially a money making scam, actions speak louder than words.

Acts 9: Saul is reconciled

On the road to Damascus, Saul decides to reconcile with the apostles. His story will be discussed in more detail in his own section.

Acts 10: Saul's plan

So far, Peter has only shaken down the Jewish diaspora for money. Paul has the idea that he should go to the gentiles. Peter now accepts the idea, and it is presented as a dream. Please note: Peter must have been sincere. Why else would Jesus choose him? Why would people trust him? But the Jesus movement had to survive at all costs. And for that it needed money. The more money it had, the better it could survive. And Peter never lived long enough to enjoy it anyway. Peter had one job, make the movement survive, and he did it.

Acts 11: more money

Peter is easily led: when Paul says they should go to the gentiles, Peter gives in, and even starts breaking the law of Moses: "And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them" (Acts 11:1-3) But Peter's one skill is that he has learned how to get money, and has trained others in the method. So the movement will always survive. Here they tell everybody that a world famine is coming, so send money to Jerusalem: "And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:28-30) This is well before the death of Agrippa in AD 44. But there was no "great dearth throughout all the world" so the prediction was false. However, small local famines were common, and Josephus records one at Jerusalem a few years later (after 44, possibly closer to AD 50). Note that other areas had plenty of food: "Helena, the king's mother [...] had a mind to go to the city of Jerusalem, in order to worship at that temple of God which was so very famous among all men, and to offer her thank-offerings there. [...] and she went down to the city Jerusalem, her son conducting her on her journey a great way. Now her coming was of very great advantage to the people of Jerusalem; for whereas a famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food withal, queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of corn, and others of them to Cyprus, to bring a cargo of dried figs." (Antiquities 20:2:5) So this false prediction (a global famine) eventually worked out well for Jerusalem.

Acts 12: Peter's death: AD 42?

We saw before that the local authorities tried to jail Peter after he apparently killed some people. But they could not keep him in jail because they feared his followers. Now King Herod got involved, and he would not be intimidated. First he executed the apostle James, the one known as "son of thunder". That is, he was probably one of the more aggressive leaders of Peter's group. Then Herod imprisoned Peter as well, in order to execute him. As we discussed earlier, Herod probably succeeded where the local authorities failed.

Acts 13: Mark travels

Mark's family has a nice house, and Mark is in great demand when others travel around the empire. Why? "they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John [John Mark] to their minister." (Acts 13:4-5) The word translated "minister" is "huperetes" or assistant. It is the same Greek word that the same author uses at the start of Luke. (Acts says it is a continuation of Luke.) "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." (Luke 1:1-5) So Luke, the gospel writer, describes his writing job as being "huperetes" or assistant to the world of God. He then describes John Mark in the same way. In that chapter we see Mark accompany the apostles, then return to Jerusalem. Then after they return for the Jerusalem council, Mark travels with Paul as his assistant (Acts 15:36-37). Mark, with his money and hence probably a Greek education (his first name is Greek, his surname Jewish) would be the perfect travelling companion for a missionary in foreign lands. All the early commentators agree that this was the same Mark who wrote the gospel.

Acts 14-28: Paul travels, collecting money

When Paul preached he also collected money to bring back to Jerusalem: "Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings." (Acts 24:17) Here Paul recalls how he was accepted by the Jerusalem church, allowed to preach to the gentile on condition that he should "remember the poor": "For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the gentiles: And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do." (Galatians 2:8-10) "Remember the poor" means "give me money to take to Jerusalem": "But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. [...] that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;" (Romans 15:25-27,31) So Paul travels around the diaspora, preaching and collecting money: "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem." (1 Corinthians 16:1-3) Note Paul's prosperity gospel: if you are poor, then give more money so God will bless you with his grace: "Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. [...] Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." (2 Corinthians 8:1-5,8-9) The idea of sharing all things for equality is still here. But it amounts to the same thing: pay me money. "But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack" (2 Corinthians 8:14-15) To be fair to Paul, he does not like how the Jerusalem apostles want to be paid for preaching. He defends it, but in such a way that you can tell he really thinks it ids an abuse of their power: and the fact that he does not do that makes him a better apostle than them. (Elsewhere we gather that Paul paid his own way by setting up as a tent maker whenever he arrived in a city.) "Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:1-18) On a personal note, researching this has completely changed my opinion of Paul. I used to think of him as the antichrist because of how he opposed Peter. Now I am beginning to wonder if Peter was the problem all along.

Dating Mark, 1 of 10:

A history of dating Mark

The argument

Mark is usually dated to around AD 70 because the majority of scholars supposedly place it there. But that is only true if we carefully define "most scholars" so as to exclude most scholars! If we really include most scholars then the favoured date is AD 42. Note: this is a simple argument from numbers. It does not say anything about the quality of the scholars' evidence. The evidence they use is covered separately, in other parts of this essay. By "most scholars agree with AD 70" we mean most current scholars who have attended reputable universities. But for most of history, going to university meant being a Christian and holding broadly orthodox Christian views. So if we include all scholars from respected universities, from all history, then traditional views must prevail. Of course, we could argue that scholarship is always improving, and therefore new scholarship must be better than tradition. However, in the case of Christianity, the vast majority of early sources are lost. So modern scholarship is based on very little evidence. Early scholarship, in contrast, had access to vastly more sources. What modern New Testament scholar would not want access to the library of Eusebius? So tradition is based on better sources.

The traditional dates: AD 42 for Mark, no dates for other gospels

Tradition has some disagreement over exactly when or if Peter went to Rome, and whether Mark wrote when Peter was alive or just after he died, the greatest traditional historian was Eusebius, and he implies AD 42. So, if pushed for a date, most scholars across history would have preferred AD 42 to AD 70. The rest of this section gives the history of dating AMrk, It shows why Eusebius, together with the great Bible translator St Jerome, say that Mark wrote his gospel when (they believed) Peter went to Rome, which they date to the second year of Claudius, or AD 42. That date was settled for 1800 years. Note that the date of Matthew, Luke and John were never fixed: right from the start this was not something the church cared to examine. It became convenient to think that Matthew was before Mark, but they could not say when or give any details that would help to narrow it down. It is as if the church knew from the start that Mark was historical, with a pedigree that stands up to close analysis. But Matthew, Luke and John? It's best not to ask too many questions about them.

First century to the nineteenth: Mark is not popular

From the beginning up to the nineteenth century (when it was realised that Mark was first), Mark was the least popular gospel. It is quoted the least by church fathers (count them for yourself), and references to the author are lukewarm. Peter was ambivalent about the work based on his words: "he neither strongly forbade it nor urged it forward." (see the comments by Clement, below) Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament, hated Mark, though in later years he admitted that Mark was useful and wished him well (at a safe distance! - 2 Tim 4:11): "And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;" (Acts 15:36-39: Most early historians agreed that "Mark" was John Mark, mentioned in Acts 12:12 and 15:37)" Mark was the basis for the later gospels, even though Mark was not popular. This is clearly seen in the very first New Testament canon, the one created my Marcion, around AD 144. Marcion only had one gospel: an edited version of Luke. But a close look at what he edited shows that he simply removed everything that was not in Mark. That is, Mark was the test of what was genuine, even though Marcion didn't like it and preferred Luke. Or some have suggested that this was the first version of Luke: simply Mark but re-written, and the "missing" parts were actually added later. So Mark was so unassailable that even though people disliked it, it was the gold standard. This argues for Mark being much older or more authentic than the rest.

c.AD 42: Acts 12-13

Acts 13 introduces us to Mark. Here is the order of events:
  1. Peter supposedly escapes from prison (AD 42)
  2. He goes to Mark's family: they own a large house where the church meets
  3. Herod looks for Peter but cannot find him
  4. Some time later (in AD 44) Herod dies
  5. Mark then accompanies Paul
  6. "Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem." (Acts 13:13).
  7. This annoyed Paul, and he refused to take Mark on his next mission, though Paul appears to soften in later years, referring to Mark as "useful" (2 Timothy 4:11: the church fathers said this was the same Mark)
It appears that Mark was very useful to the church: he had money, and he could write Greek. So Peter went to him when he escaped, and Mark would have the money and skills to help Peter to get out of the country. But this money and Greek ability also allowed Mark to be independent in his thinking: he could just decide to leave Paul and go back to Jerusalem whenever he wanted. Paul didn't like that! Acts says that later Mark accompanied Paul for a while (so Paul must have really needed him), and then went back to Jerusalem. The Church Fathers always associated Mark with Peter, never with Paul. When the last verse of Acts 12 says Paul took Mark, it is like saying that he took the CEO's car and expense account. It shows that Paul has taken over from Peter as top apostle. It is common for Acts to show Peter doing something and then show Paul do the same thing, whether it is escaping prison or healing the sick or preaches in the synagogues. Acts works hard to show Peter and Paul as friends and equals. Because in reality, according to the letters of Paul, the gentile groups established by Paul and the Jewish groups established by Peter were distinct and in competition. Acts tries to bring the two groups of churches together.

Late 1st century: Papias

Eusebius cites Papias as saying that Mark wrote his book when accompanying Peter. Papias was alive when the apostles were still active (he was born circa AD 60, and later became a bishop). "There are said to be five books of Papias, which bear the title "Interpretation of our Lord's Declarations." Irenaeus also, makes mention of these as the only words written by him, in the following terms: "These things are attested by Papias, who was John's hearer and the associate of Polycarp, an ancient writer, who mentions them in the fourth book of his works" [...] concerning Mark, who wrote the gospel. He [Papias] expounds with these [words]: "And the presbyter [i.e., John] also said this: 'Mark, being the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately all that he remembered (but not, however, in order) of the things which were spoken or done by our Lord," for he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, [he followed] Peter (who provided instruction according to the need, but not as to make an arrangement [orderly account] of the Lord's discourses); so that Mark did not err in anything in thus writing some things as he remembered them; for he was attentive to one thing, not to leave out anything that he heard or to make any false statements in them." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39)

Early 2nd century: Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (born circa AD 100) refers to the memoirs of Peter, and quotes details that are only found in Mark. This implies support for Papias' statement that Mark recorded Peter's memories. (Dialog with Trypho 106:3, full discussion here)

c.100-150: the Preaching of Peter

The Preaching of Peter appears to imply that the apostles all went to the gentiles in AD 42. (The "Preaching of Peter" is a lost book usually dated to between AD 100 and 150.) Therefore AD 42 would be the obvious time to write a gospel foer the gentiles. (Mark is obviously aimed at a gentile audience, hence explaining Jewish terms in Mark 3:17; 5:41, 7:2; 7:34; 10:46; etc.)Clement of Alexandria refers to this lost text in his book "Stromata" and appears to use it as his source for the following quote: "Wherefore Peter says, that the Lord said to the apostles: 'If any one of Israel then, wishes to repent, and by my name to believe in God, his sins shall be forgiven him, after twelve years. Go forth into the world, that no one may say, We have not heard.'" (Clement, Stromata, book six, the end of chapter 5) Around the same time, Appolonius of Ephesus (c. 200) wrote something similar: "[Apollonius] speaks yet from a tradition that the savior ordered his apostles not to depart from Jerusalem for twelve years, and he also uses testimonies from the revelation of John, and he relates that a dead man had been raised by John himself in Ephesus by divine power, and he also says other things, through which he sufficiently and fully exposes the error of the aforementioned heresy [Montanism]. These are also the things of Apollonius." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5:18:14) This may seem a tiny detail, but it is a bombshell. The same "twelve years" claim is also in the Acts of Peter, presumably also drawing on the lost "Preaching of Peter". The fact that Clement and Appolonius quote it as unquestioned history, and that it appears in at least two other sources (one lost), suggests that this was well established as a historical fact. A New Testament scholar explains what it means: "Clement of Alexandria, on the authority of the 'Preaching of Peter,' thinks the apostles did not leave Palestine until twelve years after Jesus' death, which would fix the date at about 42 A.D." (Shirley Jackson Case, "The Origin and Purpose of the Gospel of Matthew", in "The Biblical World" vol. 34, No. 6, 1909, p.390-402) So the widely accepted tradition in the year 200 was that the apostles only preached in Israel until the year AD 42. The date of AD 42 is based on adding the twelve years to AD 30, the commonly accepted date of Jesus' ministry ever since Luke was written. (Why AD 30 and not AD 36 or 37? Mark's date is indirect: it's based on his reference to the death of John the Baptist, which Josephus links to the defeat of Herod by Aretus, AD 36. But Matthew and Luke are much more direct. Matthew ties Jesus' birth to the time of Herod the Great (who died in 4 BC) and Luke chapter 3 says that Jesus started preaching "when he was about thirty" soon after John started preaching in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, or AD 28-29. Any believer who tries to believe Matthew and Luke has to conclude that Josephus was wrong and that Jesus was crucified around AD 30.) Did Jesus really say "twelve years"? The "twelve year" saying is not in the gospels, or in any surviving apocrypha: it seems to be just a tradition that is somehow linked to Peter. The idea that Jesus really said "preach in Judaea for twelve years and then move to the gentiles" is highly unlikely for two reasons. First, Jesus was Jewish. The people who knew Jesus best, his brother James, and Peter, strongly argued that the message was for the Jews, and gentiles could only join if they first became Jews. The idea of preaching to the gentiles came from Paul, not Jesus. And second, the idea of twelve years in Judaea before even starting with the other nations suggests a very leisurely pace. This contradicts the urgency indicated by the earliest texts, where Jesus was expected to return at any time. So the twelve years teaching must be from many years later. But where did it come from? Where would a "twelve years from AD 30" tradition come from, except a real memory that preaching in Jerusalem ended in AD 42? The obvious source is the events of Acts 12. Acts 12 records that the church in Jerusalem had great persecution around the year 42, and James was killed and Peter disappeared. The rest of Acts then focuses on Paul preaching to the gentiles, with the Jeusalem church led by James the brother of Jesus, who was not one of the twelve apostles. So this "twelve year" teaching is simply Acts 12 combined with the ate of AD 30 from Matthew and Luke. So the early church widely taught that the apostles left Jerusalem in AD 42, and the focus then changed to the gentiles. So AD 42 is whan a written text was most needed. Until that point the preaching was of the apostles in Jerusalem: why write it down, when everybody saw Jesus with their own eyes? And anybody who did not see Jesus could hear the story from lots of people who did. Plus all the apostles were always available at any time. But all that changed in AD 42. From AD 42 the apostles went through different cities: a person in a city would be extremely lucky to see an apostle, and any reference to Jesus would result in "who was he?" So n AD 42 they needed a written text. Note that this tradition only talks about the apostles. As we see from Paul's conversion, non-apostles were already spreading the world beynd Judaea. Also note that just because an early gospel would be written, that does not imply the people liked it or made many copies. All the indications are that the apostles were not too excited about the written text. Mark was not the hagiography they wanted. They removed the start and end and seldom quoted from the text. SO this first written account was a marketing failure. The later, supernatural versions (Matthew and Luke) were far more popular. But this does not change the fact that AD 42 was when they first needed a written gospel, and it would be aimed at the gentiles, like Mark.

c.160-180: The Anti-Marcionite Prolog

Another early source that links Mark to the death of Peter is the brief introduction to Mark that is contained in some early manuscripts. (It was originally assumed to be written against Marcion, who flourished circa AD 140, hence the name "anti-Marcionite"): "Mark recorded, who was called Colobodactylus ["stumpy finger"] because he had fingers that were too small for the height of the rest of his body. He himself was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself, the same man wrote this gospel in the parts of Italy." (Introduction to Mark, in around forty surviving ancient manuscripts.) This is the key text. Because whereas Irenaeus was just a guy attacking anybody who disagreed with him, a Bible translation is a work by a committee. And a good quality Bible was expensive: potential buyers had to be persuaded that they were getting the best scholarship. So the best scholarship of the second century said that "After the death of Peter himself, [Mark] wrote this gospel in the parts of Italy." Even without these quotes, this is just common sense. The church relied heavily on Peter's memory. So when he died, they needed to quickly write down what they remembered Peter saying. And if writing it down, it makes sense to aim it at the people who could not come and hear it in person: that meant Rome. Because the largest group of Jews outside Judea was in Rome.

c.170? The Muratorian Fragment

This document repeats the statement that Mark wrote down what he heard Peter say. The text refers to pope Pius (AD 157-170) as recent, hence its early date. Though some scholars feel it fits better in the fourth century, when a similar canon became popular. The beginning is missing, but the context makes clear that this is probably about Mark recording Peter's words: ". . . at which nevertheless he was present, and so he placed [them in his narrative]." (The Muratorian Canon, line 1)

c.180: Irenaeus

Irenaeus (writing circa 180) wrote "Against Heresies". The book is dedicated to showing that Roman Christianity was the original. This is the first time (that we know of) that Peter visiting Rome is declared as a fact. "What [the apostles] at first preached, they later delivered to us in writings [...] Matthew [...] also produced a written Gospel [...]; Peter and Paul, however, were in Rome preaching the gospel and founding the church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also delivered to us in writing the things that were then being preached by Peter." (Source.) Because he had to make the gospel after the apostles, he makes it sound like Mark wrote his account in the 60s, the traditional date for Peter and Paul in Rome. But like a good apologist, he maybe simply choosing his words carefully. Irenaeus had a good reason to never suggest an earlier visit to Rome, or the evidence that Peter died in AD 42. Because Irenaeus was the champion of late second century orthodoxy. That orthodoxy taught that Peter and Paul had always been friends. But Paul's letters show that in the 40s, Peter strongly opposed Paul over the position of gentiles: "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11). That was the reason for the Jerusalem council that followed (in AD 43 or 50). The disagreement was so strong that the Pseudo-Clementine texts argued with "Simon Magus" who supposedly fought Peter in Rome, was code for Paul. Irenaeus could not admit that Peter and Paul once had major, serious differences in the 40s. By placing them together in the 60s, can Irenaeus says Peter and Paul "founded the church" because at that point there is no evidence for disagreements (as in reality Peter was probably dead). Also "the church" did not exist in the 40s: before the council at Jerusalem, Jesus followers were simply Jewish reformers. It is also technically true to say they Peter could not found a church in 42 because the Jews were forbidden from meeting in groups. So Irenaeus, as a rabid apologist, chooses his words very carefully.

c.195: Clement of Alexandria

Clement wrote that time when the church at Rome was rising in influence, because of the number of people in the empire's capital. So historians took the fact that Mark was written for Rome, and the fact that Mark was close to Peter, and concluded that Peter must have also visited Rome. The idea that Peter had died early on became unthinkable: Acts had done its best to hint that Peter might have lived past AD 42. So here is Clement's understanding: "The Gospel according to Mark came into being in this manner: When Peter had publicly preached the word at Rome, and by the Spirit had proclaimed the Gospel, that those present, who were many, exhorted Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been spoken, to make a record of what was said; and that he did this, and distributed the Gospel among those that asked him. And that when the matter came to Peter's knowledge he neither strongly forbade it nor urged it forward." (Source.) Note that Peter was lukewarm about the text: this argues both for Mark's objectivity, and for the likelihood that he included some details that were not from Peter, but from other sources.

Early 3rd century: Caius

Caius mentions trophies in Rome dedicated to Peter and Paul, implying that they had both been in Rome. Eusebius took this to mena that both men had died in Rome: "But likewise, a certain ecclesiastical writer, Caius by name, who was born about the time of Zephyrinus bishop of Rome [bishop from AD 199 to 217], disputing with Proclus the leader of the Phrygian sect, gives the following statement respecting the places where the earthly tabernacles of the aforesaid apostles are laid. 'But I can show,' says he, 'the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican, or to the Ostian road, you will find the trophies of those who have laid the foundation of this church.'" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:25) If Mark is dated to Peter's death, and Peter visited Rome after AD 42, then of course Mark cannot be dated to AD 42.

c.350 Eusebius, the father of Church history

Eusebius says this about the date of Mark, apparently using the Acts of Peter and other sources: "...during the reign of Claudius, the all-good and gracious Providence, which watches over all things, led Peter, that strongest and greatest of the apostles, and the one who on account of his virtue was the speaker for all the others, to Rome against this great corrupter of life [i.e against Simon Magus]. [...] And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter's hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2, 14:6-15:1) Claudius reigned from AD 41 to AD 54. Eusebius implies that the gospel would have been written as soon as Peter arrived in Rome the first time, and not after his death. "But a great light of religion shone on the minds of the hearers of Peter, so that they were not satisfied with a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine proclamation, but with every kind of exhortation besought Mark, whose Gospel is extant, seeing that he was Peter's follower, to leave them a written statement of the teaching given them verbally, nor did they cease until they had persuaded him, and so became the cause of the Scripture called the Gospel according to Mark. And they say that the Apostle, knowing by the revelation of the spirit to him what had been done, was pleased at their zeal, and ratified the scripture for study in the churches. Clement quotes the story in the sixth book of the Hypotyposes, and the bishop of Hieropolis, named Papias, confirms him" (Source.) Perhaps this is because the date of AD 42 was well known, yet the Acts of Peter said Peter survived and went to Rome after that date. Either way, Eusebius confirms his belief that Peter visited Rome 25 years before Nero's persecution, which takes us again to AD 42, the second year of Claudius: "Eusebius of Caesarea left us two lists of the Roman bishops, one in his 'Ecclesiastical History,' the other in his 'Chronicle.' The first is the list of Irenaeus, the beginning of which has just been quoted. The second is derived from the lost 'Chronicle' of Hippolytus, bishop of Portus, written about half a century later. In the 'Chronicle' St. Peter's episcopate at Rome is stated to have lasted twenty-five years. In the 'Ecclesiastical History' we read 'under the reign of Claudius by the benign and gracious providence of God, Peter that great and powerful apostle, who by his courage took the lead of all the rest, was conducted to Rome.' In other passages his martyrdom with that of Paul is represented as taking place after Nero's persecution. The interval between these two dates would roughly be about twenty-five years. Now it is evident that these figures, derived as they are from men like Irenaeus and Hippolytus, who had access to the archives and traditions in Rome itself, cannot be dismissed as pure fiction. They must have a basis of fact behind them. Eusebius tells us 'that after the martyrdom of Paul and Peter Linus was the first that received the episcopate at Rome.' Now the date of this martyrdom was according to the received tradition the fourteenth year of Nero or 67 A.D.; if then we deduct twenty-five years, we arrive at 42 A.D." (source)

c.400: St Jerome

Jerome said Peter visited Rome in AD 42: "Simon Peter the son of John, from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, brother of Andrew the apostle, and himself chief of the apostles, after having been bishop of the church of Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion - the believers in circumcision, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia - pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius [i.e. AD 42] to overthrow Simon Magus, and held the sacerdotal chair there for twenty-five years until the last, that is the fourteenth, year of Nero." (From Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, chapter 1) Peter later returned to Jerusalem for the great council. This is usually dated to around AD 49, but some scholars say it could have been in AD 43 or 44. Daniel Wm O'Connor's "Peter in Rome" (1959) lists at least three prominent scholars who held that opinion. More recently, see: Alfred Suhl, "Paulus und Siene Brief: Ein Beitrag zur paulinischen Chronologie" (SNT 11: Gutersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1975), 57-70, who proposes a date of AD 44 for the Jerusalem council. Cf Wilhelm Pratscher, "Der Herrenbruder Jakobus und die Jakobustradition (FRLANT 139: Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987), 42-59, who dates the Jerusalem council a year earlier (to AD 43)" (Jack Gibson, "Peter Between Jerusalem and Antioch", 2013, p.218 footnote 11)

c.400: St Augustine

Augustine popularised the idea that Matthew came first (i.e. even earlier than 42), and Mark merely summarised Matthew. Augustine seems to base this opinion on the belief that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. (This is a belief that most scholars no longer share.) "Now, those four evangelists whose names have gained the most remarkable circulation over the whole world, and whose number has been fixed as four, [...] are believed to have written in the order which follows: first Matthew, then Mark, thirdly Luke, lastly John. [...] "Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek." (Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, 1:3-4) And this was the settled history for a thousand years. Mark was written in AD 42, and the other gospels were assumed to be earlier. But eventually new ideas arose.

1776: Johann Jakob Griesbach

Griesback published his "Synopsis of the Gospels" and popularised the idea that Matthew, Mark and Luke should be thought of together, and that John is different. This encouraged people to think of John as the special gospel, not Mark. Worse, Griesback assumed that Mark was written after Matthew and Luke, and just summarised them both. So at the beginning of modern scholarship, Augustine's view was reinforced. The idea that Mark shares the same concepts as Matthew (e.g. supernatural views of "Christ", "Kingdom", etc.), and that Mark can best be understood by studying Matthew, became the sand on which all later scholarship was built. An important point to note is that it took 1700 years for people to realise that John was very, very different from the other gospels. Despite the gospels being the most read books in the world. It has taken over 200 years more and scholars still have not noticed how Mark is even more different (e.g. not supernatural).

1835: David Friedrich Strauss

In 1835 Strauss published "The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined". It changed how people look at the gospels. Strauss pointed out what should be obvious: the supernatural is not real. So he rightly concluded that a story with supernatural elements is either fiction from the start, or a true story with fictional parts added later. He also concluded that adding the supernatural, while claiming the story was still history, probably took decades. The rise of Paul and the destruction of Jerusalem were obvious reasons to make changes to the story, so the dates for Matthew, Luke and John were probably at least late 50s, probably 70s, and perhaps even much later. Unfortunately, Strauss published before it became widely known that Mark was written first, so he had no reason to suspect that Mark might be fundamentally different from the other gospels. Worse, 1800 years of defining "Christ" and "gospel" a certain way creates a habit that is hard to break. So he just lumped Mark in with the other gospels.

1863: Heinrich Holtzmann

Various scholars had suggested that Mark was written first, but it was not widely accepted until Holtzmann published "The Synoptic Gospels: Their Origin and Historical Character". For a detailed examination of why Mark was first, why the others quote Mark and not the other way around, search for The Farrer-Goulder hypothesis, paying particular attention to how it answers critics. Unfortunately this growing realisation came too late. The most important scholars, Ferdinand Christian Baur (who died in 1860), Ludwig Feuerbach (died 1872) and others, had already completed their work. The foundations of modern scholarship are now based on the belief that Mark can be treated much like the other gospels: that Mark includes the supernatural, that Mark uses the same concept of "messiah", and so on. This new scholarship became enormously influential. So much so that starting in 1860 (in "Essays and Reviews") the mainstream Anglican church began to adopt their ideas. The foundation of modern scholarship was laid, and it was built on a vast body of work that assumed Mark was like the other gospels. Then the metaphorical ladder was pulled up after them, by the fundamentalists shutting down further scholarship for mainstream Christians.

1910: Fundamentalism

The final glue that cemented the AD 70 date was the publication of the Christian pamphlets "The Fundamentals", beginning in 1910. The pamphlets reacted against the new scholarship that questioned any part of the Bible. Gospel dating became a cultural litmus test. So a mainstream publisher can no longer sell critical Bible scholarship for a general Christian audience, because the loudest section of Christianity will condemn it. So new ideas are pushed to the margins. So the old idea - that Mark is like Matthew - will probably be around for a long time.

1919: Form Criticism

In 1919 the 28 year old Karl Ludwig Schmidt published his first book, "The Framework of the Story of Jesus". He decided that different parts of Mark had different themes. When he could not see a connecting theme he decided the parts must have come from disconnected oral traditions. This takes us right back to Clement: Mark recorded Peter's oral memory, but did not necessarily get every detail in the right order. Peter's lukewarm response suggests that Mark added details from other sources as well. Collecting oral stories need only take a few months, and may still involve contradictory views (as any police officer can tell you). Why, then, does form criticism generally argue for a process that takes decades? This is easily explained by economics. Imagine you are scholar who thinks that form criticism supports Clement. What is there to say? Form criticism has added nothing. There is nothing to publish, so you move on to some other topic. So if you are scholar and still have a job, and have not moved to new pastures, you probably argue for a late date. For whether these arguments are based in reality, see the later section on parallelomania.

1969: "Peter In Rome"

The definitive work on Peter's time in Rome is the book "Peter In Rome" by Daniel Wm O'Connor. O'Connor looks for evidence that Peter "presided over the Jewish Christians" and looks for evidence of "extended missionary activity" (p.9) and of an apostle working with a "Christian community" (p.10). However, the church was not a distinct organisation until Paul persuaded them to drop the requirement for circumcision at the Jerusalem, so Peter would simply be a Jew with a message about another Jew, not a missionary looking for converts. Regarding the lack of clearer evidence, O'Connor suggests five possible reasons, and considers that the fourth "may very well be the answer": perhaps the reason for some people not talking about the AD 42 visit to Rome is that "the account contained unedifying material, such as the internal jealousy perhaps alluded to in 1 Clement 4-6" (p.11). O'Connor mostly focuses on Peter's alleged visit in the AD 60s, about which the evidence is also ambiguous. But he has this to say about the earlier visit: "In 1953 appeared the fourth edition of the 'Manual of Christian Archeology' of Orazio Marucchi, the eminent Roman Catholic archaeologist, author of over fifty-five books and articles related to the subject of Peter and Paul in Rome. In it he claims that all the evidence combined permits the opinion not only that Peter did live in Rome, but also that he most likely arrived during the reign of Claudius, between A.D. 41 and 44, left after the edict of Claudius A.D. 49 and did not return again until the year of his death." (Peter In Rome, Columbia University Press 1969, p.5) Of course "permits the opinion" means only that: it is permitted by the evidence, but not demanded by the evidence either. As a Catholic, O'Connor has a great incentive to find evidence that Peter could have visited Rome. But all he can prove is that Peter "could have".

1990s-2000s: back to an early date

Maurice Casey, and his graduate student James Crossley, spent decades analysing Mark using the latest understanding. Casey used the Aramaic of the Dead Sea Scrolls to reverse engineer Mark into its likely original phrasing. He also analysed the phrase "son of man" in great depth. Then Crossley examined the use of the law of Moses in Mark, comparing it to the understanding in Paul and in other first century texts. Both men concluded that Mark only makes sense if dated to the early 40s or before. "Casey's reconstructions also demonstrate that Mark had a written Aramaic source and not an oral source" [...] "On the basis of these observations, Casey offers a date of c. 27-40 CE for this written version of Mark's Gospel." (source)


In summary, history points to Mark being written in AD 42. That history was challenged in the 1800s, based on Mark's similarity to the synoptic gospels, which are clearly written long after the events in question. But is it really so similar? And what about the original arguments, about Peter and taking the message to Rome? And what of the various claims that Mark does not know the local geography, or that he refers to the destruction of Jerusalem? It's time to dig deeper!

Dating Mark, 2 of 10:

Oral tradition

The argument

Mark is often assumed to be based on oral tradition. This suggests that nobody saw the need to write it down at the time. This further suggests that there would be no pressure to write anything down until the first generation were nearly all dead, and people began to fear that the message would be lost. Hence a date of around AD 70. However, in the real world, new religions cannot be so relaxed about their message. Because new ideas compete for followers against more powerful incumbents. So they always rely on having at least some literate people, because if they don't get the message out in the crucial first year, they don't survive. Also, the competition does not cease. So the church needs to try extra hard to get its message out when its existence is threatened. This suggests that the first fully written version of the message would need to exist in time for the first major crisis: the killing of James and Peter around AD 42.

The problem with New Testament scholarship

New Testament scholars are generally not sociologists. Nor do they have experience in starting new religions. And it shows. They create armchair theories about Jesus' followers being illiterate, and how nothing was written down at first. Sociologists know different. New religions compete with more powerful older religions: the older religions survive precisely because they have evolved to neutralise threats. Like any business they use advertising, copying, or the power of the state, to neutralise the competitor. A new movement can only survive if it has access to money and educated people right at the start. Rodney Stark explores this in his essay "Opiate of the Privileged". So it is no accident that Buddha was from a rich family, Mohammed had rich friends, Joseph Smith needed Martin Harris, hippies "drop out" from middle class lives, and so on. You need spare capital to explore new lifestyles.


Bible scholars are seldom sociologists, so it is common to read statements like these: "Christianity grew from a small group of illiterate Jewish peasants from Galilee" (Bart Ehrman, "The Early Growth of Christianity") "In his now-classic study of ancient literacy, William Harris gave compelling reasons for thinking that at the best of times in antiquity only 10% or so of the population was able to read [Ancient Literacy; Harvard University Press, 1989]. By far the highest portion of readers was located in urban settings. [...] Moreover, far fewer people in antiquity could compose a writing than could read, as shown by the investigations of Raffaella Cribiore, who stresses that reading and composition were taught as two different skills and at different points of the ancient curriculum." (Bart Ehrman, "Peter as Literate?")

The invisible hand of the religious market

It is true that most people in ancient times could not write, but that ignores market forces. If only one guy in the village can write, others pay him whenever they need a letter or government form. And if a religion succeeds then it will have more than one writer. This does not mean that the documents spread widely: perhaps 99 percent of believers cannot read. But the one percent who can are essential. Ehrman often links this claim with a different claim that is not about oral tradition. We may as well cover that here as well: the question of copyist mistakes.

Copyist mistakes: the straw man

Ehman often writes about about copyists introducing changes into the text. Evidence for this is the thousands of changes between different New Testament manuscripts. This is sometimes used as evidence that texts cannot be relied upon. This is a straw man argument because it it merely introduces a question of probabilities: historians know that any text might have been changed, but they still draw conclusions, based on probabilities and not certainties. A Ehrman accepts this in his November 20, 2013 blog post: when debating Biblical inerrantists he will argue that the texts are not reliable, meaning they are not one hundred percent reliable as the inerrantists claim. But when working with other scholars he relies on the texts in the same way they do: avoiding claims of certainty, but appealing to probability. So it is a straw man argument to say that copyist errors make the texts unreliable. It is more accurate to say that we can rely on them, but must talk of probabilities, not certainties. A related issue, and one that overlaps with the question of oral tradition, is whether the authors and copyists cared about reliability.

Did copyists care about reliability?

If words are considered sacred, then perfect transmission matters. For example, every letter in the Massoretic text of the Old Testament was counted, to make sure nothing was changed. But if the current audience is more important, then words can be changed depending on that audience. Usually texts are a mixture of the two: a copyist will try to be accurate, but will happily change the odd word to clarify a meaning, and will not fret of the odd word is missed by accident. This can lead to significant changes over time, such as adding the new ending to Mark. But does that make the text less reliable? If a car changes its paint, does that make it less reliable? Of course not: it still gets from "A" to "B". What if the shape of the body changes? It still gets from "A" to "B". The reliability of a thing depends on what you want the thing to do. The purpose of a religious text is not to preserve the previous religious text: it is to change the world. The new ending to Mark did that. The removal of original ending also served its purpose: the text survived and formed the foundation for more popular works. Scholars can test whether these messages fit the audience of their time, and whether that audience had the money and education to change the world. That is sociology. But testing whether the words were unchanged from year to year? That is like testing whether the page widths changed each time they were copied: it is of secondary importance at best. With religious texts, sociology is what matters. Because religion is sociology. That is what we need to measure.

