4. The Topographical Data in the Gospel of Mark

The chronology and topology of the gospel of Mark is a serious topic in an introductory study of the gospel. The narrative outline of the gospel speaks of a period of one year’s activity, spent largely in the regions of Galilee, followed by a final visit to Jerusalem and a promise to return to Galilee. Although scholars like Karl Ludwig Schmidt has recognized that the topographical references are often too loosely connected to speak of any theological motif,[1] a series of scholars consider there is a discernible theological purpose behind Mark’s topography.

Klaus Scholtissek in an article titled “Von Galiläa nach Jerusalem und Zurück: Zur theologischen Topographie im Markusevangelium” (published in Oleum laetitiae: Festgabe für P. Benedikt Schwank) (From Galilee to Jerusalem and back: to the theological topography in the Gospel of Mark) examines the theological aspects of the topographical movement of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.[2]

4.1. Von Galiläa nach Jerusalem und Zurück: Zur theologischen Topographie im Markusevangelium

According to Scholtissek, an overview of the Gospel of Mark could confirm Galilee (Γαλιλαία / Galilaia)[3] as the homeland and the central territory of Jesus’ activities. Capernaum,[4] Bethsaida,[5] Dalmanutha,[6] and the areas around the Sea of Galilee[7] are all in Galilee. Like the Sea of Galilee, the desert (ἔρημος / eremos)[8] is also a strong theological motif. Jesus was not confined to the Jewish territories. Mark refers twice to Jesus’ work in the Decapolis: the healing of the demoniac in Gerasa[9] in 5:1-20 and the healing of a deaf man in 7:31-37. The Decapolis (Δεκάπολις / decapolis, Ten Cities) was a group of ten cities[10] in the Roman province of Syria. It was a centre of Hellenistic culture in a region which was otherwise Semitic. The Phoenician territories of Tyre and Sidon[11] and the villages of Caesarea Philippi,[12] Idumea and the region beyond the Jordan[13] are the other places mentioned in the Gospel. Mark’s note on the gentile mission is marked by the episode of the centurion under the cross saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15:39).

Jesus journey to Jerusalem (Ἱεροσόλυμα / Ierosoluma)[14] is continually emphasised. The Gospel portrays Galilee in stark contrast to Jerusalem. From his homeland, where Jesus is successful, he sets out for Jerusalem, where the rejection and the resistance against him are imprisoned until his execution. The theology of the Way is an important theme in the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark begins with a call to prepare the way (cf. Mk 1:2-3). Seen in the light of the theology of this theology, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem from Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8:27-10:52) is an initiation of the disciples to understand the identity of Jesus Christ as someone who chose suffering as the way to bring the God’s rule.[15] The section ends with the saying of Jesus, before entering Jerusalem, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”  As a response to this it is said, “And immediately he (Bartimaeus) received his sight and followed him on the way” (Mk 10:52).

Scholtissek rightly identifies that the movement of the Gospel of Mark does not end in Jerusalem, but it returns to Galilee. In Mk 14:28 Jesus had promised his disciples to return to Galilee before them after he had been raised up. Mark reiterates this promise of Jesus through the words of the young man, appeared to the women at the tomb, “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mk 16:7). The shorter ending of the Gospel[16] reads that the women did as they were instructed. The open-ended Gospel gives room for the resurrection of Jesus, but more importantly returns to Galilee.

How can one understand this going back to Galilee? The exegetes have tried to understand this using the word ‘before’ (προαάγειν / proaagein). Jesus goes before the disciples to Galilee and his disciples are to follow him. Jesus had started his mission in Galilee. He was on the way to Jerusalem and his disciples followed him. So, now they too must go back to Galilee where they will begin their mission. There they will meet Jesus again. In fact, anyone who reads the Gospel of Mark has already found Jesus in Galilee. Therefore, it is an invitation to start the ‘Way’ again – the way which will start in Galilee and lead to Jerusalem. blog

[1] K. Ludwig Schmidt, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu: Literarkritische Untersuchungen zur ältesten Jesusüberlieferung (Berlin: Trowitzsch & Sohn, 1919), 208-09.

[2] Klaus Scholtissek, “Von Galiläa nach Jerusalem und zurück: Zur theologischen Topographie im Markusevangelium,” in Oleum laetitiae : Festgabe für P. Benedikt Schwank (ed. Gunda Brüske, Anke Haendler-Kläsener, and Benedikt Schwank; JTF 5; Münster: Aschendorff, 2003), 56-77.

[3] Γαλιλαία occurs 14 times in the Gospel of Mark.

[4] Mk 1:21; 2:1; 9:33.

[5] Mk 6:45; 8:22.

[6] Mk 8:10.

[7] Mk 1:162:13; 3:7; 4:1, 39, 41; 5:1, 13, 21; 6:47, 48, 49, 7:31; 9:42; 11:23; also, Gennesaret in 6:53.

[8] Mk 1:3, 4, 12, 13, 35, 45; 6:31, 32; 8:4.

[9] Gerasa is located on the east side of Jordan, near Jabbok about 55 km south-east of the Sea of Galilee.

[10] Gerasa, Scythopolis, Hippos, Gadara, Pella, Philadelphia, Capitolias, Canatha, Raphana, Damascus were these cities. Presently, most of these cities are located in Jordan, but Damascus is in Syria and Hippos and Scythopolis are in Israel.

[11] Mk 3:8; 7:24.

[12] Mk 8:27.

[13] Mk. 3:8.

[14] The Gospel of Mark mentions Ἱεροσόλυμα 10 times (Mk 3:8, 22; 7:1; 10:32, 33; 11:1, 11, 15, 27, 15:41) and once Ἱεροσολυμίτης (people of Jerusalem; Mk1:5). People from Jerusalem come to Galilee to meet Jesus (3:8), and at the same time they are treated as those who oppose Jesus (3:22; 7:1).

[15] Jesus fortells his death and resrrection three times during this jouney (Mk 8:31-9:1; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). This makes it clear about the importance of suffering, if one has to follow the Way of Jesus.

[16] The Gospel of Mark has two endings! The longer one is considered to be a later addition to the gospel which some think had ended abruptly.

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