Sunday, April 16, 2006

Did Jesus Found a Dynasty--- Part 4

This is the final installment of a four part critique of James Tabor's new book.

For whatever reasons, scholars often seem to enjoy setting up contrasts between Jesus and his followers, particularly Paul. Tabor is one who fits this mold. Tabor states boldly: “There are two completely separate and distinct ‘Christianities’ embedded in the New Testament.One is quite familiar and became the version of the Christian faith known to billions over the past two millennia. Its main proponent was the apostle Paul. The other has been largely forgotten and by the turn of the 1rst century A.D. had been effectively marginalized and suppressed by the other.” (p. 261). This latter was of course the Christianity of James. One wonders however why Tabor does not draw attention to the documents called Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation which also all reflect early Jewish apocalyptic thinking. Apparently, it is not true that there was a move to marginalize this form of thinking when the canon was beginning to be drawn up.
Besides the fact that Tabor dramatically overplays the contrast between James and Paul as individual thinkers and apostles, he also portrays a picture of early Christianity as involving dueling banjos which is also false as we have shown in this study. The fact that this conclusion of Tabor’s is familiar and not unique does not make it true. On the one hand Tabor allows that Paul was accepted into the inner circle of Jesus’ followers by the pillar apostles (p. 262). But somehow he thinks that what Paul preached radically distinguished him from the other apostles. Following Schweitzer he speaks of Paul’s Christ mysticism and thinks that Paul promulgated an other-worldly Gospel about a pre-existent Christ who came to earth, died and rose, and returned to heaven in glory. But this is to stop the tale before the end of the story for as Tabor admits, Paul believes Jesus is coming back, perhaps in his own lifetime. Further, Paul believes the kingdoms of this world are going to get a divine make-over when Jesus returns. In other words, the end of the story is not up there or out there somewhere, it is down here. Which brings us to another important point.
Tabor thinks when Paul refers to a pneumatikon sōma in 1 Cor. 15 he means an immaterial or spiritual body. This is not an accurate reading of this grammatical construction which means a body empowered by and suffused by the Spirit, not a body made up of ‘spirit’ whatever that might be. Paul’s view of the resurrection body is not ‘spiritual’ for Paul is at the end of the day no dualist. This brings us to a second misreading of Paul, in particular 2 Cor. 5.16. This text is not at all about the renouncing of the historical Jesus or his teaching, which Paul does from time to time quote or allude to (e.g. in 1 Cor. 7 or Romans 12-15). Paul is talking about knowing Christ ‘according to the flesh’ which is to say knowing him in a purely human way. He is not referring to some sort of dualistic idea that the historical Jesus is unimportant and the heavenly Christ is all important. Rudolph Bultmann has been shown to be wrong about this many times over in commentaries on 2 Corinthians and works on Pauline theology in the last fifty years.
On p. 260 of his study Tabor suggests that Rom. 13 shows Paul was an accomodationist when it came to Rome, but Jesus, the revolutionary was not. Of course this depends on what you think of the “Render unto Caesar…” saying, but at the very least as Tabor admits, Jesus was not a violent revolutionary. On Tabor’s showing Jesus assumed God would intervene directly and sort things out. In the meantime it was o.k. to render something to Caesar (respect, his own coins?). But for some reason Tabor wants to push the contrast further. Paul, he says did not believe in an earthly kingdom. For him it was a spiritual and heavenly one. This actually does an injust to Paul’s eschatology which among other things says quite clearly in 1 Cor. 15 that Jesus is coming back to earth, that the dead in Christ will be raised, and that Jesus will be busy after his return putting his enemies under his feet, after which death will be overcome and the reign handed back over to God. This hardly sounds like a list of activities that transpire in heaven.
Tabor also suggests that Paul had a radically different view of the Law than Jesus, and of the people of God. This is at best a half truth as we have seen in this study. James did think Jews Christians were obligated to be Torah true, while Paul thought it was optional as a text like 1 Cor. 9 shows. But James and Paul stood together in the view that: 1) true Jews were the righteous remnant, and these were the Jewish followers of Jesus (cf. the letter of James to Romans 9-11); 2) the Good News is for the Jew first and also for the Gentile, the latter of whom are grafted into the Jewish root, so that the people of God are now Jew and Gentile united in Christ. This is not just Paul’s view. It was also the view of James, and of Peter for that matter.
Since Tabor brings up the matter of the new covenant on pp. 266-67 one more thing should be said. The prophecy in Jer. 31.31-33 very clearly (see vs. 32) contrasts the Mosaic covenant with the new one. The new covenant will not be like that earlier one, and so will not be simply a renewal of the Mosaic covenant (see vs. 32). Eschatolog-ically minded Jews, including some at Qumran knew this text well, and it is true to say that both Jesus and Paul recognized that the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus was not simply a renewal of the Mosaic one.