Jesus and the middle class

Mark's description fits the pattern described by Stark. Mark describes Jesus' friends in middle class ways, and Jesus acted middle class himself: "And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him. And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes." (Mark 1:19-22) Notice how James and John are part of a family business that can afford to own a ship large enough for several people, and they hire servants. Then we see Jesus teaching in a synagogue and surprising people with his confidence and ability. These two examples are typical of everything Jesus does in Mark: he acts middle class (that is, he acts confident and educated, whether he is or not) and his friends are often middle class. Some of his friends are very rich indeed: "And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always." (Mark 14:2-7) A penny was a normal day's pay for a labourer: this woman's ointment would have cost some people a year's wages. And in his reply Jesus distinguishes himself from poor people. Incidentally, the word "leper" is probably due to Mark mishearing Peter say "jar maker": in Aramaic "leper" is "GAR'BA" and jar maker is "GARABA". A leper would not be allowed in the city limits according to the law of Moses (Leviticus 13:46), and while Jesus might visit a leper would a wealthy friend visit him at the same time? But a jar maker is exactly the kind of place where you find jars of expensive ointment. Again, here is Jesus visiting a middle class friend, a business owner with rich clients.

Motivation to write it all down

So we see that Jesus was middle class, and while he had many poor followers (because most people were poor) he also had wealthy followers. Exactly the kind of people who could write down what he said. We also see from the ointment example that some rich people felt that Jesus was very, very important person. Recall that Jesus' whole journeys only lasted a few weeks and he announced it as an extremely important event: the coming of the kingdom of God! Given that Jesus attracted crowds of hundred of people, and occasionally thousands, it would be crazy if at least one of those people was not writing down notes.

From sayings to gospel

Of course, once the main parts were copied in Mark there was no reason to keep the rough notes. Most would be in the form of sayings: it is what he said that mattered, not where he was. Some of these unused sayings may have survived in the gospel of Thomas.


It may be tempting to think that the imagined "Q" document is these lost sayings. "Q" refers to the parts of Matthew and Luke that are not in Matthew. However, Matthew and Luke add supernatural material such as the nativity, so they are more than willing to simply make things up. Add the fact that nobody has ever found Q, and no early writers mention anything like it, and Occam's Razor says Q does not exist. There was only Mark, possibly Thomas, and then years later Matthew and others wrote fan fiction.

Another reason for AD 36

The argument about competition, that new religions have to compete hard, is further evidence that Mark's AD 36 or 37 is the correct date for Jesus, and not AD 30 to 33. The older date requires several years when very little happens, before Paul's conversion when the events of Acts kick off. Bible timelines vary, but usually 33 to 37 is a very quiet period. But in the real world that could not happen. New religious movements must evolve very quickly to survive, and a whole year is a very long time. The AD 36 (or 37) date removes the problem: from the moment that Jesus is chosen as John the Baptist's successor, events happen thick and fast.


In summary, when we examine the alleged "illiterate" followers of Jesus we find evidence for even earlier written sources - that is, written while Jesus was speaking. Plus further evidence that a written version would be needed sooner rather than later. Plus additional evidence that the events described took place in AD 36 (or possibly 37).

Dating Mark, 3 of 10:

The death of Peter

The argument

The earliest histories date Mark to either the lifetime of Peter, or soon after he died. Peter's death is traditionally placed around AD 65, leading to a similar date for Mark. However, a closer look shows that Peter probably died around AD 42, leading to a similar date for Mark.

A typical guide to dating Mark

Here is a typical summary of the evidence for dating the gospel of Mark. Most scholars date the Gospel of Mark to sometime between 60 AD and 80 AD. It was probably the earliest of the four gospels and a source used by Matthew and Luke. The oldest clear evidence we have regarding the date comes from Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote in the second century: 'after their death [Peter and Paul], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, transmitted to us in writing what was preached by Peter.' Peter probably died around 65 AD, so if Irenaeus is right, then Mark was written after this time. If Irenaeus was not correct, it may not have been composed much earlier because oral tradition would have had to develop. An additional consideration is that Mark 13 may reflect the Jewish War and the resulting destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 AD. Many scholars conclude from this that Mark had to have been written after 70 AD." ("The Book of Mark's Date of Composition" from "Religion Facts" The summary begins by linking Mark to the death of Peter, so we will start there. Other evidence (oral history, the destruction of the temple, etc.) will be examined later. Here is the full statement by Irenaeus on how Mark was written after the death of Peter:

Irenaeus, 2nd century AD

"The apostles did not commence to preach the Gospel, or to place anything on record until they were endowed with the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. They preached one God alone, Maker of heaven and earth. 1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. 2. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chapter 1) Since Mark is dated to the death of Peter, we need to know when Peter died.

When did Peter die?

The traditional date for Peter's death is around AD 65. This was important to the Roman Catholic church: it was part of a story about how Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome. This made Rome seem very important. But when we examine the evidence for Peter's death, we find that the AD 65 date appearad in the late second century: all the first century sources point to to Peter disappearing around AD 42. For the details, see the paper "Where and When Did Peter Die?" by Donald Fay Robinson (Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 255-267). Robinson examines all the later claims and finds them to be weak. Whereas Peter's last appearance around AD 42 (in Acts chapter 12) looks like the writer is hinting that Peter died. In another paper, "Did Peter Die in Jerusalem?" by Warren M. Smaltz (Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 71, No. 4, pp. 211-216) Smaltz shows that the Greek words used in Acts 12 are elsewhere used by the same author to indicate death. So it looks like Peter died in Acts 12, but this would have ruined the story of triumph. So Acts makes it as ambiguous as possible: so his death does not matter because he carried on as a kind of angel, just like Jesus did. The rest of this section will look at some of the evidence for Peter's death in AD 42. Because if Mark was written soon after Peter's death, that would date it to around AD 42 and not AD 70.

We never hear from Peter after AD 42

In the book of Acts, Peter leads the church and is the most important person after Jesus. Acts chapters 1-12 are mostly about Peter. But in chapter 12, Herod (Agrippa) kills the apostle James, and then captured Peter, planning to kill him as well: "Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread [Passover].) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [Passover] to bring him forth to the people." (Acts 12:1-4) Herod died in AD 44, and the killing of James is usually dated to around AD 41 or 42. After this we never hear from Peter again. Except for possibly one verse, Acts 15:7: "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe." If this is the Peter we know, it raises a lot of problems:
  1. This Peter says he was called to preach to the gentiles. But that was always Paul's role. The original Peter only preached to the Jews. This was a major disagreement between them: although Acts 10 makes him sound tolerant, Paul's letters are earlier than Acts and show that this was a major disagreement between the two men: "For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the gentiles: And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." (Galatians 2:8-11)"
  2. If this was Peter, why is he then called Simeon? True, Simon was another name for Peter, but why change names? We'll discuss that in a moment.
  3. If this was Peter, why don't we hear more from him than this one verse? Acts 1-12 made him look like the head of the church after Jesus died. Yet the history of the church ignores him!
  4. If this was Peter, why is he not in charge of the meeting? In Acts 12 James runs the meeting and decided whether or not to accept this Peter's argument.
  5. If we use the excuse that Peter was now based in Rome, why is this never mentioned in Acts? The last few chapters are about Paul's journey to Rome: if Peter was there, why not at least mention it to explain his absence and demotion?
  6. If this was Peter, why isn't he reigning in Paul? After Acts 12 the focus shift entirely to Paul. But as long as Peter was around, Paul could not flourish.
The answer might be in verse 14: when this Peter is next mentioned, he is referred to as Simeon. "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name." (Acts 15:14) This is not the same as Simon in Simon Peter. "Simeon" is Strong's Greek number 4826, the Greek "Sumeon". But the Simon in Simon Peter is Strong's Greek number 4613, in Greek it is the same as in English, "Simon". What is going on here? Let's back up and see what led to the debate: "And thence [Paul and his companions] sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples. And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." (Acts 14:26-15:2) Notice that the dissension and disputation was not small! This was a big and heated argument, just as we saw in Galatians. And just as we saw in Galatians, when Paul argued about the circumcision, he does not compromise. But Paul was not stupid: he knew that if he spoke, he would just create a stronger disagreement But he needed the others to see his side. In cases like these a good lawyer will find the most sympathetic witness possible. So Paul and Barnabas brought "certain others" to this debate. Transport was costly, so they must be there to help Paul's case. And who are the "certain others" who were preaching with Paul to the gentiles at Antioch? "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul." (Acts 13:1) That's right. One of Paul's assistants was called Simeon. Paul brought friends to help argue his case, and the person who argued Paul's case to James was called "Simeon". So the previous reference to "Peter" could have been a copyist's mistake. Somebody saw "Simeon" and could have thought it meant Simon Peter. But the context suggests it was Simeon, friend of Paul. So the only reference to Peter after AD 42 is highly doubtful. And yet up to that time, Peter was everywhere, running the church, being the center of attention. What happened?

Acts 12: a euphemism for death

Peter ran the church until Acts 12, then Herod captured killed James the apostle, and imprisoned Peter, intending to kill him. Then we never hear from him again, and the rest of the apostles flee: later historians interpet this as them taking the gospel to the gentiles (the "twelve years" tradition discussed earlier). It does not take a genius to work out what happened. When a despotic king wants to kill a prisoner, he kills the prisoner. But the book of Acts is a story of triumph. So it cannot record the death of Peter and the apostles fleeing. So Acts uses similar language to the death of Jesus: Peter saw a great light, an angel smote him, and then Peter simply walked out of the prison, like an angel himself. He then appeared in his angelic state to the wives of his friends, and then to his friends, and then we never hear from him again. "James B. Jordan suggests that this incident is portrayed as being a type of resurrection for Peter. Noting that one of the major themes of the Book of Acts is that 'Christ's servants follow in His footsteps,'" Jordan argues that the events of the chapter 'recapitulate the resurrection of Jesus.'" Amy-Jill Levine and Marianne Blickenstaff, like Jordan, relate the disbelief of Rhoda's message to Luke 24:1-12, where most of the disciples refuse to believe the news of the resurrection brought by a group of women." (Wikipedia summary, retrieved 15/9/2020) It makes no sense that James would be killed but Peter, the ring leader, can just walk out of the prison. As James Jordan put it, why "James should die while Peter should escape" is a "mystery of divine providence." (Quoted in Wikipedia) Here is the full account of Peter's mystical "escape" in Acts: "And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel." (Acts 12:6-15)

Which is more likely?

So which is more likely? That Herod did what he said he would do? or that Peter was rescued by a supernatural miracle, which looks like Jesus' resurrection? That Peter would abandon his job in Jerusalem and disappear? Which is more likely? So Peter died around AD 42, and then Mark wrote down what Pater had said, so nobody would forget. Buy the church had to pretend that Peter survived, because otherwise the church ended in AD 70. Because Jesus created a Jewish movement, with the goal of bringing back the diaspora to cleanse the temple (Mark 1:2-3). Jesus said that after his death his brother James should run it. But the diaspora did not return, James was killed, and Jerusalem was destroyed. Here is the evidence:

James always ran the church

The definitive history of first century Judaea is Josephus. He does not mention Peter or Paul, but does mention John the Baptist and James, with a line indicating that James was the brother of Jesus who they called Christ. So at the time, to historians, the stad out chaarcters are John the Baptist, Jesus and James. Peter and Paul are not even footnotes. "CONCERNING ALBINUS UNDER WHOSE PROCURATORSHIP JAMES WAS SLAIN; AS ALSO WHAT EDIFICES WERE BUILT BY AGRIPPA. 1. AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 20 chapter 9) Even in the book of Acts we can see that James ran the church after Peter was jailed in Acts 12. And in Acts 15, the only reference to someone called "Peter" after Acts 12, James is clearly senior.

Peter only ran the church in one city

Acts says that Peter ran the church in Jerusalem, at least for the five years or until he disappeared. This is probably true. But may not mean what you think it means. The apostles were always "apostles": people "sent out". They were not the ones doing the sending. That was Jesus. And after Jesus, who? "The disciples said to Jesus, '"We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?' Jesus said to them, 'Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous [the brother of Jesus], for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.'" (Gospel of Thomas 1:12) Recall that Jesus was been based in his home of Galilee, not Jerusalem. At the end of Mark the mysterious robed man tells the followers to gather to Galilee: "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you." (Mark 16:6-7) So both before and after Jerusalem, the headquarters of the movement was Galilee. (Whether the Jesus was successful in his plan to survive crucifixion, or whether the robed man had to remove a dead body and then use Jesus as a symbolic figurehead, is a separate topic.) At the very start, the focus was always in gaining converts to the immediate north: Saul was on his road to Damascus, the group was first called "Christian" in Antioch, and so on. The apostles were supposed to be sent out to different places. It looks like Peter was told that his focus was Jerusalem. When Paul recalls visiting the church in Jerusalem, all he saw was Peter and James the brother of Jesus. "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:18-19) Why was James there? And why not the others? If that is the same Peter in Acts 15, he was clearly junior to James. And if that was a different Peter, it still makes sense that Peter would be junior to James brother of Jesus: because everything we know about James was that he was highly respected by all sides, and highly capable. And everything we know about Peter was that he was not. So it looks like the apostles were in different cities, and James was coordinating them. That authority structure is supported by a text about James found in Nag Hammadi. In it, Jesus explaining everything to James, who then explains it to the apostles and tells them what to do: "And he went at that time immediately and rebuked the twelve and cast out of them contentment concerning the way of knowledge" (First Apocalypse of James ). To see Peter's role, just look at the book of Acts. Jesus told his followers to preach to all nations, but there is no evidence of Peter coordinating that. Instead, Peter just hung around in Jerusalem telling people that Jesus would come back with lots of people. Occasionally we hear of other apostles there but usually different people like Steven or Barnabas. It looks like each apostle is in a different city, spreading the message. Who was coordinating all that? There is no evidence that Peter did, or that he had the skill to do so. We never see him sending people out or settling disputes or answering letters: it is not even clear how literate he was. But once we see James in Acts, James runs the Jerusalem council and in the letters of Paul it is James who sends out people to solve problems. For more about the people coordinating the movement, see the section of Mary and Jesus 'A' team in Galilee. So james ran the chuch, and the church (as Jesus intended) was Jewish, devoted to bringing back the diaspora and cleansing the temple. And it failed, because the diaspora did not come back, James was killed, and Jerusalem was destroyed. Let's look at what happened next.

The church was dead. Long live the church!

AD 70: the church was dead

In AD 70 it was all over. Not only did the diaspora not come back, but they now had nowhere to come back to! Jerusalem was destroyed! However, Paul had a lot of gentiles who believed in Christ as a supernatural god, and that movement was still alive and kicking. However, they had their own problems:
  1. Paul was dead as well.
  2. Paul's churches were fragmented.
  3. Paul's message was weak. "Jesus is coming soon!" - but "soon" never came.
  4. Paul's followers tended to drift back to the Jewish gospel after he left.
So the Jewish church was fatally insured. the gentile chruch was dying. What could they do?

AD 80? Psychology is real

Nobody likes to admit they were wrong. When a person invests their whole life into a belief, and the belief fails, they double down. The ones who stayed were the moat insanely committed. This was the age of believers like Ignatius, who welcomed martyrdom, even looked forward to it, and began to treat the dead apostles almost like gods. The only way to save the church was to combine the Jewish and gentile beliefs: combine James and Paul. Make the living Jesus supernatural. Make his second coming a supernatural thing. problem solved! So the first step is to create a more supernatural version of Mark.

AD 80? Enter... Super Mark!

The earliest reference we have to a canon (meaning writings treated as authoritive) is by Marcion in the 140s: he had a version of Luke that was basically Mark plus miracles. That is, if you look at the parts of "Luke" that he had, it was just Mark, but Jesus' actions were made to appear supernatural. Unfortunately, Marcion's religion had no place for the Jewish believers. And the church was not yet strong enough to lose them. So at the same time that people were writing Super-Mark (there is ndisagreement over which came first), they were also writing Super Mark - Jewish Edition! The book we came to call "Matthew" was Mark plus the supernatural, plus lots of Jewish prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. To win over the Jewish believers.

AD 85? Paper over the cracks

Even with "Super Mark - Jewish Edition" there was a problem: people still remembered James. James would never have accepted Paul's gentile religion. So how do you get James out of the way? Somebody came up with the answer: say that Peter ran the church in the early days! After all, for the first five or six years, James was apparently in Galilee, but Peter ran things in Jerusalem. And then, after those five or six hyears, when Peter disappeared and James took over follow Paul instead. and show throughout that Peter and Paul were in agreement. And so the book of Acts was written. Was Peter really in agreement with Paul? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Paul records a strong disagreement with Peter, feeling that he was a hypocrite: "the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (Galatians 2:8-14) Peter's weakness is a common theme in all the earliest texts. Mark records Jesus saying "get thee behind me, Satan" to Peter. Acts records how Peter ruled by fear, and used his position to get money. And the gospel of John, although written later, ends with a chapter that does not make Peter look good (see below). But Acts does its best to make Peter look like the head of the church after Jesus. And it seems to have worked.

Did Peter Visit Rome?

Once Acts had made Peter look important, the church at Rome wanted Peter. Because that would make them important. This section looks at the belief that Peter survived past AD 42, and visited Rome. How did that belief arise?

AD 57: Paul's epistle to the Galatians

Galatians 2:11 refers to Peter meeting Paul at Antioch and disagreeing over whether converts should be circumcised. Galatians was probably written about AD 54, but that does not mean that Peter at Antioch in 54, any more than it means Jesus rose from the dead in 54: Peter is defending himself, not writing a history. So he has to use whatever events are useful to make his point, regardless of their order. Paul became a Christian in AD 37 at the latest, then spent three years in Arabia, and then " came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia [southern Turkey];" (Galatians 1:21). Paul then says that he was still a stranger to the apostles at this point, but they had heard of him. So it would be natural for them to visit Antioch around AD 40, to try to work with Paul. So there is nothing here to show that Peter was alive after AD 42.

AD 57: Paul's epistle to the Romans

In Paul's epistle to the Romans, dated AD 57, he mentions around fifty different people in Rome. And never mentions Peter. But according to later tradition, Peter founded the church in Rome in AD 42, served as bishop there for twenty five years, and was martyred there around AD 67. That tradition must have evolved later than AD 57, because Paul seems to know nothing about it.

AD 62: Acts 28

Acts 28 describes how Paul arrived in Rome in AD 60 and spent two years there. But again he does not mention Peter. So the tradition about Peter being in Rome suince AD 42 must have evolved later than AD 62. And probably later than the AD 80s, when Acts was written.

Unknown date: 42? 60s? 100s? 1 Peter

1 Peter claims to eba letter written by Peter from "Babylon": "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son." (1 Peter 5:13) It says that is at "Babylon" along with Mark. Mark was known to spent time in Alexandria soon after AD 42, and there as a town called Babylon nearby. Today it is known as Old Cairo. "Mark, the evangelist, according to ancient tradition, laid the foundation of the church of Alexandria. The Copts in old Cairo, the Babylon of Egypt, claim this to be the place from which Peter wrote his first epistle (1 Pet. 5:13)" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II) However, later tradition insisted that Babylon was code for Rome. Which is a problem, because Rome was not routinely called Babylon until after AD 70, because in AD 70 Rome destroyed Jerusalem jsut as Bablyon had centuries before. (See for example the Book of Revelation for Rome as Babylon.) And even Peter's biggest fans agree that he was dead by then. Also, the language of 1 Peter is very polished, so scholars like Bart Ehrman say a fisherman like Peter could not have written it. And his scribe was Mark, who is mentioned ("Marcus"), and who was famous for his rough unpolished Greek. So 1 Peter could be a late forgery, but there is another explanation. The deaths of two senior apostles in Acts 12 would be a huge shock. Somebody had to reassure the believers that the church could go on. Hence this letter, implying that Peter survived and simply went away. But the author dare not say "I am in Rome" or "I am in Alexandria" because the local believers would say "no he isn't" and the truth would get out. So "from Babylon" keeps everything nice and vague. And saying "I am in Babylon with Mark" explains how he got there (Mark has money and can read and write Greek). It is all very neat. And the church is reassured that Peter is somewhere out there, even though nobody ever sees him again.

AD 84-95: a monument?

"Aneclitus [bishop of Rome, AD 84-95 according to this source] [...] built and adorned the sepulchral monument of the blessed Peter, forasmuch as he had been made priest by the blessed Peter, and other places of sepulchre for the burial of bishops. There he himself likewise was buried near the body of the blessed Peter" (Book of the Popes 1:5) The Book of the Popes was compiled centuries later, so this could simply be a confusion with Anicetus, who was bishop of Rome at the time the more famous monument was made in the 160s. And centuries later it was common to believe that Peter's bones were buried there; the original monument could have just been a shrine to St Peter. The 180s was a time when the gentile churches were looking for leadership, so creating a permanent monument would be Rome's way of saying "we are the new headquarters". It would have been small - there is no mention of it later - but would be the first step to the larger shrine, and then the belief that Peter died in Rome.

Late first century: John 21

Does John say that Peter would be crucified when old? The following passage in John is sometimes taken to mean that Peter would be crucified (his "arms stretched out"), far away ("carried" somewhere), when he was old. However, when we see it in context, it is actually saying that his arms will be stretched out in prayer, and that Peter is not as strong as the later church said. Here are the key verses and the verses just before and after: "He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me." (John 21:17-22) The gospel of John is usually dated to the end of the first century. In this final chapter, Peter decides to return to old his job as a fisherman, and some others follow hom. Then the resurrected Jesus appears to them and tells Peter three times to "feed my sheep". He then predicts Peter's eventual death, and the book ends with saying that in contrast "the beloved disciple" (presumably John) will wait for Jesus. The three times "feed my sheep" is the key, as it shows Jesus' frustration: Jeuss asks if Peter loves him with sacred love, "agape" but each time Peter says he loves him with brotherly love, "philia". Jesus then says that he is being like a child: a child has it easy, but because he knows Jesus, in the end Peter will not have an easy life. Peter then asks Jesus about his favourite disciple, John, and Jesus says that John will wait for him (i.e. not go back to being a fisherman). He seems to be saying "You, Peter, try to escape, but you cannot. So you will die as a martyr. But John here does not try to escape, and he will survive. So this passage is about Jesus' frustration with Peter, the one who was called "Satan" and denied him three times. And telling him that he cannot escape his connection with Jesus by going back to being a fisherman. This contradicts the claim that Peter was the strong foundation of the church. Instead, John's gospel reflects the knowledge at the end of the First Century that Peter disappeared way back in AD 42 (see Acts 12). As we saw in 1 Peter, the church felt he must still be out there somewhere "in Babylon". But how did he die? Why didn't Peter come back? THey need closure! So the author of John says how he must be out there somewhere as an old man, being "carried where he wouldest not". But does "stretched out" mean crucifixion? It usually just means stretched out in prayer, or in giving mercy (e.g. Isaiah 5:25;9:12,17,21;10:4) or supplication or to help people . So the imagery is of Peter in some far away land, praying to God for help, and that is how he will die, serving God. Notice that this is vague. If the author of John had meant "you will die like me" then he could have said so. But he does not.

Late 1st century: Ignatius

The letter of Ignatius to the Romans is often used as an early proof that Peter visited Rome. However, he does not actually say that. In fact, his silence speaks volumes, because Ignatius, accordign to tradition, should have known Peter personally, and yet he writes as if Peter is just some distant figure in history. The letter was re-writen at least twice (shorter and longer versons exist) so any details could be from much later. But in the commonly accepted version, this is the key line: "I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man" (Ignatius to the Romans, chapter 4) Does this mean that Peter visited Rome, as well as Paul? No, because he wrote something similar to the Trallians (people of Tralles, Asia Minor) and to the Philadephians: there is no record of Peter visiting there. "though I am acquainted with these things, yet am I not therefore by any means perfect; nor am I such a disciple as Paul or Peter. For many things are yet wanting to me, that I may not fall short of God." (Ignatius to the Trallians, chapter 5) "For I pray that, being found worthy of God, I may be found at their feet in the kingdom, as at the feet of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; as of Joseph, and Isaiah, and the rest of the prophets; as of Peter, and Paul, and the rest of the apostles, that were married men. For they entered into these marriages not for the sake of appetite, but out of regard for the propagation of mankind." (Ignatius to the Philadephians, chapter 4) Ignatius just seems to like Peter: he mentions Peter eight times in his letters, and Paul sixteen times: Ignatius prefers Peter and Paul no matter who he's talking to. The apostles? The other senior apostles James and John? Just once each. The other apostles? Usually not at all. Ignatius is jsuta Paul and Peter fan, so will refer to their teaching rather than whatever apostle may or may not have visited a city. Ignatius of Antioch was born around AD 50. Later tradition said that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome sometime between AD 63 and 68 (that is, after Acts but before Nero died) so Ignatius could have been 18 when they died. According to an even later tradition (from Theodoret of Cyrrhus, a bishop from 422 AD). Ignatius was personally chosen by Peter. Another tradition is that he was born before AD 50, and was one of the babies that Jesus held ("Suffer the children to come unto me"). So Ignatius had the best chance of knowing first hand or close second hand about Peter. Ignatius left us seven epistles, most of which are about the authority of the apostles, how we should follow them, etc. And yet all his work seems to be based on New Testament writings or similar: Peter and the others seem just as distant to him as they are to us. This suggests that Ignatius' life probably did not overlap with Peter at all: probably Peter died years before Ignatius was born, just as hinted at in Acts.

Late 1st century: Clement of Rome

This is another clue to when Peter died, and hence (according to several sources) when Mark was written. 1 Clement is a letter to churches where the members just kicked out their bishop. Clement, a bishop himself, says a bishop should never be kicked out, because bishops are chosen by the apostles and the apostles were such good men. Clement writes: "Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles. There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance." (1 Clement 5:3-6) Clement was bishop of Rome from 26 April, AD 88. Peter and Paul were supposedly martyred in Rome around the year AD 65, just 23 years before. And Peter had supposedly been bishop of Rome for 25 years. And according to some sources, Clement directly replaced Peter: "Tertullian and most of the Latins (and the pseudo-Clementina), make Clement (Phil. 4:3), the first successor of Peter; but Irenaeus, Eusebius, and other Greeks, also Jerome and the Roman Catalogue, give him the third place, and put Linus (2 Tim. 4:21), and Anacletus (or Anincletus), between him and Peter." (Philip Schaff, "History of the Christian Church" volume 2) So if Peter was martyred in Rome, Clement should have known all about it. Yet he is strangely vague about their deaths. Compare that to the verses immediately after, where he describes other people's deaths: "Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves. By reason of jealousy women being persecuted, after that they had suffered cruel and unholy insults as Danaids and Dircae, safely reached the goal in the race of faith, and received a noble reward, feeble though they were in body." (1 Clement 6:1-2) He specified "tortures", he refers to "unholy insults as Danaids and Dircae, which probably refers to criminals being killed in front of crowds by being forced to act out deadly stories from mythology (see "Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments" by Kathleen M. Coleman). The Danaids had to carry heavy water jogs with holes in, and Dircae was tied to the horns of a bull. Why mention those details, and forget to mention that Peter was crucified upside down? It sounds like he does not know how Peter and Paul died. Next, look at how much space is given to Peter, Jesus' chief apostle and how much more space is given to Paul. Reading this passage you might conclude that Peter died long before Paul. Finally, see the reference to "having reached the farthest bounds of the West": Paul's intention to visit Spain (See Romans 15). Based just on Clement you might conclude that Paul died in "the farthest bounds of the West" and that the early bishop of Rome gives no clue that he has heard the later beliefs of Peter and Paul dying in Rome.

AD 130s? The Apocalypse of Peter

The Apocalypse of Peter claims to be what Jesus taught Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, and describes punishments in hell for various sins and blessing in heaven for various good works. This text is often referred to later, so it was popular and taken seriously. The text dates to after AD 100 (because it quotes 4 Esdras) but before 170 (it is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment and also by Clement of Alexandria). Some scholars suggest Bar Kochba, AD 130s, when believers would have felt under great stress and in need of answers to prayers. One of them felt he had a vision of what Peter was told, to comfort people that justice would prevail, and that is what we now call the Apocalypse of Peter. One copy, from the fifth century (the "Rainer fragment") includes this: "Behold, Peter, I have shown and exposed all things to you; and you must go into the capital of corruption and drink the chalice I have announced to you, from the hands of the son of him who is in Hades, that his ruin may begin and that you may receive the fulfillment of the promises." (quoted by Margherita Guarducci in "The Tomb of St Peter") Being just one fifth century fragment, it might just be something added later. But let's assume that it is genuine. "The son of him who is in Hades" and "go to the capital of corruption" to "drink the chalice" seems to refer to Nero (son of Satan for persecuting the Christians), going to Rome and drinking the same cup that Jesus did (i.e. being crucified). Unlike the later Acts of Peter, this does not record Peter actually going to Rome: it records Jesus telling him that he would. So the author sidesteps the need for evidence. Other than the evodence that Jesus said these things, and that could come from a dream or vision. So here we might have the origin of Peter in Rome: a second century Christian, feeling stressed because of Bar Kochba, feels he has a vision. He could say it without lying, because he was making no claims to have proof that it did happen, it was simply his vision. Then Justin Martyr thinks he sees historical evidence that it happened:

Early second century: Justin Martyr

This is where a vision starts to be seen as historical fact, because Justin made a mistake: "There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honored by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome: “Simoni Deo Sancto,” “To Simon the holy God.” There was definitely a statue on the Tiber between two bridges that said "to Semon the Holy God", referring to the Sabine god "Semon Sancus". Most scholars think that Justin saw the statue on a visit to Rome, and thought it was a statue to Simon Magus, who was very popular in Justin's home of Samaria. This etsablished the belief that Simon Magus, the great enemy of Peter (from Acts 8) was in Rome. Simon was active in the reign of Claudius, and this also coincides with when Peter disappeared in Acts 12. The coincidence seems to be too much the younger generation. Forty years people believed that not only did Simon Magus come to Rome, but Simon peter followed him again and defeated him.

c.160: shrine

Some time around 160 or just after, a shrine was built at Rome, and it was later linked to Peter: It was common in Rome to create shrines to holy people. This does not mean of course that the holy person lived there: any more than having the church of Saint Peter and Paul in your local city means Peter and Paul lived there. "Excavations have brought to light an aedicula [shrine] of pillars dated between 160 and 180, which has been interpreted as a memorial to St. Peter. When the basilica of Constantine was built, people actually believed that beneath the aedicula St. Peter's grave was to be found. But a real grave never existed there. The archaeologist probably best acquainted with the necropolis below St. Peter, our colleague Harald Mielsch from Bonn, has recently stated his opinion to the same effect. Having conducted field work on the spot for many years, he was able to show that when the cemetery (in use since the 2nd c. AD) containing the memorial was built on the Vatican hill, the existence of a putative grave of St. Peter was not taken into account. What is more, the Red Wall that was designed to protect the ascent leading up to 'area Q' from earth being washed down was built partially across the site where the presumed grave of the apostle would have had to be found - which, as is well-known, it never was. He concludes: 'The archaeological evidence for St. Peter's grave and its veneration begins at the earliest around 160–180 AD, starting with the erection of the memorial'." (Otto Zwierlein, author of "Peter and Paul in Jerusalem and Rome", in "Has St. Peter ever been in Rome?") Human and animal bones were also found in the excavation, along with some coins. One was from the reign of Antoninius Pius (138-161), six from 168-185 and most from 285-385. All of this suggests the bones are not of Peter, but somebody later.

Peter's tomb in Jerusalem

The shrine in Rome has of course gained great publicity: the world largest church needs this to be true. Meanwhile, the same year that the shrine was revealed (1953) an actual tomb, with Simon bar Jonas' name, was revealed to be in Jerusalem. Being an actual tomb, with his actual name, makes this far more significant than the string of circumstantial evidences used to support the shrine in Rome. The discovery was made by Franciscan Father Bellarmino Bagatti, near the Dominus Flevit Church, and was reported in Liber Annuus III, 149-184. Being handwriting, the letters are not perfectly formed, so other scholars then came up with alternative readings. See for example "Rereading The 'Shim'On Bar Yonah' Ossuary From Dominus Flevit" by Stephen Pfann. Just as critics of the Rome shrine have argued that it was just a shrine and nothing else. Both claims are open to doubt of course. But at least the Jerusalem claim starts four steps ahead: an actual tomb, what might be Christian symbolism, and an actual name that might (or might not) be Simon bar Johah, and it agrees with Acts 12, which says Peter was at Jerusalem when he disappeared.

Peter's skull

Today it is normal to imagine Peter's remains in the shrine mentioned above. But for centuries Saint John Lateran church has claimed to house the heads of both Peter and Paul: "In the upper part of the baldacchino are preserved the heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the great treasure of the basilica, which until this shrine was prepared to receive them had always been kept in the 'Sancta Sanctorum', the private chapel of the Lateran Palace adjoining." (Catholic Encyclopedia) Of course, we can smooth this over by saying that perhaps the heads were separated before the other bones were buried. Or perhaps Peter had three heads, one in his tomb in Jerusalem, one in the Lateran church, and one at St Peter's church? And perhaps even more yet to be found?

The shrine was not a tomb

The shrine was clearly not a tomb, but was built in a pagan cemetery, so clearly was intended to remember someone who died. It was not built where Christians were buried, so may have originally had no connection to Peter. Or perhaps it was made anonymous to avoid persecution. It was built where pagans were buried, presumably because they felt this would be more permanent, and would not draw attention to itself? "The Vatican and the Ostian road, where in the early third century these monuments were shown, were not at that time otherwise connected with the Christian cult. Archaeological research has made this plain. The Christian burial places were elsewhere." (Donald Fay Robinson, "Where and When Did Peter Die?") "What [...] did the excavators find? Nothing labelled, no funerary inscription, no Apostolic sarcophagus, no bones that are certainly St Peter's, [...] In fact (and this must be clearly emphasised) no actual tomb [that phrase in italics in the original], in the structural sense of the term, was found; but a small, free, empty space in a cemetery, over which was constructed not later than c. 170 [...] a simple niched building, or aedicula, venerated as his 'shrine' from at least 200" (J. M. C. Toynbee, "The Shrine of St. Peter and Its Setting" in The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 43, 1953) The term "building" might sound like something large, but a glance at the reconstruction shows that it was small. It was a shrine. But what was its original purpose?

What did the shrine originally mean?

"Roadside shrines have been part of Roman life for thousands of years. Every neighbourhood would have one, and back in ancient Roman they were looked after by the local 'college' - a kind of neighbourhood watch group who likely operated out of the pub located on the same crossroads as the shrine! These days images of the emperor have been replaced with images of the Virgin Mary." ("Bec The Guide") "Wayside shrines arose through a custom born in Christianity's earliest years. Ancient Rome's persecution of the first Christians made the open construction of churches virtually impossible. [...] In place of churches, the faithful erected small monuments with cryptic Christian symbols to conceal worship from Roman soldiers. These hidden 'signposts' became the earliest Christian shrines." (Wayside Shrines of South Tyrol) How was this shrine concealed? It looks just like a lararium. In fact, to all intents and purposes it was a lararium. When a Roman needed something, he would pray or give some small sacrifice at his household shrine or lararium, and feel that his favourite spirits of the house were praying alongside him. The city and each of its districts also had a public lararium. Forty years or so after the shrine to Peter was built, Clement of Alexandria refers to the same idea. Clement's spirit helpers were of course the saints: "In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]" (Clement of Alexandria , "Miscellanies" 7:12, A.D. 208). As Christianity grew in Rome, the lararium naturally evolved into Christian shrines to the saints. The Roman lararium's feast day, "Caristia" on February 22nd then became a Christian feast recalling the burials of the favourite Christian saints, St Peter and St Paul.

Christianity re-used Roman objects of devotion

This is from an impeccable Roman Catholic source: "The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holy days and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields, sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the east, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church." (Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine") So the shrine "to Peter" was indistinguishable from a shrine to some minor god.

