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The African Memory of Mark


Glossary of African Memory of Mark



African Memory

The collected traditions writings and consensus regarding African heritage and history kept by the people of the continent of Africa; “...The characteristic way of looking at history from within the special experience and outlook of the continent of Africa (p. 27).”



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. 




A church, known by this name, was founded on its site commemorating the place where 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.



According to the traditions concerning Mark, he was the first convert Mark made 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.




Anti-Marcionite/ Marcionite/ Marcion

A Marcionite is a person who holds to the teachings of a man named Marion.  Marcion taught the rejection of the Old Testament, which he depicted as the story of an evil Hebrew god.  This evil god is opposed by the “good god” of portions of the New Testament, which included an edited version of Luke (edited by Marcion, himself) and the works of the apostle Paul.  The orthodox consensus condemned Marcion and his teachings as heretical. 


Anti-Marcionism on p. 88 of The African Memory of Markrefers to the polemical efforts by the early church to stop Marcionism.


Antioch (of Syria)

Antioch of Syria would become the first place where the term “Christian” would be applied to followers of Jesus Christ.  Antioch’s church had a large number of gentiles who became Christians being converted by the preaching of Jewish believers from Cyprus and Cyrene.  Barnabas was commissioned to go to this church and provide leadership and instruction to these new believers.  This church would continue to thrive and later become one of the more important “schools” of Christian Doctrine, being the home of several prominent saints and scholars of the early church.


Arab Conquest

The Arab Conquest was the expansion of the Muslim empire, primarily by the swords and feet of the Arabs, across the Middle East, from modern day Morocco, to Persia, and into India.  North Africa was conquered during the middle of the 7th century.



The native language spoken in the Middle East during the first century.  It is a western semitic language, related to Hebrew and to Arabic.  Jewish people of the Diaspora, which would have included John Mark, would likely have learned this language, as well as Greek and possibly Latin, along with some Classical Hebrew to facilitate the reading of the scriptures.  Today it is still spoken in some pockets of Syria, but it is a dying language likely to soon disappear.



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 before Paul could have written his letter.


Athanasius- see Major Figures


Augustine- See Major Figures



Babylon was an ancient city located in Mesopotamia.  It became home, by means of the Babylonian exile under Nebuchadnezzar, the home of a large community of Jews.  It has associations from early in history, of hostility toward God, idolatry, witchcraft, and all sorts of immorality.  Its name has become proverbial for a city of wickedness.


Peter writes in his first Epistle (5:13) that “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and do does my son, Mark (NASB).”  Because of Rome’s wickedness, most commentators typically take this statement as being “code” by the early Christians for Rome.  Others have suggested that the reference to Babylon is literal, and this demonstrates, for them, that Peter did spend some time there.


Dr. Oden, in the African Memory, shows that there is a third, and less well-known Babylon in Egypt, in what would now be considered a part of Cairo.  Dr.  Oden develops this idea most fully in the chapter “Mark with Peter and Paul (p. 110ff).”  The name Babylon has been associated with Old Cairo for hundreds of years prior to the Common Era.  The Ben Ezra synagogue, with its famous Genizeh is also a part of this location, further demonstrating an ancient Jewish connection with this location.


Barnabas, Joseph

Barnabas, 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.  Because of this, he went and brought in his fellow Jew, Paul to help him in training new disciples. 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, when the Christians were suspicious of Paul.  After a dispute with Paul over John Mark, Barnabas went to Cyprus to continue his ministry, taking Mark with him. 


The Berber is an ethnic group distributed across and indigenous to North Africa. 


Originally the name meant, “The cow pastures.”  When the mob finally finished John Mark, and sought to burn his body to ashes, according to the African traditions, a storm suddenly arose which prevented the burning from taking place.  Subsequently, Mark’s body would be recovered and buried at Bucalis.  A church would also come to be associated with the site, commemorating Mark and preserving his remains.


A city in Northern Israel/ Palestine, of the region of the Galilee, lying on the northwestern shore the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum is associated with much of the early ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as with the life of some of the Apostles, particularly Peter.  The synagogue described as having been built by a centurion


Catechetical (catechesis)

From Greek (katekhesis- oral instruction), Catechetical schools are places where new converts can assemble and learn the basic truths of the faith, often learned by rote.  One of the very first, if not the first, was founded in Alexandria.  The catechesis is the tradition that was passed down and memorized in the catechetical school.


Clement of Alexandria- SeeMajor Figures



“Copt” is an 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.

