JD has been the catalyst today, asking if Jesus was the:
“most accomplished diviner-magician of them all”
Sackers‘ reply was:
“I read it as perfect dramatic technique … and have a good look at the chicken before eating its egg. It may be that there was something unresolved in Inglis because of his interesting background, hence his reaching after magical alternatives to religion and use of The Spectator to get support for social-liberal causes. Reminiscent of Magnus Pym in Le Carre’s “A Perfect Spy”.”
I’ve never taken Sackers as having gone down a religious path to any great extent and so his comments resonate with me. He seems, like me, a searcher for what actually is the story behind something. For the record, the answer to whether Jesus of Nazareth was a diviner or not is perhaps in Deuteronomy 18:9-14:
 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.
 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
 The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.
And by way of comment at the other post:
Deuteronomy was of course part of the Torah, not the NT and so the obvious question is whether writing in the sand can be seen as one of the -mancies or whether He was … er … just writing in the sand, as Sackers says, for dramatic effect?
One would think He had a fair awareness of the sort of thing said in Deuteronomy, if not its existence as a stand-alone book. It is an important question because if you can tie Him to one of the -mancies, then He negates the Resurrection.
So is there evidence of him pushing this Geomancy as an arcane art, aside from this one reference?
It’s at this point your humble blogger pauses and marvels at how things pan out. We all reflect and I’m reflecting now on Michael Palin in Ripping Yarns who parodied the stereotype of the Victorian parents, dressed severely, all the trappings of puritanism including the stern visage, even the chairs having skirts protecting the modesty of the chair legs.
A bit hazy now but the son asks something like:
“Where is India, father?”
And without missing a beat: “It does not exist.”
“Your father has spoken, dear,” chimes in the mother.
The only thing more insufferable than a Grand Dogmatist like that is a Grand Dogmatist in the rationalist tradition [Dawkins] because at least the Christian is duty bound to come back to scripture, whereas the Rationalist Dogmatist has no duty of faith, hope and charity and thus the further into it he is, the more he tends to go the Nietzsche, Adorno, Marcuse or Horkheimer path – pitiless, destructive and bitter.
I once watched a New Year’s Eve show on Russian television with the extended family gathered for the event and in the Moscow studio, they’d trotted out all the Grand Old Men. They weren’t really “old” in the sense they may have been in their 50s but their whole body language was old. It was:
We’re on here because we’ve paid our dues, wisdom is invested in us by seniority, our minds are closed off, we all roughly agree with each other, we all have out large paunches and glasses in our hands. We’re wealthy, we’ve made our way in the world and now we’re household names, wheeled out every year. Listen to us, puffing pipes and smoking cigars. Give up your New Year’s Eve to hear us pontificate on things we’re totally ignorant about, join us in reflecting on all our old lovers.
No thanks. Being no spring chicken myself, still those buffoons resonated not at all, neither with me nor my gf, nor most of the others still young enough to think more freely.
OMG – am I becoming like them? Quelle horreur!
So what of a Peter Cook, Michael Palin or Barry Humphries? How can I, a supposed Christian, find more affinity with such as those and find the other suffocating, debilitatiing, stagnating? And if I’m such a freethinking soul, then why did Longrider leave OoL on the grounds that I was taking OoL down “religious” paths?
That one staggered me. The only reason for this post now is because of what JD wrote. Surely there’s a difference between proactive and reactive? And why am I protesting so much that I’m not remotely trying to proselytize? Given the type of reader at his place – Sackers, Ivan, Wolfie, how would anyone be able to proselytize to them, should he even wish to?
Look, I just don’t like the way the debate goes, the way it divides down two lines when it should at least be down three. One is the monotheistic, one is the rationalist but there is a third way which doesn’t get much publicity and that is the Themist way – it is actually just as religious as anything the rationalists are attacking. And that Themist way has its own Dogma, the mystery religion, all the -mancies – just look at the EU song:
If I had a rationalist reputation, you might heed me on this very weird and very dangerous stuff from people supposedly our Earthly Masters. But because someone is tarred a Christian Fundamentalist, suggesting closed-mindedness, lack of empiricism and living in a fantasy land of sky fairies, the warning about this “elite” is not heeded.
Which shows there is a fourth grouping of people – not monotheistic, not Themist in all their mania, not Rationalist in a Dawkinesque tradition – this is the ordinary person who just wants to be left alone, believing in nothing more than the here and now.