A shrine to who?

The shrine could have been to any minor god or hero. Here is just one possibility: the god Vagitanus. The region was called Vatican before it was Christian. Most people assume there was an old region called "Vatic" by the Etruscans (the former rulers of Italy). However, there is no reference to such a region. Instead, the great scholar Varro (who dies in 27 BC) explained that the real origin of the name is the god Vaticanus (or Vagitanus) who had an altar there. Vagitanus was the god who opened the mouth of babies for their first cry: he was important because so many children (and mothers) dies in childbirth: if he cried, he would live. Hence the need for an anxious new mother to appeal to the god of the child's first cry. "this deity was called Vaticanus, because he presided over the principles of the human voice; for infants, as soon as they are born, make the sound which forms the first syllable in Vaticanus, and are therefore said vagire (to cry)" (quoted by Aulus Gellius in "Attic Nights") The name has also been compared to the Etuscan word "vates" for prophecy. The Vatican hill was named because somebody heard a voice from heaven at that place, so created a shrine to Vagitanus. It became a shrine to "vatiana" or words from God: prophecies. Aulus Gellius explained this connection in the mid second century, the same time that the Christians created their own shrine, in a cemetery at the same place. Using a cemetery meant it would survive persecution: a cemetery has lots of little shrines, so one more would not be noticed. And a Christian shrine would look exactly like a shrine to Vagitanus: At this time Jesus was commonly referred to as The Word, from John 1:1, "in the beginning was the Word". Justin Martyr was the most famous for teaching about The Word: he had a school in Rome to promote Jesus as the Word, and he was martyred at this time. As another example, see the "Epistle to Diognetus", a letter explaining Christianity to a non-believer. It is usually dated to the 130s, and never refers to the name "Jesus" or "Christ", but only refers to "the Word". Another keystone belief of this period was that the Word was made flesh at his birth. The Virgin Birth was important at the time, both to counter the claims that Jesus was illegitimate, and to show why the Jesus was far more than a man. Indeed, Mark's idea that Jesus was only chosen at his baptism was starting to be condemned as a heresy (called "adoptionism"). So the whole message of Christianity was The Word became flesh at the moment of Jesus' birth, and Peter and Paul were his prophets. All of this fits perfectly with a shrine to Vagitanus. It was the same teaching, taken to its extreme: the Word of God came to a baby. So the shrine to Peter looks exactly like a shrine to Vagitanus. Who knows, maybe it was a shrine to Vagitanus that Christians began to associate with Peter, much as they later used the pagan festivals of Christmas and Easter? This is of course parallelomania. But that is all we have to go on.

170s: Dionysius

Dionysius was bishop in Corinth in the 170s. In 1 Corinthians 1:12 we read that over a hundred years before Dionysius, competing pro-Paul and pro-Peter factions existed at Corinth. Some have take this as meaning that Peter visited Corinth, but all it proves is that followers of Peter were there. However, by 170 it was decided that Peter had visited Corinth, and (no doubt encouraged by the erection of the shrine) Dionysius felt confident that Peter must also have visited Rome and died there: "Therefore you also have by such admonition joined in close union the churches that were planted by Peter and Paul, that of the Romans and that of the Corinthians: for both of them went to our Corinth, and taught us in the same way as they taught you when they went to Italy; and having taught you, they suffered martyrdom at the same time." (Dionysius to the Romans)

c.180: The Acts of Paul

The Acts of Paul is essential to our understanding of Peter, and therefore of Mark. Partly because many scholars think it might be one of the sources for the Acts of Peter. But mainly because it is an example of many documents that appear around this time, and the orthodox church did not hesitate to denounce it is a recent fake: But if certain Acts of Paul, which are falsely so named, claim the example of Thecla for allowing women to teach and to baptize, let men know that in Asia the presbyter who compiled that document, thinking to add of his own to Paul's reputation, was found out, and though he professed he had done it for love of Paul, was deposed from his position. How could we believe that Paul should give a female power to teach and to baptize, when he did not allow a woman even to learn by her own right? Let them keep silence, he says, and ask their husbands at home." (Tertullian, "On Baptism", 17.

c.180: The Acts of Peter

The Acts of Peter is the first document we know that places Peter in Rome. In fact, placing Peter in Rome sees to be the whole purpose of the book. 1 Peter had said Peter was out there somewhere, maybe in Rome. Beginning with the Acts of Peter people began saying yes, that's where he must have gone. It is interesting to compare the reception of the "Acts of Peter" to the "Acts of Paul" around the same time. The Acts of Paul was condemned because it gave equal rights to women. Therefore, Tertullian said, it must be false! Church leaders then traced the book to its source and its writer confessed. But the Acts of Peter, in contrast, told the church exactly what it needed to hear: that the church at Rome was very important to Peter. No doubt many people had wondered what happened to Peter after Acts 12, in the reign of Claudius. 1 Peter had said he was in Babylon, which may have meant Alexandria but was now closely associated with Rome. Justin said that his arch enemy Simon Magus was in Rome at that time. It didn't take a genius to fill in the blanks. So let's look closer at The Acts of Peter. The first part might be close to real history, and the rest is an attempt to combine 1 Peter and Justin, with a heavy dose of late second century beliefs about miracles, the eucharist, the Virgin Mary, etc. Here is the start, that reads like history. This is not to say that Simon himelf was in Rome, but other missionareies were, and "signs and wonders" (healing and other miracles) were how they attracted crowds: "Now after a few days there was a great commotion in the midst of the church, for some said that they had seen wonderful works done by a certain man whose name was Simon [Simon Magus], and that he was at Aricia [a town near Rome], and they added further that he said he was a great power of God and without God he did nothing. Is not this the Christ? but we believe in him whom Paul preached unto us; for by him have we seen the dead raised, and men Delivered from divers infirmities: but this man seeketh contention, we know it (or, but what this contention is, we know not) for there is no small stir made among us. Perchance also he will now enter into Rome; for yesterday they besought him with great acclamations, saying unto him: Thou art God in Italy, thou art the saviour of the Romans: haste quickly unto Rome." (Vercelli copy of the Acts of Peter, 4) Note the detail about Simon Magus calling himself a god. This no doubt references Justin Martyr, who said that Simon Magus called himself a god. This in turn was probably based on the gnostic teachings of being one with God and having his glory. That teaching that even made it into the New Testament "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me" (John 17:22-23). So this is a story of competing ideas within the same movement. "...haste quickly unto Rome. But he spake to the people with a shrill voice, saying: Tomorrow about the seventh hour ye shall see me fly over the gate of the city in the form (habit) wherein ye now see me speaking unto you. Therefore, brethren, if it seem good unto you, let us go and await carefully the issue of the matter. They all therefore ran together and came unto the gate. And when it was the seventh hour, behold suddenly a dust was seen in the sky afar off, like a smoke shining with rays stretching far from it. And when he drew near to the gate, suddenly he was not seen: and thereafter he appeared, standing in the midst of the people; whom they all worshipped, and took knowledge that he was the same that was seen of them the day before." (Acts of Peter, 4) Notice the smoke and dust and distance, and that Simon Magus planned this, and specified the time and exact place. These details make it plausible. With that much control, any good conjurer could choose just the right location, angle (and time of day for lighting) and props (a dummy on a string moving quickly in the distance?) for maximum effect. Before we condemn Simon Magus for trickery, recall that the same passage just said that Paul was famous for raising the dead. It sounds like Paul and Simon Magus were very similar, but the later writers wanted to make them seem different. Simon Magus was not necessarily deceptive: he might simply been a radical, saying "anybody can be a god, look what I can do!" Rather like The Amazing Randi debunking frauds. That would certainly be popular. The idea of Jesus as a man-god might appeal to him. The Acts of Peter continues: "And the brethren were not a little offended among themselves, seeing, moreover, that Paul was not at Rome, neither Timotheus nor Barnabas, for they had been sent into Macedonia by Paul [conveniently?], and that there was no man to comfort us, to speak nothing of them that had but just become catechumens. And as Simon exalted himself yet more by the works which he did, and many of them daily called Paul a sorcerer, and others a deceiver, of so great a multitude that had been established in the faith all fell away" (ibid) So Paul was just as bad, according to people who had actually seen him working. The use of deception for a higher cause is common every new religion: just ask their critics. (And deception is used by every government as well: part of your taxes goes to a secret service that sometimes tells lies in other nations.) So this part has the ring of truth. Everything up to this point is entirely what we would expect, with no need for the supernatural. But now finally we get to Peter and the story starts to become unlikely: "And as they [the few who still believed in Paul] prayed and fasted, God was already teaching Peter at Jerusalem of that which should come to pass. For whereas the twelve years which the Lord Christ had enjoined upon him were fulfilled..." (ibid) By this time, the gospels of Matthew and Luke had pushed Jesus' ministry back to about AD 30. "Twelve years" takes us to AD 42, when Peter disappeared from the book of Acts. But where did Jesus say that Peter should only stay in Jerusalem for twelve years? Why would he say that? It sounds like something be invented afterwards, to explain why Peter disappeared in AD 42. We know that Mark wrote his gospel to Rome, so it was reasonable to guess that Peter went to Rome. And if Peter went to Rome, this must have been in Jesus' plan, right? "he showed him a vision after this manner, saying unto him: Peter, that Simon the sorcerer whom thou didst cast out of Judaea, convicting him, hath again come before thee (prevented thee) at Rome. [...] But delay thee not: set forth on the morrow, and there shalt thou find a ship ready, setting sail for Italy" (ibid) From this point the supernatural comes thick and fast. A vision has arranged a ship, the captain wants no money, Jesus appears to them when the ship is in the middle of the sea, and the captain is converted. When they arrive in Rome (thanks to a supernatural wind) Peter learns where Simon is hiding thanks to a talking dog: "And Peter seeing a great dog bound with a strong chain, went to him and loosed him, and when he was loosed the dog received a man's voice and said unto Peter: What dost thou bid me to do, thou servant of the unspeakable and living God? Peter said unto him: Go in and say unto Simon in the midst of his company: Peter saith unto thee, Come forth abroad, for thy sake am I come to Rome, thou wicked one and deceiver of simple souls." (Acts of Peter, 9) After that, this is how Peter proved to the people that he was sent by God: "And Peter turned and saw a herring (sardine) hung in a window, and took it and said to the people: If ye now see this swimming in the water like a fish, will ye be able to believe in him whom I preach? And they said with one voice: Verily we will believe thee. Then he said -now there was a bath for swimming at hand: In thy name, O Jesu Christ, forasmuch as hitherto it is not believed in, in the sight of all these live and swim like a fish. And he cast the herring into the bath, and it lived and began to swim." (Acts of Peter, 13) And so it goes on. Peter defeats Simon Magus, by using better miracles. Here is the final act of the battle of magic, where Peter won. This is Peter's prayer: "hasten thy grace, O Lord, and let him [Simon Magus'] fall from the height and be disabled; and let him not die but be brought to nought, and break his leg in three places. And he fell from the height and brake his leg in three places. Then every man cast stones at him and went away home, and thenceforth believed Peter." (Acts of Peter, 32) What are we to make of all this? Some part of the Acts of Peter are confirmed by earlier texts:
  1. The believers were split between the twelve Jewish apostles based in Jerusalem, and Paul's gentile converts elsewhere in the Roman empire
  2. Peter used violence, to rule by fear
  3. Peter fought a Christian believer called "Simon Magus" who may have been a metaphor for Paul
  4. Peter disappeared around AD42
  5. Paul and Simon Magus both used signs and wonders to get a crowd's attention
  6. Paul went to Rome (Acts tells how he got there, but not what happened next)
  7. When Paul left an area rival missionaries would often teach something different (as he complains in his letters)
  8. By the second century Rome became the de facto capital of Christianity in the west
So the earlier part, up to where Peter appears, sounds like history: Paul taught in Rome, and rival missionaries then taught their own ideas about Jesus, sometimes using conjuring tricks to draw a crowd. The idea that this was a problem to the Jerusalem church was also history: back in Jerusalem, James was trying to lead ascetic Jews, not pagan conjurers. The idea that Peter would break a sinner's legs to make a point also rings true. If we take away those parts we are left with a second century speculation about what Peter might have done when he disappeared in AD 42. By that time it was thought that Peter was a miracle worker, and that the message was about the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, power structures, and so on. So that is what we find. In summary, The first part of the Acts of Peter seems to reflect real history. The rest of it is a believer trying to fill the gap. And making the church in Rome very happy.

Conclusion: AD 42

As we saw from the book of Acts, once we strip away the propaganda, Peter was in serious trouble with the law. He made the local rulers afraid, yet did not hide. So it was inevitable that he would be caught and executed sooner rather than later. So we can see that the other chapters of Acts support the idea that Peter died early. Once Peter died, his angel went to the house of Mark: they were obviously close. So it is only natural that the person who recorded Peter's memories would be Mark. Finally, Jesus' purpose had been to tell the diaspora to come home. The biggest diaspora was in Rome, so it would be natural for Mark to write his account with Roman readers in mind. And thus we see that, based on the content of Mark and Acts, the gospel of Mark was probably written around AD 42 and aimed at the Romans.

Dating Mark, 4 of 10:

The Abomination of Desolation

The argument

The primary reason for dating Mark at around AD 70 is that Mark 13 is traditionally interpreted as referring to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. But there are three serious problems with this. In order of importance:
  1. First, sources. The idea that Mark 13 refers to AD 70 relies heavily on Matthew and Luke. Matthew (in a nearby parable) refers to the city burning (Matthew 22:7). And Luke, when quoting Mark 13, adds a new detail that Jerusalem will be "surrounded by armies". This strongly suggests that Matthew and Luke were written after AD 70. However, those details are not in Mark. And Matthew and Luke were written after Mark, so Mark cannot have relied on them. Later we will see how there is nothing in Mark 13 to link it to the events of AD 70, but there is plenty to link it to the events of AD 39.
  2. Second, content. Mark refers to the desecration of the temple, rather than the destruction of Jerusalem. Those are completely different things. Mark says that the sign will be when an abomination is set up, strongly hinting at when the temple was defiled in the 160s BC. This almost happened in AD 39 under Caligula, but did not happen in AD 70. Indeed, according to Josephus, the Roman authorities did their best to avoid defiling the temple. The importance of AD 70 was the destruction of the temple, not its defiling. That is, Rome was like Babylon destroying the temple in 587 BC. Later writers (e.g. in the book of Revelation) compared Rome to Babylon. But Jesus in Mark was comparing the events to the desecration under Greece. They are different. They are not the same. Mark is describing what was expected in AD 39-41, not AD 70.
  3. Third, who does it. In Mark, Jesus taught that his own followers would dismantle the temple in order to cleanse it. Just as the Maccabees did after the temple was defiled. Just as Jesus showed by turning over the tables. Jesus was talking about the righteous, not about Rome.
Mark does not make sense as a prediction of AD 70. It only makes sense as a prediction of the defiling of the temple as threatened by Caligula in AD 39. But the prediction failed, which is why Matthew and Luke had to change the prophecy, to make it apply to AD 70 instead. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is well known. But not everybody is familiar with Caligula's attempt to desecrate the temple in AD 40. This is how Philo of Alexandria describes hearing the news at the time (Gaius is Caligula's real name): "'Our temple is destroyed! Gaius has ordered a colossal statue of himself to be erected in the holy of holies, having his own name inscribed upon it with the title of Jupiter!' And while we were all struck dumb with astonishment and terror at what he had told us, and stood still deprived of all motion (for we stood there mute and in despair, ready to fall to the ground with fear and sorrow, the very muscles of our bodies being deprived of all strength by the news which we had heard) [...] the Jews would willingly, if it were possible, endure ten thousand deaths instead of one, rather than submit to see any forbidden thing perpetrated with respect to their religion" (Philo, on the Embassy to Gaius) Caligula ordered his general Petronius to carry out the order. Petronius did everything in his power to delay the project (and finally succeeded in delaying it until Caligula was killed) because he knew it could lead the Jews to rebel in every nation, leading to war: "[Petronius also considered that the Jews] had spread over the whole face of the earth; for it is diffused throughout every continent, and over every island, so that everywhere it appears but little inferior in number to the original native population of the country. Was it not, then, a most perilous undertaking to draw upon himself such innumerable multitudes of enemies? And was there not danger of allies and friends from all quarters arriving to their assistance? [...] for he was aware that Babylon and many others of the satrapies of the east were occupied by the Jews [...] [he was alarmed that the Jews] might on a sudden direct their march that way and surround him [...] if I comply with them [these commands] the result will very probably be war" (ibid)

Conscious parallels with the Maccabees

Throughout Mark, Jesus follows the pattern of the Maccabees: when the Greek king Antiochus IV desecrated the temple in 167 BC, Judas Maccabeus roused the nation to drive him out and make Judea independent again. In Mark 12-13 we see that Jesus sees the same pattern: the temple is defiled, so the ordinary people must re-establish God's rule (including dismantling the temple to cleanse it: 1 Maccabees 4:36-51)). Jesus' triumumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the people spread trees branches and sang, was modelled on the Maccabees: "So Simon [leader of the Maccabees...] cleansed the houses wherein the idols were, and so entered into it with songs and thanksgiving. [...] he cleansed the tower [of Jerusalem] from pollutions: And entered into it the three and twentieth day of the second month in the hundred seventy and first year, with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and with viols, and hymns, and songs: because there was destroyed a great enemy out of Israel." (1 Maccabees 13:47,50-51) And this is Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem: "And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest." (Mark 11:8-10) Jesus' first act was to enter the temple and assess the situation, then go and plan what to do about it: "And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve." (Mark 11:11) The next day his first public act was to cleanse the temple courtyard: "And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Mark 11:14-17) But how could Jesus know the events would parallel the Maccabees situation so closely? How could Jesus know in AD 36 that in AD 39 Caligula would try to set up a new "abomination of desolation" like Antiochus?

Jesus knew all about Caligula

Jesus knew about Caligula because he knew about his best friend, Agrippa. Agrippa ruled Galilee, and was based at Tiberias, just two hours walk away from Jesus's headquarters at Capernaum. Agrippa was always wasting money, and getting bailed out by his family. That is why he was given Galilee, so he could make some money from taxes. Josephus explains: "So they sent for him, and allotted him Tiberias for his habitation, and appointed him some income of money for his maintenance, and made him a magistrate of that city, by way of honor to him. Yet did not Herod long continue in that resolution of supporting him, though even that support was not sufficient for him; for as once they were at a feast at Tyre, and in their cups, and reproaches were cast upon one another, Agrippa thought that was not to be borne, while Herod hit him in the teeth with his poverty, and with his owing his necessary food to him." (Antiquities, book 18, chapter 6) Notice that this was a humiliation at a feast: so others would have heard. Servants would be there. News gets out. Jesus, you will recall, was probably middle class: he would hear this local gossip. (This particular feast was at Tyre, not too far away.) This humiliation caused Agrippa to leave for Syria, and then Rome, where he became close friends with Caligula. Why? Because Caligula was an immature youth who was named as the next emperor, so would soon be the richest man in the world. Agrippa would never have money problems again. It was Agrippa who suggested that it would be a good idea if emperor Tiberius died, and soon after that Tiberius did die, and many suspect that Caligula killed him. Caligula's nature was well known to insiders, even in AD 36 when Jesus was active. If Jesus paid any attention to the gossip from the palace at Tiberias then he would have heard rumours. He knew that soon Rome would be controlled by a monster who only loved himself, and Caligula's best friend Agrippa would be rewarded with more power in Judaea. It was a safe bet that the present unacceptable situation with the temple (i.e. that the temple already needed to be cleansed) would only get worse. Mark, writing in AD 42, saw Caligula's efforts to place his pagan idol in the temple, and so would remember that Jesus said things would get bad. By AD 42 it looked like an inspired prophecy! This also explains why Mark was writing for an audience in Italy. Although Caligula was killed in AD 41, Agrippa was still the power behind the throne, helping Claudius to power, and one of Claudius' first acts was to expel the Jews from Rome (and when that proved impractical, at least prevent them from meeting in groups). So in AD 42, Antiochus level persecution still seemed very likely. Then Peter was killed. So the church needed to find friends in Rome! So Mark's message to the Jews of Rome became very urgent!

Jesus expected society to collapse

Like Marx, Jesus thought the system would collapse due to its in-built weakness. Like Marx, his goal was to organise "The Common Man" to survive that collapse, then take over: "And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows." ... "But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains" (Mark 13:7-8,13) Why would Jesus expect this, speaking in AD 36 or 37? Because he saw both Rome and Judaea in rapid decline. Jesus grew up in the peace and prosperity of the greatest age of Rome: the reign of Augustus, and the early years of Tiberius. But as Tiberius grew older he grew worse. Suetonius, in his "lives of the emperors" describes how Tiberius grew more and more paranoid and unpredictable, until he was hated by everyone. When he finally died in March AD 37, there was rejoicing, and celebrations in the streets. Recall that the empire was still new: Augustus was the first official emperor and Tiberius the second. Then in AD 31: Tiberius adopted Caligula as his successor, after murdering Caligula's family. Outsiders thought Caligula would be like his father Germanicus and be a good ruler, but insiders knew better. Caligula was a cruel child who only cared about himself. Think of it! The first emperor is good. The second gets worse and worse. The next emperor in waiting is a nightmare child from hell. The downward spiral of Rome was obvious! And what about Judaea in particular? And especially Jesus' home region of Galilee? Galilee and Perea were ruled by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Jesus' part of Galilee was ruled by Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was bad enough, but at least he was competent. Each generation seemed less and less able to rule. Agrippa was a kid who only got the job from Antipas because Agrippa needed the Galilean tax money to bail him out, because he was always into debt from his partying and bad decisions. And now he had become best friends with Caligula, who was even worse. AD 36: the triggering event, according to Josephus, was when Herod Antipas's armies were defeated after Antipas killed John the Baptist. The Jews saw this as a sign that herod could not hold back the increasing wars. or put another way, fate - God - was finally stepping in. Aretas probably claimed some of the land near Galilee. How could Jesus interpret this chaos on his doorstep, except as a decline toward "wars and rumours of wars"? Also around this time the Samaritans tried to reclaim Moses' holy site, Mt Gerizim. Pilate then stopped them by force: this was the event that led to Pilate being recalled to Rome and (apparently) fired from his job. If the events of Mark were in AD 37 then all these things were happening very quickly. And all of this against the backdrop of a hungry and capable Parthian empire that was only held back by one man, Vitellius in Syria. "Wars and rumours of wars" indeed! Whether Jesus made a big deal over the possibility of the temple being defiled, or whether this was a passing comment that was remembered during the Caligula crisis, we cannot know. But the Caligula crisis seemed to be fulfilling everything Jesus predicted. Now let us examine Mark 13 line by line.

Not one stone left on another

"And as he went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Teacher, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings! And Jesus said unto him, 'Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'" (Mark 13:1-2) Thrown down by whom? Jesus' first act on entering Jerusalem was to overturn the tables at the temple. He was showing what would happen: he would dismantle the temple in order to cleanse it. This was his purpose from the beginning (Mark 1:2): to cleanse the temple. Jesus at his trial, like Stephen, the first martyr, at his trial, were both accused of wanting to dismantle the temple. This is what the Macabbees did when the temple was defiled, and Jesus modelled himself on them (entering Jerusalam) and modelled this prophecy on them ("the abomination of desolation"). The whole plan, from the beginning was to dismantle Herod's gigantic noisy money sucking temple in order to create something more like God intended. And Jesus knew that would get him killed. To remove any doubt, the disciples asked: "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?" Jesus then gave the order of expected events:
  1. Many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and shall lead many astray
  2. ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars [...] but the end is not yet
  3. nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be earthquakes in divers places; there shall be famines
  4. they shall deliver you up to councils; and in synagogues shall ye be beaten [...] they lead you to judgment
  5. brother shall deliver up brother to death, and the father his child; and children shall rise up against parents
  6. ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake
  7. when ye see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that are in Judaea flee unto the mountains
  8. there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show signs and wonders
  9. then shall they see the son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory
Notice something? Jesus was asked for "the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished": that is, what leads up to the throwing down of the temple. The list of events does not mention the temple, it only lists what happens beforehand. It does not mention an invasion. In fact, all the events are caused by the believers or their rivals: first rival Christs appear, and then the nations all fight, then society collapses, then the nations blame Jesus' followers, and everybody hates them. AD 70 was about Rome crushing the believers. Anyone who could foresee Rome invading would also foresee that the believers would be crushed. But Mark 13 is about the triumph of the believers. They are completely different things. Mark 13 compares the events to the "abomination of desolation", the defiling of the temple in 167 BC, which led to the believers marching in and taking over. Everything about the "not one stone left" prophecy is about the defiling and then cleansing of the temple. Because this teaching actually begins in Mark 12:38. The start of Mark 13 is how the disciples react to the events a few seconds before in Mark 12. The topic is how Herod's temple is all about money, and Jesus hates it: "And in his teaching he said, Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts: they that devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; these shall receive greater condemnation. And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. And as he went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Teacher, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings! And Jesus said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down." Jesus did not like the religious elites showing off their wealth. And that was the whole purpose of Herod's temple! Herod built it to show off his wealth. Jesus considered the temple to be defiled, and he came to cleanse it. That was his very first action when he first entered Jerusalem: "And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple. And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers." (Mark 11:15-17) The idea that the temple was defiled and had to be rebuilt was a common one. Jesus called himself "the son of man", the title used by Ezekiel: Ezekiel's message was that the temple was defiled as a result of the people's sins: "My face will I turn also from them, and they shall pollute my secret place: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it. Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence. Wherefore I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they shall possess their houses: I will also make the pomp of the strong to cease; and their holy places shall be defiled." (Ezekiel 7:22-24) Ezekiel (the "son of man") then spent many chapters describing a new temple to be built to replace the old one. Others felt the same way. For example, the Essenes, and the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes felt that the temple was defiled, and the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Temple Scroll describes a new and better temple to replace it. John the Baptist is often linked to the Essenes and Jesus was John's successor. Would Jesus really dismantle the temple? Yes, because that is what the Maccabeees did. When Antiochus defiled the temple in 167 BC, the stones of the temple had to be removed, in order to completely cleanse, rededicate and rebuild the site as holy again: "Then said Judas and his brothers, 'Behold, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.' So all the army assembled and they went up to Mount Zion. And they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they rent their clothes, and mourned with great lamentation, and sprinkled themselves with ashes. They fell face down on the ground, and sounded the signal on the trumpets, and cried out to Heaven. Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. 45 And they thought it best to tear it down, lest it bring reproach upon them, for the gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn[d] stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50 Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken." (1 Maccabees 4:36-51) Another reason to dismantle the walls is simply to demonstrate the power of the prophet. Josephus recalls another self-styled messiah a few years later, and he said he could throw down the walls as well: "Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down." (Josephus, Antiquities 20:8:6) So Jesus was not talking about the Romans removing the stones of the temple. He was talking about the temple being defiled, so that the believers must rise up, take power, dismantle the temple and rebuild it. This could not happen in AD 70, when a vast army destroyed everything. But it was a realistic plan in AD 40, when all they had to do was drive some unpopular people out and then get permission from Rome to rebuild.

"I am the anointed"

"Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." (Mark 13:6) A "christ" is just "an anointed one" and includes not just charismatic leaders but any princes or priests. There will be hundreds or thousands of priests preaching what they say is God's word at any time. So if this is what Jesus meant by "there will be messiahs" he may as well have said "the sky will be blue". However, later verses narrow down what he meant: people claiming to represent Jesus himself. Which implies people trying to lead his own movement. This implies a time at the beginning of the Jesus movement. Because if they continued to "deceive many" after that point then the movement would not survive. "If the trumpet has an uncertain sound who will follow it?" That is exactly what happened: in Mark we see how the apostles disagree with Jesus over what greatness means. When Jesus leaves we see three competing factions: Peter (confrontational), James (peace making) and Paul (a gentile church). For the movement to survive, one had to win. By AD 70 Paul was the clear winner: there were still schisms, but they were less then in the early 40s.

Rumours of wars, but be not troubled

"When ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet." (Mark 13:7) This cannot possibly refer to AD 70! that was not a rumour of war, that was an actual war! The Roman legions marched into Judea! "Be not troubled?" That was exactly the opposite: that was the time to be very, very troubled indeed! However, this applies perfectly to AD 36. It was the last days of Tiberius' reign, where rumours were flying about the old man being a tyrant, and bad things happening in other countries. Yet the reality, as historians how, was that the Roman world was still stable and peaceful. So be not troubled: the end is not yet.

The beginning of sorrows

"For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows." (Mark 13:8) This was not true in AD 70. It was not "nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom", it was a single war in otherwise peaceful empire. There were no earthquakes (at least, no more than usual: the "earthquake" described by Josephus sounds more like a noisy storm). At it was not "the beginning of sorrows" it was the height and climax of war! However, the description is exactly what would be expected in AD 37: Caligula finally became the emperor and Tiberius compared him to Phaedrus: he just wanted to watch the world burn.


Sediments suggest a significant Earthquake in Judea some time between AD 26 and 36. The previous big one was in 31 BC. it's a tiny sample size, but it was reasonable for Jesus to think that perhaps earthquakes were increasing. So it was rational to expect another within a couple of years (before AD 40). It was less rational to expect then to increase at some random point in the future (e.g. before AD 70), and so MArkj would have no reason to draw attention to it. So this argues for Mark being written very close to AD 36.

Deliver you up to synagogues

"They shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. (Mark 13:9) This emphasis on Jewish synagogues argues more for an early date, when the movement was strictly Jewish. And for this to be "a testimony against" rulers and kings, this implies that the rulers and kings both cared what the Jesus people said, and might be ashamed when they broke Jesus' laws. Again this implies that the "rulers and kings" were more likely Jewish. A Jewish context argues for an early date, whereas a gentile context would argue for a later one.

The good news to all nations

As we saw earlier, Saul did not visit Jerusalem often, as his role was to find Jesus' followers preaching to the diaspora. So that was Jesus' plan right at the start: to tell the "ev-angelos" that the hated Herods were on their way out, and tell the Jews in other lands to come home and help in the revolution. This does not make sense in AD 70 because by then "preach to all nations" had changed its meaning and now meant "everybody should hear about Jesus". That was an impossible task, because new people are being born all the time, and there are so many nations. But the smaller task in AD 36, of telling the Jews to come home for the revolution was much more practical.

Take no thought beforehand

"But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mark 13:11) This fits well in AD 36: there was no formal church structure, no formal structured texts, and no formal list of new beliefs. But in AD 70 the church had a collection of writings of Paul, for people to premeditate upon, telling them what they should and should not think. So this statement fits AD 36 better than AD 70.

Divided families

Verses 12-13 describe families violently divided over the message. This is exactly what Jesus would expect: he is telling the mainstream churches (and hence believers) that they are seriously wrong. And he is doing so by appealing to the things they say they believe! This is highly inflammatory, and it is easy to see how families would become violently divided over this message. However, it is also possible to imagine scenarios where the AD 70 message (supernatural Jesus, supernatural second coming) could also lead to violence within families. My feeling is that a return to Judaism would be more likely to split up Jewish families than a completely new religion, but this is not a "slam dunk", "smoking gun" kind of proof. Unlike the next verse...

The Abomination of Desolation

"But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:" (Mark 13:14) This is what Daniel said: "Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?" (Daniel 8:13) "And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined." (Daniel 9:26) "And arms shall stand on his [a mighty foreign king's] part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate." (Daniel 11:31) "And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days." (Daniel 12:11) Daniel was talking about Antiochus IV placing a pagan statue in the temple in 168 BC. This did not happen in AD 70, there was no abomination "set up". On the contrary, Josephus describes how the emperor wanted to avoid defiling the temple if possible, and eventually just destroyed the place. But Caligula tried to do it between AD 39 and his death in 41. This also gives an idea of the time frame: Jesus may have expected the conflict to be over in about three and a half years. If Mark saw the period begin when Caligula demanded the statue in AD 39, AD 42 was the last year of the prophecy.

Flee to the mountains

"...then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains" This does not fit the AD 70 theory, because then the believers were warned to flee to the town of Pella, which is below sea level definitely not in the mountains! "The people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella. To it those who believed on Christ travelled from Jerusalem, so that when holy men had altogether deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judaea" (Eusebius, Ecclesiasitcal History 3.5.3) "Them that be in Judea" implies fleeing out of Judea, or at the very least, away from Jerusalem. The obvious mountains to choose are the mountains in Galilee, with their caves where the zealots hide. That agrees with the ending of Mark, where believers are urged to go to Galilee. This suggests an early date for Mark: Galilee was the heart of the movement in AD 36, not in AD 70.

Don't hesitate

"Let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter." (Mark 13:15-18) This cannot refer to AD 70, because they had years of warnings. But this applies perfectly to the situation expected under Caligula: he was a force for chaos and could not be predicted. Jesus correctly predicted that Caligula (or his opportunistic sidekick Agrippa) would cause disaster, but only insiders knew this: according to Suetonius, most people at the start loved Caligula, and thought of his just as the sweet little boy (when he was the three year old nicknamed "little boots"), son of the wise and beloved leader Germanicus. So for most people (not insiders) Caligula's unpredictable evil came as a shock. When you hear that Caligula or his friend are after you, do not go back into your house to pick up your coat, run!!!

Worse than anything, ever

"For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be." (Mark 13:19) This did not apply to AD 70. Terrible though the war was, it was not the worst thing since God created the world. It was not worse than the destruction of Jerusalem under the Babylonians, an event familiar to all Jews. Plenty of other cities had been destroyed and even ploughed up, including the nearby city of Tyre, and its sister city Carthage. These were all famous events. The destruction of Jerusalem was just business as usual for Rome. However, in AD 36 things looked very different. The Roman empire (as opposed to the republic) was very new. The first emperor, Augustus, died only twenty two years earlier. Never before in history had one man so directly controlled so much of the world. The second emperor, One "good" emperor, then the second slides into madness, and appoints a monster bent on destroying everything! What is coming next? Surely there could be nothing so bad in the history of the world! If Mark was written in AD 42 it was still possible for a rational person to expect the very worst. But any later and it becomes obvious that Claudius (who replaced Caligula) is a better leader, and the Pax Romana is real: the world is actually more stable than usual. By AD 70 there had been good emperors, bad emperors, the system had settled down. Now sure, an irrational Christian might still think AD 70 was the end. But any rational person could see that "worst tike ever" looked possible in AD 36, but was not realistic in AD 70.

The days shortened

"Except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." (Mark 13:20) That actually happened: events moved very quickly, and the chaos returned to normal. Caligula was assassinated in AD 41 and a sensible man replaced him. Of course, Jesus could not have known Caligula would be assassinated, but he could see that a mad teenager's reign could not last long. In contrast, if the prophecy is dated at AD 70 then we are talking about Titus and Vespasian, two seasoned statesmen who are in the game for the long haul. And "no flesh should be saved" would make no sense: Titus and Vespasian were not mad. They just wanted the world back to (their) normal and they got it.

Signs and wonders

"And then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there; believe it not: for there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show signs and wonders, that they may lead astray, if possible, the elect." (Mark 13:21-22) In AD 36 Jesus was crucified, and his followers were in flux. So any random conjurer or healer could claim to be the new leader. That had all changed by AD 70: the apostles had established themselves as the authorities, and they had established networks with a track record. So no outsider could come in and claim to lead the church.

