Comments and Replies ... and Who We Are

TANATA is devoted to discussing the paradoxes and the mysteries of life, among which is the paradox of the coexistence of good and evil. “God is love,” John tells us. Evil exists, we would suggest, not because God is detached or unconcerned, but because free will exists which is required for true, unforced love to exist. Still, it is painfully hard to reconcile this paradox. We believe that all evil one day will be judged and destroyed, until then we must pray.

DANIEL 7:13-14

13 “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.


7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

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« New St. John Mark insights Don't Disprove Hypothesis ... »

… that African St. John Mark is the so-called “other disciple, the one Jesus loved,” and very likely the writer of the fourth gospel attributed by the early Church fathers to an apostle named John.

Our pursuit of information relevant to St. John Mark as the founder of the Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, so as to validate the 1969 Coptic biography of St. John Mark by the late Coptic patriarch Pope Shenouda III, had reached something of a dead end — until we considered some intriguing facts pertaining to the apostle with the help of Paul Tobin, and, until we read an article published in 1960 by Pierson Parker (Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis), accessed via JSTOR. (Parker validates our hypothesis by strongly suggesting that St. John Mark and not John the son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel of John.

Beyond Shenouda’s biography of St. John Mark which credits him with apostleship and the founding of the Coptic church in Alexandria, we’ve found little other information to validate these claims. However, there is an interesting passage in a book by Walter Bauer provided to us by Tobin which hints that St. John Mark may have been the first bishop of Alexandria, according to Eusebius by way of Philo’s Therapeutae.

The earliest Christians of Egypt may then have been converted by St. John Mark, but nothing further from Eusebius confirms that. Eusebius quotes Philo, whose contact with Peter in Rome may have been the basis for Philo’s suggestion. Tobin reports that Sextus Julius Africanus, the father of Christian chronography and a Libyan philosopher, doesn’t lead us to reject outright the role Bishop St. John Mark might have played in Alexandria, this tradition coming “very late,” according to Tobin around 200 A.D.

Philo, according to Bauer, “traces a succession of ten bishops from Mark down to the reign of the Emperor Commodus,” a list provided by Julius Africanus which ends there. This list “serves only to make the profound silence that hangs over the origins even more disconcerting,” Bauer says. With no accompanying tradition, “what may be gathered at best is still almost less than nothing.” The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, who notes that Annianus, a man beloved by God and admirable in all things, was the immediate successor of St. John Mark, does offer some helpful insight. But this, Bauer asserts, “does not raise the tradition above the zero point.”

Might there have been an effort to obscure the person and ministry of St. John Mark, because he was himself an African, a native of Cyrene, which today is Libya? Could racism be behind the obscuring veil which hangs over this mystery? Could this John be the John who wrote the fourth Gospel attributed to a man named John, and might he then be the Belloved Disciple and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved”? I’ve often wondered whether there might have been in human history certain forces that meant to disrupt the Gospel message of the Christian scriptures and obscure the identities of the Gospel writers, particularly St. John Mark … and even Jesus.

At any rate, our hypothesis and our contention that Shenouda’s biography is not pure hagiography, as that word is defined, are not undeserving of consideration and speculation. These additional insights in fact do not disprove our hypothesis but lend weight to it. Also, as we pointed out to Paul Tobin, St. John Mark’s geographical errors in his Gospel only strengthens our position that he was not a native of Palestine but of Cyrene (Libya), as Shenouda’s biography asserts.

Throughout the years, the Coptic historians professed that St. John Mark was one of the seventy apostles, as mentioned by Luke the Evangelist (Luke 10:1-12). Contemporary writers as well as those in the Middle Ages shared this fact. Severus Ben Al-Mokafaa, bishop of Al-Ashmouneen, in the tenth century mentioned it in his book. Ben Kabar included (John Mark’s)  name in both the original Coptic and the Greek lists of the apostles. This was also reported by Al Maqrizi, a Muslim historian from the Middle Ages, who said that he was among the seventy. Describing Mark as the evangelist whose name was John, who spoke three “tongues” — foreign, Hebrew and Greek — Ibn Al Salibi, bishop of Amad, in 1149, included John Mark among the seventy. St. Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, mentioned this fact in his book. Before him, Origen, a scholar of the second and third centuries, reported this in his book Faith in God, saying that Mark was among the seventy who were chosen by God to be His messengers. Among the non-Orthodox, we find that Al Mushreki in an introduction to a translation of the Gospel of St. Mark included him among the seventy apostles, and that John Mark was called “Theophoros,” meaning “the bearer of God.” Chineau, who is a Catholic, in his book Les Saints d’Egypte called John Mark an apostle.

The question becomes: Do all of these claims add up to refute the notion that The Beholder of God, the biography of St. John Mark by the Coptic patriarch Shenouda III, is purely hagiography (as some scholars have suggested) — that it is a flimsy attempt by Shenouda to claim St. John Mark as an apostle to advance his own and the Coptic church’s purposes?

It is at least reasonable to suggest that St. John Mark was a follower of Jesus and therefore likely an apostle, in light of the good possibility that John Mark’s home hosted the last supper and the possibility that John Mark is “the certain youth,” a “follower of Jesus,” in Mark 14:51-52, though we question that John Mark was disrobed, though that is what these verses tell us. If St. John Mark is not disrobed (one can imagine that John Mark would not include such an embarrassing incident involving himself in his Gospel) then we have a man named John who could have continued to follow Jesus to the house of the high priest Annas, who could therefore have served as “the other disciple” (John 18:15-16) whom we must assume is “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” found in John 20:2. If John Mark was disrobed, he simply went home, located nearby Gethsemane, according to tradition, and redressed.

It bears noting that John the son of Zebedee and his brother James fled Gethsemane and would therefore not have been present to play the role of “the other disciple,” one who knew the high priest, who argued to defend Jesus in John 18:15-16. We would also point out in returning to John 20:2 that “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” outran Peter to the empty tomb, something we would expect a younger man (the certain youth) to have been able to do.

It seems disingenuous to us to reject John Mark outright as the Beloved Disciple simply because it cannot be proved that John Mark was the bishop of Alexandria, as Sextus Julius Africanus only suggests to us in a list of bishops originating with John Mark. Combined with all of these other claims, can we at least say that John Mark was an apostle, and that if he was (which we’re not told in scripture) he could very well have been the first bishop of Alexandria, himself an African whom Jesus befriended if John Mark is the Beloved Disciple? The weight of all of this makes it more likely than not that John Mark is the Beloved Disciple.

Certainly, it was not John the son of Zebedee, whom Jesus often rebuked and who, along with Peter, was not considered an educated man by the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:13. John Mark was an educated man — otherwise he would not have been helpful to Paul’s ministry as an assistant, and, he would not have been in a position to write down the preaching of Peter in Rome, as Papias asserts, though there is little evidence in John Mark’s Gospel to indicate Peter was the dictator of the material found in the second Gospel.

It also bears noting that Jesus very likely predicted that John and James would be martyred, and we would have to agree that Jesus, if he was God’s son, capable of miracles and knowing the future, would not have been wrong with this prediction. John Mark is the only man named John left. And, Paul identifies John Mark as the only man named John to have been in Ephesus, near Patmos, where Revelation was written by a man named John.

MORE TO COME ON THIS TOPIC, including my scholarly take on a fascinating article written in 1960 titled “John and John Mark.” It’s author is the late Pierson Parker. Parker makes an excellent case for St. John Mark being the man John who wrote the fourth gospel.


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