That’s where you probably are, that’s where I was for the bulk of my life, up until a few years ago but now find myself drawn back every time into a defensive, fisking posture. I had no plans for this post, I had no plans to evangelize whatever – there were too many other topics to cover – but every time I try to escape it, I’m dragged back by someone either asking a valid question or talking rot.
Don Qui Scottie “accused” me [as if it were something untoward] of placing reliance on my quotes. Well of course I do, otherwise why would I quote them? And therefore, the only people quoted here are those authoritative enough to be able to speak on the topic. So I’ll quote presidents and Brzezinski on things presidential and concerning what’s going on in the political world. Why wouldn’t one do that?
The first thing to debunk is the notion that the books of the Old and New Testaments are not part of the historical record and the reason the anti-Christian tries that old chestnut is that if you can deny their validity as part of the historical record and therefore as evidence, then only your own historical references are accepted.
Pardon me but that is shoddy. Who are you to decide if Tacitus, Pliny the Elder or Josephus or Paul should be considered? If they’re from that time, then they must be considered by any serious historian. Similarly, the Apocrypha need to be considered – accept or reject them but they do exist and if historians can date them to around that time, then they’re part of the play.
Vigorously underscoring this again – if the records exist, then they must be considered, whatever they actually have to say.
That is why the war has been intense on this very point – the dating.
The fanatical anti-Christians try to make out late dating but scholarship until the so-called “Enlightenment” is agreed with by modern scholars and that is pre-70AD for at least three of the gospels and many of the other books as well. It is the type of “scholarship” you see on page one of google which insists on late dating and accompanies the argument with mockery, which always worries me. This argument was once modern, i.e. from the late 1700s to about the mid 2000s but thankfully there’s been a return to old scholarship, refuting the rationalist critiques which you can often see by their use of CE and BCE.
That is – those who use those terms are from the rationalist camp and one needs to be ultra-wary. I prefer to go with traditional scholarship, I trust it far more than the ideologically driven stuff of today [1776 to 2005].
Here is a first tilt at it:
A close reading of the Gospels suggests to historians that most people addressed Jesus as lord as a sign of respect for a miracle-worker (especially in Mark and Matthew) or as a teacher (especially in Luke). [Wiki]
Destruction of the temple in 70 A.D, Luke and Acts
None of the gospels mention the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. This is significant because Jesus had prophesied concerning the temple when He said
“As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down,” (Luke 21:5, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1).
This prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and burned the temple. The gold in the temple melted down between the stone walls and the Romans took the walls apart, stone by stone, to get the gold. Such an obvious fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy most likely would have been recorded as such by the gospel writers who were fond of mentioning fulfillment of prophecy.
Add to that the lack of inclusion of accounts of Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).
Acts 1:1-2 it says,
“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.”
Most scholars affirm that Acts was written by Luke and that Theophilus (Grk. “lover of God”) “may have been Luke’s patron who financed the writing of Luke and Acts.”2
This means that the gospel of Luke was written before Acts.
“At the earliest, Acts cannot have been written prior to the latest firm chronological marker recorded in the book—Festus’s appointment as procurator (24:27), which, on the basis of independent sources, appears to have occurred between A.D. 55 and 59.”3
“It is increasingly admitted that the Logia [Q] was very early, before 50 A.D., and Mark likewise if Luke wrote the Acts while Paul was still alive. Luke’s Gospel comes (Acts 1:1) before the Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”4
For clarity, Q is supposedly one of the source documents used by both Matthew and Luke in writing their gospels. If Q actually existed then that would push the first writings of Christ’s words and deeds back even further lessening the available time for myth to creep in and adding to the validity and accuracy of the gospel accounts.
If what is said of Acts is true, this would mean that Luke was written at least before A.D. 63 and possibly before 55 – 59 since Acts is the second in the series of writings by Luke. This means that the gospel of Luke was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death.
The early church unanimously held that the gospel of Matthew was the first written gospel and was penned by the apostle of the same name (Matt. 10:2). Lately, the priority of Matthew as the first written gospel has come under suspicion with Mark being considered by many to be the first written gospel. The debate is far from over.