Sun and moon darkened, stars fall, heaven shakes

"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken." (Mark 13:24-25) Jesus is using the language of Isaiah and Ezekiel: "Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. [...] Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger." (Isaiah 13:9-13) Ezekiel, the "son of man" who foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem and then a new people and new temple, says the same: "And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God." (Ezekiel 32:7-8) This is a vivid description of how war feels: especially the smoke of burning buildings that blocks out the sun. Maybe the sky is not really shaking, or the stars falling, but that is how it feels: the sky is full of moving smoke, and burning embers are falling everywhere. Because invaders always burn the enemy homes: "And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire." (2 Kings 25:9) Some translations make clear that the sun and moon going dark is because of clouds (presumably clouds of smoke): "And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds." (Isaiah 5:30, NIV) Burning a city also creates a lot of falling embers, looking like falling stars. Isaiah visualises them floating down like withered leaves (just the way that embers fall): "all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree." (Isaiah 34:4, NIV) Seeing smoke in the distance was key to inspiring the Jews to defeat Antiochus' armies. This is what happened the day after the Maccabees suffered a defeat: "But as soon as it was day, Judas shewed himself in the plain with three thousand men, who nevertheless had neither armour nor swords to their minds. And they saw the camp of the heathen, that it was strong and well harnessed, and compassed round about with horsemen; and these were expert of war. Then said Judas to the men that were with him, Fear ye not their multitude, neither be ye afraid of their assault. Remember how our fathers were delivered in the Red sea, when Pharaoh pursued them with an army. Now therefore let us cry unto heaven, if peradventure the Lord will have mercy upon us, and remember the covenant of our fathers, and destroy this host before our face this day: [...] As Judas was yet speaking these words, there appeared a part of them looking out of the mountain: Who when they perceived that the Jews had put their host to flight and were burning the tents; for the smoke that was seen declared what was done: When therefore they [their enemies] perceived these things, they were sore afraid, and seeing also the host of Judas in the plain ready to fight, They fled every one into the land of strangers." (1 Maccabees 4:6-10,19-22) This is what Jesus expected in the battle to free Israel. It is the story of the faithful Jews driving out the invaders. This makes sense in AD 40, but not in AD 70. AD 70 could never be a triumph because Rome was united against a handful of rebels. But if Caligula had defiled the temple in AD 40 as intended, then the rebels would have a lot of sympathy in Rome. Many Roman leaders hated Caligula. That is why he was killed. That is why Petronius delayed obeying the command as long as he could. Jesus had followers among the Romans: this would not be handful of Jews against a united empire. It would be a tough battle, but it might be won. AD 40 makes sense: the burning city might be followed by Jewish victory. It would be a repeat of 167 BC. But rebelling in AD 70 could only led to defeat.

The son of man coming in clouds

"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26) The "son of man" just means the common man. It was especially used by Ezekiel when he spoke of how the elites had corrupted the church: he, the common man, was chosen to warn the elites, and tell them that their temple and city would be destroyed so that a new better one could be created. Jesus saw himself in the same role: the common man against the corrupt elites. The word "clouds" refers to clouds of smoke that represented God on Sinai and then on the desert exodus: "used of the cloud which led the Israelites in the wilderness" (Strong's Greek concordance, word 3507). Remember how the Maccabees' inspired the people with stories of the pillar of cloud that led the children of Israel to the promised land (i.e. the smoke from the fire that was carried at the front of the people). That is how Jesus saw himself, arriving like Moses, bringing the diaspora back to the promised land, carrying a fire before them, and finding the land full of smoke because the previous corrupt regime had destroyed itself in war. Later gospels changed this referring to "clouds of heaven", as if Jesus would fly through the sky. That was the understanding by AD 70, and of course it makes no sense. People do not fly! But the earlier meaning, coming out of the smoke of the old nation, ready to build a new one, works if we imagine fighting Caligula with other Romans on our side.

The plan to gather Jews from other countries

"And then shall he send forth the angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven." (mark 13:27) "Angel" just means "messenger"."Uttermost part of heaven" is just a way to visualising a great distance: it is sometimes translated horizon. E.g. Nehemiah talks about gathering scattered Israel from other countries (the thing that Jesus plans to do): "But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there." (Nehemiah 1:9. KJV) The same verse in a more modern translation: "but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name." (Nehemiah 1:9. NIV) The phrase "four winds of heaven" means the same thing, but in all directions. it adds the poetic idea of people being pushed far away by the wind (e.g. wind in a boat's sails). For example: "I will bring against Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; I will scatter them to the four winds, and there will not be a nation where Elam's exiles do not go." (Jeremiah 49:36) "Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north, declares the Lord, for I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven, declares the Lord. (Zechariah 2:6) So we can see Jesus plan: at Passover, Jews from all nations come to Jerusalem. It looks like Jesus hoped to send the message back with them to gather the true believers to come back. Jesus also had supporters among the Romans, so together they could take back control of Israel from the Herodians, Pharisees and Sadducees. It's an interesting plan. It was a little too ambitious, but at least it makes sense if placed around AD 40. it makes no sense is placed around AD 70, decades after Jesus died.

This generation shall not pass

"Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. (Mark 13:30,35-37) The shorter the time frame, the more sense this makes. If it is spoken in AD 36 and published in AD 42 then it retains some urgency, and most of "this generation" is still alive. But if it is allegedly spoken in AD 33 but really not published until around AD 70? Half of Jesus' generation must be dead before the prophecy can be fulfilled.Based on this verse, a late publication is possible, but an early date is more likely.

Jesus leaves to plan

The chapter ends: (Mark 13:24-37) "For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house" (Mark 13:34) Jesus is obviously planning something. One big clue was the so-called "mount of transfiguration" when, looking up the hill into the sunlight, people further up the hill in white robes seemed to glow in the sun. Jesus was planning something with people he code-named "Moses" and "Elias". Soon after he told the regular disciples where to find a donkey and also a room already booked: clearly he had another group working in secret. Jesus' plan to be rescued from the cross and survive crucifixion is another clue, as is is instruction to meet back in Galilee. It looks like he planned to leave, continue planning in Galilee, then come back in a big way. But history shows that it didn't work out that way. "and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch." This is one of many passages where Jesus follows the pattern set as Ezra, the great reformer (and some say, the founder of Judaism as we know it: the scriptures can be traced back to Ezra's time, circa 450 BC, but it is hard to trace them back much further). Ezra was one of the captives in Babylon: the Babylonians took the rulers and educated people to Babylon, and left a few farmers and junior priests behind. As Ezra and the others left for Babylon, they would of course urge the remaining people to care for the land until the captives return. "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Eventually the rest of the Jews, including Ezra, would return to claim the land, but they did not know when. "Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping." When Ezra did return he found the work was progressing slowly and the people were not keeping the law. Much as Jesus found Israel to be asleep at the watch. "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." The time for complacency was over! Soon the signs will be fulfilled, the sleepers will be shaken awake, and Jesus, like Ezra, would lead the rebuilding off the kingdom the way it was supposed to be. All of this makes sense if Jesus expected the people to come back fairly soon, perhaps in two or three years. It makes no sense for Jesus to make people wait until AD 70! However, Jesus' plan did not work as expected. Caligula was stopped, he was not able to persuade many of the Pharisees, whatever foreign Jews he approached were obviously not interested, and he probably did not survive the crucifixion. This created a problem for the later church, so they created new revised gospels that tried to force the prophecies onto AD 70, and papered over any cracks with appeals to the supernatural. But if we stick to just the words of Mark, the events described in Mark 13 really only work if set around AD 40, as seen from AD 36.

More support for AD 42

The conscious parallels with the Maccabean revolt strengthens the case for an early visit of Simon (Simon Peter) to Rome. The Maccabeean revolt took years, and the fighting ended by making a deal with the current ruler. In 142 BC the last surviving Maccabee brother, Simon, made a deal to support the Seleucid king Demetrius II Nicator, and in return Judea no longer had to pay tribute. Judea was finally independent! To follow this pattern, the final step after the battle would be for a modern Simon to visit Rome and negotiate terms. Events did not turn out as planned of course, but a visit to Rome by a modern day Simon must have been Jesus' plan from the beginning.

Dating Mark, 5 of 10:

David Strauss and the supernatural

The argument

Mark is often assumed to contain supernatural events. This means the story has been changed. Changes take time. Those changes also make Mark very similar to Matthew and Luke, leading to a similar late date. However, a closer look shows that there is nothing supernatural in Mark. This means that Mark is fundamentally different from Matthew and Luke: it takes an opposite direction: natural, not supernatural. Such a complete reversal is far more likely to take place early in the life of an organisation, before its nature is set in stone. For the gentile side of the church, this would have to be before Paul established the supernatural Jesus in the 40s. For the Jewish side of the church, this would have to be when it was still realistic for Jesus to return and take charge of Jerusalem without supernatural means. After that it made no sense to write Mark, which is all about Jesus returning with the diaspora to cleanse the temple. This was only a naturalistic possibility during the reign of Caligula or soon after, when it was still possible for a weakened Rome to coincide with a chaotic Judaea and a rapidly growing force of converts led by a Jesus who survived. Within a year of Caligula's death Claudius had clearly set the empire back on a stable footing, and the chance of Jesus still hiding somewhere with a hug band of converts was vanishingly small. So whether we look at the gentile church or the Jewish church, a non-supernatural Jesus only makes sense in the early 40s or before.

Strauss's argument

Supernatural claims can be used to date the text. For example, here David Strauss, the father of modern gospel dating, examines the birth of John the Baptist as described in Luke. "the birth of the Baptist could not have been preceded and attended by these supernatural occurrences. The question now arises, what positive view of the matter is to replace the rejected literal orthodox explanation?" (Strauss, The Life of Jesus, part 1 chapter 1) Strauss then methodically looks for more likely explanations, and eventually is left with only one possibility: the event in question is simply fabricated: "it is impossible that a narrative so disfigured, (we should rather say, so embellished,) could have been a family record" (ibid) Such a "disfigured" story is evidence of changes. By reconstructing those changes we can reconstruct a likely history of the document, and hence its age. Supernatural events are the best place to start, both because they imply changes, and also because they indicate that the writer cannot be trusted. Matthew, Luke and John are so full of supernatural events, and other changes, that they it is easier to think of them as late forgeries, not early histories. But Mark is different.

Nothing supernatural in Mark

As we saw in the synoptic section, we cannot judge Mark based on Matthew and Luke. Because Matthew and Luke were not written when Mark was written. We can only judge Mark based on the documents available at the time. That is, using the old meanings of words, before the church added its new meanings. When we judge Mark based on earlier documents, we see that Mark contains no supernatural elements. Mark's "miracles" are simply "dynamic acts": the Greek word is "dunamic", the root of the English word "dynamic". They are no more supernatural than the dynamic acts of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. Here for example are some of the Julius Caesar's dynamic acts. We will then look at Jesus' dynamic acts for comparison:
  1. Winning battles against impossible odds. It is almost as if Caesar had a miraculous power, including miraculous healing ability. Because soldiers who should have lain down to die instead kept on fighting. For example, "Scaeva, with one eye gone, his thigh and shoulder wounded, and his shield bored through in a hundred and twenty places, continued to guard the gate of a fortress put in his charge. Acilius in the sea-fight at Massilia grasped the stern of one of the enemy's ships, and when his right hand was lopped off, rivalling the famous exploit of the Greek hero Cynegirus, boarded the ship and drove the enemy before him with the boss of his shield." (Seutonius)
  2. Giving his armies impossible speed: most armies struggle to march forty miles in a day. Caesar's army sometimes marched for ninety miles in a day! They would then suddenly appearing behind enemy lines, as if by a miracle.
  3. Caesar himself had inhuman speed: sometimes he would send a swift messenger, a trained runner, to announce Caesar's approach to some distant city, and then Caesar would arrive first.
  4. Suetonius records signs and omens in nature when Caesar died.
No wonder Caesar was declared to be a god during his own lifetime (according to an inscription at Ephesus from 49 BC). But none of these acts were supernatural:
  1. The military success was due to Caesar's ability to inspire his soldiers. He could inspire more more sacrifice than other generals. We will look at why in a moment.
  2. Ninety miles in one day was achieved by marching for twenty two hours (all day and all night) through rigorous training, carrying merely weapons and no supplies.
  3. Caesar's personal speed was simply his exceptional skill and insane desire to create his legend at all costs.
  4. Suetonius was merely looking hard for natural events: strange natural events are actually common if we look hard enough.
Note that Caesar relied on belief, just as Jesus did. Caesar's speed and victories depended on his soldiers' belief in Caesar. He needed them to believe passionately in the cause, so they would fight harder, and march faster for longer. There are many stories of Caesar's men fighting on despite multiple wounds, when normal soldiers would have lain down and died. They did it because the believed in Caesar! We see the same when Jesus healed people: they believed so much in Jesus that they forgot the pain and got up from their bed.

A Caesar-like miracle

A good example of a Caesar-like miracle, based on speed and inspiring others, is when Jesus rescued his friends. Here is the account in Mark: "And straightway he constrained his disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side to Bethsaida, while he himself sendeth the multitude away. And after he had taken leave of them, he departed into the mountain to pray. And when even was come, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary unto them, about the fourth watch of the night..." (Mark 6:45-48) Imagine the scene: Jesus is many miles away praying or sleeping. The men have been rowing all night against the wind. They must be ready to collapse with exhaustion but are still (as far as they know) miles from the shore. The fourth watch of the night is 3 am. It is pitch black. They are so tired, so in despair of ever reaching the other side against that relentless wind. Imagine how you would feel! And then this happens: "about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking "epi" the sea; and he would have passed by them: but they, when they saw him walking "epi" the sea, supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he straightway spake with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the boat; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves; for they understood not concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened." (Mark 6:48-51) I have left one word as Greek, "epi", to not distract from the story. Because the story is of the character of Jesus as a leader and an object of love. He is supposed to be miles away and asleep, but in their hour of greatest need he has somehow found them and rescued them! Like Caesar, Jesus must walk with phenomenal speed! How stunned and overjoyed the men must feel! What a leader! How they must love him! What an unforgettable experience that describes Jesus' character more than any words could! They had "forgotten the loaves": they had forgotten how much Jesus cared for his followers, how even when it seemed hopeless, he would give up his loaves and fishes, his sleep, even his life, for his friends. So how did Jesus reach the boat? Well it was 3 am, so everything was pitch black. But the boat itself probably had an oil lamp, so they could at least see a short way. But that map means others can see them from miles away. Jesus sent his days walking around that lake, so he knew the weather patterns. Clearly he saw a wind was growing, so he hurried along the side of the lake watching the boat's distant light. And eventually, at 3 am, the boat happened to be close enough to the shore (that was too dark for them to see) that Jesus could shout and be clearly heard. There is nothing supernatural here, just a story of tremendous love and skill. So, what about that word "epi"? It is the root of the modern words like "episode", "epilog", "epidemic", etc. It's a very generic word and can mean "to", "by", "at, "on", "before", etc. Clearly in this case it should be read as "by": Jesus walked by the sea, concerned for his friends in the boat. But later gospel writers wanted Jesus to have supernatural powers. So they came to see "epi" as "on", as if Jesus could walk on water! Other gospels then added supernatural details like Peter walking on the water as well, but sinking because he did not believe. Mark is not supernatural, but other gospels are.

Another Caesar-like miracle

One of Caesar's famous stories is when he showed his bravery by remaining calm in a storm: "Wishing, therefore, to sail to Italy in person and unattended, he embarked on a small boat in disguise, saying that he had been sent by Caesar; and forced the captain to set sail, although there was a wind. 3 When, however, they had got away from land, and the gale swept violently down upon them and the waves buffeted them terribly, so that the captain did not longer dare even under compulsion to sail farther, but undertook to return even without his passenger's consent, than Caesar revealed himself, as if by this act he could stop the storm, and said, "Be of good cheer: you carry Caesar." Such spirit and such hope had he, either naturally or as the result of some oracle, that he felt firm confidence in his safety even contrary to the appearance of things. Nevertheless, he did not get across, but after struggling for a long time in vain sailed back." (from "Roman History" by Cassius Dio) Jesus had the same unnatural confidence and need to inspire confidence in others: "And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side [of the sea of Galilee]. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." (Mark 4:34-9) Note that it was Jesus' idea to cross the lake, and other little ships went too. Jesus was clearly very intelligent, and he spent his time walking around the sea of Galilee, so he had a very good idea of how storms behave. So did all the other captains who chose to come with him. The storm cannot have been very bad - he slept through it. But some of the disciples did not know the sea, so they panicked. Now part of being charismatic is knowing how to put on a show. It was Jesus who decided to command the storm: if the storm looked likely to continue then he would not have put on that show.

A Caesar-like health miracle

I mentioned how Caesar inspired people to rise and work when they should have lain down sick. A related aspect is Caesars intelligence: he could see what people were capable of. We see both of these aspects, judging others' ability and inspiring it in them, in the time when Jesus was told that a girl was dead: "And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth." (Mark 5:39) Early Christians, desperate to believe that Jesus was supernatural, recalled this as "raising the dead." But Jesus himself said that she was not dead. In ancient times they did not have modern medicine. If they could not find a pulse (or did not even know to look for one) they could easily assume somebody was dead when they were merely weak. In this case Jesus realised the girl was not dead, and she recovered. Also note that the girl was 'twelve years' old, the age of bar mitzvah for girls: her coming of age. And it sounds like Jesus knew her already, which helped her to regain consciousness and gave her the strength to sit up. Perhaps she was under great emotional pressure? There may be more to this story than meets the eye. The one thing we can be sure of is that she was not actually dead: Jesus said so. But later gospels wanted to make Jesus supernatural: so they not only said she was dead and Jesus was presumably joking, but they add other far more dramatic stories of Jesus raising other people from the dead. People like Lazarus, or... himself. Jesus' most common healings can be explained like this: people getting up because they feel social pressure. Typically Mark will talk about a noisy crowd of people, and one or two will feel so excited and inspired that they feel they have been healed physically. The lame walk, the blind see, etc. We see the same in modern faith healing. It works because there are many degrees of blindness, many degrees of lameness, and so on. A moderately lame man can often walk a few yards, and a functionally blind man can often see vague shapes in good light. The nose and crowds remind us that this is not a scientific study: we do not see the person beforehand, we do not see them after, and we do not see the statistics of how people hope to be healed but remain sick.

Like Caesar, Jesus had tremendous force of character

Most of the "healing miracles" in Mark are just Jesus facing other men down. Julius Caesar would understand! For example: "And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus thou Nazarene? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him." (Mark 1:23-27) An "unclean spirit" just meant the person was angry or stressed. Much as we might say an angry man has his demons. For example, Israel's first king, Saul, never wanted his job, and found the stresses of fighting the surrounding tribes often made him angry or depressed. At those times young David would play music to calm him down, driving out the evil spirit: "And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." (1 Samuel 16:23) "Spirit" is just the Greek "pneuma" meaning breath. "Unclean" in the context of a synagogue just means against the law of Moses: it could be ritually unclean, or breaking some rule. We know the man "cried out" - as others with "unclean spirits" do, so it seems to refer to someone shouting and raving. This would be very disturbing to the worshippers. Imagine a stranger today bursting into a wedding or funeral or solemn church service, to shout and swear. Luckily the man had heard about Jesus, because John (who according to Josephus was very famous) had said that Jesus was chosen by God. So he as mentally prepared to listen to Jesus. Jesus had the man visualise his anger as a separate entity so he could push it out. The key to Jesus' success was how he spoke "with authority". He had tremendous confidence and charisma. His personality dominated the weaker man. Dominant personalities are not supernatural: they can be explained by social dominance theory. Every social group, animal or human, creates hierarchies: the ones at the top are followed, it's just our instinct, it is hard to avoid, especially if the other person is clearly stronger and more intelligent and more popular and can outmanoeuvre us no matter what we do. We soon learn to shut up and be quiet. For more details, see any books on social dominance, such as Dario Maestripieri, "Games Primates Play".

Like Caesar, Jesus defied others and defied convention

Many of the so-called healings in Mark can be explained by Jesus declaring people ritually "clean" when others felt it was inappropriate: "And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day; that they might accuse him. [...] And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other." (Mark 3) The early gospel of the Nazarenes records the man as saying, "I was a mason seeking a livelihood with my hands. I beseech thee, Jesus, to restore me to my health, that I may not in shame have to beg for my food. " (Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 12:13) While that account is later and is probably guesswork, it does indicate how people understood the problem: the real problem was not the hand, the real problem was that the man could not earn his living. Notice how Jesus does not actually heal anything: he just says "stretch forth thine hand" so people can see it is just as good as the other one. And notice that the critics are only concerned with whether he would heal on the sabbath: the healing itself was apparently unremarkable. The word "whole" in "restored whole" is the Greek word "hugies" or "hygies", the root of our modern word "hygiene". Hygies was personified by the daughter of Asclepius, god of medicine. Hygies was the goddess of being clean, not of healing. hence Her goddess sisters were Panacea (goddess of the universal remedy), Iaso (recuperation from illness), Aceso (the healing process), and Aglaea (splendor and adornment). Jesus did not "remedy", or "recuperate", or "heal", or "make healthy", he simply declared that the hand was "clean". Jesus used his authority to restore the hand to be as clean as the other. So what was happening here? A "withered hand" probably refers to atrophying of the muscle, such as due to an infection. It could be mild or severe: to stop a stone mason from working it would only need to be mild. But an infection makes a person ritually unclean: "and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean." (Leviticus 13:3)" And as the infection healed, the hand would become more useful. But the best remedy is exercise: the hand would never be perfect until he could return to his old job. It was Catch-22: he could not fully heal until some priest had the courage to declare him fit for work. By declaring the man to be "clean", Jesus used his position as a rabbi, and as a person greatly respected in the community, to declare the man fit for work. He was saying in effect "this man's weak hand is just as clean as his other one. I challenge anyone to contradict me!" Jesus often challenged his enemies like this, asking them questions or giving them answers where they did not dare response. Jesus used his force of personality to let the man return to his job, so he no longer needed to beg.

The other "miracles" in Mark

Most "miracles" in Mark can be explained by these principles: Jesus used his charisma to change how people felt, or he used his courage to declare people ritually "clean". The remaining miracles were never miracles of any kind, they are just mundane words later being given supernatural meanings. Take the very first "miracle" in Mark for example: "And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) The first voice spontaneously heard in a crowd was called "a voice from heaven": "The Hebrew term "bath kol", literally "daughter of a voice", concerns a heavenly or divine voice which proclaims God's will or judgment. " (Jewish Encyclopedia) "The kind of divination among the Jews, termed by them Bath Kol, or the daughter of the voice, was not very dissimilar to the 'Sortes Sanctorum' of the Christians [where the first words you hear when entering church are taken as a special message from God]. The mode of practicing it was by appealing to the first words accidentally heard from any one speaking or reading. The following is an instance from the Talmud:--Rabbi Jochanau and Rabbi Simeon. Ben Lachish, desiring to see the face of R. Samuel, a Babylonish doctor: 'Let us follow, ' said they, 'the hearing of Bath Kol.' Traveling, therefore, near a school, they heard the voice of a boy: reading these words out of the First Book of Samuel, 'And Samuel died.' They observed this, and inferred from hence that their friend Samuel was dead, and so they found it. Some of the ancient Christians too, it seems, used to go to church with a purpose of receiving as the will of heaven the words of scripture that were singing at their entrance. " (from The Mirror of Literature September 15, 1827, preserved by Project Gutenberg) Who spoke the words "this is my son"? Who wanted people to know of her pride? The obvious candidate is Jesus' mother, because she followed him as he preached. After John the Baptist praised Jesus, and baptised him, Jesus' mother must have been extremely proud. So she would say what she felt, "this is my son who I love: listen to him". It was a perfect example of "bath kol". As usual, other gospels change this to make it supernatural: John 12:28-29 for example has Jesus talk to God his father, his father answers, and people say it sounds like thunder. Another example of words being redefined is "satan" and "angels": "And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him." (Mark 1:13) Jesus was Jewish. As Wikipedia reminds us, "the rabbis usually interpreted the word satan as it is used in the Tanakh as referring strictly to human adversaries." Jesus naturally had human adversaries: he had just been baptised by John and John had said that Jesus was more important than him. Some of John's followers would not like this, or at least they would try to tell Jesus what they felt he should do. As for the word "angels", the Greek "angelos" just means "messengers", as in "ev-angelos" (good messengers). Since Jesus had just left John, these messengers are presumably from John: in the next verse Jesus learns (presumably from messengers) that John has been put on prison. This reference to adversaries and messengers in the desert was changed in later gospels. The adversaries became a supernatural being who could fly and take Jesus to the highest peak of the temple. There the adversary told Jesus to throw himself off and promised that supernatural messengers would fly through the air and rescue him. The meaning of this simple event - people talking to Jesus - was completely changed to become something more suited to a game or Hollywood movie. And so the book of Mark continues. In each case, Mark makes no supernatural claims. But other gospels embellish the story to make it supernatural. So we can read Mark as history, but cannot read the other gospels as history because they are willing to change stories and add events that cannot happen.

Dating Mark, 6 of 10:

The synoptic problem

"One of these things is not like the others".

The argument

Matthew, Mark, and Luke share a great deal of text. So it is normal for new Testament scholars to consider them together. So they use Matthew and Luke as guides to what Mark intended. This leads to a similar authorship date, of around AD 70. However, Mark was written before Matthew and Luke. That is, Matthew and Luke were not available to Mark. So it is a serious mistake to use Matthew and Luke as guides to Mark. When we consider Mark in isolation we see that it is fundamentally different from Matthew and Luke. Mark makes more sense when read as an accurate history written at the time, soon after AD 37. Matthew and Luke are attempts by a later generation to change that history in the light of Jesus' failure to deliver what he promised.

What is the synoptic probem?

The synoptic problem is, "which came first, Matthew, Mark or Luke?" By the 1800s it was clear to most people that Matthew, Mark and Luke are superficially similar and superficially different from John. So it became normal to talk about Matthew, Mark and Luke as "synoptic", meaning "looks the same". John was seen as the odd one out. This led to "the synoptic problem", which of the synoptics was written first? By the 1860s the answer was clear to most scholars: it had to be Mark. But this leads to a new, much more serious synoptic problem: a mistaken reliance on Matthew and Luke when interpreting Mark. Because John is not really the odd man out. John is fundamentally like Matthew and Luke: a story about a supernatural messiah predicting the events of AD 70. John is an attempt to explain the failure of Jesus' predictions, by making him supernatural: just like Matthew and Luke. The real odd man out is Mark: Mark is a non supernatural history, predicting events at the time of Caligula. Mark is fundamentally different from Matthew, Luke and John. This section will examine the evidence, in three stages:
  1. re-dating of Mark relies on Mark being siumilar to (synoptic with) Matthew and Luke,
  2. Mark is actually very different
  3. arguments for similarity do not work.

The re-dating of Mark relies on Mark being synoptic with Matthew and Luke.

The arguments for Matthew and Luke being late are overwhelming:
  1. Matthew and Luke are full of evidence of changes: e.g. they change Mark's message
  2. they are strongly supernatural
  3. they were never given a precise early date - it was always vague
  4. late elements are very striking: e.g. Matthew's revised temple prophecy (where Mark 13 becomes Matthew 24) sounds more like the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70
  5. and so on and so on.
But if we ignore Matthew and Luke then each of these arguments is much weaker for Mark (the details are elsewhere in this essay):
  1. Mark cannot change Mark's message
  2. Mark's so-called miracles are not supernatural when examined closely
  3. Mark already had a precise date, with detailed circumstances of how it was written
  4. the late elements are very doubtful: e.g. Mark's temple prophecy works better for AD 40
  5. and so on and so on.
So the late date for Mark depends on Mark being strongly synoptic with Matthew and Luke.

Mark is different

Matthew is a re-working of Mark, so naturally they share similarities: they are synoptic. In the same way, the movie "300" is a reworking of Herodotus on the Battle of Thermopylae: the movie and the book are synoptic. But should Historians use "300" as a guide to Herodotus? Just as Herodotus was changed to create "300", so Mark was changed to create Matthew and Luke. Here are some of the fundamental changes. They are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this essay.
Mark:Other gospels:
Written firstWritten later
Not supernaturalSupernatural
Critical history (e.g. shows Jesus making mistakes)Uncritical hagiography
Covers a few weeks in AD 36 or AD 37)Covers 4 BC to around AD 30)
About an ordinary manAbout a super-man or god
Not popular with the churchPopular with the church
No sales gimmicksPowerful sales gimmicks: spectacular nativity at the start, spectacular resurrection at the end
No merchandisingDesigned for merchandising (that is, points the reader to an organised church ready to offer extra services and take your money)
Unpolished (just a list of events)Highly polished (e.g. Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, John's rich theology and polished Greek)

Arguments for similarity

The differences can be minimised in two ways:
  1. By pointing out the large number of similarities.
  2. By pointing out the number of scholarly works that emphasise similarities.
Let us look at each in turn.

The similarities

At first glance, Mark is extremely similar to the other synoptics. They all deal with Jesus Christ, the son of God, and his gospel. But look closer: those words have very specific Christian meanings. These are the meanings as strongly implied by Matthew and Luke:
Christ:Supernatural being above all other men, must be obeyed and not criticised.
Gospel:The story of Jesus Christ, his miracles, the kingdom etc.
Son of God:The only begotten son of God, a god himself.
Son of Man:A special title for Jesus Christ.
Holy One:Another title for Christ suggesting perfection.
Miracle:Supernatural event, with no natural explanation.
Belief:Accepting an idea based on a desire or feeling, not on rational evidence.
These words had very different meanings before New Testament times. Here are the definitions implied by earlier Greek and Jewish texts (such as Greek biographies or the Old Testament):
Christ:Any important person. From the Greek for "anointed" (i.e. chosen). Every king, priest, judge, etc, in the Old Testament was a christ. Hence "the christ" just means "the king", "the judge" etc: whichever christ you are discussing at the time.
Gospel:Any good news. From the Greek "ev-angel" or "good-messenger". Normally used in the context of "a long battle is over"
Son of God:Anyone who seems close to God. E.g. judges (Psalms 82:1-8), David (Psalms 89:26-28), Israel (Exodus 4:22), Israel's kings (Psalm 2), etc.
Son of Man:Ordinary man. Appears 107 times in the Old Testament, 93 of which are on Ezekiel. The most famous case, in Daniel 7:13 appears to refer to the nation of Israel, in contrast with animals that represent other nations.
Holy One:"Set apart". It can be good or bad. E.g. set apart because you are unclean. Hence the phrase was used mockingly toward Jesus, by the man with an unclean spirit, and also used by Herod speaking of John.
Miracle:Anything amazing. From the Greek word "dunamis", also spelled "dynamis", the root of the English word "dynamic". Any unusually powerful action.
Belief:A conclusion based on evidence. From the Greek "pisteuo", from the word "pistis" which means "I am persuaded". Persuasion implies either physical evidence or pure logic. For example, Aristotle's work "Rhetoric" says that persuasion is all about finding just the right kind of proof or conviction (pistis), which might include appeals to laws, witnesses, contracts, and so on.

The problem

Here is the problem: we cannot use the new definitions because Mark was first. By the 1860s it was clear from comparing parallel passages that Mark had to be the first. In comparison, Luke, for example, refers to the many other gospels and had to justify adding another one. Mark, in contrast, does not even need to put the name "Mark" at the start, it is simply starts "the gospel", the only one. Mark did not have access to other gospels. He only had access to the Jewish and Greek writings available at the time: Mark could not have been influenced by Matthew or Luke because they had not been written. So the arguments based on synoptic gospels don't work. For example: If we want to use the new definitions when interpreting Mark, we need to show where he got them:

History, not hagiography

Perhaps the biggest difference between Mark and the other gospels is that the other gospels are hagiography, and Mark is not. That is the others describe being who is perfect, and Mark describes someone who is not perfect. "hagiography (noun) a very admiring book about someone or a description of someone that represents the person as perfect or much better than they really are, or the activity of writing about someone in this way" (The Cambridge Dictionary) Mark shows the apostles being often wrong. Later gospels changed those parts. For example, Jesus took two attempts to heal someone: (Mark 9:23-25). "And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly." (Mark 8:22-25) This is important because it shows that Jesus "healed" in the same way that modern healers heal: by social pressure. Blindness refers to a whole range of problems, some worse than others. In Britain today for example, a person is registered as blind if they have: "Visual acuity of less than 3 / 60 with a full visual field. Visual acuity between 3 / 60 and 6 / 60 with a severe reduction of field of vision, such as tunnel vision. Visual acuity of 6 / 60 or above but with a very reduced field of vision" (RNIB) The numbers 6/60 mean that, from 6 metres away, a person can read the very large letters at the top of a standard "Snellen" chart. The blind man man, after Jesus healed him the first time, had even worse vision: in normal bright sunshine he said "I see men as trees, walking." At this point Jesus tried again, and the social pressure of course would be immense. So the man said that he can see fine. Later gospels miss this story, because they are hagiography, not history: they do not show Jesus failing. Another example of Jesus being imperfect in Mark is that he gets angry, implying human weakness such as frustration: "And when he had looked round about on them with anger" (Mark 3:5) When Luke's hagiography quotes this section (Luke 6:10) he misses out the anger part. Later, Mark says Jesus was unable to do something: "And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching." (Mark 6:5-6) The same account in Matthew 13:58 merely says he did not, not he "could not", as if he could if he wanted to. In another part, Jesus' friends tried to restrain him because they thought he was mad: "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself." (Mark 3:21) Most translations say this was not just his friends but "his family". That is, his mother Mary and his brothers. The other gospels, being hagiographies, miss this out. As Bart Ehrman has observed, this makes the virgin birth story unlikely: why would Mary think Jesus was mad if she thought he was supernaturally divine? Mark's original nativity story was probably very unflattering: this will be discussed in the section on "the real Messianic Secret". All of this confirms what Papias learned from the earliest sources: "[Mark] was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein." (Papias, "Exegesis of the Lord's Oracles")

Mark was a natural skeptic

This caution is preserved in traditions about Mark's personal life. Hippolytus records the following fascinating detail, when listing the seventy disciples: "14. Mark the evangelist, bishop of Alexandria. 15. Luke the evangelist. These two belonged to the seventy disciples who were scattered by the offence of the word which Christ spoke, Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he is not worthy of me. But the one being induced to return to the Lord by Peter's instrumentality, and the other by Paul's, they were honoured to preach that Gospel on account of which they also suffered martyrdom, the one being burned, and the other being crucified on an olive tree." (from "The Synaxis of the 70 Holy Apostles") So both Mark and Luke left Jesus rather than accept anything that sounded weird. Eventually Luke wrote his own version of Mark, where he embraced the weird parts (Luke is Mark plus the supernatural), or possibly that was not by Luke at all: being late, it is hard to say. But wait, doesn't Hippolytus contradict Papias? How can Mark be both a seventy and "not a follower"? The seventy were sent to live in other cities to prepare them (see Luke 11). That is, they did not walk along following Jesus but lived elsewhere. Hippolytus' list indicates that most of these settlers ended up as bishops of their respective cities. Alternatively, Hippolytus just assumed Mark was one of the seventy because he was one of the most important early converts, but Papias says Mark was not quite early enough to see Jesus himself: he relied on Peter's recollections.