The distinctive teachings of Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount, which Paul draws on in various places, make clear that sometimes Jesus endorses previous Mosaic teaching, sometimes he intensifies it, and sometimes he replaces it with his own new teaching. This is not just a matter of having a new hermeneutic applied to an old covenant. If one reads Mk. 7 and Mt. 5-7 closely this becomes apparent. Jesus was in various ways a radical Jew, and so was Paul. Both place the emphasis on the new eschatological kingdom thing God was doing. Both taught a ‘lex nova’ the Law of Christ. Paul had a good teacher when it comes to his more radical approach to Torah, Temple, Territory, and People. It was Jesus who got himself executed for such teaching after being repeatedly accused of blasphemy during his ministry.
Tabor in fact goes so far as to say that Paul and his vision of Christian faith has shaped almost the entire canon eclipsing other and earlier Christianities (he points not only to Paul’s letter but to Luke-Acts, Mark, Matthew indirectly, and John, and the letters of Peter (pp. 272-73). He is of course right that the letter of James had a hard time getting into the canon. It was long disputed and is left off the Muratorian canon list, which is our earliest such list from mainstream Christianity. He is equally correct about James’ indebtedness to the teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately he does not give either James. 1.1 or James 2.1 their due (see p. 277). Just like Paul, James believed in ‘our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ and saw himself primarily as Jesus’ servant, not his brother. Were there actually a human dynasty concept in operation, we would have expected to find it in the letter of James. But instead any blood connections with Jesus go unmentioned and in their place we hear that Jesus is James’ Lord. We also hear that James believes Jesus is coming back to judge the world (5.7). It is an injustice to James and Jude to suggest that when they call Jesus Lord, they simply mean respected sir or master teacher. No, the term means what it means elsewhere in the NT in post-Easter texts. It means Jesus is the risen Lord, as the Christ hymn cited in Phil. 2.5-11 but not created by Paul makes evident.
This brings up a point quite neglected by Tabor. In 1 Cor. 16.22 we find an Aramaic prayer fragment—marana tha. Paul surely got this from his contact with Aramaic speaking Christians in Jerusalem. The most likely source is Peter or James whom we know he consulted. This prayer means ‘come oh Lord’ and it is prayed to Jesus. Now monotheistic Jews did not pray to anyone but God. This in turn means that the earliest Aramaic speaking Christians like James already had a very high Christology indeed, one that Paul adopted and adapted, one that Paul agreed with. It will not do to say that James lacks any teachings that are characteristic of Paul on such matters, or to suggest that for James it was all about Jesus’ teaching and not about his person. This is clearly false as a comparison of Acts 15 and the letter of James will show. It is equally false as an evaluation of that other brother of Jesus who is in the canon--- Jude.
It may be true that there were some early followers of Jesus who were Christologically challenged. It is possible to make a case that this is so of the person who wrote the Didache (see pp. 281-82), but we must be cautious about this because the Didache is more of a lab manual, and manual for how to practice the faith than it is a theological treatise. I would not want anyone to judge Methodist theology on the basis of most of the United Methodist Discipline! If there were such Christians with a very low Christology their works did not make it into the canon, and by this I mean James and Jude do not represent them. It is simply false to suggest that James did not worship his brother or consider him divine. The evidence we have in Acts 1-4, 15 and also in James 1.1 and 2.1 will not allow this conclusion (but see p. 282). James is not the poster child for modern minimalist visions and versions of the historical Jesus. Indeed, as Tabor himself suggests James 5.6 may be about Jesus the just one who did not resist his executioners (p. 288). But this of course means James has something to say about the significance of the death of Jesus, as well as his life and teachings and current Lordship.
This brings us to James’ successor in the dynasty, a man by the name of Simeon of Clopas (see Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.11.1). Tabor (p. 289) wants to identify him as the son of Mary, but this is unlikely. Most experts on the Holy family, such as Richard Bauckham, rightly say that this is some cousin of James and Jesus, not their half-brother. Tabor once more relies on the theory that Mary married Clopas after Joseph died, a conjecture for which we have no sound evidence. He is right to note however that these later witnesses speak of him assuming a ‘throne’. Clearly someone in the later church thought of a line of royal figures. We must allow that Tabor is right that someone in the early church thought this way, even if it was anachronistic to do so. The problem is that the first century evidence does not support this idea. At best we rely upon the second century musings of Hegesippus whom Eusebius cites.
