Copied from: Rejection of Pascal’s Wager
The author of the gospel of Mark, according to tradition, was supposed to be John Mark. New Testament sources described John Mark as both a native of Palestine and a close confidante of Peter. A closer examination of the gospel, however, will show that the traditional attribution of authorship to John Mark is false.
- He made mistakes about Palestinian geography that no native of Palestine would make.
- He did not seem to know some Palestinian customs which would be impossible for a native of that region not to be aware of.
- These mistakes also rule out the idea that he could have obtained information from Peter.
- Internal evidence shows that Mark’s sources were isolated, self contained community anecdotes about Jesus which he strung together like beads into the gospel.
We have seen earlier that Papias around 130 CE, on the authority of one John the Presbyter, claimed that the author of the gospel of Mark was Peter’s interpreter. Tradition have further tied this Mark to the John Mark mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts:12:12;13:5,13;15:37,39), the epistles of Paul (Colossians 4:10;II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24:1) and the first epistle of Peter (I Peter 5:13).
We note in Acts that it was to Mark’s house in Jerusalem that Peter went after his escape from prison (Acts 12:12). Mark also joined Paul and Barnabas on their mission to Cyprus (Acts 12:25;13:15,13). Mark was also the center of disagreement between Paul and Barnabas; Paul not liking the fact that Mark deserted them in their mission in Cyprus earlier. Paul and Barnabas parted company with Mark going to Barnabas on another mission to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39). We have shown elsewhere that I Peter was a late document and was not written by the apostle of that name. Yet by the time of its writing, the tradition of the connection between Peter and John Mark was already so strong that Peter was made to call Mark his “son” (I Peter 5:13).  Back to the top
There are several instances of geographical mistakes in Mark.
The first example is from Jesus’ itinerary in Phoenicia and Galilee:
Then he [Jesus] return from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee.[a]
There is no hint here of any prolonged tour. The passage above suggest that Sidon is between the road from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. However look at the map of Palestine below. The Sea of Galilee is to the southeast of Tyre while Sidon is to the north of the city. As David Barr, Professor of Religion at Wright State University remarked: “the itinerary sketched in 7:31 would be a little like going from New York to Washinton, D.C. by way of Boston”! It is simply not possible to go through Sidon from Tyre to reach the Sea of Galilee. What is worse, it is a known historical fact that there was no direct road from Sidon to the Sea of Galilee during the first century CE. There was, however, one from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. There are thus two geographical errors in the above passage:
- Firstly, the author obviously did not know the relative positions of Sidon, Tyre and the Sea of Galilee.
- Secondly, he did not know that there was no direct road between Sidon and the Sea of Galilee during the time of Jesus.
|Another mistake occurred in the episode on the healing of the demoniac. This incident occurred in the region of the Gerasenes, or Gerasa. Mark 5:1 makes Jesus cross the Sea of Galilee to reach Gerasa, implying that Gerasa was a city close to the lake:
Similarly in Mark 5:13 Jesus allowed the demons to leave the man and enter the herd of pigs nearby which then rushed headlong over a precipice into the lake:
From these readings it is obvious that Mark meant Gerasa to be a town situated near the Sea of Galilee. However look at the map again. Gerasa is more than fifty kilometers to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee!! There is not even a hint of any lake nearby.[d] As the Biblical scholars of Jesus Seminar so deliciously remarked:
Apart from geographical errors the author of Mark made a few rather glaring errors with respect to Jewish customs in Palestine during the time of Jesus.
Given below is an excerpt from Mark where Jesus is quoted as making some pronouncements on divorce:
Jesus last sentence implies that women had the right to divorce her husband. But according to Jewish Law a woman had no right of divorce whatsoever. [f] In Roman law, of course, a woman had that right. The author of Mark had simply and mistakenly assumed that this was so for Jewish Law as well. Again the author of Mark shows an ignorance of the conditions of Palestine which is really impossible for a native of the country to make.  Another example of Mark’s ignorance is from the explanation he included for his readers regarding ritual cleansing:
This passage by Mark has been the subject of considerable debate among Jewish and Christian scholars. Basically Jewish scholars have pointed out, based on the evidence of the Talmuds, that the washing of hands before meals was obligatory only on priests and not on lay people like the Pharisees and scribes. While it may be possible that some, or even many, Pharisees submitted to this ritual voluntarily, it is certainly cannot be said that all the Jews were following this. Thus Mark had made a mistake in generalizing a custom that was simply not practiced by all during the time of Jesus. Back to the top
The above evidence should rule out John Mark as the author of Mark. It also rules out Papias story of the author’s close relation with Peter and that he wrote down what Peter said. Peter could hardly had made the mistakes we had seen above. Furthermore, as Udo Schnelle points out in The History and Theology of New Testament Writings, there is no distinctive Petrine theology that can be traced in Mark, nor was there any additional role for Peter beyond what is already available in the pre-Markan tradition. In short, like so many books in the Bible, we do not know the author of Mark. As early as Papias’ time (early second century) the real author was no longer known. Of course the author could have been named Mark, as it was an exceedingly common name in those days. But we know nothing of him.  The best summary on what we know of the author of Mark would be from Kummel’s classic Introduction to the New Testament:
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If the author of Mark was not an eyewitness nor a follower of an eyewitness, how did he get his material? In fact, the structure of the gospel actually reveals to us how he got his material. With a few exceptions, the episodes or pericopae in Mark seems to be completely independent units. In fact we see in Mark that the different episodes are attached together by link passages that are normally one or two sentences long. We see for example in chapter three of the gospel, the five episodes are completely detached and independent from one another. In the first episode, Jesus healed a man with a shrivelled hand. This part was introduced with the simple sentence:
After relating the incident, another link passage appears:
The second episode relates Jesus healing many people in the crowd. After this there again follows:
Now the author relates the appointment of the twelve apostles. After this another link passage appears:
Here Jesus answers the teachers of the law with a parable and finally we have:
The final section relates how Jesus renounced his mother and brothers. The one noticeable thing from a reading of chapter three is how isolated each individual episode was from one another. The order of the episodes could easily be interchanged without doing any damage to the narrative as a whole. There is no organic connection between the separate incidents. They are almost like snapshots placed side by side in a photo album. This very strongly suggests that the stories relating to Jesus came to Mark in isolated anecdotes from separate sources. Where could these stories come from? It is very probable that most of these stories were circulated orally among the followers of Jesus. Some of the episodes were probably even used in the worship of the early Christians and were probably written down earlier. The gospel of Mark therefore is, more likely than not, the compilation of the early Christian community tradition about Jesus.
Notes (Gary: Read these notes; very interesting!)
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