Dating Paul and his Letters

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robert j
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Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by robert j » Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:10 pm

My suggestion --- GMark serves as evidence for a mid-1st century CE Paul, even with a mythical Jesus.

My basic assumptions here ---

1) The letters of Paul are the product of a Judean evangelist working among Gentiles under the name of Paul, and (at least the 5) letters addressed to his communities are adequately intact for detailed analyses of his work and his system, and

2) GMark is the earliest of our extant NT Gospel stories and was written sometime after the first Roman-Jewish War, and the author was dependent on Paul’s letters for crafting his story.

Using only the information in the letters, reliable internal time-markers are lacking for narrowing-down Paul’s letters except within relatively wide parameters. Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians of his escape from the ethnarch in Damascus under a King Aretas is fraught with uncertainties. Using broader time markers, one might place Paul’s letters between the restoration of Corinth in the mid-1st C BCE and the Roman-Jewish war in 66-73 CE.

Many within Christian Bible scholarship use Acts to attach specific dates to Paul’s activities. But for a great many critical scholars and other critical investigators, Acts provides a good source of 2nd century Christian traditions, but does not serve as a reliable source of historical information of early Christian origins and activities.

But it was the author of GMark that placed the death of Jesus Christ at the hands of Pilate, and the later Gospel writers followed suit with that timeline, as did the author of Acts with the continuation of the story-line.

So it was the governorship of Pilate over Judea in 26-36 CE that set the parameters for the timeframe for the death of Jesus in GMark, and all the subsequent NT authors followed suit. The date range for Pilate’s governorship over Judea is quite well established from multiple sources and other evidence.

In Mark 15:6, the author tells about a custom of how Pilate “used to release” a prisoner at the festival. It takes at least a couple of years to establish a customary practice, so the death of Jesus at the hands of Pilate in Mark’s story would have been between 29 and 36 CE.

For how this relates to Paul --- using 29-36 as end-points for the death of Jesus at the hands of Pilate from GMark, and accounting for the events that might follow that death based on Paul’s claims in his backstories in his letters ---

Two to 6 years for Paul to learn of the death of Jesus, for assemblies to form in Judea that had faith in Jesus as some sort of anointed-by-God figure, and for Paul to harass them, plus,

A year or so for Paul’s sojourn in Arabia after his revelation from God, plus,

Paul’s “then after 3 years” for his visit with Cephas in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18), plus,

Paul’s “then after 14 years” for his visit with the Pillars in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1, inclusive or additive with the 3 years?) ---

This would place Paul sometime after his initial visit with the Galatians and after his claimed visit with the Pillars, and reasonably close to the approximate time of writing his letter to the Galatians.

Doing the math here with the Pilate dates of 29-36, provides a ball-park range of dates of 46 to 60 CE for the writing of the letter Galatians. The lower-end of this estimate is based on a death in 29, 2 years for Paul to become a harasser, and the 3 years and 14 years in Galatians inclusive (i.e., 14 years from Paul’s revelation from God). The upper-end estimate is based on a death in 36, 6 years for Paul to become a harasser and the 3 years and 14 years in Galatians additive (i.e., 17 years from Paul’s revelation from God). In a middle-ground estimate with a death in 33, 3 years for Paul to become a harasser (plus a year in Arabia), and 17 years from Paul’s revelation yields a date for the writing of the letter Galatians of 54 CE.

The vast majority of dates suggested in the scholarship for the writing of the letter Galatians fall well within the ball-park range of the dates of 46-60 estimated here, with most estimates in the scholarship in the late 40’s to early 50’s. Of course that’s no surprise --- the consensus dating is derived from very much the same kind of analysis I have done here.

This dating of Paul’s letter seems to depend on Mark’s story of Jesus Christ having been crucified at the hands of Pilate --- that is, apparently based on a historical Jesus. But that is not necessarily the case at all.

Just to set the stage a bit here first. That the author of GMark was dependent on Paul’s letters is gaining wider traction in NT scholarship --- whether one might claim that it has become a consensus or a majority opinion, I couldn’t say. But for me, the dependence is as clear as the nose on my face and something I am not inclined to waste time debating.

I have long-admired the way Professor Burton Mack described the use of Paul’s “Christ myth” by the author of GMark ---

“Mark took the basic ideas from the Christ myth but dared to imagine how the crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ might look if played out as a historical event in Jerusalem … “ 1/

Professor Paul Tarazi takes the relationship a bit further --- that GMark was written in order to shed light on Paul’s teachings and that the author of GMark was a member of the Pauline group after Paul’s death. I disagree with some of Tarazi’s line-of-reasoning on the topic, but certainly agree with those characterizations. 2/

I have speculated previously on this forum about why a Pauline-oriented author might find the need for a new and more efficient way to spread the good news and accumulate patrons other than the cumbersome and time-consuming process of demonstrating from a pile of OT scrolls about Jesus Christ.

In a historical Jesus scenario with the governorship of Pilate as the starting point, Paul’s letters can be dated by counting forward in time using the internal events in those letters that Paul included as his back-stories. I think that process is valid, but backwards. Consistent with a non-historical Jesus in recent times, I think the process took place in reverse order.

