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Mark, the Jerusalem Temple and Jewish Sectarianism: Why Geographical Proximity Matters in Determining the Provenance of Mark

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2015

Timothy Wardle*
Furman University, Department of Religion, Greenville, SC 29650USA. Email:


Rome or Syria? This article addresses the issue of the provenance of Mark's Gospel by exploring affinities between the second Gospel and Jewish sectarian groups of the first centuries bce and ce. It is argued that Mark displays certain sectarian tendencies, and that these tendencies, most notably seen in the Gospel's negative evaluation of the Jerusalem temple and its priestly overseers, strongly suggest that the Gospel was written in close geographical proximity to Jerusalem and its temple. Accordingly, an area in the Syrian Decapolis is a much more likely place of origin for Mark's Gospel than that of Rome.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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1 See e.g. A. Winn, The Purpose of Mark's Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda (WUNT 2.245; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008) 76–83, 153–201; B. J. Incigneri, The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark's Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 2003) passim; Ebner, M., ‘Evangelium contra Evangelium: das Markusevangelium und der Aufstieg der Flavier’, Biblische Notizen 116 (2003) 2842Google Scholar; B. M. F. van Iersel, Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) 30–57; R. Guelich, Mark 1–8:26 (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) xxix–xxx; M. Hengel, ‘The Gospel of Mark: Time of Origin and Situation’, Studies in the Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 1–30; B. H. M. G. M. Standaert, L’Évangile selon Marc: composition et genre littéraire (Nijmegen: Stichting Studentenpers, 1978) 465–95; W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 24–5.

2 W. Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist: Studies in the Redaction History of the Gospel (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1969 (Orig. German: 1956)) 54–116; cf. C. Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988) 417–23; W. Kelber, The Kingdom in Mark: A New Place and a New Time (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) 62–5; E. Lohmeyer, Das Evangelium des Markus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1936) 29–31.

3 Most recently, S. Freyne, The Jesus Movement and its Expansion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) 280–95, who notes that it could be Galilee or ‘its immediate environs’; H. N. Roskam, The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in its Historical and Social Context (NovTSup 114; Leiden: Brill, 2004) 75–114.

4 See especially A. L. A. Hogeterp, Expectations of the End (STDJ 83; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 127–30; J. Marcus, Mark 1–8 (AB 27; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 33–7; id., The Jewish War and the Sitz im Leben of Mark’, JBL 111.3 (1992) 441–62Google Scholar; G. Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 245–9; H. C. Kee, Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark's Gospel (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983) 103–5.

5 Incigneri, Gospel to the Romans, 103–5.

6 For a detailed discussion regarding the patristic connection between Mark, on the one hand, and Peter and Rome, on the other hand, see C. Black, Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2001) 224–38.

7 Incigneri, Gospel to the Romans, 156–252.

8 For fuller arguments against Roman provenance, see Marcus, Mark 1–8, 33–7; id., ‘Jewish War’, 441–62; Theissen, Gospels in Context, 235–49.

9 Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, 2–4; Theissen, Gospels in Context, 236.

10 Marcus, Mark 1–8, 22–4; id., ‘Jewish War’, 442–6.

11 Theissen, Gospels in Context, 245–9; Marcus, ‘Jewish War’, 443–6; id., Mark 1–8, 32.

12 Marcus, Mark 1–8, 32–3.

13 J. M. G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 bce–117 ce) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996) 308; E. M. Smallwood, The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. A Study in Political Relations (Leiden: Brill, 1976) 217–19.

14 See Marcus, Mark 1–8, 33–7; id., ‘Jewish War’, 441–62.

15 Marcus, ‘Jewish War’, 447.

16 On this, see Josephus, J. W. 4.135–365; M. Tuval, From Jerusalem Priest to Roman Jew (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 113–15; H. Schwier, Tempel und Tempelzerstörung: Untersuchungen zu den theologischen und ideologischen Faktoren im ersten jüdisch-römischen Krieg (66–74 n. Chr.) (NTOA 11; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989) 131–8.

17 Marcus, ‘Jewish War’, 448–56.

18 Marcus, Mark 1–8, 36; cf. L. Levine, Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (538 bce–70 ce) (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002) 402.

