Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dating of Mark

I’ve discussed various positions regarding when Mark’s Gospel was written. The traditional dating method (absent any internal indication or external reference) would be to presume it was written after the last recorded incident. As Mark 13 refers to the sacking of Jerusalem, we date it after 70 CE—the year Jerusalem was besieged and fell.

In any other instance this is so obvious as to be unnecessary to point out. But we are talking a canonical book from the New Testament…and to many Christian apologists, 70 CE seems too removed from Jesus’ lifetime. Especially as it is the earliest book, making Matthew, Luke and John even later.

So they claim Mark 13 is a supernatural event, wherein Jesus was accurately predicting Jerusalem’s fall and we are simply predisposed against such a proposition by our philosophical naturalism. I happened across this outstanding blog, (sadly gone MIA) generating some thoughts. The blog author states, “[T]he historians Tacitus (Ann. 6.20), Suetonius (Gal. 4), and Cassius Dio (64.1) all agree that the emperor Tiberius used his knowledge of astrology to predict the future emperor Galba’s reign.”

[For a very brief background, Tiberius was Caesar during Jesus’ time period, Galba became emperor later in the Year of the Four Emperors (June 68 CE – December 69 CE)]

We have three (3) independent sources all agreeing Galba’s reign was prophesied.

Tacitus Annals 6.20 states, “I must not pass over a prognostication of Tiberius respecting Servius Galba, then consul. Having sent for him and sounded him on various topics, he at last addressed him in Greek to this effect: ‘You too, Galba, will some day have a taste of empire.’ He thus hinted at a brief span of power late in life, on the strength of his acquaintance with the art of astrologers…”

Suetonius in Life of Galba 4 indicates, “It is well known that when he was still a boy and called to pay his respects to Augustus with others of his age, the emperor pinched his cheek and said in Greek: ‘Thou too, child, wilt have a nibble at this power of mine. Tiberius too, when he heard that Galba was destined to be emperor, but in his old age, said: ‘Well, let him live then, since that does not concern me.’”

Cassius Dio in Roman History: 64.1 “Thus Galba was declared emperor, just as Tiberius had foretold when he said to him that he also should have a taste of the sovereignty.”

Of course, no one is claiming Tacitus, Suetonius or Cassius Dio wrote before Galba’s reign—the point I am making is such claimed prophetic predictions written long after the predicted events occurred were part and parcel of the genre. If a Christian says I am predisposed against Christian prophesying, are they equally predisposed against astrological prophesying? Or do they think Tiberius really did predict Galba’s reign?

The next time I am having a discussion about the dating of Mark, and whether it is my naturalistic predisposition not seeing Mark 13 as a “true” prophecy—I will ask the Christian what their horoscope said today.

They dare not scoff at astrology, because that would equally be naturalistic predisposition toward skepticism on predictions.


  1. It does seem "obvious." Unfortunately obvious is hard to see when you are defending an inerrant, inspired text. The dogma becomes more important than the obvious.

    I had a Christian tell me on Twitter that the gospels were written before Jesus, so they are ALL prophetic. Never heard this before...

    Goes to show I can still be surprised by Evangelicals. Kinda like the guy who left a comment today that said my capitalizing Jesus and God are proof that I am not an atheist. :)

    As always, great post, my friend.


  2. But evangelical Christians and fundamentalists would not scoff at your example. They do believe in there being non-God- related supernatural powers. They think that power comes from Satan, or demons, evil spirits...etc.

    So, I don't know that your example would be of any use to you in arguing with them. In fact, it may work against you.

    "See," they'll say,"Christians aren't the only one who experience supernatural knowledge of some sort."

  3. Alas, I agree. There is no telling what heights some Christians take to sustain belief.

    But more importantly, the link is fixed regarding the blog. If you want to read some REAL intelligence, I suggest popping over to Celsus’ blog. It is in my link list.

    The 10/42 controversy is a must-read.

  4. Thanks for citing my blog! Just as additional note, the technical term for prophecies that are made after the event they predict is "ex eventu prophecies." They occur throughout ancient literature, biblical and pagan, so there is no excessive skepticism needed at all to assume one took place in the Gospels.

  5. Who were the Christians before the reformation?