The historian Papias mentions that the gospel of Matthew was originally in Aramaic or Hebrew and attributes the gospel to Matthew the apostle.5
“Irenaeus (ca. a.d. 180) continued Papias’s views about Matthew and Mark and added his belief that Luke, the follower of Paul, put down in a book the gospel preached by that apostle, and that John, the Beloved Disciple, published his Gospel while residing in Asia. By the time of Irenaeus, Acts was also linked with Luke, the companion of Paul.”6
This would mean that if Matthew did write in Aramaic originally, that he may have used Mark as a map, adding and clarifying certain events as he remembered them. But, this is not known for sure.
The earliest quotation of Matthew is found in Ignatius who died around 115 A.D.
Therefore, Matthew was in circulation well before Ignatius came on the scene. The various dates most widely held as possible writing dates of the Gospel are between A.D. 40 – 140. But Ignatius died around 115 A.D. and he quoted Matthew. Therefore Matthew had to be written before he died.
Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Matthew was written before A.D. 70 and as early as A.D. 50.
Mark was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. He was a disciple of Peter and undoubtedly it was Peter who informed Mark of the life of Christ and guided him in writing the Gospel known by his name. “Papias claimed that Mark, the Evangelist, who had never heard Christ, was the interpreter of Peter, and that he carefully gave an account of everything he remembered from the preaching of Peter.”7
Generally, Mark is said [today] to be the earliest gospel with an authorship of between A.D. 55 to A.D. 70.
Luke was not an eyewitness of the life of Christ. He was a companion of Paul who also was not an eyewitness of Christ’s life. But, both had ample opportunity to meet the disciples who knew Christ and learn the facts not only from them, but from others in the area. Again:
“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God,” (Acts 1:1-3).
As far as dating the gospel goes, Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).”8
Therefore, as already mentioned, Luke appears to have been written before A.D. 62. “Luke’s Gospel comes (Acts 1:1) before the Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”
The writer of the gospel of John was obviously an eyewitness of the events of Christ’s life since he speaks from a perspective of having been there during many of the events of Jesus’ ministry and displays a good knowledge of Israeli geography and customs.
The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John’s gospel dated in the year 135 contains portions of John 18, verses 31-33,37-38. This fragment was found in Egypt and a considerable amount of time is needed for the circulation of the gospel before it reached Egypt.
1. McDowell, Josh, A Ready Defense, Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville, Tenn., 1993, p. 80.
2. Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.
3. Mays, James Luther, Ph.D., Editor, Harper’s Bible Commentary, (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1988.
4. Robertson, A.T., A Harmony of the Gospels, Harper & Row; New York` 1950. pp. 255-256.
5. Douglas, J. D., Comfort, Philip W. & Mitchell, Donald, Editors, Who’s Who in Christian History, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 1992.
6. Achtemeier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.; 1985
7. Douglas, J. D., Comfort, Philip W. & Mitchell, Donald, Editors, Who’s Who in Christian History, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 1992.
8. McDowell, Josh, A Ready Defense, Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville, Tenn., 1993, p. 80.
9. Robertson, A.T., A Harmony of the Gospels, Harper & Row; New York` 1950. pp. 255-256.
A second perspective:
The Reverend George H. Duggan, S.M., was a New Zealander. After earning his S.T.D. at the Angelicum in Rome, he taught philosophy for fifteen years at the Marist seminary, Greenmeadows, and then was rector in turn of a university hall of residence and the Marist tertianship.
He lived in retirement at St. Patrick’s College, Silverstream. He is the author of Evolution and Philosophy (1949), Hans Kung and Reunion (1964), Teilhardism and the Faith (1968), and Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1987). His last article in HPR appeared in October 1992.
D. F. Strauss (1808-1874), in his Life of Jesus, (published in 1835-6), anticipated Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) in holding that the Gospels, although they contain some historical facts, were mainly mythology and were written late in the 2nd century. Similarly F. C. Baur (1792-1860), an Hegelian rationalist, held that the Gospels were written between 130 and 170.
But Strauss, in the words of Giuseppe Ricciotti, “honestly confessed that his theory would collapse if the Gospels were composed during the first century.”
If they were so early, there would not be enough time for the myths to develop. Moreover, it is plain that, the nearer a document is to the facts it narrates, the more likely it is that it will be factually accurate, just as an entry in a diary is more likely to be accurate than memoirs written forty or fifty years afterwards.