19 Marcus, ‘Jewish War’, 450–1.

20 Marcus, Mark 1–8, 36.

21 Ibid., 36. Cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 1096–1100; J. C. Paget, ‘Jewish Christianity’, Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. iii: The Early Roman Period (ed. W. Horbury, W. D. Davies, J. Sturdy; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 747–8.

22 For Josephus’ summary statements of these groups, see Ant. 18.11–25, J. W. 2.119–68 and Life 10–12. The term αἵρεσις is explicitly used to describe these three sects in J. W. 2.119–68, Life 10–12 and Ant. 13.171 and 288–93, among other places. For a discussion of the term αἵρεσις, see BDAG, αἵρεσις, 27; S. J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 20062) 120; L. Grabbe, ‘When is a Sect a Sect – Or Not?’, Sectarianism in Early Judaism: Sociological Advances (ed. D. Chalcraft; London: Equinox, 2007) 126.

23 Not all agree that ‘sect’ is the proper term for these three groups. E. P. Sanders (Judaism: Practice and Belief (London: SCM, 1992) 352), for instance, labels the Pharisees and Sadducees as ‘parties’ and the Essenes as a ‘sect’, while Francis Watson (Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (rev. edn; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 86–99) prefers ‘reform movements’ and ‘sects’. In this paper I retain the term ‘sect’ for all three groups, while acknowledging that the ways in which each group expressed their shared characteristics (discussed below) ranged broadly. For a discussion and rejection of different terms and an argument for applying the term ‘sect’ to all three groups, see Grabbe, ‘When is a Sect’, 127–8.

24 For a more detailed review of the following characteristics of Jewish sects, see A. I. Baumgarten, The Flourishing of Jewish Sects in the Maccabean Era: An Interpretation (Leiden: Brill, 1997) passim; A. J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach (Wilmington: Glazier, 1988) 50–75; Sanders, Judaism, 317–412; Cohen, From the Maccabees, 119–29; Levine, Jerusalem, 119–32; cf. Grabbe, ‘When is a Sect’, 114–32; Watson, Paul, 86–99.

25 Josephus, Ant. 17.42; 18.17, 20–1; Philo, Good Person 75.

26 Cohen, From the Maccabees, 127. Cf. Sanders, Judaism, 362.

27 Baumgarten, Flourishing, 7.

28 Cohen, From the Maccabees, 218; cf. J. Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011) 181–3.

29 While several elements of the ‘Essene Hypothesis’ linking the Essenes with the site of Qumran have been disputed, this connection remains the most plausible, provided it is understood that this identification remains a hypothesis and that the Yahad was not confined to the Qumran site. See J. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 20102) 97–156; J. J. Collins, Beyond the Qumran Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) 122–56; J. E. Taylor, ‘The Classical Sources of the Essenes’, The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. T. H. Lim and J. J. Collins; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 173–99. For scrolls detailing this animosity, see e.g. CD 4.20–5.9; 6.15–7.1; 4QMMT; 1QpHab 8.9–9.3; 11.4–8.

30 See e.g. Collins, Beyond the Qumran Community, 88–98; M. Wise, ‘The Origins and History of the Teacher's Movement’, The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 92–122.

31 See e.g. 11Q19 line 29; 1QS 8–9; 4Q164; 4Q174 1.1.6–7; 4Q400–8; 1QHa 11.21–2; 19.10–13. Cf. C. D. Elledge, ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls’, The World of the New Testament (ed. J. Green and L. M. McDonald; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013) 228–32; T. Wardle, The Jerusalem Temple and Early Christian Identity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) 139–45.

32 Josephus, Ant. 13.288–97; Saldarini, Pharisees, 85–9.

33 See S. Mason, ‘Josephus's Pharisees: The Narratives’, In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (ed. J. Neusner and B. Chilton; Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007) 14–21.