Cyprian of Carthage SeeMajor Figures


The chief city of a group of five (called a Pentapolis) cities, which were founded on the coast of what, is now modern day Libya.  Because it was the chief city, the land and the surrounding cities became known as “Cyrenaica.”  Founded by Greeks fleeing a famine it became the home to a diverse population of indigenous Berbers and Jewish refugees.  Romans and other African people groups were also a part of this population.

Several New Testament personages were from Cyrene, including Simon, who bore the cross of Christ on the way to Calvary.  A group of men from Cyrene also helped to create a synagogue called “the Synagogue of the Freedmen,” of which the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was a part.   Christians from Cyrene, including Simon, Alexander, Rufus and John Mark play an important role in spreading the gospel during the first century. 

The ancient city became an object of interest to the Gaddafi regime before recent events and subsequent overthrow of his government. 


The scattering of a people group from the lands they have established as an ancestral home.  In this book and in most Christian and Jewish literature, it refers to the scattering of the Jewish people that took place first with the Babylonian exile, and then second time with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

Docetic (Docetism)

Docetism was an early heresy that taught that Jesus did not come to earth with a physical body.  He only seemed to have a physical body.



That which pertains to or is associated with a church or denomination.



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.”


Dr. Oden’s works do not have in view an ecumenicism founded upon deal making and political alliances between Denominations, but rather an organic growth of unity and cooperation founded upon the work of the Holy Spirit.



Eusebius was an early Christian scholar, Bishop and church historian.  He wrote the Ecclesiastical Historyand much of modern scholarship concerning the history of the early church owes thanks to Eusebius’ work.


Method and process utilized to understand a given text and its own message from the view point of the author.  The goal is to remove as much as possible the presuppositions and perspective of the reader to understand as much as possible the intention of the original writer.


A Gestalt is a pattern or configuration of facts, truths or phenomena that has an organic unity not ascribable to 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 picture that Dr. Oden uses is that of a mosaic, or the use of pointillism to draw the bigger picture.

Green Mountain

Known in Arabic as Jebel Akhdar, Green Mountain is a mountain in Northern Libya, which is fertile and lush with vegetation due to large amounts of rain that falls in the area.  Ancient Cyrene is situated on its slopes.

Hellenizing (Hellenized)

Hellenizing refers to the impact of Greek culture and thought upon the world wherever Greek culture went.  Greek language, thanks to Alexander spread worldwide, and along with it the culture and thought of the Greek playwrights and philosophers.  The word “Hellenize” comes from the Greek word they used to describe themselves: “The Hellenic.”  It was the culture of power throughout the time of the growth of the early church, and its influences also fundamentally changed the culture of even many Jewish people, such that they became known as “Hellenic” Jews.  The influence of Hellenic culture can be seen even in the way Jewish people named their own children, including Alexander son of Simon of Cyrene, and in names like Aristobulus.

Indigenous (Indigenized)

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


An early scholar of the Christian church, most famous for translating what, for many years, was the official Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate.  His scholarship was very broad, and he also commented extensively on church historical matters, including tradition concerning the apostles.


From a greek word, Kerusso, which signifies “preaching”, Kerygma refers to the content of what is preached (Johannes Luow and Eugene Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains.  Hyper-text version, prepared by Oak Tree Software, ver. 3.7). Kerygma refers to the unique content of the preaching of the Christians concerning Jesus Christ.

Koine Greek

Koine comes from the Greek term for “Common.”  It was the common language of everyday people in the Mediterranean world, particularly in the eastern portions.  It is labeled “Koine” in order to distinguish it from classical Greek, the language of Plato, and from modern Greek.

Letter to Theodore, the

A highly controversial letter, or rather, a copy of a portion of a letter, purporting to be from Clement of Alexandria.  Authorities are divided as to whether or not it is a legitimate letter, or if it is a later forgery.  Dr. Oden cites this work as being a potential early witness to the presence of Mark in Africa.

Levite (Levitical)

Of or pertaining to the family of people descended from Levi, one of the sons of Jacob.  Levi’s family would provide Israel with the order of priests and temple workers for the nation.  One family born from one of Levi’s descendants, the family of Aaron, would provide the actual priesthood.   The rest of the family of Levites was charged with care for the temple and instructed the people in the Torah and the Prophets. 

Liturgy (Liturgical)

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

Maghreb (Maghrebim)

The Maghreb is a regional term meant to describe the western portion of the North Africa, beyond Egypt.  The Maghrebim, in The African Memory of Mark, refers to peoples of the Maghreb, or the native Berbers, who converted the Judaism (19).

Martyrium Marci (see page 64 of The African Memory of Mark)

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.


