Dating the Gospels: Harder than You Might Think

Dating the Gospels: Harder than You Might Think December 21, 2015

Dating the gospelsChristian apologists are eager to date the gospels as early as possible to minimize the period of oral history. Less time for oral history means less time for legends to develop, and this points to a more reliable gospel message.

I must confess that the conservative calculations sound reasonable in parts. This thinking places at least some of the gospels well before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. I’ll use a post from Jim Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity blog to represent this argument.

  1. First note that the destruction of the Temple isn’t mentioned anywhere in the New Testament, but Matthew 24:1–3 has Jesus predicting it. Matthew likes to write about fulfilled prophecies (Jesus was born of a virgin, as foretold in Isaiah, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as foretold in Micah, and so on). If Matthew was written after the destruction of the temple, how could Matthew resist bragging about yet another fulfilled prophecy?
  2. The destruction of the Temple was just one event during the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73 CE). Josephus claims that 1.1 million people were killed during the destruction of Jerusalem. This war is also not mentioned.
  3. Before that are the deaths of Peter (65 CE), Paul (67), and James (62 or 69), also not mentioned. The last half of Acts is a diary of Paul’s activities, ending with his house arrest in Rome. If Paul had already been martyred, wouldn’t that story be both powerful and relevant? Acts must precede these deaths, and Wallace dates it at 57–60 CE.
  4. Evidence for an early authorship of Luke is this verse from Paul’s epistle of 1 Timothy: “The Scripture says … ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:18), which quotes Luke 10:7. Wallace gives 53–57 for the authorship of 1 Timothy. Scholars agree that Luke preceded Acts, and Wallace gives 50–53 for Luke.
  5. But Luke wasn’t the first gospel—that was Mark. Luke plagiarizes heavily from Mark, and Wallace gives 45–50 for Mark.

With Mark written in 50 or before, we’re less than twenty years from the traditional death of Jesus in around 30.

Another look at this argument

Let’s take another look to see how well it stands up.

  1. Matthew likes fulfilled prophecy from the Scriptures—that is, the Old Testament. He has no examples of fulfilled prophecy from Jesus. Maybe that just doesn’t do it for him. And is prophecy really the right word for what was likely inevitable? The Jews had had a difficult relationship with ruling empires and had even revolted against and broken away from the Seleucid empire less than two centuries earlier. Anticipating violent conflict with Rome didn’t require supernatural insight.
  2. Suppose Luke were written after the war with Rome and the destruction of the Temple. Why would it be surprising if it didn’t mentioned them? The gospel of John also didn’t mention them, and even most conservative scholars agree that John was written after 70 CE.
  3. The date of Paul’s death comes from tradition from the second century. The deaths of Peter and James are also poorly evidenced.
  4. While Wallace gives 57–60 as the date for 1 Timothy, Wikipedia gives an earliest date of the mid-60s. It could also have been written as late as the mid-second century because it seems to be responding to second-century heresies. If it does copy Luke, it would be surprising to see it elevate Luke to the status of Scripture just a few years after its composition, as Wallace claims.
  5. Even if we accept twenty years from the time of Jesus until Mark rather than forty, as other scholars say, doesn’t help much. If it were written the next day, its claims of the supernatural would still be highly suspect. Early dating doesn’t help much.

And note the juggling that Wallace must do. He wants to argue that legend couldn’t creep in over a few decades, so we can be confident that the gospels are an accurate biography of Jesus. But he must argue that legend did happen when given a few additional decades to justify why he can dismiss the Gospels of Thomas, of Judas, of the Ebionites, and others, many of them written in the late first or second centuries. (More on the development of myth through oral history here.)

Another challenge is that by reducing the time from events to originals, he’s increased the time from originals to our best manuscript copies. This centuries-long Dark Ages means lots of time for the story to change.

Continue with a look at the scholarly consensus for the dating of the gospels in part 2.

There is no apologetics in science, as there is in theology,
where unquestioned presumptions are made and then explanations sought
to make the data conform to those presumptions.
— Vic Stenger

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  • KarlUdy

    You start off by attributing apologists conclusions to their dates to them being eager to minimize possibilities of errors being introduced.

    This raises two questions in my mind …

    1) Why could the dates they suggest not be their honest conclusions?

    2) If their dates are not their honest conclusions, but are biased based on their preferred conclusions, why would the same not be true for atheists who argue for late dates?

    • wtfwjtd

      Atheists aren’t the ones arguing for later dates, it’s by and large Christian scholars:

      • KarlUdy

        It’s an atheist arguing for later dates in this post.

        • wtfwjtd

          True, I should have stated that atheists aren’t the only ones arguing for the plausibility of later dates.

    • Greg G.

      1) Why could the dates they suggest not be their honest conclusions?

      Their cognitive dissonance may well have blocked disconfirming evidence from consideration. In effect, they are drawing conclusions from sub-consciously cherry-picked data. It is more difficult for them to be objective. They may be so dishonest with themselves subconsciously that they don’t think they are being dishonest.

      When they ask why the destruction of Jerusalem was not mentioned in the Gospels, it is like asking why the events of the War of 1812 are not discussed in George Washington’s biography. Unless you are a believer, the prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem looks like a case of retrodiction.

      2) If their dates are not their honest conclusions, but are biased based on their preferred conclusions, why would the same not be true for atheists who argue for late dates?

      If a person thinks the gospels are true, they cannot be an atheist. Anybody can think they are partially true or majorly untrue. If they are not true, there is no reason for them to have been written early, and later is more sensible for accruing legend.

      • KarlUdy

        If a person thinks the gospels are true, they cannot be an atheist. Anybody can think they are partially true or majorly untrue. If they are not true, there is no reason for them to have been written early, and later is more sensible for accruing legend.

        So are you saying your prior commitment to atheism is a key contributing factor to your late dating of the gospels? Because it fits the conclusions you have already come to about God and Jesus?

        • Greg G.

          I date them according to my commitment to reality. Matthew and Luke use Josephus as a source and Antiquities of the Jews gives a date that it was written that works out to 94 AD.

          Matthew’s Nativity story has bits and pieces from more than one section of AJ 2 and from AJ 17.

          Luke’s use of Josephus is carried through the gospel and Acts. He uses it as an encyclopedia and a muse for creative writing. Some details in Luke’s writings seem to be there because his source mentioned them. The person played a role for Josephus but doesn’t in Luke. He uses information from Josephus incorrectly which really tips his hand. If it was just coincidence, the coincidences should be distributed throughout the gospel. Instead they are concentrated in 25-30% of Luke that is not in common with Mark and Matthew.

          Matthew has to be the mid-90s or later. Luke tells us he is using other gospels. Mark, for sure, but the similarities with Matthew are best explained as copying it. Which means it is later than Matthew.

        • KarlUdy

          So, let me get this right. Christian apologists are criticized for not following the consensus opinion of scholars while instead you base your opinion on Paul Tobin, whose credentials include running a website attacking Pascal’s wager and an oil & gas equipment supply company (and who may or may not be the author of some Plants v Zombies books, and Richard Carrier who is a historian whose specialities don’t include the Bible or NT or Jewish or Christian culture or religion and whose only writings are polemic attacks on Christianity.

          Not very persuasive.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t criticize Christian apologists for not following the consensus of Bible scholars. I criticize them for their reasoning.