34 Levine, Jerusalem, 121–2.

35 See Wardle, Jerusalem Temple, 95; Bohak, G., ‘Theopolis: A Single-Temple Policy and its Singular Ramifications’, JJS 50 (1999) 1216CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Paul is the possible exception. He maintains that he was a Pharisee (Phil 3.5), and Luke describes him as a son of Pharisees (Acts 23.6; cf. 26.5) who spent some of his formative years in Jerusalem studying with Gamaliel, a leading Pharisee (Acts 22.3). W. C. van Unnik (Tarsus or Jerusalem: the City of Paul's Youth (London: Epworth, 1962) 17–58) has argued that Paul became a Pharisee while in Jerusalem. For a discussion of Paul's claim to be a Pharisee and Pharisaism as generally restricted to Judea and neighbouring vicinities, see Saldarini, Pharisees, 134–43; cf. Magness, Stone and Dung, 186. For a discussion of the centrality of Jerusalem for Jewish sectarianism, see the sources listed in n. 24 above.

37 T. C. Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark (Tübingen; Mohr Siebeck, 2008) 198. Cf. D. Juel, Messiah and Temple (Missoula: Scholars, 1977) 57; W. Telford, The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree (Sheffield: JSOT, 1980) 217; Marcus, Mark 8–16, 770; Incigneri, Gospel to the Romans, 154–5.

38 Marcus, Mark 8–16, 783; cf. Gray, Temple, 29; Kelber, Kingdom, 101.

39 Marcus, ‘Jewish War’, 450–1; see also Schwier, Tempel und Tempelzerstörung, 131–8.

40 Telford (Barren Temple, 155) points out the strong connection between the withering of fig trees and the eschatological destruction of Israel in Isa 28.3–4; Jer 8.13; Hos 9.10; Joel 1.7, 12; Mic 7.1. Cf. Marcus, Mark 8–16, 789. Tom Shepherd (Markan Sandwich Stories: Narration, Definition, and Function (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1993) 226–7) understands this scene in a different manner. For him, the juxtaposition of these two stories means that the tree is cursed, but the temple is cleansed. Ironically, according to Shepherd, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple ends up bringing about its destruction due to the Jewish religious leaders’ plot to put Jesus to death.

41 For a treatment of these two adjectives, see Juel, Messiah and Temple, 144–57; R. E. Brown, Death of the Messiah, vol. i (New York: Doubleday, 1994) 439–40.

42 P. W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 12; Juel, Messiah and Temple, 206. Juel argues that Jesus is the destroyer of the temple in a figurative and ironic sense: its destruction is the result of his death, brought about by those in charge of the temple worship.

43 Marcus, Mark 8–16, 1014–15; Gray, Temple, 171–80; Juel, Messiah and Temple, 143–57. For an argument to the contrary, see E. Linnemann, Studien zur Passionsgeschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 118–27.

44 Marcus, Mark 8–16, 814–15; Gray, Temple, 61–77.

45 Gray, Temple, 156–64.

46 Ibid., 151; cf. Walker, Holy City, 8–13.

47 For a recent elaboration of this theme in Mark, see Gray, Temple, passim.

48 For example, see the various disagreements with the current Jerusalem priests found throughout 4QMMT; cf. CD 4.20–5.9; 1QpHab 8.9–9.7; 11.4–8; 12.8–20.

49 11Q19 29.2–10; 4Q174 1.2.2–5.

50 While some Gentiles did live in Galilee in the first centuries bce and ce, they were numerically inferior to the larger Jewish population of the region. For a recent review of the literary and archaeological evidence, see M. A. Chancey, ‘The Ethnicities of Galileans’, Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods, vol. i (ed. D. R. Fiensy and J. R. Strange; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014) 112–28.

51 The only clear example of Jewish diaspora literature that speaks negatively of the Jerusalem temple is Sib. Or. 4, for which the provenance is largely assumed to be Egyptian. On this, see Tuval, Jerusalem Priest, 88; Wardle, Jerusalem Temple, 95. For a discussion of how this criticism likely developed in circles closest to the Jerusalem priests, see M. Himmelfarb, A Kingdom of Priests (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) 10–16, 51–2. For the provenance of Jubilees, Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch and the Qumran scrolls, see the introductory comments for each respective document in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture (ed. L. H. Feldman, J. L. Kugel, L. H. Schiffman; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2013).

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