Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When were the gospels written?

One of the most common portals to my site is the page entitled, "When Were the Gospels Written?" I wrote that page because I could not find the topic covered sufficiently on the web. Since then, many people have found that page with Google searches. The page is sometimes referenced on various forums, either as an authority by those that agree, or an object of derision by those who don't. I am flattered by the attention given to that essay.

It's been a busy summer. In August RA wrote to me about this subject. I finally take the time to address him here.


Renas Alt said...

MH is for Merle Hetzler, RA is for my pseudonym:

MH: Wait, if we do not know who wrote the gospels, how do we know the authors can be trusted? How can you know they are knowledgeable about their subject? It seems to me that it is important to know who wrote those books

RA: As Kümmel points out (INT, 70), the fact that Papias (writing c.130 AD) ascribed one of the two gospels to Mark means that the tradition in ascribing it to Mark (from various sources) is correct since no one would ascribe it to the disciple (instead of to Peter as later forgerers did), who even deserted Paul at one point on his journeys. Matthew is a different matter, but once again you can't expect everything to be 100% stated, and an early reliable tradition is just as good.

MH:I am surprised that you say Luke identifies himself. In the versions of Luke accepted by textual scholars, and in most if not all modern translations, the name of Luke does not appear in the book itself. What are you basing this claim on?

RA: No, Luke does not identify himself, but it is near-universally accepted that he was a follower of Paul's and there aren’t solid reasons to doubt this. Granted some (Kümmel, INT, 104) have expressed doubts as to the certainty of this, but there is no reason to seriously doubt this (the earliest manuscript, c.200, P75, has it as according to Luke (kata Loukan), although P4 does not, which is earlier, meaning that the tradition was there but the Gospel was always anonymous).

MH: You claim that John identifies himself. Well it is true that the 21st chapter of John says that an unknown "Disciple whom Jesus loved" testified to these things. But that chapter appears to be a later addendum to the book. The original book appears to end at John 20:30-31--"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." Immediately following this summary, we find more stories in chapter 21. Apparently chapter 21 of John was added later by somebody other than the original author. Regardless of how John 21 was written, it says only that a disciple testified to these things. The book nowhere identifies that this "Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" is John. Further, it doesn't even say this unknown disciple wrote the book, but only that he testifies to it. So we find that an unknown editor most likely added John 21, mentioning that an unknown disciple testified to the original book. This hardly counts as the author of the book identifying himself.

RA:I know of one objection as to John 21 being inauthentic to original John (20:30 could easily have been removed). Whether John 21 is a later addition, along with 1 is beyond my interest here.

MH: Yes, by 180AD Matthew and Mark were identified as the authors of the books associated with their names, but that is too late to be reliable. We simply have no early reliable information of who wrote those books. (And if you try to argue that Papias identified Matthew and Mark sooner, see The Jesus Puzzle, Part 3 for reasons why this is not credible witness.)

So we don't know who wrote the gospels.

RA: The traditions come from 130 and following, not 180 and evidently they are early and reliable because Papias says he obtained that from John the presbyter, and this presbyter could hardly have gotten that tradition later than c.90 AD. Doherty’s position is that Jesus didn’t even exist so I would be cautious to cite anything he has to say without checking out his arguments and sources first.

MH: You excuse the fact that Paul did not specifically reference the gospels. Sure, the four gospels could have been written and not yet widely circulated by Paul's time, but one wonders why the great missionary of the early church seems totally unaware of their existence. Although this is not conclusive that the four gospels did not exist in Paul's time, it gives us good reason to doubt.

RA: The only thing that may have resembled a gospel that Paul may have had is the hypothetical Ur-Mark, a pre-Markan gospel which I believe existed but most do not (for example Kümmel, INT, 49-50). The earliest date for Matthew is around 50, and Luke is c.57, although recently I’ve changed my opinion that Luke must have used Matthew to a maybe due to the fact that his arrangement does not follow Matthew’s but nevertheless we can be fairly sure neither Matthew nor Luke existed before 50 AD, with Mark in the late 60's. Even if Paul could have had access to ur-Mark, why does he need to use it? And why do you think he had to mention them? He isn't giving a biography of Jesus, he's only giving Christians knowledge about salvation.

