Using his three primary sources (set forth in chapter 3) Dr. Oden sets forth the tradition concerning Mark’s call, subsequent service, and death in Africa, showing how it fits within the parameters of scriptural history and practice.
Key Names and Terms
Angelion: A church, known by this name, was founded on the site where it was believed that the Alexandrian mob attempted to burn Mark’s body to ashes after they martyred him. According the African tradition, a storm suddenly arose which extinguished the flame, permitting the body of Mark to be preserved and later to be buried at the Bucalis.
Anianus: According to the traditions concerning Mark, he is the first convert Mark makes upon arriving at Alexandria. He would later go on to be the first bishop of that city, having received his commission by the hands of Mark himself. (A fuller development concerning Anianus begins on p. 143 of The African Memory of Mark.)
Bucalis- Originally the name meant, “the cow pastures.” Known as the burial site of Mark. A church would also come to be associated with the site, commemorating Mark and preserving his remains.
Serapium- a temple and its precincts associated with the worship of the Egyptian god, Serapis. It is also associated with the initial arrest of John Mark before he is martyred by the Alexandrian mob.
The natural progression that follows the command Paul gives Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 is that Timothy must find others who will also carry the message forward. Wouldn't this apply to Mark as well? Do we find ourselves "suspicious" of the call to Alexandria mentioned on page 133? Why? Remember, Dr. Oden only asks for a fair hearing by saying, "If we permit ourselves to take seriously the African narrative...." If we are suspicious, what qualifies our suspicion? Isn't it at least reasonable that the Spirit could call two Apostles to go to the political capital and to the intellectual capital of the Mediterranean?
The trust invested in John Mark by people like Peter, Paul and Barnabas demonstrates that he was a competent person, able to take on great tasks. Dr. Oden then asks the question on page 136: "Who would have been prepared by international experience, language competencies, indigenous credentials and cultural awareness of conditions in Africa?" If you were undertaking a movement to change the world, and you have an important place to make an impact, wouldn't you want to send someone who is a trusted, competent person; perhaps one with firsthand knowledge of your movement? Wouldn't you look for someone who matched the profile of the people to whom you were sending? If we answer, "yes" to these last three questions, what prohibits us from answering Dr. Oden's question with "John Mark?"
Consider the charges Dr. Oden raises on page 137. We ourselves tend to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. But do these causes he lists have merit?
Recall that one of the standards for tradition is that it must be subject to Scripture. Given the telling of Mark's arrival to Alexandria (p.143-145) isn't tradition consistent with what we see the Evangelists’ experience of "the road being made easy" in the scriptures? Compare Philip's experience with the Eunuch, and Peter and John’s experience healing the crippled beggar before the temple (Acts 3) to Mark's practice as revealed in his interaction with Anianus. Is there anything here that is inconsistent with scriptural examples and practices?
The details of John Mark’s martyrdom may shock and surprise us in the west today. Yet it is not hard to see that these kinds of “justice” practices still occur today in the world, thanks in large part to the Internet. One has only to look at the treatment of Libya’s Qaddafi to see this. Why might the accurate remembering and retelling of the details of Mark’s death prove to be important, even crucial for the church in Africa?