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Archeological Evidence Of The Date Of Matthew's Gospel?


dinahmt
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Dina,

 

Welcome.

 

I am sceptical that any of the Gospels were written by companions or eye witnesses. Among the reasons are things like mistakes of geography. I can't remember which Gospel, but one has Jesus going from point A to point B through a very unlikely place (like New York to Boston through Chicago). None of the Gospels were first person (like, 'Jesus said to me' or 'I saw Jesus walk on water').

 

Some scholars make the case that the Greek of the Gospels is too good for Palestinian Jews. This makes sense except that they could have used a scribe/translator to tell their story.

 

Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses makes a very strong case that the Gospel writers had access to eyewitnesses although they themselves were not. It is not only plausible, but expected, that some eyewitnesses would have been alive and accessible when the Gospels were written. In fact. Luke makes this explicit claim in the beginning of his Gospel. Some, maybe all, of these eyewitnesses may have been just bystanders and observers of a single event, not regular companions.

 

So, I am inclined to believe that the Gospels represent a mix of snippets of second-hand accounts, oral legend and mythology.

 

George

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Thanks George - that seems pretty much where I stand on the subject too. John's gospel makes claims for eyewitness and I don't doubt it, although my feeling is that this gospel was written by someone who had access to eyewitnesses too.

 

What about the claim that Matthew was written much earlier than the 60-70CE that it's now assumed to be? I'm sure there must have been early written accounts before the whole thing was collated together into its present literary form.

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On second look C. Theide argues for a 50-100 CE.

 

Tyndale Bulletin 46.1 (1995) 29-42.

PAPYRUS MAGDALEN GREEK 17

(GREGORY-ALAND P64): A REAPPRAISAL1

Carsten Peter Thiede

 

http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1995_46_1_02_Thiede_PapyrusMagalen.pdf

 

I couldn't find other views. References I found seem to depend on on Theide's anaylsis of the text and handwriting.

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Dina,

 

I glanced back at what Bart Ehrman might have to say about this in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.

 

He has a chapter titled "Epilogue: Do We Have the Original New Testament?" The short answer to his question is, 'NO.' He does not specifically mention this document. He says the earliest full manuscripts are around 200 CE. He also notes there are several fragments that date earlier and mentions "One credit-card-sized fragment of John" that was discovered in Egypt which, he says, is usually dated to the first half of the second century.

 

Also, I could find no reference to this manuscript in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (but it does reference other early manuscripts).

 

George

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Yes. In fact, the redating of those papyrus fragments would show that the Gospel of Matthew must have been written some time before the mid-60s of the first century. You see, those fragments are copies; they are from a codex [an early manuscript book], which means that there must have been scrolls before the codex was written. And one of those scrolls must have been the original Gospel of Matthew. So we definitely reach a period before the mid-60s for the original Gospel of Matthew.
So his whole argument is basically since this papryus are copies of an early manuscript, then it must prove that the Gospel of Matthew was written earlier and is therefore historical. He's trying to make leaps of logic when the connections don't fit. The logic simply doesn't follow that just because this papryus is a copy of an early material that this somehow magically proves the historical accuracy of the Gospel of Matthew. This would be like saying since the current published versions of Harry Potter are copies of earlier drafts that JK Rowling wrote before them, this proves Harry Potter is a historical account. It also sounds like this guy is being motivated by a religious and moral bias to prove the historicity of the NT no matter what since he also tries to claim that even if this papryus isn't proof of the historicity of Matthew, we don't need it to prove it's true because we can use the book of Matthew to prove the book of Matthew which is the logical fallacy of circular reasoning.
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Yes. In fact, the redating of those papyrus fragments would show that the Gospel of Matthew must have been written some time before the mid-60s of the first century. You see, those fragments are copies;

If the fragments date from 200 CE, I don't know how this gets us to 60 CE.

 

In these objects - shroud of turin, others - we seek the certainty that is not available unless we find it within.

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What about the claim that Matthew was written much earlier than the 60-70CE that it's now assumed to be? I'm sure there must have been early written accounts before the whole thing was collated together into its present literary form.

