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The African Memory of Mark

Chapter 2

Defining African Memory

Dr. Oden describes and defines what he means by “African Memory,” briefly states what this memory must contend with in academic circles, and then outlines what the African Memory concerning Mark contains.


Key Terms and Names

Copts: “Copt” is the Arabic name for the ethnic descendants of the ancient Egyptians, which itself is derived from a shortened form of the ancient Greek name for Egypt, “Aiguptos.”   They are currently a minority group in Egypt, and the vast majority of them are Christian.


Ecumenical: Unity between churches of different denominations, or activities that promote unity or reunification of different church movements around the world. 


Consider, however this discussion of the term “Ecumenical” from Dr. Oden’s book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind:

      “A New Ecumenism: What the Holy Spirit is manifestly doing in Africa today is very different from engineering institutional mergers through negotiation or strategic planning (Old Ecumenism.) It is rather through grace quietly awakening faith. That faith is surely manifesting itself in the works of love, for love is what faith does. Those whose faith is active in love are living out true religion as defined by the Epistle of James, whether they call themselves Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, or Charismatics.  They embody the one family of God in different family memories and genetic variations.  The recognition of emerging unity is itself what the Holy Spirit is enabling in the new African ecumenism: enabling persons to identify their deeper unity in Jesus Christ: north and south, doctrinal and practical, liturgical and dogmatic.  It is not a matter of negotiating or dialoguing in order to produce institutional unity. The challenge is to elicit behavior transformed in personal faith in Jesus Christ which finds ways of loving the next one we meet (the neighbor) as Christ loved us.”


Martyrium Marci: An early account of the life and martyrdom of St. Mark.  Also known as the Acts of Mark.  It was a source of Sawirus in his compilation of History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.  (See page 64 for Dr. Oden’s discussion of Martyrium Marci.)



Consider the qualifiers for something to be an “African Memory.”  Why is it significant that “Consent to the event is uncoerced (p. 27)?”


In what ways can you see already that John Mark can be a significant beginning point for unity in Africa (p. 29)?


Reflect on Dr. Oden’s definition of what constitutes Africa, and consider Dr. Oden’s words on page 30: “It is an odd but understandable question to ask: Just how African was Augustine...?”   Was he or wasn’t he?  Why or why not?


“Properly setting forth the succession of leaders following Mark has been a central concern of African Christianity.  Getting this succession right has been crucial to the establishment and transmission of apostolic truth in early African Christianity.  The list was never treated casually (p. 34).”  What is the significance of this statement for us in our present study?  The first answer is “Its about establishing political power.”  But is that the only possible answer?  What others might there be?  What is at stake without such a list?


Do we take something away from Africa if we automatically define people like Athanasius, Augustine (who had a Numidian mother) and Tertullian as “non-African?”  What is lost?


For further investigation:

An online version of the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria can be found  here.

A link to a Coptic Church news site can be found here.