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Notes on Mark’s Provenance

A Roman Provenance

  1. Patristic Evidence: the surviving fragments of Papias do not mention where Mark composed the Gospel, but Papias consulted 1 Peter (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17) which seems to associate Mark/Peter with “Babylon” or Rome (1 Pet 5:12-13). Irenaeus mentions that Mark wrote the Gospel after the exodus (departure, euphemism for death?) of Peter and Paul in Rome (Against Heresies 3.1.2), but this may indicate the time rather than place of writing. Clement of Alexandria explicitly deduces from 1 Peter that Mark wrote for Peter’s hearers in Rome (in Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7; Adumbrationes in 1 Peter 5.13), while the so-called Anti-Marcionite Prologue vaguely places Mark in the regions of Italy. Only John Chrysostom offers an alternative in placing the Gospel in Alexandria (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.16.1; Jerome, Illustrious Men 8).
  2. Latinisms: The following list is from Stein (Mark, 9-10): 2:23 to make a road [hodon poiein, Lat. iter facere]; 2:4, 9, 11, 12, 6:55 mat [krabattos, Lat. Grabatus]; 4:21 basket [modios, Lat. modius]; 5:9, 15 legion [legiōn, Lat. legio]; 6:27 soldier of the guard [spekoulatōr, Lat. speculator]; 6:37, 12:15, 14:5 denarius [dēnarion, Lat. denarius]; 7:3 fist [pygmē, Lat. pugnus]; 7:4 pitcher [xestēs, Lat. sextarius]; 12:14 tax [kēnson, Lat census]; 12:42 penny [kodrantēs, Lat. quadrans]; 15:39, 44, 45 centurion [kentyriōn, Lat. centurio]; 15:15 to satisfy [to hikanon poiēsai, Lat. satis facere]; scourge [phragelloō, Lat. flagello]; 15:16 praetorium [praitōrion; Lat. praetorium).  Van Iersel (Reader-Response Commentary, 34-35) spots two more Latinisms in Mark not following the Greek word order (i.e. the accusative or dative generally follows the verb to which they belong) but the reverse order in Latin and in the use of hina in a similar way to the Latin ut.
  3. The reference to a Syrophoenician woman by tribe (Syrophoinikissa tō genei) is redundant for a Greek-speaking audience in the East, but necessary for a Roman audience to distinguish the Phoenicians of Syria from the more familiar Libyphoenicians (Libyphoinikes) of Carthage (Lucilius, Book 15, fr.496f; Juvenal, Sat. 8.159f; Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 7.201; Syrophoenix as special indication of origin in Latin inscriptions in Italy and Africa) (cf. Hengel, Studies, 29).
  4. The kind of persecution to the point of crucifixion could have the Neronian persecution in mind (Tacitus, Ann 15.44), which may have claimed the lives of Peter and Paul (1 Clement 5-6; Ignatius Romans 4:2-3; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.2; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.7), and Mark comforted Christians who failed or betrayed the community under duress by showing how the Twelve equally betrayed Jesus to save themselves yet were restored to fellowship (16:7).
  5. The social reality presumed in the text (e.g. agriculture, housing, land-ownership, socioeconomic status) used in support of a provenance in rural Syria or Palestine may be equally compatible with a Roman setting (cf. Incigneri, Gospel to the Romans, 65-82) or an author in Rome had access to traditions about the Galilean Jesus.