          For example, you attack Tobin and Carrier on credentials without addressing their arguments. That is a classic ad hominem fallacy. If you had spent as much time reading the articles as you did researching their biographies, you might have noticed that Carrier is doing a book review of a Steve Mason book. It begins with “There has long been the observation that Luke-Acts contains numerous parallels with the works of Josephus…” which shows this is not an isolated thing. It is just swept under the rug by apologists. If you had looked up Mason, you have found that his job title is ‘Kirby Laing Chair in New Testament Exegesis’ at the University of Aberdeen. Tobin is relaying content from Mason’s book, too. I gave you two links so you wouldn’t have to buy Mason’s book. You’re welcome.

          You can say that Mason is pointing out coincidences just so many times before it is a pattern that must be addressed. Luke has fewer but they are concentrated in the parts of Luke that are not in common with Mark and Matthew.

        • KarlUdy

          I don’t criticize Christian apologists for not following the consensus of Bible scholars. I criticize them for their reasoning.

          So your objection is different to Bob’s then. Good to know.

          My critique of Tobin and Carrier is entirely on their nomination as authors to be considered as better authorities on the subject than those that Christians might otherwise cite. Quite simply, they’re not.

          If you referenced because you instead found their arguments persuasive then that is another story. I have read bits and pieces from Carrier before and I don’t find his theories persuasive. Tobin, I have not come across, and considering he is a rank amateur in the subject, I’m not likely to consider him worth listening to.

          I found this ( which spells out the proposed links between Luke-Acts and Josephus. Some things to note:

          – Mason, the Biblical expert is much more circumspect about the possibility that Josephus is a source for Luke than Carrier.

          – Carrier has almost zero respect in Biblical Studies circles. It seems that mention of him actually lessens credibility.

        • Greg G.

          Have you read either article yet? Do you have to get your ad hominems and apologetics instructions ready before you read something that might challenge your reading?

          At the link you gave, there are two responses. The first starts with Carrier’s conclusions and looks for reasons to reject them without dealing much with his arguments. That is strawmanning.

          He shows where Luke used much of Mark verbatim and shows that Luke did not use Josephus verbatim in the same way. If he had addressed the whole article, he would have seen the argument about the word “sicarii”, which seems to have been invented by Josephus and nobody else besides Luke uses it during the era.

          He quotes the passages about the Egyptian in Acts and AJ 20 but he completely misses the point that the Acts passage attributes phrases to the Egyptian that Josephus attributed to others in adjoining paragraphs, which makes it a smoking gun. That invalidates their arguments for them both using common material.

          The second guy seems to think the argument hinges on two points. One is the Theudas reference and the other is the late dating of Luke. There are dozens of “coincidences” that he is ignoring. It does not rely on a late dating of Luke, it demands that Luke be dated later.

          The comments on the second answer indicate that the respondent, Frank Luke, favors Matthean Priority and was an assistant of Nunnally for the paper that dates Luke early. His methodology appears to focus on internal and external clues but not consider the inter-relationships between the gospels. He doesn’t seem to be interested in any possible sources the gospel authors used to determine the terminus post quem.

        • KarlUdy

          Read them. Both rely on Mason suggesting Josephus as a possible source for Luke-Acts to come to the conclusion that such a relationship is certain.

        • Greg G.

          How do you deal with all the commonalities between Luke’s writing and the points in Josephus that Carrier lists? Even if you argue a common source, it would still put them in the same time frame.

        • KarlUdy

          Commonalities with Josephus (and we’re talking only a handful of commonalities) is not the only factor in dating Luke-Acts.

        • Greg G.

          There are a handful of smoking guns. There are a few dozen commonalities.

          Here is a list of names from Acts and the Epistles that are known from other sources. Some are listed in Luke for no apparent reason when they play a role in the story Josephus tells. There are 12 historical names in the Gospels and 15 in Acts alone and 14 of those are known from Josephus.

        • buttle

          It is very hard to dismiss every parallel with Josephus as inconsequential “commonalities” (see also this work by Lena Einhorn: and that article from Paul Tobin you quickly dismissed is actually pretty good), but of course not, there’s more evidence for a late date of canonical Luke/Acts. Please read “Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle” by Joseph Tyson (even only the first chapter available as preview here ); for example according to Heikki Leppa there are hapax legomena in Acts and Galatians indicating that Luke (we should really call him “the author of Luke”…) was using (and subverting) the description of the council at Jerusalem. According to Tyson “[Richard Pervo] notes that an acknowledgment that Luke uses Paul’s letters carries with it a great deal of pain for many scholars”. I have to wonder why…

          But if you are just looking for a reason why Acts fails to mention the death of Paul and the destruction of the temple, how about the fact that the author wants you to believe the text to be older than it is, just like the authors of 2 Peter and the Pastorals? Why should you believe them when they are lying to you?

        • KarlUdy

          It is very hard to dismiss every parallel with Josephus as inconsequential “commonalities”

          Even Bart Ehrman thinks they’re pretty weak links.

          The non-mention of Paul’s death is an issue, but more pertinent is the fact that Acts seems to end with Paul’s first imprisonment, not his second imprisonment. The arguments for not including his death don’t carry much weight when considering Acts ends considerably before that time.

        • buttle

          I’m not sure i’m following you: how many imprisonments should Acts mention for it to be a second century forgery?

        • Greg G.

          The second imprisonment in Acts is based on Josephus. The shipwreck in Acts is just like the one Josephus describes in Life 3, including falsely accused religious leaders, wrecking in the Adriatic, and passing through Puteoli afterwards, not to mention all the names involved in the story that come from Josephus.

        • FaithIsGlorifiedDelusion

          Of course the author of Luke doesn’t mention Paul’s death. Paul doesn’t die in any of the canonical epistles, nowhere do you find any allusion to Paul’s martyrdom. You would only find the death and martyrdom of Paul and Peter in the non canonical Acts of Paul believed by scholars to be written in the 160s C.E. In it, Paul and Peter were killed in Rome. The Acts of Paul is the primary source of this legend.

        • Greg G.

          Thank you for those seriously great links. I feel ashamed that I didn’t get you anything for Christmas.

        • Steven Watson

          A specialist in the the Bible or NT or Jewish or Christian culture or religion would be, and not excluding or exhausting other definitions, someone who has studied and published extensively on those subjects over some decades and has relevant doctoral academic qualifications. Oh lookee: Doctor Carrier ticks all those boxes! Who’dah thunk it.

        • Steven Watson

          Stephanie Fisher AKA The Loony Lady. She certainly had something strange going on with old Maurice.

    • 1) Why could the dates they suggest not be their honest conclusions?

      Because that looks too convenient. They reject the consensus view and go for the minority view (possibly because that view pleases them more?).

      2) If their dates are not their honest conclusions, but are biased based on their preferred conclusions, why would the same not be true for atheists who argue for late dates?

      Atheist nonscholars who go with the consensus of relevant scholars don’t have anything to apologize for. (The next post will analyze the consensus view.)

    • MNb

      First you have to answer a question:

      Why can’t biased conclusions be honest?

      • KarlUdy

        They could be. Bob’s post seemed to suggest that he thinks they are not a result of honest bias, but instead deliberately biased to reach the conclusions they want.

