22018621911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 17 — Mark, StJames Vernon Bartlet

MARK, ST, the traditional author of the second Gospel. His name occurs in several books of the New Testament, and doubtless refers in all cases to the same person, though this has been questioned. In the Acts of the Apostles (xii. 12) we read of “John, whose surname was Mark,” and gather that Peter was a familiar visitor at the house of his mother Mary, which was a centre of Christian life in Jerusalem. That he was, as his Roman surname would suggest, a Hellenist, follows from the fact that he was also cousin (“nephew” is a later sense of ἀνεψιός, see J. B. Lightfoot on Col. iv. 10) of Barnabas, who belonged to Cyprus. When Barnabas and Paul returned from their relief visit to Judaea (cA.D. 46), Mark accompanied them (xii. 25). Possibly he had shown in connexion with their relief work that practical capacity which seems to have been his distinctive excellence (cf. 2 Tim. iv. 11). When, not long after, they started on a joint mission beyond Syria, Mark went as their assistant, undertaking the minor personal duties connected with travel, as well as with their work proper (xiii. 5). As soon, however, as their plans developed, after leaving Cyprus and on arrival at Perga in Pamphylia (see Paul), Mark withdrew, probably on some matter of principle, and returned to Jerusalem (xiii. 13). When, then, Paul proposed, after the Jerusalem council of Acts xv., to revisit with Barnabas the scenes of their joint labours, he naturally demurred to taking Mark with them again, feeling that he could not be relied on should fresh openings demand a new policy. But Barnabas stood by his younger kinsman and “took Mark and sailed away to Cyprus” (xv. 38 seq.). Barnabas does not reappear, unless we trust the tradition which makes him an evangelist in Alexandria (Clem. Hom. i. 9 seq., cf. the attribution to him of the Alexandrine Epistle of Barnabas).

When Mark appears once more, it is in Paul’s company at Rome, as a fellow-worker joining in salutations to Christians at Colossae (Col. iv. 10; Philem. 24). We gather, too, that his restoration to Paul’s confidence took place some time earlier, as the Colossians had already been bidden by oral message or letter to welcome him if he should visit them. This points to a reconciliation during Paul’s last sojourn in Jerusalem or Caesarea. Not long after Col. iv. 10 Mark seems to have been sent by Paul to some place in the province of Asia, lying on the route between Ephesus and Rome. For in 2 Tim. iv. 11 Paul bids Timothy, “Pick up Mark and bring him with thee, for he is useful to me for ministering.”

Once more Mark’s name occurs in the New Testament, this time with yet another leader, Peter, the friend of his earliest Christian years in Jerusalem, to whom he attached himself after the deaths of Barnabas and Paul. Peter’s words, “Mark, my son,” show how close was the spiritual tie between the older and the younger man (1 Pet. v. 13); and as he is writing from Rome (“Babylon,” since Paul’s death and the change of policy it implied), this forms a link between the New Testament and early tradition, which speaks of Mark as an Evangelist writing his Gospel under the influence of Peter’s preaching (in Rome). This is the essence of the tradition preserved from “the elders of former days” by Clement of Alexandria (in Eus. ii. 15, vi. 14), a tradition probably based on Papias’s record (cf. Eus. iii. 39) of the explanation given by “the Elder” (John) as to the contrast in form between Mark’s memoirs of Peter’s discourses and the Gospel of Matthew (see Gospels; Papias), but defining the place where these memoirs were written as Rome. That he acted to some degree as Peter’s interpreter or dragoman (ἑρμηνεύς), owing to the apostle’s imperfect mastery of Greek, is held by some but denied by others (e.g. by Zahn). His rôle throughout his career was servus servorum dei; and the fact that he was this successively to Barnabas, Paul and Peter, helps to show the essential harmony of their message.

