I argue that the gospel of Mark was written in AD 42, about events that took place in AD 36. This conclusion relies on tools that can be tested (e.g. economic theory), as well as the more traditional guesswork (e.g. form criticism).
A brief history
10 reasons for an early date
Arguments for a later date
For convenience, here is a rough timeline as used in this document.
63 BC - AD 26: Abomination of desolation seems increasingly likely.
AD 36: Ministry of Jesus. Death of John the Baptist (according to Josephus) and last year of Pilate's rule. Earlier dates for Jesus rely on the supernatural infancy stories so they can be discounted. Earlier dates also introduce a gap (AD 33-36) where nothing much happens, just at the time when economic theory suggests the movement should be changing most dramatically.
AD 37: Saul (Paul) claims to have seen Jesus still alive. He goes to Arabia for three years to think it over.
AD 40: Abomination of desolation: Caligula tries to place an idol in the temple. Israel in uproar. Paul goes to Jerusalem and begins to develop his Gentile-centered doctrine (Galatians 1-2). Peter begins to soften toward the gentiles (Acts 10)
AD 41: Caligula dies. Claudius reigns. Unrest among the Jews, caused by the abomination of desolation, leads Claudius to ban Roman Jews from meeting in groups.
AD 42: Mark's gospel is written. Second year of Claudius. Major persecution of the church. Peter escapes to Rome. The Roman Jews ask for a written copy of the message, as they could not meet in groups to hear it in person.
AD 43-44? Early date* for Council at Jerusalem. Peter accepts Paul's view that they are not just Jewish reformers, but a new church for the gentiles. *(According to Eduard Mayer, Eduard Schwartz, Alfred Loisy and others: see Peter In Rome, Columbia University Press 1969, p.12)
AD 40-68: Paul's influence spreads (mainly outside Judea).
AD 50? Late date for Council at Jerusalem.
AD 64 Great Fire of Rome.
AD 64?? Peter and Paul, now allies, organise the hierarchical church in Rome. Nero blames Christians for the fire: Peter and Paul are martyred.
AD 70: Destruction of Jerusalem, making Paul's Gentile gospel the only game in town. Rome becomes the natural center for the expanding church.
AD 70-135: First generation dies off. Bishops, being more organised, grow their churches faster than other groups of believers.
AD 135: Marcion assembles the first New Testament canon. Others respond with their own versions. Theirs are less anti-Jew than Marcion, but more supernatural, and become more popular.
AD 140: Justin Martyr refers to remnants of "Ebionites" (meaning "the poor", an early name for Christians). They consider Paul to be the antichrist.
AD 325: Pauline Christianity is embraced by Rome.
Early church historians (Eusebius, etc.) recorded that Mark was written when Peter went to Rome. A Roman audience is supported by internal evidence: compared with the other gospels, Mark has more Latin loan words. Elsewhere, Eusebius and others date Peter's authority in Rome to AD 42. The exact date is the focus of this essay and is discussed in more detail later.
Here, Eusebius cites Papias, who was alive when the apostles were still active (born circa AD 60, 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, EH 3.39, translated by Dr Wayne Slusser)
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)
A preface to Mark, in some old manuscripts (circa 160-180) says that Mark "wrote down this gospel in various parts of Italy" (Source.) I discuss later how Peter (with Mark) journeyed to Rome (i.e. through Italy) and stayed there for a while. So "various parts of Italy" could mean that Mark began writing down the memories before they even arrived. This is only natural: a journey will involve a lot of time waiting for the next transport, and Mark would of course be eager to hear what Peter said about Jesus.
The same preface begins "post excessionem" ("after Peter left"), which some take as meaning "after Peter died" but it simply says "after he left". Which could mean the text was written after Peter left Rome, but other evidence suggests it was written while Peter was in Rome. Most likely there was an early "Rome-only" version but the version we have was and some final touches when rthey leftIt would be natural for a version written specifically for Rome to have some parts added when they left, so it couild be used elsewhere.
Irenaeus (writing circa 180) wrote:
"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.)
At first glance this might look like Mark wrote Peter's words after Peter and Paul's joint visit in the 60s. But the writings were simply what was being preached while in Rome. They would therefore need to be written while they were being preached. According to the lists of who presided over Rome and when, this preaching began on Peter's first visit, AD 42. Mark's text proved so useful (as an early account of what happened) that it eventually spread from Italy to the rest of the church, and became the basis for later gospels.
Clement (writing circa 195) is quoted as follows:
"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.)
Again, if Peter first visited in AD 42 then this argues for the gospel being written in the same year. 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.
Eusebius repeated what Papias and Clement said, and this emphasises how the gospel would have been written as soon as Peter arrived the first time, and not on a later visit, or after he left:
"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.)
There are various other sources from later centuries, but they all repeat the same message: when Peter arrived in Rome the people demanded a written version of his message, and Peter's companion Mark provided it.
For most of the past 2000 years Paul's ideas have dominated how we think of Jesus: Mark becomes just one of four gospels, it is not placed first, and the other gospels focus on the elements that pleased Paul: Jesus as the unique messiah, a supernatural resurrection, the apostles to become rulers of a hierarchy, etc. Paul's supernatural, power based interpretation became normal, even among skeptical scholars. That is, they assume that the Jesus of Mark had supernatural powers. This has major implications for how they date the gospel (see for example "the messianic secret"). Yet Mark does not describe a Jesus with supernatural powers. He describes a Jesus who does amazing things, but all of these things can easily be explained in a non-supernatural way.
In 1901, William Wrede published "The Messianic Secret". This had a huge impact on Biblical scholarship. Wrede documented the times when people tried to praise Jesus (as The Holy One, or a great miracle worker, etc.) and Jesus told them not to. Wrede thought that Mark described a Jesus who really was The Holy One, a great miracle worker, etc., but wanted to keep it secret. Wrede saw this as evidence that Mark was written late: the story of a real man had evolved into the story of a demigod, and then they had to reconcile the accounts. But there is a serious problem with Wrede's argument. The Jesus that Mark describes never claims to be The Messiah, even in secret. Mark certainly suspects that he is, beginning his account by referring to "Jesus Christ, son of God", but Jesus himself never says it.
The word "messiah" (meaning annointed, translated as "christ" in Greek) refers to any anointed person, not to one individual. It appears 39 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and all but two times refer to patriarchs, priests, regular kings, etc. The two possible exceptions are in Daniel, where he refers to "messiah the prince", who fights against another prince and initially loses, so is clearly not supernatural. The idea that "messiah" means either a single person, or an unbeatable ruler, is not found in the Old Testament or in Mark.
A messiah is a human ruler: a king or patriarch. But Jesus came to opposed that idea: declared a kingdom ruled by God, not man. Jesus washed his disciples feet, as an example for them to follow. He rebuked them when they argued about who was in charge. He taught them to be servants, not masters. He told them not have lords like the gentiles. He called himself "the common man" ("the son of man"). He said the greatest person is the lowest one. He finished his ministry by letting himself be crucified. What part of that is hard to understand? Follow God, not a man! So naturally when people tried to promote Jesus as a Great Man with special powers, he told them not to.
Jesus called himself the common man, the "son of man", not the messiah. He used the word Messiah only twice in Mark, so it was clearly not important to his message. And one of those times was to warn people against false messiahs (In Mark 13). The other reference is in Mark 9:41, where Jesus said called his people "sons of the anointed". ("Christou este", "of the anointed / you be". "Of" is in the sense of "son": today "Christou" is a common Greek surname meaning "son of Christ"). This is similar to the phrase "son of God" and "son of man", which can refer to anybody who follows God, or to the common man.
In Mark 14:61-62 the high priest asked, "'Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?'" And Jesus said, 'I am'". Since a "messiah" was a generic term in the Old Testament, this must mean "are you the particular christ in question? The one they call son of the blessed?" The high priest interpreted the answer as blasphemy. The law on blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-16) only refers to insulting God, not claiming to a messiah (i.e. a prince of some kind). Clearly the high priest felt that Jesus calling himself a son of God was an insult to God.
The secrecy argument also rests on parables: the claim is that Jesus is deliberately hiding things. This is based on Mark 4:11-12:
"And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them."