In conclusion, Mark is not like the other gospels, and Mark was first. So we cannot use other gospels as a guide to the content of Mark. Yet the change from AD 42 to AD 70 relies heavily on comparison with other gospels. So the change from AD 42 to AD 70 cannot be justified.

Dating Mark, 7 of 10:

Mark's local knowledge

The argument

Mark includes many details that later generations think he got wrong, and details that seem to reflect life after AD 70. So they conclude that Mark was written around AD 70, by somebody unfamiliar with the land and customs. However, a closer looks hows that in each case it is later generations that are wrong. This implies that Mark was very close to the events. Mark also assumes that the reader is also familiar with local knowledge, e.g. referring to local people or to obscure details without any explanation. This suggests that Mark was written at a time when most of the people around him were still locals from Galilee: that is, before there were many converts from Jerusalem or other cities. That is not later than the traditional date of around AD 42, speaking of the events from AD 36 or 37.

The geography of Judaea

Perhaps the most common complaint is that Mark does not know local geography. Take for example, when Jesus journeyed from Tyre, through Sidon, then to Decapolis (Mark 7:31): "In the words of scholar Hugh Anderson in The Gospel of Mark (p. 192), this would be like '"travelling from Cornwall to London by way of Manchester.'" ("Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels" by Matthew Wade Ferguson) Yes, this is exactly what itinerant preachers do. They try to reach as many locations as possible. Compare for example a typical journey by John Wesley, founder of Methodism: Most modern scholars have no experience of itinerant preaching. Just as they have no experience of starting in a new religion. They usually have no experience of being a salesman of any kind. And little experience of mathematics (or they would recognise the famous "travelling salesman" problem. This is a major problem with modern New Testament studies: the scholars have no experience of the thing they study. Here is another example of Mark's "bad" geography:

Mark 11: Bethphage

"And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people" (Mark 10:46) "And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him." (Mark 11:1-2) To somebody unfamiliar with the territory, this seems to be a mistake: "anyone approaching Jerusalem from Jericho would come first to Bethany and then Bethphage, not the reverse." (Randel Helms, "Who Wrote the Gospels?" p.6) But here again we see Mark's local knowledge. Note that three locations are given: Bethphage, Bethany and the Mount of Olives. An aerial photo shows that they are close together: we can even see the individual houses. Bethphage is in the middle and is mentioned first. Bethany and the Mount of Olives are on either side. A glance at Wikipedia shows why Jesus had to give locations on either side: Bethphage was to tiny that nobody else has heard of it! See how the Mount of Olives and Bethany have long histories, but Bethphage is only known from Mark's account. Today the area that Mark called Bethphage is full of houses, but back then it must have been just a couple of houses. Anybody who lives in a remote rural area will know places like that. Mark had to give the locations either side to identify it. This is another example of Mark's local knowledge.

Another example: Arimathea

Mark 15:43 refers to "Joseph of Arimathea". Modern readers cannot find it on any map, and some say it was "probably" "Mark's own invention" (source). But Mark clearly did not see it would cause any problems. Most Koine Greek texts indicate that it should start with a breathing mark or "h" sound, so probably refers to ha-Ramath, the town of Ramathaim where the prophet Samuel was born. An early Jewish writer would simply know this. Later writers just assume that a town called Arimathea exists and have to explain it because nobody has ever heard of such a town. E.g. Luke says it is "the Judean town of Arimathea" (Luke 23:51). But again Mark has a better understanding of local geography, and of how the words sound when spoken by a local.

Mark's local knowledge and AD 42

Throughout the book, Mark refers to tiny details that only somebody who was there at the time would know. Such as Jesus taking the children in his arms in Mark 10:16, or sleeping on a cushion in Mark 4:38. This kind of detail was lost in the later gospels. Mark also assumes the listeners know local people: e.g. he mentions mentioning Alexander and Rufus in Mark 15:21, without having to explain who they are. This implies that the book was written by an eye witness (or somebody close to him), and close to the date of the events. Modern scholars, however, lack Mark's eye witness knowledge, and blame Mark for their own ignorance. Here are some more examples:

The Gerasene swine

"And they came to the other side of the sea to the region of the Gerasenes" (Mark 5:2) Later gospels change this to "Gadarenes", because the story is about pigs falling off a cliff into the sea, and the well known Gerasene region is thirty miles away from the sea. But once again Mark has local knowledge that was forgotten by the time the other gospels were written. Gerasa (or Gergesa) is a Greek spelling of Khersa (now known as Kursi), a village that perfectly fits the description given by Mark: it is on the coast, it has an ancient cemetery, and it has steep cliffs leading down to the water. A local Galilean like Peter would never get this confused with the larger Gerasa thirty miles away, and it probably never occurred to him that others would. But later gospel writers and modern scholars do not have Mark's local knowledge. (A 2015 discovery shows for the first time that there was a Jewish population there in AD 500, and "the most reasonable assumption is that 500 years earlier the settlement would have been entirely Jewish.")

Seeing conflicts where none exist

Josephus, writing several decades after the event, describes how John was killed by Herod Antipas: "For Herod had killed this good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue [...] Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death." Mark adds his usual eye details that would only be known to people closer to the event: "For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. [...later Herodias' daughter danced...] And he promised her with an oath, 'Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.' [her mother told her what to say]: 'I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her." (Mark 6:17-26) At first this appears to be a contradiction: did Herod like John or not? Josephus explains: "[Herod Antipas] was hated by all the nation [of the Jews] [so] when he counterfeited friendship to those with whom he conversed, he was very subtle in gaining their belief, and very cunning to hide his hatred against any that he really did hate." (Antiquities 17:1:1)" So Herod Antipas was hated by the Jews, including John, and Herod pretended to like them, in an effort to gain their trust. This is just politics 101: pretend to like your enemies, then blame somebody else when you stab them in the back. Peter lived at Capernaum, less than two hours' walk from Herod's palace at Tiberias, so would have heard the excuses for why Herod killed John but said he did not want to. Josephus, writing decades later, simply gave the facts: Herod hated John, so Herod killed John. Blaming his wife was the obvious excuse. Herod had just divorced his previous wife to marry her, and this was very offensive to Jewish law. Yet he claimed to be following the law (to appease his subjects). This shows that the divorce would be a hot topic, and acting out of love for her would be in character - and creating a colourful story about a sexy girl tricking the noble man would make good public relations. How else could he excuse the killing? So once again we get the kind of local details that only somebody living there at the time would know.

Hand washing before AD 70

Mark chapter 7 refers to the Pharisees' practice of hand washing. E. P. Sanders says there is no direct evidence of this until after AD 70. Yet we know that ritual hand washing was both mainstream and widespread before AD 70. The translators of the Septuagint washed themselves ritually before translating, and this was in the 2nd century BC. So this was an established mainstream practice. (Source: the 2nd century AD letter of Aristeas). A wide range of groups from that time and place practised ritual washing. John the Baptist is the obvious example, and Josephus confirms his early date. The Essenes had special pools for washing, in Qumran and elsewhere, and these date prior to AD 70. (See "Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism" edited by David Hellholm, Tor Vegge, p.233). The Samaritans did it (see "The Samaritans" by Reinhard Pummer p.15). James Crossley goes into more detail in his book, showing why hand washing fits an early date (see "The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity" Bloomsbury, 2004, p. 183-205).


"Mark also refers to synagogues being common [...] ]which was only true decades after Jesus (see the Bible Geek podcast for 9/17/13 @19:00)" (source) Yet "synagogue" is simply the Greek word for "place of assembly" ("syn" + "agein"). Was there ever a town without a place of assembly, either indoor or outdoor? "In Second Temple and later sources, the word synagogue often refers to a congregation and not to a building." (UNESCO, "Early Synagogues in the Galilee") However, purpose built synagogues did exist in Galilee at the time: "The remains of the synagogue were found during an archaeological dig at Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor in the lower Galilee, in what was an ancient Jewish village. [...] Mordechai Aviam, an archaeologist at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee who led the dig, estimated the synagogue was built between 20-40 AD and was used for a hundred years." (Times of Israel, 19 Aug 2016)


"Mark also refers to [...] the title “Rabbi,” [...] which was only true decades after Jesus (see the Bible Geek podcast for 9/17/13 @19:00).(source) However, analysis of potsherds, inscriptions, ancient texts, etc., show that the title "rab" for leader was extremely common throughout the anciewnt near east. For example, many captains in the Bible have names beginning "rab". E.g. Rabshakeh, "chief of the princes" who plays a prominent role in 2 Kings 18-19, Rabmag the "chief soothsayer" in Jeremiah 39:13, etc. And Gamaliel, the great Jewish leader around the time of Jesus, was known as "rabban" ("our master"). So it is natural that people would use "rabbi" meaning "my chief" in everyday speech. (The "i" suffix just means "my"). This is another example of Mark's local knowledge. To deny that "rabbi" was used, on the basis that it did not turn up on official titles, is like denying that modern workers ever say "my boss", on the basis that "my boss" is not the official name of any position. For details see Hershel Shanks, "Origins of the Title '"Rabbi'" in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 59, No. 2, pp.152-157

Nazareth supports the early 40s

Rene Salm's book "The Myth of Nazareth" argues that Mark cannot be an eye witness because, he says, Nazareth did exist in Old Testament times, then stopped existing for the period in question, then reappeared again later. Like Brigadoon I suppose. Bart Ehrman debunks that myth. Salm is not an archaeologist, so Ehrman asked the actual archaeologists who worked in that area. They said yes, Nazareth did exist: "Pottery remains connected to the house range from roughly 100 BCE to 100 CE (i.e., the days of Jesus)." But Nazareth was a very tiny village: just a handful of small houses on a hillside. Which explains why Josephus did not mention it when listing the important locations in Galilee. Ehrman notes that nobody would fake this because there was absolutely no other reason to notice such a small, forgettable place. And the prophecies said the messiah should be from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The only reason for mentioning such an obscure village in Galilee is that yes, Jesus really did come from there. Ehrman does not draw the obvious conclusion: that to remember such a tiny group of houses suggests it was written down very early, before such an unimportant detail was forgotten. And the only reason to care is when writing a non-supernatural history. By the mid 40s Paul was busy promoting his supernatural Jesus, ignoring his mortal life. And the church was very well established in Jerusalem, far from Galilee. They were selling Jesus as a king, as the messiah who must of course be born in Bethlehem. So the Nazareth reference suggests a history written before the mid 40s.

Divorce law

Mark refers to a woman divorcing a man "if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery" (Mark 10:12) Some scholars see this as a serious error: "Verse 12 implies that Mark believed women had a right of divorce in Jewish law. They did not." (Source) Normally, yes, a woman divorcing a man was unthinkable. But not in AD 36! The big news was that Herod Antipas had just married Herodias, and Herodias, not Antipas, initiated the divorce: "Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 18.) So Jesus was responding to the big news of the time. Decades later that scandal was largely forgotten, so Matthew (in chapter 19) omits the "women divorce men" detail and Luke omits the whole event. But Mark includes it, suggesting that Mark was written much earlier.

Mark knew his scriptures

Mark 2:26 says that David "entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest". But in 1 Samuel 21, the event is when Abiathar's father Ahimelech was High Priest. Scholars have used this as evidence that Mark could not have been a Jew. However, it shows the opposite: 2 Samuel 8:17 says Ahimelech is said to be the son of Abiathar, but other passages say it's the other way around. So anybody who knew the scriptures from memory would get them mixed up. But anybody forging a text would simply copy from the Bible and get it right. Or if a forger was referring to an often repeated fact, that fact would have been skipped the confusing parts: just as Matthew's version misses the name of the High Priest (Matthew 12:3-4). So the fact that Mark refers to the priest, and gets the details mixed up just as Samuel did, indicates that he (or his source) was speaking from their own deep knowledge of the scriptures, and not merely quoting a tradition.

Mark's lack of a genealogy for Jesus

According to Eusebius, Clement (who died in AD 215) thought that the absence of a nativity genealogy was evidence that Matthew and Luke were older: "He used to say that the earliest gospels were those containing the genealogies" (Ecclesiastical History 6.14.1) Scholars now reject this because the evidence of who copied from who shows that Mark must have been first. But Eusebius had a point: in earlier times a biography of any kind had to begin with parentage. How do we explain its absence in Mark? The answer is in the section on the missing beginning: it looks likely that Mark did originally have a genealogy, but it showed Jesus in a very unlattering light so was removed. This argues for a very early date indeed, before Jesus was thought to be anything other than a fallible man.

Mark 9: "some" shall not taste of death

"there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark 9:1) Some people suggest that if "some" will not die, then Mark is admitting that some will die of old age first: that is, Mark is writing decades later. But people who suggest this have not read the text very carefully. Jesus is not talking about death from old age, he is talking about death from persecution in the immediate future. Mark 9:1 is the end of a conversation that begins in Mark 8:27, when they arrive at Caesarea Philippi. It is about the risk of death in the coming conflict. Many of them will die, but at least some of them won't! The conflict begins with them arriving at Jerusalem, so Mark expects these events - the initial opposition from AD 36 - to be the conflict that will usher in Jesus' return. This implies that Mark was written very close to that date, before the political chaos calmed down in the mid 40s under the reign of Claudius.

Pharisees in first century Galilee

Are Pharisees an anachronism in first century Galilee? (Hint: first get a consistent definition of "Pharisee") "At least a couple of well-known biblical scholars do give us reason to doubt the popular gospel image of Jesus bumping into Pharisees with every step he took in Galilee. Though there may have been the odd Pharisee in Galilee prior to 70 ce the impression given by the gospels that they were a significant presence there, is unlikely historical - for the following reasons: A) Evidence of Josephus; it is clear from his War II. 569-646, and even more from his Vita (28-406 and especially 197f.), that as late as 66 Pharisees might be respected in Galilee for their legal knowledge (through Josephus) suggestion of this is suspect as part of his pro-Pharisaic propaganda), but they were certainly rare: the only ones Josephus encountered were sent from Jerusalem, and had been chosen to impress the Galileans by their rarity B)There is strong evidence that there were practically no Pharisees in Galilee during Jesus' lifetime. A generation later, when the great Pharisee Yohanan ben Zakkai lived there for eighteen years, only two cases were brought to him for decision; he reportedly cursed the country for hating the Law - it was destined to servitude. Y. Shabbat XVL.8 (15d. end). Not exactly Pharisee turf, then-till decades after Jesus." This criticism assumes that a Pharisee is like a later rabbi: or like a modern doctor or lawyer: somebody with specific training, a kind of guild. However, a close look show that Pharisee versus non Pharisee is much closer to "liberal elite" versus "normal folk". The first clue is how the word is used: as far as we know, only two people in history ever called themselves a Pharisee:
  1. Paul was accused of selling out as a Jew, so in is defense he claimed to be a good Pharisee.
  2. Josephus was accused of selling out as a Jew, so in is defense he claimed to be a good Pharisee.
Saying "I am a Pharisee" is like someone saying "I am the liberal elite". You don't say it unless you want to distance yourself from populists. Because a lot of people dislike liberal elites. And others love them. Mark records Peter's experience, and he disliked liberal elites. So Mark presents the Pharisees as condscending nit pickers who just like to argue and quote authorities. But Josephus, who loves liberal elites, presents them a progressive, popular, and open to new ideas. Modern scholars can point to numerous Pharisee texts showing that they were creative, balanced, open to new ideas, and Jesus' teachings of love are already there in Pharisee teaching. Foe examples see Hyam Maccoby's book "The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity" or numerous other scholarly books. To return to the original claim, Yohanan ben Zakkai hated the backward country attitudes in Galilee. So did Josephus. But it is be absurd to say that nobody in Galilee was educated in Jerusalem or nobody liked city values. Jerusalem was only seventy miles away, and observant Jews were supposed to go there for the major festivals. The poor could not afford to go every year, but many people would go, and would love the excitement and education of the city. Those people, plus whatever city educated people happened to be in Galilee, would be called Pharisees: liberal elitists. As a liberal elitist myself, I used to think of Pharisees as right wing populists, based on them appealing to tradition. But looking closer, they were not appealing to tradition, they were appealing to education: they referred to the work of scribes (the people who can read or write) and argue for a deep understanding of the law. In contrast, Jesus wanted to dismantle Herod's gaudy temple to get back to an idealised version of the past, and wanted to bring the diaspora home to make it happen: kind of "Make Israel Great Again" with racist implications. Jesus of course saw himself as a brilliant thinker, and relied on his quick thinking and clever rhetoric to get himself out of trouble. Hence his advice in Mark 13:11, that when then police arrest you, don't plan what to say, just speak with passion. That always got him an excited crowd of listeners in Galilee, but he found it less successful in Jerusalem. Liberal elitism is right there in the name, "pharisee": from "parash", meaning: "to make distinct, declare, distinguish, separate (Qal) to declare, clarify (Pual) to be distinctly declared" (Strong;s concprdance, Parash, word 6567) Abarim Publications (a site obsessed with the nuances of words) probably puts it best: "Note that some commentators, especially online ones, appear to interpret our verb (parash) as meaning to separate, and dub the Pharisees "The Separatists", but this is a long shot and not very consistent with what we know of the Pharisees. Our English word "science" comes from the Greek verb (schizo), meaning to split or divide, and the Pharisees probably thought of themselves as being The Scientists." (Abarim publications) So Mark's local knowledge wins again. Every country region has a percentage of people who prefer city values. And Jesus felt that he was smarter than them.

The term "rabbi" before AD 70

"We have substantial literature of the period namely Josephus, Apocalyphal, Philo and early tannaitic literature before the destruction of the Temple. In none of this literature does the term rabbi occur. But when did it become common? Some time after the turn of the century? Rabbi as a title for esteemed/learned Jewish teachers is a post-Second Temple phenomenon. This period is called Rabbinic Judaism for a reason." (quoted in "anachronisms in the gospels" Rabbi means literally "my master". It was not a formal title before AD 70. But does that mean it was not used? The term "my boss" is not a formal title today, but does that mean it is never used? This is another example of Mark's local knowledge. People often say "my boss" or everyday speech, or in ancient times "my master", even when it is not a formal title.

Linen shrouds before AD 70

"And he bought a linen shroud, and [...] wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb" (Mark 15:46) Some argue that only heavy shrouds were used before AD 70, and that rabbi Gamaliel was the first to use a simple linen shroud: "This caused R. Gamaliel, about fifty years after the destruction of the Temple, to inaugurate the custom of using a simple linen shroud for rich and poor alike (Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan 27b)." (quoted in "anachronisms in the gospels" But note the "rich and poor alike" comment. The poor obviously could not afford a thick shroud, so already used linen. Jesus identified himself with "the common man" ("son son of man") so that is a good reason to use their common linen. Jesus liked his suffering servant symbolism, so being buried as a downtrodden man but in a rich grave would be ideal: "He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." (Isaiah 53:8-9, from the famous "suffering servant" passage.) And if Jesus did want something special, we know that his secret followers wore long linen robes. So there is zero reason to think Jesus would want a rich man's burial.

Circular stones before AD 70

"and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. [...] And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" (Mark 15:46, 16:3) Yet: "more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, 'the Second Temple period ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common'" (quoted in "anachronisms in the gospels" Later, John changes "rolling" ("kulio") to "moving" ("hairo"). So as late as the gospel of John, decades after Mark, they knew there was something odd about a round stone. So "rolling" was still very unusual in his day. So it was unusual to Mark as well. So we cannot use this as evidence that Mark was just copying what was normal in his time. So why did Mark add a feature that was unusual in his day? Again this is explained in the text. Jesus planned from the start to somehow survive the crucifixion. "For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day." (Mark 9:31, see also 10:34) Apparently this plan failed: Mark has no record of Jesus appearing alive after the crucifixion as he planned. But the plan required his body to be removed from the tomb. This could not happen if the tomb had a square stone: he would need one of those round stones that only the wealthiest used. Hence the need for Joseph of Arimathea in the plan, who apparently had such a tomb and could be told to use a removable stone. The round stone was a nice touch to complement the triumphal entry: the common man entered like a king, and left like a king. Presumably kings used round stones because only the he super wealthy had large enough tombs to need constant reuse. Middle class people later copied them so their tombs could also look posh. It would not be a big deal to ask the local stone mason to use a round stone, as Jerusalem had enough rich people for round stones to be available just in case. And it did not hurt that, as a poor man buried in a wealthy looking tomb, Jesus was like the death of the "suffering servant" in Isaiah 53.

The name "Ceasar" before AD 70

"And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him" (Mark 12:17) "'CEASAR' changed from a personal name to an imperial title in the year of the four emperors, 68-69CE. The Julio-Claudine line came to a close and Galba was the first to adopt ceasar as an imperial title." (from "anachronisms in the gospels" "Caesar" was not the title, but it was the family name and the name by which the emperors were known before 69. When the original Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, his will named Gaius Octavius as his heir. Gaius Octavius was then renamed Gaius Julius Caesar. Later (in 27 BC) he was given the title Augustus, but his regnal name, the name used in his lifetime, was "Imperator Caesar divi filius Augustus". That is, "The Emperor Caesar, son of the deified one (Julius Caesar), the one who increases (Augustus)". So Augustus was known as Caesar in everyday language. When "Emperor Caesar" became seriously ill in AD 4, Tiberius Claudius Nero was adopted as his heir, and so was renamed Tiberius Julius Caesar. His regnal name, the name by which he was known in his lifetime, was "Tiberius Caesar Augustus", that is "Tiberius Caesar, the one who increases". The common thread between emperor names is the surname Caesar. So while it was not the official title it was the name everybody used. Jesus would be unlikely to use the term "Tiberius" or "Augustus" because he was comparing the man to God in terms of his symbolic position. Tiberius the man was widely disliked by AD 36, and his personal faults would be well known to someone liked Jesus who lived near Tiberius' friend the hated Agrippa (who lived in the sycophantically named town of Tiberias). Whereas calling him "Augustus" (the one who increases) would be too admiring. Using the family name of the Caesars was thus the appropriate name to use.

Referring to "Corban" before AD 70

"For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye." (Mark 7:8-13) Some say this was not practised in AD 36: "The same opinion was remembered as an innovation, and a controversial one, credited to Eliezer ben Hyrkanus, a later figure whose career spanned the destruction of the Temple. It is thus not an issue that had been hotly debated before Eliezer’s time, e.g., by Jesus and the scribes." (from "anachronisms in the gospels" However, this is not Jesus "hotly debating" anything, he is just giving an example of "many other things" the people do wrong. Neither was it "an innovation": Philo refers to the principle, writing at the same time as Jesus or just before: "Concerning his own possessions, each one is master, except if having vowed by the name of God over them, declaring these things as given over to God" (Philo, Hypothetica 7:3) It does not take a genius to realise that this is the obvious way to avoid giving things to people. Hyrkanus may have shocked people by saying it was a good thing, but it is crazy to think that people were not quietly doing it already.

The trial

Many of the evidences for Mark being late come from the trial of Jesus. Once again this evidence for a late date tuns out to be evidence for an early date.

Crucifixion rushed before Passover Sabbath?

"According to the Gospels, Jesus died on Friday, the eve of Sabbath. Yet on that day, in view of the approach of the Sabbath (or holiday), executions lasting until late in the afternoon were almost impossible (Sifre, ii. 221; Sanh. 35b; Mekilta to Wayakhel)." (Jewish Encyclopedia, Crucifixion) Note the word "almost". Mark implies that, whatever the official rules, in practice the only day that really mattered was the Passover Sabbath: "But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people." (Mark 14:2) Hence the body had to be taken down and buried quickly, and nobody could visit it until after the Sabbath: "And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, and honourable counseller, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. [He then rushed to have Jesus buried before the Sabbath.] And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him." (Mark 15:42-43, 16:1) Many scholars have argued that a capital trial could not be rushed, and that Passover was too important to squash into just one day. So they conclude that Mark did not understand Judaism, so cannot have been there at the time. This is a perfect example of theory versus practice. Yes, in theory all laws should be kept properly. But in practice, reality trumps theory every time. Anybody in any kind of business knows that the official way and the real way are seldom exactly the same. Yet those in charge will insist that rules are being kept. Regarding the length of Passover, before AD 70, when Passover meant coming to the temple, many of those visitors were farmers. They had to get back to feed their animals. Reality meant the "no work" part of a temple visit had to be kept to a minimum. This is much like Christian farmers today celebrating Christmas: they might spend Christmas from sunrise to early afternoon dinner with their family, but then it's back to feeding the cows. And if the largest group of workers (the farmers) were working, then it is hard to argue that others cannot work. After AD 70 this changed. The temple was destroyed, so visiting the temple became impossible. Many Jews were scattered and unable to live as they used to. The rabbis had to come up with a new ways of being Jewish that did not involve the temple and all living together. And the rules had to be strict enough so the religion would still mean something. So, for whatever reason, it is now thought that no work can take place on the day before Passover Sabbath. But for somebody actually living it, at the actual temple, everyday reality says that Mark's version - bend the rules and only really worry about the Sabbath itself - has to be correct.

Trials did not happen at night

Mark describes a mob, not a sanhedrin: "a great multitude with swords and staves" (Mark 14:43) Nothing about this indicates an official trial. It is true that they were "from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" but they did not keep the sanhedrin rules, and did not show any evidence of authority in Mark. This is rather like an early twentieth century lynch mob in America: the mob might include senior people under those hoods, but the mob has no formal authority. The only authority in Mark's account was held by Pilate. Legally, all the mob did was hand Jesus to the real authority (Pilate). Pilate then tried Jesus: this trial was in the morning, not at night.

Trials are not so badly planned

"If they had suborned persons to give false evidence about Jesus, the Jewish leaders were strangely punctilious in rejecting that evidence when it was not mutually corroborated - surely they would have arranged things better, or have been less scrupulous about the rules of evidence, if they had 'rigged' the trial." (source) As noted before, the accusations from the priests and elders did not constitute a trial. The trial was with Pilate, the next day.

He should have been stoned, not crucified?

"Now we encounter one of the greatest problems of the Markan account. In the first place, although Josephus tells of many Messianic pretenders during the period A.D. 6-70, there is no record of any being condemned to death by the Sanhedrin for making such a claim. Secondly, according to Jewish Law, the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning - the death of Stephen provides a contemporary instance of this (Acts vi.l2ff.) But the Sanhedrin does not proceed to arrange for the execution of this sentence in the case of Jesus. Instead, Mark goes on to relate, without a word of explanation, that, in the morning, the Jewish authorities handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate. The charge preferred by them is not mentioned, but it was obviously a political one; for Pilate immediately asks Jesus, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' (xv.1-2.)" (source) This is more evidence for an early date. The critic is assuming Pauline theology: that Jesus' kingdom was supernatural, a promise of salvation after death. Yes, such a claim is only of interest to the religious authorities. So yes, the main charge could be blasphemy, and the penalty stoning. But that is not what the text says. The text says that the first charge was of destroying the temple: that is, insurrection. Blasphemy was only added when the first charge could not be proven. Pilate then charged him with wanting to be king: that is, insurrection again. Hence crucifixion.

Pilate would not have released a prisoner?

This is a fascinating topic, as we have to unpick many clues, and there are intriguing possibilities. First, the claim: "We know a great deal about the character of Pilate from Philo of Alexandria and Josephus. These Jewish writers agree in showing Pilate to have been a tough-minded man, ready to use force, and not one to be intimidated by the Jewish leaders and people. Consequently, if he had been convinced that Jesus was innocent, he was unlikely to have hesitated about thwarting the intention of the Jewish leaders. What Mark tells of his subsequent conduct at the Trial, is, therefore, difficult to reconcile with his character. [...] The picture of a Roman governor consulting a Jewish mob about what he should do with an innocent man is ludicrous to the extreme." (source) Is Pilate really so one dimensional? The historical site Livius has an excellent series of articles on Pilate, and they tell a different story. First, the famous quote from Philo. Philo painted Pilate as a monster, and for a very clever reason. This was not some random observation, but was a key argument that Philo made to Caligula, in order to persuade Caligula to be nice to the Jews. Philo was the Jews' smartest diplomat, chosen to head the delegation to Rome around AD 39, and this argument proved it. Philo said that the previous governor, Pilate, was a Jew hating monster, only kept in check by the wise and strong previous emperor. Philo wanted a Jewish king instead of Roman governor. His plan worked. Caligula liked the flattery, he believed Philo's story, and made Herod Agrippa the king. Agrippa was not perfect, but at least he was a Jew, so that was a big step forward. Philo was very smart. Josephus' description served a similar purpose. Josephus served the Romans at the time when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, but he wanted to soften the blow as much as possible. So he needed to paint the Jews as fundamentally reasonable, and only violent because previous governors had provoked them. If Josephus had said "the governors were all wise and fair" that would mean the Jews deserved everything they got, and many more of his family and friends would die. Like Philo, Josephus had a powerful agenda. So Philo and Josephus paint Pilate as a monster. But we have a very strong piece of evidence against that: Pilate served for ten years. Ten years! A governor usually served for just one year, or three at the most. And Pilate was in perhaps the most religiously volatile part of the empire. And even more impressive, for the first six of those years, the Syrian governor was kept in Rome: this was serious because most of the Roman troops were in Syria, not Judaea: "To Pilate, this meant that for the first six years of his term of office, he could not fall back on the Syrian governor and his troops. In case of an emergency, he and his auxiliaries were alone." (Livius) All of this means Pilate must have been a diplomatic genius, the opposite of the deliberately offensive Jew hater that Philo and Josephus described. Another clue that he was a diplomat is that he never changed the High Priest, Caiaphas. The previous governor (who also served an unusually long time, nine years) changed the High Priest three times! Another hint that Pilate was diplomatic is the coins from his period: the most inoffensive Pagan symbol on one side (a prophet's staff or "lituus") and the most inoffensive Jewish symbol (grapes, used on previous coins) on the other. Philo and Josephus offer clues that their accounts are exaggerated: they both record how the Jewish leaders could complain to Rome and get their way even when it was not needed. In the most famous case, where Pilate allegedly placed offensive shields in Jerusalem, it is not certain he even did anything wrong: "They [the offensive shields] bore no figure and nothing else that was forbidden, but only the briefest possible inscription, which stated two things - the name of the dedicator and that of the person in whose honor the dedication was made." (Philo) By the time of Josephus (thirty years later) the story of imageless shields was changed to "effigies of Caesar". In both Philo and Josephus, Pilate is described in monstrous terms, yet his actions show him to be reasonable and sensitive. In Philo's account the Jews threaten to complain to Casear. So Pilate stops, unsure what to do. So the Jews complain to Caesar anyway and get Pilate into trouble. In Josephus' account, Pilate is so moved by the Jews' strong beliefs that he ends up doing what they want. And this is the man they call a monster? The other example of Pilate supposedly being harsh is the event that (allegedly) caused him to lose his job: killing some Samaritan protesters. Once again the Jews protested and once again Pilate got into trouble. And what exactly did he do that was so bad? "The Samaritan nation too was not exempt from disturbance. For a man who made light of mendacity and in all his designs catered to the mob, rallied them, bidding them go in a body with him to Mount Gerizim, which in their belief is the most sacred of mountains. He assured them that on their arrival he would show them the sacred vessels which were buried there, where Moses had deposited them. His hearers, viewing this tale as plausible, appeared in arms. They posted themselves in a certain village named Tirathana, and, as they planned to climb the mountain in a great multitude, they welcomed to their ranks the new arrivals who kept coming. But before they could ascend, Pilate blocked their projected route up the mountain with a detachment of cavalry and heavily armed infantry, who in an encounter with the first comers in the village slew some in a pitched battle and put the others to flight." (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.85-87) Note that: these people were armed, led by a man who was known to lie and encourage mobs. So Pilate stopped them by using force. Why is that bad? But having told us that the people were armed, Josephus then reports that the Samaritans complained that Pilate was a monster and the people were innocent: "When the uprising had been quelled, the council of the Samaritans went to Vitellius, a man of consular rank who was governor of Syria, and charged Pilate with the slaughter of the victims. For, they said, it was not as rebels against the Romans but as refugees from the persecution of Pilate that they had met in Tirathana. Vitellius thereupon dispatched Marcellus, one of his friends, to take charge of the administration of Judaea, and ordered Pilate to return to Rome to give the emperor his account of the matters with which he was charged by the Samaritans. And so Pilate, after having spent ten years in Judaea, hurried to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, since he could not refuse. But before he reached Rome, Tiberius had already passed away." (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.88-89) So while Philo and Josephus say with their words that Pilate was a monster, the only examples that can give show that the people of Judaea and Samaria (and also Alexandria) had learned that if they were very careful and diplomatic, they could often get a concession from Rome by complaining that the governor was treating them badly. From Rome's point of view Judaea was not very important, and giving in to some complaint every ten years was cheaper than keeping a legion there. It's an example of real world politics working as intended. In summary, although Philo and Josephus described Pilate as a monster, reading between the lines, and comparing external evidence, indicates that Pilate was more likely to be the good diplomat that we see in Mark.

A tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover?

Matthew, written later, says there was a tradition of releasing a prisoner every Passover (Matthew 27:15). But Mark does not say that. Matthew seems to be mis-reading this passage: "And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them." (Mark 15:7-8) That second line is literally "And the multitude having cried out, began to ask for themselves as he was always doing to them" (Young's literal translation). Most people take "him" as being Pilate, and therefore "as he was always doing to them" was releasing a prisoner. But the previous verse was about Barabbas, not Pilate, and the crowd wanted him to get what he always "did to them". What did Barabbas do to the Jews? The previous verse says he was a murderer during the insurrection. That is, he took the opportunity during insurrection to murder somebody. He was a killer! Now consider the sociology of the situation. The Roman governor has a condemned murderer. The crowd is shouting to "do what he did to us!" Clearly they are baying for blood. That is the normal reaction of a crowd to a murderer. "Do what he did to us!" That is, "kill him!" Pilate then points out that he was going to release one of them. So if he kills the murderer, that means he must free the man who was going to make himself king by destroying the temple: "But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?" (Mark 15:9) When presented with that choice, the crowd begins to change its mind: destroying the temple and then calling yourself king is worse than a simple murder! "And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him." (Mark 15:12-13) Mark records the opinion (no doubt from Peter) that this was due to jealousy, but that is merely opinion: the bare facts of the case are that Jesus' alleged crime was far worse than murder (if only because any radical who wants to destroy the temple will almost certainly end up killing a lot of people). So the crowd's response, as recorded by Mark, was rational and correct.

A special reason to release a prisoner that year

The fact that Pilate was called to Rome over the business with the Samaritans raises an intriguing possibility. Note that Tiberius died in mid March, "before" Pilate reached Rome. And Rome was only 25 days away, or less if a king had his own ship and was in a hurry. And much less if Pilate was only on his way when he heard the news. Vitellius then went to Jerusalem for the AD 37 passover and was especially nice to the Jews (e.g. returning some temple privileges). Why? Because Vitellius needed the Jews to not cause trouble during the difficult time with Parthia. If I was Pilate, I would fear losing not just my job but my reputation (if Vitellius believed the Samaritan story). I would want to be back in Jerusalem before any sacking was official, so that when Vitellius arrived he could see that I was in control: efficiently dealing with the usual problems (such as the latest rebel, Jesus), and I would prove that I could placate the Jews just as well as Vitellius ever could. For example, by deciding to release a prisoner for them on Passover.

Mark invented Barabbas?