  • The Eh’theist

    Your point about the pseudepigrapha is one that I’ve always considered very important when discussing dating and how much novel information can develop. If the forces at work can create pseudepigrapha that are 100% mythical, they can do the same with the accepted gospels, or if the forces can’t have any mythologizing impact on the gospels than it’s possible they had none on the contents of the pseudepigrapha.

    That’s not to argue that all these written works are the exact same mixture of fact and fiction, as that’s highly unlikely. It’s even more unlikely that these forces would create 100% false documents and 100% true ones, so the likeliest result is that there’s a range of deviation from the historical in the gospels and pseudepigrapha, with factors that influenced some writings more than others (and not necessarily in relation to acceptance by the church).

    • Since 2 Peter is almost universally agreed to be pseudepigrapha, maybe the “canon” isn’t that reliable. It’s almost like God didn’t guide the choice.

      And then look at the differences in the books in the biblical canon among the large denominations (Protestant, Roman Catholic, and others).

      • The Eh’theist

        Agreed. Almost everyone goes into studies with the presuppositions of the faith: canonical-more accurate, pseudepigraphal-less accurate. It takes serious, conscious effort to shake that bias. Yet if you take something like Thomas, even tossing out the obviously Gnostic sayings, one could argue that the remaining text has a higher probability of accuracy than some canonical works *cough* John *cough* because it doesn’t have a lot of the fabricated narrative and mise en scène that has been shown to be unhistorical.

        And of course the action scenes from proto-James and the Gospel of Peter would be *so* much more exciting than the canonical versions if only they were true.

        Speaking of variance in the canon have you seen this?

        If not, don’t let the title or the intro dissuade you from partaking. 🙂

        • I hadn’t seen that quiz; thanks. We could point to the 45,000 denominations of Christianity and make the same point.

        • wtfwjtd

          There have been plenty of times that I have pointed out to someone how Christianity fails in modern society, only to receive a reply that “those people” are doing it wrong, and their particular flavor of Christianity don’t do or believe in that particular fail.

          I’m sure you’ve ran into this in your travels as well, it’s salad-bar Christianity at its finest.

    • It’s fascinating how Revelations and the Gospel of John both were generally regarded as some of the least valid and most questionable bits of canon in particular, only barely scraping in there, yet they both ended up being the two books that arguably have most influenced modern Christianity in terms of what gets the most attention– about the whole ‘rapture’ thing, about what ‘hell’ looks like, about the ‘trinity’, about the ‘anti-christ’, etc. If there’s two words that best describe the setting up of canon, it’s ‘haphazard’ and ‘scattershot’.

  • wtfwjtd

    “How could Matthew resist bragging about yet another fulfilled prophecy?”

    Because “Matthew” didn’t actually write the Book of Matthew. This is a point that I think actually works against Wallace’s argument, since it merely emphasizes the unknown authorship of the gospel writings.

    Also a big problem for Wallace on his point #4: Critical scholarship has rejected Paul as the author of I Timothy, and consider it pseudo-epigraphical.

    • I was using “Matthew” to mean “the person or persons who wrote the gospel of Matthew.” You’re right–we don’t know who wrote it.

    • Greg G.

      If we know the person who tradition says wrote a gospel is not the person who actually wrote it, then we don’t know the name of the author. If we don’t know the name of the author, we cannot rule out that the anonymous author’s name is not the name attributed to the gospel by sheer coincidence.

      • wtfwjtd

        I don’t know if I would state that we know for sure that the person whom tradition says wrote it didn’t, but I’m very comfortable stating that the probability is very low. As for the name of the author, I’d posit that, like the name “Jesus” (or however it’s translated), it was a fairly common name, and might just accidentally coincide with whoever wrote that book. But, like the “John” that wrote revelation, it is almost certainly not the Matthew that was supposedly a disciple of a (one of many) possible “Jesus” character(s) in 1st-century Palestine.

        Have you noticed how many “possibly maybes” there are when studying about this subject Greg? One would think that a god or son of a god to do a little better job of documenting his supposed time on earth and interactions with his creation. Almost like people are just making up stories, or…something.

      • MNb

        A very irrelevant point. Even if we say that Marcus wrote his Gospel we still don’t know who the author was. A name is nothing more than just that: a name. Where did he live? How old was he? Where did he receive his education? What role did he play in early
        christianity? Any answer is educated speculation at best.

        Thought experiment: I tell you that here in Moengo, Suriname, someone lives named Carlo.
        What do you know now about this guy? Zilch.

        • Greg G.

          A very irrelevant point.

          It was supposed to be funny. I apologize for my failure.

  • Pofarmer

    “Less time for oral history means less time for legends to develop, and this points to a more reliable gospel message.”

    First, you need to ascertain that the whole thing isn’t fiction. Which biblical scholars don’t do.

    • wtfwjtd

      And like Bob says–20 years, 40 years, what does it matter? Christians can’t even pin down just when it was that their supposed savior was on earth to begin with, so these dates are always moving targets anyway. Besides, we don’t have anything like an original manuscript of this stuff, or even know if there is one, so we don’t even know what we are comparing our copies to. Two to four centuries between our earliest copies and what are supposed to be “originals” is still a long time, and the possibility of a few scribes playing hanky-panky with the manuscripts is pretty high.

    • MNb

      Nice strawman. Biblical scholars – and Wallace is not one of them – all acknowledge that the Gospels contain fiction.

      • Logan Blackisle

        Pofarmer said (emphasis added):

        First, you need to ascertain that the whole thing isn’t fiction.

        You said (emphasis added):

        Biblical scholars – and Wallace is not one of them – all acknowledge that the Gospels contain fiction.

        Pot, meet kettle.

      • Greg G.

        RJ Hoffman thinks the gospels have no historical value. here are some quotes:

        I don’t know too many New Testament scholars who would argue that the gospels are good history, and some (me among them) who would say that for the most part the gospels are totally useless as history. The gospels were written as propaganda by a religious cult. That impugns them as history, even at a time—the last decades of the first great Roman imperial century—when history wasn’t especially committed to recording what really happened in a dispassionate and disinterested way.

        Given that there is (a) no reason to trust the gospels; (b) no external testimony to the existence of Jesus (I’ve never thought that the so-called “pagan” reports were worth considering in detail; at most they can be considered evidence of the cult, not a founder); (c) no independent Christian source that is not tainted by the missionary objectives of the cult and (d) no Jewish account that has not been invented or tainted by Christian interpolators, what is the purpose of holding out for an historical Jesus?

        But in my view there is no convincing argument that establishes that priority, and the disconnect between the two literary strands, gospel and epistle, is so sharp that it is impossible to conclude that a figment invented by Paul could have served as the literary model for the Jesus of a gospel like Mark’s.

        Judging a book by its cover, The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus, by J. D. Crossan appears to be about the fictional parts of the Gospels. I think his position is that the gospels were not intended to be literal.

        • Steven Watson

          Where and when does the RJ Hoffman excerpt come come from? The only RJ Hoffman I am familiar with was a babbling wibble merchant last time I looked.

        • Greg G.
        • Steven Watson

          The same guy I thought it was. No historical value and yet you derive historical information not available elsewhere from it? These people never quite get to engage their whole brains do they?

        • Greg G.

          Hoffman was once a Jesus mythicist, now a shrill opponent.

