3. Intended Audience and the Place of Composition of Mark

Rome has been considered traditionally as the place of origin for Mark’s Gospel. But, it was not without doubts and questions. Telford identifies five main places of origin in the reception history of the gospel: (1) Rome, (2) Alexandria, (3) Galilee, (4) Antioch, and (5) Rural and small-town southern Syria.[1] Let us examine them briefly.

3.1. Rome

This has been the traditional place of origin for Mark’s Gospel. According to Eusebius Clement of Alexandria (in the late second century) believed that:

When Peter had publicly preached the word at Rome, and by the Spirit had proclaimed the Gospel, those present, who were many, exhorted Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been spoken, to make a record of what was said: and that he did this, and distributed the Gospel among those that asked him. And that when the matter came to Peter’s knowledge he neither strongly forbade it nor urged it forward.[2]

The Anti-Marcionite Prologue also suggests Italy as the location. Some other factors also support Rome as the location for Mark’s audience. In 1 Pet 5:13, where Peter calls Mark ‘my son,’ he indicates that he and Mark were in Babylon, a reference to Rome according to many scholars.[3] Some scholars points to the frequent Latinisms to argue for Rome. But that is problematic as most of the Latin terms used in Mark are military, judicial or economic in nature and would be present throughout the Roman Empire.[4] But the referring to four watches in the night (cf. 6:48; 13:35) is more Roman than Jewish. And again, contrary to the view that Mark wrote for a marginalized community, there is the arguments that the audience of Mark are people who have tasted success. Their problems include self-satisfaction, competition for positions of leadership, and taking the gospel for granted.[5] Another fact that Mark came to be used by Matthew and Luke as source suggest that it emanated from an important church, possibly that of the Rome.

But, as we have seen earlier, this traditional understanding of Mark being a disciple of Peter is questionable. If Mark is not dependent on Peter, then the traditional understanding of Rome being its place of origin is also questionable. Moreover, most of these earlier Christian writers depends on Papias’ tradition,[6] which we have already found out to be doubtful. Therefore, more and more scholars today reject Rome as the place of origin of Mark’s Gospel.

3.2. Alexandria

It was suggested by John Chrysostom. It is derived from a later tradition given by Eusebius that associated Mark and Egypt.[7] But this claim is too shallow and it is not considered seriously by scholars.

3.3. Galilee

The Gospel story may be Jewish, but it is strongly tilted in favour of Galileans. Jerusalem plays no positive role and the majority of scenes are set in an itinerant mission in the Galilean villages. Moreover, these Galilean and Judaean place-names throughout without explanation. “Galilee has therefore been suggested as the place of origin (e.g. Lohmeyer, Marxsen) and such a geographical location would cohere believably with the chronological context of the Romano—Jewish war and the circumstances of a Palestinian-Christian community experiencing the situation underlying ch. 13, and expecting Jesus’ near return.”[8] H.N. Roskam also suggests Galilee as the place of Markan community based on Mk 13:21-22. He identifies Mark’s expression of false messiahs to be royal pretenders who were present in Palestine in the first century CE, especially during and after the Jewish war, that is, in the period when Mark wrote his Gospel.[9] He further says, “The role of the three Galilean women in Mk 15 and 16, Mark’s special interest in Galilee in Mk 14:28 and 16:7, and his correct and detailed geographical references to places in Galilee all suggest that the Gospel is likely to have been written in Galilee.”[10] But this emphasis on Galilee need not imply a literal connection, for there are strong indications of a Gentile-Jewish community of Mark. And moreover, why would he have written in Greek if it was intended for a Galilean audience? Another fact which would probably be difficult to explain will be the use of “Syrophoenician” in Mk 7:26. “Phoenician” alone would have been enough, unless it was written in a faraway place where it would be necessary to specify that the woman was a Syrophoenician.

3.4. Antioch

The presence of a Gentile-Jewish community in Antioch argues for it. Antioch was an early mission of Christians (cf. Acts 11:19-30). Antioch had also connections with Peter (cf. Gal. 2:11), Mark’s uncle Barnabas (cf. Acts 11:22–26) and with Cyrene (cf. Acts 11:20) from where the Simon said to have come (Mk 15:21). Antioch was also ranked alongside Rome and Alexandria. All the more, it was a powerful church too! Therefore, the sociological arguments on the power issues which was mentioned in favour of Rome is also applicable to Antioch. However, these arguments are not so convincing to locate the Markan community in Antioch.

3.5. Rural and small-town southern Syria

“More recently, in Community of the New Age (1977), H.C. Kee has argued that the cultural and linguistic links of the Gospel are with eastern Mediterranean village life, and suggests rural and small-town southern Syria as the base for the Markan community.” [11] But this suggestion is more sociological and it could be a far-stretched understanding of Markan community.

3.6. Concluding Notes on the Intended Audience and the Place of Composition

What is, then, more probable? Mark’s audience may have contained many Greek-speaking Gentiles. He translate Aramaic expressions into Greek and at times comments on Jewish customs (cf. 7:2–4; 14:12; 15:42). Then, there are numerous Latin words translated into Greek (cf. 5:9; 15:16; 15:39, 6:27: 15:15; 6:37; 12:42). This does not possibly exclude the Jews reading the Gospel, but surely these are aimed at Gentiles. And it is also probable that the audience, Mark had in mind, are already Christians for his work seems to assume the appreciation of the OT in some way (ref. many citations from the Scriptures starting with 1:2-3). Moreover, he takes for granted the knowledge of some of the Christian practices (reference to Jesus baptizing with Holy Spirit) or knowledge. So, given all the possibilities, it is difficult to exactly pinpoint a place of composition and its intended audience.

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[1] Telford, Mark, 23.

[2] Clement of Alexandria is cited by Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.14.5-7.

[3] J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (ed. Ralph P. Martin; WBC 49; DALLAS, TX: Word Books, 1988), 310–311.

[4] Joel Marcus, “The Jewish War and the Sitz Im Leben of Mark,” JBL 111 (3 1992): 443–446.

[5] Juel, Mark, 20.

[6] See also H.N. Roskam, The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in its Historical and Social Setting (NovTSup 114; Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004), 76-81.

[7] Cf. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.16 (McGiffert, NPNF2).

[8] Telford, Mark, 24.

[9] Roskam, The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark, 95-96.

[10] Roskam, The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark, 113-114.

[11] Telford, Mark, 26.

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