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The African Memory of Mark

Chapter 3

The African Roots

Dr. Oden builds on the historical foundation laid in chapter one and demonstrates how the African Memory fits well within it.  Dr, Oden also seeks to show how the African Memory carefully fits within the parameters of historical criticism and Biblical orthodoxy.


Key Names and Terms

Alexandria: In the first century, Alexandria was the premier city of Roman ruled Africa.  Home to a magnificent Library, it was also considered the intellectual capital of the world.  A multicultural city, Alexandria would come to be the home of the Coptic Christianity, and the Seat of the See of St. Mark.  Here, St. Mark the evangelist would be martyred for his faith.  Alexandria would go on to become the home of Christianity’s first Catechetical school, and would produce most of the finest minds of Christianity for the next couple of centuries.

Antioch: An important cosmopolitan city in Syria that would become the first place where the term “Christian” would be applied to followers of Jesus Christ.  A significant number of Gentiles in the church of Antioch were converted by the work of Jewish/Christian missionaries from Cyprus and Cyrene.  Barnabas was commissioned to visit this church and provide leadership and instruction to these new believers.  This church would continue to thrive and later would become one of the more important “schools” of biblical interpretation, being the home of several prominent saints and scholars of the early church.

Aristopolus: A name associated with the father of John Mark in the Hagiographies of St. Mark.  It has been suggested that the Aristobulus of Romans 16:10 was one and the same with this figure, however the fact that he is not named in association with his home in Acts 12:12 makes it likely that he was no longer alive when Paul wrote his letter.

Barnabas (Joseph): a Jew and Levite, was one of the very first Christians.  He is called an Apostle in Acts 14:14, and was most probably one of the 70 disciples of Jesus (Luke 10:1). Barnabas was a wealthy man of the early church noted for his generosity, as well as for his ability to be an encourager.  (His name means “Son of Encouragement” in Greek.)  He was charged with providing leadership and training in the church of Antioch, shortly after its founding. He is also a relative of John Mark’s, as noted in Colossians 4:10, where he is identified as an uncle or perhaps cousin.  Tradition concerning Mark suggests that Barnabas was Mark’s father’s brother.  He was a close associate of Paul’s for several years, and even introduced him to the church and apostles at Jerusalem.  After a dispute with Paul over John Mark, Barnabas went to Cyprus to continue his ministry, taking Mark with him.

Exegesis: the method and process utilized in the explanation or critical interpretation of a biblical text.

Kerygma: From the Greek word, Kerusso, which signifies “preaching” or “proclaimation. ”Kerygma refers to the content of what is preached. Kerygma refers to the unique content of the apostolic preaching of the Christians concerning salvation in Jesus Christ.

Liturgy: a rite, or group of rites that are used for public worship, involving the lay people in the “work” of worship.

Midrash: commentary on the Old Testament.  Today, Midrash attached to the scriptures has come to have an “official” status in Judaism in the second century CE, but the term can refer to older lines of commentary that existed before that time, some of which may have been discarded on subsequent scholarly review by the compilers of the 2nd century Rabbinic Midrash. 

Septuagint: Often referred to as the “LXX,” the Septuagint is a translation, or rather a collection of translations of the Old Testament scriptures.  According to Jewish and Christian tradition, the king of Egypt, Ptolemy II sponsored the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, in order that it might be added to his personal library.  Toward that end, 70 scholars (hence the Roman numeral LXX) were commissioned to create that translation. 

Whether this tradition is true or not, the process of translating the scriptures was begun in the Third century B.C.E. and completed during the 1st Century B.C.E.  Because the Greek language had become a primary language for most inhabitants of the Mediterranean lands, and since Hebrew had receded for most Jews, the Septuagint came to have an “official” status with Judaism by the time of Christ, and it was the primary text for the early Church.



Consider Dr. Oden’s “ironies” from page 44.  Just how are these things ironic, from a western perspective?


Consider Mark’s background.  How is it exceptional, if at all?  How is it like many people who are in the world today?  How might his background prove to be a valuable and important asset to the early church?


Reread pp. 47-53.  How might this section particularly resonate with contemporary Africans?


Reflect on the import of this statement concerning the preservation of tradition:  “The task of the apostolic successor is not to improve upon the message or embellish it or add to it one’s own spin, but rather simply to remember and attest it accurately, credibly and intelligibly (p. 57).”  How does this statement impact our consideration of the traditions and their truthfulness or credibility?


What data in the chapter “African Roots” suggests to us that the “African Memory” about John Mark is more than mere legend? Why listen to the telling?

•   Is there evidence of early retelling and documentation by the Church?

•   Is there early and widespread consensus concerning details and/or the broad story?

•   Is there an incentive for the Church and Christians to keep its story “straight?”

•   What role does God and the Holy Spirit play in confirming the memory?

•   Do the memories of Mark seem consistent and limited within boundaries set/exemplified in scripture?