"Barabbas" can mean "son of the father". Or "son of the teacher". So, some people think it was a made up name. But every name means something. So is every name made up? Is "Pilate" made up, because it means "armed with javelins" and he told his soldier to pierce Jesus's side in fulfilment of Isaiah 53 ("he was pierced for our transgressions")? Is "Josephus" made up because it means "added" and was a hint that the author added false accounts to his history? Is the name "Bart Ehrman" made up because it means "honest son of the Ptolemies" and refers to the period of history that he studied? "Bart" means "son of Ptolemy" from "Bar-tholomew", and "Ehrman" is German of "honest man". The Ptolemies in the 160s BC kicked off the events that led to the New Testament. So clearly "Bart Ehrman" is a fictional name, probably invented decades after the supposed events of his life. And Ehrman is often misquoted, and there is no original copy (he wrote it electronically, with lots of editing), proving we can never know if Bart Ehrman even existed. Right? Dismissing a name because it means something is just parallelomania. It is easy to find parallels between ambiguous ideas, and that proves nothing.

Mark invented the prisoner release?

The reference to freeing a prisoner is evidence for the reliability of the gospel. Why create an unlikely sounding rule unless it actually existed? Was Mark just trying to make the Jews look bad? This theory fails because Mark made the Jews look good. In Mark, Jesus was accused of trying to destroy the temple. That made him a far greater threat than Barabbas: choosing to crucify Jesus makes the Jews look sensible. The real problem here is the synoptic problem: readers are using later gospels to judge earlier ones. That is, they assume that time travel existed. It is true that later gospels tried to make the Jews look good. Matthew wants to explain the events of AD 70 as punishment for killing Jesus: "his blood be upon us!" (Matthew 27:25). Luke is focused on the message going from Jews to the gentiles, so has to make the Jews look like they are rejecting the good. John is focused on Jesus as a loving God, so of course killing a loving God makes the Jews look bad! But Mark is about Jesus wanting to bring the diaspora home to tear the temple down and rebuild it. That is dangerous! Mark's Jews are making a wise choice. Of course, Mark also shows the other side, that Jesus has sincere motives. This is what makes Mark history, and not hagiography like the later gospels.

Jews would not release a prisoner on Passover?

"A Mishnah in Tractate Pesahim reads: 'A mourner, and one who is removing a heap (of debris which has fallen upon a person, and it is unknown whether he is alive or dead), and likewise one who has received a promise to be released from a prison, and an invalid, and aged person who can eat as much as an olive, one slaughters on their behalf. (Yet in the case of) all of these, one may not slaughter for them alone, lest they bring the Passover to disqualification'" (Source: "The Releasing of a Prisoner on the Eve of Passover in Ancient Jerusalem" by Charles B. Chavel, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 60, No. 3 (Sep., 1941), pp. 273-278) That is, the Passover only allows for slaughtering of meat that is to be eaten: and here the Mishnah gives cases where perhaps a person might have meat slaughtered but not be able to eat it. And one example is "one who has received a promise to be released from a prison". So the idea of releasing a prisoner on the Passover, or at least promising a prisoner that he will be released, has precedent. And to clarify, this specifically refers to heathen prisons, such as in Jesus' case, a prison controlled by Roman law: "A Palestinian Sage, R. Johanan, who flourished in the beginning of the third century, is reported to have made the following comment upon the Mishnaic expression in question: [...](The Sages) learned this (Mishnah) only of a heathen prison'" (ibid) Chavel goes on to note that Jewish law forbids release, so this must refer to a heathen releasing a prisoner on or around Passover. This is exactly what we see with Barabbas: imprisoned by the Romans, for a Roman offence, but released according to Jewish practice. Would this also apply to a terrorist? Probably, because Jewish "terrorists" were a dime a dozen. When Jesus was born, Varus had just crucified 2,000 of them at one time. Galilee was full of Zealots who would throw stones at the authorities if the could get away with it (much as today). To say that Barabbas was a terrorist is just to say he was just another prisoner. And prisoners were sometimes set free on the Passover, as the Mishnah implies.

Mark would not know what was said in the trial

In Mark, the mob that initially passed judgement could have any number of bystanders, so Mark would have a fair idea of what went on. But at the private trial before Pilate, all we know is that when Jesus was asked "Are you king of the Jews" he said "you said it." That's all. That's the kind of stoic response that a servant would have remembered later and commented on. So Mark knows only what we would expect an interested member of the public to know, unlike in the other gospels, which contain information the author cannot have known.


In conclusion, each of these cases looks wrong to many modern scholars, yet turns out to be right (or unremarkable) in Mark's day, as far as we can tell. That is, Mark shows knowledge that was lost at some later date, often by the time the other gospels were written. So these problems, that were assumed to imply a late date for Mark, end up implying an early date instead.

Dating Mark, 8 of 10:

The messianic secret

The argument

The traditional "messianic secret" argument is that secrecy in Mark reflects a conflict in the church, one that places the writing of Mark around AD 70. However, the argument is weak and has fallen out of fashion. Meanwhile, a closer look reveals several more interesting secrets. These are teachings that strongly contradict Paul and the other gospels. The fact that Mark is still in the canon, despite opposing what was taught in the late 40s (Paul's earliest letters) suggests that it was already well established by that time, with impeccable credentials. This suggests a date in the early 40s or before, and a strong connection to an important early apostle such as Peter.

William Wrede and the Messianic Secret

William Wrede argued that Mark shows Jesus with a secret: a "Messianic Secret". Wrede argued that by AD 70 the church saw Jesus as a supernatural messiah, but Jesus himself did not. In AD 70 some old people could still remember Jesus, and asked "if Jesus was the Messiah, why didn't he say so?" Wrede saw the gospel of Mark as an attempt to solve that problem: by saying that his messiah-ship was a secret!" Wrede pointed to several places in Mark where Jesus tells people to not tell people about his position or his miracles. (See Mark 1:24, 1:34, 1:43-45, 3:10-12, 4:11, 5:43, 7:36, 8:22-26, 8:29-32, 9:9). Therefore, Wrede argued, Mark represents a conflict in the church that rose decades after Jesus. And therefore, according to Wrede, Mark must have been written later, not earlier. In this section I will look at why Wrede's theory is no longer popular with scholars. I will then look at the real messianic secret: that Jesus was not supernatural, and in fact had the lowest status. I will examine this in four parts:
  1. A secret that scholars do not want to face: that Jesus opposed ruling by authority
  2. A secret that the church does not want to face: Jesus was born out of wedlock
  3. Another secret that the church does not want to face: they removed the first part of Mark because it was too embarrassing.
  4. A secret that still nobody talks about: Jesus only ran the "B" team: Mary ran the "A" team

Implications for dating Mark

The secret - that Jesus was illegitimate, and anti authority - is completely opposite to what all later believers taught, starting with Paul. (Paul hints at the secret, but apparently hates it.) So Mark cannot have been written by the church from Paul's time or later. And since Mark survives it cannot have been created by some lone maverick, or the book could simply have been ignored. So this secret dates Mark to before Paul's influence: that is, before the mid 40s.

Why Wrede's Messianic Theory is no longer in fashion.

Respected scholars like Morna Hooker reject William Wrede's Messianic Secret theory. Why? Because it contradicts the text, and it is not needed. It contradicts the text because Jesus's status as "the chosen one" was never secret. Jesus was chosen in public, at his baptism by John. This was so well known that people would routinely say "you are the chosen one". Jesus told the cleansed man (in Mark 1:44) to tell the priest he had been cleansed. It was no secret! Wrede's theory is also implausible. It requires Jesus to know that he has supernatural powers and a divine mission planned from before the world. Such man would have nothing to fear from others. John's later gospel makes this explicit: John changes the story so that Jesus can only be caught when he wants to be caught: "Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come." (John 7:30, see also 8:20, compare 2:4, 12:23). But in Mark (8:37-33) Jesus is very concerned that people will kill him. This is the obvious reason why Jesus had to limit who knew about him. Jesus was carrying on John's work, and John just got beheaded for that same work. Jesus was well known among the common people, but he had to somehow stop the authorities from finding out. Because Jesus' headquarters was just two hour's walk away from the new Herod's headquarters! So Jesus had to be extremely careful to limit what people said. Here, for example, is the famous "tell no man" statement from Mark 8: "And Jesus [...] asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men." (Mark 8:27-33) Later Christians were taught that Peter had great insight, and therefore his statement "thou art the Christ" was superior to the other statements (that Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elias). Matthew even added two verses where Jesus congratulated Peter and said "thou art Peter [the rock] and upon this rock I will build my church". But there is nothing like that in Mark. In Mark, Peter has no special insights: Jesus does not say Peter is right, and in this very same passage he is rebuked as Satan because he is wrong about something important. Once we reject the "special insight" theory then Peter's statement has no greater weight than any of the other guesses. And when we recall that "messiah" at this point merely meant "a chosen one", the statement becomes more mundane. John the Baptist chose Jesus as his successor, so the most likely explanation is that Peter meant "You are John the Baptist's chosen successor". That explains why Jesus said "tell nobody" and immediately said that "the elders, chief priests, and scribes" wanted to kill him. The "elders, chief priests, and scribes" had no authority to kill anyone, so they would have to tell the authorities that Jesus was a threat to the state. That is exactly what they ended up doing. And this is exactly the reason why John the Baptist was imprisoned (which led to him being killed): he was felt to be a threat to the state. If Peter told people "Jesus is John's successor" that makes it easy for "the elders, chief priests, and scribes" to get rid of him. "Hey Pilate, remember how John the Baptist was a threat to the state, and had to be killed? Well his successor has marched on Jerusalem!" There is another, even bigger problem with the Messianic Theory: Jesus expressly wanted to not be the king that others wanted him to be.

Jesus was anti authority

When Jesus was crucified, his enemies mocked him as "king of the Jews". By the time of Matthew and Luke and John, the believers had adopted the enemies' mocking title, as if Jesus wanted this. They even said that Jesus was like God! But in Mark, Jesus opposed all such hierarchies: "And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." (Mark 9:33-35) Jesus expressly taught that they were not to have authority figures: "But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45) The phrase "son of man" is the key. This was how Jesus wanted to be known.

The "Son of Man" was always "The Common Man"

"Son of man" appears 107 times in the Old Testament, and 93 of those are in Ezekiel. It simply means "ordinary man": all scholars agree. The title is used to contrast Ezekiel with God. Ezekiel is just an ordinary man, he is not God. This became a problem to the Christians, because "son of man" was Jesus' preferred title for himself. Jesus wanted to contrast himself with God: he was not God! "And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." (Mark 10:18) This became a problem for later Christians, because they wanted to argue the opposite: that Jesus was God, and was so from the foundation of the world. So it became very important to interpret "son of man" as having a new, opposite meaning. They tried to use Daniel and 1 Enoch to prove that the meaning suddenly changed. let us look at each claim:

The son of man in Daniel

Daniel makes it extremely clear that "son of man" means an ordinary people. If it was not clear enough that Daniel uses "son of man" in its normal meaning, in chapter 8 he uses the phrase to refer to himself: "he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision. Now as he was speaking with me..." (Daniel 8:17-18) In chapter 7 he uses the phrase to refer to "the saints of the most High". There cannot be any confusion here, because Daniel tells us four times that "the son of man" who "rules all nations" represents "the saints of the most High". I repeat: he tells us three times! There cannot be any confusion here! "In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, 'Get up and eat your fill of flesh!' After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast - terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him The court was seated, and the books were opened. Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this. So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever - yes, for ever and ever. Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws - the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell - the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. He gave me this explanation: The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself." (Daniel 7, NIV) That KJV changes "a son of man" to "the son of man", which fatally changes the meaning of the text. But the NIV and other modern translations (ASV, NASB, HCSB, etc.) are clear: the saints are symbolised by "a" son of man. Either way, Daniel tells us three times that "the one like a son of man" who was to rule the world represents "the holy people of the most High" (verse 18), "the holy people of the most High" (verse 22), "the holy people" (verse 27). Christians - and shamefully, scholars who should know better - have tied themselves in knots trying to interpret this as meaning the opposite of what it says. It means what it says: "son of man" means ordinary people, and in Daniel 7 "son of man" means "the holy people". Most scholars no longer see any hing of a Messiah in Daniel's "son of man": "Maurice Casey has spent decades studying this phrase and the latest research gives four possible variations on the precise meaning, all variations on "the common man". "The more traditional connection to the apocalyptic figure of Daniel 7:13 has, except for a few instances, generally fallen by the wayside." (source) So in Daniel there is no mention of a messiah. Daniel says that God will eventually defeat the pagan kings, presumably by having them defeated by other pagan kings, just as the Persians conquered the Babylonians,a nd the Greeks conquered the Persians. But no messiah is involved.

The son of man in 1st Enoch

1st Enoch (from around 100 BC) is often cited as the clearest pre-Christian example of a heavenly messiah: a heavenly being chosen from the foundation of the world to be born as a human and save us. Here is the key passage: Enoch is taken to heaven and shown the messiah: "And the Head of Days came with Michael and Raphael and Gabriel and Phanuel, and thousands and tens of thousands of angels without number. And he came to me and greeted me with his voice and said to me, 'You (are) that Son of Man who was born for righteousness, and righteousness dwells on you, and the righteousness of the Head of Days will not forsake you.'" (1 Enoch 71:13-14: see David Wilbur's commentary for why this is a good translation) Notice that? Enoch is surprised to find that he, himself is the messiah. And Enoch was there in his capacity as "son of man" - that is, "an ordinary man". So the clearest example of a pre Christian messiah is actually the opposite: Enoch teaches us not to wait for a heavenly being to save us, but we should save ourselves. This chapter in Enoch is part of "the similitudes of Enoch", sometimes translated "parables of Enoch". That is, it is a parable and not meant to be taken literally. So Enoch is saying that there is no heavenly messiah: the future of Israel depends on ordinary people. This is very hard for Christians to accept. Christians want to believe that the heavenly messiah concept was not invented by Paul. For example, the most famous translator of Enoch, the great R.H.Charles, felt sure that the line "you are the son of man" must be a mistake. So in his 1917 translation Charles changed "you are" to "he is" and added a note saying that the text must have been corrupted. But since that time the Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds have provided more copies, and Charles was wrong. Other scholars have argued that perhaps Enoch had just not noticed that he himself was the supernatural heavenly messiah prepared from the foundations of the world! As evidence they argue that Enoch was already treated with respect. But if this is a parable, then Enoch simply plays the role of Israel, who in Old Testament parables was called the bride groom of God, and given other titles of honour, and was part of God's plan from the beginning. So the theology is familiar. Others have argued that perhaps "son of man" had a special meaning, but no. A close examinations hows it has exactly the same meaning as in Ezekiel and the rest of the Old Testament: it just means the common man. "[T]he term 'son of man' is used in the Similitudes in exactly the same way as we know the Aramaic and Hebrew expressions 'son of man' were used elsewhere, namely as an ordinary expression for 'man'." (Maurice Casey, "The Use Of Term 'Son Of Man' In The Similitudes Of Enoch", Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period Vol. 7, No. 1 (1976), pp. 11-29) We see the same in every other reference to the "son of man" before Matthew, and every reference to "messiah" before Paul: "son of man" meant not God, and "messiah" referred to a mortal king or priest. The apocalyptic imagery (before Paul) was only understood as symbolism, to encourage every common person (every son of man) to keep the faith until one day God would deliver them. So Jesus could not have seen himself as a messiah in the sense of a ruler, because he taught the opposite (do not have authority figures) and called himself "the son of man" meaning "the common man".

Jesus was born out of wedlock

Nearly all of the references to "say nothing" can be explained by either Jesus not wanting to be killed, or not wanting to spend all his time healing. (He came to preach, not heal.) But there is one exception: one "keep quiet" passage that does not fit the pattern: "And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him." (Mark 1:34) The people are told to keep quiet "because they knew him". What does this mean? Is this proof of the supernatural, or is there a simpler explanation? The scene was Peter's house in Capernaum. Judging by how often Jesus came back to Capernaum, and by how quickly Peter left his nets to follow Jesus, Jesus was probably well known in this small town. And this created a problem: "And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them." (Mark 6:1-5) So when people "knew him" as Jesus the carpenter, it was harder for Jesus to act like a messiah. It's like the classic line in "The Life of Brian", "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy". But why was being a carpenter such a bad thing? Some carpenters are very skilled. Indeed, in later rabbinic times, "carpenter" became a synonym for "skilled person". But the implication here is of low status. And why did they mention his career and then all his family, but not his father? We will now look at other evidence that provides the answer: Jesus had to struggle to support his family because his father was not prsent. And his father had never been present! This is why a reference to "Jesus the carpenter with Mary and the family" meant he had no respect. Here is the evidence that Mary was not married to Jesus' father:

The strange nativities in Matthew and Luke

Matthew and Luke's nativity stories disagree on many details, but they both agree that Mary was unmarried when she became pregnant. This is a very strange detail to emphasise, because it was embarrassing and goes against precedent. In the Old Testament, miracle children are usually born to either old or infertile parents who are married. Being old or infertile is sufficient proof that the child came from God: see the story of Isaac's birth for example, or Samuel's birth. In other mythology, when a god has a child with a mortal, the mortal is usually married. Why? Because conceiving when unmarried was considered shameful, and also makes the god look weak, by taking advantage of somebody vulnerable. For example: Yet Matthew and Luke say that Mary conceived when she was unmarried. Why would they add that embarrassing and unnecessary detail, unless it was true?

Later gospels hint that Jesus was illegitimate

John 8:41 has the Jews answering back Jesus by saying that they are not born of fornication. The gospel of Thomas saying 105 (especially the Doresse translation) implies that Jesus was called the "Son of a harlot".

Rabbi Simeon Ben Azzai (before AD 132)

Rabbi Simeon Ben Azzai was an early rabbi known for his extraordinary scholarship. He worked harder than anybody else to unearth the truth: Ben 'Azzai's most prominent characteristic was the extraordinary assiduity with which he pursued his studies. It was said of him afterward, "At the death of Ben 'Azzai the last industrious man passed away" (Soṭah ix. 15)." (the Jewish Encyclopedia, Ben Azzai Ben Azzai lived before the Bar Kochba revolt of AD 132. Even though Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, life inmore remote regions like Galilee carried on much as before until Bar Kochba, when the Romans then drove all the Jews out of the nation. So it is reasonable that in ben Azzai's time, Jesus' local synagogue would still have records of its most famous son. Ben Azzai records that Jesus was born to an unmarried mother: "The earliest authenticated passage ascribing illegitimate birth to Jesus is that in Yeb [Yebamot, i.e. Talmud] iv. 3. The mysterious phrase ('that man') cited in this passage as occurring in a family register which R. Simeon ben Azza is said to have found seems to indicate that it refers to Jesus (see Derenbourg in 'R. E. J.' i. 293), and here occur also the two expressions so often applied to Jesus in later literature: 'that anonymous one' (the name of Jesus being avoided) and 'bastard'. Such a family register may have been preserved at Jerusalem in the Judaeo-Christian community." (the Jewish Encyclopedia, Jesus of Nazareth)

Celsus (AD 175-7)

The earliest known refutation of Christianity is "On The True Doctrine" by Celsus, probably written between 175 and 177: "Let us imagine what a Jew- let alone a philosopher- might say to Jesus: 'Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumours about the true and insavoury circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in the royal David's city of Bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a Roman soldier called Panthera she was driven away by her husband- the carpenter- and convicted of adultery? [...] I could continue along these lines, suggesting a good deal about the affairs of Jesus' life that does not appear in your own records. Indeed, what I know to be the case and what the disciples tell are two very different stories... [for example] the nonsensical idea that Jesus foresaw everything that was to happen to him (an obvious attempt to conceal the humiliating facts)." (quoted by Origen in "Against Celsus" book 1, chapter 32 etc.) Note how this sounds like something written by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris: this was the era of the great pilosophers. And note that Celsus gives the name of Jesus' real father, Panthera, and states "I know [this] to be the case". Would Dawkins or Harris write that without evidence? So it sounds like Celsus had documentary proof. Celsus accuses the Christians of being uneducated and irrational. Origen (in "against Celsus"( replies, as proof, that it's a miracle and that Jesus must be good because of the miracles. Origen thereby proves that Celsus is right! Unable to reply to logic except with bad logic. So Celsus is a far more credible source than Origen.

Mark does not mention Jesus' father

Mark mentions Jesus' mother Mary several times. He even mentions Jesus' brothers by name, He even mentions Jesus' sisters. Yet there is never a mention of a father. Is this because Jesus' father was God? No, because Jesus only became chosen at his baptism: he still needed a natural father up to that point. Later gospels are happy to name Mary's husband, and Mark is happy to mention his mother, brothers and sisters. Why not mention his father as well?

The importance of having no status

Mark repeatedly calls Jesus "the son of man": the phrase means "the common man" and emphasises the contrast with God: see the multiple uses in Ezekiel for example. Normally a Jew would be called "son of so and so" to give him some status, even if it is means nothing more than "son of an honest Jew". But "son of man" does not even claim that. This is a theme embraced by Paul: that God can take somebody with zero credentials, and yet choose them for great things. We will discuss that more in the section on Paul. This theme of God taking a nobody seems to be important to Mark and Paul. Where did it begin? Jesus said that to be the greatest you had to be the least: "And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me." (Mark 9:35-37) What did he mean by "such children"? What kind of child is "the least" among children? Which comes last of all? This does not mean that particular child was born out of wedlock, but if the disciples knew that Jesus was, that adds extra power to the message.

"Son of David"

Jesus never calls himself the son of Abraham, the usual title for a Jew or Israelite, because all biological Jews are descended from Abraham. He does not even call himself the Son of David (any messiah figure was supposed to be descended from David - see Mark 12:35), but others called him that (e.g. in Mark 10:47-48). Notably, all of his followers saw themselves in the same way at the triumphal entry, referring to "our father David" (Mark 11:10). But Jesus never made that any claims of ancestry for himself in Mark. Jesus did refer to David on two occasions. First, to justify rule breaking (Mark 2:24-28). This concerns the period when Saul was still king of Israel. This is the only clue we have to how Jesus saw David: it was natural to focus on David the early rebel, the noble hero, the underdog, and not the later David the wealthy king with hundreds of wives, able to murder and take another man's wife and get away with it. Jesus would identify with the younger David, which is crucial to understanding the next quote: "And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly." (Mark 12:35-37) This business of "the Lord said to my Lord" has caused confusion because later Christians use it to justify the trinity: as if Jesus is talking about two gods. But he is quoting Psalm 110, where the second "lord" just means human master: the same word is used in Genesis 24:54 and Genesis 32:4 referring to people. Psalm 110 is described as a song. David would often play music to his master Saul, to calm him when Saul was stressed: "And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." (1 Samuel 16:23) So the song in Psalm 110 now makes sense: "God said to king Saul, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool." This is simply David calming Saul, saying everything will be OK. Saul will win in the end. Because Saul was the chosen one: the anointed one literally a messiah. Saul did not want to be king but he was chosen, so he would win. Now take another look at what Jesus said: "How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly." Or put another way, "Why do you say that a chosen one should be descended from David? David himself said, 'God said to Saul, you are a chosen one'. Was Saul descended from David?" So Jesus was arguing that a chosen one, like Saul, did not have to be a literal descendant of David. Why would that matter? Because David was the second king after Saul, and all kings descend from him on the male line. Jesus was a Jew because his mother as a Jew (at last according to later Rabbinic rules) but apparently everybody knew that he could to claim to be a descendent of David on his father's side. Could Jesus still be a biological jew on his father's side, just not descended from David? Yes, but it is unlikely. David had hundreds of polygamous wives. So did his son Solomon. So doubt many later kings were also polygamous. So there were thousands of princes, intermarrying in this relatively small community. After a thousand years it would be extremely difficult to find somebody who did not have David somewhere in their family tree. Yet apparently Jesus' critics could confidently suggest Jesus Jesus was not descended from David. At least not on his father's side.

Jesus' strange attitude to adultery

Jesus was known for being flexible on many rules (e.g. working on the Sabbath, or lending money - see his parables). Yet when it came to divorce he was very hard line: "And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." (Mark 10:11-12) Now see how Matthew changed the words: "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Matthew 19:9) Notice two differences? First, Matthew drop the reference to a woman initiating a divorce, as though that was unthinkable. (Even though in Jesus day "Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive" - Josephus, Antiquities book 18.). Second, Matthew adds the clause that a man can put away his wife for fornication. So Jesus is both more liberal (he accepts that the natural law should allow a woman to divorce a men), and yet also more hard line: not even fornication is an excuse. Being so hard line is stranger when we remember his view on sabbath breaking: "the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath": Jesus felt that human happiness must come first. Yet when your husband or wife fornicates, you must stay together? How does that increase happiness? Matthew's removal of a wife's rights is a clue. Back then, misogyny was normal. Women almost always got the worst end of the deal. So when a woman is divorced "for fornication" she was often innocent: either the man and his friends were extremely biased or perhaps he was raped. And then the woman is branded as a harlot, finds it hard to remarry (unless she is rich), and it was hard for any woman to find a job. So removing the "fornication" clause would save some women from misery, yet at the cost of forcing some to stay with abusive husbands. Which can be even worse. So it is hard to explain why Jesus was so hard line on just this one point... unless his mother Mary was unfairly divorced for fornication. According to Celsus (see below) Mary was accused of fornication, was kicked out, and had to support herself (and probably many children) in the tiny amount she could earn as a seamstress, in competition with other women at the very bottom of society. And Jesus went to Egypt to try to learn a trade: if we has the oldest son he would have to try to support the family. You can see why Jesus would burn with hatred at the law that let men divorce their wives for fornication, ruining their lives and the lives of their children, when nine times out of ten the wife was innocent.

Mary acted like a single mother

In Jesus' day, a woman had low status. The order of importance was husband first, then male children, then the wife and daughters. Yet there are clues that Jesus' mother Mary was proud and assertive. This is not the behaviour of a wife in a strongly patriarchal society. But it is exactly the behaviour a single woman who gets nothing from men, so has to learned to grab every tiny opportunity with both hands. For details, see the section on Mary as leader of Jesus' "A" team. So it was well known in the early days that Jesus was born out of wedlock. It seems likely that this was originally included in Mark, but that the church removed the first page. We will look at that next.

Jesus acts like the child of a single mother

Jesus was a strange paradox: an extremely religious Jew who seemed to dislike Judaism. He felt that religious people were all backsliding hypocrites, and wanted to fulfil the prophecies of the return of the diaspora and purifying the temple. Yet at the same time he was flexible with the law (especially over Sabbath keeping) and was happy to pay taxes to Caesar. It is not even clear that, if he destroyed the defiled temple, he would hury to rebuild it: he seemed to prefer Jeremiah's new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) where the law is written on the heart, not in external books and rituals. Similarly we see his paradox of "the least" being "the greatest": he identified with the weakest child, and hated authority of any kind, yet also wanted to organise the overthrow of the system. Finally we have his driven nature. He describes the kingdom of God in terms of growth (e.g. the mustard seed), often of economic growth (e.g. the talents). John descrbed him as veing full of spirit. His ambition was enormous: to lead the diaspora back to Israel! He also had a pessimistic nature - thinking the problems with Agrippa would lead to complete collapse. And then we have his middle class contacts yet identifying with the poorest. This all suggests somebody who had to struggle for every penny he got, somebody who saw huge opportunites and threats everywhere, somebody who could never relax, somebody who learned to make people like him because he had no other assets. All of this would be natural for the child who grew up being blamed for something not his fault, and not his mother's fault. He would want to prove that he was more righteous than his accusers, while at the same time hating the laws that created such pain. He would identify with the weakest, while at the same time wanting to smash everything and start again. He would see huge opportunities everywhere, and huge dangers everywhere. He would be Jesus.

Footnote: the autistic kid wants to fix everything?

As a footnote, It is tempting to wonder if Jesus was autistic. Here is the evidence: Of course, we cannot be sure that Jesus was autistic. As an autistic person I am maybe just projecting.

The church removed the first part of Mark

There are many clues that Mark originally included a section on Jesus birth, that hinted (or stated) that he was born out of wedlock.

Clue 1: no nativity story

Even a casual reader can see that the start of Jesus life is missing and should be there. Because Mark is a biography, and biographies always start with a statement about a character's birth. This was especially true in ancient times, when parental genealogy was so important. Consider the most popular biographies of the era, such as Plutarch's "Parallel Lives":
  1. Theseus: starts with lengthy section on parentage.
  2. Romulus: ditto.
  3. Lycurgus. Ditto. In each case Plutarch makes clear that little is known, yet he still does his best to fill in the origin, because that is important.
  4. Numa. At first it looks like Plutarch jumps right into the action, but by section 4 he focuses on Numa's birth and childhood. Because these things matter!
  5. Solon: starts with his mother and father.
  6. And so on.
Or if we restrict ourselves to the Old Testament: Jesus compared himself to David, and we know David's birth and childhood. We also know about the parents (or equivalent) of the other central figures in Jewish history: Adam, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. And even Ezra ("son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest" - Ezra 7:1)) The gospel of John (written decades after mark) might look like an exception, but John starts even earlier, with Jesus' origins before his birth: his father in heaven. But with Mark we don't hear of his father at all. Although we do get later references to his mother. Where is the essential part at the beginning where Mark explains Jesus' parents? It feels like we are starting at chapter two! The only times that the Bible fails to give parents is when the story is not about that person: they are just a bit player in somebody else's story. The book of Kings for example is really the story of the kingdom of Israel. Hundreds of years and dozens aof people are compressed into just a few chapters. Those individuals are not the focus, so we often don't see their parentage. But the gospel of Mark is very clearly about Jesus. Jesus is not a bit player! So it is inconceivable that Mark does not start with Jesus' parents.

Clue 2: hints that Jesus was illegitimate

Elsewhere we just discussed the copious evidence that Jesus was illegitimate. Would Mark have hinted tat that? Well he didn't ind calling Peter "Satan" and recoring where Jesus got angry. And he was writing to the people of Rome (as we can see from Latin words and from external histories), and they were less opposed to illegitimacy than the Christians were. (Rome later gave illegitimate children the same property as other children, but that law was reversed when the Christians came to power.) Mark also emphasised Jesus' low status, calling him "the common man" and saying the lowest were the be the highest. So it would be natural for Mark to mention Jesus' illegitimate birth to the Romans, in support of his thesis.

Clue 3: the lost ending

The earliest copies of Mark abruptly end in the middle of a sentence, in Mark 12:8. There are at least two other endings in later manuscripts, indicating that the church was not happy with the original cut off. Many believers have tried to argue that perhaps Mark intended this abrupt ending, but that seems unlikely: "to most persons accustomed to the cadence of a Greek sentence, whether Attic or vulgar, this [the ending at 16:8] is almost enough of itself to prove that the conclusion is mutilated. (Crawford Burkitt, "The Historical Character of the Gospel of Mark" in The American Journal of Theology Vol. 15, No. 2, Apr. 1911)" In his paper, Burkitt examines possible reasons for the abrupt ending: perhaps Mark intended it that way? No, that's just bad writing at the most important part. Perhaps the last page was simply lost? No other gospels had endings (or beginnings) lost like that. He concludes that the most likely reason is that the original ending was deliberately torn off at a very early stage, where the transmission of the document relied on a single copy. Such a mutilation would probably damage other parts as well, and Burkitt points out strange word choices in Mark that are hard to explain as a copyist's error but easy to explain by a missing letter due to damage. So it looks like somebody very early on found the ending to be very unsatisfactory. Or maybe the ending was fine? Maybe that was not the reason it is missing? Mark's ending right now lacks the supernatural resurrection. What could have been worse in the original? It's not as if Mark would end by saying "by the way it's all nonsense". Mark was a Christian, trying to help the church. If the problemqwas the lack of a big ending, why tear it off an leave essentially the same non-ending? Unless... maybe we have been looking at the wrong end of the book? Maybe the missing end was just a side effect, a result of a totally different change? Consider how an early letter of codex (book) was made: As you can see, papyrus was routinely folded. This should be obvious: if a text had to be carried, then folding kept it all in place. Thicker scrolls might be rolled, and expensive thicker books might be square bound with individually sewn in pages. But for small documents like Mark, folding was the cheapest, easiest way to keep the parts together. Was Mark a scroll or a codex? No surviving early Christian text is a scroll, they are all codices. This indicates that Christians were early adopters. So Mark was probably in the codex form, folded like a modern magazine or newspaper. Which means that if the first page comes off, the last page also comes off. Remember that there are very few early copies of Mark: it seems to have been used more as a reference (e.g. for writing Matthew and Luke), and not intended to stand on its own as a missionary pamphlet for outsiders, like Matthew or Luke. So a missing start and end would not matter much: the person using it as a reference would be an insider who already knew the basics. So the missing end could be a side effect of a missing start. But which is more likely? The last page of a book is often blank, depending on the length of the book. Or it is often just a few lines and "The End". But the first page is always full. So the first page will tend to have more material than the last. So if something was embarrassing, it is more likely to be from the start than the end. And as we will see, the original start of Jesus life was very embarrassing to the church.

Clue 4: early copies are arranged as if something is missing

In many early New Testament manuscripts, Matthew, Luke and John can easily be divided into sets of four pages or columns. This makes sense if they were originally separate pamphlets, folded like a magazine or newspaper: the pages would be a multiple off four because each sheet had a front and back and was folded in the middle. But Mark is the odd one out. It does not neatly divide into four, as if the source material had some pages missing. For details, see R. Way-Rider, "The Lost Beginning of St. Mark's Gospel," in: Studia Evangelica (Vol. 7, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1982) pp. 553-556.

Clue 5: Jesus is not introduced

When Jesus is first mentioned in Mark (the version we ave now) it's nine verse in, and he just walks in. As if we should already know who he is. "And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan." (Mark 1:9) This is not much different from the next time Jesus is mentioned: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark 1:14) Reading Mark is like walking in ten minutes after the start of a movie: it looks like we missed the introduction, but what was it?

Clue 6: the start was edited by a different person

We saw in the summary of Mark that the opening references to Malachi and Isaiah are crucial tom the book. They define the gospel (from Isaiah, the good news that the diaspora should return, and from Malachi, Jesus' goal to cleanse the temple. Without those two prophecies the rest of Mark doesn't make much sense. But ince we start with those, all the references to a message and destroying the temple suddenly fall into place. So clearly these passages were important to Mark. And they are extremely famous passages, and if you know your scriptures at all they are hard to confuse: Isaiah is the most important of "the prophets" (as in "the law and the prophets") and Malachi is the last of the prophets, who ends the Old Testament with the great promise that the Lord will one day cleanse his temple. So Mark could not confuse these two passages. Yet somebody did: Mark 1:2 wrongly credits Malachi's scripture to Isaiah! "as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” (Mark 1:2, NIV) So Mark quotes Malachi 3:1 with great knowledge and understanding, and somebody credits that to Isaiah! To save embarrassment, some translations (e.g. the KJV) change "Isaiah" to "the prophets" but the Greek definitely says Isaiah". So it looks like somebody sloppy - not Mark himself - has edited the beginning of Mark. The quotations themselves are essential to the book, so they were probably in the original. But they cannot have been part of a neat starting point like now, or why change them at all? Some scholars have also argued that starting a story with the word "as" is a sign that earlier verses wee removed. But others say that, while strange, there are a few precedents. The scholar Pawel Rytel-Andrianik showed possible explanations for the strange beginning, in his paper "Mark 1:1-3. A Later Addition to Mark's Gospel?" He showed that, if this is the only evidence, it is not enough to prove that Mark was changed. However, this is not the only evidence. When we add all the other evidence (that the editor did not know about Malachi, that there is no birth account or introduction, that the end was also removed, that other evidence indicates an embarrassing original nativity story, etc., then the balance tips toward it being likely that yes, this was a change.