What we can say with more certainty is that the family of Jesus was honored and respected well into the second century, not primarily because of the blood relationship to Jesus, but because they were his true followers and worshippers. It was not so much that they were the Christian equivalent of a royal blood line as they were the Christian equivalent of a paradigmatic holy family, properly relating to Jesus and the faith his inaugurated. We can see in a document like the Protoevangelium of James where this thinking might go in the hands of real ascetics, prone to deny that Mary and Joseph actually had any children together. It was primarily their spiritual holiness, not their royal blood the later church was concerned to protect (but see pp. 289-92).
But as Tabor says, we must not neglect the stories about the Ebionites whom Eusebius accuses of only believing Jesus was a ‘plain and ordinary’ man born to Joseph and Mary, who taught that salvation was by works as well as faith and that the Torah must be observed by followers of Jesus (Hist. Eccl. 3.27 cf. p. 303). Are these the spiritual descendants of James and Jude? More likely they are the descendants of those whom are called Pharisaic Jewish Christians in Acts 15.1 and 5. James it will be noted, was too liberal for them, and probably too Christological as well to judge from James’ speech at the council. This reminds us that there were such people on the fringes of the early Christian movement, however few, and they continued to exist into the second century. While they did not represent the views of any of the inner circle of Jesus, it would be wrong to say they did not exist.
We must be careful about the beguiling nature of an argument such as that of Tabor’s. The book is well written with parts of it almost reading like a thriller. It has copious pictures of Biblical sites with able commentary from Tabor. He is a good archaeologist and he knows the various sites in and around the Holy Land well. His more precise knowledge of the archaeological remains can lead one to think he also has more precise knowledge about what is behind and in the Biblical texts. This is not really the case in many instances. Many of his conclusions in this book would be disputed even by the most liberal of NT scholars. Much of it is pure conjecture. His hypotheses must be sifted with the same degree of rigor that Tabor sifts the archaeological remains he digs up. When we do this, there are some things left, but not nearly as much as Tabor would allow.
When one gets to the close of the book one discovers that Tabor is no dispassionate scholar, whose interest in Jesus, James, and Jude is merely academic. No, Tabor believes there is much at stake in studying the historical Jesus for Christianity today. He puts it this way: “If Christianity can give James his rightful place as successor to Jesus’ movement, and begin to realize that his version of the faith represents a Christianity with claims to authenticity that override those of Paul, even more doors of understanding between Christians and Jews will be opened. But just as important, in terms of Christian mission and purpose in the world the unfinished agenda of John, Jesus, and James can find new life and relevance in modern times.” (p. 315, emphasis added). He goes on to suggest that the view of Jesus in the Koran comports with this reconstructed image of Jesus, through the eyes of James and perhaps the Ebionites. Tabor is hopeful that this form of Christian belief may be resuscitated, if not revived.
One has to say, that a fair bit of what Tabor says about Jesus and James is true as far as it goes, but it leaves out far too much, and indeed much that is central and crucial. The inner circle of Jesus had all seen the risen Lord. The testimony of the earliest sources is clear about this. It is not just the sayings of Jesus as found in Q that can or should be the basis of Christian faith. It must also be about who Jesus was, and what he accomplished by means of his life, death, and resurrection. We do not need to pose an either or between what we learn from the sayings of Jesus, and what we gain from other materials. A both/and approach is much nearer to the truth. And part of this both/and approach must include a recognition that our chronologically earliest witness to Jesus in the canon, Paul, is neither a distorter of the truth about Jesus nor a liar, nor one who is radically at odds with James or Peter or others on crucial matters of Christology and eschatology. This is simply false. The differences come, as they so often do, in the sticky matter of praxis and how then Christians might be together, live together, have fellowship together, while still being Jews and Gentiles. Yet we must say in the end, that Tabor has done us a great service in trying hard to integrate his great wealth of knowledge about and love of archaeology with the NT text and other historical sources. Would that more scholars would take archaeology and history serious when they interpret NT texts. Though Jesus may not have intended to found a family dynasty, he certainly left a legacy and a following, and Tabor has given us some glimpses of that legacy. For this we should be grateful.


