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[XTalk] Was Mark Written at Caesarea Maratima?

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  • Frank McCoy
    INTRODUCTION Where was Mark written? The traditional location is Rome. Many scholars think that it was written somewhere in Syria. In this post, it is
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2003

      Where was Mark written? The traditional location is
      Rome. Many scholars think that it was written
      somewhere in Syria. In this post, it is proposed that
      it was written in Caesarea Maratima.


      In 15:39, upon Jesus expiring, a centurion cries out,
      "Truly, this man was Son of God." Why would anyone,
      especially a Gentile Roman soldier, declare Jesus to
      be Son of God at the very moment he proves his
      humanity by expiring?

      Possibly, then, this scene is fictional. In
      particular, it might be a deliberate fiction by Mark
      in which the centurion symbolizes the Markan
      community: with his cry expressing the Markan
      community's credo that this Jesus who had died as a
      human being on the cross, had, yet, also been a divine
      Son of God.

      Why, though, would Mark choose a Roman centurion to
      symbolize the Markan community? The answer, I
      suggest, is that the initial leader of the Markan
      community had been a Roman centurion.

      In this regard, it is noteworthy that, according to
      Luke in Acts 10:1-48, the leader of a group of
      Gentiles converted by Caesarea Maratima by Peter had
      been a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

      So, I suggest, this Roman centurion named Cornelius
      had been the first leader of the Markan community:
      which, in this case, had been located at Caesarea


      While Mark's Jesus comes from Nazareth, where he is at
      most at home is by what Mark calls the Sea of
      Galilee--even though it is, actually, a lake. His
      headquarters is at Capernaum, right on the shore of
      the Sea of Galilee. Much of his activity is at or by
      the Sea of Galilee. He frequently takes boat trips.
      He even speaks from a boat to people on the shore. Of
      the twelve, Mark tells us the occupation of four of
      them: and it is that of fisherman (Note: Mark does not
      identify Levi as being one of the twelve)

      Why this portrayal of Jesus as being most at home by a
      sea (even though it is, in fact, only a lake), with
      him loving to travel by boat and favoring fishermen to
      be his closest disciples?

      The answer, I suggest, is that the Markan community
      was located along a sea--and this would be the case if
      it had been located in the port city of Caesar
      Maratima, on the shore of the Meditteranean Sea.


      In 15:1, Mark introduces Pilate without telling us the
      position he held. In the Matthean equivalent, 27:2,
      Pilate is said to have been the governor (hegemoni).
      In Luke 3:1, Luke states that Pilate had been
      governing Judea.

      Why, unlike with the later two gospels, are we not
      told in Mark that Pilate had been acting as governor
      (or, to be technical, prefect)?

      The answer, I suggest, is that everyone in Mark's
      community knew that Pilate had been the governor of

      This suggests that the Markan community was located at
      Caesarea Maratima. It was this city that had been the
      primary seat of his government. His name had
      literally been written in stone there--for we possess
      a stone from that city with his name on it. (Note:
      It's in Latin. There are a number of Latinisms in
      Mark and this is consistent with it having been
      written at Caesarea Maratima--especially in light of
      the Roman military forces normally stationed there.
      In The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark" (JBL,
      111/3, 1992, p. 444), Joel Marcus states, "As W. G.
      Kummel and H. Koester have noted, Mark's Latinisms are
      mostly technical military terminology and 'could occur
      at any place where a Roman garrison was stationed and
      Roman Law was practiced.'")

      Also, in Mark, Pilate is portrayed as being forced by
      the Jews into crucifying Jesus despite his desire to
      set Jesus free. This is a radically different Pilate
      than what we find in Josephus and Philo. Their Pilate
      would have had no compunctions about crucifying anyone
      who was accused by the Jewish authorities of being a
      real or potential troublemaker.

      My judgment: the Pilate of Philo and Josephus is the
      real Pilate. Further, ISTM, even though he had not
      been a Christian, Pilate had been, in some significant
      sense, a brother of those belonging to the Markan
      community. He was one of their own and, so, they
      simply could not believe that he would have willingly
      crucified Jesus.

      If so, then the Markan community was likely located at
      Caesarea Maratima: the seat of Pilate's government. At
      least initally, all the Christians there had been
      Gentiles--and Pilate had been a Gentile. Judging by
      the example of Cornelius, some, perhaps even most, had
      been Romans--and Pilate had been a Roman.


      Let us look at 7:18-19, "Kai legei autois, Houtws kai
      humeis asynetoi este; ou noeite hoti pan to ezwthen
      eisporeuomenon eis ton anthrwpon ou dynatai autoun
      koinwsai hoti ouk eisporeuetai auto eis ten kardian
      all eis ten koilian, kai eis ton aphedorwna
      ekporeuetai, katharizwn panta ta brwmata."