MH: We do have the writings of many early Christians. See, for instance, the website Early Christian Writings. The problem is that the earliest writers appear to be unaware of the existence of the four gospels. How do you explain the strange absence of reference to the four gospels in the early Christian literature? Perhaps they had not been written until later.

RA: So which writings from that site according to you must have made use of the gospels and why? The Signs Gospel is a hypothetical pre-Johannine layer, the Didache are just Christian teachings (again showing that like Paul teachings have little reason to mention details about Jesus’ earthly life), the Gospel of Thomas is dependent on Q and is a Gospel anyway, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are Jewish works, Mara Bar Serapion mentions the execution of a Jewish king, and there is no other document from the first century that if it should have used the Gospels didn’t (the Christian Sybillines are one of 12 books that are from the 2nd century BC to the early Middle Ages and have no interest in Christianity). I guess this stems from the overwhelming popularity of that site among skeptics who feel relieved that Christianity has been “debunked” thoroughly and sufficiently, whereas in reality the majority of the arguments on that site are defeated and the rest are misrepresented (such as the fact that Hellenistic concepts exist in 2 Peter, whereas such concepts were firmly established in Asia Minor in the 1st century AD), thus serving only as ethos for the author, who is evidently a skeptic, in presenting the Bible as inauthentic, whereas in reality the counter-arguments are ignored.

MH: And no, Clement, does not clearly quote form the gospels. He quotes a saying of Jesus that is close to that written in Matthew, but he does mention his source. He may have been using a source such as Q, or some other source. Even if he had indeed quoted Matthew, since he was writing around 90 AD, this would not be proof that Matthew was written before 70 AD. So we simply cannot discover evidence that the gospels were written early by looking at the other early Christian writings.

RA: Why would Clement use Q?? Where would he find Q and why would he think Q is more authorative than Matthew? This is so clearly ad hoc. I used 1 Clement not to prove an early date for Matthew, but to point out that all the writings that would have made use of the gospels have.

MH: I don't understand how you and Robinson (whoever he is) are missing the references to factions and famine in Mark 13. Verse 12 describes the factions by saying, "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death" and verse 8 speaks of the famine. How can you possibly deny that these things are written in Mark 13? Mark 13 does indeed describe the troubled times of 70 AD.

Please show me where you find the passage about children being dashed to the ground in Mark 13. I can't find it.

RA: Why would anyone mention any children being dashed to the ground? Just because it was done one time? Don’t abandon common sense; in the future I won’t answer such questions. That is exactly the point. Such detailed descriptions only come from later, ex eventu, prophecies, such as 2 Baruch 7.1 or Sybilline Oracles 4.125-127. The famine et al is dealt with by Dodd who, as mentioned in my previous response, showed that all of the imagery in Mk 13, Mt 24, and Lk 20 is from traditional Jewish envisioning of the destruction of a city not Jerusalem particularly, and if you want I can find the relevant references.

MH: It seems to me that Mark 13 clearly refers to the destruction of the temple. In verse 1 the disciples ask about it. In verse 2 Jesus says it will happen. Verse 14 speaks of the abomination of desolation which clearly infers it.

You say that the hills of Judea were in Roman hands in 70 AD, so it was too late for anyone to flee. I find this hard to believe. It is difficult for even modern armies to control all of the remote hills. Ancient armies concentrated on conquering cities. So the folks in Jerusalem who had escaped the city could have surely fled to the hills.

