David Instone-Brewer on the Date of Mark's Gospel
In the latest edition of Journal of Theological Studies, David Instone-Brewer reviews my Date of Mark's Gospel. I was particularly keen for interaction with someone like Instone-Brewer because unlike most scholars he has serious expertise both in NT and rabbinic literature and chapter 7 of the Date of Mark has a load of stuff on rabbinic purity law and its relevance for Mark 7. Anyone who has read his work on pre-70 rabbinic traditions, interpretation, divorce or seen him in action will know that he can be pretty formidable debating partner.
You can read the details for yourself and I have to say I really enjoyed it. What I'll do, as ever, is engage with the issues and criticisms Instone-Brewer raises.
Firstly, on my chronology of observance and non-observance in earliest Christianity, he claims the following:
However, he does not demonstrate sufficiently that this transition took place at this time in non-Pauline congregations, which is especially important for Mark because we might expect this to come from a Petrine community (if church traditions are of any value).
This is true but there's not much that can be done. The material for those associated with Peter in the earliest period is difficult enough to establish and then there is even more difficulty when trying to establish a specific theme. Also I think it is possible to to argue that general knowledge of observance and non-observance was available in earliest Christianity. For example, people knew what Paul was doing and some did not like it.
Instone-Brewer appears to accept my general argument on Mark 7.1-23 with Mk 7.19 as an attack on handwashing not food permitted in the Torah. He adds this:
An abbreviated form of teachings is certainly common in the Gospels and in rabbinic literature (especially the earliest traditions) and this reading helps to put what has often become a proof text back into its context.
This is something I have been thinking about for a while and Instone-Brewer has shown that it can be done with reference to the divorce traditions, not to mention rabbinic tradition, and Maurice Casey has doen with Aramaic sources. It is also the case that some of the rabbinic purity debates are in abbreviated forms causing some problems for later rabbinic interpreters who have to fill in the gaps. This too would show the assumptions made in the transmission of rabbinic and presumably other Jewish material from an earlier date. It will be very interestiing (for me at least) to see what Instone-Brewer somes up with when he gets to volume dating the rabbinic purity material.
On a related issue, with reference to Sabbath debates, Instone-Brewer says:
Crossley's case could be strengthened by some illustrations from rabbinic and early Christian literature. For example, there was an early rabbinic ruling allowing you to wave objects over someone on the Sabbath for the purpose of healing, even though other acts of healing were prohibited, which was amended in the mid-second century with the proviso that they must be objects which can be handled on a Sabbath (t.Shab. 7:23). This proviso was not mentioned in the earlier extremely abbreviated ruling because it was too obvious, but later rabbis felt the necessity to make it clearer. Similarly, some early church fathers felt the need to add a proviso to the ruling by Jesus against ‘all who look lustfully at a woman’ by adding ‘who is not his wife’ (Matt. 5:28 in Theophilus to Autolycus).
That sounds like a particularly interesting additional argument. I'd have to read through carefully but it certainly sounds like the kind of thing that could indeed strengthen the case.
I also like one of his final comments on Maurice Casey and myself professing no religious faith and 'what we might dismiss as ultra-conservative conclusions are certainly not a product of the author's presuppositions.' Now telling people I come to those kinds of conclusions will get me in trouble! ;-)