I think the author of GMark, a dedicated Paulinist, started with Paul’s letters and the events of Paul’s back-stories in those letters and counted backwards in time. Having chosen to set his story in Judea, the time of the governorship of Pilate was an easy winner for the setting of his story --- the best setting in time for a heavenly spirit to possess a man Jesus and to come in the likeness of man, for Paul’s Pillars to be portrayed as younger men chosen by Jesus to be his primary disciples, and along with the rest of Mark’s tale that fits very well with the time-frames Paul described in his letters of how he came to be the last among the ‘chosen’ apostles.

The author of GMark was an exceedingly clever writer. And, in the absence of an actual historical Jesus in recent times, Mark could have set his story within a wide range of time. But he was careful to craft his prequel in such a way so that Paul’s backstories meshed seamlessly.

In the context of a non-historical early-1st century Jesus, I think GMark provides significant evidence for the consensus dating of Paul.


robert j


1/ Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament, HarperCollins, New York, 1995, p. 152

2/ Paul Tarazi, The New Testament: An Introduction: Paul and Mark, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1999.

Note: edited on 11/30 to clean-up the arithmetic a bit, resulting in only minor changes in the range of dates estimated for the letter Galatians, with no significant effect on my conclusions.
Last edited by robert j on Sat Nov 30, 2019 4:56 pm, edited 3 times in total.

davidmartin
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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by davidmartin » Wed Nov 27, 2019 3:06 pm

Pauls "14 year holiday" where he did nothing stands out, some might call in a "bs" smell test on that!
let's see what would that achieve?

it would date the crucifixion back 14 years from his letters, without it not 33ad but 48ad, which is a timeframe where certain folk were known to have been tried and executed (by crucifixion) as recorded by Josephus, James and Simon. Under Tiberius Alexander (46-48 C.E.). See Emp. Julian "and these things were transacted under the reign of Tiberius or Claudius". Claudius for the 48AD version, Tiberius for 33

So, someone wanted to date Jesus to 33AD, maybe to associate him with John the Baptist, or dis-associate him with others

The problem is Paul needs to back this history up, so the '14 years' were invented to agree with the gospel of mark

Either way maybe Paul's writings if circa mid/late 50's were based on quite recent events involving a crucifixion
The earlier date was the time frame of a different individual who may well have been executed also

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:08 pm

robert j wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:10 pm
Reliable internal time-markers for dating Paul’s letters are lacking. Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians of his escape from the ethnarch in Damascus under a King Aretas is fraught with uncertainties. Using broader time markers, one might place Paul’s letters between the restoration of Corinth in the mid-1st C BCE and the Roman-Jewish war in 66-73 CE.
Corinth was refounded in 44 BC. The mention of "Caesar's household" in Philippians 4.22, of Achaea and Macedonia as distinct regions in 2 Corinthians 9.1-2, and of Illyricum in Romans 15.18-19 suggests 27 BC as a more specific terminus post quem.

I would be interested in your take on Lane's attempts to date the Pauline epistles to century I BC rather than AD.
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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:28 pm

davidmartin wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 3:06 pm
Pauls "14 year holiday" where he did nothing stands out, some might call in a "bs" smell test on that!
let's see what would that achieve?

it would date the crucifixion back 14 years from his letters, without it not 33ad but 48ad, which is a timeframe where certain folk were known to have been tried and executed (by crucifixion) as recorded by Josephus, James and Simon. Under Tiberius Alexander (46-48 C.E.). See Emp. Julian "and these things were transacted under the reign of Tiberius or Claudius". Claudius for the 48AD version, Tiberius for 33
Possibly of interest, my thread about alternate times and places for the crucifixion.
So, someone wanted to date Jesus to 33AD, maybe to associate him with John the Baptist, or dis-associate him with others
Or, as I have suggested before, in order to create an interval of about 40 years in between Jesus' death and the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke 21.5-36 alters the synoptic apocalypse in Matthew 24.1-51 = Mark 13.1-37 so as to place the advent of the Son of Man safely after the "times of the Gentiles" (verse 24). What is left to occur before Jesus' generation passes away (verse 32) is only the conquest of Jerusalem, which Luke has described more specifically than either Matthew or Mark. Luke also, at the other end of his gospel in Luke 3.1-2, dates the beginning of Jesus' ministry to the fifteenth year of Tiberius, or in about AD 29, leaving the impression that his death occurred sometime around 30, more or less. Hence the interval of 40 years, in accordance with how long it took the rebellious generation under Moses (except for Joshua and Caleb) to die out:

Numbers 32.13: 13 So Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the Lord was destroyed.