John A. T. Robinson was therefore justified when he ended his book Redating the New Testament with the words: “Dates remain disturbingly fundamental data.”
The current dating of the four Gospels, accepted by the biblical establishment, which includes scholars of every persuasion, is: Mark 65-70; Matthew and Luke in the 80s; John in the 90s. These dates are repeated by the columnists who write in our Catholic newspapers and the experts who draw up the curricula for religious education in our Catholic schools.
For much of this late dating there is little real evidence.
This point was made by C. H. Dodd, arguably the greatest English-speaking biblical scholar of the century. In a letter that serves as an appendix to Robinson’s book Redating the New Testament, Dodd wrote:
“I should agree with you that much of the late dating is quite arbitrary, even wanton, the offspring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic’s prejudice that, if he appears to assent to the traditional position of the early church, he will be thought no better than a stick-in-the-mud.”
Many years earlier the same point was made by C. C. Torrey, professor of Semitic Languages at Yale from 1900 to 1932. He wrote:
“I challenged my NT colleagues to designate one passage from any one of the four Gospels giving clear evidence of a date later than 50 A.D. . . . The challenge was not met, nor will it be, for there is no such passage.”
In 1976, the eminent New Testament scholar, John A. T. Robinson, “put a cat among the pigeons”.
His main argument is that there is no clear reference in any of them to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple which occurred on September 26th of that year. This cataclysmic event brought to an end the sacrificial worship that was the center of the Jewish religion and it should have merited a mention in the NT books if they were written afterwards.
In particular, one would have expected to find a reference to the event in the Epistle to the Hebrews, for it would have greatly strengthened the author’s argument that the Temple worship was now obsolete.
Robinson dated the composition of Matthew from 40 to 60, using dots to indicate the traditions behind the text, dashes to indicate a first draft, and a continuous line to indicate writing and rewriting. Similarly, he dated Mark from 45 to 60, Luke from 55 to 62, and John from 40 to 65.
Robinson’s book was the first comprehensive treatment of the dating of the NT books since Harnack’s Chronologie des altchristlichen Litteratur, published in 1897. It is a genuine work of scholarship by a man thoroughly versed in the NT text and the literature bearing on it.
But it was not welcomed by the biblical establishment, and it was not refuted, but ignored. “German New Testament scholars,” Carsten Thiede has written, “all but ignored Redating the New Testament, and not until 1986, ten years later, did Robinson’s work appear in Germany, when a Catholic and an Evangelical publishing house joined forces to have it translated and put into print.”
In 1987, the Franciscan Herald Press published The Birth of the Synoptics by Jean Carmignac, a scholar who for some years was a member of the team working on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He tells us he would have preferred “Twenty Years of Work on the Formation of the Synoptic Gospels” as a title for the book, but the publishers ruled this out as too long.
Carmignac is sure that Matthew and Mark were originally written in Hebrew. This would not have been the classical Hebrew of the Old Testament, nor that of the Mishnah (c. 200 A.D.) but an intermediate form of the language, such as the Qumran sectaries were using in the 1st century A.D.
Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who died about 130 A.D., tells us that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, and Carmignac has made a good case for holding that the same is true of Mark. He found that this compelled him to put the composition of these Gospels much earlier than the dates proposed by the biblical establishment.
“I increasingly came to realize the consequences of my work . . . . The latest dates that can be admitted for Mark (and the Collection of Discourses) is 50, and around 55 for the Completed Mark; around 55-60 for Matthew; between 58 and 60 for Luke. But the earliest dates are clearly more probable: Mark around 42; Completed Mark around 45; (Hebrew) Matthew around 50; (Greek) Luke a little after 50.”
On page 87 he sets out the provisional results (some certain, some probable, others possible) of his twenty years’ research and remarks that his conclusions almost square with those of J. W. Wenham.
In 1992, Hodder and Stoughton published Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke by John Wenham, the author of a well-known grammar of New Testament Greek. Born in 1913, he is an Anglican scholar who has spent his life in academic and pastoral work. He tells us that his attention was drawn to the Synoptic Problem in 1937, when he read Dom John Chapman’s book Matthew, Mark and Luke. He has been grappling with the problem ever since and in this book he offers his solution of the problem; but his main concern is the dates of the Synoptics.
