John Mark? You have got to be kidding me!

My research into the thesis that the early Christians identified John/Mark with John the Evangelist

I remember as a graduate student talking about my undergraduate research with another student. There was interest until I mentioned that I had examined the potential identification of the Beloved Disciple/John the Evangelist with the John also called Mark.

Immediately the mood changed. Words didn’t need to be spoken; the incredulous look and change in demeanor said it all. The conversation was brought to an abrupt end.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised. My own reaction was pretty incredulous too, when I was first exposed to the idea while reading R. Alan Culpepper‘s book, John the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend, in which he provides an overview of all the various proposals that have been put forward for the identity of the Beloved Disciple. In fact, I laughed and turned the page, until my curiosity got the better of me some moments later.

The idea is, perhaps, not quite as absurd as it–for some reason–seems to sound. In fact, it has enjoyed surprising support from renowned scholars.

Theodor Zahn was perhaps the first to suggest that John/Mark and John the Evangelist were sometimes confused in sources, pointing in support to the identification of both in Christian tradition with the young man who fled naked in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 14:51) and the association of both with the site of the Zion church in Jerusalem.

Francis Pritchett Badham, who like Zahn approached this topic from the angle of Christian traditions, also suggested some “confluence of personality” between the two on account of depictions of both as priests wearing the sacerdotal plate.

Daniel Völter seems to have been the first to posit that the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel was John Mark. He was followed by Julius Wellhausen, and then by Carl Erbes in 1912, Johannes Weiss, Pierson Parker, John Marsh, and, more recently, Wolfgang Eckle.

Oscar Cullmann viewed John/Mark as a possible identification for the Beloved Disciple, while Stephen Smalley acknowledged that the view “is not as wild a suggestion as may at first appear”; and R. Alan Culpepper thought that the view “has much to commend it.”

Then there was the work of J. Edgar Bruns, who in two short articles drew attention to medieval traditions which placed John/Mark in Johannine narratives, and sometimes apparently in the role of the Beloved Disciple himself. He also drew attention to the confusion of John and Mark, noting that both were said to have had a father named Aristobulus, the brother of Barnabas; this suggested, he observed, that the two were “not distinguished”.

While few have heard of Bruns’ work, Robert Kysar and Harold W. Attridge have suggested on the basis of it that John and Mark were sometimes confused in some early Christian sources. C. Clifton Black even suggested that “some writers of Christian antiquity were inclined to identify John Mark with the apostle John”.

I hope to continue my research in the future and produce a monograph looking at the identification of John Mark with the Beloved Disciple from the perspective of the internal evidence of the Fourth Gospel.

My book, The John also called Mark: Reception and Transformation in Christian Tradition, discusses, like Zahn, Badham, and Bruns, the external evidence provided by early and medieval Christian sources, arguing that the identification of John the Evangelist with John/Mark originated early and was once fairly widespread. A more detailed discussion of some of the evidence presented in the book is also available in my conference presentation, The Confusion of John and Mark.

5 thoughts on “John Mark? You have got to be kidding me!”

  1. The Beloved Disciples are Mary and Lazarus, I consider that matter not even to interpretation.

    John Mark however I have come to think is the most likely author of Revelation, and that Patmos was a name for Paphos on Cyprus not the island of Letois.

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    1. I did not know about that, it is there any place I read about those Colophons online?

      I developed the theory on my “A Chronological View of Revelation” blogspot a year or so ago, mostly based on circumstantial evidence. I wasn’t aware of any evidence of anyone before be doing the same.

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      1. It’s discussed in my book The John Called Mark, discussed above, which argues that John/Mark was identified with John the Evangelist by the early Christians.

        I got the information about the colophons from von Soden’s book (Die Schriften) which is in Google Books, but I think it was written in Latin. I translated a few of the colophons in my book.

        It was too late for the book, but your comment actually helped me to see a connection I hadn’t seen before. I discussed how Cyprus had sometimes been confused with Patmos, but I didn’t connect it to the Paphos tradition as well.

        From my book:

        A few other Greek colophons relate that “John composed the Gospel named according to him after he returned to Ephesus from Paphos.” (page 178, citing von Soden, Die Schriften, 312).

        In Clement Alex. and other early sources John settles in Ephesus and writes his Gospel there after his release from exile on Patmos.

        Again, on page 169, I note a Colophon that claims John wrote his Gospel “in Patmos of Cyprus” (citing von Soden, 304).

        Here’s what I did note in my book concerning Patmos/Cyprus. First, there is the mention in a Geez (Ethiopic) Commentary on Revelation that John saw his vision on “Fəṭmo, one of the islands of Sälagya of Antioch.”

        Patmos is nowhere near Antioch; the only island close by is Cyprus. I then noted some other apparent placements of John’s vision in area:

        “Sälagya is probably rightly identified as Seleucia, the port city of Syrian Antioch,105 which would locate the apocalyptic vision off of the Syrian coast. This is perhaps related to the statement of Richard of St. Victor (c. 1150) that Patmos was “in the Syrian sea” (in mari syrico). There are no such islands near Seleucia, however, and the nearest one, the large island of Cyprus, is eighty miles distant, though it would confront anyone sailing away from the port towards the open Mediterranean, and it was in the Syrian Sea. Possibly this Sälagya tradition is related to the claim that John wrote his Gospel “in Patmos of Cyprus” (ἐν τῇ Πάτμῳ τῆς Κύπρου) found in a medieval Greek prologue to the Gospels.” (page 169)

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