RA: That you may find surrounding a city hard to believe is irrelevant if it is true. Perhaps you are thinking of New York sized cities, but I can assure you they were very surroundable, especially with thousands of troops. The first paragraph has been dealt with in my previous response, which explains that Mark 13 displays a description of a traditional Jewish image of a city being destroyed that does not have the elements of detailed knowledge (e.g. burned Temple). If you want an example of an ex vaticanu prophecy, look at these examples especially the fact that they all mention the burning of the Temple:

We have overthrown the wall of Zion and we have burnt the place of the mighty God (7.1). [I.e. the temple. For this sense, cf. II Mace. 5.17-20; John 11.48; Acts6.14; 21.28; etc.]
They delivered ... to the enemy the overthrown wall, and plundered the house, and burnt the temple (80.3).
And a Roman leader shall come to Syria, who shall burn down Solyma's [Jerusalem's] temple with fire, and therewith slay many men, and shall waste the great land of the Jews with its broad way. [Tr. R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament II, Oxford 1913,395.]

Specifically of the three Synoptics only Matthew mentions a burning of a city and not a Temple (and Mark and Luke are silent about any such instances)

MH: And that is my point. Mark has Jesus reporting a future event that, with the benefit of hindsight, turns out to be a blunder. In 70-73 AD a prediction of the Second Coming within 3.5 years of the destruction of 70 AD seemed feasible. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Mark goofed.

RA: Exactly who would actually write a failed prophecy is a mystery neither you nor anyone can solve, that not being the only problem: who would sponsor a gospel with a failed prophecy, much less three of them?

MH: The message of Jesus, the son of Ananus, as found in Josephus, is far from the warning of Mark. The man in Josephus was walking around shouting "Woe to Jerusalem", and was considered to be a madman. He made no specific claims of a destruction of the temple by Rome. This seems to be quite different from the clear prophesies of Mark. I do not conclude from this passage in Josephus that it was obvious to people in the time of Jesus that Rome would some day destroy the temple and Jerusalem as they did in 70 AD.

RA: Recently I've been thinking that Robinson’s point here is rather weak because Josephus’ account smells very mythical. Nevertheless, it may point to the fact that someone (not Jesus of Nazareth) actually did predict Jerusalem’s fall before there was any suggestion of that. Jesus ben Hananiah was not a Roman so there would be no good reason to say that.

MH: You seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of the phrase "let the reader understand". I know of no place where literature uses the expression, "Let the reader understand" to refer to a "simultaneous near-future historical event and apocalypse". If you are going to convince a skeptic, you will need a better argument than that.

RA: It is more than you get from other parts of the Bible! (e.g. Genesis 2 when God makes all the animals for Adam but none are suitable for him, so then God makes woman, which signifies that bestiality is wrong). In addition, the fact that pregnant women are seen as having a hope of running away (Mt 24.19), where the situation of a city encirclement did not allow that (least of all for pregnant women!).

MH: The meaning of that phrase seems obvious: Mark is simply telling his readers that this is important and he wants them to understand. How can you use this as proof that the chapter is talking about a distant event, when the chapter repeatedly says it is talking about an event in the lifetime of the apostles? In my original essay I pointed out many places where Mark 13 says this will happen in their lifetime. Why ignore the obvious, repeated mentions in this chapter of the imminent timing? How can one use an obscure interpretation of "Let the reader understand" to negate all of Mark's clear statements about the timing of the return?

RA: The phrase means that these events won’t have significance for everyone, only Christians living in Jerusalem. Perhaps that is all it means. In any case, there is no solid reason to believe that Mark, Matthew, or Luke expected the parousia of Christ in 70, much less if they were writing AFTER 70.

MH: Yes, exactly, Mark set himself up for failure when he predicted a second coming within a few years. Exactly. But how do you know that Mark intended his gospel to have any relevance to future generations? He was addressing a specific people, who were scattered after the destruction of Jerusalem, and needed hope. Mark gave them hope. He predicted a second coming would occur shortly. Could it be that Mark was simply writing a novel to help build hope? Can we even be sure he intended people to think he was reporting an event in history? Could he have made it all up? Was he intentionally deceiving people, because he thought the hope he could bring justified a little deception? Or was he deluded himself? We don't know. We don't even know who wrote Mark (although we nickname him "Mark" for convenience).

RA: Again it makes absolutely no sense as to why Mark would do this (or Matthew and Luke for that matter). It would be the same if someone started claiming Jesus actually came in 2000 today and start a cult out of it.

