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The African Memory of Mark

Chapter 1

A Boy Named John Mark

This Study Guide on the African Memory of the Mark was produced by Michael McDonald. We thank him for his contribution to our website in introducing our readers to the African Memory of Mark.

In this chapter, Dr. Oden provides a picture of the historical and cultural milieu as background and foundation for the telling of the of how John Mark, according to tradition, came from and returned to Africa to become the first person sent by Jesus' followers to teach firsthand of Christianity on the African continent.



Key Terms and Names

Indigenous: Native to; to originate in or be characteristic of a particular country or region.

Cyrene: A city founded by Greeks on the coast of what is now Libya.  Several New Testament personages were from Cyrene, including Simon, Alexander and Rufus, and John Mark.

Messianic: From Hebrew (Mashiach-anointed one).  In Jewish and Christian circles, Messianic refers to having expectations of a Messiah that is yet to come, or, that he has come in the person of Jesus Christ.  Thus, a Messianic Jew would be, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, a believer in Jesus Christ as well as ethnically Jewish.

Synaxaries: Collections of writing about the saints, known as “hagiographies” which were intended to be read and contemplated as a means to enhance worship and training of Christians.  This term is generally used by the Eastern church, whereas the Roman Catholic Church uses the term Martyrology. (See page 61 for a full discussion.)

Shenouda III: The current Pope of the Coptic church, which is known as the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark, the Evangelist.  He is a scholar of the early histories of the saints, and is an authority on the African memory of John Mark. (For more on Shenouda’s life and work please see page 75.)

Sawirus: Sawirus was a Bishop of the Coptic Church.  He collected early writings of the church in order to create a collection of histories of the saints (“hagiographies”) known as History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.  Because Arab Muslim rulers forbid the reading of literature in Coptic, Sawirus was charged by the church to compile and translate these hagiographies into Arabic.

Catechetical/Catechesis: (Greek katekhesis- oral instruction), Catechetical schools are places where new converts would learn the basic truths of the faith, often by rote memory.  One the very first, if not the first, was founded in Alexandria.



What makes us who we are, culturally?  If we move to another country, at what point are our descendants “native” to that country?


Are you convinced that, by the first century B.C., Cyrene is an African city?  If not, why is it not?


What was it that caused Jewish people’s to want to settle in Cyrene?


What is it that causes us to think of John Mark as something other than “African?”  Is the western assessment of John Mark as something other than African being fair to all the data?  Why or why not?


Is the historical/cultural picture of 1st century Africa reasonably well painted for you by Dr. Oden?  Why or why not?


For further investigation:

A link to an archeological research project:

And another: