During the latter part of last year, Mark Goodacre raised the issue of the date of the Gospels on his blog in a series of posts with the title, "The Dating Game" (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and here). There, in a thoughtful treatment, he sided with those scholars who have made the case that Mark is best dated after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Then, presupposing that Matthew and Luke came after Mark, he goes on to make the case that the rest of the Synoptics are to be dated even later.
This series of posts has come at an interesting time for me as I have been reading James Crossley's book, The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (2004). Crossley has interacted with Goodacre's series, which mentions his book on his own blog (also here). Of course, he comes from an entirely different perspective and argues that Mark is best dated to the period between the mid to late thirties and mid-forties.
The discussion is especially important for my own work. I am currently working on a doctoral dissertation project on the historical Jesus' attitude towards the cult, specifically looking at the role Jewish hopes regarding the eschatological renewal of the temple, the priesthood and the cult may relate to aspects of his own ministry. As will be made clear, the role of the temple in the Gospel according to Mark is emerging as a key element in this debate.
As Goodacre explains, the primary argument given by those who date Mark after the destruction of the temple is the apparent temple focus of his Gospel. Indeed, there can be little doubt that, especially from chapters 11-14, Mark displays a special interest in the temple.
Thus, before talking about dating, I want to highlight this temple-centric dimension of Mark's narrative. After this discussion, we will then proceed to ask questions about the dating of the Gospel--particularly looking at Goodacre's approach.
Jesus' Prediction of the Destruction of the Temple in Mark
As many have noted, Mark's interest in the Temple is manifested in two principle ways. First, Mark has Jesus announcing the temple's coming judgment. Second, Jesus’ death is linked to the destruction of the temple. For the sake of our discussion, we will look briefly at these two aspects. Specifically, this post will deal with the former.
First, Jesus action in the temple, known often as the “cleansing of the temple,” is most likely a prophetic sign of its coming judgment. The fact is, Jesus’ action is linked with a quotation from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the destruction of Solomon’s temple (cf. Jer 7:11: “den of thieves”). That Jesus performs an action in the temple is in fact reminiscent of Jeremiah himself, who also performed prophetic signs in the temple. The idea that the action is meant to communicate the idea of coming judgment is further strengthened by the fact that Mark sandwiches the episode between the account of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree, which, because it has failed to produce fruit, is condemned by him and later withers and dies (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21; vv.15-19 = the temple incident).
Next, it should be pointed out that Jesus’ action in the temple is closely followed by his account of the wicked tenants in the vineyard. Much could be said here. Suffice it to say the following here. Most scholars recognize that the parable is likely drawing on Isaiah 5, which similarly uses the image of the vineyard and foretells a coming judgment on
The fact that the parable highlights the failure of the wicked tenants to produce fruits brings the parable into especially close alignment with the cursing of the fig tree. Of course, it concludes with God destroying the tenants.
Going on, as if the temple action was not clear enough to communicate the idea, Jesus explicitly prophecies the coming ruin of the sanctuary in Mark 13:1-2:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.'"
Of course, it should be noted that Jesus goes on to describe the destruction of the temple using language clearly borrowed from Daniel's vision of the destruction of the sanctuary (cf. Dan 8:9-14 which links the destruction of the temple with the "host of the stars" being "cast down", using language of the desolating transgression, mirroring the imagery of the apocalyptic discourse). It should also be pointed out that after alluding to this imagery Jesus evokes the fig tree episode (cf. Mark 13:28: "From the fig tree learn its lesson..."). It is hard to imagine how Mark would have failed to see how his readers would have linked this verse with the cursing of the fig tree. Thus, Jesus' apocalyptic discourse appears to circle back to this earlier story, which was closely associated with his temple action. That Jesus foretold the coming destruction of the temple is also attested in the trial narrative, where witnesses testify that Jesus had issued such statements against the sanctuary. A key passage is found in Mark 14:58:
"And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 'We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands."These accusations then emerge again in the passion narrative. In Mark 15:29 we read,
"And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!'"In the next post we will look at the ways Mark links Jesus' death to the destruction of the temple. NOTES JSNTSup 266; London: T & T Clark, 2004.  Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 226-7; idem. Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 397-401; George J. Brooke, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 78-9; idem., “4Q500 1 and the Use of Scripture in the Parable of the Vineyard,” DSD 2 (1995): 268-94; Ernst Lohmeyer, “Das Gleichnis von den bösen Weingärtnern (Mark 12,1–12), ZST 18 (1941): 247-248.