MH: The author of Matthew, who wrote a little later than Mark, basically copies Mark 13 with a few edits (Matthew 24), and then launches into an operation of why the promised coming has not yet occurred. He explains that the one who ignores the warnings because "My lord delayeth his coming" (v 48) is not taking the right approach. He then tells the story of the ten virgins who had to wait for a delayed coming, and of stewards who needed to be faithful while they waited. So already it was becoming obvious that the promised coming had not yet occurred. Matthew did not simply copy Mark here and move on, as he did in much of his book. He patches together an explanation for the delay.

RA: This actually does not prove that Matthew is answering the fact that Mark 13’s prediction is unfulfilled (because in that case Matthew 24 would have omitted the question given to Jesus about when it will happen or at least have Jesus answer it, but Jesus only ignores it (Mt 24:3-4)!). The fact is by the late 60’s a generation had already elapsed and people were beginning to give doubts as to whether Jesus was coming.

MH: I see no place where your source contradicts what my source says about who actually practiced ritual handwashing before 70 AD. So far you have not shown a source that contradicts what my source said.

RA: The Essenes at Qumran performed ritual purification through water for centuries before Christ. Please give me your source that only priests did this before 70 AD.

MH: You seem to have totally missed my point. It appears that Luke's objective was to show how the gospel could have gotten to Rome. Having told his story, he was done. Once he got Paul to Rome, he could surely have added more, but, having reached his objective, he ended his book. The fact that the book of Acts ends here does not prove it was written early.

RA: The fact that Luke puts Paul in the awkward situation that he does is evidence in itself that had Luke known Paul’s end, he would have mentioned it (). I have seen several theories regarding this, with exactly one solid example as to how Luke could have known about Paul’s death and not mention it, which I will briefly discuss.

The objection is the fact that Homer in his Illiad also does not mention the death of Achilles. The first thing I want to point out is that Homer doesn’t mention the death of anyone else either (Ajax the Greater, Ajax the Lesser, ), except for Patroclus who is vital to the story, nor does he narrate the fall of Troy! This evidently means two things: the stories were known before Homer, and these were not part of the direction of Homer’s story. Before the skeptic says, “Aha!” I want a solid example as to exactly why Luke would want a structure of Jerusalem to Rome, if he included verses such as Acts 28:, leaving Paul off at Rome only as a prisoner, with neither a satisfied ending for those who want him to live (he is imprisoned) nor for those who want him to have a glorious death, much like the one mentioned in the Acts of Paul and Thecia (Luke’s omission of Paul’s death). In fact even Homer gives us Achilles death, albeit he doesn’t narrate it, he gives it to us in a prophecy nonetheless (), so it is more than evident that had Luke known Paul’s death, he would have hinted at it at least a little more than a simple imprisonment.

MH: The case that Josephus wrote before Luke can be found at Luke and Josephus. Please let me know if that does not answer your objections.

RA: It has been acknowledged that this has rightfully been abandoned. I have not studied the issue directly, but I’ll mention that there are three omens, which Josephus adds that Luke omits.

MH: And so I still conclude that Mark 13 was written shortly after 70 AD in an attempt to encourage those that had been scattered. This late writing of this gospel, and all of the gospels, gives us reason to question the reliability of their testimony of events that had happened years earlier.

RA: Once again, to write a failed prophecy much less to have someone accepted, and to have three such gospels is beyond any sensible comprehension. How you can encourage anyone with a failed prophecy is beyond me. Much less who would support this gospel? Certainly not Rome, and who would support Luke and Matthew? It is hardly likely Antioch and whoever Luke’s patron was, or whichever church accepted Luke-Acts would have bore this untenable “unfulfillment.”

In addition to this there are examples of the expectancy of an imminent coming which evaporated soon after the destruction of the Temple (e.g. MT 3.10, LK 3.9, MK 1.15).

Merle said...

RA, see my comments at Questions

Renas Alt said...