  6. As for Mark’s supposed ignorance on the geography and customs of Palestine, 7:31 has Jesus travel from Tyre 22 miles/35 km north to Sidon, southeast through middle of the Decapolis, and northwest to Sea of Galilee. 11:1 has the order Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethpage, and Bethany. In 5:1-20 the pigs stampede over 30 miles/48 km from Gerasa to the Sea of Galilee, causing the textual variants Gadarenes and Gergasenes. As for the latter, scholars often cite the mistaken high priest (2:26), the reference to “all” Jews obeying the custom of hand-washing (7:4), the dismissal of the food laws (7:19b), the possible influence of Roman divorce law (10:12), the day-day rather than night-night calendar in dating Passover (14:13), and so on. Mark’s alleged errors, explanations of Aramaic terms or Jewish customs, and lack of specific information on the Jewish War besides stereotyped apocalyptic imagery (ch. 13) may suggest a predominantly non-Jewish audience far from Palestine.
  7. Hengel dates Mark between Nero’s suicide in 68 CE and the winter of 69 CE when there was a rapid succession of 3 emperors in a year (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) and a fourth claimant on his way to Rome (Vespasian); 13:14 may hint at a Nero redivivus expected in the future. Incigneri argues Mark was written in light of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and triumph of Vespasian in 71 CE; Mark parodies the propaganda of Vespasian including healing a blind man with spittle or a man with a withered hand and returning to Rome parading the outer veil of the Temple  (Gospel to the Romans, 156-207; cf. Head, “Roman Document,” 245-58; Winn, Purpose, 153-67).
  • Black, C. Clifton.  Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.
  • Brandon, S.F.G. Jesus and the Zealots: A study of the political factor in primitive Christianity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967.
  • Donahue, John R.  “Windows and Mirrors: The Setting of Mark’s Gospel.”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57 (1995): 1-26.
  • France, R.T.  The Gospel of Mark.  NIGTC; Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Head, Ivan.  “Mark as a Roman Document from the Year 69: Testing Martin Hengel’s Thesis.”  Journal of Religious History 28 (2004): 240-59.
  • Gundry, Robert.  Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
  • Hengel, Martin.  Studies in the Gospel of Mark.  Fortress: Philadelphia, 1985.
  • Incigneri, Brian J.  The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel.  Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003.
  • Lane, William L.  The Gospel According to Mark.  The New International Commentary on the New Testament.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
  • Martin, R.P.  Mark: Evangelist and Theologian.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
  • Stein, Robert H.  Mark.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008
  • Taylor, Vincent.  The Gospel According to St. Mark.  New York: St Martin’s Press, 1966.
  • Winn, Adam.  The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperialism.  WUNT 2.245, Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008.
  • Witherington, Ben.  The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
  • van Iersel, Bas M.F.  Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary.  Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