usarkurt said...

as only a student of theology in the early stages, i am quite astonished by the sheer enormity of the project undertaken by the writer of "the jesus dynasty".you are to be congratulated for the task of reading and commenting on a book,which i,too fast im my conclusions,would probably have put back into the shelf on the basis of the assumption that its title alone had undermined any credibility in the first place.
in no ways,i am able to comment on the enormous number of details mentioned. i was surprised by your remark,taht the ending of mark most probably is not the original one; as far as i know,amongst european or at least german scholars hardly anybody supports this notion today-could you name somebody,please? also, the letter of james was always presented to me as written by somebody-pseudoepigraphically-using the name of the lords brother at a very much later date,probably at a time,when the jerusalem community already was on its way out and the true james already dead.
nevertheless,i fail to grasp the very point of the whole book,i fear.
if,contrasting to paul,the founders of this ominous dynasty did not believe in the resurrection or vindication of the crucified messianic pretender,what point was there to carry on a messianic,revolutionary,you name it,movement in the first place. no healings,exorcism,...are reported to have been performed by james or other members of this "dynasty",james in "his" letter appears to be a devout jew with great sympathies for a social gospel but nothing messianic, dynastic or the like transpires.
thank you very much,sir,for your patience,not the least regarding my modest mastery of the english language,but i have not found anybody in the german speaking world able or willing to engage in a discussion and teaching exercise like the one you are undertaking.thank you very much for that,indeed,its my first visit in the ww evry morning.
kurt usar

James D. Tabor said...

Well Ben, I am tired reading! I thank you for your detailed evaluation, including your kind words at the end. I see you were not joking when you told me you had umpteen pages of notes! Needless to say I think much of your critique is off the mark, but I also learned from some of it. I doubt we can ever agree on presuppositions but the dialalogue is fruitful I think. I leave it to your acute readers to decide and I hope, in the interest of fairness, they will read my book and not just your rebuttals. Best, James

Ben Witherington said...


You are quite right in asking--- what was the point if there was no resurrection and no miracles etc. What's the point of carrying on the dynasty of a false prophet.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi James:

I am glad you read the full form-- sorry it wore you out. The edited form in CT I trust will be alright.
While we may not agree on a lot of things, one thing we certainly do agree on is that history and archaeology do and ought to matter to the Christian faith. It is not a matter of Gnostic philosophy on esoteric topics not grounded in historical particulars. Congratulations on writing a very stimulating and well-written book. I suspect we could have lots of good discussions on historical issues, despite the different presuppositions.



JD Walters said...

