I have been listening to a podcast by York University professor Philip Harland and have been enjoying it. I disagree with about 25% of what he says but there are enough good insights for it to be worth my while. One of the things that he says, that I hear from many scholars, continues to bother me. This has to do with the late dating of the Gospels. Harland dates the Gospel of Matthew to 80-90 AD. There are a variety of reasons for that. Like most scholars, Harland agrees that Mark is the earliest Gospel. I agree. They then look at Mark 13 (the “Little Apocalypse”) and see Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. Since critical scholars have trouble believing in real prophecy, they assume Mark wrote this after, as it was happening or just before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Often they grudgingly give Mark a date of around 68, so that the destruction might not have quite happened but yet is close enough that the writing was on the wall. Since Matthew and Luke use Mark they must be after 70 AD. Harland notes the theme in Matthew of the conflict with the Pharisees. I again agree. He then assumes that this represents a later time in history, post-destruction, when the rabbis had developed from the Pharisees and were well into their conflict with the Church. Thus a date of 80-90 gives enough time for that conflict to have developed.
Here are my problems. I do not agree that the destruction of the Temple could only have been spoken about just a couple of years before the event. Even putting aside prophecy or the deity of Christ, there is little reason to doubt that Jesus spoke these words. The destruction of the Temple was hardly unprescedented. This was afterall the second Temple, since the first was destroyed by the Babylonians. In addition, reading Josephus, it is clear that there was ongoing tensions between the Jews and the Romans and there had been a number of close calls even before the first Jewish War. Jesus, as a man who could read the times, could have predicted the destruction of the Temple, even without supernatural powers.
Regarding the conflict between the synagogue and the church, I think scholars are also mistaken. There is no reason to assume that the conflict had to have waited for the development of rabbinic Judaism. It is easy to see how someone like Paul would have made Jewish enemies. There is also no reason to doubt that Jesus did indeed come into conflict with Pharisees and other Jewish parties. Perhaps Matthew is what it purports to be, an account of what Jesus said and did and perhaps Jesus did see the destruction of the Temple coming and did have trouble with other Jews.
Although Harland does not make this point, it is easy to see why some scholars would prefer a late date for the Gospels. The earlier they are, the more reliable they are as sources for the historical Jesus (there is a reason why we do not give much credence to the later Gnostic Gospels). If the Gospels are dated later, we can always point out the gap in time and dismiss anything we do not like as an invention of the early church. But perhaps we need to put aside our preconceptions and examine the Gospels as we would any other texts and give them a fair reading, accepting the possibility that they may have something to say about the time of Jesus.