Geography Error in Mark 11:1
- Mark 11:1 reads: 1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage
and Bethany at the Mount of Olives.
Approaching Jerusalem from Jericho (v. 10:46), Jesus and his
entourage would have reached Bethany then Bethphage--the reverse of
what Mark has.
Many scholars refer to Mark 11:1 as yet another geography error
within the Gospel. Some scholars hold out and take a different view.
In his massive commentary on Mark, Robet Gundry argues that Mark
mentions Jerusalem, the place of fulfillment first and works his way
out from there. Mark had a Jerusalem focused mindset which caused
him to mention Bethphage first since it was closer to Jerusalem.
"The historical present tense of "they draw near", and the mention
of Jerusalem before Bethphage, Bethany and the Mount of Olives even
though Jerusalem lies beyond them emphasize Jerusalem as the place
where Jsus' passion-and-resurrection predictions will be fulfilled.
As a result of mentioning the place of fulfillment first, Mark has
to work backward to Bethphage, probably siuated on the west slope of
the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley to the east of
Jerusalem. Pilgrims coming from Jericho would go through or past the
villages in the reverse order. The awkwardness of two successive but
unappositional phrases beginning with "to", shows how very intent
Mark is to make Jerusalem the center of attention because it will
become the place of fulfilment...." R. Gundry P. 623, Mark A
Commentary on His Apology for the Cross
Gundry also wrote:
"The order Jerusalem-Bethphage-Bethany does not betray topographical
ignorance, for the succeeding narrative shows knowledge that
Jerusalem is Jesus' destination, not an intermediate point on the
way to it."
I suppose Gundry's view that John Mark actually wrote GMark and
lived in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12) could influence his view somewhat. I
do not share this assumption. Marcan authorship aside, I'm curious,
does this theory have much merit? Are there any other examples in
antiquity where this was done?
Matthew 21:1 removes the reference to Bethany which removes any
potential problem. Luke keeps the Marcan order as it is (did he just
Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.
> Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.It's at times like this that I real feel for the poor Gospel
authors. They wrote down their stuff for the benefit of a few fellow
Jesus types and now their works are turned upside down and the
slightest mistake or inconsistancy subject to research papers.
Mark made a slight mistake here. I am not sure it tells us anything
except that Mark made a mistake (which we all do). Only taken with a
lot more evidence could this be taken as part of a case that Mark
didn't know the area. If I say that we headed to Bristol from London
and stopped off at Bath and Swindon, I do not expect anyone to pick
up on the fact that Bath is nearer to Bristol than Swindon. If they
did, I'd suggest they got out doors more often.
While most liberal scholars don't accept divine inspiration, they
continue to labour under the impression that every jot and tittle in
the NT must have some reason for it. And for what it's worth,
Guthrie is clutching at straws when he should just shrug.
Sorry for the slight cynicism, but at times the mill seems to grind
very fine indeed.
Pembroke College, Cambridge
> It's at times like this that I real feel for the poor Gospelfellow
> authors. They wrote down their stuff for the benefit of a few
> Jesus types and now their works are turned upside down and theActually, this incident is just a tiny part of a larger
> slightest mistake or inconsistancy subject to research papers.
consideration of Marcan geography which is in turn just a tiny part
of a larger consideration of Marcan authorship and provenance. I
simply want to be thorough.
> Mark made a slight mistake here. I am not sure it tells usanything > except that Mark made a mistake (which we all do). Only
taken with a > lot more evidence could this be taken as part of a
case that Mark > didn't know the area. If I say that we headed to
Bristol from London > and stopped off at Bath and Swindon, I do not
expect anyone to pick > up on the fact that Bath is nearer to
Bristol than Swindon.
Mark has a "chronological" (or psuedo-Chronological) journey of
Jesus. He is at Jericho in 10:46. From there the order is reversed
with the two villages. Yes, even natives of a land can make
mistakes, but there are of course certain mistakes natives do not
make. This is not conclusive but on a probability scale it would
slightly push me away from its author having lived in or directly
around Jerusalem given the author confuses the order of two
Also, contrary to what you write, the passage constitutes evidence
that Mark did know the area. It tells us several things. You
mentioned several places in your thought example. I have no idea
where Bath and Swindon are. I've never heard of them and could never
describe them in a journey as Mark has done with his locations. But
Mark knows of Jericho, he knew, apparently of the major road leading
from their to Jerusalem (on Meier's maps in MJ series), he knew of
Jerusalem and several surrounding villages (Bethany, Bethphage, etc).
