Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria
Who was Mark? We have written statements in the early Church, dating from early in the second century, that attribute the second Gospel to Mark, a disciple of Peter. Perhaps this Mark was an otherwise unimportant person, but he is usually identified with the ‘John Mark’ of Acts 12 and the ‘Mark’ of 1 Peter 5. The names ‘John Mark’ suggest he was a Jew from a Greek-speaking community. He was probably one of the Hellenists of the Jerusalem community, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), and a fellow traveler with St Paul. Mark is also named as a prisoner with Paul in Rome (Philemon v.24) as well as with Peter (1 Peter 5:13). In all likelihood, this was the same Mark who was the author of the second Gospel.
Coptic tradition holds that Mark was an African native of Jewish parents who belonged to the Levites’ tribe. His family lived in Cyrenaica until they were attacked by some barbarians, and lost their property. Consequently, they moved to Jerusalem with their child John Mark. Tradition also has it that Mark founded the Church in Alexandria.
Scholars generally agree that Mark most probably wrote the second Gospel in Rome sometime before the year 60 A.D., and that he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity. Tradition holds that Mark was asked by the Romans to set down the teachings of St Peter, and certainly Peter has a prominent position in his Gospel.
Mark’s Gospel reveals more about its author. It is the shortest Gospel, and also the most straightforward. The Jesus portrayed by Mark is a man on the move, going immediately from one event to another, proclaiming the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Mark’s Gospel is also a Gospel of suffering: its focus is on the passion and death of the Lord, and it predicts the passion and death of his disciples. Nonetheless, it inspires discipleship.
Coptic tradition has it that, after the martydom of St Peter and St Paul in Rome the year 64, Mark returned to Alexandria. There he was brutally martyred by pagans at Easter in the year 68. It is said that Venetian merchants stole his relics from Alexandria in 828 and took them back to Venice, where they were eventually housed in St Mark’s Basilica. His symbol is the Lion.