Wenham’s book received high praise from Michael Green, the editor of the series I Believe, which includes works by such well-known scholars as I. Howard Marsall and the late George Eldon Ladd. The book, Green writes, “is full of careful research, respect for evidence, brilliant inspiration and fearless judgement. It is a book no New Testament scholar will be able to neglect.”
Green may be too optimistic. Wenham will probably get the same treatment as Robinson: not a detailed refutation, but dismissed as not worthy of serious consideration.
Wenham puts the first draft of Matthew before 42. For twelve years (30-42) the Apostles had remained in Jerusalem, constituting, in words of the Swedish scholar B. Gerhardsson, a kind of Christian Sanhedrin, hoping to win over the Jewish people to faith in Christ. Matthew’s Gospel, written in Hebrew, would have had an apologetic purpose, endeavoring to convince the Jews, by citing various Old Testament texts, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of David and the long-awaited Messiah.
The persecution of the Church in 42 by Herod Agrippa I, in which the Apostle James suffered martyrdom, put an end to those hopes. Peter, miraculously freed from prison, went, we are told “to another place” (Acts 12:17).
There are grounds for thinking that this “other place” was Rome, where there was a big Jewish community and where he would be out of the reach of Herod Agrippa. There, using Matthew’s text, and amplifying it with personal reminiscences, he preached the gospel.
When Agrippa died in 44, Peter was able to return to Palestine. After his departure from Rome, Mark produced the first draft of his Gospel, based on Peter’s preaching.
Luke was in Philippi from 49 to 55, and it was during this time that he produced the first draft of his Gospel, beginning with our present chapter 3, which records the preaching of John the Baptist.10 It was to this Gospel, Origen explained, that St. Paul was referring when, writing to the Corinthians in 56, he described Luke as “the brother whose fame in the gospel has gone through all the churches” (2 Cor. 8:18).
We know that Luke was in Palestine when Paul was in custody in Caesarea (58-59). He would have been able to move round Galilee, interviewing people who had known the Holy Family, and probably making the acquaintance of a draft in the Hebrew of the Infancy Narrative, and so gathering material for the first two chapters of the present Gospel. In the finished text he introduced this and the rest of the Gospel with the prologue in which he assures Theophilus that he intends to write history.
There are no grounds for putting Luke’s Gospel in the early 80s as R. F. Karris does,11 or, with Joseph Fitzmyer, placing it as “not earlier than 80-85.”
The date of Luke’s Gospel is closely connected with that of Acts, its companion volume, for if Acts is early, then Luke will be earlier still. In 1896, Harnack put Acts between 79 and 93, but by 1911 he had come to the conclusion that “it is the highest degree probable” that Acts is to be dated before 62. If Luke does not mention the outcome of the trial of Paul, it is, Harnack argued, because he did not know, for when Luke wrote, the trial had not yet taken place.
C. J. Hemer, in his magisterial work, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, which was published posthumously in 1989, gives fifteen general indications, of varying weight but cumulative in their force, which point to a date before 70. Indeed, many of these point to a date before 65, the year in which the Neroian persecution of the Church began.
In 1996, Weidenfeld and Nicholson published The Jesus Papyrus by Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew d’Ancona. Thiede is Director of the Institute for Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany, and a member of the International Papyrological Association. Matthew d’Ancona [was] a journalist and Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper.
The book is about several papyrus fragments, and in particular three found in Luxor, Egypt, which contain passages from the Gospel of St. Matthew, and one found in Qumran, which contains twenty letters from the Gospel of St. Mark.
The three Luxor fragments-the Jesus papyrus-came into the possession of the Reverend Charles Huleatt, the Anglican chaplain in that city, who sent them in 1901 to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he had graduated in 1888.
They did not attract scholarly attention until 1953, when Colin H. Roberts examined them. He dated them as belonging to the late 2nd century.
Then in 1994, they came to the notice of C. P. Thiede, who suspected that they might be much older than Roberts thought. Examining them with a confocal laser scanning microscope, and comparing them with the script in a document dated July 24, 66, he came to the conclusion that the fragments should be dated as belonging to the middle of the first century.
The Qumran fragment is small – 3.3 cm x 2.3 cm – an area that is slightly larger than a postage stamp. It contains twenty letters, on five lines, ten of the letters being damaged. It is fragment no. 5 from Cave 7 and it is designated 7Q5. A similar fragment from the same Cave-7Q2-has one more letter-twenty-one as against twenty, on five lines. The identification of this fragment as Baruch (or the Letter of Jeremiah) 6:43-44 has never been disputed.
