Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Gospel According to Mark Part I

I decided during lent this year that I needed to develop a quasi-expertise in one of the gospels so I would have a strong grasp on the life & teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. After all “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” or so said St. Jerome. We can’t just invent a personal Jesus in our head… Doing that, our image of Him ends up (not surprisingly) conforming to our every desire and fantasy. Rather, we need to know Him through His word.

So I picked the easiest gospel – St. Mark. (I say easiest because it’s the shortest). Here, I will attempt to summarize a few things about St. Mark & his gospel for my own sake and hopefully some of you will pick up a few things you didn’t know as well.

Who was Saint Mark?

Saint Mark, also called ‘Saint Mark the Evangelist”, was a direct disciple of St. Peter. His mother was a friend of the apostles. (This is assuming that St. Mark is the same as the one named John also called Mark in Acts 12:25) She was also a prominent member of the Church at Jerusalem(1). He returned from Jersualem with Saul & Barnabas and we know he must have been a very early convert.

Mark was very likely Barnabas' cousin(7). This would also make good sense of the argument that split Paul & Barnabas up. It was over Mark, for Barnabas wanted to take him along and Paul didnt. If it was the same Mark, he must have been a bit flaky early on as he had deserted Paul in Pamphylia which is precisely why Paul didn't want to take him along(8).

Eusebius & St. Papias both state that Mark neither heard nor followed Christ.(2) Of course, that cannot be verified. There have been many different hypotheses on his identity. In the opening introduction to his gospel, the Latin Vulgate said he was a Jewish priest. St. Epiphanius said that he was one of the disciples who withdrew from Christ in John Chapter 6. (3) It makes sense to assume that some of those would return after the resurrection and realize now, by the teachings of the apostles, how the Eucharist fulfilled what Christ taught them.

And some have claimed that he was the young man who fled naked at Gethsemane(4) . It is an interesting suggestion. He must have been young because even as St. Peter writes his first epistle, he still refers to Mark as his "son". I immagine that he might have been a teenager at the time Christ was handed over. Mark's gospel is also the only one to mention the incident and it seems to have little if anything to do with the story.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, here is a little bit of what is known of his post-conversion travels (again assuming he is the same Mark mentioned in Acts):

we find him at Jerusalem and Antioch about A.D. 46 (Acts 12:25), in Salamis about 47 (Acts 13:5), at Antioch again about 49 or 50 (Acts 15:37-9), and when he quitted Antioch, on the separation of Paul and Barnabas, it was not to Alexandria but to Cyprus that he turned (Acts 15:39).

Also, according to the same source, we have reliable evidence for St. Peter arriving in Rome as early as 42 AD. He was perhaps accompanied by Mark but not likely given the above dates for his travels unless he was not the same as the Mark in Acts. I tend to think he was the same however.

St. Papias
said the following about St. Mark between the years of 110 AD & 130 AD:
Mark indeed, since he was the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, but not in order, the things either said or done by the Lord as much as he remembered. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed Him, but afterwards, as I have said, [heard and followed] Peter, who fitted his discourses to the needs [of his hearers] but not as if making a narrative of the Lord's sayings'; consequently, Mark, writing down some things just as he remembered, erred in nothing; for he was careful of one thing - not to omit anything of the things he heard or to falsify anything in them.
Though some have suggested that St. Mark wrote after St. Peter's martyrdom in Rome around 67 AD, traditionally the gospel was dictated by St. Peter (and the connection of St. Mark & St. Peter is undeniable as we have so many early sources which verify it though some would like to put them outside of Rome to discredit the Chuch). St. Irenaeus though, implies that he wrote after St. Peter & St. Paul had both died(5).

With this in mind, you can appreciate some of St. Mark's personal interests coming out in his writing. He seems to be interested in linguistics (very fitting if he was indeed the interpreter of St. Peter as St. Papias asserts) and I thought that was neat and an appropriate gospel to study myself because I too am interested in linguistics. St. Mark often takes time to quote what was said in the original tongue and then explain the translation. You will notice this several times throughout his gospel.

It is also a tradition that St. Mark was the founder of the Church in Alexandria. However, neither St. Clement (of Alexandria) nor Origen make any mention of St. Mark as the founder of the Church of their city although this claim is asserted by many (relatively late) sources. The Chronicles of Eusebius states that the Church was founded in Alexandria by St. Mark around 41 AD. It's not impossible but somewhat unlikely if we are to assume he is the same Mark in Acts as mentioned before. A later date for the founding of the church is possible though(6).

Death of St. Mark

Eusebius says that Anianus succeeded St. Mark in Alexandria around AD 62-63. St. Jerome also says that St. Mark died in that year but that would be inconsistent with the theory that Mark is the same one mentioned by Paul and in Acts. Virtually all legitimate scholars also date his gospel before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. So while the date of death is uncertain, I think its a safe range to assume he died between the years of 62 & probably not much later than 70 AD.

If he was an older teen / young man at the time of Christ (which some of the theories previously mentioned seem to point to), this would probably put him in his late 50s or early 60s at the time of his death. Although we have no early sources to prove it, many later sources claim that he was martyred.


2 - Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", III, xxxix

3 - St. Epiphanius, "Hær", li, 6

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