Mr Witherington,
Thank you for your thoughtful, penetrating review of James Tabor's new book. I must confess that I for one was tempted to dismiss it as yet another Michael Baigent style "expose" of the "fraud" the institutional Church has been feeding us all these years, but then upon reading it I discovered that it was the work of a real historian and archeologist who makes a very interesting if highly imaginative case for his theory based, as you rightly point out, on fragments of verses taken out of context, dubious later sources and an over-reliance on Q material. What surprised me, though, is that James Tabor makes MUCH greater use of the four Gospels than most contemporary Jesus scholars. His extensive references to all four Gospels not only did not provide much support for his theory but only bolstered my view that there is much more good historical information in the Gospels than many are prepared to admit. Indeed, when Tabor is not engaged in wild speculation and dubious readings the real, vibrant, Jewish, messianic Jesus shines through clearly in his book. Frankly I don't see why he and other scholars seem to think that James and the other members of the holy Family have been slighted. In my biblical education I certainly knew that Jesus had brothers and sisters and that his brother James was a major leader of the Jerusalem Church. I also learned that Jesus was fully human, a real dyed-in-the-wool 1st Century Palestinian Jew with messianic zeal and apocalyptic expectations, along with his self-understanding as "Son of Man", "anointed one" and "Divine Wisdom". Does James Tabor think that all Christians have been fed Gnostic legends and think that Jesus had blonde hair and dreamy blue eyes? Honestly, this 'rejection' of Jesus' Jewishness is puzzling because I always accepted that Jesus was a good, observant Jew, a point reinforced and beautifully expressed in Anne Rice's "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt". Ironically, Tabor's fantastical reconstruction depends crucially on the great historical reliability of all four Gospels. If he depends on them so much for so many details of Jesus' life (including, surprisingly, stories related to the virgin birth) how is he justified in rejecting the main point of all four, which is the Passion and Resurrection of the Son of God? His reading seems highly selective at best. Anyway, one point on which I do have a question is that of the ossuaries. I was only aware of one, namely that which bears the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus". Were there others as Tabor says and are they really the ossuaries containing the remains of the Holy Family? Of course there is always the possibility that a way will be found to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that some tomb or ossuary does indeed contain the remains of Yeshua bar Yosuf, but do the ossuaries that Tabor mentions suggest that this is even likely? Anyway, though I liked the book very much I enjoyed your review even more. You demonstrate an immense mastery of the bibical, archeological and historical material and I learned a lot from it. This is biblical scholarship at its best. And yes, Mr. Tabor, thoughtful readers do read both the book and the review and make their own judgment.

Paul R. Finch said...

Marcan Priority?

One of the essential tenets of James Tabor’s book, the Jesus Dynasty is that the Gospel of Mark was the earliest written Gospel. For example, throughout the book readers will encounter such unqualified statements as:
“Mark is our earliest gospel, even though it comes second in the New Testament. Mark was written around A.D. 70, and it provides us with the basic narrative framework of the career of Jesus” (42);
“Matthew and Luke . . . basically . . . follow Mark’s lead” (85);
“In Mark, our earliest account . . .” (135)
“Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke used Mark as their basic narrative source” (136);
“Matthew and Luke follow his [Mark’s] lead” (138);
“Matthew . . . is an edited version of Mark and the Q source with a bit of his own material. Mark is our earliest gospel . . .” (140);
“Mark, our earliest gospel source, ended his Jesus story with the empty tomb” (230);
“Remember, Mark, our earliest gospel, . . .” (238);

It is noteworthy that these statements are dogmatic and are not open to any discussion – no footnotes, no backup material, just an intrepid assertion that the reader is obliged to accept this fact at face value, albeit prefaced with the following: “For the past two hundred years scholars have analyzed and compared these texts and their relationship to one another. The results of this painstaking research have allowed us to read them more carefully, and to use them responsibly as we do other ancient historical sources, . . .” (42).
The essential idea among many textual scholars (but not all) is that since Mark is a bare bones gospel, free of a lot of the extra material found in Matthew, then Matthew obviously is the one who embellished Mark. Thus, Marcan priority is a modern scholarly construct. This, of course, plays in neatly with Tabor’s reconstruction of the gospel tradition, since he believes that the New Testament is largely the literary legacy of the Apostle Paul (270, 272). In other words, the higher Christology of Paul and the teaching of the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus crept into the New Testament as a result of Paul’s circle of influence of what Christianity finally came to be. Mark seems to have come through much of this supposed later editing fairly untouched, except for the fact that “pious scribes” apparently later added verses 16:9-20, which report sightings of Jesus after his crucifixion (230-33).
Unfortunately, tradition is not on the side of this modern day theory. The earliest testimony that we have is that Matthew was indeed written not more than eleven years after the culminating events of Passion week.
Eusebius, in his Chronicon, places the writing of the gospel of Matthew in the third year of the reign of Caligula, which falls in the year of 41. And he does elsewhere place the author as, yes, the apostle Matthew: “Matthew had begun by preaching to Hebrews; and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own gospel to writing in his native tongue, so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.24.6).
It is in the 10th chapter of the gospel of Matthew that Jesus gives his twelve disciples a commission to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” to preach the :Kingdom of Heaven” (God). And the earliest tradition is that the twelve apostles remained together in Jerusalem for twelve years (30-42) before going out on this worldwide evangelistic campaign.
John Wenham summarizes the position of the early church:
“Eusebius (writing probably at the very end of the third century) … says of Matthew: ‘when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent’ (HE 2.24.6). There is a suggestion here that the writing of the gospel preceded the departure of Matthew from Palestine. …there was a widespread belief that the apostles were dispersed from Jerusalem twelve years after the crucifixion. Acts may perhaps hint that this had taken place by the time Peter was released from prison in 42, James the apostle having been killed and James the brother of the Lord having become head of the church there (Acts 12:2, 17). In his Chronicon Eusebius places the writing of the gospel in the third year of the reign of Caligula, that is, in 41 (John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 239).