A Syrian Provenance

  1. Clement of Alexandria did not locate Mark in Rome based on historical-critical considerations, but due to (i) the association of the evangelist with Peter in Papias, (ii) the tradition of Peter’s ministry and martyrdom in Rome, and (iii) the inference from 1 Peter 5:13.
  2. The Latin loan-words are primarily related to political, military, and economic administration known throughout the empire due to Roman rule (legio, praetorium) and many occur independently in other Gospels or Hellenistic literature. Mark clarifies imprecise Greek terms by precise Latin ones (e.g., in 12:42 quadrans was proverbial as the minimum unit of money, while the mention of two lepta actually supports a provenance in the East) (Theissen, Gospels in Context, 247-49; Collins, Mark, 10, 99-100; Marcus, Mark 1-8, 32-33). Finally, a one-sided discussion of the latinisms overlooks the number of Aramaic terms and Aramaicisms in Mark (e.g. Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, 140-44 argues against the view that behind Mark 2:23 hodon poiein [to make a road] is the latinism iter facere and sees an underlying Aramaic term mistranslated).
  3. Theissen notes that the Latin “Syrophoenix” was borrowed from a Greek construction as the Romans ordinary spoke of “Punii” (poeni), with Syrophoenician first used to distinguish from Libyphoenicians in Diodorus of Sicily (20.55.4), and the term could be used in the East for residents of southern Syria (Gospels in Context, 245-47). Marcus argues that the term does not specify a particular kind of Phoenician, but a particular kind of Syrian, someone who intermarried with the Phoenicians or was from the Phoenician part of the province of Syria (Mark 1-8, 33).
  4. Kee’s sociological study emphasized that Mark reflects an Eastern rural or village culture (Community, 100-105). Theissen argues that Mark’s references to the “Sea [thalassa] of Galilee” (the region in the genitive) does not correspond to Greek or Latin, for lakes or oceans are usually described by an adjective, and one familiar with the wider Mediterranean would hardly call a little Galilean lake a “sea” (Gospels in Context, 237-38). Van Iersel (Reader-Response Commentary, 36-37) responds that the expression is in the Septuagint (LXX Exod 10:19; Num 34:3, 6, 11, 12; Josh 3:16; 8:9; 12:3, 7; 13:27; 10:46; 18:19; 2 Chron 2:16; Ezek 47-48, etc.). Simon of Cyrene and his sons are known to Mark’s audience in 15:41 (cf. Acts 11:20) and Matthew, usually located in Antioch or Syria in general, quickly used Mark  (Boring, Mark, 19).
  5. Familiarity with the Jewish War: the temple is overrun with bandits (lēstēs in Mark 11:17 is in Josephus for “revolutionaries”) and the abomination in 13:14 may be the zealot Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE (cf. Joel Marcus’ “The Jewish War and the Sitz Im Leben of Mark”). The warning to “flee to the hills” in 13:14 would be meaningless to a distant Roman, though it could be a hint that the readers fled Judea to a Decapolis city such as Pella (?), and persecution in Mark mainly comes from local councils, synagogues, and governors/rulers (13:9). Collins (Mark, 99-100) points out that the reference to “take up the cross” could be metaphorical (cf. Plutarch Moralia Sera 554A-B) and that crucifixion was a reality in eastern provinces.
  6. Mark shows no contact with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, lacking knowledge of Paul’s discussions on the “law”, “righteousness of God” or cosmic Christology, nor with later Roman texts such as 1 Peter or 1 Clement (Boring, Mark, 18-19).
  7. The translation of Aramaic terms and explanations of Jewish customs (e.g., 7:3-4, 11; 14:1, 12; 15:42) may still presuppose a predominantly non-Jewish audience and the geographical errors (5:1; 7:31; 10:1) an author outside of Palestine.
  • Boring, M. Eugene.  Mark: A Commentary.  The New Testament Library. Westminster John Knox Press:Louisville,London, 2006.
  • Collins, Adela.  Mark: A Commentary.  Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.
  • Horsley, Richard A.  Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel.  Louisville; London; Leiden: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
  • Kee, Howard Clark.  Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark’s Gospel.  Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977.
  • Koester, Helmut.  Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development.  London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity International, 1990.
  • Kummel, W.G.  Introduction to the New Testament.  Nashville: Abingdon, 1975.
  • Mack, Burton.  A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
  • Maloney, Francis J.  The Gospel of Mark.  Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002.
  • Marcus, Joel.  Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2000.
  • Marcus, Joel. “The Jewish War and the Sitz Im Leben of Mark.”  Journal of Biblical Literature 111/3 (1992): 441-462.
  • Theissen, Gerd.  The Gospels in Context.  London and New York: T&T Clark, 1992.

