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I need to clarify something that I said in my earlier post today about my next project, since I have elicited several demurrals in response, and it was because I didn’t express myself very clearly.   What I said was this:

Scholars have long held that Mark was the first of our Gospels to be written, and that it probably appeared sometime around the year 70 CE.  Some scholars think it might have been a bit before that (I used to think that); more scholars think that it might have been a bit after.  But almost everyone agrees that Mark dates to around the end of the Jewish War (66-70 CE).  The only ones who consistently have argued otherwise are fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, who very much want Mark, our earliest Gospel, to be closer to the time of Jesus.

When I said that the only scholars “who consistently” argued for an earlier date I didn’t make myself clear.   The reason I said “consistently” is because  the only group of scholars that regularly have argued for an early date of Mark are fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals.  There are other (non-fundamentalists/non-evangelical) scholars who have *occasionally* argued otherwise.  But critical scholars have not *consistently* argued this.   Several readers have mentioned Maurice Casey and James Crossley as exceptions — i.e., critical scholars who have urged an earlier date.  Yes indeed.  No one (yet) has mentioned John A. T. Robinson (Redating the NT), another noteworthy exception — but he is certainly worth knowing about too.   These scholars are bright, informed, learned critical scholars.  They have not won too many converts to their views — but they do exist!   The consistent critical view, though, is that Mark was written around 70 CE or so.

Sorry about the confusion!

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  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 13, 2014

    What I thought you were going to “clarify” was the statement that (as I understood it) people who’ve claimed the transmission of oral traditions wasn’t like the “telephone game” were right, but for the opposite reason of what they were saying. Did you just mean that there was way *more* distortion of the original facts than could have happened in a “telephone game”? That would seem to be obvious, if you were really comparing stories told over forty or so years with a children’s party game lasting a few minutes.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      Yes, it should seem obvious! But for a lot of people it’s not. In any event, it’s also more complicated because of how oral traditions circulate (more like a genealogical tree than a circle of story tellers)

  2. Avatar
    rrogers  August 13, 2014

    Yes, it is well worth adding a qualification here. But sometimes it seems so silly. I cannot imagine our dear departed colleague having nothing better to do than look down to see if Bart Ehrman left him out of a blog discussion. Since the number of Fundamentalist scholars by far make up the greatest voice objecting to dating the Gospels later than 70 CE, it seems worth stressing the point for those who may not know this. But than again my students look for every weakness in my syllabi, to improve their grades. My policy notes have grown to several pages.

  3. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 13, 2014

    Sometimes it would be nice to know who the major “players” are in the scholarly game of argument about these critical issues in early Christianity. We lame brains outside that world hardly know any other scholars since I have pretty much restricted my reading to you! ha! Well, that is a good thing I suppose and a bad thing. I don’t get varying points of view on the critical issues since you are indicating that scholars are on a spectrum of sorts on these issues. Some argue closer to the life of Jesus for obvious reasons and some argue later for different reasons, yet the majority seem to favor a particular time period. Can we get a list of those scholars highly regarded in your world? It would just be fun to know who they are, and is Reza Aslan considered to be one of them? ( Just saw an interview of him by a Fox News dimwit who could not keep up with what he was saying).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      Yes, it’s always hard to know from the outside. Aslan is not a NT scholar, for example (and doesn’t claim to be). Several times on the blog I have given names of very high level scholars on, say, the historical Jesus (e.g., Geza Vermes, E. P. Sanders, John Meier, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen — there are lots more!)

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 14, 2014

    Well, I got the main point even if there might be a few exceptions. Carry on. No big deal.

  5. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 14, 2014

    From my understanding the
    Gospel of Thomas is thee earliest right
    Earlier than the canonical gospels
    Due to fact that only the cover the thee book can be dated not the gospel it self
    So some. Might suggest it is the earliest
    It was read wide and the way it was formatted
    Kind of like Greek anyways and Greek tablets of Plato were with it no ?
    Just throwing this up in the air as my agreement in a view that has been already established

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      Most scholars think that Thomas was produced after, not before, the canonical Gospels.

      • Josephsluna
        Josephsluna  October 10, 2014

        We’ll just educated my self

        I know the gospel of judas was dated I believe
        At that university in Arizona
        By carbon dating
        All things have carbon ?
        And they date by what years this machine falls on aprox ?
        and it falls on a clock dial lol
        So I wonder if I took a test
        And Stephen thought the gospel was stolen from Egypt
        Who’s knows what vatican archive has
        That they let no one in
        Bet if Jesus or John bar came back that would end
        Just blogging

        • Bart
          Bart  October 10, 2014

          All living or formerly living things (i.e. organic materials) have carbon. They can date dead things by the presence of carbon because they know the half life of its isotope. Just look up carbon 14 dating on the net.