The "secret" explanation makes no sense because a parable does not hide anything: it actually includes more information than the explanation given in private. In this case (Mark 4) the abstraction of sowing applies to all areas of life (business, personal relationships, activities of all kinds), whereas the version given to the twelve applied only to their particular job. Mark 4:11-12 is simply quoting from the calling of Isaiah (as Matthew 13 makes clear):
"Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. [...] And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate." (Isaiah 6:5,9-11)
Note the parallel with Mark 13: Jesus expected Jerusalem to be destroyed by the Romans because the people would not listen. So rather than hiding anything, Mark 4:11-12 is about revealing things. He can tell the people as clearly as he can, but the act of telling truth offends them: the action causes a reaction, so the listeners refuse to hear:
"tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes"
It is easy to see why the later church had trouble with this: like Isaiah, Jesus was clearly frustrated. But the later church taught that Jesus was perfect, so how could he ever be frustrated? Clearly, they thought, Jesus must have wanted the people to not understand. And so we see again how Paul's supernatural Jesus distorts our view of an earlier text.
The Jesus in Mark does not want to be a king, and is not supernatural. But Paul's Jesus is both. Mark's own view seems to be in between: he calls Jesus "Christ" and "son of God" but records some amazing things that Jesus did, but all of those things could have been done by an ordinary man. Instead of being evidence for a late forgery, all the "do not tell people" arguments are evidence for Mark being very early, between the time of Jesus (AD 36) and when Paul gained influence (the 40s).
In 1919 the 28 year old Karl Ludwig Schmidt published his first book: "Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu" ("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.
Schmidt argued that Mark was not a first hand account, but got his text from oral sources. Which is exactly what had always been said, e.g. by Clement: that Mark recorded Peter's oral memory, but did not necessarily get every detail in the exact order the events happened: he ordered it for the purpose of making the message clear. And Peter's lukewarm response suggests that Mark may have added details from other sources as well.
The move from oral sources (or rough notes) to a unified text might take months, or it might take decades. But a short date allows for very little speculation. Therefore most published criticism will argue for a long date. This is just the nature of publishing, and says nothing about whether a short or long date is more likely.
Form criticism can be spectacularly wrong. See for example the "two creations" theory. But the vast majority of form criticism is never tested. I was going to call it "informed guesswork" but that is too generous. So much of form criticism relies on other form criticism that it is perhaps better described as a house of cards.
Ancient history is based on a whatever fragments of evidence survive, and a string of best guesses. Even if most of the best scholars agree with a theory, it can still be undermined by a single new discovery. (I give the example of the "two creations" theory in my essay on bible scholarship.)
But there is another approach: we can deal with proof. That is, create theories we can test. Economic models can say what is highly likely, and help us to choose between competing theories (in this case, early date versus late date). The Economics of Religion is a relatively new field of study, so here I will touch on some areas that are relevant to dating Mark.
The first economic study of religion was in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. He noted how state religions tend to be slow to change, whereas non-state religions tend to be highly competitive and change quickly. This is confirmed by later research.). Scholars such as Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone have studied what makes some religions succeed and other fail. Almost all religions fail, because the market is so competitive. The winners have to do the right things, and do them quickly and consistently. Then what can we say about first century Palestine, where two state religions were in competition (Roman religion and Jewish religion), both religions claimed the authority over life and death, Judaism was trying to throw off the Romans, and Judaism was composed of often fanatical competing forms?
It is often noted that Jesus' followers included many poor people, and that most people were illiterate. This is obviously true, as 99 percent of all people in the ancient world were dirt poor and literacy was typically low (e.g. 1-5 percent). But in competitive market the absolute numbers don't matter: only the relative numbers matter: do you have more money than your competitors? Can you spread your message faster than your competitors?
A related assumption is that a 1-5 percent literacy rate means things tend not to be written or read. But that ignores economic realities: literacy is a valuable resource. If only one person in a village can read and write, they will be called upon by anyone in the village who needs a letter written. When Jesus chose twelve people as messengers, obviously he would favour anybody who could write. How many ordinary Jewish males could read? Half? One in twenty? The Mishnah (compiled from the 3rd century) quotes rabbi Yehuda ben Teima (sometimes listed as one of the ten martyrs under Hadrian):
Even if only one in thirty men actually did this, that is enough for one per village. If a group of villagers go to see a interesting new preacher, they can bring a guy who can write.
Preachers have to eat. His permanent followers have to eat as they move from village to village, gaining in numbers. Once you grow past two or three people you can't rely on the hospitality of strangers: you need an income. And that's just the baseline. So every major world religion starts with people with money, or at least connections. Buddha was born into riches. Mohammed had money. Gurui Nanak was born to an accountant and a merchant. Martin Luther relied on the support of the Saxon princes, Frederick and his brother John. Even Joseph Smith could do nothing until Martin Harris provided cash. Christianity was no different. The earliest texts include numerous examples where Jesus had wealthy followers and he tailored his message to issues they cared about (money, servants, land, etc.) For details, see Rodney Stark's essay "Early Christianity: Opiate of the Privileged?"
Religions rely on supporters for income. If a new preacher draw away followers, existing religions will react. The existing religion can spread propaganda and organise their supporters through writing. A new preacher who cannot spread his message just as quickly cannot compete: e.g. the illiterate movement will arrive at a new village and find it has already been inoculated against the message!
The story of Saul (Acts 9) illustrates the role of literacy in competition. The followers of Jesus attracted some converts, which put them in direct competition with the Pharisees. So a highly literate Pharisee (Saul) was sent to find the leaders and imprison them. This would of course involve letters between cities: speed was essential in this cat and mouse game. But Jesus' people were doing the same thing, but more efficiently: Saul was tracked, given a message tailored to his needs, and sent to a waiting cult re-programmer, Ananias. All of this implies an efficient communications network. Of course, we cannot prove that this particular story happened, but it is exactly the kind of thing that must happen in a highly competitive market where a new entrant competes with an existing dominant player.
As noted in the section on middle class followers, Jesus had many literate followers. So we should expect the message to be written down at the time. The fact that most people in the Roman empire were illiterate is precisely why any successful organisation had to target the minority who could read: it gave any new movement an immediate advantage in organising itself, and in reaching elites. Practicality demands that the original notes are very quickly compiled. When paper was scarce (and perishable), and everything had to be copied by hand, it is much easier to make one short "best of" text than to carry hundreds of scraps of paper and the have to explain the context to every new listener.
When comparing similarities between the gospels, most scholars conclude that the others must be quoting from Mark. For a detailed examination of 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. So Mark must be earlier. But how much earlier? Let us see.
Mark describes a Christian church based on Jewish law. But from the 40s onward, Paul was actively creating an alternative, gentile Christianity, and claiming much success and influence. Paul would have been well known from the start, because he was such a notable persecutor, and then went to established Christians and (three years later) began creating a new kind of non-Moses Christian. To not even hint at Pauline Christianity (not even the resurrection!) 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
A post-Paul date has been claimed by saying Mark does not define the gospel and therefore he must assume we know Paul's gospel. But fails because right from the start because Jesus repeatedly defines the gospel (the good news). The good news is the kingdom of God, a geographical kingdom that was fully defined by Moses, as any Jewish listener would know. For more on this topic, see the arguments for a late date, below.
Mark writes like a journalist, simply reporting recent events. He does not display the developed supernatural mythology we see in other gospels.
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). The other gospels miss this out. Several times we see Mark saying critical things, and these quotes are toned down in the later gospels. E.g. Mark 6:5-6 says Jesus could not do many miracles at a certain time, whereas the same account in Matthew 13:58 merely says he did not, as if he could if he wanted to. Mark 3:5 says Jesus was angry, but when Luke quotes the text (Luke 6:10) he misses out the anger part. In Mark 3:20-21, where Jesus' mother and brothers try to seize Jesus because they think he is mad, Luke and Matthew miss this unflattering verse 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?
The leaders were not excited by this "warts and all" approach. Although Mark is based on Peter's works, Peter did not care for it: Clement of Alexandria says "When this [Mark's history] came to Peter's knowledge, he neither hindered nor encouraged it." The church wanted hagiography! They wanted a super-human Jesus and apostles who are deserve to be followed. So Mark and Luke add more miracles, and make the apostles look a lot better. If you read the early church fathers you see that while they occasionally quote from Mark, they much prefer Matthew, Luke and John.