        • Steven Watson

          I have only looked back as far as 2009. Richard Carrier was historiscist then, went and looked at the evidence (cajoled by most of his readers), and changed his mind. Hoffman appears to have lost his. What the hell happened?

        • Greg G.

          WHO’s WHO: Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics
          (Updated 28 June 2015)

          R. Joseph Hoffmann
          Up to 2006 published positively of Christ Myth ideas among scholars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (“the basic premises were sound” and works by G.A. Wells were “tightly argued” and “worth noting”, pp 20, 39 of Introduction to Goguel). Virulently anti-mythicist since Carrier and Doherty emerged as leading voices.

        • Steven Watson

          Ah, I see: didn’t like his thunder stolen.

        • That’s odd. I wonder where his passion against the Christ Myth theory came from.

  • Jack Baynes

    And just because I asked Luke to split the check at dinner, now he won’t return my calls.

  • busterggi

    Considering that Christians are still re-writing the gospels with translations & re-interpretations I’d say they not only weren’t written early but that they are still a work inprogress.

    • You’d think that once the printing press nailed everything down, no one could play games and reinterpret the text, but the Protestant Reformation was just around the corner.

      • Steven Watson

        And the LDS have given us a whole extra set.

  • Thought2Much

    Even if it were possible to narrow down the time between the alleged resurrection of Christ and the writing of the first gospel to 15 years…

    Think about the bullshit that gets made up about recent events, and how quickly this happens. Think about all of the nonsense that got recited as fact after 9/11 (which was an incredibly well-documented event) within a year or two of when it happened.

    Now take a group of illiterate people who are culturally primed to believe that someone is a messiah, and who also believe all manner of supernatural things, such as demons causing mental illness, and give them just 5 years to trade stories among themselves and with others about some perceived event. I think it’s arguable that the amount of bullshit that could be generated in such circumstances would be at least as voluminous as what we would see today.

    Nope. No matter how much you shorten the time between the alleged events and the first written accounts, there’s still room for mountains of bullshit to be shoveled in.

    • Think about all of the nonsense that got recited as fact after 9/11 (which was an incredibly well-documented event) within a year or two of when it happened.

      If I remember the statistic correctly, it took 2 years for the fraction of the US public to think that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 to drop below 50%.

      • Steven Watson

        I am not surprised. You are living in Upper Volta With Nukes after all.

  • MNb

    First question you always have to ask is: who were the intended readers? For whom were they writing for? In the case of the Gospels the answer is easy: early christians.

    “First note that the destruction of the Temple isn’t mentioned anywhere in the New Testament,”
    All early christians knew about the destruction of the Temple. Papyrus was expensive; parchment even more. The authors can’t be expected to write down common knowledge. Plus we know that the destruction of the Temple had an enormous impact on the spiritual life of the jews. At least two jewish spiritual movements completely disappeared; it marks the beginning of rabbinical judaism (the successor of the pharisees) and also of the jewish diaspora. If christianity has jewish origins it’s inconsistent to assume that the destruction of the Temple had hardly impact on early christians.

    “but Matthew 24:1–3 has Jesus predicting it.”
    This actually indicates that at least Matthew was written after the destruction.

    “If Paul had already been martyred, wouldn’t that story be both powerful and relevant?”
    For the intended readers and for what the authors wanted to tell them? Not at all. They wrote about Jesus, not about Paulus.

    “so we can be confident that the gospels are an accurate biography of Jesus.”
    This is so outdated. Unfortunately it’s in Dutch:

    The name “TheBible. nl” tells this is a blog written by a christian scholar (but why should Pofarmer ever trust him, I seem to remember?).

    “Het oudste evangelie is, zo wordt gedacht, dat van Marcus. Hij schrijft volgens de meeste onderzoekers zo’n 30 tot 40 jaar na Jezus’ dood.”
    “Usually it’s assumed that Marcus is the oldest Gospel. According to most scholars he wrote about 30 – 40 years after Jesus died.”

    “het geloof in Jezus als de opgestane Heer kleurt, met terugwerkende kracht, alle verhalen over Jezus’ aardse optreden.”
    “The belief that Jesus was the Resurrected Lord colours, with retroactive power, all stories about Jesus’ earthly acts and deeds.”

    “Waar je in elk geval rekening mee moet houden is dit: elk van de vier evangelisten heeft gekozen voor een eigen opzet, een eigen insteek van het verhaal. Ze schreven, zo wordt aangenomen, voor verschillende lezersgroepen en in uiteenlopende omstandigheden. Elk van de vier evangeliën geeft daarmee een eigen portret van Jezus. ”
    “This you have to take into account in any case: each of the four authors of the Gospels has chosen his own purpose, his own approach to the story. The wrote, so is assumed, for various groups of readers and in diverging circumstances. Each of the four Gospels presents its own portrayal of Jesus.”
    During Antiquity (and a long time afterwards) there simply was not something like “an accurate biography”. Everyone always wrote with an agenda. Exactly in the case of the Gospels that agenda is not hard to find out.

    • Greg G.

      For the intended readers and for what the authors wanted to tell them? Not at all. They wrote about Jesus, not about Paulus.

      Jesus makes a cameo appearance in the Book of Acts but the rest is others talking about him. The first half is more about the apostles and the second half is more about Paul. The last few chapters are about Paul on trial and being sent to Rome but that story appears to be based mostly on Josephus’ shipwreck story in Life 3 and dressed with details from Antiquities of the Jews.

      • Steven Watson

        Is it just me or does the end of Luke not quite cohere with the beginning of Acts? In Luke Jesus rises from Bethany and apparently immediately. In Acts from the Mount of Olives and after forty days. What is meant by a sabbath days journey? Aren’t you barred from washing the pots never mind climbing a mountain on the sabbath?

        • Greg G.

          Yes, Luke may have changed his mind about some things between writings.

          I’m typing into my phone because I’m not out of bed nor have I had my tea or coffee so I have too much blood in my caffeine stream, but I read somewhere, in a footnote, I think, that a sabbath’s day journey was a short trip. I can’t recall the specific distance, ATM.

        • The big one was one day (Luke) vs. 40 days (Acts). I’ve always wondered why the difference if it was the same author.

        • Steven Watson

          Don’t know what is going on, but I can see a reply from Greg G on Diqus but not your reply here Bob; and I see your reply here but not Greg’s.

          Greg writes Luke changed his mind in the years between the texts. That this is a case of Goodacre’s author fatigue occurs to me as a possibility also. It is also possible that a later author is closely mimicking Luke and subtly altering his meaning. I’ll have to go back and re-read Pervo; but certainly in recent years several sequels to dead authors have succeeded quite well in doing this and there is no reason the ancients couldn’t do the same. These authors have been proven more than sophisticated enough in recent years.

        • Greg G.

          If you come from a link to a large comments section, a thread will be shown at the top with splits omitted.

        • Disqus (our commenting system) can be a pain. Sorry about that.

    • Steven Watson

      “If Paul had already been martyred, wouldn’t that story be both powerful and relevant?”
      For the intended readers and for what the authors wanted to tell them? Not at all. They wrote about Jesus, not about Paulus.

      Mark is all about taming Paul’s theology and folding it in with the Jeebus schtick.