The year 41/2 C.E. was a significant one. It was a Sabbatical year. Claudius succeeded Caligula as Emperor of Rome. Claudius then installs Herod Agrippa I as king of Judea. Immediately the disciples of Jesus became the target persecution. James, the brother of John, is beheaded and Peter is thrown into prison, awaiting public execution.
In chapter 12 of the book of Acts concerning the incarceration of Peter, and his escape from prison through divine intervention, Peter goes to John Mark’s mother’s house, where many were gathered. Peter tells them to go to James in Jerusalem who now has assumed the leadership of the Jerusalem Church, whereas Peter flees into hiding out of the immediate grasp of Herod “into another place” (Acts 12:17).
Saul and Barnabas begin their evangelistic tour right after this, taking John Mark with them, and going first to Antioch, then sailing to Cyprus, then into Asia Minor, etc. On this tour, John Mark decides to return to Jerusalem, an incident not pleasing to Paul.
Although the New Testament does not relate this, tradition tells us the Peter also went out on an evangelistic campaign of his own at this time, and that John Mark went with him. He first went to Antioch, where he ordains Euodius as bishop there, then onto Rome, and finally as far as Britain (where some of the ancient tribes of Israel had settled), before returning back to Judea. This was in 42 C.E., exactly 12 years from 30 C.E., when all of the twelve apostles were to spread out all over the known world to preach to the lost sheep of Israel where they were scattered. This meant that Peter, who also was one of the twelve, would go out as well. Up to this time Peter was the acknowledged head of the Jerusalem based Church. But now he installed James, the brother of Jesus, as the leader of the Jerusalem Church. This is why Peter told the brethren at John Mark’s house to go to James and relate what had happened.
James and the apostle Matthew had been co-authoring a gospel account of Jesus also at this time. Matthew supplied the eye witness material for this account, whereas James supplied genealogical information, as well as the account of the Parthian Magi, the slaughter of children of Bethlehem and maybe all of the many scriptural references of Jesus fulfilling prophecy. This is the account that the Apostles were to take with them on their journeys into to foreign lands. And as a cover letter to this effort, James writes an epistle specifically addressed to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). The gospel would go under Matthew’s name, since he was an apostle of Jesus, as well as a Levite. The Jews held strongly to the belief that only Levites were the only ones who could write sacred literature at this time. To be sure, the Gospel of Matthew was written while James was alive, and this is the gospel that James would have certainly sanctioned. It has all the earmarks of what we could call James’ gospel. To believe that this gospel was written by some unknown author in the eighties ignores the fact that 1) the Temple, which was destroyed in 70 C.E., was still functioning, and 2) that after the destruction of Jerusalem, such a “Jewish” gospel would never have been composed in the light of the latter teachings of Peter, Paul and John.

Eusebius also preserves a tradition that the gospel of Matthew was discovered far a field from Jerusalem, in India, indicating that this was due to the fact that Matthew’s Gospel was indeed used by the apostles in their worldwide evangelistic campaign:
“At that time (ca. 185) the school for believers in Alexandria was headed by a man with a very high reputation as a scholar, by name Pantaenus… He went as far as India, where he appears to have found that Matthew’s gospel had arrived before him and was in the hands of some there who had come to know Christ. Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them and had left behind Matthew’s account in the actual Hebrew characters, and it was preserved till the time of Pantaenus’ mission” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.10.1-3).