MH: I see your comment at the blog. I see you have not addressed the fact that in Mark 13 Jesus is addressing the apostles, and specifically says that the prophecies apply during the lifetime of those apostles. Why does Jesus continually say that "you", that is, the apostles whom he was addressing, would see these things? Why does he say that it would happen in the disciple's generation(v 30)? I see that you have not addressed that point. Can we simply ignore the clear teaching of these verses regarding the immanency of the return? Why not simply admit that Mark was mistaken in his predictions?
RA: I think I answered that with my position on the exegesis of the phrase “let him who hears understand.” If you would kindly notice, the part where “this generation” is mentioned is after the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, making it a future apocalyptic prophecy, with the aforementioned phrase being a warning to the people who were in His presence (those who are listening understand that this is going to happen to the Temple as well).

MH: Huh? I said absolutely nothing about finding it hard to believe that the Roman army could surround a city!
Let's look at what was actually said in context: You had written that, "it was far too late for anyone in Judea to take to the hills, which had been in enemy hands since the end of 67". I questioned your assertion that the hills to which the people would want to flee were in enemy hands. I argued that ancient armies did not concentrate on controlling hills but attacking cities. And your response? You suggest that I think surrounding a city is hard to believe! Huh? How can you possibly get that from what I wrote?
Ancient armies concentrated on surrounding and attaching cities.
Now once, more, let's get back to your assertion that the Jews could not flee to the hills, for the hills to which they would flee would have been in enemy hands. Have you abandoned your original assertion?
The command to flee Judea (Mark 13:14) was indeed relevant to 70 AD, for many in Judea fled to escape the disaster. Although the army surrounded Jerusalem, they did not surround all of Judea, and did not control all of the hills. Many in the surrounding community could have fled, and probably some fled from Jerusalem. (see Siege of Jerusalem )
RA: The fact that Jesus was earlier talking about the Temple, which was in Jerusalem, means that He could only have referred to Jerusalem and not all of Judaea. The Romans did not encircle all of Judaea, a move that would be very ridiculous, but went straight from the north and surrounded it from the south as well as north producing the situation that would entail such warnings.
MH: But the prophecy that Jesus would come soon wasn't a failed prophecy when Mark wrote it. It became a failed prophecy several years later, when the fulfillment did not come.
RA: No, but it was one if Matthew and Luke are written after 70 (75 at latest).
Who would sponsor a failed prophecy? Well, for one thing, it appears that very few did sponsor Mark. As you yourself seem to admit, the four gospels were virtually unknown in the early Christian writings. Guess what? People seem to have been doing exactly what you say they would do. They relegated the book of Mark and its offshoots--including the failed prophecy--to the sidelines. From the surviving record, it appears that the bulk of early Christianity had very little to do with the four gospels before the second half of the second century. Up until that time, Christianity was based mostly on Paul's' writings, which as you apparently agree, had very little to do with the four gospels. When the four gospels were later merged with Paul's writings, the failed prophecy of Mark 13 could have faded into the background, and could have been interpreted away.
RA: The fact that the Gospel of John made it to Egypt by c.150 AD means that it could not have been written after 120 (even earlier seeing that at around the same time there is some apocrypha that is dependent upon it). Even IF (and these ifs are not small at all) 1 Clement is post 110, and Ignatius is placed late (as opposed to 100-110 AD), and Polycarp is placed at 130 instead of 110. The four Gospels therefore being unknown is as little demonstratable as being known. The Epistle of Barnabas could be quoting from it, but of course no text critic wants to admit that, ascribing it to oral tradition, which is not impossible, but nevertheless the possibility of the former cannot be entirely excluded. As I have demonstrated in my first e-mail, there is every reason to believe that Matthew and Luke are pre-70 AD. Paul’s writings were not the only thing used until the 2nd century.
MH: But might some people have sponsored a gospel with a failed prophecy during the first century? Sure! The early Jehovah's Witness movement, for instance, was based on specific prophecies, which soon failed. Did the group disband when the prophecies failed? No! Folks found a way to overlook the failed prophecies, to come up with new interpretations, and to continue on with a slightly modified faith. (See Failed Prophecies and When Prophecies Fail for documentation.)
RA: Yes, but no Jehovah Witness or other sect’s prophecies were made AFTER the event which they fail to prophecy. This very fact defies all reason, and the fact that Matthew and Luke as well as Mark have this (not a failed prophecy but a prophecy worded so strangely that it suggests that 70 AD was the Second Coming). Again, I don’t know how many times I can say this: it is not that it was a failed prophecy, but that it is supposed to have been written AFTER the event took place and still BE a failed prophecy.

