Thursday, 25 April 2013


“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” - Blaise Pascal

Today is St Mark’s Feast Day, as celebrated by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox faiths. St Mark, a Christian apostle, is traditional author of the second Gospel. He lived in Jerusalem and the early Christians met at Mary’s (his mother), house. He accompanied St. Paul and St. Barnabas to Cyprus, but he left them at Perga and returned to Jerusalem. St. Peter is thought to have provided him with many of the facts on which he based his Gospel.

The Alexandrian church claims Mark as its founder (the liturgy of that church is called St Mark’s Liturgy).  His symbol as an Evangelist is the lion.  The cathedral of Venice is dedicated to St Mark and holds his relics, while the city of Venice itself has adopted the lion as its symbol. The Gospel according to St Mark is the second book of the New Testament. It is the simplest and earliest of the Gospels (written probably between 65-70 AD) and used as a source by Matthew and Luke, hence these three gospels are called the synoptic gospels.

St Mark’s gospel was presumably written during the decade preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Most scholars agree that it was used by Matthew and Luke in composing their accounts; more than 90 percent of the content of Mark’s Gospel appears in Matthew’s, and more than 50 percent in the Gospel of Luke. Although the text lacks literary polish, it is simple and direct; and, as the earliest Gospel, it is the primary source of information about the ministry of Jesus.

Mark’s explanations of Jewish customs and his translations of Aramaic expressions suggest that he was writing for Gentile converts, probably especially for those converts living in Rome. After an introduction (1:1-13), the Gospel describes Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee (1:14-8:26); his journey to Jerusalem (11-13); the Passion (14-15); and the Resurrection (16). The final passage in Mark (16:9-20) is omitted in some manuscripts, including the two oldest, and a shorter passage is substituted in others.

Many scholars believe that these last verses were not written by Mark, at least not at the same time as the balance of the Gospel, but were added later to account for the Resurrection. Mark’s Gospel stresses the deeds, strength, and determination of Jesus in overcoming evil forces and defying the power of imperial Rome. Mark also emphasises the Passion, predicting it as early as chapter 8 and devoting the final third of his Gospel (11-16) to the last week of Jesus’ life.

One of the most striking elements in the Gospel is Mark’s characterisation of Jesus as reluctant to reveal himself as the Messiah. Jesus refers to himself only as the Son of Man, and while tacitly acknowledging Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ, he nevertheless cautions his followers not to tell anyone about him.

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