Peter must have also taken a copy of Matthew’s gospel with him on his evangelistic campaign. If Peter went to Rome armed with the gospel of Matthew, however, this message would have had to have been tailored to the Greek and Latin speakers there, wherein Peter preached to them the basic outline of Matthew’s template., but from his own eyewitness point of view. Mark, apparently took sermon notes on Peter’s discourses, then later assembled them into an account that was, in effect, a gospel according to Peter. This occurred, apparently, after Peter had left the city of Rome.
Eusebius writes:
“And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter, when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.15.1).
Eusebius also gives us Papias’s direct testimony, based upon the testimony of the Apostle John, who was his mentor:
Papias gives also in his own work other accounts of the words of the Lord on the authority of Aristion who was mentioned above, and traditions as handed down by the Presbyter John. …“This also the presbyter [John] said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.15).
Like Matthew, the internal evidence shows us that it was written with the anticipation of the “abomination of desolation” being set up in the temple and that the church in Jerusalem was to flee upon seeing that event (Mark 13:14). This alone places it in apre-66 C.E. timeframe.
Not all scholars subscribe to Marcan priority. The nineteenth century German scholar, Johann Jakob Griesbach, supported Matthean priority and since he was the first to so strongly advocate this position, his theory became known as the “Griesbach hypothesis.” His thesis is alive today in such works as the late William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1981); The Gospel of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1994) [his arguments can also be seen online at]; Bernard Orchard, Matthew, Luke and Mark, 2d ed. (Manchester, Eng.: Koinonia Press, 1977) and H. H. Stodt, History and Criticism of the Markan Hypothesis (trans. and ed. D. L. Niewyk, Macon, Ga.:1980).
The majority of critical scholarship dominate the Marcan priority position, however. But in so doing they had to invent a previous forerunner document called “Q.” This theory tells us that first there was an unknown “sayings” document under the sobriquet of “Q” (German: Quelle = Source). Then there came out of this the gospel of Mark, and then thirdly we have Matthew as supposedly the ultimate copy-cat. All of this, of course, is extremely hypothetical, if not totally imaginary.
A better scenario, based on the earliest testimony, is the following: Peter first arrived in Rome in the year of 42 C.E., with Mark by his side. Peter preaches there and then moves on, leaving Mark behind in Rome. Mark, at the bequest of the people in Rome, writes down the sayings of Peter in a gospel format, basically following Matthew’s outline. This was the first draft of Mark’s Gospel. (It is most likely that it was edited later on by Peter himself when Peter returned to Rome in the fall of 66 C.E. to confer with the Apostle Paul concerning the matter of the canonization his letters. It is at this time that Peter most likely added the last verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). Therefore, Mark was written around the year of 43 C.E. and redacted by Peter in 67 C.E.

Matthew was written in Jerusalem in 41 C.E., and Mark was written in Rome in 43 C.E., while Luke wrote when Paul was in Prison in 56-8 C.E., and could be considered Paul’s gospel. John wrote his gospel and epistles right after Peter’s death in 68 C.E. If we look at this another way, the three “pillar apostles” (Gal. 2:9) are represented by Matthew, Mark, and John, (James, Peter, and John). However, John, who had the final say in assembling the New Testament, decided to wedge his gospel in between Luke’s two volume account in order to keep the synoptics together, (a decision that only John could have made and would dare do). We see the very same sequence of authority, viz., James, Peter, and John (then Paul) in the epistles section (reverting back to the original arrangement of the books).
Rather than the New Testament being a literary production of the apostle Paul, it is first and foremost, the testimony of the Pillar apostles, and then, the testimony of the apostle Paul. No one in post apostolic times would ever have assembled a New Testament in such a way, nor with such a Jewishness to it. No one in post-apostolic times would ever have left out First Clement (which, by the way was written in 68/9, not 96), and many other later works. If the New Testament was a product of the second century, the New Testament would have been vastly different from what we have today.
It’s a shame that scholars today can write books that dogmatically state highly controversial matters as if they need no longer any explanation. In the final analysis, history has to address the internal evidence, the oldest traditions, and finally, make sense. Marcan Priority fits none of these conditions.