In 1972 Fr. José O’Callaghan, S.J., a Spanish papyrologist, declared that the words on 7Q5 were from the Gospel of St. Mark: 6:52-53.
This identification was widely questioned, but many papyrologists rallied to his support, and there are good reasons for thinking that O’Callaghan was right. Thiede writes:
“In 1994, the last word on this particular identification seemed to have been uttered by one of the great papyrologists of our time, Orsolina Montevecchi, Honorary President of the International Papyrological Association. She summarized the results in a single unequivocal sentence: ‘I do not think there can be any doubt about the identification of 7Q5.’”14
This implies that St. Marks’ Gospel was in being some time before the monastery at Qumran was destroyed by the Romans in 68.
Those who object that texts of the Gospels could not have reached such out of the way places as Luxor or Qumran as early as the 60s of the first century do not realize how efficient the means of communication were in the Empire at that time. Luxor was even then a famous tourist attraction, and, with favorable winds a letter from Rome could reach Alexandria in three days – at least as quickly as an airmail letter in 1996.
Nor was Qumran far from Jerusalem, and we know that the monks took a lively interest in the religious and intellectual movements of the time.
New Testament scholars dealing with the Synoptic Gospels will obviously have to take more notice of the findings of the papyrologists than they have so far been prepared to do, however painful it may be to discard received opinions.
When was St. John’s Gospel written?
That John, the son of Zebedee, and one of the Apostles, wrote the Gospel that bears his name, was established long ago, on the basis of external and internal evidence, by B. F. Westcott and M. J. Lagrange, O.P., and their view, though not universally accepted, has not really been shaken.
St. Irenaeus, writing in 180, tells us that John lived until the reign of the Emperor Trajan, which began in 98.
From this, some have inferred that John wrote his Gospel in the 90s. But this inference is obviously fallacious. The majority of modern scholars do indeed date the Gospel in the 90s, but a growing number put it earlier, and Robinson mentions seventeen, including P. Gardner-Smith, R. M. Grant and Leon Morris, who favor a date before 70.
To them we could add Klaus Berger, of Heidelberg, who puts it in 66.
Robinson decisively refutes the arguments brought forward by Raymond Brown and others to establish a later date, viz. the manner of referring to “the Jews,” and the reference to excommunication in chapter 9. He adds:
“There is nothing in the Gospel that suggests or presupposes that the Temple is already destroyed or that Jerusalem is in ruins-signs of which calamity are inescapably present in any Jewish or Christian literature that can with any certainty be dated to the period 70-100.”
Robinson also points out that John, when describing the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, tells us that this pool “is surrounded by five porticos, or covered colonnades” (5:2).
Since these porticos were destroyed in 70, John’s use of the present tense-”is”-seems to imply that the porticos were still in being when he wrote. “Too much weight,” he admits, “must not be put on this-though it is the only present tense in the context; and elsewhere (4:6; 11:18; 18:1; 19:41), John assimilates his topographical descriptions to the tense of the narrative.”
This article will have served its purpose if it has encouraged the reader to consider seriously the evidence for an early date for the Gospels, refusing to be overawed by such statements as that “the majority of modern biblical scholars hold” or that “there is now a consensus among modern biblical scholars” that the Gospels are to be dated from 65 to 90 A.D.
The account I have given of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels is categorical in style, but it is presented only as a likely scenario. However, it would seem to be more likely than one based on the assumption that among the Jews, a literate people, it was thirty years or more before anyone wrote a connected account of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
“I do not wish,” C. S. Lewis once said to a group of divinity students, “to reduce the skeptical element in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.” This something else, I suggest could include the widely accepted view that the Gospels were written late.
It will be easier to do this if the reader is acquainted with the judgment of the eminent jurist, Sir Norman Anderson, who describes himself as “an academic from another discipline who has browsed widely in the writings of contemporary theologians and biblical scholars.”
At times, he is, he tells us, “astonished by the way in which they handle their evidence, by the presuppositions and a priori convictions with which some of them clearly (and even, on occasion, on their own admission) approach the documents concerned, and by the positively staggering assurance with which they make categorical pronouncements on points which are, on any showing, open to question, and on which equally competent colleagues take a diametrically opposite view.”