There was one notable group who liked Mark the best: the learned Christians ("learned" is "gnostic" in Greek). (See The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century" by: Michael J. Kok. (summary. Irenaeus and other bishop-based Christians were concerned that Mark was popular among the intellectuals: "What Irenaeus means by this is that some of his theological opponents entertained a 'separationist' Christology in which a divine being possessed the human Jesus during his baptism and left him before he died". This illustrates how Mark is rational. Ideas (spirit) is what matters. Ideas come and go, and survive the death of the body. Yes, the idea of being chosen (i.e. anointed, i.e. a messiah) can come onto a person, and that messiah idea can spread to others ("Christ is inside you") so lives after death. This is all rational: Mark is rational and so the intellectuals loved Mark. But Irenaeus preferred the magical view.
This picture of a careful, cautious scholar is backed up how the early church described Mark as a person. For example, Papias, as quoted earlier: "[Mark] was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein." (From "Exegesis of the Lord's Oracles")
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. Note who persuaded them to come back. Mark was persuaded by Peter, the more practical, plain minded apostle: clearly the flesh and blood is just metaphor. But Luke was persuaded by Paul, who loved the supernatural and loved claiming authority. Eventually Luke wrote his own version of Mark, but removing the criticism of the apostles, and adding more supernatural elements. This became a favourite text of the early church.
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). Hippolytus' list indicates that most of these settlers ended up as bishops of their respective cities, presumably the cities they were told to settle in. Therefore he "neither heard the Lord" say the things in his gospel, nor followed Jesus from city to city. Later (when there were more believers in his city so he got time off?) Mark got a chance to catch up with Peter. 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.
Mark did not include any virgin birth, and the original text did not include a supernatural resurrection, And all of Mark's remaining miracles can all be easily explained in naturalistic ways. But later gospels add more supernatural elements. Mark looks like the story of a real person before the religion developed.
Luke says that by the time he wrote there were many competing accounts of Jesus' life. The first attempt to choose just one official collection of gospel texts was by Marcion. His belief was radical (the Old testament was to be rejected) and so it failed. Economically we can see why: Imagine yourself as an early follower of Jesus, eager to share your message of reform. If you say you are 100% Jewish then your product is not sufficiently different from a thousand other preachers. But if you reject most of the existing religion (as Marcion did: his product was very different for both Jews and Gentiles) then the cost of your product is too high. A similar cost calculation occurred to Paul: if gentiles have to be circumcised then the cost of joining become prohibitive. Unless you are surrounded by believers, then the cost of not being circumcised is high. But that problem disappeared once Jerusalem was destroyed and Judaism was severely weakened.
Another economic issue is the cost of running a bureaucracy. If you can claim hierarchical authority it reduces the cost of internal conflicts. And if you can claim supernatural/span> then you gain free publicity, and it makes a leader's job even easier (nobody can argue back). (It should be noted that if Jesus based his message on land ownership as I argue elsewhere, then his economic case was the strongest of all. But it was also the hardest to explain, and the most likely to attract opposition from elites.) So we would expect the successful message to be solidly built on Judaism, but not require circumcision, and it would claim supernatural authority, and abandon the idea of a geographical kingdom of God. Which is exactly what happened.
Mark is notable for his mundane eye witness details (e.g. Jesus taking the children in his arms in Mark 10:16, or sleeping on a cushion in Mark 4:38). These details are the kind of thing that are dropped when Jesus' words and major events were repeated many times. So the details were missing from later gospels. Mark also assumes the listeners know local people: e.g. mentioning Alexander and Rufus in 15:21.
Mark is written in bad Greek, and sometimes translates Aramaic into Greek, suggesting that he normally speaks the local language, Aramaic, but wants it to be accessible to a wider audience. (Source.)
Modern western scholars live in a comfortable time, when nobody cares too much what you believe. Today's religious debates can take decades. This was also true in the fourth century when Christianity was protected by the emperor: an uncertain message would not lead to the collapse of the church. But first century Palestine was different! An uncertain religion would simply die, as people who needed clear answers went elsewhere. The gospel of Mark reveals an uncertainty about whether Jesus was "a" messiah of "the" messiah. That kind of uncertainty could not last long: six years is reasonable. But not forty.
The earliest copies have no name attached. It's like a document you give to a friend: it doesn't need to be introduced in writing, as you know what it is, and it won't be confused with anything else. But a late document (or a fake) needs some name ("the gospel according to...") to make it stand out from the crowd, or to introduce it to people unfamiliar with the topic. Mark doesn't work as a late document, but it works as an early one.
Our present Mark 16:9-20 was not in the earliest copies. Clearly the abrupt ending was a serious problem for the early church, as there were three different later attempts to finish it. Even worse, the added part is the dramatic supernatural resurrection: the basis for Paul's theology! The whole foundation for Paul's church was not in the original gospel! (True, Jesus had said he planned to survive his crucifixion, but Mark apparently did not think it worth recording, and nothing in Mark required it to be supernatural.)
Normally we would expect a serious problem to be fixed quickly. Take the case of Marcion for example. He presented a version of Luke that the rest of the church did not like. So the rest of the church quickly argued against him and declared him a heretic. Yet Marcion did not undermine Paul (quite the opposite: he rejected everyone else!) Mark's problem was far more serious, yet lasted unresolved for centuries.
So the Markan ending must have been well established before Paul's followers gained influence. Paul was influential from the mid 40s, especially among foreign Jews, the people who would be most interested in a written account. Paul was so influential that he was able to dominate the Jerusalem Council in AD 43 or 50. Yet the anti-Paul ending for Mark was not only preserved, but was so well established that it was still used centuries later. It takes years for an idea to become so well established. This argues for Mark's ending being spread widely by the 40s, implying an origin in the early 40s (or even earlier).
The web site "Dating the New Testament" says:
"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.
"Come to Galilee" may also be supported by the instruction for those "in Judea" to "flee to the mountains" when they see the abomination of desolation (Mark 13). Israel has a chain of mountains running along its middle, with Jerusalem toward the lower end, in Mr Zion. If fleeing Jerusalem presumably we would go to mountains further away, not nearby. "In Judea" suggests leaving Judea, so the obvious direction is Galilee: Galilee has not just mountains but numerous caves that are ideal for hiding in, hence being the home of the Zealots, and is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden. So this suggests a very early date when Galilee was still the heart of the Jesus' movement.
Most historians consider Acts to be generally reliable. So here is the likely timeline:
So Peter had to leave Israel for a couple of years, and the obvious destination was Antioch (first Christian stronghold) and then Rome (to do the most good). Now let us see what the historians said:
AD 40 (the last year of Caligula) saw the crisis over the abomination of desolation. Josephus says the Roman Jews were in uproar. The Roman historian Cassius Deo says that Claudius issued a decree that the Roman Jews could no longer meet in groups, though they could still practice their religion individually. Most scholars date this decree to AD 41.
The decree would make Rome irresistible to Peter. By applying economic theory to religion, we see that people are more likely to convert when they are in need of social capital, and the new religion offers it. AD 41 was the turning point: The decree reduced the Jews' social capital by preventing them from gathering, and it put their future capital in doubt (in case persecution increased). It also made the existing Jewish structures look weak: the Abomination of Desolation put everyone in uproar, but the Pharisees and Sadducees had no answer. Yet the abomination of desolation gave the Jesus movement massive social capital: Jesus had predicted it (Mark 13) and positioned his movement as the answer. This was the optimal time to win hearts and minds!
This reminds me of my time as a Mormon missionary: we were encouraged to look for people in need, and people whose current religion did not meet their needs. We then offered something exciting and urgent! We had to react to opportunities. This is how any new religion - or any business of any kind - must act if it is to grow.
The decree explains the original ending to Mark (Mark 16:8-9):
"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."
This is the perfect message to the Roman Jews: "you have been shaken up by recent events (the abomination, the decree, who knows what will come next), come with me to Galilee!" Apparently the offer fell on deaf ears. As we would expect, economically: Rome may be uncertain, but was Galilee any better? At least a big city has jobs. This explains why the next year (or possibly AD 50) Peter decided to embrace Paul's view of the church: it's hard to convert foreign Jews, so let's make it easier for gentiles.
When Peter arrived in Rome, the decree meant he could not teach the Jews in groups. Obviously he could not be everywhere at once, so he needed a written message. Perhaps he resisted this, as Acts describes a Peter who is unafraid of danger. But the local Jews would be scared of this visitor breaking the "no meetings" rule and bringing punishment from the authorities. So they would earnestly ask him for a written text rather than risking a firebrand in this tinderbox. This is just as the historians described: the local Jews earnestly desired a written text of his message, and Peter allowed it but was lukewarm about the idea.
