Images of an Apostolic Interpreter by C. Clifton Black

Book reviews — Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter by C. Clifton Black

Hurtado, Larry W

C. CLIFTON BLACK, Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter (Studies on Personalities of the New Testament; Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994). Pp. xxii+ 327. N.P.

Though Black modestly cautions that he cannot claim exhaustive treatment, he has certainly produced the most thorough study of traditions about John Mark to date. Moreover, given his judicious handling of evidence that appears to be representative of whatever additional testimonies to Mark there are, it is unlikely that this study will be superseded in any foreseeable future.

In his Introduction, B. shows how scholars have previously treated references to Mark almost entirely for the purpose of “the quest for the historical Mark” and sketches his own purpose of analyzing the figure of Mark in early Christian tradition. Part 1 (chaps. 1-2) deals with references to Mark in the NT (in Acts and in the Pauline and Petrine traditions). B. notes that in Acts Mark is associated with Jewish Christianity, “a more parochial strain within primitive Christianity,” but is positively associated with broader Christian circles as servant or co-worker and as “son,” respectively, in the Pauline and Petrine traditions.

Part 2 (chaps 3-6) treats the references to Mark in patristic sources, covering first the second-century sources, and thereafter traditions as late as Augustine in the West and Chrysostom in the East. B. probes such puzzling matters as the references to Mark as “stumpy-fingered,” as “levitical priest,” and as one of the seventy-two sent out by Jesus (thus, an apostle). He also helpfully summarizes findings at various points, and in chap. 6 he attempts a synthesis of patristic traditions about Mark. It is also commendable that B. attempts to analyze the meanings and functions of Marcan traditions for the churches and church leaders that circulated these traditions.

Black highlights five features that recur in church traditions about Mark. (1) Mark is typically portrayed as a “literary figure,” the author of the Gospel (though no such tradition is attested within the NT). (2) Normally, Mark is linked with Peter, as adherent, interpreter, or transcriber, this Petrine link being a tradition that appears early (with Papias) and remains consistent within patristic references to Mark (the link with Paul being least developed in patristic traditions). Black comments, “To my mind a satisfying explanation for the origin of this tradition that associates Mark with Peter is still forthcoming’ (p. 186). (3) A widespread concern about the fidelity of the Marcan Gospel to the church’s understanding of Jesus is reflected in the attempt to link Mark with an apostle. (4) Usually, Rome (or sometimes Italy) is the locale for Mark’s writing of his Gospel or for his association with Peter (traditions supported in both Western and Eastern Christian sources). (5) Eastern Christianity typically associates Mark (but not usually Mark’s Gospel) with Alexandria, from at least the late second century onward. Black also finds this Alexandrian association puzzling, in comparison with the more obvious reasons why traditions associating Mark with Rome could have been developed from the tradition about Peter’s connections with that city.

In part 3 (chaps. 7-8), B. considers the Gospel of Mark in light of early traditions about John Mark and offers some creative suggestions relevant to students of the Second Gospel. He proposes that some of the social, religious, and theological factors that prompted the circulation of stories about Jesus also prompted stories about the putative authors of the Gospels. He also compares the attribution of the Gospels to particular authors with the tendency in rabbinic Judaism to attribute Mishnaic traditions to individual rabbinic masters. In his final chapter B. (drawing here upon Peter Lampe’s study in particular) proposes that the Gospel of Mark comports in interesting ways with characteristics of early Roman Christianity.

In his conclusion, B. suggests that the attribution of the Second Gospel to Mark had the dual effect (and intention) of aligning the book with the apostle Peter while also distancing the book’s origin from the ministry of Jesus. That is, B. finds reflected in the traditional authorship of Mark a surprisingly subtle view of the Gospels in early Christianity, an intriguing suggestion that will require further consideration. I am not sure that the traditions B. analyzes so well amount to a “carefully crafted” picture of Mark in the early church, but he has produced an informative and stimulating study of the ancient traditions that also interacts impressively with modern scholarship.

Larry W. Hurtado, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Jan 1996

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