A Galilean Provenance

  1. All the arguments for locating Mark near Palestine in Syria could apply to placing it within Galilee.
  2. Theological map: Galilee symbolizes the locus of divine revelation as the crowds are widely receptive to Jesus’s teaching and healing, despite the hostility of some political and religious elites (3:6), while Jesus is rejected in Jerusalem (cf. Loymeyer, Lightfoot). Kelber sees the dichotomy of Galilee and Jerusalem as representing two rival Christian centers: Mark polemicizes against the Jerusalem church (Jesus’ brothers, Peter, the  Twelve) that held the “false” eschatological belief that the parousia (coming) of Jesus would occur in Jerusalem, did not comprehend the nature of Jesus’ messiahship as the suffering Son of Man, and tried to keep the community exclusively Jewish. This polemical reading (cf. Tyson, Crossan, Weeden) is a popular explanation for Mark’s portrait of the disciples and interprets the silence at 16:8 to mean the Twelve were never restored to the movement in Galilee (16:7).
  3. The angel instructs the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they “will see” (opsesthe, future of horaō) Jesus (16:8; cf. 14:28). Marxsen (Mark the Evangelist, 83-92) interprets 14:28 and 16:8 in reference to the future parousia (coming) of Jesus and Mark summons the community to gather in Galilee (cf. the tradition of the flight of Christians to Pella) to await the imminent return of Jesus.
  4. Roskam argues that Mark is familiar with Galilee but ignorant about everywhere else (5:1-20, 11:1) (Purpose, 95-100). Mark 1-4 and 8-9 are geographically sound. She outlines Jesus’ movements: to Nazareth (6:1), to Galilee  on the coast of the lake (6:30), to the west coast of lake somewhere in vicinity of Tiberius (6:35-44; cf. in 6:32 Jesus withdrew by boat to deserted place but does not cross the lake), to Bethsaida by ship ( 6:45, correctly placed on the north-east coast of lake) yet ends up in Gennesaret (likely north-west coast of Galilean Sea halfway between Tiberias and Bethsaida) (6:53), to Tyre (7:23, 7:24-30), and to Sidon and onward to the Decapolis (7:31-8:9). She argues that it is not unlikely for Jesus to travel from a coastal area (Tyre) to the middle of the Decapolis via the Galilean Sea and the only thing that makes the route awkward is that Mark does not realize quite how north Sidon is in relation to Tyre and the Sea (Purpose, 104-10). Alternatively, we should avoid anachronistic standards of cartographic exactness for authors who held ancient conceptions of space, covering Jerusalem and Galilee with which the author is familiar with more detail and flattening out/representing on a small scale locales on the boundary lands on the West (Tyre and Sidon) and the East (Gerasa) with which the author is less familiar (cf. Chapman, “Agrarian Biography”).
  5. Increasingly scholars are challenging the older view that Mark was ignorant of Jewish customs by arguing that Mark is an informed participant in debates on scripture exegesis or religious praxis (halakhah on the Sabbath, purity, korban). See Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993; cf. commentaries); Collins, Mark (Fortress, 2007); Booth, Jesus and the Laws of Purity: History and Legal History in Mark 7 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986); Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Crossley,  “Halakah and Mark 7.4: ‘…and beds,’” JSNT 25 (2003); The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insights from the Law in Earliest Christianity (London: T & T Clark, 2004); “Mark 7:1-23: Revisiting the Question of all Foods Clean” pp 8-20; Ermakov, “The Salvific Significance of the Torah in Mark 10:17-22 and 12:28-34”  in Torah in the New Testament (ed. P. Oaks & M. Tait; London & New York: T&T Clark, 2009); Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2012).
  6. Myers argues that Mark advocates a just redistributive system for disenfranchised, landless Galilean peasants against the Roman imperial order and Temple elites. He writes, “Events had also changed the general political atmosphere; what was sporadic, predominantly rural resistance to Roman colonialism in Palestine at the time of Jesus had coalesced into a major, Jerusalem-centered insurrection at the time Mark wrote. Nevertheless, the basic social structures and dynamics that characterized this era did not alter significantly” (42). Roskam dates Mark post-70 (Purpose, 81-94) and sees “governors and kings” in 13:9 as reflecting the political situation of Galilee as the eastern part was ruled by Agrippa II and the western part by the Roman legate (112-13). Contrary to Meyers, she argues that Mark de-politicized the gospel and aimed its animosity at Jewish rather than Roman leaders.
  • Chapman, Dean W. “Locating the Gospel of Mark: A Model of Agrarian Biography.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 25 (1995): 24-36.
  • Kelber, W.H.  The Kingdom of Mark: A New Place and a New Time.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974.
  • Lightfoot, R.H.  Locality and Doctrine in the Gospels.  New York: Harper, 1938.
  • Lohmeyer, E. Galiläa und Jerusalem. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck, 1936.
  • Marxsen, Willi.  Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel. Nashville andNew York: Abingdon Press, 1969.
  • Myers, Ched.  Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.  Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988.
  • Roskam, H. N.  The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context.  Leiden: Brill, 2004.
  • Vander Broek, L.D.  The Markan “Sitz im Leben”: A critical investigation into the possibility of a Palestinian setting for the Gospel. PhD-dissertation, Graduate School of Drew University, New Jersey, 1983.

