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3919[XTalk] Re: Guidelines for locating the Markan community

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    Mar 1, 2000
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      Dear Ted:

      Welcome to CrossTalk. Your thesis is a most welcome transition from the
      Materials & Methods Seminar with Crossan to resumption of really serious
      scholarship on this e-list that has been treading water of late. The
      carefulness of your reasoning & the thoroughness of your research
      challenges us to be at our best in replying to you. And I'm certain that
      other long-time participants in CrossTalk's discussions would join me in
      inviting your observant critiques of any of our posts that interest you.

      Before raising questions about your methodology for locating Mark (or
      any text) let me just note that I have long been openly skeptical of the
      patristic tradition locating Mark in Rome & have argued instead (though
      not yet in print) for a Palestinian provenance among Hellenized Jews for
      this gospel (as against an alternative origin in Egypt where Mark seems
      to have ehjoyed early & lasting favor). Most of my arguments have
      concentrated on questioning the basis for claims of Mark's "Paulinism"
      which -- if true -- would make a Palestinian birthplace for this gospel
      virtually impossible. But unlike you I have gravitated towards a Judean
      (but non-Jerusalem) place of origin. Unfortunately I have not like you
      taken the time to develop my thesis in full or prepare it for meticulous

      For the sake of both dialog & perspective, however, let me just sketch
      my reasons for preferring a Judean site for composition, so that I in
      turn can benefit from critique by you & other CrossTalkers.

      1. As I read Mark, chapter 13 is the most blatant & most urgent message
      that the author directs to his readers. This is evident not only from
      his aside in 13:14 ("let the reader understand") but from J's peroration
      in 13:37 ("What I say to you I say to all: Watch!"). So my first
      question to you is: why do you concentrate on topical guidelines for
      locating Mark almost to the exclusion of these temporal markers? If the
      Markan author took the trouble to alert readers J's words in this
      chapter more than any other, shouldn't we assume that J's explicit
      instructions in this passage were also selected or designed to apply to
      the situation of his original readers?

      2. The statement immediately following Mark's first explicit heads up to
      the reader in 13:14 gives explicit marching orders to those who have
      been so alerted: WHEN the desolating sacrilege happens, THEN "let those
      who are in JUDEA flee to the mountains." Granted, the author of such an
      instruction does not have to be himself located in Judea. But since Mark
      lacks any preface comparable to Luke's or other epistolary markers, I
      think it is rather safe to assume that he was in rather close proximity
      to his intended readers. Mark generally writes more as a platoon leader
      trying to rally disoriented troops rather than a general sending battle
      orders from a safe distance. To be credible his urgency & his call for
      personal dedication & self-sacrifice must involve him as well as his
      readers. Apart from Mark's geographical confusion of Galilean sites,
      this is the thing that leads me shy away from a Galilean or northern
      provenance for the author. In the Jewish war, Galilee & adjoining
      northern provinces were quickly subdued BEFORE Judea or Jerusalem came
      under siege. So highlighting events related to the latter region hardly
      makes much sense as signs to travel to the former.

      3. That impression of a southern focus for Mark & his audience is
      bolstered by the gospel's conclusion when the women are reminded by the
      youth of J's last deployment strategy to the disciples : "After I am
      raised up I will go before you to Galilee" (14:28). Mark's conclusion
      presents this as a plan that both the disciples & the readers were apt
      to overlook or forget: "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is
      goings before you to Galilee; THERE you will see him, AS HE TOLD YOU"
      (16:7). The appearance of the risen J is presented as something that
      WILL take place in Galilee IF those who in the narrative are now
      situated in Judea go there. Mark's conclusion stresses that the women
      did NOT give Peter & the other disciples this message. Hence presumably
      they STAYED in Judea & did NOT really see J (at least that seems to be
      implication of Mark's narrative logic).

      Thus, at two crucial points near the conclusion of Mark there are
      internal indicators that the author is addressing a Judean audience. I
      do not find in this gospel the same compelling narrative rationale for
      prefering a Galilean or Caesarean Sitz. Indeed the narrative tensions
      between Peter & Jesus throughout the 2nd half of Mark makes me seriously
      doubt that Mark's audience is located in the supposed region of Peter's
      alleged messianic confession.

      4. Mark's frequent warning of persecutions of followers of J fits what
      we know of mid-1st c. events in Judea better than anywhere in northern
      Palestine. J's matter of fact statement that "following him" entails
      being prepared to face crucifixion (8:34) would certainly seem relevant
      to Judean Xns for whom word or witness of Titus' mass crucifixions of
      any captured Jew suspected of resistence was a vivid & terrifying
      impression. As far as I know the last mention of crucixions taking place
      in Galilee or the surrounding area was in the wake of Varus' conquest of
      Sepphoris in 4 BCE (Josephus *Antiquities* 17:288-295). See quote in my
      *Into His Own*:


      Also J's warning to prepare for judgment before *councils*, synagogues &
      *governors* seems more relevant to Judean Xns than to those in Galilean
      villages. Compare Paul's description of the treatment of "congregations
      of God" in Judea (1 Thess 2:14f) & the stories in the early chapters of
      Acts. Do we have any evidence that those in Galilean villages or beyond
      faced such harassment?

      In short, I find your criteria for locating Mark quite carefully thought
      out but too narrowly focused on geographical clues.

      For my part I think the author of this gospel is probably writing TO
      Christians in Jerusalem & the surrounding region in the immediate
      aftermath of the social chaos caused by the siege of Jerusalem. Exact
      dating is difficult, but I lean to a publication time shortly before the
      destruction of the temple (else I'm not clear why Mark would have
      stressed that the J logion about the destruction of the temple was false
      -- 14:58f) when revolutionary councils in Jerusalem were still executing
      any who did not support their policies. Where Mark himself is located is
      another story. Perhaps Arimathea (Harmathaim) approximately 20 mi to the
      NW of Jerusalem on the border of Judea & Samaria? Can you think of a
      better reason for Mark to identify this as the home of the mysterious
      Joseph claims J's corpse or to conclude with the story of his empty

      I am well aware that Mark 7:3-4 can be cited to argue against a Judean
      or even Jewish identity of Mark & his readers. But I am convinced that
      these verses are a later interpolation. What other problems do you find
      in my reasoning?





      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
      Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus

      A Synoptic Gospels Primer

      Jesus Seminar Forum
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