Many scholars believe that the decree of AD 41 was the same decree referred to by the historian Suetonius, where he says some Jews were expelled from Rome because of an uproar over "Chrestos", meaning "the good man". This might refer to Jesus' teachings over "the common man" rising up after the abomination of desolation. The "good man" or "chrestos" can easily become the "chosen man" or "christos". However, Suetonius' comment is not dated, so other scholars think it refers to the persecution described in Acts circa AD 49. Yet both historians only refer to one such decree in this period, and AD 41 would fit both accounts.
It is highly likely that the visit was a failure in terms of numbers. Peter's only strength was in public preaching, and this was forbidden. It was also a time when the nature of the message was uncertain - the Messianic question was unresolved in Mark: was Jesus a political reformer as his words indicate, or a supernatural man-god as Paul was urging?
Tradition states that years later, at the time of another crisis (after the AD 64 fire of Rome and persecution under Nero), Peter returned, but this time with Paul. At that time the doctrine was better established and Paul had the skill to organise a hierarchical structure. This second visit ended up with both men becoming martyrs, and new religions love martyrs. More importantly, Nero's suicide led to a period of the state being weak (the year of four emperors) and then the destruction of Jerusalem. This left the capital of the empire as the default center for the church, and so later historians date the triumphant growth of the church in Rome from the second visit, not the first.
Donald Fey Robinson, Robin M Smaltz, and others, have argued that when an angel freed Peter from prison, and Peter then disappeared for a long time, this could be a euphemism for Peter's death. They did not want to admit that he failed - that somebody could just jail him and kill him without at least a dramatic martyrdom. So the author focused on his spirit being freed. Robinson etc point out the vagueness of the later claims to Peter being in Rome: they could refer to Peter's message being taken there (by Mark). It is easy to imagine Peter in jail, trying to extract some meaning from his failure, telling Mark to write down his message of a new kingdom for Israel, and take it to the seat of power. Then the Anti-Marcionite Prolog's reference to Mark being written in Italy "after Peter left" would be because Peter was already dead.
This is a minority view, as it requires several passages to not have their more obvious meaning. I mention it just for completeness, but it again argues for AD 42. It explains why Peter only gets one brief mention after this in Acts (in chapter 15, and this "Peter" might be a confusion with Simon from chapter 13). It explains why James appears for the first time and immediately replaces Peter as leader in Jerusalem (assuming we do not accept the gospel of Thomas which says James was always intended for that role). And it fits better with an economic reading, which would ask the practical question "how could a leader live for decades when so many powerful people wanted him dead, and when he provoked them at every opportunity?" For details, see Robinson, "When and Where did Peter Die" (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1945) and Smaltz, "Did Peter Die in Jerusalem?" (JBL, 1952).
Acts 12 refers to the major persecution under Herod Agrippa, appointed by Claudius in AD 41. James was killed, and Peter was imprisoned. Somebody let him escape (Peter calls them angels). Herod was so angry he had the guards killed, and had people search for Peter to bring him back. But Peter was nowhere to be found. According to historians, Peter went to Antioch and thence to Rome, and arrived in the second year of Claudius, or 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 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 could have been as early as the following year, AD 43 but is usually dated as AD 50.
We can confirm the arrival date of 42 by examining the list of Roman bishops:
"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., which is precisely the date given for St. Peter's first visit to Rome by St. Jerome in his work 'De Viris Illustribus.'"(source)
By the mid 40s Paul was sending letters about Jesus to various cities. Therefore we know they were literate. These are people who never met Jesus, and Paul does not see the need to discuss Jesus' life. So we must conclude that his hearers were already familiar with Jesus' life. This does not mean there were thousands of copies of Mark. Perhaps there were only a few dozen. But those copies would be handed round and read to those who could not read.
The visit of AD42 is sometimes questioned because Irenaeus said Peter and Paul laid the foundations of the church in Rome together, a few years later. This is perfectly true from Irenaeus' point of view. Irenaeus would ignore the AD 42 visit because it draws attention to disagreement between Peter and Paul. Irenaeus hated disagreements of any kind: his most famous book was called "against heresies". To draw attention to the AD 42 visit would undermine everything he stood for.
In AD 42 Peter opposed Paul over the position of gentiles (this was the reason for the Jerusalem council in AD 43 or 50). Paul even mentions the disagreement in his letters: "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11). According to the Pseudo-Clementine texts, when Peter argued with "Simon Magus" in Rome that was code for arguing with Paul.
No foundation could be laid in AD 42 because the church as Irenaeus knew it did not exist then. Before the Council at Jerusalem (AD 43 or 50) the church was still a reform group among the Jews. Being baptized as a follower of Jesus was like being baptized as a follower of John the Baptist: it meant re-emphasising your Jewishness. There could be no separate organisation until after the Council.
Even if Peter and Paul had been in agreement, no foundation could be laid in AD 42 because the Jews at the time were forbidden from gathering in groups, and Peter was hiding from Herod, so had to keep a low profile. This was a very small scale visit, not worth remembering later apart from being the scene for writing the gospel of Mark.
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 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. As for the lack of clearer evidence, O'Connor suggests five possible reasons, and considers that the fourth "may very well be the answer": perhaps "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 very 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)
It is suggested that Jesus' discussion of taxes suggests 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.
More seriously, most scholars agree that Mark was written before AD
70, even if they say "just a few years before". This is because the
references to AD 70 are clear in Matthew and Luke, as if written after,
but they are vague in Mark 13 (this is because, I have argued, Mark is a
much closer match to AD 40). But the poll tax (the "Kensos" or census
tax in Mark 12:13-17) was not levied until AD 70: too late for Mark. And
worse, census taxes (taxes on ordinary people) were seldom paid in
silver coins (the Kensos) because the typical peasant had none: peasants
paid in grain and goods. So the whole tax question, as normally
interpreted, is implausible.
But Mark adds crucial details. Whereas Luke says the question is posed by "scribes and chief priests" (Luke 20:20), Mark says the question is a plot between the Pharisees with the Herodians. The Herodians are those who closely follow Herod. The mix of Pharisees (populists) and Herodians (elitists) is the key. Herodians would certainly have access to different kinds of coin: bling is important to those who worship the rich. Of course, money was always of interest, but it was of special interest in AD 36, the last year of Jesus' ministry. As you read this, remember that the question was specifically about inequality: whether Jesus saw all people as equal:
AD 36 was a riveting soap opera for anyone interested in inequality. In AD36 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 (populists) brought the Herodians (worshippers of the rich) and said to Jesus "we know you think everybody is equal: should the poor widows pay taxes to these monsters?" A perfect question! And a trap from which Jesus can surely not escape! Yet he does.
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.
The claim that Matthew and Luke were early is very weak. It is based on two statements written many years later. First, Irenaeus (who died in AD 202) said he thought that Matthew was an eye witness, but he was probably basing this on a statement by Papias (who lived 100 years after Jesus). Papias mistakenly thought Matthew was written in Hebrew, so Papias is not considered to be reliable on this topic. The second quote is from Eusebius (who died in AD 330). He reported this story about Clement (who died in AD 215):
"He used to say that the earliest gospels were those containing the genealogies, while Mark's originated as follows. When, at Rome, Peter had openly preached the word and by the Spirit had proclaimed the gospel, the large audience urged Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been said, to write it all down. This he did, making his gospel available to all who wanted it. When Peter heard about this, he made no objection and gave no special encouragement. Last of all, aware that the physical facts had been recorded in the gospels, encouraged by his pupils and irresistibly moved by the Spirit, John wrote a spiritual gospel."
Eusebius might be correct that the genealogies were written down at an early stage: the Jews were very keen on genealogies, so probably wrote a genealogy soon after somebody was born. But the other parts of Matthew and Luke quote from Mark, so they must be later. The Ebionites (who some say are the original Christians) are said to use an earlier version of Matthew, written in Hebrew. However, this claim comes from Epiphanius of Salamis, who is known to be unreliable on details. The passages he quotes indicate it was probably a harmony of the gospels: it was common in the second century to create a single composite gospel to avoid the need to copy four or five books by hand. The reference to Hebrew was probably because the Ebionites kept the law of Moses and the Hebrew scriptures (e.g. the Old Testament)
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 later idea that the mortal Jesus was part of an inferior old covenant whereas the risen Jesus is supernatural and perfect. However, Mark does not have any evidence of supernatural perfection or a bodily resurrection (the last twelve verses of Mark were added later). Therefore, rather then coming from a later period when Jesus was considered to be perfect, Mark comes from the earliest period when Jesus had weaknesses like you or me.
