[XTalk] Was Mark Written at Caesarea Maratima?
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.
THE CRY OF THE CENTURION
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
THE MARATIME MOTIF
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
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
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.
ALL FOODS ARE CLEAN
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
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
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
WHY WRITE A NARRATIVE GOSPEL?
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
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
THE QUOTE OF JOHN
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
TENSION WITH JERUSALEM
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
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.
1809 N. English Apt. 17
Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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