B105). Dating Mark’s Gospel
Clement of Alexandria tells us about ‘how the Gospel according to Mark’ came to be written. He tells us how and where. But he doesn’t say when.
But buy comparing various clues; we are able to locate a small window for the date.
We learn from Clement that Mark produced a small number of copies for those who had been present at Peter’s talk. Peter showed little interest in this distribution. It was later, when he saw their good effect, that he authorised a larger edition for reading in the churches.
We now need to turn to Irenaeus. In his Adversus Haereses III.1.1. He writes:
So Matthew brought out a written Gospel among the Jews in their own style, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel at Rome and founding the Church. But after their demise, Mark himself the disciple and recorder of Peter, has also handed on to us in writing what had been proclaimed by Peter.
It is known that Paul was killed in 67 AD and, according to the latest research, Peter was martyred on 6th October 64 AD. So Peter was still alive in early 64 to agree with distribution to the churches. But the distribution was delayed till after Paul’s demise/death in 67 AD. Why was distribution delayed for at least three years?
For an answer, we need to look at the context of the time. According to Eusebius, Peter arrived in Rome during 42 AD, and we know the great fire in Rome broke-out on 18th/19th July 64 AD. The Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and launched a bitter persecution against them. Although it varied in intensity, it didn’t end until Nero’s suicide on 9th June 68 AD.
This means Peter’s talk must have been given during the peaceful years of 42 – 64.
I suggest Peter gave his approval for the edition for the churches during the peaceful months before the fire started. This period was long enough for Peter to have received ‘feedback’ regarding the first distribution and for Mark to start gathering a team of scribes. But not long enough for the distribution to start. The fire of July intervened and distribution was prevented till after Nero’s death on 9th June 68 AD.
My suggestion points to Peter’s talk being given during the first half of 64 AD.
For details of the latest research, regarding Peter’s martyrdom, see our item: B 104).
This version: 5th September 2015