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The African Memory of Mark

Chapter 11

The Puzzle of Mark

Dr. Oden grants us the opportunity to step back and reassess biblical, historical and archeological data to look at the mosaic (gestalt) that this assemblage of information presents us.  He argues that there are internal connections across the pieces of the puzzle which, given the number of them, show that there is a foundational order that shows there is something important here to be realized and discovered.


Key Terms and Names


Gestalt: a pattern or configuration of facts, truths or phenomena which has an organic unity not ascribable by or derived from the simple summation of the properties of its parts.  In The African Memory of Mark,the collection of the various data concerning Mark creates a gestalt, a picture which is built of parts which by themselves don’t mean a whole lot, but taken together tell a story of a saint which would not be guessed by merely looking at the parts.  On page 234, another image that Dr. Oden uses is that of a mosaic, or the use of pointillism to draw the bigger picture.



Like a lawyer skillfully presenting his case, Dr. Oden confronts us with some critical questions. 


Since Mark was so clearly a vital and important associate of people like Peter and Paul, and even “secondary” figures like Timothy, who had his own impact for the gospel, is there anything in the record that says he could not have been sent on an important mission to Africa (p.221)?


Dr. Oden writes: “While there is no explicit mention in the New Testament that Mark taught and died in Alexandria, the hypothesis has extraordinary inferential support... (p.221).” Don’t the reasons listed by Dr. Oden provide a compelling “big picture” that suggests that the African tradition fills in the picture puzzle of Mark left by the New Testament?


Roman Catholic tradition (p. 227), the Synaxaries, and the New Testament converge together regarding Peter and his return to Mark’s mother’s home after his release.  Isn’t this a strong confirmation of the African consensus concerning Mark?  Behind the scenes of these three converging tales is the relationship of Peter to Mark and his family.  Is this convincing to you as to whether or not there was a close connection of Peter to Mark which would argue he would be a trusted emissary to Africa?


Dr. Oden now adds literary and archeological evidence to the converging picture.  Do these help to build a picture of Mark as an eyewitness, a “Beholder of God?”  What are the implications of this for New Testament scholarship?  What about for Africa?


Dr. Oden writes (230): “Westerner’s scoff at the lack of evidence.”  Again we find ourselves in the philosophical dilemma that Dr. Oden has posed for us before.  Doesn’t the issue come down to this: a lack of positive assertions of Mark’s presence in Africa in modern “western scholarship” approved materials? 


Isn’t the “lack of evidence” the result, as Dr. Oden points out, the result of a strange cultural/parochial refusal to admit as evidence materials and data that came from Africa?  


Dr. Oden has presented a wealth of evidence for us, and while each piece may not be conclusive at this point, don’t they paint a broader picture that is fairly compelling, or at least worth investigating further?  What steps would you suggest might be helpful in uncovering the “Real History” behind the St. Mark of the synaxaries?