From Hebrew (Moshiac-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. 

Midrash (Midrashic)

Commentary on the Old Testament scriptures.  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.  

Monestary of St. Macarius

Founded in 360 A.D. by St. Macarius, this famed monastery was home to a fine library which proved important during the compilation of the Hagiographies that would become the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.


Monica was the Numidian mother of St. Augustine and a fervent Christian who prayed for many years for the conversion of her husband and son.


A kingdom of the Berbers that was part of the Carthaginian empire, and was later absorbed by Rome.

Origen-See Major Figures

Orthodox(Capital “O”)

This refers to the collection of churches, which primarily are based in Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, from such cities as Antioch, Alexandria, and Moscow. 

Pachomius- See Major Figures


A bishop of the early church who was also one of its earliest scholars.  He wrote several books, of which little has remained to this day.  He is reported to have associated with some of the Apostles and others who personal heard directly from Jesus Christ, and recorded for us the teaching that Mark was associated with Peter during his time in Rome, and that Mark also wrote the gospel associated with his name at the request of Peter’s hearers.


A city on the frontier of Egypt as it faces toward Palestine.


A grouping of five cities on the coast of Africa, founded by the Greeks.  One of them is Cyrene, which was the chief city of the Pentapolis.


A woman of Carthage who became a martyr of the Christian faith, having suffered bravely and willingly in the name of Christ.  She was subjected torment by wild beasts, and then finished by a gladiator.

Peter of Alexandria

A martyr and Bishop of Alexandria.  He was martyred for his faith in AD 311.  Before he was taken, tradition holds that he went to St. Mark’s church where the remains of John Mark were housed to pray.


Philo was a Jew and Philosopher living in Alexandria.  He was an older contemporary of Jesus Christ.  Philo’s chief contribution was to fuse Greek Philosophy and Jewish traditions, in order to  make the Jewish writings and belief system more palatable to the Greek mind.  As it turns out, Christians, especially those of Alexandria, would go on to be the primary users of his work.  He was an observer of Alexandrian life, and wrote about a group of ascetics, which Philo called “Therapeutae,” whom Eusebius would go on to claim were early Christians.  However, it is not likely that this is so. 


Named in Mark 15:21, was a Jewish son of a man from Cyrene, Simon.   The manner in which is he named suggests that he was well known to Mark’s audience, and to Mark himself. 

Sawirus (See page 65 of The African Memory of Mark)

A Bishop of the Coptic Church.  He collected early writings of the church in order to create a collection of histories of the Saints (known as “Hagiographies”), which is known as History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.  Because the Arab Muslim rulers had forbidden the reading of literature in Coptic, Sawirus was charged by the church with compiling and translating hagiographies (studies of the Saints) for the Coptic church into Arabic.

Septuagint (LXX)

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. 


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.

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 particularly an authority on John Mark. A fuller discussion of Shenouda’s life and work can be found on page 75.


An ancient medicine that Cyrene was famous for.  It was made from a plant related to the genus ferula, but is believed to now be extinct.

Simon of Cyrene

Named as the man who bore the cross of Christ (Mark 15:21) and was the father of Alexander and Rufus.  These individuals, so prominently named, clearly were well known to the writers and audiences of the gospels. 


Collections of writing about the saints, known as “Hagiographies” which were intended to be read and contemplated to enhance worship and training of Christians.  The Eastern Church generally uses this term, whereas the Roman Catholic Church uses the term Martyrology.  See page 61 for a full discussion.


Bishop of Ptolemais, but born of wealthy parents near Cyrene.


From two greek words that mean “to see together.”  Synoptic accounts of an event refer to the fact that while the minor details may differ in the telling, nonetheless, the accounts are describing the same basic story.  The gospels are one example where the “synoptic gospel” writers tell the same basic story: Matthew, Mark and Luke.  There might be a small difference in how the tales are told, but nonetheless, they tell the same basic story. 


A city located in what is now Turkey.  Paul was associated with this city by birth, and returned there for refuge after two attempts upon his life (Acts 9:30).   With Joseph Barnabas, whose home was the Greek island of Cyprus, and John Mark from Africa, the first missionary journey of Paul brought representatives from the three known continents to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tertullian-SeeMajor Figures

Universal Apostle

An appellation for John Mark from early African traditions (see p. 53).

Upper Room

The location where Jesus took the last supper with his disciples.    The site is commemorated today by the Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem.  Its history is well attested back into antiquity.

The Compiler of this Glossary is wishes to acknowledge that Merriam-Webster and wikipedia were helpful in his work.