Guidelines for Locating the Markan Community

Ted Weeden weedent at
Tue Feb 29 08:49:30 EST 2000

I would like to join the Kata Markon discussion by floating the following
proposal for methodological guidelines to locate the Markan community.  I
would appreciate any suggestions or critical feed back from any of you.

Ted Weeden

Methodological Guidelines for Locating the Markan Community
and The Results Obtained from Their Application

Markan scholars who have had an interest in trying to pinpoint the location
of the Markan community have proposed several diverse geographical settings
over the years.  Before the 1950's  most scholars located the community at
Rome .  Martin Hengel (STUDIES IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK) is one of the most
recent scholars who has advocated strongly for Rome.  Since the 1950's the
tide of scholarly opinion has begun to shift to locating Mark somewhere in
the Syrian or Palestinian region.  In all the years, however, as far as I am
aware, no one has developed a systematic methodology that would guide Markan
scholarship in making more informed and precise judgments about the location
of Mark's community.   Since the Markan text is our only reliable source
(Papias, Anti-Marcionite Prologue, etc., now discounted) for information
about Mark's community, scholars remain dependent upon the text for offering
clues to the community's location.  For example, the text's rural/peasant
ethos tells Howard Kee (COMMUNITY OF THE NEW AGE) and Richard Rohrbaugh
("The Social Location of Mark's Audience," INT, 1993) that the Markan
community is situated in a rural village.   Gerd Theissen (THE GOSPELS IN
CONTEXT) also senses that the text originates in a rural context and further
observes that Mark's calling Lake Gennesaret "the Sea of Galilee" means Mark
lacks any realistic understanding of what constitutes a "sea."  That must
mean, Theissen submits, that his community is located far from the
Mediterranean Sea, where there is virtually no awareness of the magnitude of
that body of water, legitimately called a "sea."

The Markan errors in Galilean geography have suggested to many that
community could not be located in Galilee.  However, a new light upon those
errors has been shed by  Dean Chapman ("Locating the Gospel of Mark," BTB,
1995: 24-35) which revives the possibility, despite Markan geographical
errors, that the Markan community could be in located in one particular
section of Galilee or in close proximity to it.   Chapman has proposed an
interesting theory based upon Jean Piaget and Babel Inhelder's work on the
way space is perceived and represented according to cognitive psychology.
Chapman observes that Mark handles geography in two different ways.  Mark
uses "colloidal"  mapping where he knows the topography well and
"cosmographic" mapping for the distant horizons of which he has only minimal
knowledge.   Accordingly, based upon this thesis, Chapman submits that there
are two regions Mark knows best, regions where he does his most accurate,
colloidal mapping.  They are (1) Jerusalem and its surrounding area, which
includes such named places as Bethany, Bethphage, the Mount of Olives and
the Garden of Gethsemane and (2) places on the northern rim of the Sea of
Galilee, which include Capernaum, Gennersaret, Bethsaida and Dalmanutha and
the route northward from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi.  Chapman opts for
(1) over (2) as the region where Mark's community is to be found.  But, as
shall be clear below, I opt for (2).

These and other suggestions are helpful insights for locating the Markan
community using clues supplied by the text.   Building upon these insights I
would like to propose a systematic way for deciphering the location of the
Markan community from the Markan text by using the following seven
methodological guidelines.  Then I shall show how using these guidelines
enables us to determine the likely site of Mark's home community.

The First Guideline

Markan allusions to his community's location in all likelihood are to be
found where Mark exhibits accurate representation of geography, where he
employs colloidal mapping, as Chapman argues, rather than cosmographical map
ping.   For it is logical to assume that Mark knows best the geography of
his home area.  He is less likely to err in his geographical mapping of the
place where he lives than in areas remote from his home and only vaguely
known by him.

The Second Guideline

Wherever the community is located, it must be at significant distance from
the Mediterranean Sea.   It is very unlikely that either Mark or the members
of his community have any firsthand experience or realistic awareness of the
magnitude of the Mediterranean Sea.   If Mark, as Theissen has argued, were
aware of the size of the Mediterranean Sea, he would not have made the
mistake of calling Lake Gennesaret a "sea."   If there are bodies of water
in the region of Mark's community, they must be of such diminutive size that
by comparison Lake Gennesaret seemed like a sea to Mark, and likely to his
community also.   Therefore we must look for Markan allusions to the site of
his community in geographical settings whose remoteness from the
Mediterranean Sea make it unlikely that Mark or members of that community
would have any realistic knowledge about that body of water.

The Third Guideline

Wherever the community is, it is likely located in a rural village setting.
Therefore, we must seek the site of the community among the village settings
Mark mentions in his narrative.

The Fourth Guideline

It is most likely that the site of Mark's community is among those narrative
places where Mark presents Jesus as actively engaged in critical theological
issues- in particular, theological issues that the narrative gives every
evidence of being of paramount importance to Mark, issues which he appears
to be addressing in order to provide interpretation or "answers" to
existential dilemmas facing his community.