The text shows Mark did know of the land but he reversed the order
of two towns. Does a resident (native?) of that area make this
mistake? Also it should be noted that this is not the only
Palestinian geography error in Mark either. I take it he didn't live
near Geresa and wasn't directly familiar with the Decapolis either.
>in > the NT must have some reason for it. And for what it's worth,
> While most liberal scholars don't accept divine inspiration, they
> continue to labour under the impression that every jot and tittle
> Guthrie is clutching at straws when he should just shrug.Details are what drive sound scholarship IMO. On the grand scheme of
things this single detail and village reversal isn't going to change
much. Questions of authorship are important enough though--though
this is a rather dead issue as the author of Mark is anonymous.
Though I'd still rather learn all I can about the "author detectable
by contents". Its a part of source evaluation which is a critical
cornerstone of scholarship.
- This raises a more general question for me. How wide spread was the
use of maps during the 1st Century? In other words, is there
evidence that maps were used extensively, especially by authors of
texts written decades after the fact (here I am thinking of authors
like Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Plutarch, etc.), or that their
knowledge of places was all that reliable, especially when taken from
what would have been second hand sources? The author of Acts, for
example, gets some pretty obscure details on places and people right,
but is this more the exception, or the rule for ancient documents of
Calgary, AB, Canada
- At 10:18 AM 8/5/2004, you wrote:
>This raises a more general question for me. How wide spread was theThis is a good question. Consider that there were no printing presses, of
>use of maps during the 1st Century? In other words, is there
>evidence that maps were used extensively, especially by authors of
>texts written decades after the fact (here I am thinking of authors
>like Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Plutarch, etc.), or that their
>knowledge of places was all that reliable, especially when taken from
>what would have been second hand sources? The author of Acts, for
>example, gets some pretty obscure details on places and people right,
>but is this more the exception, or the rule for ancient documents of
course, so that each map, as well as each book, had to be copied by hand.
Its a whole lot easier (and perhaps more tedious) to copy a book than to
copy a map. I suspect that Roman military commanders had access to maps, as
well as the chief civilian administrators. It seems to me that I recall
that there was an emerging class of international merchant traders who
dealt only with governments and wealthy individuals; they probably had some
access to maps, too, because it was important in their business. I would
guess that maybe half a dozen people in Judea, and another half dozen in
Galilee, had access to maps. Probably the numbers in Alexandria were much
larger. Antioch, maybe somewhat larger. Damascus, maybe half a dozen to a
In other words, Jesus and his friends probably had no access to maps
whatsoever. Mark's access to maps would have depended on who his patrons
really were. I doubt that he had any maps of his own, unless he made some
sketch maps while viewing someone else's map. However, even making a decent
sketch map copy of someone else's map assumes a level of geographical
awareness and map sense that may have been uncommon. We're so used to maps
that we take the perspective of a map for granted. But I'm just speculating.
Let me illustrate. In my days as an archaeologist, I would of course make
drawings of layers of my portion of the site as the excavation proceeded,
and of the soil profiles in the sides of the excavated area. My trained eye
knew what to look for, and provided guidance about what features were
important enough to draw, and what features to ignore. [This is a highly
developed sense, akin to a musician being able to pick out the part played
by the third clarinet in the second movement of a symphony, just by
listening to the recording. ] When in the course of work I would try to
discuss what we were doing with my workmen, sometimes I attempted to use my
drawings to try to help in the process of communication. Mostly, these
workmen just stared blankly at my drawings, unable to comprehend the
relationship between my drawings and the ground they were working in.
Conceivably, my drawings weren't very good <g>. But a map represents a
symbol environment that can be at least as mystifying as a printed page to
someone who is illiterate.
This has a bearing on the historical value of GJohn. It is sometimes
suggested (e.g., Brown?) that John shows special knowledge of palestinian
geography, and this is used as evidence for the author's historical
credibility. Good maps make it easier to fake geographical knowledge. The
paucity of good maps makes it easier to argue for genuine personal
At any rate, a good question, and I hope that someone with more knowledge
of ancient maps and who used them will respond.
Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
Northern Arizona University
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