While Mark does not mention Paul's doctrine (grace without works), Paul is full of arguments against Mark's doctrine: Mark's Jesus teaches a kingdom judged by its results, with no hierarchies; Paul argues against this: he argues for a hierarchy (Jesus at the top, then apostles to tell people what to do, then an organisation of pastors, teachers,. etc) and he argues for supernatural salvation through invisible grace. So Paul can be seen as a reaction to Mark.
But wait, Paul does not specifically quote the gospels:
"[Paul] gives in his own writings absolutely no evidence of knowing about or ever having heard of the existence of any Gospels. From this it can be inferred that the Gospels probably were written after Paul's day." (source)
But the same argument from silence could "prove" that Jesus appeared out of nowhere, the minute before he was crucified. No, being uninterested in a topic is not the same as being interested yet not knowing of an alternate view (as Mark is interested in the gospel, but seems unaware of Paul's gentile version). Paul is only interested in Jesus after the crucifixion. He also disagreed with the mainstream church at Jerusalem (about good works, what Jesus came to do, the physical kingdom, and other fundamental beliefs), so it is unsurprising that he did not quote their sayings.
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. Dykstra's argument fails because Mark's readers already know what "the gospel" means from a much more familiar source: Moses! Jesus' message is given in chapter 1 and repeated endlessly: the kingdom of God. Moses already gave the details: how to create a kingdom based on equality. And every chapter of Mark develops that message. The good news is that the kingdom can arrive. How did Dykstra miss that?
Mark's geography shows that he (or his source) was actually there, and not simply a writer referring to a map. Here are some examples:
Mark 5:2 says "And they came to the other side of the sea to the region of the Gerasenes". But later gospels change this to "Gadarenes", as Gadara is much closer to the sea. Gerasa is thirty miles away! How could Jesus or Peter get the two confused, when Mark says they spend all their time around Galilee?
It turns out there was no confusion involved. It appears that Gerasa (or Gergesa) is just a Greek spelling of Khersa (now known as Kursi), a village on the coast that perfectly fits the description (position, ancient cemetery, steep cliffs). A local Galilean like Peter would not have got it confused with the larger Gerasa thirty miles away, and it probably never occurred to him that others would. (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.") This argues for an early date for Mark: somebody who was local at the time would think nothing of referring to it as Gerasa. But by the later gospels, when believers were spread out, this became confusing, so they "corrected" it to the wrong location.
"In the words of scholar Hugh Anderson in The Gospel of Mark (pg. 192), Mark 7:31 would be like 'travelling from Cornwall to London by way of Manchester.' These discrepancies make little sense if the author of Mark was a traveling attendant with Peter, an Aramaic-speaking native of Galilee." (source)
On the contrary, an outsider (like Anderson) would never write such a thing: a simple glance at a map would tell him not to. But a local person would: they would know that Jesus was not trying to get "to London" or to Tyre or to Sidon. A local person would know that Tyre's religion was different and of no interest to Jesus. The text says Jesus was visiting the Jewish towns and villages around Galilee. So naturally he would need to take a zig-zagging broadly circular route, like any salesman. A better comparison would not be to somebody travelling to London, but a preacher travelling around the small towns.
He started at Galilee (Mark 6:53), visited many towns on the west, then (Mark 6:56) "wherever he went - into villages, towns or countryside - they placed the sick in the marketplaces". Then he circled back past Galilee again to visit the towns on the south and east of the lake. Then (Mark 7:31) Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. Note phrases like "the vicinity of Tyre", and "the region of Decapolis".
A later reader (like Anderson) would naturally assume that a preaching journey must focus on big cities. But economics suggests the opposite: a city is the stronghold of the established business, where the business has systems and structures and numbers to defend its position. A successful new startup will build up support under the radar before attempting to challenge the powerful incumbent on its own turf. This is exactly what Jesus did: he began with his friends in Galilee, then moved around the villages he knew best, and gradually visited more and more villages before challenging a city. Some villages rejected him outright, but others produced followers, and eventually he was ready to make a big entrance in Jerusalem.
Incidentally, this argues for the single year ministry. The gospel of John featured three Passovers, and several visits to Jerusalem. But in such a highly competitive market this just gives the incumbents an advantage: they can learn your methods and poison the well in your absence. A successful preacher will only visit the stronghold when he is at his strongest, and the faster he can build up that momentum the less ready his competitors will be.
Mark 10:1 says that Jesus travelled down from Capernaum then crossed the Jordan into Judea. But crossing to the east bank of the river would have put him outside of Judea into Perea. (Source.) Except it doesn't say that. It says, literally, he comes into the region of Judea and [Greek "kai"] beyond the Jordan. That is, the region that includes both areas. As noted above, Jesus focused on small villages, so had to talk about general regions, not specific points.
Mark 10:46: "And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people" [there follows the incident with blind Bartimaeus] ... Mark 11:1-2: "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."
But "anyone approaching Jerusalem from Jericho would come first to Bethany and then Bethphage, not the reverse." (source) However, take another look at the sentence structure. "Bethphage and Bethany" are not destinations, but clarifications of the phrase "nigh unto Jerusalem" in a verse about where to find a colt. The colt is in one village, not two, so they cannot have intended this to refer to two villages: those names just identify the general area.
The centers of Bethphage and Bethsaida are only half a mile apart: less than ten minutes' walk. Since houses tend to be built along roads, where did one village end and the other begin? So a local person, unless they actually lived in one of those villages, would likely think of "Bethphage and Bethany" as a single region. But a later writer, or a forger, would see just dots on a map, and treat them as separate locations. Thus, the phrase "Bethphage and Bethany" is evidence of an early writer, or at least local knowledge.
Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews (written long after the event, circa AD 90) wrote:
"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."
But Mark (written around AD 40, when eye witnesses had it fresh in memory) wrote:
"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)
There is no contradiction, because we can easily combine the accounts. Josephus mentions John's death, then later mentions he is put to death. So Josephus' chronology jumps back and forth. We can therefore combine the accounts like this:
"Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion [because John hated what Herod did with Herodias] thought it best [after having been forced into that position by Herodias], by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause. Accordingly [that is, we now see the results of Herod's distrust and then Herodias' hatred] he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus [where Herod intended him to remain as a prisoner] and was there put to death [because Herodias forced Herod to change his mind]"
Mark would have known plenty of disciples of John. But Josephus was writing 50 years later. Also, Josephus had to please his Roman masters, so he could not make their man Herod look weak by being manipulated by a girl. So if we have to choose, Mark's more detailed contemporary account should be preferred to Josephus' briefer and much later account.
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. However, this assumes that we have perfect records from every decade. In reality there are always gaps. We know that ritual hand washing was both mainstream (the septuagint translators) and widespread (other groups) before AD 70. And we know that Pharisees did it after AD 70. So why should we think Pharisees didn't do it 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 practiced 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).
Sanders' argument for a late date ends up supporting an early date, because most scholars date Mark at not much later than AD 70. This is too short a time for a completely new ritual to appear without some kind of written instruction, and from who? "This is the secret underground high priest! Jerusalem has fallen! Everybody wash your hands more! Right now!" The other alternative is another conspiracy: that somebody added this section to Mark later. But there is no evidence for that either. In both cases we must appeal to Occam's razor: Don't imagine a conspiracy where none is required.
A recent episode of The Bible Geek claimed that Nazareth did not exist in the early first century AD (so therefore Mark's reference to Nazareth would indicate a late date). The theory, the basis of Rene Salm's book "The Myth of Nazareth", is that 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. 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.
Mark 10:11-12 refers to a woman divorcing a man. Some critics 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! One of the biggest events in Jesus' life was the beheading of his mentor John the Baptist, because John criticised Herod's marriage to Herodias. And Herodias had just divorced her previous husband!
"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 discussed not just the current Jewish law, but marriage "from the beginning", including the possibility of women divorcing men. But decades later this scandal was largely forgotten. So Matthew (in chapter 19) omits the "women divorce men" detail (Luke omits the whole event). But Mark, being written so soon after the scandal, keeps that detail in.