The Fifth Guideline

Wherever the Markan community is located, it is likely in fairly close
proximity to Galilee, if not in Galilee itself.    I state this for the
following reason.  It is clear that Galilee for Mark is the center of his
eschatological universe.  It is the Markan Mecca.   According to the Markan
story, it is in Galilee that Jesus first proclaims the dawn of the kingdom.
And it is in Galilee, according to the Markan Jesus (14:28; 16:7), where
that final eschatological moment will occur in which he will be fully
vindicated, glorified and empowered (13:24-26).  For Mark to have such an
existential investment in Galilee as the place where the triumphant
eschatological fulfillment takes place makes it hard to believe that his
community would be located so far from Galilee that distance would prevent
Mark and the members of his community from experiencing that eschatological
moment firsthand.   Therefore we must look for Markan allusions to the site
of his community among villages in his narrative which are within or in
close proximity to Galilee.

The Sixth Guideline

The narrative places which meet the first five criteria and are not those
that the historical Jesus is likely to have frequented are more likely to be
the site of the Markan community.   I posit this on the following basis.  As
Rohrbaugh (390) has pointed out with respect to Mark's narrative world: "We
can be sure that at some points this narrative world corresponds with the
real world of Jesus, while at others it most certainly does not."  A good
example of the Markan narrative diverging from Jesus' real world and
reflecting more closely the real world of Mark's own community is Mark 13.
The events of that chapter clearly postdate the real world of the historical
Jesus.  Thus: if, after applying the first five guidelines to the Markan
narrative, some places which emerge as probable sites of Mark's community
turn out to be places where the historical Jesus, according to critical
analysis, is unlikely to have conducted his ministry, then it is in one of
those particular places that the site of the Markan community is likely to
be found.

The Seventh Guideline

Having followed the first six guidelines and having thus arrived at a likely
geographical site of the Markan community, as alluded to by Mark in his
narrative, that geographical site should be in relatively near proximity of
the place of origin or a probable place of circulation of Mark's sources in
order to account for how he would have gained access to those  sources.  The
principle underlying this guideline is that one can better account for Mark'
s access to a source if he is in close proximity to its place of origin or
circulation than if he is at some remote distance from the source's
geographical genesis or likely place of circulation.

Results Obtained from Applying the Guidelines to the Text: The Community of
Mark Located

As a result of applying these seven guidelines to the Markan place
references in search for the Markan community, I have found that the site
that emerges as the most likely location of the Markan community is
somewhere among the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  Why?  Space does not
allow me to give full and detail argumentation for villages of Caesarea
Philippi and against other narrative sites.  But briefly outlined below are
the reasons the villages of Caesarea Philippi, in my opinion, turns out to
be the best candidate for the location of Mark's community..

First, Caesarea Philippi is within one of the geographical areas which Mark
does map accurately (first guideline).  Second, Caesarea Philippi is far
enough inland from the Mediterranean Sea for Mark, as a resident of one of
its villages, not to have a realistic knowledge of what constitutes the size
of a "real" sea.  Thus, without such awareness, it is easy to understand why
his experience of the size of the Lake of Gennesaret would cause him to
mistakenly think it qualified being called a "sea" (second guideline).
Such a mistake in judgment could well have arisen as a result of Mark's
comparison of Lake Gennesaret with Lake Huleh, the lake nearest to him..
Lake Gennersaret would have appeared to him to be of enormous proportions
compared to Lake Huleh.  If Lake Huleh was called a "lake," then the size of
Lake Gennesaret by comparison qualified in Mark's mind in being called a
"sea."    Third, the villages of Caesarea Philippi are obviously a part of a
village rural setting (third guideline).

Fourth, it is on the road to Caesarea Philippi (8:27b) and in the setting of
its villages (8:27a) where the Markan gospel's most critical theological
issues (the nature of christology and the nature of discipleship) are
directly and for the first time introduced and dealt with by Jesus himself
(fourth guideline).  Christology and discipleship become then the dominant
themes that drive the drama on from those rural villages of Caesarea
Philippi to the temple establishment of Jerusalem, where the passion drama,
predicted first on the way to those villages, unfolds and the gospel comes
to an end at an empty tomb.  Moreover, many of the post-Easter issues which
the Markan Jesus addresses in Mk 13 for the benefit of the Markan community
are addressed or at least foreshadowed by Jesus in the region of Caesarea
Philippi.  I have in mind the Christ-issue ("You are the Christ" [8:28]/
"False christs...will arise" [13:22] ), witnessing for or being ashamed of
Christ ("whoever is ashamed of me" [8:38]/"stand...for my sake, to bear
testimony" [13:9], assurance of salvation ("lose your life" [8:35]/"he who
endures to the end" [13:13]), the credibility of Jesus words ("ashamed of...
my words" [8:38]/"my words will not pass away" [13:30]),  the
exaltation-enthronement of the "Son of man" with angels (8:38/13:26f.) and
the assurance that the final eschatological event will happen before the end
of the current generation ("some standing here will not taste death" [9:1]/
"this generation will not pass away" [13:30]).