  • davewarnock

    Ok, let’s review:

    1. Many years ago, God had a life-or-death message concerning the savior of the world that he wanted to get to all mankind.
    2. He decided to bring this message in the form of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
    3. It just so happened that when God brought this message, most of the population was illiterate- and especially his disciples. (damn the luck)
    4. No one was willing or able to write down any of the things Jesus said and did in his short time on earth- and none of the things were recorded for safekeeping.
    5. Therefore we have spent the past 2,000 years arguing about dates and authors.
    6. Remember- this is the most important message in the history of mankind.

    and 7. God is all powerful and all knowing…

    Does any one else see a problem with this picture?

    • Greg G.

      3. It just so happened that when God brought this message, most of the population was illiterate- and especially his disciples. (damn the luck)

      It’s as if Jesus couldn’t get a literate person to follow him.

      • RichardSRussell

        No, I won’t do it. I won’t. I refuse to stoop to comparing those illiterate, superstitious Bronze Age peasants to Republican primary voters. That would just be wrong.

        • Thought2Much

          What you did there. I see it.

        • Steven Watson

          No, I won’t do it. I won’t. I refuse to stoop to comparing those illiterate, superstitious Bronze Age peasants to Republican Sernators, Congressmen and Presidential candidates. That would just be wrong.

          Fixed that for you

      • davewarnock

        not surprising since, as a carpenter’s son, he probably wasn’t literate either

        • Steven Watson

          STRONGS NT 5045: τέκτων

          τέκτων, τέκτονος, ὁ (τεκεῖν, τίκτω; akin to τέχνη,τεύχω, hence, properly, ‘begetter’ (Curtius, § 235))

          And who is the ‘begetter’? As I recall Philo’s Logos does the creating and similarly Paul’s Christ. It looks to me like the fictional Jesus getting some of his back story from the attributes of the mythical Christ.

        • Greg G.

          I ve never heard that angle before. John does the Logos intro and points to out that Joseph was a “carpenter” which is someone who works with their hands and could be a stone mason.

        • Steven Watson

          You have this “as above; so below” thing going on: Christ the Creator in heaven; Jesus a creator on earth. I claim nothing novel: this is all straight up euhemerisation.

    • Jack Baynes

      Too bad he didn’t think of using his divine power to make his disciples literate. Then they could write down all his teachings and spread literacy to the new followers they gathered (with their own miracle powers that Jesus promised them)

      • quinsha

        Should have been a breeze for the Holy Spirit to give out literacy when the gift of tongues was handed out.

        • busterggi

          Silly person – you can’t hold a pen with your tongue!

        • Steven Watson

          You probably could, actually. You can roll your tongue into a tube. The tongue is a muscle and any muscle can be strengthened with exercise; so I wouldn’t rule it out altogether.

        • Yes, he could make them speak any language, but not read or write it apparently.

      • Steven Watson

        But some were literate: Levi was a publicani, a tax farmer. You have to be way beyond able to sign your own name to keep tax records. This is one of the reasons why The Gospel of Matthew is so attributed. The author ‘had’ to know Jesus and be bilingually literate. Similarly Luke, being supposedly a doctor and supposedly a colleague of Paul was an obvious candidate to be naively attributed the authorship of that gospel and Acts.

    • “If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation;
      Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication”

      — Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar”

      • davewarnock

        I think Judas was on to something there

    • Pofarmer

      There were literate people in Ancient Judea. Why not just appear to them?

      • davewarnock

        I guess that didn’t fit with the ancient prophecies

    • Heck, all God would have to do would be to move himself on over to the middle of China, which was having a gigantic golden age around that time (see ), and the incarnate divine could have talked to literate scholar after literate scholar about all kinds of things. They’d be already put into one place of central imperial communication, the capital city of Chang’an, ready to send messages out to the whole freaking country.

      • adam


  • Greg G.

    Matthew 11:23 (NRSV)23 And you, Capernaum,will you be exalted to heaven?    No, you will be brought down to Hades.For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

    That raises the question of why those deeds were not done in Sodom instead of annihilating them.

    • Steven Watson

      Who’s to say they wouldn’t have been if Yahweh’s messengers hadn’t been preempted by the townsfolk’s carnal inclinations towards them?

      But it is fiction; so your answer is because=plot.

      • Greg G.

        Jesus was like quicksilver the way he could slip through a crowd that was trying to seize him.

        • Steven Watson

          One of the loonier theories of for a historical Jesus I have come across proposed that he was actually a she; a little woman with some sort of intersex condition. He slipped away by becoming a she. Threw the book a long time ago in one of the purges to my library I have to make periodically or not have anywhere to sit!

        • I’ve heard that “Luke” was female.

        • Steven Watson

          Randel Helms makes that argument. I shall have to read him again but I doubt he is making it as incontrovertible fact. I think he argues the text allows us to make this identification and it is at least as good as any other.

          One of its benefits, like that for Jesus not batting an eyelid for an obvious homosexual relationship between the centurion and his boy, is the high mischeivosity quotient: Argue it for the lulz and watch the fundie go purple!

        • Greg G.

          Bernard D. Muller also makes the claim that Luke was a woman and there is only one overlap with Helms argument, IIRC.

          Helms says Luke was a well-to-do Gentile widow who had a child die young from the things that he or she shows interest in.

        • Steven Watson

          re. Bernard D. Muller. TL:DNR. I begin with me: someone writes or says someone said or wrote something somewhere, I try to go and read or listen to what someone wrote or said. If I don’t read the language (and if it is not English, I don’t except to be able to peck through dictionary in hand) I will get hold of as many translations as possible and preferable from as many viewpoints as possible. To my own satisfaction, Paul wrote of a cosmic Christ; he wrote of various opposing or fellow apostles preaching a cosmic Christ and an earthly, human, Jesus is simply not in the text. Powers; Principalities; Christ – yes. Ascents to and from the lower world, earth, and various levels of heaven – yes. An historical Jesus? Not even if I stand on my head and squint.

          For some decades, not withstanding my own comprehension, I believed scholars had evidence and argument for their Jesuses. One and all said some predecessor had set it all out seemingly. I read Mack. Could I connect his Jesus People with his Christ Cult? No. How on earth could you get these two groups from a historical founder and them not, as far as I could make out from Mack, sharing any genes? I naively imbibed the Jesus Seminar and it’s Five Gospels mistaking a gargantuan exercise in group think for the collective last words of the critical. Then I read Donald Akenson’s rather wonderful “Surpassing Wonder”. He sets out devastatingly as as a historian why the Seminar was a crock of shit and Q as elaborated by Mack and Kloppenborg just stupid. The mutually exclusive Jesuses piled up. It began to be obvious that if you aggregated the destruction/deconstruction going on from scholars, both liberal and conservative, with multiple phd’s from mainstream colleges, secular and seminary that the whole historical thing went pfft! I, Steve No-Name, could refute Christianity from it’s own text with nothing but reason and patience; the scholarship unknowingly refuted itself from its own writings. Doherty Iced the cake and then Carrier Put the Cherry on Top but I was already there more or less on my own steam; principally because the internet had matured and anyone could check the stuff out, follow the references, make the comparisons and have the tale revealed in it’s all it’s Magnificent Gory (sic). Now Keith and Le Donne, conservative scholars mind, have pretty much blown the preceding methodologies of New Testament studies to bits.