MH: You wrote this in response to my argument that the book of Mark could have been intended as a novel or a deliberate deception. Why would the writer do that? I explained it to you once. Should I explained it again?
Once more: "Mark" might have written it to give people hope. The people were desperate, had lost their homes in the destruction of 70 AD, and had fled far into the hills. Maybe Mark was not trying to start a cult. Maybe he was simply writing a novel to lift their spirits.
RA: What hope is there when the parousia of Christ does not take place when the gospel “gives them hope” it would? This theory holds absolutely no weight. There were no such things as novels of the kind you are thinking, nor were the Gospels written as such.
MH: I gave you my source on Jewish handwashing. Please go back to my original essay "When Were the Gospels Written?" and look at footnote 11.
RA: Citing an authority makes no difference; the fact is the Essenes used ritual washing not only for priests. The fact that the Talmud mentions that people can wash their hands, quoting Old Testament verses (Leviticus 15.11 and Psalms 26.6) refutes this whole hypothesis.
MH: You are assuming that "Luke" was writing history when he wrote Acts. Many have observed that the book of Acts might well be shear fabrication, for it does not accord well with actual history and with the writings of Paul.
RA: On the contrary, if non-conservatives such as Kümmel can say things like, “But Campbell has convincingly demonstrated that the sequence of Paul’s missionary activity to be inferred from his epistles so excellently agrees with the statements of Acts that we have every reason to infer the relative chronology of Paul’s activity from the combination of both sources” (INT, 179) means something. Text critics, liberal and conservative (especially) alike use Acts to try to support certain hypotheses about the Pauline chronology or date of a certain epistle (in the case of the 9 Pauline epistles we work in single years and not decades). So your claim is shown not to reflect scholarship (something that is often ridden within countless contra-Christian writings except it is rarely demonstratable as false as clearly as in this case).
MH: "Luke" may have written because she saw a need to explain a difficult problem.
RA: I don’t suppose like Bloom in “The Book of J” you describe Luke as a she because “there is no reason to suppose it couldn’t be a woman,” but exactly what problem Luke is explaining and how this dislodges the strong internal evidence of an early date, I don’t know.
MH: There were many Christian followers of Paul in Greece and Rome in the early second century.
RA: There were ones in Greece by 50 AD and in Rome by 57-60.
MH: As you seem to acknowledge, Paul's writings expressed very little --if any--interest in the four gospels or the earthly details of the life of Jesus. In fact, it can be argued that Paul never thought that Jesus had been on the earth, but that Jesus did his work of salvation strictly in the spiritual realm.
RA: The focus on the spiritual is because that is the realm which is relevant to the Christian’s salvation! Yet Paul does acknowledge a historical Jesus, such as Romans 1.3, Galatians 4.4 (born of a woman), Galatians 3.13 (hung on a tree).
MH: Paul's followers worshipped this Jeus who dealt largely in the spiritual realm, but they later became aware of the books speaking of the earthly Jesus. Luke may have been dealing with questions that came up when people read of an earthly Jesus in Jerusalem. How could Jesus have lived in Palestine? They were in Rome. There apparently was no significant Christian presence around Jerusalem at that time (for history outside of the book of Acts seems to be silent about a significant Christian presence there). If Mark is true, how is it that a message originating in the area of Jerusalem is now centered in Rome, Asia Minor, and other outlying areas? So the unknown author that we conveniently refer to as "Luke" wrote an edited gospel (that we now call the Gospel of Luke), and the book of Acts, thus authoring a two volume epic of how it could have happened. Having accomplished her objective, she had no need to keep writing.
RA: Again that “she” pronoun. I don’t know of many women in ancient times named Luke, and Paul certainly names a Luke who was his companion. Nevertheless, If there was a Christian presence as early as the mid 40’s in Rome, there certainly was one in Jerusalem. Whether this was Luke’s purpose is irrelevant to the dating of the Gospels, the internal evidence of which I’ve presented for an early date, you seem to continually ignore.