      The RSV rendering is this way, "And he said to them,
      'Then are you also without understanding? do you not
      see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot
      defile him, since it enters, not his heart, but his
      stomach, and so passes on?' (Thus he declared all
      foods clean.)"

      If this is a reasonably accurate rendering of 7:18-19
      (a big if), then the Markan community had stressed
      that they did not have to obey the dietary ordinances
      of the Law and they did so on the basis of how they
      interpreted this saying that they attributed to Jesus.

      In this regard, Luke's narrative of Peter converting a
      group of Gentiles at Caesarea has a *very* peculiar
      aspect to it. That is, before Peter goes there, he
      has a vision of a sheet descending with all kinds of
      creatures on it and hears a voice say, "Kill and eat."
      When Peter protested, the reply came, "What God has
      cleansed, you must not call common."

      Whatever one makes of this account, which clearly has
      legendary features, one thing seems clear to me: the
      Gentile group Peter converted at Caesarea Maratima had
      been adamant that they would become Christians only if
      they didn't have to obey the dietary ordinances of the
      Law. Further, Peter had given in to their demand--for
      they did agree to become Christians. Finally, Peter
      gave in to their demand because, he understood, all
      foods are now clean.

      If so, then perhaps Peter had told Cornelius and the
      other Gentiles with him the saying attributed to Jesus
      in 7:18-19 and told them that, it means, all foods are
      now clean So, on the basis of it, he agreed to
      baptizing them without demanding that they obey the
      dietary ordinances of the Law.

      If Peter was the source of this saying and did believe
      that, in it, Jesus, in effect, declares all foods
      clean, this helps to explain why, if he had been the
      Cephas of the Antioch incident, he had initially eaten
      with Gentiles there. In this case, his later
      withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile
      Christians there was solely a political move to
      placate "hard-liners" in the Jerusalem Church.


      None of the other three foundation gospels (i.e.,
      John, Thomas, and Q) has anywhere near the stress that
      Mark has on demons, demon possession, and exorcism.

      In this regard, it is noteworthy that Josephus'
      account of a Jewish exorcist named Eleazar
      (Antiquities, Book VIII, Chapt. II, Sect. 5) has him
      displaying his mastery over demons to the Roman army.

      So, one group that had quite an interest in the
      subject of demon possession and exorcism was the Roman
      army in Palestine.

      What this means is that one possible explanation for
      the high degree of interest of the Markan community in
      demon possession and exorcism was that some of its
      members had been Roman soldiers. If so, then it
      likely was located at Caesarea Maratima: where, it
      appears, at least two of it founding members, maybe
      more, had been Roman soldiers.


      In 13:6, Mark's Jesus states, "Polloi eleusontai epi
      tw onomati mou legentes hoti Egw eimi kai pollous
      planesousin" (Many will come in my name, saying, 'I
      am', and they will deceive many.")

      These people are Christians: for they come in the name
      of Jesus.

      They come saying "I am (Ego eimi)."--and this is an
      indication that they claimed to be gods. In the Five
      Gospels (p. 419), the Jesus Seminar states, "In John's
      gospel Jesus frequently speaks of himself in the first
      person using the emphatic phrase I AM (Greek: ego
      eimi). This expression was widely used in the
      Greco-Roman world, and would have been recognized by
      John's readers as an established formula in speech
      attributed to one of the gods." (Compare Mark
      14:62-62, where Jesus begins his response to the High
      Priest with "Ego eimi" and the High Priest proclaims
      that he has spoken blasphemously).

      That the deceiving Christians apparently claim to be
      gods identifies them as probably being the followers
      of Simon Magus. So, according to the Clementine
      Homilies (Homily II, Chap. XXVII), Simon told his
      followers, "We should be thought to be gods, and
      should be worshipped by the multitude."

      In this regard, it is likely that there were followers
      of Simon Magus at Caesarea Maratima. Simon's main
      base was in a Samaritan city, probably Sebaste (Acts
      8:9)--and this city was only about 25 miles away from
      Caesarea Maratima. Further, according to the
      Clementine literature, Caesarea Maratima had been the
      scene for a major debate/exchange of hostilities
      between Simon Magus and Peter.

      So, that Mark's community apparently was in contact
      with followers of Simon Magus is consistent with the
      hypothesis that it had been located at Caesarea


      Mark apparently is the first narrative gospel. It
      begins with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus
      and continues until the women run from the tomb after
      having been told that Jesus has risen from the dead
      and will appear to his disciples in Galilee.

      What was the inspiration for a narrative gospel of
      this type?

      In this regard, Luke, in Acts 10:34-43, pictures
      Peter as telling the Gentiles at Caesarea Maratima
      about Jesus--and he begins with John and his baptism
      of Jesus, continues with the ministry of Jesus and his
      hanging on a tree, and then relates how Jesus rose
      from the dead on the third day and appeared to those
      chosen by God and ate and drank with them.