(In my experience, dating Jesus' death to AD 33 is the result of harmonizing the implied three year ministry in the gospel of John with the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Luke 2.1-2. Is there some other way to arrive at AD 33 which does not involve this kind of harmonization?)
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davidmartin
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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by davidmartin » Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:16 pm

i'm kind of sold on the 29AD date for one of the pivotal events, the passing of John which ties in with a 90% solar eclipse that year, the only total one anywhere near the region for decades either way. I kind of see the deaths of at least 3 individuals in the gospel accounts getting merged, The Samaritan prophet/John (29), another figure (Theudas? in 44-46) and the one crucified three years later.
Paul originally took Jesus to be the third one but somehow it went that the first one was still popular and so a harmonised version appeared, and Paul's 14 years makes up the difference
The very fact Jesus is Baptised by John is a way to force him back in time, unless of course he was much younger then and didn't immediately start his ministry but was a long time follower!

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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:35 pm

davidmartin wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:16 pm
i'm kind of sold on the 29AD date for one of the pivotal events, the passing of John which ties in with a 90% solar eclipse that year, the only total one anywhere near the region for decades either way. I kind of see the deaths of at least 3 individuals in the gospel accounts getting merged, The Samaritan prophet/John (29), another figure (Theudas? in 44-46) and the one crucified three years later.
Paul originally took Jesus to be the third one but somehow it went that the first one was still popular and so a harmonised version appeared, and Paul's 14 years makes up the difference
The very fact Jesus is Baptised by John is a way to force him back in time, unless of course he was much younger then and didn't immediately start his ministry but was a long time follower!
What do you do with Josephus' apparent dating of John's death to later than that? I know that his treatment of John's death is a bit of a flashback, but to blame the loss of an army in circa 36 on the death of a minor figure in 29 seems unnecessary to me.
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Giuseppe
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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by Giuseppe » Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:09 pm

robert j wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:10 pm
That the author of GMark was dependent on Paul’s letters is gaining much wider traction in NT scholarship --- whether one might claim that it has become a consensus or a majority opinion, I couldn’t say. But for me, the dependence is as clear as the nose on my face and something I am not inclined to waste time debating.
I agree fully with this quote. :cheers:
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by Jax » Sat Nov 30, 2019 6:14 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:08 pm
robert j wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:10 pm
Reliable internal time-markers for dating Paul’s letters are lacking. Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians of his escape from the ethnarch in Damascus under a King Aretas is fraught with uncertainties. Using broader time markers, one might place Paul’s letters between the restoration of Corinth in the mid-1st C BCE and the Roman-Jewish war in 66-73 CE.
Corinth was refounded in 44 BC. The mention of "Caesar's household" in Philippians 4.22, of Achaea and Macedonia as distinct regions in 2 Corinthians 9.1-2, and of Illyricum in Romans 15.18-19 suggests 27 BC as a more specific terminus post quem.

I would be interested in your take on Lane's attempts to date the Pauline epistles to century I BC rather than AD.
Thank you for the plug and I hate to quibble but I believe that Achaea and Macedonia were distinct regions as far back as the middle of the 1st millennium BCE. In 27 BCE Augustus simply made Achaea a Senatorial province taking the province of Macedonia for himself. It was simply a power play where the Senate got provinces that didn't need much military support and he got the ones that needed the most military. This way Augustus had legitimate reason to directly command the bulk of the Roman military while making it look like the Senate was still relevant.

I'm happy to be shown wrong but I believe that this is correct.

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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by klewis » Sat Nov 30, 2019 9:30 am

robert j wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:10 pm
My suggestion --- GMark serves as evidence for a mid-1st century CE Paul, even with a mythical Jesus.

My basic assumptions here ---

Many within Christian Bible scholarship use Acts to attach specific dates to Paul’s activities. But for a great many critical scholars and other critical investigators, Acts provides a good source of 2nd century Christian traditions, but does not serve as a reliable source of historical information of early Christian origins and activities.
The problem with Acts as an historical guide has to do with the Luke-Acts parallel than anything else. Since the author of Luke-Acts had more information about the life of Christ (i.e. Mark, "Q", and who knows what else) than Paul. He used simple parallel formation to convey / copy from one side of the story, such as Luke, and copied it to the other side of the story.

Here are just a few examples:
  • Spirit descends on Jesus as he prays (Luke 3:21-22), on the apostles as they pray (Acts 2:1-13).
  • Jesus heals a lame man (Luke 5:17-26), Peter heals a lame man (Acts 3:1-10).
  • Religious leaders attack Jesus (5:29-6:11) and the religious leaders attack the apostles (Acts 4:1-8:3).
  • Centurion invites Jesus to his house (Luke 7:1-10) and a Centurion invites Peter to his house (Acts 10:1-23).
Sometimes there is information about Paul that is conveyed to Luke. If they are found only in Luke then we can assume that there is a likely chance that it was Pauline specific information. Jesus before Herod only appears in Luke 23:7-15 as well as a parallel complement in Acts where Paul is before Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:23 - 26:32).

robert j
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Re: Dating Paul and his Letters

Post by robert j » Sat Nov 30, 2019 10:03 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:08 pm

I would be interested in your take on Lane's attempts to date the Pauline epistles to century I BC rather than AD.
I do not see the arguments offered as adequately persuasive or compelling for dating Paul's letters that early.

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