The reality is that Mark was a popular name around the time of Jesus and the writing of the gospels that tell his story.
Joel Markus, Mark 1-8, writes,
"Mark was one of the commonest names in the Roman Empire, as well-known personages such as the emperor Marcus Aurelius or the general Marcus Antonius ("Mark Antony") attest (17-18)."
There were lots of Marks in the world. There still are. So what can we know about the particular Mark whose name is attached to a story about Jesus.
The reality is that we do not know much. We do not have an original copy of the gospel, just manuscripts that were passed around between different communities sometime after it was written. The gospel is not signed and dated.
“This absence of self-identification is probably deliberate; unlike most Hellenistic biographers, but like most biblical authors, the evangelist does not consider his own authorial personality to be important (17).”
Some of the early Greek manuscripts contain the title “According to Mark,” or
“Good News according to Mark.”
Markus continues, “This title, however, is sometimes located at the beginning of the manuscript, sometimes at its end, sometimes at both beginning and end, sometimes somewhere along the side. This variation suggests that the identification of Mark as the author is not original but was added independently by different later scribes. Harnack and Zahn influentially argued that the Gospel titles did not arise until the second century C.E., when the churches began to have collections of all four Gospels and needed to distinguish one from the other (17).”
What is clear is that from an early point in the history of the church, this particular story of Jesus is attached to a man by the name of Mark.
We do know there is a person named Mark in the New Testament.
Mark is a co-worker of Paul’s in Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; and 2 Timothy 4:11.
Colossians 4:10 (NRSV)
"Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him."
Philemon 1:24 (NRSV)
"...and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers."
2 Timothy 4:11 (NRSV)
"Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry."
Acts 12:12 (NRSV)
"As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying."
Acts 12:25 (NRSV)
"Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark."
From Joel Marcus:
“Martin Hengel (Mark, 45-53) argues strongly for the identification, pointing to the unusual number of Aramaic words and phrases in the Gospel as evidence for authorship as a Jerusalemite. The author’s Jewishness might also be inferred from his frequent utilization of biblical quotations and allusions (e.g. 1:2-3; 7:6-7; 12:10-11; 12:36), sometimes in subtle ways (e.g. the allusions to Psalm 22 in the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, 15:24-34) (19).”
“Many critical scholars, however, have been skeptical about authorship by John Mark for three major reasons: the Gentile orientation of the Gospel, the supposed mistakes and/or unconcern about Jewish laws and customs, and the supposed errors about Palestinian geography (19).”
We will explore these issues of Mark's story of Jesus in future sessions.
A key lesson from this session is that the authorship of the gospel will become a peripheral issue. It is what the author communicates about Jesus that is key for us who are modern day disciples.
Next week we will engage the time period and theorized location in which Mark's story of Jesus was written. These clues give us an idea about the community to which the gospel was written and the particular struggles that community was facing.