      While the speech is probably a Lukan invention, what I
      suggest is that it is based on a tradition that Peter
      had given a speech to the Gentiles at Caesarea
      Maratima in which he outlined the key events in Jesus'
      earthly career, beginning with John and his baptism of
      Jesus. If so, then it might be the inspiration for
      Mark's narrative gospel, which begins with John's
      baptism of Jesus.

      In this case, the speech of Peter, at least in its
      basic outline, had been treasured and kept alive in
      memory by the Markan community and Mark had used its
      basic outline as the framework upon which to construct
      his gospel.


      In Mark, John the Baptist makes one statement. See
      1:7-8 (RSV), "After me comes he who is mightier than
      I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop
      down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but
      he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

      In the ensuing 9-11, John baptizes Jesus in the
      Jordan, the Spirit descends on Jesus, and God declares
      Jesus to be His Son. So, the reader learns what the
      baptism with water is all about and learns the
      identity of the mightier one who will be baptizing
      with the Spirit..

      However, nowhere in Mark does the reader learn what
      the baptism with the Spirit is all about.

      What this suggests, ISTM, is that the members of the
      Markan community already knew about the baptism of the
      Spirit and, so, didn't need to be told about it.

      If so, then the Markan community could very well have
      been located at Caesarea Maratima. In Acts 11:1-18,
      where Peter is confronted by the circumcision party
      over his going to the Gentiles at Caesarea Maratima,
      his reply includes this, "As I began to speak, the
      Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the
      beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how
      he said, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be
      baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave the
      same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in
      the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could
      withstand God?" (RSV)

      The words Peter utters probably are Lukan inventions,
      but I think they are based on a reliable tradition,
      known to Luke, that the Spirit did fall on Cornelius
      and the Gentiles with him and that Peter, on his
      return to Jerusalem, used this event to justify, to
      those zealous for the Law, his acceptance of Cornelius
      and the Gentiles with him into the Jewish sect of the
      Nazoreans (i.e., what we now call, anachronistically,
      Christianity) without requiring them to obey the
      dietary ordinances of the Law.

      For the purposes of the present discussion, the key
      point is that, as the falling of the Holy Spirit on
      Cornelius and the other Gentiles had been taken by
      Peter to have been their baptism by the Holy Spirit,
      he would have told them this, so this community of
      Christians at Caesarea Maratima would have known about
      the baptism by the Holy Spirit.

      So, that the members of the Markan community had
      apparently been familiar with the baptism by the Holy
      Spirit is consistent with the hypothesis that the
      Markan community had been located at Caesarea


      Herod Agrippa I ruled most of Palestine, including
      Caesarea Maratima, from 41 to 44 CE. In an incident
      recorded by both Josephus and Luke, some flatters
      spoke of him being a god while he was giving a speach
      at Caesarea Maratima and he did not try to silence
      them. Soon thereafter, he died.

      In Antiquities (Book XIX, Chapt. VII, Sect 3),
      Josephus thusly speaks about Herod Agrippa I,
      "Accordingly, he loved to live continually at
      Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observances
      of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself
      entirely pure; nor did any day pass over his head
      without its appointed sacrifices."

      That Agrippa had made Jerusalem the seat of his
      government and had been zealous for the Law could
      hardly have endeared him to the predominantly Gentile
      population at Caesarea.

      First, it was the general practice of the Roman
      governors to make Caesarea the seat of their
      government and to only occasionally visit Jerusalem.
      Hence, by making Jerusalem the seat of his government,
      Agrippa must have have made the people of Caesarea
      hostile to him.

      Secondly, about the last thing these Gentiles would
      have wanted was a Jew zealous for the Law governing
      them. Again, their reaction to Agrippa must have been
      very negative.

      Indeed, when Agrippa died, the pent up hostility of
      the people in Caesarea Maratima towards him was vented
      in anti-Agrippa rioting and in drunken revelry over
      his demise. Josephus (Ibid., Chapt. IX, Sect. 1)
      relates, "But when it was known that Agrippa was
      departed this life, the inhabitants of Caesarea and of
      Sebaste forgot the kindnesses he had bestowed on them,
      and acted the part of the bitterest enemies; for they
      cast such reproaches upon the deceased as are not fit
      to be spoken of; and so many of them as were then
      soldiers, which were a great number, went to his
      house, and hastily carried off the statues of the
      king's daughters, and all at once carried them into
      the brothel-houses, and when they had set them on the
      tops of those houses, they abused them to the utmost
      of their power, and did such things to them as are too
      indecent to be related. They also laid themselves
      down in public places, and celebrated general
      feastings, with garlands on their heads, and with
      ointments and libations to Charon, and drinking to one
      another for joy that the king was expired." (Note:
      Probably, the reason for the sexual abuse of his
      daughters' statues at brothels (which was a symbolic
      way of saying that they were trashy two-bit whores
      whom nobody in his right mind would marry) was
      Agrippa's refusal to let his daughter, Drusilla, marry
      Epiphanes, the son of King Antiochus, unless Epiphanes
      agreed to practice the Jewish religion--which would
      meant his getting circumcised and agreeing to obey the
      Law (Josephus, Antiquities, Book XX, Chapt. VII, Sect
      1). Obviously, this attitude, of Agrippa, that his
      daughters were too good for Gentiles to marry, except
      for those who got themselves circumcised and started
      obeying the Law, deeply rankled the Gentile people of
      Caesarea Maratima, particularly the soldiers.)