Clue 7: Mark 1:1 reads like a publisher's description

THe first verse in the published version reads: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;" (Mark 1:1) In some of the earliest versions, the phrase "the Son of God" is missing. The first line just reads: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (Mark 1:1) Why add "the beginning" unless it was not clear that this was the beginning? Without this line, the book starts "as it is written..." as if half way through a chapter. And what about that phrase "the gospel of Jesus Christ"? It implies that "gospel" means "biography of Jesus", the later meaning we have today. But in every other part of Mark, "gospel" has its original meaning: good news, such as news that a battle is won. In Mark, except for this one line, it always refers to the news from verse three, that it is time for the diaspora to return. So it looks like the first line, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ", was added later because without it the book looks like it starts in the middle. Taking all the evidence together, it does look like the church removed the first page from Mark, where Mark shows that Jesus beginning was as humble as it could be.

Mary ran the "A" team

What was Mary doing when she followed Jesus? Just meekly standing in the background, being a passive and submissive woman? Here are the clues that she was doing much more:

Clue 1: Jesus kept secrets

Jesus often told people not to say anything, in case he was killed. It's the whole reason for the first "Messianic Secret" theory. So we should expect some of his work to be secret.

Clue 2: the apostles could not reach Jesus' goals

Jesus' goals were to bring home the diaspora and dismantle a corrupt temple (see for example Mark 1:2-3 and Mark 13). He could not achieve that with the apostles, as they appeared to be unskilled, have modest financial means, and were generally clueless. Take Peter the fisherman for example: the most prominent disciple simply did not understand what Jesus wanted: "But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men." (Mark 8:33) And later, "And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Mark 14:30) And later, in Acts, he abandoned Jesus' teaching about not leading by authority, and set himself up as above others (see the summary of Acts).

Clue 3: the mysterious white robed men

Who were the white robed men who removed Jesus' body? "And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid." (Mark 16:4-8) And what was going on in this night time meeting? "And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked." (Mark 51-52)

"Secret Mark" written decades after Mark?

More detail about the white robes comes in a manuscript widely known as "Secret Mark", allegedly a fragment of a longer version of the gospel written by Mark and preserved in Alexandria (where Mark spent some time). Scholarly opinion is evenly divided over whether the manuscript is genuine or a forgery. The forgery claims mostly rely on using parallelomania, and are easily answered. So it is probably not a modern forgery, but is it an ancient forgery? The key clue, that no scholar seems to have noticed, is that Secret Mark contains a clearly supernatural story whereas canonical Mark contains nothing supernatural. This places Secret Mark in the category of Matthew, Luke and John, and distances it from canonical Mark. In Secret Mark, Jesus raises a dead follower who was not merely lying still (as in the case of the daughter of Jairus) but had actually been entombed. So this is much harder to explain in a non-supernatural way. Unless of course he was faking death, practising a technique to help Jesus survive his expected crucifixion. But Occam's razor says a supernatural interpretation is more likely. If the event was intended as supernatural then the document must at least be decades later than canonical Mark, and thus much less useful. Perhaps Mark himself began to think of Jesus as supernatural? Perhaps it was second century forgery? In either case, Secret Mark still provides evidence of a tradition that Jesus had a secret inner group of followers. The white robes would be Jesus modelling himself on the scriptures (Genesis 35:2, Exodus 28:2, Leviticus 16:23-24, Numbers 20:26, Zechariah 3:1, etc.) just as he did when entering Jerusalem, when planning up a mountain with smoke, choosing twelve followers, and so on.

Clue 4: organising behind the scenes

Who organised the young horse (the colt) to be ready before Jesus arrived? "And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go." (Mark 11:1-6)

Clue 6: his other representatives

"And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." (Mark 13:5-6) If the apostles are the only ones leading the church, why does this need to be said? How could anyone "deceive" them? Unless there is some other group that might have a claim to represent Jesus: some other group that Jesus might visit before visiting the apostles.

Clue 7: his wealthy followers

Mark mentions the woman with the expensive box of perfume, and Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, and Joseph of Arimathea. These are all people with money and / or status. Their status means they could not simply follow Jesus in the crowd. If later gospels are to be believed there were many people like this: the centurion, Nicodemus, etc. Jesus often tailored his message to issues that are relevant to the rich and not the poor: parables about rulers and stewards with substantial money, and the teaching that followers would have to give up "lands" (Mark 10:30), and so on. See the discussion of oral history, how all new religions rely on middle class followers for funding, and the details in Rodney Stark's essay.

Clue 8: his family acted as apostles

Our earliest reference to the apostles, other than Mark, is in Galatians 1:18-19. It names James the brother of Jesus as an apostle. The only other apostle mentioned is Peter, suggesting that James was just as important at an early stage. "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:18-19) When Peter died or disappeared (Acts 12), James the brother of Jesus ran the church: the person named as "Peter" in Acts 15 is clearly of lower rank than James. The gospel of Thomas (which may or may not be extremely early) has Jesus saying that if he was not there, James his brother should run the church: "The disciples said to Jesus, 'We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?'" Jesus said to them, 'Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.'" (Gospel of Thomas 1:12) (James the brother of Jesus was also known as "James the Just" or "James the Righteous".) So we see that, apart from his twelve public apostles, Jesus also relied on his family behind the scenes. And he may have considered them as more important.

Clue 9: his family were near when the apostles were called

"And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: [The twelve are then named.] and they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? [...] There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.." (Mark 3:13-14, 19-23, 31-34) This is often taken as Jesus rejecting his family. But strictly speaking it is him adding more people to his family: we know that at least James was a believer, and no doubt the rest also. (The phrase about "his friends" thinking he is mad is sometimes assumed to include his family, but the Greek only means his friends.) Notice that his family are there on the day when he chose his twelve public disciples. Why are they there? To offer him bread? No: the phrases "could not so much as eat bread" is not about lack of bread, but the crush of people that apparently made Jesus very angry ("beside himself"). He wanted to eat bread with his new apostles, and no doubt explain his plans, but instead a crowd has taken over the house. And why are scribes from Jerusalem up here in Galilee? This is a major event. He wanted his new apostles, and presumably his family were to be involved. If he could involve scribes from Jerusalem that would be even better. But instead the crush of people turned the event into chaos, Jesus was "beside himself" and the scribes were not impressed. At that point his family interrupted. Why did they interrupt him? To rescue him? Or did they have business? Most scholars think the "friends" who tried to calm him down included his family, so this is the second time they tried to control him. That is, the second time they showed that they had equal or greater status. This might draw attention to Mary's role with the secret "A" team, so possibly that is why Jesus spoke, to draw attention away from them. As if to say "my family? Oh, them. They are not more important than you guys. No sir. Definitely not."

The proof

So far we have only seen hints that Jesus had secret followers, as well as the public apostles, with his family helping behind the scenes. In Mark chapter the public apostles and secret followers meet: "And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark 9:1) This follows a chapter about the coming dangers and final triumph. This is the context for what follows: Jesus expects the Kingdom of God to arrive "with power". But how is that to be achieved, with just twelve mostly clueless apostles? Now we find out: "And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them." (Mark 9:2) Jesus earlier chose the twelve apostles on a mountain (Mark 3:13). This seems to be where he goes to be alone with his leaders. There are obvious parallels with Moses going up his mountain to become leader of the twelve tribes of Israel. "Transfigured" means a change in how we see someone, not to a physical change. That is, according to the earliest non-Markan uses of the Greek word in the New Testament. E.g. Romans 12:2 "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." or 1 Corinthians 3:18 "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." "And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them." (Mark 9:3) Fishermen like Peter would have little or no experience of expensive clothing. The "linen" robe may have been "sea silk", fine clothing made from byssus molus, an expensive rarity. "Historical references to sea silk in documents from ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece, Persia and China remain somewhat mysterious and unclear, talking variously of a fine white cloth of great value, sea wool, fine linen, pinna wool, cloth from the west of the sea, and mermaid silk." (from the "Design and Make" glossary) Or it could simply have been high quality linen. Presumably Jesus let his outer robes fall, and this was the first time the apostles saw the white robes worn by Jesus' wealthier followers. Later when the robes are seen again it is at night (Mark 14:51) or inside a dark tomb (Mark 16:5). This would be both the first time and the only time in bright sunlight, so the clothing obviously made an impact. It is also possible that, with Jesus ahead of them slightly further up the mountain, as he removed his cloak they saw sunlight shining through the fine linen. That would be amazing! "And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus." (Mark 9:5) A few verses later Jesus refers to either himself or John the Baptist (then dead) as Elias, so these are clearly not the original people, but are symbolic code names. Recall that, according to Mark 1:2-3, Jesus' two goals were to return the diaspora (like Moses) and cleanse the temple (like Elias - see Malachi 4 - Mark quoted Malachi 3). So the person tasked with reaching the diaspora would be a Moses, and the one assigned to temple plans would be an Elias. "And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid." (Mark 9:5-6) Thus the secret followers are the "A" team, and Peter, who has no idea what is going on, is the "B" team. "And there was a cloud that overshadowed them"... (Mark 9:7) The Greek word used for cloud is "nephele", and Strong's concordance explains: "used of the cloud which led the Israelites in the wilderness" (Strong) Jesus already used the imagery of the mountain, and twelve apostles matching the twelve tribes (a connection pointed out in Revelation), and of the fine white clothing such as was worn by Moses' priests. Since they have a "Moses" in their secret ranks, and are planning to lead Israel back to their homeland, it is natural that they would create light a fire to create smoke like on Moses' holy mountain immediately after the receiving the ten commandments (Exodus 20:18-21), or the smoke from the fire that Moses kept burning at the head of the procession in the wilderness. (Exodus 13:21-22) ..."and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him." (Mark 9:7) This is clearly modelled on the voice from the darkness of the smoke in Exodus 20:18-21. It is similar to the voice of the Greek oracles: typically a woman would hide in the darkness of a cave and speak for the gods in a frenzied way. The contemporary of Jesus, Philo of Alexandria, wrote many popular books to prove that the Greeks merely copied Moses. The Egyptians (in Per-Wadjet, east of Alexandria) had similar oracles. Note that the oracle representing god was usually a woman. We saw earlier that the "voice from heaven" at Jesus' baptism was an example of "Bat Kol" (or "bat kol"), the "daughter of a voice", any spontaneous voice that was taken as a message from God. And that the words and context indicate it would be spoken by Jesus' mother, Mary. The same reasoning, and that precedent, indicate that this voice was probably also Mary. Mary was clearly intensely proud of her son, and was involved with the secret followers. Given that the secret followers took on the most important roles, and that whoever looked after them must completely understand Jesus, be incapable of betraying him, and be able to move freely without arousing suspicion, only Mary would be qualified for the role. So Mary probably ran this "A" team while Jesus was the public face of the movement. "And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves." (Mark 9:8) Perhaps they were spotted: the smoke would attract attention from far away. Secrecy was vital, so the secret followers needed to disappear at the slightest hint of danger. "And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead." (Mark 9:9) It appears that the plan to survive crucifixion probably failed: Mark does not record a success, as far as we can tell. The references by Paul to seeing Jesus could easily be in a spiritual sense, and the later stories in Matthew and Luke are supernatural - that is, not part of the real world. It appears from the book of Acts that Peter did not know what to do and ended up reversing Jesus' "no authority" policy and Jesus teaching to rule by love: Peter created a hierarchy and ruled by fear. So the secret followers, lacking any direction, probably returned to their previous lives. But while Jesus lived, it looks like Mary probably ran the "A" team, the secret followers with the money, the connections, and the big plans.

Dating Mark, 9 of 10:


The argument

Mark is sometimes dated as late because (allegedly) Paul does not quote from Mark: "He (Paul) was widely traveled and knew a lot of Christian communities – certainly all the major ones in major urban areas of his day. And Paul gives no indication that he had ever heard that there were Gospels about Jesus. Maybe he knew of them and just chose to ignore them in his letters, but for a variety of reasons, that seems unlikely. And so it appears that the Gospels were not in circulation yet in the 50s CE." (Bart Ehrman, "How Do We Know When the Gospels Were Written?" quoted in the Dutch Maverick blog) However, the logic works both ways. Mark does not quote Paul. So by the same logic, Mark must be completed before Paul came into circulation. Paul's ideas were apparently in circulation in the 40s, because that led to the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), which can be dated at either AD 49 or possibly even AD 43 or 44. So the same logic that puts Mark in the 60s can also date Mark to AD 42 or before. A closer look shows that Paul is probably dependent on Mark, suggesting that Paul (writing in the 40s and later) was later than Mark.

Does Mark rely on Paul?

Some scholars argue that Mark depends on Paul, others that Paul depends on Mark. Let us look first at the claim that Mark relies on Paul.

Mark on the mystery of the kingdom

"Notice that Mark 4:11 says 'the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you.' At first reading this does not make sense. Matthew and Luke edited this statement by Jesus to 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven/God' (Matt 13:11, Luke 8:10). The evangelists are all referring to 1 Cor 15:50-51 where Paul mentions 'mystery' and 'kingdom of God.'" ("anachronisms in the gospels" "Mystery" in Mark 4:11 cannot be a reference to 1 Corinthians 15, because Paul uses the world in a completely different sense: as something fundamentally hard to understand (like spiritual resurrection: what does that even mean?), rather than Jesus' sense of a simple teaching that he chooses to hide in a story (like the story of sowing seeds: he is really talking about teaching). There is nothing in Jesus' statement that "does not make sense" at first reading: Jesus even explains it in the previous and following verses. His "mystery" (literally "hidden thing") was simply that he hod his message in a story. It was common at the time to teach "mysteries" that way. The most popular Jewish writer of the time, Philo, had book after book full of allegories about the mysteries of God. For example: "for it may not be permitted to all men to behold the secret mysteries of God, but only to those who are able to cover them up and guard them;" (Philo, Allegorical Interpretation II, 57) Or, concerning a person who wants wisdom: "For he does not incline downwards to the things dear to the body and to the earth, from which he separates himself, and studies to alienate himself as far as possible but he is borne upwards, being insatiably devoted to sublime, holy, magnificent, and happy natures. Therefore, also, Moses will be summoned upwards, the steward and guardian of the sacred mysteries of the living God. " (Philo, Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter, 25) Or, concerning a person who can see deeper meanings in Bible stories: "they are initiated in the true mysteries relating to the living God. " (Philo, On the Unchangeableness of God, 61) So Mark is not quoting Paul: he is talking about something completely different. Mark 4:11 is not based on 1 Corinthians 15. However, the start of 1 Corinthians 15 is probably based on Mark, as we will see later.

Mark's Christology based on Paul?

"Mark's Jesus, adopted as his son by God at his baptism (Gal 4:5-7, Rom 8:13-16), taught Pauline Christianity. Paul’s Christology was gleaned from the epistles (Gal 1:12, 3:1, Rom 1:2, 15:4, 16:25-26)" ("anachronisms in the gospels" It is true that both Mark and Paul teach of an ordinary person (Jesus) who later becomes a chosen one (Christ). But who was first to teach it? Mark's christology cannot be based on Paul, because Mark's Christ is geographically limited (he wants to gather the Jewish diaspora back to their land), but Paul's Christ is for the gentiles across the whole world. Why would Mark grow up with the Jewish messiah, read Paul's expanded version, and then bring it back to the original Jewish version again? What has Paul added? However, Paul's christology simply takes Mark's Christology to its logical conclusion. Mark taught of a Jewishness that does not rely on a strict adherence to the law. Paul simply asks "then why restrict it to Jews?"

Mark Chiastically quotes Paul?

"Mark 12:10-36 is organized: quote from Ps 118 which is also quoted at Rom 8:31, teaching parallel to Rom 13:1-7, Teaching parallel to 1 Cor 15:12-14, Teaching parallel to 1 Cor 15:35-51, teaching parallel to Rom 13:8-10, quote from Ps 110 which is also quoted at 1 Cor 15:25. Mark organized that section Ps, Rom, 1 Cor, 1 Cor, Rom, Ps. This is a chiastic structure that the reader could only discern if he knew Romans and 1 Corinthians. Every pericope in Mark has a chiastic structure and the entire gospel is organized chiastically. The organization of Mark 12:10-36 cannot be a coincidence, the author must have been familiar with Paul’s epistles." ("anachronisms in the gospels" Chiasm (ideas in the order A-B-C-B-A, or A-B-C-D-C-B-A etc.) was a common way to organise ideas in ancient times: it made ideas easier to remember through repetition and linking both forwards and backwards. However, the example given is not chiastic. The clue is in the name:"chiaso" means "shaped like the letter chi", the Greek letter "X". Chiasmus refers to all ideas building to the central point (the middle of the X) and then repeating in reverse order. The point of chiasmus is to emphasise the central idea. But in the alleged example, "Ps, Rom, 1 Cor, 1 Cor, Rom, Ps" there is no central idea, but instead two different ideas. This is called "antimetabole", not chiasmus". More seriously, this is only antimetabole if we ignore all the parts of Mark 12:10-36 that don't fit. Like verses 12,13,14,15, etc. We just call the filler, until we decide we need to prove something different, and then they become the important parts and he other parts become filler. So the chiastic claim (or even the antimetabole claim) is weak. If I had more time I am sure I could find weak patterns in Paul that are somehow weakly similar to random parts of Mark. All that would prove is that I was clutching at straws. Now let us examine the supposed parallels: do they even exist? "quote from Ps 118 which is also quoted at Rom 8:31" The quote from Psalm 118 is "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone". But Romans 8:31 is completely different: "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31) I cannot find any clear allusion to the rejected cornerstone reference in any of Paul's writings (it is quoted in 2 Peter, but not by Paul). The alleged parallel to different kinds of resurrection is also missing from Mark 12 ("Teaching parallel to 1 Cor 15:35-51"). And the idea that Mark is quoting Romans 13:8-10 (which paraphrases Exodus 20) in Mark 12:28-30 is absurd: he is quoting the Shema, perhaps the most famous Jewish scripture of all Deuteronomy 6:4-9. But a couple of the other alleged parallels might be worth examining: "render to Caesar" and Mark on resurrection.

"Render to Caesar" is based on Paul?

"Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" (Romans 13:7) This has a similar structure to: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17) However, they are arguing for different positions. Mark's account is about Jesus being clever and evasive because he says the state is so evil that it will be given to somebody else (the previous parable of the husbandman). So the Herodians (followers of king Herod) and Pharisees are sent to "catch him at his words". They ask him about taxes and he gives a brilliant response that, on the surface, says "pay your taxes" so they cannot catch him out. But it can also be read the other way: "give Caesar what he deserves". So it is consistent with Jesus' previous message that the rulers (the local rulers at least) will be overthrown because God is angry with them. In contrast, Paul has the opposite message: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. [...] For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing." (Romans 13:1,6) So the teachings are not parallel. But the phrasing of that one verse is similar. It could be coincidence, but for sake of argument let us say that one man is inspired by the other. Who is inspired by who? Mark's account is almost treasonous. But Paul defends the status quo. In which direction is change likely to happen? From treasonous to obedient, or obedient to treasonous? If Mark was written after Paul he might be angry during some Roman persecution, but unable to say so out loud. But given how veiled his message is, it could equally fit at any time in the first century. If he was more angry at the coins, like the Book of Revelation (Revelation 13:7), that would be a clear sign. But it is not. In fact, given that "render unto Caesar" is superficially pro-Rome, it is unlikely to be written at a time of conflict or persecution: so that rules out the AD 60s or 70s, the usual dates suggested. As usual, experience of real world religions helps here. When religious movements are very new they need to be radical to be noticed. They have nothing to lose. But as they grow larger they have more to lose: the more they need diplomacy. So religions typically become more law abiding as they grow larger. Given that Mark is treasonous and Paul supports the state, it is more likely that Mark came first.

Mark's teaching on resurrection is based on Paul?

Mark 12: 18-27 discusses resurrection. So does 1 Corinthians 15. But is one is based on the other? Mark 12 has nothing about Jesus rising from the dead, and does not use Paul's argument, so it is unlikely that it as based on 1 Corinthians 15. However, Mark 8:31, 14:58 and 15:29 do indicate that Jesus planned to rise again after three days, and Mark 16:6 said he was risen. But they say nothing about anyone else rising from the dead, or of putting "everything" under Jesus' feet: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:22-28) See how Paul rests heavily on Psalm 8: "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:6-9) Paul sees this as total conquest of everything, starting as soon as Jesus appears: "Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power." (1 Corinthians 15:22-24) In these early letters, the second coming was expected at any day. So this is the message of the resurrection: Jesus will come any day, then the dead will rise, all nations will be conquered, then the world ends. It ie easy to see this as building on the urgency of Mark, where everything happens "immediately" and the book ends telling people to gather in Galilee (no doubt waiting for the reinforcements from the Damascus diaspora) and then the events of Mark 13. Paul says that the resurrection cannot be separated from the other teachings: it either happens together of they are all wasting their time: "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." (1 Corinthians 15:13-18) As time went on the emphasis was more on forgiving sins than on Jesus coming back. So by the time of Matthew and Luke, the ending became more comfortable: for the church to settle down for the ling haul. But the early Paul was motivated by the urgency of the second coming, and that can only have come from Mark, or from the very same teachings heard first hand. So that dates the teachings of Mark to earlier than the teachings of Paul.

Does Mark's emphasis on weakness depend on Paul?

Mark emphasises Jesus' human weaknesses (see Mark 1:45; 5:9, 30; 6:5, 38, 48; 7:24; 8:12, 23; 9:16, 21, 33; 11:13; 14:14.) Some see this as evidence that Mark supported Paul's idea that the mortal Jesus was part of an inferior old covenant, whereas the risen Jesus is supernatural and perfect. That would work, except... Mark opposes Paul at every turn. Mark has nothing about Paul's supernatural Jesus: Mark's Jesus is always the common man, the "son of man", even in Mark 13. Also, Mark wants to gather Israel (see Mark 1:2-3 and Mark 13), whereas Paul is all about the gentiles. Also, Paul supports hierarchies (you must do what the apostle says!) whereas Mark opposs them (Mark 10:40-43). But worst of all, the central message of Mark is the same as Malachi, quoted at the start and implied through the references to Elias: the people need good works. Not to be saved, but so that Israel the nation can be free. Paul spends most of his time preaching against good works, and for individual salvation through right belief. They are completely different. Howeverm, it is easy to see how Paul's doctrine could develop using Mark as a starting point. We will get to that later.

Mark and defining the gospel

Tom Dykstra has a different argument (in his book "Mark, Canonizer of Paul"): he says that Mark talks of the gospel, yet does not define it, therefore (according to Dykstra) Mark must assume his readers already know Paul's version. However, Mark does define the gospel, the good news, right at the start: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Mark 1:1-3) The first reference is to Malachi and the cleansing of the temple. The second is to Isaiah and the gathering of the diaspora. That is the message, the good news of Jesus. We see both most dramatically in Mark 13. Mark 1 then continues by talking about John the Baptist, which links us to Josephus and the great sign that Herod's armies were about to be defeated. That is the good news: the time has come! Call the diaspora home and cleanse the temple! It is true that the original beginning of Mark probably made that clearer: the mistake in verse 2 argues that this is a letter summary of what was presumably a longer section in the original. But even the current verse 2 is enough to show Jesus' purpose: gather the diaspora and cleanse the temple. The same purpose that Isaiah and Ezekiel and Malachi and all the great prophets taught. This gospel was nothing new and would be familiar to anyone who read the scriptures. And yet it is very different from Paul's gospel of grace to gentiles.

The parable of the vineyard parallels Paul?

"He then began to speak to them in Parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He still sent another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, "They will respect my son." But the tenants said to one another, "This is the heir. Come, lets kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."" (Mark 12:1-9) One critic suggests that "The renting of the vineyards to others can only mean the preaching of the good news to the gentiles." No, the parable is about a vineyard: a piece of land, such as Israel. The current rulers of Israel were to use it, and the diaspora were to come back and run it properly. Just as taught by Isaiah and the rest. This was not a new idea and is the opposite to Paul's view that the land of Israel was no longer the focus.

Mark was not aware of Paul

Mark contained no hint of Paul's cosmic theology or rejection of the need for circumcision. This goes beyond merely not quoting Paul, it suggests a complete lack of awareness of the conflict (Jews versus gentiles) that defined the earliest missionary work. To not even hint at Pauline Christianity, Mark must have been earlier than the mid 40s. For details, see "The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity" by James G. Crossley

Paul relies on Mark for his gentile message

Although Paul and Mark disagree, Paul's message evolved from Mark, as I will now show. Consider Paul without Mark: Paul's letters show that he strongly disagreed with the apostles. They wanted a Jewish church, and Paul did not. They wanted the law of Moses, and Paul wanted salvation by grace. Where did that idea come from? It can't have come from them! Mark solves the problem. In Mark, Jesus comes to gather the diaspora and cleanse the temple. It appears that Jesus wanted to disassemble the physical temple, but then rebuild it spiritually in the hearts of the people. This is why his enemies wanted him dead: "And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands" (Mark 14:57-58) Peter (and thus Mark) says this was a "false witness" and yet it is very close to what Jesus said in Mark 13: he wanted to throw down the stones of the temple! (See the discussion of The abomination of desolation.) Just before that he said that the kingdom of God was not found through burnt offerings and sacrifices (the work of the temple): "And to love him [God] with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question." (Mark 12:33-34) So it certainly looks like the witnesses were right. However, they got the three days part muddled, and they were unclear about the details because Jesus hid his message in parables, knowing that the real message would get him killed. So it looks from Mark that Jesus planned for a Jewish life without the temple, or where the temple would not be the focus: love of God and love of neighbour are the focus. Paul simply took this to the logical next step: if the whole gospel is to love God and love your neighbour, and temple worship is relatively unimportant, so why do you need to be Jewish at all? So Paul's message makes no sense without Mark. But it makes perfect sense if he heard Mark's message first. Or rather, he heard the message of Jesus, before it was quickly suppressed by the apostles: the early message that only survives in Mark.

Paul relies on Mark for his message of grace

The other half of Paul's message, besides bringing Jesus to the gentiles, is salvation by grace. Again, where did he get that? The apostles were teaching the law of Moses, so he couldn't get it from them. Here is a big clue: Paul's Greek word "christos" for "messiah". There is already a word for messiah in the sense of chosen one: it is Strong's number 3323, "messias" as used in John 1:41 and 4:25. The word "christos" actually refers to the ointment itself. gentiles already knew the word "christos" and it meant "smeared one" or even "painted one". "Messias" would be better, as it captured the idea of the person being special. But Paul focused on the ointment and not the person. Why? Why did Paul focus on the ointment and not the person? This encapsulates Paul's message of grace: the power of God is from what he adds to you, not from you as a person. Your works don't matter! All that matters is what God gives you! This message is not in Matthew, Luke or John: in those books it is Jesus himself who is the messiah. But in Mark, Jesus does not become chosen until the baptism: messiahship is something added. Even more important, Jesus was illegitimate, he got angry, he took two attempts to heal somebody, he said he was not God (Mark 10:18) he called himself the common man, and the chosen time of his life (from baptism to death) only lasted a few weeks. In Mark, the mortal Jesus was not special! It was God who was special, not Jesus! So Paul's message of grace comes from Mark and nowhere else. This also explains why Paul does not quote directly from Mark. Mark's mortal Jesus was not yet perfect, so why quote him? Once again, Mark represents the message that Paul heard, that had to be written down early because it was soon suppressed by the apostles, and only became dominant after Jerusalem was destroyed and Paul's message became dominant. Of course, Paul's message is of Jesus after his death when he is supernatural, perfect, and immortal. This too evolved from Mark, even though it goes beyond Mark:

Paul relies on Mark for his eschatology

In 2 Thessalonians 2, usually dated to the early 50s, Paul (if he wrote it) implies that, after a rebellion, the "man of lawlessness" will have himself worshipped as a god in the Temple. Caligula and his proposed statue in the 40s AD seems to fit this description better than Titus' standards in 70 AD. So Paul seems to reflect Mark's teaching in Mark 13. Paul goes on to mention that someone is holding this event back: writing after Caligula's death he knows that the initial events came to nothing, but still believes that the prediction will be fulfilled in the way that Mark described, not in the way that later gospels described.

Paul saw Jesus before Jesus died

People very seldom survive crucifixion. And Paul's description of his conversion places it around the same time that Jesus was in Jerusalem. So, if Paul saw Jesus, it was almost certainly before Jesus died. But didn't Paul say that he saw Jesus after Jesus died? That is how later Christians understood it, e.g. in Acts. But Paul's own words are more ambiguous, In fact, they only more sense if Paul is referring to seeing Jesus when Jesus was alive. And the way he frames it seems to be dependent on the gospel of Mark. Here are the details.

Dating Paul's conversion

Paul refers to Aretas controlling Damascus at the time of Paul's conversion. Many people assume that Aretas, a foreign king, was allowed to rule Damascus, an important Roman city, because Caligula was feeling generous. That makes no sense and there is no evidence for that. Aretas could only have controlled Damascus for a few months in AD 36 or 37, the same period described in Mark. We can infer from Mark that Jesus sent followers to Damascus at the same time that he went to Jerusalem. So Paul could have met Jesus along the way. Here, Paul gives an overview of his history: "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed." (Galatians 1) Here is the key reference to Aretas controlling Damascus (Paul gives no context): "In Damascus the ethnarch of Aretas the king was guarding the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, but I was lowered down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands" (2 Cor 11:32-33). Acts, written years later, says Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, and then carried on to Damascus where the basket incident occurred: "But Saul increased the more in strength [after receiving his sight after being blinded in his conversion], and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket." (Acts 9:22-25) So it appears that Paul was on his way to Damascus, decided to follow Jesus, then carried on to Damascus, and this was in the time of Aretas. Aretas' people wanted Paul, so Paul escaped. Aretas did not control Damascus for long, so this dates the conversion to AD 36 or early AD 37. Once Aretas' people had gone, Paul was able to return to Damascus again, and this time stayed for three years. Staying in Damascus makes sense, because as already noted, Damascus was the natural place for preaching to the diaspora.

Paul's road to Damascus: what was he really doing?

In later years Paul and Acts made it sound like Paul had a lengthy period attacking the believers. This made his conversion seem more impressive, and thus gave him an excuse to act like an important apostle. But experience of other new religions, and a close look at the text, indicates that Paul's persecution could have been a single journey: "I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it." (Galatians 1:13) This could refer to his plan to visit Damascus. Here is the key text that is often read as Paul (Saul) travelling all round the country: "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. [...] As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison." Read that carefully. It just says that the church felt it was persecuted in Jerusalem. So believers left. But the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, so the persecution cannot really have been very bad. Recall how the "B" team (the apostles) was to preach at Jerusalem, and the "A" team (those with money) were to travel. Some of them went to Damascus. Paul followed them. He would need to know where they went. "Entering into every house" could then refer to his attempts to find the Damascus people. Recall that the plan was to bring people back and dismantle the temple: that is enough reason to place people in prison, even if just for questioning. Paul refers to being in prison himself many times, but this seems to refer just to questioning, as he was usually let out each time.

Paul's conversion: what really happened?

The most famous accounts of Paul's conversion are in Acts. But Acts was written decades later, and twists the evidence to make mundane events sound supernatural. So "seeing a light" and "hearing his voice" could refer to when Paul came to realise, on his own, that maybe Jesus was right: the light could be a metaphor and the voice could be in his head. What does Paul himself say about seeing Jesus? He does not say anything about seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus. Instead, he says this, in 1 Corinthians 15: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Here Paul makes three arguments:
  1. The scriptures say he will save us and he will rise again (verses 3-4)
  2. We all saw him (verses 5-8)
  3. If he did not rise again then he cannot save us (verses 11-15)
Decades later, the church used the order of these arguments as "proof" that Paul must have seen Jesus after Jesus died. In the same way, the church used Isaiah 7 to prove that Mary would be a virgin. Nut the words only say that if we ignore the context. Context matters!

1 Corinthians 15 is not chronological

Paul constantly jumps backward and forward in time in 1 Corinthians 15. So it is wrong to assume that "we saw him" refers to a later time than "Jesus died". See how Paul jumps bakwards and forwards constantly, to compare the present, the future and the past: START in the present: Verse 1: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel" Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 1: "which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand" Jump FORWARDS: Verse 2: "By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain" Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 3: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received" Jump BACKWARDS again: Verse 3: "how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" Jump ?? verse 5: "And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve" [etc.] Jump FORWARDS: Verse 6: "After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 9: "I persecuted the church of God." Jump FORWARDS: Verse 11: "whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 12: "he rose from the dead" Jump FORWARDS: verse 19: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." [This seems to be about his listeners in the present.] Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 21: "For since by man came death," Jump FORWARDS: Verse 21: "by man came also the resurrection of the dead." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 22: "For as in Adam all die" Jump FORWARDS: Verse 22: "even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 23: "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits;" Jump FORWARDS: Verse 23: "afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." Jump FORWARDS: Verse 24: "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 25: "For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." [This implies the period of time before he delivers the kingdom.] Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 29: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 32: "I have fought with beasts at Ephesus" Jump FORWARDS: Verse 32: "let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die." [By the way, this shows that a quote from Paul, taken out of context, can say the opposite of what Paul intended. This is why we need to see the con text of Paul's "I saw Jesus" quote.] Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 42: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption" Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 43: "It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory" Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 43: "it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power" Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 44: "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 45: "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 46: "Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual." Jump BACKWARDS and FORWARDS: Verse 47: "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven." Jump BACKWARDS: Verse 58: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." [And so we end up in the present again.] Reading Paul's initial three arguments as if they are chronological causes three serious problems:

Problem 1: Paul never states that he has seen the risen Christ.

If Paul saw the resurrected Christ, why does he say they are "witnesses about God" and "testified about God"? Why not say "witnesses of Christ" and "testified about Christ"? "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised." (1 Corinthians 15:14-15) This passage follows the logic of Mark: Mark is a wirtness of Jesus' mortal life, as proof that God was involved. Mark ends with an empty tomb. (Remember that the last 12 verses about seeing Jesus were added much later.) Mark invites you to conclude that God raised his son from the dead. This passage is a big problem for the "eye witness of the risen Jesus" theory. Because at the one time when Paul needed to say he saw Christ, he says instead that he was a "witness of God". (And at this early stage of Paul's writing, Christ and God were not identical.) This witness statement is like being asked in court: "Did you see the defendant?" and the best you can say is "I saw his close friend".

Problem 2: The post resurrection theory contradicts every other account.

It contradicts Mark (which has no resurrection). It contradicts Matthew (which says the eleven saw Jesus, not Cephas first and not the twelve). It contradicts Luke (which says Cleopas and an un-named disciple saw Jesus first and then after that "the eleven"). It contradicts John (which says the women saw Jesus first). As for five hundred people seeing Jesus, if this was such a big event why is it never mentioned elsewhere?

Problem 3: The post resurrection theory fails as an argument.