Mark contains a couple of wrinkles such as we would expect in an early draft. Other gospels evolved over a longer period and ironed these wrinkles out.
Mark 1:2-3 reads (in the NIV):
"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him."
Only the second part is word-for-word Isaiah. The first part is a paraphrase of Isaiah, so it is not a serious error, but it uses Malachi's language. It is normal for preachers (like Peter, the main source for Mark) to lapse into Biblical language. But this could be confusing, so an editor with more time would have spotted this and tidied it up. Just as the King James translation changes the word "Isaiah" to the prophets". So leaving this in suggests a hurried copy, as if the people of Rome are impatiently waiting for Mark to finish his written version of Peter's preaching.
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. Real scribes do make mistakes! Even the Scriptures themselves get confused over these names. 2 Samuel 8:17 says Ahimelech is said to be the son of Abiathar, but other passages say it's the other way around. The more time that goes by, the easier it is to make sure that different accounts agree (or miss out problem details). Problems are more likely to be missed in the first draft. So this argues for an early date for Mark.
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, but later writers had to explain it: e.g. Luke says it is "the Judean town of Arimathea".
Mark 13 indicates that it was spoken in AD 36, and not during the Jewish war that saw the temple's actual destruction.
Mark's gospel begins by identifying Jesus with both Cyrus and Ezra:
"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.
The scriptures quoted by Mark are about Cyrus, the anointed one ("messiah" or in Greek "christ") and Ezra was the messenger sent to rebuild and reform. Mark places Jesus in both roles: anointed one and messenger to rebuild the kingdom. This is the good news of the kingdom! The kingdom is in captivity (under Rome, as it was under Babylon) due to sin, and God has sent a combined Cyrus-Ezra to save them! So we should expect Jesus to talk about the destruction of the temple, and rebuilding the kingdom by returning to the law of Moses. And this is exactly what he does.
This is why Jesus would expect the temple to be destroyed:
586 BC: First temple destroyed due to wickedness
539 BC: Ezra returns to rebuild the temple. Urges the people to keep the law of Moses.
167 BC: Greek "Abomination that causes desolation" in the temple (book of Daniel). Temple in decay.
63 BC: Rome invades Judea
19 BC: Herod begins rebuilding the temple. But it has Greek inscriptions and a Roman eagle gate.
c.10 BC?? 3 Maccabees written, reminding the people of the abomination of desolation and the ensuing war, and the need to throw off the oppressors (be they Greek or Roman)
15 BC: Agrippa (Herod's friend) sacrifices in the temple (Essenes see this as blasphemy)
8 BC: John the Baptist born. May have been an Essene, who felt Jerusalem temple was rejected by God. A strong influence on Jesus.
6 BC: some Jews try to pull down the eagle gate, and as punishment are burnt alive
4 BC: Harsh Roman taxes lead to a Jewish Messianic revolt. Temple roof burns. Varus crucifies 2000. Ordinary Jews start to boycott Roman pottery.
AD 1 ? Jesus born in Galilee (exact year uncertain)
c. AD 1?? The Testament of Moses is written: it gives a history of Jews being persecuted, and predicts more persecution from Rome.
AD 6: Rome officially annexes Judea
AD 6: Creation of the Zealot party, opposing Roman taxes. They are based in Galilee, Jesus' own turf.
AD 26: Pilate puts Roman standards in Jerusalem, orders soldiers to sacrifice to them. Jewish protests make him back down.
AD 31-37:Tiberius, the second emperor, seems to turn evil: rumours say he is becoming a mad dictator.
AD 35: Tiberius names the sadistic "viper" Caligula as his successor. The empire seems doomed!
AD 36: Jesus' ministry.
AD 40: Caligula tried to erect the abomination of desolation.
AD 41: After Simon became the high priest in AD 41, the city of Doris erected a statue of Caesar in the synagogue, causing a minor political crisis. No doubt recalling what happened with Caligula, Agrippa had the statue removed, fired Simon and replaced him with Matthias (who was the last high priest, serving until the destruction of the temple). (See Antiquities of the Jews book 19, chapter 6).
So while Jesus said many things in his ministry, his prediction of the abomination of desolation would definitely make it into Mark's gospel
Let is start with the first and most famous prediction, from verse 2:
"Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2)
This was not true in AD 70. At least one entire wall was left standing: what we now call "the temple wall" or "the wailing wall". However, the Old Testament records that the Babylonian destruction was so complete that a new foundations had to be laid. It doesn't matter if this was accurate or not, Jesus would read it and it implies that no stone was left on another. But that was not true on AD 70.
"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.
"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.
"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 36:
In AD 36 the rumours were that Tiberius was becoming unstable, so they should expect the empire to descend into chaos. The previous year (AD 35) Tiberius had named the sadistic Calugula as his successor (alongside Tiberius' grandson who was too young to rule, so it was no surprise that when Tiberias died in 37 Caligula's first official act was to kill the child). Caligula was close friends with Herodias, so any Jew who paid any attention to news (e.g. the AD 36 soap opera, or Herodias' role John's death, etc.) would be well aware that he was bankrolled by this mad emperor in waiting. Think how this looked to the Jews: in AD 6 the nation was absorbed into Rome under its first emperor, Augustus, who ruled most of the known world. The second emperor was going mad (it seemed) and the emperor in waiting would be a monster. The beginning of sorrows indeed!
There are always earthquakes in foreign nations ("diverse places") so this is no reason to tie this to AD 70. The only significant earthquake in Judea was in AD 33 (other than the one in 27 BC). So in AD 36 Jesus would have earthquakes on his mind.
My thesis is that Mark is not supernatural. Isn't an earthquake a supernatural sign? Not to the rational mind at the time. A rational mind will try to for patterns and connections. With so few earthquakes such patterns will be of course strained. But since bad leadership leads to more famines and more wars, all they could do was try to see a pattern between bad leadership and earthquake as well. In the absence of other data this was the best effort of a rational mind. Modern science agrees, at least in principle: bad leaders build unsafe buildings on fault lines, and bad leaders alow unsafe frakking practices: so even today, death and destruction from earthquakes is loosely correlated with bad leadership.
"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.
"And the gospel must first be published among all nations. (Mark 13:10)
This passage makes sense if it refers to Jesus preaching to Jews from all nations, gathered at passover. It does not make sense in the later sense of sending out missionaries to foreign lands. The word translated here as "nations" is "ethnos", and I discuss the word in more detail elsewhere. This prophecy follows naturally from the introduction to Mark, where Jesus is cast in the role of Cyrus and Ezra, the people anointed to rebuild a fallen kingdom. This rebuilding would result in "all nations" coming to learn. This idea is the central message of all the prophets. For example, this is the first thing that Isaiah was told to say:
"This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord�s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord." (Isaiah 2:1-6, NIV)
Isaiah then tells people to flee to the holes in the rocks, just as Jesus tells his people to flee to hide in the mountains (presumably the caves of Galilee): because the proud city will be destroyed, and only the common man (the son of man) would remain:
"Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty! The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day." (Isaiah 2:10-11, NIV)
The "flee to the mountains" motif is so important that Isaiah repeats it three times in the same chapter!
"Go into the rocks, hide in the ground ... People will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground ... They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags" (Isaiah 2:10,19,21)
The only difference in Mark 13 is that the message must be heard before the temple is destroyed. Jesus apparently refers to his own preaching in Jerusalem at Passover, when Jews from all nations have gathered. They need to hear the good news, that the coming violence under Caligula will free the people to rebuild the nation as Moses intended.
In contrast, the AD 70 interpretation makes no sense. By AD 70 "publish among all nations" was interpreted as "warn the entire planet because Jesus will soon return and rule the entire planet". How can that make any sense? Are there enough Christians so that every Chinese person and every African tribesperson can be warned? It would require millions of believers. Yet Jesus said it would tke place in that generation. The AD 70 interpretation is absurd. Yes, we are free to argue that this was written in AD 70 by idiots. But it could also have been written n AD 36 by intelligent people. Take your pick.
"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.
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. (Mark 13:12-13) 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...