  6. Avatar
    jmorgan  August 14, 2014

    Suppose Mark (or any other Gospel author) had access to a lost gospel, and none of the authors of the other surviving gospels had access to this written source. Unlike Q, it’d be hard to ever know much about it because no other Gospel author used it. How can we know that this lost Gospel wasn’t written by an eyewitness?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      The question is always one of evidence. What evidence are you thinking of that would suggest that Mark’s account was based on a Gospel written by an eyewitness? There are reasons for not thinking so — but it’s a long and complicated issue!

      • Avatar
        BrianUlrich  August 15, 2014

        What do scholars make the Papias’s account of Mark’s relationship with a collection of stuff he heard from Peter? I guess I could just look that up myself with an eBook database keyword search, but the results might be random, if there even are any.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 16, 2014

          Different scholars have different opinions. I talk about it a bit in Jesus INterrupted. But I may devote an entire chapter to Papias in the scholarly version of my oral traditoins book.

  7. Avatar
    prestonp  August 15, 2014

    Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
    Luke 1

    “‘Ehrman now acknowledges that Jesus’ followers — the inner circle who knew him personally — came to believe he was divine almost immediately after they became convinced of his Resurrection, a historical revision that moves up the timeline by several generations.” On “How Jesus Became God”
    John Murawski

    Many wrote about those events, not just a few or some. Quite likely, we are familiar with a mere small fraction of them.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

      Yes indeed!

    • Avatar
      prestonp  September 5, 2014

      Let’s see how we would compare. Dr. Bart, what the heck? You are the top scholar in this field and the best writer on the topic. Would you consider trying your hand at a gospel? Seriously. What do you think it would be like? Could you put something together that would be believable?

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  September 6, 2014

        In the class I’m teaching this semester, each of my 24 undergraduate students has to write a Gospel as their final assignment. That can be very interesitng indeed!

        • Avatar
          prestonp  September 7, 2014

          But Dr. Bart, how ’bout you? That would be incredible.

          As I’m sure you know, Lewis had serious doubts about criticism for several reasons. One of them was based on his personal experience. As his own books were critiqued, he was astonished how often his reviewers drew conclusions that were entirely wrong, in terms of his motives and influences for writing what he did.

  8. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 15, 2014

    Question how do you determine
    Authenticity of a author of the bible by KNOWLEDGE and what format ?
    The last of jesus resonates with in thee personality of he who scribes ?
    Just wondering how you determine whether is it authentic or not
    Being a true disciple and not a fake that is

  9. Avatar
    prestonp  August 15, 2014

    “For me, at the time, it felt like an enormous relief, a lifting of burden, a sense of connecting with the universe in a way I never had before. Very powerful!”
    “It makes sense that Jesus mattered to me as a late teenager, when I had a born-again experience and became a conservative evangelical. (What I converted from to “become a Christian” continues to puzzle me.) “For me, at the time, it felt like an enormous relief, a lifting of burden, a sense of connecting with the universe in a way I never had before. Very powerful!” “At that point Jesus became not only my Lord and Savior, but also my best friend and closest ally.”
    “Jesus was my model of self-giving love…” Dr. Bart wasn’t delusional.

    Dr. Bart, as a youth, instead of being born again by receiving christ, say you received moses or elijah or X. Apparently, you would have had the same kinds of experiences you had as a born again christian. X could have become your best friend, your lord and savior. He could have connected you to the universe, lifted your burdens and become your model of love and giving to others. After all, you didn’t respond to something real and truthful. Your religious experiences were based on lies, ommissions-deliberate and accidental, fabrications and forgeries. You psychologically co-manufactured all of it in your head. You were duped. You felt some emptiness as a teen. You didn’t realize that was typical for people at that age so when you were told not having jesus in your life was the reason, you bought it. It was akin to the power of suggestion (as in The Amazing Kreskin).

    Perhaps we could duplicate the success of the new testament forgerers? Perhaps we could make up a story that would rival their influence? Maybe we could throw something together that would change the world for thousands of years to come (and make a few bucks, too.) Just looking at this from the lighter side!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 16, 2014

      Of course there are all sorts of religions that have been “made up” in the way you’re imagining, that have significantly impacted billions of people in our world!

      • Avatar
        prestonp  August 18, 2014

        Yet, how many who made up a religion and were going to be tortured and executed for it, but would be spared by simply admitting it was all a big joke, wouldn’t do so? It is one thing to die for a cause believing it to be real and quite another to sacrifice your life knowing it was a hoax. All they had to do was turn their backs on the silliness they were spreading and they would have been spared.

