Part V: The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition

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The final section… sorta sad about this, but every good book comes to a close. The good thing, however, is that Oden says that this is a trilogy. So, there is another book to follow.

Remember, this is an internal dialogue, with the review to follow shortly


He opens this section with a sense of puzzlement,

The paradox of Mark is that he appears unexpectedly in so many crucial points of the New Testament, yet his personal identity remains obscure. (219)

One cannot help but to agree, and then to wonder why we haven’t thought more of Mark, the writer of a Gospel, the founder of the Church at Alexandria, and the scribe of Peter.  Further, as Oden points out, Mark seems to be in the thick of things regarding the Apostles. (Oden provides a summary, in list form, of this inaction, 219-220).

I wonder who long it will be before Oden swims the Tiber? Especially with statements such as the one on 221, allowing that Peter sent Mark. Also, something not really explored in this book, is the deep connection between Rome and Alexandria that lasted for centuries after Peter and Mark. Maybe that historical connection points to a very real familiar closeness at the start of both those missions? One cannot so easily begin to affirm the primacy of Peter, even slightly, without a welcoming gaze towards Rome.

Just another thought. The New Testament is not an early Church history book, and indeed, the history of the Apostles, never the focus on Acts, is bound up in history and lore.

Also, given Oden’s solid evidence that Mark was born in Libya, then how did he forget Mark 15.21 and the role in which that particular family played in the life of Paul?

Oden wants us to get the Gestalt! (222). Indeed, I think one must in order to truly appreciate the mosaic of hope, of reclaiming our lost ability to have a sacred imagination, which he is painting for us. And finally – there is that concept that I was waiting for – typological interpretion. (230). That’s what he was talking about in connecting the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and the subsequent African hospitality given to Jesus and the early Church in the upper room. But one has to now be careful in addressing such issues, for fear of the internet dilettantes who would make Mark into Jesus and give him a throne. But, Mark’s life, or rather, his family’s life in Egypt and then the return to Palestine, and the entire African narrative brings to light the usual typological fulfillment marked out by the earliest commentators, including Matthew.

In chapter 12, Oden wants to focus on the fact that African legend has been treated different than that which comes from the West or the East. Indeed, it has and is. But, he is correct in that given the great body of evidence that the Narrative is at the very least somewhat plausible, maybe we should give a sympathetic ear. Why? Because as he points out, from a very early date, the oral tradition actually had a written foundation (233). I’d say that makes up for many deficits in our ability to accept as divine history the African narrative. He introduces us to himself, here, in his coming around to the ability to accept and appreciate Africa, leaving Bultmann behind as well as modernity (233-234). This, for me, helps me to better understand the author’s intent and further, his passion for what he is doing. He continues this personal epistle on 238-239 as well.

He also easily handles what we might term as “Markan Mythicism.” He handles it not from silence, but with logic.

I like his thought here, “If you take away orality from traditional African religion, you take away its beating heart.” (237). Indeed. Indeed, we have to start learning this orality again, and this ability to hear the word of power, and not simply force everything onto a piece of paper to be considered legitimate.

And now… chapter 13, the final chapter… and it opens up by suggesting that Mark may have contributed to the famous Catechetical school there. Imagine that. Of course, for me, this fits as I tend to see Mark as a well educated genius who knew rhetoric and other forms of persuasion. If he was young enough, why not start a school? Makes sense, then, the icons of Mark with a book. Of course, Oden lists other circumstantial evidence, such as the prevailing use of John and Mark in ancient Christian communities said to have been founded by Mark. Further, there are the ancient liturgies. And the Creed of Nicaea. The real one.

In his conclusion, he makes the point, as he has throughout subtly, that if you are ready to dismiss the African narrative out of hand, you need then to dismiss Rome, Antioch and Jerusalem as well. And, as he ends his work, we are reminded that in dismissing this myth, we dismiss those who gave their very last on the conviction that it was true.

I’ll review this in a bit.

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