"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)
The Abomination of Desolation refers to Daniel, where a pagan idol was set up inside the temple. Caligula tried to do this in AD 40. This is what Philo wrote on the topic:
"He [Caligula] commands Petronius ... lead half the army which was on the Euphrates ... into Judaea as an escort to the statue ... to chastise with death any attempt that might be made to hinder it. ... in order that the statue when erected might be consecrated by the first sacrifice offered to it, being of a most polluted kind .. [Petronius] knew that 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"
Some people expected an empire-wide 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"
The tension built to fever pitch, because he took as long as possible to make the statue, and did so in the coasts of Israel, giving the Jews plenty of time to see what was about to happen:
"Petronius, sending for the most skilful and renowned artists in Phoenicia, gave them the materials requisite for the making of the statue; and they took them to Sidon, and there proceeded to make it. He also sent for the magistrates of the Jews and the priests and rulers of the people... at first they were utterly overwhelmed by his announcement of their real danger and misery, and that they stood speechless and poured forth a ceaseless abundance of tears as if from a fountain, tearing their beards and the hair of their head, and saying, "We who were formerly very fortunate, have now advanced through many events to an exceeding old age that we might at last behold what no one of our ancestors ever saw. With what eyes can we endure to look upon these things? Let them rather be torn out, and let our miserable lives and our afflicted existence be put an end to, before we behold such an evil as this"
Finally Caligula died and the Jews were spared. But they expected what Jesus predicted in Mark: an "abomination of desolation" leading to devastating war. Of course, Jesus spoke a couple of years before this particular threat happened, but he had every reason to expect it. In contrast, there was no Abomination of Desolation in AD 70. And there was never likely to be one: every Roman except Caligula could see it was a terrible idea. The purpose of the Jewish War (from Rome's point of view) was to put an end to disorder, not make it worse! Of course it is possible that some Christians might have been irrational: they might have ignored history. Then they might have expected Rome to be irrational as well. But this is like the "all nations" prophecy: it is perfectly rational if said in AD 36, and irrational if said around AD 70.
"...then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains"
This is of course from Isaiah 2 and elsewhere. "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 that are so perfect for hiding. (Which is why the Zealots hid there, and why the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden there.) 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 AD 70.
"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, as they had years of warnings. The best chance for success would be to prepare, not just run. But this applies perfectly to the situation in AD 36. In AD 36, the Roman empire seemed to heading for chaos. After one good emperor (Augustus) the second emperor (Tiberius) seemed to be going mad. And he just (AD 35) nominated a monster as his successor, a man who delighted in cruelty and chaos for its own sake. When you hear that Caligula is after you, do not go back into your house to pick up your coat, run!!!
"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 first war. Massive though the death toll was, could it be worse than the popular story of Noah's flood? And while Rome was ready to destroy Jerusalem, it had done the same to Tyre, and destroying cities was hardly new. And somebody looking forward in the 60s could see that this was an ordered, well planned attack of the normal (albeit devastating) kind. But in AD 36 things looked very different. The Roman empire was new. Never before had the world seen an empire with such total power, and it seemed to be an explosion of chaos: 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 is a better leader, and the world did not end. By AD 70 there had been good emperors, bad emperors, the system had settled down. Once again, it is possible that an irrational Christian might still think AD 70 was the end, as an irrational person might think anything at any time. But AD 36-40 was the rational date for that prophecy.
"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. Caligula was assassinated and the world returned to normal. Of course, Jesus could not have known Caligula would be assassinated, but since the prophecy was based on Rome exploding into chaos it was clear that this chaos could not last long. In contrast, if the prophecy is dated at AD 70 this is just one more verse that makes little if any sense.
Verses 21-22 refer to false anointed ones again (verse 6), but says they will convert using signs and wonders. This points to AD 36 and not AD 70. Jesus had soken against power structures (see Mark 10:41-43) So in AD 36 anybody conjurer or healer or miracle worker might claim to represent Jesus. And Jesus even encouraged it (Mark 9:38-39): Jesus judged on their acts, not their title. But that had changed by AD 70. The apostles had established themselves as authorities, so any lone miracle worker had a much harder time persuading Christians.
"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)
So Jesus concludes by returning to the destruction of Jerusalem. Recall how it happened the first time:
"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)
Visualise that! The entire city burning! The sky turned dark with black clouds of smoke! Burning embers falling for miles around, like stars falling from heaven! The alternative view, the one that would be popular in AD 70, is that these prophecies require supernatural miracles. Yet Jesus is describing what you would see with your own eyes if things progressed as he expected.
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26)
And so we are back to the very beginning of Mark, the message of Jesus:
"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)
Ezra, an ordinary priest, was a "son of man" (ordinary man). He entered the ruins of corrupt Jerusalem and declared a new beginning. Jesus visualises doing the same: walking through the smouldering ruins of the burnt city, emerging from the clouds of smoke, gathering his followers to him, and declaring a new start. This is a natural thing if predicted in AD 36, but would be weird and supernatural in AD 70.
"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.
The chapter ends: (Mark 13:24-37)
"For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house,"
We are back again with Jesus as Ezra. Ezra was not a king or high priest, just a ordinary priest: a common man ("son of man") far from home, in Babylon.
"and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch."
Ezra and other deported priests had left Israel in the hands of the people left behind. Those were whatever farmers and junior priests the Babylonians chose not to take captive. 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 could not say when.
"Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping."
Ezra 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!
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. Pilate delivered the verdict (based on his sounding of public opinion), and Pilate's verdict was carried out. The real trial was under Pilate, the previous fake trial was merely the actions of a mob.
They did not consider the real passover to be until the sabbath (Mark 14:2). This is much like Christmas today. We sing of the twelve days of Christmas, and Christmas Eve is a big part of it, but people with important jobs (farmers, doctors, rulers, etc) will reduce the "not working" period to the absolute minimum. This would be even more true in ancient times because they had so many festivals in the year: if every day of every festival was considered equally sacred then farms would fail, doctors would watch people die, leaders would p reside over chaos, and everybody would die! It appears that they priests and elders rushed Pilate's trial and its result (crucifixion) specifically to have it all over before the sabbath began (e.g. Mark 15:2, 42).
"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.
"Mark describes this charge as 'false witness', thereby suggesting that it was not true; and this suggestion is confirmed by the statement that the evidence of these witnesses did not agree. However, as John ii. 19 and the Acts of the Apostles vi.14 indicate, there seems to have been a tradition in the primitive Christian community in Judaea that Jesus had made some utterance against the Temple; and Mark himself seems to imply this in xiii.1-2. (source)
Jesus' statement on the temple was irrelevant to Pilate's trial (the only real trial in Mark's account). Pilate was only interested in whether Jesus was making it harder for Rome to govern Jerusalem. As for the accusations of the mob, of course they were confused and disorganised. Mobs always are!
"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 charge would be blasphemy, and the penalty stoning. But that is not what the text says. The text says that Jesus' plan is (like the plan of Moses) to create a kingdom in this world. His kind of "blasphemy" was not a Pauline one, but it was a Mosaic one: it concerned organising people here and now, and who controlled the wealth and land. And political problems are handled by the Romans.
"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)
Once again this is evidence that the author of Mark knows local details, and the critic does not. A critic will just scan Josephus and Philo, see that Pilate did some brutal things, and accept that single dimensional caricature. But take a closer look. While Josephus' account can be read either way, it is Philo's account that makes Pilate look like a tyrant. This was during the time when the brutal Sejanus was prefect of Rome, in charge of the city while Tiberia was in Capri. Sejanus wanted to destroy the Jews, and Pilate followed suit:
"After the fall of Sejanus in October A.D. 31, however, Tiberius wrote to his provincial governors demanding that they 'speak comfortably to the members of our nation in the different cities... to disturb none of our established customs but even to regard them as a trust committed to their care...'" (source)
This was the time when Jesus came before Pilate. So Pilate did what he was commanded to do. After all, it was just one Jew, what did he care? Somebody at the time would notice a detail like that. Somebody writing in AD 70, using just the folk memory of Pilate, would not.
This again is evidence for the reliability of the gospel. Why create an unlikely sounding rule unless it actually existed? It would be much easier to miss out the Barabbas part entirely, or make the Jews look bad (if that was the intent) in some other way. Again here are details that only somebody there at the time (or an extremely careful student), would know.
