The Acts of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

René Salm has kindly shared with me a new translation (I think it’s the first English translation) of the Acts of Mark, a text I had never heard of till now. Until René’s contribution the  most detail available on the internet about this document was from an old Synoptic L exchange between Philip James McCosker and Mark Goodacre.  McCosker posted the abstract of a 1992 thesis about the Acts, which I copy here. Of particular interest, I also copy here notes from René in which he epitomizes much of the content.

Here is an abstract from a dissertation written recently here at Harvard
on the Acts of Mark, I hope it helps. . . . .

There are also other items of literature listed below.

A.D.Callahan ‘The Acts of Saint Mark : an introduction and commentary’

Thesis (Ph.D.)–Harvard University, 1992

According to the Church’s most venerable traditions, it was the
evangelist reputed to have written the Second Gospel who was first to
proclaim the Christian message in the Nile Valley; Mark the Evangelist
was Alexandria’s first bishop and first martyr, his miracles, prodigies
and passion recorded in the so-called Acts of Saint Mark (AM). The AM
probably existed in some literary form by the late fourth century. The
age of the underlying traditions, of course, remains an open question.
Such a dating puts the AM in the same historical continuum as other of
the so-called apocryphal Acts, yet it is little known and virtually
ignored by modern Western scholarship. The memory of the Evangelist’s
Egyptian mission is preserved in a number of versions. The AM comes down
to us in Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic languages, in addition to
some Coptic fragments published well after Lipsius’ landmark study of
apocryphal Acts at the turn of the century. Though the date of Mark’s
martyrdom has been accorded a place of honor in ecclesiastical calendars
in both the East and West, Saint Mark the Evangelist remains an obscure
figure to modern historians of early Christianity. The tradition that
Mark the Evangelist was the Nile’s first missionary has been treated on
the whole by modern scholars with extreme caution or outright
incredulity. In the early tradition that preceded the hagiographical
deference of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Saint Mark’s status is somewhat
diminutive: Papias plainly states that Mark was not an eyewitness to the
Lord (Eusebius H. E. 3.39.15-16). At best Saint Mark was a junior
colleague of the apostle Peter. Further, the preponderence of early
testimonies assert that Saint Mark wrote his gospel in Italy; indeed
there is even sixth century inscriptional evidence in Egypt to this
effect. Modern commentators with rare accord are at a loss to explain
the ‘selection’ of Saint Mark as the founder of the Alexandrian church.
Yet this tradition of the foundation of the church of Alexandria is
universally attested, both in the East and the West, by the fourth
century, that is, at least as early as Eusebius or his sources. Perhaps
a closer look at the one body of traditions that purports to explain
this ‘choice’ may contribute to adumbrating how Mark the Evangelist came
to be regarded as the first bishop of one of the most powerful sees of
ancient Christendom.

Other literature:

A.D. Callahan ‘The Acts of Mark : tradition, transmission, and
translation of the Arabic version’ in Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles
Francois Bovon ed. (Boston : Harvard Univ Pr, 1999) pp. 63-85

B.Pearson ‘Ancient Alexandria in the Acts of Mark’ in Society of
Biblical Literature : 1997 seminar papers (Atlanta : Scholars Pr, 1997)
pp. 273-284.

A.D.Callahan ‘The Acts of Saint Mark : an introduction and translation’
Coptic Church Review 14 (Spr 1993), p. 3-10.

From René Salm’s notes:

D. Callahan . . . . has concerned himself exclusively with a related work called the “Martyrium of Mark” which he calls “Acts of Mark.” It is an unfortunate error which could put many investigators off the trail. . . . [T]he Martyrium is full of the miraculous doings of the apostle, and is less interesting from a historical point of view. It contains chapters 10-35 (the end) of the AM–thus, the bulk of the text. The provocative first ten chapters of AM are still unedited, quite unknown, and passed over by scholars. Of those chapters (all short), nos. 6-9 concern Mark’s travels. . . . .

. . . . . Santos Otero was correct in NTA when he noted some remarkable facts about the apostle Mark divulged in this text:

  1. – Mark was a Levite (AM chp. 2)
  2. – Mark was (first) a disciple of John the Baptist (AM chp. 5)
  3. – The “apostle Mark” = “John Mark” (AM chps. 2 &5; cf. Acts 12:12).
  4. – The apostle Mark travels to Gaul (AM chp. 8). This suggests a link between Mark and the ultra-heretical “Marcosians” known from Southern Gaul  (cf. Acts of Barnabas, chp. 5; Acts of Andrew 2.293:25–27). The natural inference is that the apostle Mark = the heretic Marcus (generally dated to II CE!)
  5. – The phrase “the God Christ” often occurs, as also the construction “Christ their God.” Jesus is referred to as “ho theanthrOpos,” i.e. “the god-man” (chp. 4).