MH: Excuse me, but Papias never said that the second gospel was written by Mark. He says that a Mark wrote down sayings and stories that Peter told him, but not in order. That hardly describes the narrative book of Mark. We don't know what document Papias was talking about. In fact, Papias himself apparently never even saw the stories that Mark had written. Papias was merely reporting that some guy named John the Presbyter told him that Mark had written what Peter had said. Was the Presbyter reliable? We don't know. We don't know anything about him.
RA: That Papias is talking about our canonical Mark, there can be little doubt. The events that this Mark recorded (possibly ur-Mark) to be different from the early, universal tradition of a Gospel of Mark, after he rearranged them, is too coincidental.
MH: Besides, the writings of Papias did not survive. We have only the word of Eusebius--who was notoriously unreliable--who wrote several centuries later telling us that Papias had said that the elder had said that a Mark had written what Peter had said that Jesus had said and done. (Can you count all the levels of hearsay here?) How can this be considered reliable evidence?
RA: Several centuries does not mean unreliable. Papias is quoted by Irenaeus and Justin Martyr in any case, who wrote 20-50 years later.
MH: Even if Papias was indeed talking about the book we call Mark, it is interesting that, since Papias himself states that he did not have a lot of confidence in the written word, Papias certainly isn't testimony that the book of Mark is reliable.
RA: Where does Papias say that “he did not have a lot of confidence in the written word,” and how does that imply that his testimony is unreliable, especially when he probably lived in the time of eyewitnesses of the Gospel’s composition?
MH: And even if Papias was correct that a Mark had written it, which Mark did it? Mark was a common name. Papias makes not effort to identify this Mark as a particular person in history.
RA: Once again, I’ll quote Kümmel on the matter: “But even if the report of Papias about the relation of the author of Mark to Peter is untrustworthy, his statement could yet prove right in that the author of Mark was called Mark…The Mark whom Papias named as the author of Mark is certainly identical with the John Mark mentioned more than once in Acts,” although as in many cases (including his earlier firm statement that Papias simply had no trustworthy knowledge of Mark and Peter’s relationship) Kümmel does not support his case, I think that the fact that Paul mentions Mark in Philemon 1.24, Colossians 4.10, he was certainly a person who lived in Apostolic times. Papias must have meant him, because there is no other Mark known to ancient Christian history that would have had such authority with Papias needing only his name to be mentioned (as in the case of the epistle of James [1.1] and Jude [1.1]). In addition, I Peter 5.13 refers to Mark as “son” which means that even if I Peter is inauthentic (the latest date for which is 120 due to Polycarp’s use of it), this in itself provides further ancient attestation that Mark and Peter had some sort of relationship.
MH: And if we can agree that Papias as not a credible witness, then, as I said, the earliest evidence we have for the authorship of Matthew and Mark comes around 180 AD, which is far removed from 30 AD.
RA: The earliest evidence we have for Matthew cannot be later than 130 AD, a late date for Ignatius who is dated by the majority to 100-110 AD, who quotes Matthew 3.15 directly. The patristic evidence does not favor a date after 100 AD for Matthew or any of the other Gospels (except of course in John’s case if Polycarp is placed at 130).