Fifth, the villages of Caesarea Philippi are in close proximity to Galilee,
Mark's eschatological Mecca.  In fact Mark may have in his mind included his
own village in his theological/geographical rubric "Galilee."  At the time
of Mark the former boundary established along the Jordan River that served
to separate the province of Galilee, the tetrarchy of Antipas, from the
tetrarchy of Philip, which included Bethsaida and Caesarea Philippi, no
longer existed.  Under Agrippa II the two former tetrarchies were merged
into one region.  Is it possible then that at the time of Mark, with the
former boundary which divided the province of Galilee from the region east
of the Jordan River non-existent, that Galilee in the popular mind could
have included part of the region east of the Jordan River.  The author of
the fourth gospel seems to think so. He locates the city of Bethsaida in
Galilee (12:21), a city which lay east of the Jordan and was formerly a part
of Philip's tetrarchy and which Philip upgraded to a city, along with
transforming Paneas into Caesarea Philippi.

So at the time of John, and perhaps Mark, Galilee, at least in the popular
mind, had been extended to include Bethsaida.  Is it possible the outlying
villages of Caesarea Philippi were also thought to be a part of Galilee.
Avi Yonah (see Chapman, 33) has produced an early rabbinic tradition, dating
perhaps from second-temple time, in which Caesarea Philippi was considered
to be a part of Palestine.   The only clue Mark gives us as to how he views
the relationship of the villages of Caesarea Philippi to Galilee is his
notation of Jesus' departure from the Caesarea Philippi region.  In 9:30 he
states: "They went on from there and passed through Galilee."  The meaning
of this statement is unclear.   Does Mark mean that Jesus crossed over into
Galilee and journeyed through Galilee or does he mean that from the section
of Galilee Jesus was in, which included the villages of Caesarea Philippi,
he traveled on through Galilee until he reached Capernaum in 9:33?   In any
event, which ever meaning Mark had in mind, the villages of Caesarea
Philippi meet the criterion of the fifth guideline for locating the Markan

Sixth, Jesus' visit to the villages of Caesarea Philippi is generally
considered by Markan scholars to be a Markan creation.  The region of
Caesarea Philippi is not a place where the historical Jesus conducted his
ministry (sixth guideline).

Seventh, most of the sources that Mark draws upon originated or are thought
to have circulated in relatively close proximity.   Richard Horsley and
Jonathan Draper (Whoever Hears you Hears Me) locate the Q community in
Galilee.   Without citing the evidence here, I am convinced that Mark had
some direct or indirect contact with the oral "texts" of the Q community.
Theissen makes a strong case for the eschatological tradition of Mark 13,
the so-called "synoptic apocalypse," originating in Jerusalem in 40 C. E.
(161f.).   Theissen argues that Mark's apophthegm source originated in
Palestine or Galilee, with "the beginnings of the sayings and narrative
tradition [occurring prior to 39 C.E. and emerging] ... in the places where
Jesus worked" (122) and  "in a region remote from the great ocean" (119),
namely Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee's north shore (119f.).  The miracle
stories originated, according to Theissen, in the Syria-Palestinian region
(105), and at least the sea miracles in an area where there was no realistic
knowledge of the Mediterranean Sea- otherwise the creators of those stories
would not have confused Lake Gennesaret with being a sea (103f.).   Theissen
also argues that "Mark found [the legend of John the Baptist's death] in the
vicinity of Palestine not far from those regions that in the second half of
the first century were still ruled by male and female Herodians (96).  Mark'
s source for his passion narrative, the Cross Gospel (as reconstructed by
John Dominic Crossan) was composed in the 40's (so Crossan, BIRTH OF
CHRISTIANITY, 524).  I think a case can be made for it originating in

Finally, if Mark's community is located in one of the villages of Caesarea
Philippi, then there is a "realistic" explanation for why Mark located the
transfiguration story on a high mountain (9:2).  Mountains often serve as a
setting in New Testament stories.  But rarely is a mountain depicted as a
high mountain.   Aside from Matthew's appropriation of this Markan
designation in Matthew's version of the transfiguration story (17:1), there
are only two other places in the New Testament where one finds the
terminology "high mountain."  One is the mountain of temptation where Jesus
is tempted by Satan in Matthew's story of the temptation (4: 8), and the
other is in Revelation 21:10.  I am convinced that the high mountain Mark
had in mind when he set the setting for the transfiguration story was the
highest mountain in the Northern Palestinian/Southern Syria, namely, Mount
Hermon.   Caesarea Philippi practically sits at the foot of Mt. Hermon.
Living in a village outside of Caesarea Philippi and likely gazing almost
daily at  the presence of Mt. Hermon, Mark, I submit, saw in Mt. Hermon the
inspiration for the mythical and high mountain of the transfiguration story.

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