. . . . . [M]y initial short ‘notes’ on Chps. 1-5 . . . are as follows:

(1) “Mark” is a bringer of gnosis:

 He brings “the light of the knowledge of god”, “hidden and obscure meanings”, “divine illumination”, and “perfection”. Mark is also known as a “speaker of mysteries” (mystolektEs). Mark is “clear-sighted,” has received “divine illumination,” has reached “the highest degree” of excellence/perfection, understands and is able to explain “hidden meanings,” is a holy and “enlightened herald.”

(2) “Mark” has aspects that have traditionally been ascribed to John the Baptist:

– Mark is the “forerunner” and “holy herald” of the “word”; Mark is an ascetic given to fasting; Mark is a Levite (as is John the Baptist, Lk 1:5); Mark comes from the Jerusalem region.

– At the beginning of Chp. 4, AM states: “Now at first this blessed apostle was called John.” So, John = Mark. What should we make of this? Anything? Of course, the apostle Mark has always been known as both John and Mark (Acts 12:12, 25. Is it at all conceivable from the above considerations that “John the Baptist” = Mark?)

– The Acts of Mark show the strong presence of a southern (Judean) tradition. “Galilee” is mentioned only once. Curiously, Jesus performed miracles “MANY years” in and around Jerusalem and THEN he goes “from Jerusalem into Galilee” (this also mirrors the later flight of the Ebionites northwards).

(3) In one passage, Mary the mother of John/Mark is curiously evocative of Mary the mother of Jesus: she is “truly blessed and honored” when she receives the “only-begotten son and word of god” into her house (cf. the Annunciation).

Some other comments:

  • – We may suspect that Mark (living in Jerusalem, wealthy, and of priestly descent) was somehow related to the High Priest. This is what the Protevangelium of James precisely relates about John the Baptist: his father was none other than the High Priest Zacharias. Incidentally, it was in the Jerusalem temple that, according to Prot.James 7, Mary the Mother of Jesus was raised.
  • – John/Mark is of a wealthy family and he gives his means to the poor and then lives as an ascetic. There is a definite sympathy for the “poor” in this text.
  • – The Acts of Mark know “the good news” (to euaggelion), “the miracles” (of Jesus and also of John/Mark), and “the only begotten Son and Word of God, the one who brought forth from non-being all the seen and unseen creation, and who became human because of the extremity of [his] goodness and unutterable compassion,” “Christ the son of the most high God,” and “Christ their God.”
  • – The one who baptizes in these chapters is Peter (he baptizes Mark).
  • – The Acts of Mark is violently anti-Semitic. It mentions “the baseless and lie-plastered betrayal of the all-brazen Jews,” and “the accursed Jews.”


Interested readers can follow up further information at  the Yahoo Group “Mythicist Discussion” . René Salm continues to post about AM there.

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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “The Acts of Mark”

  1. Um, ALERT!, ALERT! Go to page 120 in Robert Eisenman’s “James the Brother of Jesus”, and read what he says about Mary the mother of John-Mark. Both in going to the house “of Mary” to leave a message for “James”, and to be her son in the gospel of John where the “Disciple that Jesus loved” is to take Mary into his own home, you have an enigmatic “Mary” who is even her own sister Mary in John 19:25. Eisenman makes the link that this is James’ house, and James is the beloved disciple.

    So who does this make John-Mark? Jesus and James’ brother? James and John are mentioned together a lot, often as “sons of Zebbede”?

  2. Yes, but all this data comes to us in the warp and woof of elusive tales. How does one move to historical substance? I think some efforts – even by scholars – to join dots from disparate sources is another form of mantism – tea-leaf reading. How do we escape the sense of flim-flam?

    1. Easy, Neil: Go to a Radha Soami Master. All the recent RS Masters, and all the ones who took up the role of Master in this period (Honi, John, Jesus, James, Judas Thomas, Simeon), and all those of antiquity (Seth, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Zadok) taught the same thing: Surat Shabd Yoga, as it is called today, Anything outside that teaching is interpolated by lesser individuals.There is a full corpus of literature on this at http://www.rssb.org

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