MH: Okay, so you were mistaken when you said, "The two gospels that do mention that they are their writers are John and Luke"? So Luke didn't identify himself as you said? It appears that I have made my point and that you now agree. The writer of Luke did not identify himself.
RA: Well by now I see that for you Luke will remain a female. Exactly what this proves is irrelevant because you have yet to dislodge the evidence I have given you for an early date! And I have not seen an attempt in any of the posts so far.
MH: And you now turn to a majority vote to prove that Luke was the writer? That's odd, for majorities are sometimes wrong. Yes, many believe that Luke wrote the book of Luke, but what is their reason? Do not most people believe it because everybody they know believes it? But if everyone is blindly believing it because everyone they know is also blindly believing it, what kind of evidence is that?
RA: Ah the irony. You yourself jump at pseudonomy whenever the text critics agree with you, yet I can’t use the criterion of embarrassment that most agree that Luke-Acts probably had the same author. There are linguistic differences (for which a period of 5 or so years can account), but the style and themes are generally unified (e.g. Luke’s decision to leave the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from Q and the structure [almost Essene-like] of the early Church where everyone gave their money and it was all shared.
MH: Okay, so you have no interest in proving that John 21 is authentic? That's odd, for you told us that John identifies himself in the book of John. If you have no interest in defending the authenticity of John 21, what can possibly be the basis of your claim that John identifies himself?
RA: We are not dealing with John, but with the Synoptics and Acts.
MH: Excuse me, but you seem to be reinterpreting history. Here is what happened: I had said, "Now if Paul or another first-century writer had referred to a gospel, we could use that information to date the gospels prior to that apostle. But the first century writings are no help here. Instead we find no clear mention of the gospels until well into the second century." (emphasis added)
RA: Once again, Paul’s epistles were written during the same period that the Gospels were at earliest, which in any theory makes the lack of use irrelevant. If you still have doubts regarding this, consider the fact that of the 4-6 “deutero-Pauline” epistles (so called by text critics) none of them quote any gospel (the alleged quote in 1 Timothy 5.18 of Luke 10.7 is disputable, after all Matthew 10.10 has the same phrase, but even so that would be the only New Testament reference to a Gospel, and on an entirely different matter, even though the Pastorals are dated to the mid 2nd century).
MH: In direct response to this, you wrote, "As for the first century writings are no help here, what other 1st century writings exist that we know of, except 1 Clement (possibly, which DOES mention the gospels)?" (emphasis added) So yes, your words clearly indicate that you were using I Clement to counterargue against my assertion that the first century writings are no help in establishing the date of the gospel.
Do you now agree with me that the first century writings do not make a clear mention of the four gospels, and so cannot be used to establish a date for the gospels?
RA: That much is once again irrelevant. I repeat that I did not use 1 Clement to establish an early date for any gospel, but that the writings that should have made use of gospel verses have.
MH: You had written that I Clement possibly does mention the book of Matthew. What is the basis of your claim? The only place I know where I Clement comes close to quoting the gospels is in chapter 13, where it says,
being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spoke, teaching us meekness and long-suffering. For thus He spoke: "Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done to you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure you measure, with the same it shall be measured to you." [from I Clement 13]
Well, that is a basic synopsis of the Sermon on the Mount, all of which is found in Mathew, but also in Q and Luke. This is certainly not an exact quote of Matthew, and in no way does it reference Matthew. What was Clement's source? Matthew? Q? Verbal tradition? Some other written source? We don't know. So we can hardly use this as evidence that the book of Matthew existed when Clement wrote around 90 AD. And even if Clement did use Matthew in 90 AD, that doesn't prove that Matthew was written before 80 AD. So I Clement cannot be used to prove that Matthew was written early.
RA: Here’s a link to all the patristic citations by the early Church: http://ntcanon.org/authorities.shtml (some are disputed) for any future questions. As for 1 Clement, the situation did not call for his use of the gospels aside from “some sayings” of Jesus (I think I have confused 1 Clement with 2 Clement or someone else regarding the use of the gospels; nevertheless, Polycarp’s extensive use outweighs much of the argument). I am still waiting for your answer regarding the internal evidence I’ve given. You’ve only speculated as to How the Gospels Might be unreliable because of Absence of citations from the 1st century (1 Clement’s concern was not an apology for Christianity’s truth, nor a homily to help brethren, but a totally different subject matter: a dispute regarding Corinth).

Merle said...

RA, see my comments at my site.