          I’ll set Bernard D. Muller aside, tah very much, the accumulated evidence; much of it from the blissfully unaware accredited shooting themselves in the face; is simply too much to go taking the unaccredited who apparently put in huge amounts of work but strangely avoid, and admit to avoiding, picking up the relevant languages seriously.

          As you might gather, I get a little worked up about this. LOL!

        • Greg G.

          Sorry for the length. I made my coffee rather strong this morning.

          I went to Sunday School every Sunday for many years until I started high school and realized it wasn’t mandatory and that my parents didn’t much care whether I went. I thought the fervent beliefs of my Sunday School teachers were weird. But after high school and before I joined the military so I could afford college, I got saved in a fundy church. I believed for about two years until I started looking for some of the quotes from scientists’ books like the creationist books quoted but when I found them, I discovered the concpet of quotemining though I didn’t learn that terminology for about 20 years. My faith crumbled after that.

          I put it all aside until nearly 20 years later and 20 years ago when a Christian began to debate me at work. I found as my source for rebuttals to his arguments. (I remember when Aron Ra first started posting there with lots of questions.) Then some people started talking about Jesus being a myth but I didn’t have much interest and those whose opinions I respected rejected that but it rekindled my interest in what the Bible said. So I started with Misquoting Jesus and several Ehrman books, Mack, Helms and others. I kept coming across mythicist arguments and became agnostic about it. I watched TruthSurge’s Excavating the Empty Tomb series on YouTube and was reading Carrier becoming a mythicist. But I figured there must be some logical arrangement of the evidence that led scholars to maintain the historical Jesus belief. I figured Ehrman would lay it all out in Did Jesus Exist? but it only exposed how weak the argument was. Then I read Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle and it convinced me. Then I read Price’s The Christ-Myth Theory.

          I am not convinced that Paul thought Jesus was always a celestial being though, as Doherty and Carrier argue. I think they are right about Hebrews and the Ascent of Isaiah, perhaps even Cephas, James, and John who apparently disagreed with Paul’s theology. Paul mentions “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, or “Christ Jesus” 300 times in about 1500 verses, it’s about once for every three verses if you count pronouns and the ambiguous “Lord”, so Paul loved to write about Jesus. It is mostly adoration of Jesus in heaven. But there are several verses where he talks about specifics of Jesus and that information seems to have come from the Jewish scriptures or the Septuagint, as I show HERE. It isn’t just authentic Paul, every other epistle refers to Jesus in OT terms and allusions, never as if they knew Jesus as a recent figure. The two exceptions are 1 Timothy and 2 Peter which appear to have drawn some information from the gospels. I think Paul thought Jesus was a historical figure who lived after David, as his descendant, but before, or was a contemprary of, Isaiah who wrote of the Suffering Servant in the past tense. Paul and his followers thought the Suffering Servant metaphor hid a literal truth that was revealed to their generation as an indication that the Messiah would come during that generation. Paul doesn’t seem to refer to Greek philosophy or to have read Philo that I can see.

          Galatians seems to me to be quite sarcastic. Paul was discrediting James and Cephas for two chapters while trying to elevate and justify himself. “Those who unsettle you” in Galatians 5:12 seems to be the same as “Who has bewitched you” in Galatians 3:1 as his wish that “they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves” is directed at the circumcision faction which James is shown to be a boss of and Cephas kowtows to them. So the “who has bewitched you?” is rhetorically addressing James and Cephas who apparently argued that Jesus was not crucified as Galatians 3 immediately goes on to demonstrate using OT quotes for the next dozen verses or so. I argue that Galatians 2:11-12 mentions James sending people on missions and Galatians 1:1 with the unusual statement that Paul is not sent by human authorities but by the Lord show that Galatians 1:18 was meant as sarcasm that James was putting himself at the Lord’s level, as if he was the “Lord’s brother”.

          I think James epistle was a response to Galatians as James 2:8-10 is a direct response to Galatians 5:14 and all that follows seems to be responses to point in Galatians until the end of Galatians where James goes back a couple of chapters and hits some missed points in the same order as Galatians. Maybe it was written by James or maybe it was written later as pseudepigraphy. James is said to be written in high quality Greek. I think Mark was mocking Paul’s opposition when he made the disciples illiterate fishermen who didn’t get it, even at the second mass feeding. Those who place it late seem to be doing it on the assumption that James and Cephas were on the same page as Paul’s writings.

          I wonder how important reading the original languages are. It seems that people have been doing translations for a couple of thousand years and commenting on the possible meanings. If someone comes up with a novel interpretation, it is probably unlikely to be correct. If there are other meanings in the language, someone has either pointed it out and explained it somewhere.

        • When arguing, I avoid the esoteric or controversial arguments (Jesus myth theory, for example) simply because there are so many slam-dunk arguments to use. But yeah, hypotheses like gaiety in the NT are lots of fun.

          A 30-yo Jewish man not married? Tongues must’ve wagged.

        • Steven Watson

          I read G.A. Wells when I was thirteen. Then I read Galatians. The text reads as the text reads. That is how I was taught to read. If you think things are written on the page that simply are not there… you are potty. End of.

          That goes double if you refuse to see what IS written there.

        • Steven Watson

          Almost since the texts have been studied critically, the surfeit of imperial nakedness to be found in the Tanakh and N.T. has been pointed out almost ad nauseum, studiously ignored, and the victory of god and/or “history” proclaimed – That is what should be controversial about this topic. It moves! Don’t matter how much the Inquisition burble about it: It moves.

        • Greg G.

          Here is the link to Muller’s page with the argument that Luke was a lady:

          That page also goes into detail about where Luke was missing Mark’s chapter 7.

          I’ve noticed that John 6 follows Mark for the Feeding of the 5000, the Walking on Water, and the Visit to Gennasaret where Jesus talks about the Bread of Life, as if John know something was missing. John 6:30 jumps to the question asked in Mark 8:11-12.

          I have my notes at hand now, but didn’t earlier.

        • Steven Watson

          You will have gathered your helpful and informative comment crossed with my more-or-less rant. Sorry. I’ll go and look at Mullers argument. If the facts change, stopped clocks, etc.

        • Greg G.

          Muller is very anti-mythicist but he has a few interesting articles that have nothing to do with that.

        • Steven Watson

          Then I will certainly have another look at some point. I am actually always rather glad to find I have been mistaken about those I took to be irredeemable cranks.

        • Greg G.

          I have been called things like “irredeemable crank” by those who use the arguments of NT scholars such as:

          How to Tell If a Saying Attributed to Jesus Is Authentic.
          Is the saying repeated similarly by other sources?
            Yes: The saying is authentic by the Criterion of Multiple Attestation.
            No: Is the meaning of the saying altered in later sources?
              Yes: The earlier version of the saying is authentic by the Criterion of Embarrassment.
              No: Is it possible that the saying could have been translated from Aramaic?
                Yes: The saying is authentic by the Criterion of Aramaicisms.
                No: Is the saying similar to first century Jewish thought?
                  Yes: The saying is authentic by the Criterion of Historical Plausibility.
                  No: Does the saying fit well with later Christian thought?
                    Yes: The saying is authentic by the Criterion of Coherence.
                    No: The saying is authentic by the Criterion of Double Dissimilarity.