Christian apologists try to date Matthew before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple to justify their assumption that the biblical prophecies are accurate. Given that most bible scholars now acknowledge that the biblical prophecies are unreliable and contradictory, the logical solution is that Matthew was written sometime after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and Matthew was putting apocalyptic predictions into Jesus' mouth after the fact. It's sort of like how there were no known predictions of the destruction of the WTC before 9/11 happened but all of a sudden after 9/11 happened, the believers in Nostramadus' prophecies started claiming Nostradamus had predicted 9/11 all along.
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I'd love to know what other progressives feel about it.

 

 

When I read stuff like the referenced article, and encounter comments like this:

 

...they have good reason to believe that parts of the New Testament were written much earlier than liberal modern scholarship had supposed...

 

I am immediately suspicious. Why the political reference?

 

Regardless, even if they were to positively identify the papyrus as dated in the early first century, the geographical and historical inaccuracies belie an ignorance or feigned indifference to the details of Biblical Palestine. Just a couple of examples: leaves on trees in the middle of winter when setting a scene in Jerusalem and the fiction of King Herod ordering every child two years and under killed.

 

Since it appears to me that the gospels were written as theological treatises, it doesn't really matter whether or not the authors were "witnesses." I mean, does it matter that Gulliver didn't actually encounter Lilliputians in his travels, or Odysseus a Cyclops?

 

Ought not the intent and meaning of the story be the most important factor?

 

NORM

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I mean, does it matter that Gulliver didn't actually encounter Lilliputians in his travels, or Odysseus a Cyclops?

 

Not to us. We are more...enlightened. :) But some Christians, due to their understanding of truth, want or need the Bible to be actual eyewitness historical accounts, especially if they believe that God dictated the scriptures from his point-of-view. They feel that if the Bible can't be trusted as an exact historical record, then it is a book of lies and because their faith is in the Book, it crumbles. Faith, for them, is about certainty of belief, without doubt.

 

Ought not the intent and meaning of the story be the most important factor?

 

I think so. Of course, even if the Bible was a book of actual historical records, that would not guarantee us that we ourselves would know the original intent and meaning of the scriptures, would it? This is where I think the works of Dom Crossan, NT Wright, Brian McLaren and others are helpful, in helping us to discover something of how the earliest Christians (first century) would have interpreted the intent and meaning of these stories, instead of how the Church of the 4th century (which held to a Greco-Roman paradigm) would interpret them.

 

When it comes to the gospels, Borg says that the biblical records mix history with experience, that what we have are biased testimonies, not of actual events and sayings, but of the kinds of events and sayings that Jesus did and said. He points out, correctly imo, that the early church interpreted Jesus through the lense of testimony as to whatever message they thought was important for their communities. McLaren, whom I find to be very helpful, says that the biblical writers were not historians as we think of historians, but storytellers. They did their best to take the oral traditions of their culture and craft them into meaningful stories that work on many levels in order to preserve, not historical accuracy, but the truth of people's experiences. One example that Brian gives of the wrong approach to the scriptures is to wonder why the list of people in the geneologies don't have SSNs or telephone numbers. In our day, if you don't have an SSN, you aren't technically a person. :) But for us to insist that our methods of geneologies should apply to the NT would be foolish. Similarly, to insist that post-Enlightenment ways of recording what is meaningful to us (a list of verifiable facts) should apply to the Bible is foolish. Even our gospels saying "according to...", acknowledging that different authors had different intents and different meanings of the person of Jesus in mind. And I find that Matthew plays loose and fast with Jesus' supposed "fulfillment" of OT scriptures, that Matthew tries to hard and sometimes rips OT right out of context in order to make them fit Jesus. Evidently, he (or his community) didn't have a problem doing this. They had a story to tell of what Jesus had come to mean to them and they used anything at their disposal to get their intended meaning across.

 

To me, we do better to interpret these accounts as meaningful stories rather than as historical records. I think that is truer to the reasons that they were written. Jesus meant something to these communities. And we are still trying to discover what that is. But the meaning is, imo, more transforming than trying to attain some sort of certitude about historicity.

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