The Irrelevance of the Local Audience of Mark?

Against the view that we can reconstruct the local community addressed by Mark from clues in the text, The Gospel for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences edited by Richard Bauckham takes on the Gospel community paradigm. The use of Mark by Matthew and Luke shows it achieved wide circulation, the interest in “Gospel communities” has a modern pedigree from B.H. Streeter through to the emphasis on the Sitz im Leben (situation in life) of the churches (form critics) or of the evangelist (redaction critics), the Gospels as biographies differ from epistles directed to a local address to substitute for when the author could not communicate in person, the objection that Christians were not isolated groups but networks in constant communication and traveling leaders, and the hermeneutical irrelevance of a “Gospel community” to interpreting the text (pp. 9-47). Bird adds that 1. arguments about a Markan community are “viciously circular, 2. the relationship with a community is ambiguous (for a community, allegorically about a community, in a community yet for wider circulation), 3. influence does not flow only in one direction but texts influence a sociohistorical situation as much as they are influenced by it, 4. our knowledge of the author is at a bare minimum and may have ministered in many geographical or cultural settings, 5. the genre of a Gospel is not conducive to in-house debates (unlike an epistle, testimony collection, or community rule), and 6. Mark is not primarily about a community but about Jesus (pp. 477-82).  Edward Klink, The Audience of the Gospels: The Origin and Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity (T&T Clark, 2010) and Dwight Peterson, The Origins of Mark: The Markan Community in Current Debate (Brill, 2000) (cf. RBL review) also react against the excessive mirror reading of Mark’s literary narrative in “Markan community” hypotheses. There are also critiques of Bauckham’s approach in the bibliography below.

  • Bauckham, Richard. “For Whom Were the Gospels Written.” Pages 9-48 in The Gospel for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences. Edited by Richard Bauckham. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998.
  • Bauckham, Richard. “Response to Philip Esler.” SJT 51 (1998): 248-53.
  • Bird, Michael F. “The Markan Community, Myth or Maze?  Bauckham’s The Gospel for All Christians Revisited.” Journal of Theological Studies 57 (2006): 474-86.
  • Esler, P.F. ”Community and Gospel in Early Christianity: A Response to. Richard Bauckham’s Gospels for All Christians.”  SJT 51 (1998): 235-48.
  • Hengel, Martin. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ. Translated by J. Bowden; London: SCM Press, 2000.
  • Incigneri, Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel.  Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003.
  • Klink III, Edward W. (ed.). The Audience of the Gospels: The Origin and the Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity. LNTS; London: Continuum, 2010.
  • Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2000, pp. 25-28.
  • Mitchell, Margaret. “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels were Written for all Christians.” New Testament Studies 51 (2005): 36-79.
  • Peterson, Dwight. The Origins of Mark: The Markan Community in Current Debate. Leiden: Brill, 2000.
  • Roskam, H. N. The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context.  NovTSup 114; Leiden: Brill, 2004.
  • Sim, David C. “The Gospel for All Christians?: A Response to Richard Bauckham,” JSNT 84 (2001): 3-27.
  • Van Eck, Ernest. “A Sitz for the Gospel of Mark: A Critical Reaction to Bauckham’s Theory on the universality of the Gospels.” HTS 56 (2000): 200-235.
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