        • Steven Watson

          A variant of this might be helpful. Substitute yourself for Obama and an appropriate, preferable conservative, scholar (Anthony Le Donne for example.) who has blown one of the criterion out of the water for Reagan.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    In reading the history of ancient Egypt (The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt), I see that their history is constantly being re-written as each new dynasty comes to power. They(the pharaohs), have a narrative that they want told. Scribes are told what to write as dictated by their kings. History is recorded this way throughout time and I see no reason whatsoever the Jewish history to be any different. History is always re-written to serve the current narrative and needs to be taken with a lot of skepticism. The fact that it exists at all is good, because most of the record is expunged to eliminate the unpleasant facts and cherry pick the good. I see the “book” in the same light.

    • It’s arguable that even the concept of ‘history’ as such a thing, where you record what you believe most likely happened based on documentation and recounting of personal witness testimony, existed for most of the time that mankind was around. It wasn’t until writers of the likes of Thucydides came around that we really had accounts that were different than mere self-serving, after the fact justifications of things. Pure myths. Pure legends. Etc. The gospels (both the ones in and out of the canon) are so all over the place in terms of claiming to be mystical versus claiming to be eyewitness based that it really is frustrating at times to make sense of it. You wish we had a Herodotus in there somewhere.

      • Steven Watson

        But we have a little better. Luke is garbling Josephus through Luke/Acts. Besides we can disinter Homer being transvalued in Mark; Luke tries to harmonise the Pauline and Petrine. Paul speaks with Peter’s voice. Peter gets a vision making all things clean so he can eat with Greeks; conspicuous by it’s absence from, and contradiction of Paul. Mark’s tomb scene is in dialogue with the Orpheus cult. All those fulfilled prophecies? The scenes are written to do just that. What isn’t transvalued Hellenic material is recycled from the LXX. The marks of good Greek educations in literature and rhetoric are all over everything. Paul kicks against the pricks; a line from Euripides if I remember rightly (Ah yes; borrowed from Dionysus in “The Bacchae”) . Mark’s geography is muxed tip. the Magi see a star in the East. They come from the East. Shouldn’t that be West? Mistakes by non-natives writing from the North and West perhaps. No matter what the likes of Maurice Casey imagine, there is precious little sign of an Aramaic substrate. How many scenes are written with no one other than Jesus to pass them on; a sign of the omniscient narrator. Mark’s women at the tomb tell no one what happened. The Resurrection happens off stage and the gospel ends abruptly. We have half a dozen variant endings, long and short, that try and patch this. None can be said to be original. Either the abrupt ending is first or the actual ending was so at odds with later beliefs it has been erased.

        We know what this is: well thought out literary construct in in the Hellenistic tradition. Whether Jesus was a real person or there were any eyewitnesses is beside the point. What we have is fiction, tricked out with historical characters a la Sharpe or Flashman to lend verisimilitude.

        • Greg G.

          Wow. I think I have argued for everything you have said here except for the tomb scene being related to Orpheus. Can you expand on that please?

          OK, the star in the east bit I haven’t argued before either, but I’m ashamed that I never caught that before. Of course, if they had seen the star in the east, they would have gone east.

        • Steven Watson

          As I recall it has to do with the young man in white sat on the right side of the sepulchre. “White” and “right” are not just incidental. Mark, for all it’s apparent crudity, is the product of a sophisticated author, even the little tings bear investigation.

          I would like to be able to tell you more; but I cannot re-locate the reference at the moment and you should treat my remark as unreliable anecdote until such time as I do.

        • Greg G.

          I think Mark 16:5 refers to the naked boy in Mark 14:51-52 which comes from Amos 2:16. The right side would then be from Mark 14:62 which, along with Mark 13:26, would be from Daniel 7:13 while the “right hand” might come from Psalm 110:1.

          Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13; Amos 2:16; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:51-52; Mark 14:62; Mark 16:5

          Just checking Orpheus on Wikipedia doesn’t reveal those details, but there are many versions of Greek myths. Mark does dress up some Greek stories with some OT scripture.

        • Steven Watson

          Mark 14:62 “…and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right side of power…”. Shit; and there was I nodding along with all that “The Gospels don’t come straight out and say Jesus is God” stuff! Just when I thought the hole couldn’t possibly get deeper….!!!

          The more I find out about these authors; the more I admire them. They keep such a lot of balls in the air and manage to mean so many things with the same sentence! Some of our ideas have to be wrong of course; but even so there is such a huge amount competing for the probability space that the mind boggles. Both at the amount and that anyone should privilege gods or history as explanations in such a situation.

        • Greg G.

          That is what amazes me about them, too. The more you learn about how they worked their sources in to imply thinks is fascinating.

          It is surprising how many of their apparent sources have survived to this day. Those who assume the stories are oral traditions and don’t compare other literature are missing out.

        • Steven Watson

          I second that emotion!

        • Greg G.

          I have a theory I’d like your opinion on and maybe some suggestions.

          Mark Goodacre uses Editorial Fatigue to show that one gospel author was using another and not the other way around. I have a couple of examples of Editorial Missing the Point:

          Mark 11:12-26 has the sandwich of the Cursing of the Fig Tree with The Cleansing of the Temple, and the Interpretation of the Fig Tree to form a syllogism where Jesus gets mad at the tree, Jesus gets mad at the temple, the tree withers, and his readers would connect the destruction of the temple with the Jesus’ anger at the temple.

          Matthew 21:12-17 disconnects the Cleansing of the Temple from the Fig Tree Incident in Matthew 21:18-22.

          Mark uses a sandwich with Jesus before the Sanhedrin, Mark 14:53-72, with Peter’s Denial to show simultaniety of the two events. Jesus is being beaten and abused while being ordered to “Prophesy!” while his prophecy of Peter’s denial is coming to fruition.

          John 18:13-27 also has Jesus before the Sanhedrin with Peter’s denials but it loses its impact with Jesus being slapped around without the order to prophesy.

          Does that make any sense to you? Can you think of other examples?

        • Steven Watson

          There would be no need for the umpteen gospels that followed (and preceded?) Mark if other communities hadn’t found something/manythings wrong with his creation/interpretation. In many cases it is not that the point or irony was missed as that it had to be dropped, reinterpreted or contradicted. Mark has it no one but him and you his listener/reader gets what went on. John is as much about unmistakable signs and Jesus not being open to interpretation as any thing but God as anything else I think.

          Bartimaeus is obviously referencing Plato’s Timaeus. The subject of that discourse? Sight as the font of knowledge. One of the reasons John went through so many rewrites (4 have been proposed, I think) is it was widely used in so-called gnostic circles. Quite a bit of Plato turned up at Hag Hammadi. I think I can see one reason Blind Bartimaeus might have been ignored or dropped from this gospel.

          That is not to say all this rewriting and leaving out was for deliberate differences in interpretation and theology, it could be just as much the cultural reference point was not understood and things were dropped because they were meaningless in these other communities. Of course Mark seems to have been deliberately written to be misinterpreted if there was no teacher to tell you what was going on!

          Speaking of irony and missing the point, it is appropriate you introduced this with Mark Goodacre. He can see Q is bollocks but still thinks Paul is writing about a real person. WHUT?

          Anywhoos that is my two penn’orth, probably not altogether correct and always open to reinterpretation.