The identification of the author of the second Gospel with Mark, which we owe to tradition, enables us to fill in our picture of him a little further. Thus it is possible that Mark was himself the youth (νεανίσκος) to whom his Gospel refers as present at Jesus’s arrest (xiv. 51 seq.; cf. his detailed knowledge as to the place of the last supper, 13 seq.). It is probably as evangelist, and not in his own person, that he became known as “he of the stunted extremities” (κολοβοδάκτυλος, “curt-fingered”), a title first found in Hippolytus (Haer. vii. 30), in a context which makes its metaphorical reference to his Gospel pretty evident.[1] It was too as evangelist that he became personally a subject of later interest, and of speculative legends due to this, e.g. he was one of the Seventy (first found in Adamantius, Dial. de recta fide, 4th century), he was the founder of the Alexandrine Church (recorded as a tradition by Eusebius, ii. 16) and its first bishop (id. ii. 2), and was author of the local type of liturgy (cf. the Acts of Mark, ch. vii., not earlier than the end of the 4th century).

As to his last days and death nothing is really known. It is possible—even probable, if we accept the theory that he had already[2] been there with Barnabas—that Alexandria was his final sphere of work, as the earliest tradition on the point implies (the Latin Prologue, and Eusebius as above, probably after Julius Africanus in the early 3rd century), and as was widely assumed in the 4th century. That he died and was buried there is first stated by Jerome (De vir. ill. 8), to which his Acts adds the glory of martyrdom (cf. Ps.-Hippolytus, De LXX Apostolis).

Literature.—H. B. Swete, The Gospel acc. to St Mark (1898), Introduction, § I., where the authorities are fully cited; also the art. in Hastings’s Dict. Bible. The Patristic and other legends are discussed at length by R. A. Lipsius, Die apokr. Apostelgesch. u.s.w. (1884), ii. 2, and T. Schermann, Propheten- und Apostellegenden (1907), 285 seq. (with special reference to Ps.-Hippolytus and Ps.-Dorotheus).  (J. V. B.) 

Medieval Legends.

The majority of medieval writers on the subject state that Mark was a Levite; but this is probably no more than an inference from his supposed relationship to Barnabas. The Alexandrian tradition seems to have been that he was of Cyrenaean origin; and Severus, a writer of the 10th century, adds to this the statement that his father’s name was Aristobulus, who, with his wife Mary, was driven from the Pentapolis to Jerusalem by an invasion of barbarians (Severus Aschimon in Renaudot, Hist. patriarch. alex., p. 2). In the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas, which profess to be written by him, he speaks of himself as having been formerly a servant of Cyrillus, the high priest of Zeus, and as having been baptized at Iconium. The presbyter John, whom Papias quotes, says distinctly that “he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him” (Eusebius, loc. cit.); and this positive statement is fatal to the tradition, which does not appear until about two hundred and fifty years afterwards, that he was one of the seventy disciples (Epiphanius, pseudo-Origen De recta in Deum fide, and the author of the Paschal Chronicle). Various other results of the tendency to fill up blank names in the gospel history must be set aside on the same ground; it was, for example, believed that Mark was one of the disciples who “went back” because of the “hard saying” (pseudo-Hippolyt., De LXX Apostolis in Cod. Barocc. Migne, Patrol. graec. x. 955); there was an Alexandrian tradition that he was one of the servants at the miracle of Cana of Galilee, that he was the “man bearing a pitcher of water” in whose house the last supper was prepared, and that he was also the owner of the house in which the disciples met on the evening of the resurrection (Renaudot, loc. cit.); and even in modern times there has been the conjecture that he was the “certain young man” who “fled naked” from Gethsemane, Mark xiv. 51, 52 (Olshausen).

A tradition which was widely diffused, and which is not in itself improbable, was that he afterwards preached the gospel and presided over the church at Alexandria (the earliest extant testimony is that of Eusebius, H. E. ii. 16, 1; ii. 24; for the fully-developed legend of later times see Symeon Metaphrastes, Vita S. Marci, and Eutychius Origines ecclesiae Alexandrinae). There was another, though perhaps not incompatible, tradition that he preached the gospel and presided over the church at Aquileia in North Italy. The earliest testimony in favour of this tradition is the vague statement of Gregory of Nazianzus that Mark preached in Italy, but its existence in the 7th century is shown by the fact that in A.D. 629 Heraclius sent the patriarchal chair from Alexandria to Grado, to which city the patriarchate of Aquileia had been then transferred (Chron. patriarch. Gradens., in Ughelli, Italia sacra, tom. v. p. 1086; for other references to the general tradition see De Rubeis, Monum. eccles. aquileien., c. 1; Acta sanctorum, ad April, xxv.). It was through this tradition that Mark became connected with Venice, whither the patriarchate was further transferred from Grado; an early Venetian legend, which is represented in the Cappella Zen in the basilica of St Mark, antedates this connexion by picturing the evangelist as having been stranded on the Rialto, while it was still an uninhabited island, and as having had the future greatness of the city revealed to him (Danduli, Chron. iv. 1, ap. Muratori, Rer. ital. script. xii. 14).