        • Avatar
          madmax2976  August 24, 2014

          I’m curious as to what the evidence is that early believers were given a chance to “turn their backs”, that any persecutors would have cared if they did, or that any died specifically because the refused to recant their beliefs? Please present or direct us towards the evidence for this position.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 25, 2014

            We have actual reports of the trials of Christians, what the judges asked, and what they replied, from the late second century onwards.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 27, 2014

            For the first two centuries AD, the infant Church had to face deep popular hostility. This was based not only on their “hatred of the human race”, but on widespread misunderstanding of their practices, especially the Lord’s Supper. The martyrs of Lyons were accused of “Thyestean banquets and Oedipean intercourse”, and in AD 200, the lawyer Minucius Felix made the same charges of cannibalism and incest. Minucius also believed that Christians worshiped an asses head, a charge reflected in the graffito from Ostia which shows one Alexamenos worshipping a crucified figure with the head of an ass. This curious misconception was probably a reflection of anti-Semitism.
            As Christians became more numerous, and their beliefs more well known, the charges of immorality became harder to sustain. But one accusation is repeated time and time again- “Atheism”; rejection of the tutelary deities of their communities. This was a very serious matter; deities were believed to bring good fortune to a town, and slighting them might bring down their wrath. According to Tertullian: “If the Tiber reaches the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky doesn’t move or the earth does, if there is famine, if there is, plague, the cry is at once: “The Christians to the lion!”” Outbreaks of persecution often coincided with natural disasters. Earthquakes in Asia in 152, and an outbreak of plague in Alexandria at the time of Origen, were blamed on the Christians. Around 270, Porphry blamed the plague in Rome on the fact that the temple of Aesculapius had been abandoned for the Christian churches. This sort of accusation was persistent; as late 419, Augustine wrote “The City of God” to prove that Christians hadn’t caused the fall of Rome by slighting the old gods. The charges of atheism and immorality help explain the hatred of the mob for Christians, evidenced in the pogroms in places such as Smyrna and Lyons.

            The Theologian
            Steve Walton (PhD, University of Sheffield) is Professorial Research Fellow in New Testament at St Mary’s. His passion is to help others engage with the NT for themselves, and he is therefore an enthusiastic teacher of Greek.
            He co-chairs the SBL Book of Acts section, and the Book of Acts seminar of the British New Testament Society. He also serves on the steering committee of the SBL Biblical Lexicography section, and the Editorial Board of the Library of New Testament Studies monograph series (T & T Clark/Bloomsbury). He is a member of the Center of Theological Inquiry (Princeton, NJ), the Society of Biblical Literature, the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research, and the Institute for Biblical Research.
            His major current research project is writing the Word Biblical Commentary on Acts, and as a result he finds himself involved in numerous projects related to the Book of Acts. He has wide interests outside Acts, including the synoptic Gospels (especially Mark and Luke), New Testament theology, narrative approaches to the New Testament, the appropriation of the Old Testament in the New Testament, Greek language and linguistics, New Testament textual criticism, and Paul (especially, but not exclusively, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Galatians).

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 27, 2014

            “…the outcomes of the trials of Christians varied widely. Many followed Pliny’s formula: they asked if the accused individuals were Christians, gave those who answered in the affirmative a chance to recant, and offered those who denied or recanted a chance to prove their sincerity by making a sacrifice to the Roman gods and swearing by the emperor’s genius. Those who persisted were executed.”

            “Christians who refused to recant by performing ceremonies to honour the gods would meet with severe penalties, Roman citizens were exiled or condemned to a swift death by beheading, slaves, foreign-born residents and lower classes were liable to be put to death by wild beasts as a public spectacle. A variety of animals were used for those condemned to die in this way.”


  10. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 15, 2014

    Question how do you delete your account
    I’m good bart best of wishes

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 16, 2014

      To delete your account you need to tell PayPal that you no longer want payment to be made.

  11. Avatar
    joks  August 15, 2014

    As a relatively new subscriber I have not as yet run across anything about John A.T. Robinson’s early dating of the Bible based on the lack of information about the destruction of the Temple. Have you commented on this, and if not could you do so?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 16, 2014

      No, I haven’t dealt with it — or even looked at Robinson’s book for many years. One of the areas I’ll be digging into more in the near future is the scholarly views on the datings of the Gospels (it gets into a bit of tricky territory), and I may post on some of that, which would in effect involve disagreeing with Robinson. But I’ll consider saying soemthing directly about him at some point.

  12. Avatar
    Luke9733  August 23, 2014

    What are your thoughts on Matthean priority? I know only a small minority of scholars argue that Matthew was written first, but do you find any of their arguments convincing to any degree?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 23, 2014

      I’ve never found the arguments convincing, especially since Mark is *longer* in most of the stories that it shares with Matthew (so that Mark was not obviously producing a condensed version, which one would otherwise want to argue to account for it’s smaller size)

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