Some scholars seem to think that "The Life of Brian" is history: ancient people were gullible and keen to believe anything. Merely make a claim and people will follow. Sure, maybe some. But not the smart people you need to impress if you want your church to grow and be strong. The post ressurrection argument fails to persuade, because it cannot be tested. So what, if a select group of people claim to have seen him in private? How can anyone prove that? Ghosts don't even leave footprints! Maybe they are lying? Maybe hallucinating? How often do dead people return anyway? It seems very unlikely. The problem is made greater a few verses later when Paul describes what he means by a risen body: " It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. [...] Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." (1 Corinthians 15:44,50) So there is no way to distinguish between seeing a resurrected being and imagining it: there is nothing physical there. How is Paul saying "I saw something but not physically" supposed to persuade anybody? In the real world, converts need a good reason to join a new religious movement something more than just "I saw something that was kind of not there".

A better reading

The problematic traditional reading is not the only possible reading. In fact, it is not even the normal way to tell people about Jesus. The normal way is for a gospel to tell people about Jesus' amazing life and then let them realise that he might be the messiah. This is a better argument than "we saw a ghost" because it is more normal and can be tested: you can ask around, and look for physical evidence of what this man did. It may be hard to think about jumping back in time after argument 1. Argument 1 has Jesus dead, so he must be dead in argument 2, right? But it is a different argument. Argument 1 is about scripture, and established that a messiah might exist. Argument 2 is about experience, showing that such a man did exist in the real world. When we read argument 2 in the normal gospel way, as a description of Jesus' life then all the contradictions and problems disappear. In short, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul summarises Mark, by listing the people who realised that Jesus was not just a man but the messiah:

Paul summarises Mark

Mark: Peter was the first to accept Jesus as messiah (the only Jesus that interests Paul: from after Jesus' baptism and wilderness period) "he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." (Mark 1:16-17) Paul: ditto. "And that he was seen of Cephas [Simon Peter]" (1 Corinthians 15:5) Mark: he then carried on choosing more of the twelve "And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him." (Mark 1:19-20) Paul: ditto. "then of the twelve" (1 Corinthians 15:5) Mark: then hundreds of people accepted him as messiah "And all the city was gathered together at the door." (Mark 1:33) Paul: ditto. "After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:6) Mark: Jesus' family (his brother James etc.) were among the last to fully accept him as messiah. (Mark 3:21; 6:3-4). Paul: ditto. After that, he was seen of James" (1 Corinthians 15:7) Mark: Jesus planned to send messengers: "And the gospel must first be published among all nations." (Mark 13:10) Paul: ditto. Note that Paul calls himself and James "apostles": so by "apostles" he just means all the messengers of the gospel. "then of all the apostles." (1 Corinthians 15:7) Mark: people will persecute you, but some of them will listen (or why preach at all?) "they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations." (Mark 1:9-10) Paul: ditto. Paul himself is an example of what Jesus said: a persecutor, but then he listened. "And last of all he was seen of me also" (1 Corinthians 15:8) So we see that Paul's description fits better with seeing Jesus before he died. This now works as an argument. Paul is not referring to six special appearances that might have been hallucinations, he is saying "this is public knowledge!" The reference to "five hundred" is then just a representative example, meaning "lots of people!" Paul says, in other words, "lots and lots of people saw guy, go and ask them if he was like the messiah described in scripture" This pre-death argument is an argument from public knowledge: ask anyone. This post-death argument would be an argument from private knowledge: only ask the select few I tell you to ask. The pre-death argument is reasonable: "some well known guy was amazing". The post death argument is a much harder pill to swallow: "we saw a dead man". The pre-death argument is just a better argument and it is consistent with the gospel accounts. The post-death argument is very weak, and contradicts the other accounts. So Paul was probably describing seeing Jesus when Jesus was alive. This is consistent with the dating that shows Paul was converted at around the same time that Jesus was in Galilee then Jerusalem. Decades later, the Book of Acts interpreted 1 Corinthians 15 as meaning that Paul saw Jesus after Jesus was dead.

Implications for dating Mark

Paul's description of seeing Jesus relies on the order people who appear in Mark. This shows a reliance on Mark in Paul's earliest letters. Which places Mark before Paul's earliest letters in the 40s.

FOOTNOTE: Understanding Paul

When studying Paul and Mark, trying to see how they fit together, I heard what James Tabor said about diaspora religions, and suddenly it all made sense. (See the Bart Ehrman blog, August 23, 2020.) James Tabor's doctoral dissertation was on Paul's "third heaven" vision (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). For most scholars this is mysterious, just as Paul's doctrinal relationship to the Jerusalem church is mysterious: the subject of endless debates but no final conclusions. Yet by drawing parallels with other near eastern religions, Tabor was able to show that both Paul's vision and his teaching are, fundamentally, simple to understand. The key is that Paul lived in the diaspora. Paul's experience and teachings are a classic example of all diaspora religions in the ancient near east, and largely of all religions in all times. They simply represent the need to escape. This is why: Religions in general, and in the ancient near east in particular, teach people to fit in. Just read any sociologist, or Noah Harari's "Sapiens", about how gods evolved as composite people representing large groups. Gods are created in order to make people fit into society. So ancient religions were about knowing your place in society, and keeping its laws. This was especially clear in the days when each tribe or city state had its own god. Even today in Christian America, being a Christian means keeping the state's laws, either out of duty to society (left leaning Christians) or because God chose your laws (right leaning Christians). This creates a special challenge for the diaspora: people who leave their home and lives somewhere else, but still want to retain their identity. Religion in second temple Judaism, for example, meant sacrificing in the Jerusalem temple, not working on the sabbath, etc., and this was difficult or impossible if working for a non-Jewish emplpyer in a foreign land. Other religions found similar problems: how can you follow the Babylonian religion if you don't live in Babylon? Or the Greek religion when you don't live in Greece? "How can you sing the Lord's song in a strange land"? It also created opportunities: you can ignore the parts you don't like, and nobody cares! And yet you don't want to sell out, as you need to belong to a tribe, even when far from home. So, as Tabor notes in his blog post (read aloud on this podcast) that all diaspora religions become supernatual versions of their home religion. The home religion is about action more than belief. The diaspora religion is about belief more than action. And since the diaspora believer cannot gain strength from sacrificing at the ancient temple along with the rest of the town, he gains strength from imagining God in his heaven, and a better life after they die. So diaspora religions are just like Paul's religion: a focus on right belief, not works, and with the occasional heavenly vision. As empires grew in the ancient world, more and more people lived in a diaspora state. They rubbed shoulders with people of different religions, and it was not practical for each group to have its own temple and its own sacred day. So diaspora type religions, focusing on belief and visions, gradually replaced home religions, focusing on actions and temples. The greatest example of this was Christianity: after AD 70 temple worship became impossible, and there as no "home religion". Only Paul's diaspora religion existed, and it no longer had to hold back. Mystical experiences were no longer some private add on for people for whom circumcision and temple sacrifice were impractical: private prayer and belief in life after death became the core of the religion! Jesus was the core religion. Paul was the diaspora version. Simple as that.

Dating Mark, 10 of 10:


The argument

Events in Mark have parallels with events around AD 70 or later, leading to suggestions that it was written around that period. But events in Mark also have parallels with any book or event we care to mention. We could even find parallels in random cloud formations. When we look closer, we see that parallels are closest with books and events that would be known by a Greek speaking Jew in AD 36 or 37. So that is the more likely date for Mark.

What is paralellomania

Parallelomania is the tendency to see parallels everywhere, and then assume that this proves connections everywhere. This can be very exciting: we think we have seen real connections! Over the years, many scholars have found parallels between Mark and their favourite book or genre: All this really proves is that parallels are everywhere. But when we look closer, the parallels are always closest between Mark and the world of AD 36 or 37.

Parallels with the Old Testament

It is easy to see phrases and symbols from the Old Testament in Mark. What does this show? The ancient Jews read (or heard) scripture constantly, and didn't have many other books. Those who could read often had the entire scriptures memorised. They considered these things to be very special and thought of them constantly. So obviously scriptural phrases and parallels will be used in everyday life. Add the fact that Jesus was consciously trying to remind people of scripture (e.g. riding into Jerusalem on a donkey), and Mark had three years of events to choose from, and it is easy to add plenty of parallels from the Bible. As for exact phrasing, that is just a literary choice. For example, a popular history book in the early 1800s was "the Late War", a history of the war of 1812 written entirely in the language of the King James Bible. Does this imply that the war of 1812 never happened? Scriptural phrasing is what you would expect from a text that wants to put make its subject sound like scripture.

Parallels with later history

The easiest way to find parallels is to decide that each idea really means something else. For example, Philo and Origen filled whole books with such allegorising, and scholars still do it today. But once we say "it really means this other thing" then we can make anything mean anything: so nothing means anything. For example, from a Reddit user: "I think the parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard is a dead give-away, especially 12:9. The vineyard symbolizes the Temple and the parable comes right after the cleansing of the Temple which itself is sandwiched into the cursing of the fig tree (which also represents the Temple). Mark's Gospel can be read consistently as expressing a message that God had taken Jerusalem away from the Jews and given it to Rome because they rejected Jesus." (User name redacted to avoid embarrassment) Whereas another reader says it "can only mean" something completely different: "The renting of the vineyards to others can only mean the preaching of the good news to the gentiles." (Source) The preaching theory is discussed in the section of Paul. Here we will look just at the temple theory, which contradicts some very well established symbolism. The vine always represents the people, not the temple (see Psalm 80 for example: Israel is a vine transplanted from Egypt by Moses). A temple cannot grow like a vine, and it was not transplanted from Egypt. The next passage has the same message and clarifies what was intended: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone": This quotes Psalm 118:22, about weak little Israel (the rejected stone) becoming mighty (the chief cornerstone). It could also refer to the shepherd boy David (rejected in the sense that Saul became king, not him) who then became the mighty king. Either way, it is about the triumph of Israel, not its destruction: the symbolism points in the opposite direction! And why would Jerusalem be given to Rome? They destroyed it! Why would God do that? It makes no sense.

The Gerasene swine and Legion X Fretensis?

"Many scholars see another historical allusion in Mk 5:8-13 to a 'Legion' which had a pig as its emblem and which Josephus tells us remained in Jerusalem in the war's aftermath (Wars of the Jews 7.1.3). William Harwood writes in Mythology's Last Gods: "Since the fall of the city a few months earlier [in 70 C.E.], Jerusalem had been occupied by the Roman Tenth Legion [X Fretensis], whose emblem was a pig. Mark's reference to about two thousand pigs, the size of the occupying Legion, combined with his blatant designation of the evil beings as Legion, left no doubt in Jewish minds that the pigs in the fable represented the army of occupation. Mark's fable in effect promised that the messiah, when he returned, would drive the Romans into the sea as he had earlier driven their four-legged surrogates." (source) Mark 5 involves numerous elements (crossing the lake into a new country, tombs, chains, etc). The parallelomaniac ignores them all until he sees a word he recognises from elsewhere: in this case, legion. Yes, "legion" can also mean Roman legion, but "Seyoon Kim, however, points out that the Latin legion was commonly used as a loan word in Hebrew and Aramaic to indicate a large number" (Wikipedia) And yes, the tenth legion sometimes used the image of a boar. But the legion's name, "fretensis" refers to its origins on a sea strait, and it also used the symbols of a Roman Galley, Neptune, the dolphin, of just the letter X (for the legion number, ten). More seriously, the legion's banner was never an idol, it was never an object to be worshipped, as the abomination of desolation requires. But Claudius' idol fulfils both requirements. It was never in the temple (as Claudius' idol would have been), because the temple was flattened. And it served no purpose as a warning beforehand (as Jesus' prophecy requires), because by the time the people saw the banner it was too late. The Claudius idol on the other hand was on its way for a year. As for the number 2,000, a Roman legion means ten cohorts. Each cohort was six centuries, and each century was 100 men: often in practice just 80, but that still means around 5,000 men, not 2,000. I don't see anything in Josephus to suggest the number 2,000 for this legion. However, Josephus gives the precise number 2,000 for an event that is a much closer parallel (see below). Another problem with the legion theory is that Mark is very positive toward the Romans: this is one reason we know it was written to the people at Rome. For example, Pilate, who ordered the death of Jesus, is nevertheless given a very positive image. And Romans are shown as having more faith than the Jews. For example, while Peter denies knowing Christ, a Roman centurion at the cross calls Jesus "the son of God". Given this effort to make the Romans look good, why would Mark then compare the Roman legions to demons, mad men and pigs?

Legions before AD 70

It has been argued that there was no Roman legion stationed in Palestine before the AD 66 war, and therefore the locals would not know the name But this is more likely to argue for an early date than a late one. The possessed man clearly felt something supernatural was going on. After AD 66, people would associate legion with an army of real people. But before 66, a legion was just a scary thing they heard about from far away. The idea of a legion inside one person only make sense when it's a distant, poorly understood scary force, rather than a number of actual human beings with names and families.

A better parallel

If we insist on reading historical parallels into the story, then a stronger parallel is with Jesus' teachings on violence. Jesus was in Galilee, home of the Zealots. They grew up at the same time: the Zealot uprising began in AD 6, when Jesus was a child. The Zealots are legion (many): kill one and others take their place. They are stirred by a passion for their dead ancestors, just as the wild man lives among the tombs and caves. Indeed, the Zealots likely chose Galilee because the caves are good for hiding. Their violence was self destructive: their actions ended up hurting fellow Jews far more than they hurt Romans. Just as the wild man could not be controlled, but cut his own flesh. So to Jesus, the Zealots reject true Judaism, just as the man (who is Jewish: he shows great respect to Jesus) has removed himself from the borders of Judea. But Jesus shows his love for such prodigals by helping the man, then telling him to go home to his friends (presumably back into Judea). Just as Jesus allowed Simon the Zealot into his inner circle. The story ends when the madness is driven completely from the zealot to where it belongs: with non-Jews (pigs). 2,000 is the number of Zealots who were crucified after the original AD 6 uprising: they rejected what Jesus saw as true kingdom of God, adopted the violent methods of the gentiles, and 2,000 of them effectively killed themselves.

The veil of the temple

"even more importantly [in arguing for a late date], in the depiction of the rending of the Temple veil at his death (Mark 15:38 and pars.). This veil was more than likely damaged in the final Roman assault on the Temple or in the various altercations and the turmoil preceding this. Josephus specifically refers to it, along with its replacement materials, as having been delivered over to the Romans after the assault on the Temple. It was doubtless on display in Rome, damaged or otherwise, along with the rest of the booty Josephus describes as having been paraded in Titus' Triumph." (Robert Eisenman, "James the Brother of Jesus", p.56) This is a triumph of parallelomania: it parallels a later event therefore it is a late addition! But a closer parallel is with Jesus' baptism, where the heavens rend apart. Does this prove that the temple rending was written before Jesus even reached Jerusalem? No such parallels are so easy to find everywhere, so they prove nothing. The key to understanding this passage is to understand the veil itself: it tore extremely easily, so would probably tear multiple times each year. This explains why it had to be completely replaced every six months: "The thickness of the veil was a handbreadth. It was woven of seventy-two cords, and each cord consisted of twenty-four strands. It was forty cubits long and twenty wide. Eighty-two myriads of damsels worked at it, and two such veils were made every year. When it became soiled, it took three hundred priests to immerse and cleanse it." (Harris, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala: M. Walter Dunne, 1901, pp. 195-96) Look at the context: Jesus taught that the Jews were neglecting their religion, and putting their money into buildings instead. What better evidence than that this absurdly expensive and impractical veil tore once again around the time that Jesus was crucified? Just as it probably tore every couple of months. Of course, that is just my interpretation. We could probably find a hundred ways to interpret the veil rending. But the one that will never fit is the idea that the temple was no longer needed. Jesus loved the temple: he preached there, he said all nations should see it as the house of prayer, and he was only ever angry when he saw money changers there. Jesus hated that the temple had become a symbol of riches, and what clearer example is there than the veil? Moses described a simple covering for a portable tabernacle. But the idea had become corrupted into a veil that was so expensive and impractical it sucks up the money of the poor, takes 300 people to carry it, and constantly tears. That is the nature of riches: they become top heavy, and they fall.

Parallels with post AD 70 beliefs?

Probably the most laughable parallels are those built on hilarious misreadings of the text. For example: "From the same internal textual considerations already noted, it is possible to show that Mark, too, was written after the fall of the Temple in 70 CE. The whole nature of its anti-Jewish polemic and opposition to the family and brothers of Jesus on the one hand and its pro-Peter orientation on the other distinguish it as having appeared after the destruction of the Jerusalem centre - in particular, after the attempt by the Roman Community to represent itself as the legitimate heir to Jesus and the Messianic movement he represented, however absurd, historically speaking, that might have seemed to any objective observer at the time." (Robert Eisenman, in "James the Brother of Jesus" p. 56) "Anti-Jewish polemic"? Jesus and most of his disciples were Jewish! Jesus modelled himself on the Maccabees, and his biggest concern was that the temple was being defiled. Were Matatthias and Simon and Judas Maccabeus anti Jewish? Anti family is far from certain: it ignores all th evidence that Mary ran Jesus' secret "A" team, so "my followers are my family" could just be to distract attention away from this secret. Mark being "Pro-Peter" is the funniest of all. In Mark, Peter does not understand the gospel (he repeatedly needs it explained), he is power hungry (always concerned with who is greatest), he denies Jesus, and Jesus even refers to him as "Satan". Jesus says Peter likes the things of men, not of God. To say that Mark is pro-Peter is like saying Mark is anti-Jesus. Is this "opposites day"?

Parallels with Roman persecutions?

The web site "Dating the New Testament" sees parallels between Mark and the persecutions of the AD 60s: "That the gospel was written to a church under persecution can be seen from the way the stories in the gospel are told. For example, Mark has a most unusual and seemingly abrupt ending in Mark 16:8 (Mark 16:9-20 is generally agreed to not be part of the original gospel). The angel at the empty tomb commands the women to 'go and tell', but in 16:8 'they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.' That is the end, and it is a challenge to the persecuted church - will you obey, or are you afraid? This means the gospel of Mark was written at a point in time when Mark was in Rome, and when the church there was undergoing persecution. This would be after the ending of the book of Acts, during the persecution of Nero, around 64-68 A.D." But Roman persecution should lead to the opposite result: the Book of Revelation (a result of persecution) leads to stories where Jesus is coming back in power to defeat his enemies! At the very least, this "stay quiet and say nothing" ending shows a conflict with Paul's message that Jesus will triumph over all principalities and powers. The "say nothing to anyone" ending argues for a time of extreme caution, when Paul's message of a protective messiah has not yet taken hold. If we insist that "say nothing" was Mark's intended message to the Romans, then we should also remember the other part, "I go to Galilee". This is exactly the message we should expect after the decree of AD 41: "Rome is not a safe place for Jews, so join our group, come with me to Galilee!" If Mark had ended the gospel with fireworks, as "invincible Jesus will defeat all enemies, shout it out, come to Galilee" we could argue that Jesus was a Zealot and this was a call to rise up and come to the Zealot heartlands in Galilee during the rising tension of the late 60s. But an argument of "say nothing, stay safe, come to Galilee" only works in Rome immediately after AD 41.

Parallels with Christian-Jewish conflicts?

"Mark 2:22 'And no one pours new wine [the gospel] into old wineskins [the law]. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.' A subtle commentary on strict differentiation and incompatibility between Jews and Christians, which doesn't happen until the late first century." ("anachronisms in the gospels" If this is meant to parallel the Jewish-Christin conflict then it dates the text to the early 40s. Because Paul spent his career bringing the two sides of the church closer together (e.g. Peter gave in in Acts 10, James gave in in Acts 15), so the biggest conflict was at the very start. True, there were still hold-outs for centuries, like the Ebionites, but after AD 70 the Jerusalem church had clearly lost. The more we interpret this as conflict, the earlier the date. What about conflict with potential converts? This makes even less sense. Most converts by AD 70 would be gentiles and would not try to fit the teachings into a Jewish laws. All of this is irrelevant of course because the text itself tells us who is meant: this section follows from the conflict between John's old followers, who do not like this new guy Jesus. So this dates Mark to when the foolowers of John were still a major force: very early indeed.

Taxation parallels

It has been suggested that Jesus' discussion of taxes paralells AD 70, because the revolt was over taxes. But the revolt is always over taxes! Just before (or just after?) Jesus was born there was a Messianic revolt over taxes. When Jesus was a young child, the Zealots were established over opposition to taxes. They were based in Galilee, so this would be of interest to Jesus. The question of taxes would be of special interest around the year AD 36 specifically: AD 36 was a riveting soap opera for anyone interested in their tax collecting masters. In AD 36 young Herod Agrippa (the last of the Herod dynasty, who would become king in 41) was in deep debt due to his reckless youthful spending. So he ran away to Idumea (south of the Dead Sea) and contemplated suicide. He was rescued when his wife and sister arranged a loan from his uncle (and brother in law) Herod Antipas, ruler of Jesus' home turf, Galilee. He went to live there but soon had an argument and ran, and his brother then ratted him out for taking a bribe from Damascus (on the other side of Galilee) for political influence. He was then arrested for other debts, escaped, and became friends with the young Caligula. Next year Caligula became emperor, and Agrippa was given his own kingdom, and a gold chain of the same weight as his former prison chains, and given the title "friend of Caesar". In 39 he managed to have Antipas banished (such gratitude!) and became ruler of Galilee as well. What a time for celebrity watchers! The story hit Judea in AD 36, and was even hotter news when Mark decided what sayings he should include, in AD 40. So here we have the perfect example of injustice: a spoiled brat gets to throw away money and cause trouble to everyone, just because he is friend of Caesar. While the poor tax payers starve in order to pay for his decadence! Now we see why the question was framed in terms of justice! The Pharisees brought the Herodians (unlikeable followers of Herod) so whatever Jesus said he would be trapped. he could not side with these people, yet he could not to go against the law. So the question, with everybody watching: should the poor widows pay taxes to these monsters?" A perfect trap! And yet Jesus escapes: he says, in effect, "Caesar should get what he deserves!" In conclusion, while a question of taxation could be levelled at any time, this one was especially fitting when asked by Pharisees and Herodians in the year 36.

Who used the Denarius before AD 70?

Mark refers to the Roman "denarius" and it is unlikely that most Galileans used them before the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. We could see this more evidence that Mark used a Roman word for a Roman audience, but there is a simpler explanation in the text itself. Mark says the question is a plot between the Pharisees with the Herodians to trap Jesus in his words. Luke changes it to says the question is posed by "scribes and chief priests" which removes that vital information: Luke 20:20. The Herodians are those who closely follow Herod. Herodians would certainly have Roman coins: the whole point of following Herod was to be seen as part of the rich crowd. And remember that Rome was built on patronage: the window's taxation ends up in the pockets of people like this. The Pharisees brought the Herodians to ask the question about taxes to trap him into saying he opposed Roman taxes: the obnoxious rich kids would wave their Roman coins in his face, coins ultimately derived from taxes from the poorest widows, and ask what he thought? The answer "render to Caesar what is Caesar's" was perfect: Jews who hated graven images would understand this as "let's send all of Caesar's stuff back to him!" And his words can also say "yes we should all pay our taxes". He was a clever guy, that Jesus.

Parallels with poetry

A related topic is finding poetry in Mark. Poetry often deals with patterns, and it is easy to find repeating patterns and chiastic patterns (where ideas are repeated in reverse, e.g. A-B-C-D-C-B-A). As with literary parallels it is easy to find these patterns and then declare the book is a work of fiction. For example, after finding similar patterns in how Mark calls disciples, one scholar concludes: "Due to the Cynic parallels for the saying and the fact that the discipleship call is a literary doublet based on an earlier passage which in turn draws on the OT (as well as being somewhat implausible), there is no support for historicity in this pericope." (Michael A. Turton) However, patterns can be found anywhere if we look hard enough or define our patterns loosely enough. Probably the most famous example of this is the best selling book "The Bible Code". The authors find patterns in the Hebrew text of the Bible, predicting various events that happened after the Bible was written down. The patterns are real, but do not impress statisticians. Ancient Hebrew has no vowels, so it's relatively easy to make words with any few consonants. And words have many meanings, so a random pattern that makes some words can be given an interesting meaning. The Bible Code book took every "n"th letter in the Hebrew text, for different values of "n", and eventually found interesting strings of possible words. The book makes the results look like a miracle, but statisticians know it is random noise. Of course, every writer wants to be read. Plus we all have ideas about how a thing should be written. So the presence of a structure does not mean a document is fiction: company reports usually have formal structures but that does not mean the numbers are made up. And a good biographer will try to make the book a page turner, using tricks from fiction, but that just means it's good writing, not that the biography is fake. So the presence of poetic forms does not tell us if a biography is real or fake.

Parallels with the allegorical form

Does Mark read like it isn't real? (Source) An example of allegory is Plato's cave (a cave represents the world), or Psalm 8 (a vine represents Israel). An example of history is Philo or Josephus: a formal introduction, then lists of political events. Mark is neither: it is not an allegory because there is no "this means that". Instead this is a third and far more common literary form, the testimony. It is designed to be spoken, not read, and convey the feeling of being there. It uses colloquial phrases to add importance. E.g. it might contain swearing or slang, or in the case of religious testimony, phrases from scripture, because the religious person reads scripture constantly and thinks in those terms. As an example of the testimony form, I grew up as a Mormon, and every month members would stand up in "testimony meeting" and describe what happened to them in the previous month. They would put it in the most religious terms possible, interpreting everything as a miracle or divine intervention, and if they knew their scriptures well then that language would inevitably seep in. Even for non-believers, dozens of Bible phrases have entered our language: we talk of "the blind leading the blind", "can a leopard change its spots", "by the skin of my teeth" etc. But each time we are talking about our first hand experiences. So this language is evidence of first hand experience while the memory is fresh, as opposed to a historian's account which is third hand and written many years later. It is true that other people may have faked first hand accounts, creating pseudepigraphic works. In that case we must see which ones are historically accurate, and Mark passes all those tests.

Internal parallels and the documentary hypothesis

It is common for scholars to cite internal parallels as evidence for the documentary hypothesis, and therefore that the book is late. The documentary hypothesis is the hypothesis that a text is made up of several earlier documents. Then anything that seems odd can be explained as document "A" contradicting document "B". It is often cited when dealing with internal parallels. For example, Genesis appears to have two parallel stories of Adam's creation: many scholars conclude that this is the same event but from two different sources. And Mark has parallel accounts of feeding large numbers of people: the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:31-34) and soon after, the feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:1-9). Again, many scholars conclude that this is the same event but from two different sources. This implies that the text was written some time after its sources, probably many years later, allowing time for each original source to become established: otherwise, why not just ignore one of the sources, or change them to combine both into just one story? The documentary hypothesis is very popular due to its power in getting rid of apparent problems. But unfortunately, whenever original sources are discovered, they always prove the documentary hypothesis is wrong. This is a big topic, so here is just one quick example: the theory that Genesis shows Adam's creation twice. This theory was popularised in 1780 by Johann Eichhorn. Almost a hundred years later, in 1975, the newly discovered library of Ashurbanipal was published to the world, and people finally saw the Bablyonian sources that were used when compiling Genesis. At last the documentary hypothesis could be tested! And it failed spectacularly. It is clear that the story of Adam was largely based on the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation account) and Gilgamesh (the account of the first cities). Both texts have a two stage creation. First the higher gods (the forces of nature) create lower gods, These lower gods are clearly human rulers: they argue, make mistakes, have ministers of agriculture and canals, and so on. Then the lower gods create slaves to work for them: these slaves are low class people who must dig the ditches, tend the gardens, etc. This is the story of Genesis: the fact to remember is that "Adam" just means "a human" and could refer to more than one person. In Genesis 1, God creates an Adam to have dominion over the garden of Eden. Having dominion means, by definition, that he is a kind of lord. He is given power over every other life form: he is like Gilgamesh, who was "one third human, two thirds god". This "lord-god" then creates another Adam as his slave. In Genesis, God ("Elohim"), lord-God ("Yahweh") and human ("Adam") are three distinct classes of person. Confusion arises for two reasons: first, the lord-god wants to be treated like God, and second, later in Genesis the people decide that the only lord-god they want is God. But this does not change the words: Genesis has a two stage creation, just like the Enuma-Elish and Gilgamesh. So the documentary hypothesis was wrong. And yet many scholars continue to embrace the two creations theory, over a hundred years after it was disproven. Why do scholars still embrace a disproven theory? Because the alternative is worse. The alternative is to admit that scholars are human: that scholars can be deeply and fundamentally wrong, and then, after being proven wrong, they will continue being human and deny it. Worse, the discovery of the Babylonian source material shows that the earliest texts (early Genesis, or early Mark) are basically reliable: but they does not support either of the mainstream views. They do not support Christianity and they do not support the scholars who have spent centuries attacking the reliability of the text. For the Christians it undermines their world, and for the scholars it undermines their faith in scholarly progress. Without scholarly progress what do they have left? Let's get back to the feeding of the five thousand and then the four thousand in Mark. The second time that they are faced with no food, the disciples again doubt that feeding the people is possible. This is commonly assumed to be evidence that Mark is including two versions of the same event that have already changed with time. (See for example the "History In The Bible" podcast 2.38) But this assumes both that the stories are supernatural and that the disciples are so insane that they do not even notice that Jesus fed five thousand people! Both beliefs - the supernatural, and extreme disciple insanity - make no sense in the real world. A simpler explanation is that Jesus sharing his food with everyone is merely his example for others to follow. In which case, the fact that the people happened to have enough food the first time is no guarantee that the same will be true the next time. So the problem was likely to be repeated, and the disciples were right to be concerned both times. The unlikelihood that a fiction would include two such events so close together, and the lack of an alternative explanation (the documentary hypothesis, or insane disciples) leaves us with Mark's original explanation: that the account is a reliable record of what happened, and therefore probably written quite soon after the events.

So what? (Why Mark matters)

Finally, why does Mark matter? Mark represents our refusal to accept failure. Mark is about the son of God who failed: Jesus did not persuade the diaspora to return, he did not cleanse the temple, and he did not survive death (as far as we can tell). But his followers could not accept this. So they changed the narrative: he must have been supernatural! But the supernatural narrative also fails: being supernatural, it cannot be proven. So its message is no more proven than the message of the old Greek and Roman philosophies. It becomes a big "so what?" Mark is not the first or the last document to prove that humans can be spectacularly wrong. But it is the most important, because it stands at the foundation of western civilisation. It is the founding document for Christanity, the philosophy of progress to a heavenly goal. Christianity is not like Judaism, with its focus on this life and one small nation. It is not Buddhism with its realisation that life is suffering to be escaped. It is not like Hinduism with its endless cycles of history. Christianity is about progress to a triumphant goal. It gave rise to scientism, a belief that this goal can still be achieved even if Christianity itself fails. Christianity, and its child scientism, are the philosophy of refusing to admit failure. And it all began with Mark. Being wrong is what lets us date Mark to AD 42 or before. There is nothing supernatural in Mark, and so we know it had to be written when it was still possible to believe that Jesus could succeed naturally. That is, it had to be when it still seemed possible that Roman power would quickly weaken sufficiently for Herod to also weaken, so Jesus could march in with is better organised movement and take over Judaea. This could only happen in the reign of Caligula or very soon after. So the failure of Jesus can be dated by the (temporary) failure of Rome. Mark is all about failure.

Our gods can fail

I wrote this essay about Mark because I wanted to show that no matter how much we believe in something, we can still be wrong. Christians were wrong. But the scholars who questioned Christianity were also wrong. For a hundred and fifty years scholars have been convinced that Mark was written at least ten years after the events it describes, and probably more than forty. This fact in turn becomes the foundation for other facts: the reliability of Mark, the nature of what Jesus was trying to achieve, or whether he even existed. A vast edifice of scholarship has been built on this fact. The fact has been supposedly proven in a hundred different ways. And yet the fact is wrong. Time and again, Christians lose their faith and embrace scholarship instead. And they have simply left one else faith and joined another. Scholarly facts can be wrong. But since scholarship is a faith, the believer will simply adapt. They find another fact. And if that fact is wrong, they find another and another. Just as a Christian will find a new way to believe in Jesus. Because a life without scholarly facts is unthinkable. Even though for most of human existence, we lived and thrived without writing. We conquered the world. We achieved large brains and complex arts. But now we have scholarly facts, and must believe that life without scholarly facts is worse. Just as Christians must believe that life without Christianity is worse. It's a funny old world. As an ex-Mormon, I often see people losing their faith because the scholarship proves the church was wrong. And they embrace the scholarship in the same way that they embraced their previous faith. When I point out that life before scholarship was better, they defend scholarship with the same fervour that they defended their previous faith. Using scholarship to defend scholarship, because that is the only faith they now know. Of course, the fact remains that our old hunter gatherer life could not survive against the onslaught of writing, and the large empires it allowed. Hunter gatherers were out evolved. Just as Christian beliefs cannot survive against the onslaught of scholarship. Christians were out evolved. Does this mean that scholarship is the most powerful force of all? Ask a scholar who cannot get a job. Or one who must work for an employer who is paid more despite being less scholarly. Or one whose scholarship has been ignored or misused. Look at anti-intellectual trends in politics. Scholars are just one more competing tribe in the jungle. Convinced that their god (scholarship) is the true god, and making endless excuses for why their tribe keeps failing. Clearly it is their fault for not having enough faith! If only they were more scholarly, next time they would win! Just as the Old Testament prophets felt that if only the people were more righteous, Babylon would not have invaded. Just as the hunter gatherers felt if only they had fought harder, they could have driven off the men with guns. I see the same faith today: faith in scholarship. Which means faith in science. Which means faith in technology. And what has technology done for us?

Technology. Another god that failed.

I am told that technology is good, because humans now have more food. But only when we compare them to a hundred years ago. For most of the past ten thousand years, since the invention of agriculture, most humans had worse nutrition than before. Technology made our lives worse. But that's OK, right? Because the industrial revolution has made most things better, right? Especially since 1970 or so: with the green revolution, and the I.T. revolution, and the rest. More people now hae more food than ever! And better health... if we measure health as "fat, stressed people living longer". Technology finally won. Since 1970 at least. But at what cost? "[S]ince 1970 close to 70 percent of wild animals, birds and fish have vanished, according to a WWF assessment this month. Last year the UN's panel on biodiversity, called IPBES, warned that one million species face extinction as man-made activity has already severely degraded three quarters of land on Earth. In 2010, 190 member states of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity committed to a battle plan to limit the damage inflicted on the natural world by 2020. The 20 objectives range from phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and limiting habitat loss to protecting fish stocks. But in its latest Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO), released Tuesday, the UN said not one of these goals would be met." ( news) Read that again. What else can be said? Maybe we should talk about the madness of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons are still there. We are still only four minutes away from hell. Four minutes from all future generations seeing scientism as the most evil religion ever. Maybe we should talk about the the present race to replace human minds with machines that will think faster than us. Replacing human minds. That is some goal. Maybe we should talk about massive inequality that focuses all wealth in the hands of a few technology CEOs. How can that possibly end well? But we focus on the food. Because after ten thousand years of technology making the average human less well fed, technology has finally worked out how to feed humans better. But why? Why is it feeding us better? So we can work more efficiently for employers. As part of a surveillance based dystopia. For a century or so... until either the system collapses, or machines replace human minds. Technology. Yay. Faith in technology. Faith in Christianity. Faith in anything bigger than us must fail. Why? Because it is bigger than us, and therefore beyond our power to control. But believers will never accept it. So what is the solution? Some of the early Christians thought long and hard about this question. They wrote a document called "On the Origin of the World". Its logic is seldom appreciated. One day I will write an essay about it. But until then, my essay on consciousness, and life beyond life is my answer. Thanks for reading.