The earliest traditions appear to imply that he died a natural death (Eusebius, Jerome, and even Isidore of Seville); but the Martyrologies claim him as a martyr, though they do not agree as to the manner of his martyrdom. According to the pseudo-Hippolytus he was burned; but Symeon Metaphrastes and the Paschal Chronicle represent him to have been dragged over rough stones until he died. But, however that may be, his tomb appears to have been venerated at Alexandria, and there was a firm belief at Venice in the middle ages that his remains had been translated thither in the 9th century (the fact of the translation is denied even by Tillemont; the weakness of the evidence in support of the tradition is apparent even in Molini’s vigorous defence of it, lib. ii. c. 2; the minute account which the same writer gives, lib., ii. c. 11, of the discovery of the supposed actual bones of the evangelist in A.D. 1811, is interesting). There was another though less widely accepted tradition, that the remains soon after their translation to Venice were retranslated to the abbey of Reichenau on Lake Constance; a circumstantial account of this retranslation is given in the treatise Ex miraculis S. Marci, in Pertz, Mon. hist. german. script., tom. iv. p. 449. It may be added that the Venetians prided themselves on possessing, not only the body of St Mark, but also the autograph of his Gospel; this autograph, however, proved on examination to be only part of a 6th-century book of the Gospels, the remainder of which was published by Bianchini as the Evangeliarium forojuliense; the Venetian part of this MS. was found some years ago to have been wholly destroyed by damp.

It has been at various times supposed that Mark wrote other works besides the Gospel. Several books of the New Testament have been attributed to him: viz. the Epistle to the Hebrews (Spanheim, Op. miscell. ii. 240), the Epistle of Jude (cf. Holtzmann, Die synoptischen Evangelien, p. 373), the Apocalypse (Hitzig, Ueber Johannes Marcus, Zürich, 1843). The apocryphal Acta Barnabae purport to have been written by him. There is a liturgy which bears his name, and which exists in two forms; the one form was found in a MS. of the 12th century in Calabria, and is, according to Renaudot, the foundation of the three liturgies of St Basil, St Gregory Nazianzen and St Cyril; the other is that which is used by the Maronite and Jacobite Syrians. Both forms have been published by Renaudot, Liturg. oriental. collect, i. 127, and ii. 176, and in Neale’s History of the Holy Eastern Church; but neither has any substantial claim to belong to the ante-Nicene period of Christian literature.

The symbol by which Mark is designated in Christian art is usually that of a lion. Each of the “four living creatures” of Ezekiel and the Apocalypse has been attributed to each of the four evangelists in turn; Augustine and Bede think that Mark is designated by the “man”; Theophylact and others think that he is designated by the eagle; Anastasius Sinaita makes his symbol the ox; but medieval art acquiesced in the opinion of Jerome that he was indicated by the lion. Most of the martyrologies and calendars assign April 25 as the day on which he should be commemorated; but the Martyr. Hieron. gives the 23rd of September, and some Greek martyrologies give the 11th of January. This unusual variation probably arises from early differences of opinion as to whether there was one Mark or more than one.

See Canon Molini of Venice, De vita et lipsanis S. Marci Evangelistae, edited, after the author’s death, by S. Pieralisi, the librarian of the Barberini library (1864); R. A. Lipsius, Die apokryphen Apostelgesch. und Apostellegenden (1883 foll). vol. ii. part 2, pp. 321-353.

  1. The divergent lines of the later attempts at a literal interpretation—e.g. he amputated his thumb in order to escape the Levitical priesthood (Latin Prologue), or it was a natural defect (Cod. Tolet.)—suggest that all they had to start from was the epithet itself.
  2. Nicephorus Callistus, Hist. Eccl. ii. 43, assumes this in his picturesque account of Mark’s preaching in a quarter of the city which seems to have contained the tomb of the early bishops of Alexandria (cf. his Acts).