"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 (as they might be still in prison, or might die). So the idea of releasing a prisoner on the passover has precedent. And to clarify, this specifically refers to heathen prisons, such as Barabbas: kept by the Romans, not by the Jews:
"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 not just to a release of a Jew from a heathen prison, but in response to Jewish custom, but the prisoner must have been imprisoned by the heathens in the first place. Which is exactly what we see with Barabbas: imprisoned by the Romans, for a Roman offence, but released according to Jewish practice. But wait, would this apply to a terrorist? Yes. Why not? Everyone was a terrorist to some extent. As the modern world has seen since 9/11, the word "terrorist" can easily be applied to anyone. You download a song? The money supports terrorism. You're in a wedding party that's hit by a drone strike because a terrorist suspect was in your group? You are all classed as terrorist sympathisers. 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 people 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 a typical prisoner. And typical prisoners were sometimes set free on the passover, as the Mishnah implies.
Finally "parallelomania", the scholarly disease of finding parallels everywhere. This is the final category because it is potentially the largest: you can keep finding parallels forever. Parallelomania tells us more about the reader than about the text. I freely admit that I have used the same tactic, but only to cancel out AD 70 parallels by showing AD 36 or AD 40 parallels. My argument for an early date for Mark is not based on parallels, but on statements by church fathers and the economics of how religions grow.
Scholars often use parallels to prove that a text was obviously written for a certain purpose, or at a certain time. They then build a house of conclusions upon this "fact." But it shows an ignorance both of statistics, and of other tests. Because coincidences and apparent patterns are so common, even in random data, that you can find them wherever you look, if you look hard enough. Here are some examples:
And so on: an expert on apocalyptic literature sees parallels with apocalyptic literature (Howard Clark Kee). An expert on novels sees parallels with novels (Mary Anne Tolbert). An expert on historical monographs sees parallels with historical monographs (Adela Collins). An expert on biographies sees parallels with biographies or bios (Richard Burridge). And so on (source). Using the parallels argument simply shows the author has nothing new to say. We can maybe say "my parallel is just as bad as yours" but we cannot use it to positively prove anything.
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? So scriptural phrasing is what you would expect from a authentic text. Probably the most famous example of "you can see anything even in random noise" is the "Bible Code" book. Ancient Hebrew has no vowels, so it's relatively easy to make words with any few consonants. And words have many meanings, so somebody found that if you take every "n"th letter in the Hebrew text, and choose every value of "n", sooner or later you get interesting strings of possible words. the book makes it look like a miracle. yet statisticians know it is random noise.
"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 tenth legion).
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 fulfills 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.
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.
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 (possibly even his birthday if he was 30 when his ministry began and it lasted one year as many believe. Jesus and the Zealots are parallel lives. 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 wildman could not be controlled, but cut his own flesh. Jesus taught the opposite: love your enemy, turn the other cheek, pay taxes to Rome, if a Roman forces you to walk a mile (as the law requires) then walk two, etc. 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.
Sure, my parallel of pigs with a non-Jewish spirit is forced, as all parallelomania is forced, but at least that spirit parallel is there in the text. And so is the central message, leaving and returning to Israel, and the number 2,000. If you are going to play the parallel game, at least make them close and cover all the bases.
"And the gospel must first be published among all nations." (Mark 13:10)
If we tear this verse out of context, and ignore what Jesus said, then it sounds like missionaries travelling outside Judea. But seen in its temple context, using the words the way that Mark uses them, it says the opposite. The word "published" is "Kerusso": to act as a herald. Kerusso is one of Mark's favourite words, as it is what Jesus came to do: to herald the kingdom of God. The word appears in Mark more than in any other Bible book, so we have a very clear idea of what it meant. "Kerusso" first appears right near the start, where John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness, and people come to him to listen. This is Jesus' method throughout the gospel of Mark: he speaks, and people come to him. This is the opposite of Paul's approach, where Paul goes out to the other people.
Now let us look in detail at the word sometimes translated as "all nations":
The word translated "nations" is "ethnos" - that is, ethnicities. It is usually translated "gentiles", and can refer to people in other lands, but it is the people, not the lands. Mark first uses the word in Mark 10:42-43:
"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."
"Minister" is "diakonos", servant: "one who executes the commands of another" (Strong's concordance). Here Jesus uses the gentiles as an example of how not to be. You should not have lords. And if you want to be great, then obey other people's commands. Paul does the opposite: he calls Jesus "Lord", and Paul tells others what to do. Paul's whole way of thinking (go to others, tell them what to do) is the opposite of Jesus' way.
Mark's next use of "ethnos" (Mark 11:17) is the key verse, since it is about the temple, the topic of Mark 13. it gets to the heart of Jesus' idea of how the kingdom of God should work:
"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.
This recalls Isaiah 2:2 (and Micah 4:1): the purpose of the temple is to act as a beacon and example to the world: all nations (ethnicities) should come to it and see it as an example. It is literally the city set on a hill that cannot be hid. Once again we see that Jesus does not go to the people, the people come to him. This is exactly what Jesus did by coming to Jerusalem for passover: all nations (ethnicities) come to Jerusalem for passover (as we see in acts chapter 1). So all nations (ethnicities) can hear Jesus' message. This was the climax of his ministry. Once again we see that Jesus and Paul are opposites. For Jesus, the temple is the heart of the kingdom (both geographically and conceptually). For Paul the temple is not even needed.
The next use of "ethnos" is Mark 13:8 - "Nation [ethnicity] shall rise against nation". Jesus saw this growing up in Galilee: the Jewish Zealots rising against the Romans. And he sees the same thing in Jerusalem. And he sees the same hatreds between ethnicities in every city where two groups mix (he grew up near the cosmopolitan ports of Tyre and Sidon, so he knew all about strife, and its alternative, peaceful trade). We then have this verse, Mark 14:9:
"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."
We come to the verse in question: Mark 13:10, publishing the good news to every ethnos. Follow the flow of ideas: the whole chapter is about the temple at Jerusalem. Look at the progression of verses: conflict between ethnicities, bringing them to the Jewish and Roman councils (and anybody else who will listen), then preaching to those councils. Look at Jesus' example. He come to the melting pot of nations at passover. He preaches before Jews, Romans, Greeks, everybody. He is about to be taken before the Sanhedrin, then beaten, then taken to Pilate. Everything tells the same story.
To summarise, Mark 13 is not about going to foreign lands. It is the opposite: it is about going to the temple, the heart of the nation. As Jesus said, as Isaiah said, as Micah said, as Acts shows, all ethnicities came there to see the city set on a hill. To interpret Mark 13:10 as referring to Paul and foreign travel is to rip it completely out of context and make it say the opposite of what it says.
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. ". Really? Really?? This parable is about a vineyard: a piece of land, such as Israel. The Jews lost their land. The vineyard parable is in Mark chapter 12, and is followed by chapter 13, where Jesus describes how the Romans will take over. It is about people coming into the land to conquer, the exact opposite of people leaving the land to preach. This is a perfect example of why parallels are so useless. One passage can mean completely opposite things. Parallels have only two uses: for creative fiction, or mocking other parallels. Parallels are at best a mental exercise, not history.
Robert Eisenman writes (in "James the Brother of Jesus", p. 56):
"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."
This is a triumph of parallelomania: it parallels a later event
therefore it is a late addition! And the easiest response is that a
closer parallel is with Jesus' baptism (where the heavens rend apart).
Does this prove that the temple rending was written in the AD 30s? No,
parallels are so easy that 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:
which probably explains why it had to be completely replaced every six
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." (see Harris, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala: M. Walter Dunne, 1901, pp. 195-96, emphasis added)
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.
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.
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 read from the Torah, and called the temple a house of prayer, set on a hill:, he supported the Jewish teachings! His only complaint was with the Jewish teachers who led the Jewish people astray (e.g. stirring up the people to support Barabbas at the crucifixion). If anything, Jesus was anti-authority, as the leaders corrupt the text. So he would have opposed the hierarchical, centralised church of Peter and Paul.
"Opposition to the family"? Presumably this refers to Mark 3, where Jesus' says his followers are his family. Far from opposing his family he includes everybody in that group. Once again he is anti authority, which implies he would oppose the authoritarian system of Peter and Paul.
"Pro-Peter"? This 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"?
Economic theory suggests that doctrinal development in the first years of the Jesus movement had to be rapid. This implies that Mark, which is dominated by the Messianic question, is more likely to be from the traditional date of AD 42 than the commonly accepted date of around AD 70. Other evidence suggests that Jesus' ministry took place just six years earlier, that Mark had access to at least some written records from the time, and that there is nothing that has to be supernatural in Mark. So rather than being an unreliable account of impossible events, Mark is probably a reliable biography of a most remarkable life.