1 The traditional dating is given in the Douay-Rheims-Challoner version in its introductions to the Gospels: Matthew about 36; Mark about 40; Luke about 54; John about 93.
2 Ricciotti, The Life of Christ (E.T. Alba I. Zizzamia), Bruce, Milwaukee, 1944, p. 186.
3 Redating the New Testament, SCM Press, London, 1976, p. 358.
4 Thus in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1989, D. J. Harrington puts Mark before 70; B. T. Viviani, O.P., puts Matthew between 80 and 90; R. J. Karris, O.F.M., puts Luke 80-85; Pheme Perkins puts John in the 90s.
5 Redating the New Testament, p. 360.
6 Quoted in J. Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Hodder and Stoughton, London, p. 299 note 2.
7 C. P. Thiede and M. d’Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1996, p. 45. 8 J. Carmignac, The Birth of the Synoptics, (E. T. Michael J. Wrenn)
8 Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1987, pp. 6, 61.
9 Ibid., p. 99 note 29.
10 Robinson suggests that this may be the case, op. cit. p. 282 note 142.
11 R. J. Karris, in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 670.
12 Richard Dillon and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice-Hall International, London, 1968, Vol. 2, p. 165.
13 J. Wenham, op. cit., pp. 225-226.
14 C. P. Thiede and M. d’Ancona, op. cit., p. 56.
15 Robinson, op. cit., pp. 272-285.
16 Ibid., p. 275.
17 Ibid., p. 278.
18 “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” in Christian Reflections, Geoffrey Bles, London, 1967, p. 164. 19 A Lawyer Among Theologians, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1973, p. 15.
The greatest problem for the layman trying to make sense of it all is there has been such hiding and suppression of key data in coming to a rational conclusion, there’ve been vested interests who pay big money to people to come out with certain conclusions. There’ve been ideological fanatics who only wish certain things to come out and this is seen in the feminist rewriting of history for universities and schools.
And there is the “modern” narrative.
Easy for me to say don’t do it – don’t trust anything a feminist says – but there’ve been enough people debunking them to pursue it here. And they do seem to make sense on the surface. John AT Robinson:
S.G.F. Brandon made this oddness the key to his entire interpretation of the New Testament: everything from the gospel of Mark onwards was a studied rewriting of history to suppress the truth that Jesus and the earliest Christians were identified with the revolt that failed. But the sympathies of Jesus and the Palestinian church with the Zealot cause are entirely unproven and Brandon’s views have won scant scholarly credence. Yet if the silence is not studied it is very remarkable.
I’d suggest you can’t find the truth on these matters from rationalist “narrative” sources as they are, by definition hostile, even under the pretence of “rationality” or evenhandedness.
Anne Rice, on John AT Robinson, wrote:
“The case for the early date of the gospels is growing. Check out the work of Richard Bauckham. Look at the arguments of Bernard Orchid. The old Enlightenment cliches about the gospels being “late date” and “inauthentic” are now truly being swept aside by new investigation by fine scholars.
It’s too bad an entire generation of clergy was brought up with these old fashioned ideas that the gospels were fabricated by later communities. Increasingly scholars are studying the physical manuscript evidence for new clues to date, and this field is one of the most promising.” (Amazon.com Review)
The essential problem is, has been stated, that almost no one is willing to have all the evidence included and the scholar is left bewildered, endlessly going down what appear to be scholarly paths but when they’ve been read and the refutations read, they were clearly timewasters or so shoddy in their scholarship and yet they are still quoted.
Repeating Sir Norman Anderson, at times, he is “astonished by the way in which they handle their evidence, by the presuppositions and a priori convictions with which some of them clearly (and even, on occasion, on their own admission) approach the documents concerned, and by the positively staggering assurance with which they make categorical pronouncements on points which are, on any showing, open to question, and on which equally competent colleagues take a diametrically opposite view.”
This post was not about the theology itself but about the way in which we’re drawn into debates, the shoddiness of many such debates and then about the dating itself, without which no documents can be seen as contemporary and are therefore unable to be used, the very state of affairs the anti-Christian narrators have been trying to establish and which all the scholars quoted above refute.
And lastly, this post was about four groupings within society, with the Dawkinesque fanatics in the ascendancy today and monotheist very much fighting a rearguard action.