      What all this tells us is that: (1) there was an
      intense political rivalry between Caesarea Maratima
      and Jerusalem and (2) there was an inherent hostility
      of the Gentiles in Caesarea Maratima towards Jews
      zealous for the Law.

      In light of this, the presumption is that, if the
      Markan community had been located in Caesarea
      Maratima, they would have resisted any attempt by the
      Jerusalem Church to bring them under its authority.
      Further, because most of the members of the Jerusalem
      Church had been Jews zealous for the Law, the
      presumption is that they would also have been hostile
      to the Jerusalem Church.

      Indeed, there is evidence, in Mark, of a hostile
      attitude towards the Jerusalem Church. Thus, in it,
      Jesus declares that his true mother and brothers are
      those who do the will of God--which is a slap at
      James, the brother of Jesus, who headed the Jerusalem
      Church and was zealous in the observance of the Law.
      Too, the disciples, who also were a part of the
      Jerusalem Church, are negatively portrayed. So, in
      Mark--Traditions in Conflict, Ted Weeden (p. 44)
      states, "The non-Markan material we have looked at
      establishes one important point. Some traditions
      prior to Mark had a much higher regard for Peter and
      the disciples than Mark chose to express. In contrast
      to the favorable presentation of the disciples in
      these early non-Markan traditions, Mark prefers to
      tell us the worst about the disciples."

      This also explains the ambivalent portrait of Peter in
      Mark. On the one hand, he is the leader of the Twelve
      and he is the one who proclaims Jesus to be the
      Christ. On the other hand, Jesus calls him Satan at
      one point and he three times denies Jesus. In this
      case, Peter was revered by the Markan community for
      being the person who brought them into Christian
      fellowship without requiring them to obey the dietary
      ordinances of the Law, but was also viewed negatively
      by them because he presumably tried to get them to be
      obedient to the Jerusalem Church and because he was
      apparently willing to obey the dietary ordinances of
      the Law out of political expediency, i.e., to placate
      the circumcision party and James.


      In 3:1-6, after Jesus heals a man at the synagogue in
      Capernaum, the Pharisees and Herodian plot to kill

      Who are these Herodians?

      The obvious candidates are the followers of Herod
      Antipas. He was the tetrarch of Galilee. Also, his
      seat of government was at Tiberius, only about 10
      miles south of Capernaum.

      However, this is unlikely to be the case. The
      Herodians apparently were zealous for the Law because
      (1) they had been upset over Jesus apparently
      violating the commandment to rest on the Sabbath, and
      (2) were allies of the Pharisees, who were zealous for
      the Law. In contrast, Antipas was a known flagrant
      violater of the Law: for he married Herodias, the
      former wife of his still-living brother Herod
      (Philip), in violation of the Law.

      Also, there was another Herod who had resided in
      Tiberius for a while. This is Herod Agrippa I who, at
      some point in the twenties, was appointed by Antipas
      to be the magistrate of Tiberius (Josephus, Ibid.,
      Book XVIII, Chap. VI, Sect. 2). Further, as pointed
      out above, he was zealous for the Law.

      So, I suggest, the Herodians of 3:1-6 were the
      followers of Agrippa. This explains both why some of
      them were at Capernaum, not far from Tiberius, and why
      they were zealous for the Law.

      This is a key point: for Mark does not identify these
      Herodians. Hence, it would appear, the members of the
      Markan community had known that the Herodians were the
      followers of Agrippa.

      This suggests that the Markan community was located at
      Caesarea Maratima. He was well known here because,
      from 41-44 CE, Caesarea Philipi had been a part of his
      realm. Also, he was hated and detested there and one
      of the reasons for this was his zealousness for the
      Law. So, the Markan depiction of his followers as
      evil nogoodnicks who plotted to slay Jesus because he
      placed doing good to a fellow human being above being
      obedient to the Law would have played well there.

      Frank McCoy
      1809 N. English Apt. 17
      Maplewood, MN USA 55109

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