No other author than John Mark of Jerusalem has ever been associated with, or suggested for, the Gospel of Mark. This does not make the association true, and much else of what is said about John Mark in 1st and 2nd century texts is intrinsically dubious. I first deal with some of the dubieties, just to get them out of the way, and then consider what may be left. I find that the residual case for John Mark's authorship of that Gospel is surprisingly strong, and serves to connect a number of otherwise loose and puzzling details in the text itself, and also in the less self-refuting of the stories that are told about John Mark. The more self-refuting of those stories can in turn be intelligibly construed as developments and distortions of the more plausible core.
[For the text that would otherwise be on this page, see instead a preprint of the published version here].
The bottom line is that it turns out to be not implausible to accept the following details about John Mark and his Gospel:
- John Mark (note the Latin byname) was a non-Aramaic speaking Jew of Jerusalem. It is not clear if he was a cousin of Barnabas of Crete.
- His mother Mary, probably a widow, owned a substantial house in Jerusalem; the maid's name was Rhoda (note the Greek personal name).
- Mary and John had probably heard John the Baptist preach; they may have met Jesus as a member of John's group.
- Mark remained in contact with the John group in Jerusalem, and knew something of their traditions.
- Mary and her son probably attended the foreigners' synagogue in Jerusalem; other members were Simon of Cyrene and his two sons.
- Note the non-Semitic names of Simon's sons, Alexander (Greek) and Rufus (Latin).
- Mark's distance from Aramaic circles in Jerusalem rendered him open to the revivalism of John, and the Messianism of Jesus.
- Mary's house served as a meeting place for Jesus followers in Jerusalem, and was the scene of the Last Supper.
- Mark, as young man, had tried to warn the Jesus party of the impending arrest, but was not successful, and narrowly escaped.
- Mark, as one of the more literate spirits of the Jerusalem Jesus group, wrote the first account of Jesus to explain his death to that circle.
- Peter, on visits to Mary's house in Jerusalem, retold some stories he used in his own preaching, such as the "Gerasa" exorcism.
- Mark added these and other secondhand reports to his account of Jesus, along with his own emblematic and interpretive material..
- Mark probably met Paul when Paul visited Peter in Jerusalem in 32.
- Mark was never a leader, but a visible figure, perhaps as a theoretician, in Jerusalem in the time of Peter and the Zebedees.
- Mark gradually came to accept the validity of the separate mission of Paul as reported in Jerusalem in the late 30's.
- Mark, with the rest of Jerusalem, was affected by the Caligula uproar of 40, and wrote it into his Gospel.
- Mark sided with the ritual latitudinarians when Paul made his visit to Jerusalem in 43 and was approved by Peter and the Zebedees.
- Mark will have made, or renewed, acquaintance with Barnabas at this time.
- Mark knew the leadership aspirations of the Zebedees, and recorded them after James' death and Peter's flight in 44.
- When Matthew was replaced by James the Lord's Brother sometime after 45, Mark finished his Gospel, left Jerusalem, and joined Paul
- The last details added to the Gospel were narrowly Pauline: the Atonement and Election doctrines.
- For all his new Pauline orthodoxy, Mark was not a success as a field preacher, and left the Paul circle; he may have continued for a while with Barnabas.
- Mark never went to Rome; his end is largely conjectural. He is credited in the Apostolic Constitutions with installing the first Bishop of Alexandria.
- His Gospel remained the only one available until the mid 60's, when a second wave of Jesus interpretation began, and his became obsolete.
The above is not perhaps exceptionally important one way or the other (what we have, and what counts, is the text which goes under the name of Mark, not the person). But this cluster of inferences does serve to link together, without obvious internal contradiction, and with a coherent implied picture of the author's inner development, several otherwise exceedingly puzzling details in the Gospel, and also (with due regard for the dangers inherent in reading Acts) in Acts.
See also the connected stories here assembled for three other principals of the early movement: John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter.
25 Nov 2011 / Contact The Project / Exit to Alpha Page