Immediately we are met with an aspect of the Gospel that is not immediately thought about, but one that must be acknowledged. The Gospel of Mark reflects on the story of Jesus to an audience that is at least two generations away from his time and place.
We estimate that Jesus’ ministry took place between 30-33 C.E.; his crucifixion is dated by some to around 33 C.E. Mark wrote in the late 60s/early 70s C.E., depending on how you date the Gospel.
There is an inherent tension in the Gospel. Mark is not writing a story, as a historical document, as we in 2014 may think about the Gospel. Mark has crafted a story of Jesus that reflects his own experience with Jesus’ life and ministry. But it was not a personal experience. We have no evidence to conclude that Mark lived at the same time as Jesus. Mark reflects on the stories of Jesus that he has experience and the rhythm of discipleship that developed in the years after Jesus' death and resurrection. Mark's story is about how this rhythm has inspired a community of people who continue to give the story of Jesus life.
Ched Myers reflects: “At the very outset we are faced with a fundamental dilemma. Mark’s text represents two worlds: the one he narrates and in the one in which he lives. The former is an ideological product of the latter, and the “historical fallacy” prevents us from assuming a perfect correspondence between the two. We know, for example, that the historical ‘time’ of Mark is not the ‘time’ of his story about Jesus; they are separated by at least two generations. Perhaps the historical ‘space’ is different too” where (Rome? Egypt? Asia Minor?) and under what concrete social circumstances (persecution? prosperity?) was the Gospel produced? (Myers, 40)”
Michael Peppard writes: “Among the four canonical Gospels, probably none is more consistently associated with a particular place than Mark is with Rome. From the earliest testimonia, to modern commentaries, most historians of early Christianity favor the connection (Peppard, 87).”
The early church connected Mark to Rome through the person of Peter. “Mark was thought to have helped Peter in Rome, perhaps as an interpreter or scribe, and written down some of Peter’s accounts after his martyrdom (Peppard, 87).”
The support for this theory comes from what scholars call the “patristic” testimony. Patristic is a term for the writers of the early church. This is external evidence. What does the early church have to say about the Gospel? What does tradition contribute?
There is some mistrust of the patristic writers among scholars.
“Latinisms, errors of Palestinian geography, the explanation of Jewish customs, connections to Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and motifs of persecution and martyrdom (Peppard, 87).”
Latinisms - “Most obvious are the occasions where Mark uses specific Latin terms to explain Greek words; 12:42, 15:16 (Peppard, 87).”
Palestinian Geography - “The infelicities in describing Palestinian geography (especially at 5:1 and 7:31) would not necessarily favor a Roman context, except that when scholars reject that context, it is usually in favor of the Syrian or Palestinian one (where geographical areas would be less likely) (Peppard, 88).”
Explanation of Jewish Customs - “Mark’s occasional explanation of Jewish customs also suggests an audience unfamiliar with typical Jewish practices (e.g., 7:3-4), which would make more sense at some distance from Palestine (Peppard, 88).”
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans - “Some scholars find ample resonances of Markan terminology, theology, and community concerns in Paul's Epsitle to the Romans, not to mention the tantalizing ‘Rufus’ greeted there by Paul (Romans 16:13; cf. Mark 15:21) (Peppard, 88).”
Motifs of Persecution and Martyrdom - “Finally, almost all scholars who take up the issue address the correlation between the evident motif of persecution in Mark and the known persecution of Christians by Nero, which possibly involved the martyrdom of Peter (Peppard, 88).”
We have historical evidence outside of the Gospel to confirm a persecution took place.
“Tacitus (Annals 15:44), for example, describes the persecution experienced by the Roman Christians in 64 C.E., when the emperor Nero tried to deflect onto them the popular suspicion that he he himself we responsible for the great Roman fire, in terms that can easily be related to Mark 13:9-13:
To scotch the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost exquisite cruelty, a class loathed for their abominations, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, from whom the name is derived, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate (translation by C. Black; Marcus, 31).”
Joel Marcus argues, “Rather than the Neronian persecution, Mark 13 and the Gospel in general seem to many scholars to mirror more closely the events of the revolt of Palestinian Jews against the Romans in 66-73 C.E. After all, the real bitterness in the Gospel is directed against the Jews, not Romans, and the savage events of the Jewish War would provide a plausible setting for the development of such animosity (Marcus, 33).”
Joel Marcus gives an overview of the estimated dates of composition: “The Gospel might have been written as early as 69 C.E., allowing for a bit of time after the flight from Jerusalem in 67–68 for the re-formation of the Markan community (perhaps through incorporation into an already established, predominantly Gentile church in Syria) and for the actual composition of the Gospel. Or it might have been written as late as 74 or 75 - still close enough to the Temple’s destruction and the final end of the war for eschatological excitement to remain intact (Marcus, 39).”
Next week we begin to explore the Gospel. We will begin our journey at the end of the Gospel by reading and discussing chapter 16.