        • Greg G.

          I agree with you. John was reading Philo with the Logos introduction.

          JOhn uses several chapters from Mark but omits several others. He uses Mark 14, 15, and 16.

          John 13:21-30 has the prediction of Peter’s denial from Mark 14:17-21 and has Jesus being slapped around while Peter is denying him, so there doesn’t seem to be a theological reason to omit the order to “Prophesy!”

          I think Bartimaeus is about Timaeus, too. I have always thought it was hinting that followers of Plato was jumping up to the Jesus bandwagon. As I was thinking about this, the idea that it might refer to followers of Philo’s ideas as Philo combined Greek philosophy with Hebrew ideals.

          I think Mark was a Paulinist who despised the Jerusalem faction so he made them look like illiterate clowns. Maybe he was an apostate mocking the whole thing but his meaning was a little too inconspicuous. The issue isn’t at all settled in my mind. The name “Legion” seems to be a bilingual punnish wink to his readers. The phrase is literally “said, ‘Lego my name'”, where the Greek for “said” is “lego” so it reads “legolegio” which is similar to “Polyphemus” as “legio” is Latin for “many soldiers” and “lego” is “said” as “poly” means “many” and “phemus” means “speak about”. I expect Romans who were literate in Greek would get it.

          Many have noticed the similarities between the Epistle of James and the words of Jesus in Matthew. Nobody can put aside the idea that Matthew didn’t have a source that came from eyewitnesses. If Matthew simply reworded James, it would explain why James never said “Jesus said” and why there is no hint of a Q document in the ancient literature. It would then follow that those verses shared with Luke were copied by Luke and there is no need for the Q document.

  • Scott_In_OH

    Bob, I can’t remember: Have you written much on the various gospels that weren’t included in the canon? When they were written, who argued they were real, when/how they were excluded? I’m pretty interested in 1st century Christianity and how it evolved into what we have today.

    • I haven’t. I’d like to explore the noncanonical books as well as the issues of pseudepigraphy within the canon (2 Peter may be the best example, plus half the “Pauline” epistles, plus the ending of Revelation that says, “Don’t you be thinking about changing this, now!” and so on).

      Other ideas?

      • Greg G.

        Some think 1 Peter is a forgery, too. Some think James was written near the end of the first century. Some think 2 Corinthians is a combination of three letters, some of which are mentioned as previously written correspondence to the Corinthians.

      • Taneli Huuskonen

        The various endings of Mark.

        • I’ve heard that there are 5 endings of Mark, none of which are considered authentic.

        • Greg G.

          Least of all is #6: “And they lived happily ever after.”

      • Scott_In_OH

        Elaine Pagels is the scholar I’ve been pointed to for info on non-canonical works–she was one of the first to read the Nag Hammadi manuscripts. She also wrote a bit about Irenaeus and his efforts to systematize (and bureaucratize) the Church. It was interesting, but I wanted to know more.

        I’ve also found it interesting to read some of the early Church Fathers. Many of their writings are available at

        What I’m after is the history of the Church in the first century. Even most of the Fathers are acknowledged to be from the second century or later.

        I was raised Christian, so I assumed things like the Gospel of Thomas were made up, but I really don’t know why/how the 4 gospels we now have got included while others were excluded. We can read things like Ignatius’s list of heresies, but that’s victor’s history. What do we know about the alternative versions of Christianity in the first century and why they eventually lost?

        • Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities is a good source.

          As for early church fathers, you might want to read Papias (I haven’t, I must admit). He wrote in the early 2nd century and transcribed the stories he heard. Sort of a Christian version of the brothers Grimm.

        • Charlie Johnson

          Even the fragments of Papias we have are usually second-hand. Most are found in Eusebius of Caesarea, 4th century. The Didache is one of the earliest complete Christian texts.

        • Steven Watson

          I would invest in academic authors’ more technical works. What they publish for the academy and their peers is often more in depth and certainly more rigourous than what they will put out for the general public.

          I am always happy to give someone the potted version; but, honestly, nearly all the source material is available on the web at sites such as the one you reference or such as Bible Gateway, New Testament Gateway, The Gnostic Society Library etc.

          Read and compare as many translations as you can and make your own mind up. (Be sure to check the credentials of the sites you look at.) You have probably noticed a theme running through this blog and similar that “experts” are not above burbling nonsense; some of them the whole of the time!

          The short answer as to why stuff was lost is what became the party that became the Orthodox Church accidentally caught the ear of the emperor, he wasn’t interested in strife, factionalism or dissent so pluralism went out the window over the following century.

          The orthodox party obviously was not interested in recording or proliferating the alternatives so the alternative record died of neglect.

          It was a very expensive business, both in time and materials, to copy, publish and distribute any kind of literature. Why do we know Josephus? He was subbed by the imperial house. Tacitus and Pliny were enormously rich dudes. Eusebius had an imperial contract and imperial finance. Even discounting that it became very unhealthy to maintain the alternatives; if you can produce 50 copies and send them allover the empire under the imperial imprimatur, you can then get 50 copies produced from these destinations, and so on. However, if you can only produce a few copies and only distribute them in in your own locale…

          A couple of years ago a lost work of Archimedes was recovered, the material it was written on had been erased and reused to write a prayer book. Nag Hammadi and Quumran? that material only escaped because hidden. Other finds come from rubbish tips. Jewish and Islamic material survives because, though it could be thrown out, it was taboo to destroy sacred material or works containing the name of god.

    • ProphecyGeek

      Hi Scott,

      I elaborate a little bit on Wallace’s argument with my video:
      Feel free to check it out.

      • That was great. And entertaining! Though i still believe that Gospel of Matthew came before Mark, but that’s another issue. All the Gospels came before the Temple destruction.

  • Talking about the famous temple possibly being destroyed before it happens really seems like something that you wouldn’t find necessarily shocking if just a regular, average guy did it. I’m reminded of how, before the 9/11 attacks, there was that famous Tom Clancy book ‘Debt of Honor’ that depicts a terrorist hijacking an airplane to crash it into the U.S. Capitol building. Clancy didn’t claim to be a divine agent; he just was aware of the major threats that had been made in the 90s (and before) about terrorist hijackings (look at the famous failed ‘Bojinka plot’) as well as the reported desires by extremists to hit Washington D.C. directly. It’s a reasonable prediction that bad stuff can happen.

    Also, it’s not like writing stuff decades later and inserting material about characters predicting the ‘future’ while you pretend that your work is genuine was rare. If anything, it was standard procedure in a lot of ancient world even though people that got caught were reviled. So, well, we really don’t have particular reason to concretely date stuff like the Gospel of Mark in the mid to late 1st century. And even if we did, that’s still decades after Jesus’ alleged death at 33 AD or so. Plenty of time for all kinds of nonsense to creep into whatever the historical truth was.

    • Steven Watson

      We could be extreme and date Mark to 40AD; but you only have to look at Roswell and Cargo Cults to see stuff being generated within a decade of the posited origin date. In the case of Roswell, we see it happen in a First World culture where everyone has access to an education on a par with the ancient world’s Plinys and Lucians. In 1823 View of the Hebrews, fiction, was published; In 1830 that fiction became the Book of Mormon.

      Doesn’t matter where these folk try and run to they; they have no place to hide.