Dating the Gospels

Matthew Ferguson drew my attention to this discussion he had with Craig Evans about the date of the Gospels. Here’s the description from YouTube:

This radio debate between New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans of Houston Baptist University and soon-to-be Classics Ph.D Matthew Ferguson looks at when the Gospels were written and why it matters. Were the synoptics written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses? Or long after, combining some elements of history with some elements of myth? Do the Gospels correspond to what we know about the context of the ancient world and might that point to the authenticity of Jesus’ person? Or were the authors of the Gospels writing what they wanted to satisfy their bias. This interesting back and forth begins to answer those critical questions. Enjoy! Learn more about Craig Evans at http://craigaevans.com and Matthew Ferguson at http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com. Learn more about First Evangelical Lutheran Church at www.felchouston.org.

It is a wonderful example of how mainstream scholars, whether atheists or religious believers, have major points of agreement, because they use the same secular methods of inquiry. They called it a “debate” but it wasn’t that in the sense that an interaction between a mythicist and a professional historian, or a young-earth creationist and a scientist, would be a debate, across radically different views and radically different methods and assumptions.

Of related interest, I too will be talking about the dates of the Gospels, as well as other topics, in the near future with Matt Kovacs, formerly of the Miami Valley Skeptics show. I’ll share more details about that when I have them.

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  • The Eh’theist

    Looks like it will be an enjoyable debate. When did you last talk with the Miami Valley folks? They posted this about a month ago:

    http://miamivalleyskeptics.com/episode-66-finale/

    It’s unfortunate as I found them to have a more balanced approach to topics than some, and I’m sure you would have interacted well with them.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I’m going to be involved with one of the new projects that Matt is involved with – I just so associate him with that show that I had not even fully registered that it would be for a different venue, and so spoke inaccurately, even though I should have known better. Sorry!

      • The Eh’theist

        No worries! I felt bad thinking you weren’t going to get to do the show, so this is good news. I look forward to it.

  • The lad2

    James: Hello. A related question concerning the dating of Paul’s conversion experience. In general, I find that historians tend to date Paul’s “Damascus Road” experience to somewhere around 33-36 CE. That date, however, always struck me as overly optimistic because so much had to happen before Paul could even become aware of Jewish Christians, let alone witness the risen Christ. The specific events I refer to and the questions they raise are: 1) Jesus is believed to be executed around 30 CE. 2) His disciples flee Jerusalem and return to Galilee. How much time passes before they experience the risen Christ? How long do they stay in Galilee? 3) Acts says the disciples return to Jerusalem to set up shop. Do they begin their missionary work to other Jews immediately? 4) At some point, the Apostles message leaves the confines of Jerusalem. Do they spread the message? Are there other missionaries? 5) To what cities does the message of the risen Christ travel? How long does it take for that pronouncement to be accepted by a group of Jews and how long does it take Paul to notice them? 6) Paul persecutes this group and perhaps others. He becomes well known as an enemy of Jewish Christians. For what period of time and over what distance must Paul travel to earn this reputation? 7) Paul has his conversion experience around 33-36 CE.

    So the question is: How can all these events transpire in 6 years or less? Would appreciate your thoughts and any suggested readings.

    • Erp

      Well Jerusalem was a major Jewish pilgrimage destination so news from it would spread fairly quickly to places with a reasonable number of Jews. And Paul seems to have been in Jerusalem at some point shortly after Jesus’s death so would have heard almost immediately if the early followers of Jesus were doing any evangelizing about Jesus rising. Damascus btw is about 257 kilometers from Jerusalem by road during the Roman Empire and would have taken a bit under 9 days to travel by foot or 5 days if by horse (using the ORBIS web site for calculations).

      In my own lay opinion the writer of Acts (and Paul) may well have exaggerated Paul’s role as persecutor much like recent converts may exaggerate how bad their pre-conversion life was. Note that only one action is necessary for someone to be perceived as a persecutor and to make people wary if the former persecutor claims to have repented.

      My own question is why is James, brother of Jesus, who is so important in the early movement (Paul’s letters, a couple of mentions in Acts), barely mentioned in the gospels.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Sorry for taking so long to reply. I assume you have read books such as Robert Jewett’s Dating Paul’s Life and John Knox’s Chapters in a Life of Paul? I realize that, prior to Paul, it can be difficult to pin down many important details, and indeed we see Mark and Matthew disagree with Luke on whether the movement remained based in Jerusalem or shifted to Galilee. Either way, we are given the impression that the movement made its presence felt in Jerusalem, which is not at all implausible. I don’t think there is any need to assume that the religious movement was widely known, merely that Paul (who had relatives that became part of it) intersected with it. If you do not assume that the large numbers and impression of renown that Acts tries to convey are accurate, many of the details seem to fit together in an unproblematic manner.

      • The lad2

        Dr. McGrath,
        Thank you so much for the thoughtful response and for all the effort you put into your blog.  Candidly, I did not know of either book you mention.  Thanks to Amazon, Robert Jewett’s “Dating Paul’s Life,” is on the way. Best,
        Jack Dalby

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        James F. McGrath
        Sorry for taking so long to reply. I assume you have read books such as Robert Jewett’s Dating Paul’s Life and John Knox’s Chapters in a Life of Paul? I realize that, prior to Paul, it can be difficult to pin down many important details, and indeed we see Mark and Matthew disagree with Luke on whether the movement remained based in Jerusalem or shifted to Galilee. Either way, we are given the impression that the movement made its presence felt in Jerusalem, which is not at all implausible. I don’t think there is any need to assume that the religious movement was widely k nown, merely that Paul (who had relatives that became part of it) intersected with it. If you do not assume that the large numbers and impression of renown that Acts tries to convey are accurate, many of the details seem to fit together in an unproblematic manner. 1:26 p.m., Wednesday May 18 | Other comments by James F. McGrath |   |
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        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Let me know if you find them helpful. Also, do note that some extraneous stuff ended up in your comment for some reason…