The African Memory of Mark – Thomas C. Oden

Thomas C. Oden’s new book  The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition published by IVP arrived in my mailbox today. When I opened it my initial thought was that I didn’t have time to read a book about the tradition of Mark in Africa. While interesting no doubt to some, I have other things with which to concern myself and Mark’s traditions in Africa was not one of them.

In a pause between tasks this afternoon, I decided to pick up the book and see what it was about. Boy was I surprised! The book sizes up to be not only a very interesting read, but an important contribution to a gaping whole in many of our histories of Christian faith.  I had no idea of the traditions about John Mark in Africa.

The African memory of Mary is an epic personal narrative. It begins with the birth and family of Mark, and their transit from Africa to Jerusalem. In traditional memory, Mark’s family, fleeing civil disorder in Africa, moved to Palestine when Mark was young, sometime during the first three decades of the first century. He had joined Peter’s mission by the early forties, and returned to Libya and Egypt in the forties or fifties to his death in the sixties (36).

Oden’s book, written not to scholars, but to interested believers, will no doubt inform us Western evangelicals of a very important part of our Christian history. A little book like this reminds me of how woefully inadequate my knowledge of the Christian faith is. It reminds me that I need to wake up every day pursuing both a wider and deeper knowledge of the Christian faith of which I believe and in which I stand.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00417377845348501025 Ken

    Good words in your final paragraph. It is truly shameful how we are often so focused on our own personal spiritual development that we neglect learning about the heritage of our faith. In truth, the very study of our Christian heritage will likely encourage and enable us to grow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00417377845348501025 Ken

    Good words in your final paragraph. It is truly shameful how we are often so focused on our own personal spiritual development that we neglect learning about the heritage of our faith. In truth, the very study of our Christian heritage will likely encourage and enable us to grow.

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  • Rich

    Joel, Just finished this book this evening. I get curious about a lot of things so picked it up and it definitely made for an interesting read. It seems like the ‘meat’ of arguments for taking the African tradition seriously is in the more academic books in his bibliography which I suppose I may take a look at. One review thought he made too much of the Secret Gospel of Mark, any thoughts on that? Off topic from the book, his remarks on Mark’s possible Levitical connections got me thinking about 2nd Temple Judaism – what with Pharisaic followers of Jesus as well as priestly followers (‘and many priests became obedient to the faith’) there must have been a variety of halakha followed *within* the early Jewish Christian community pre-70. If you’ve read Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism or interacted with David Rudolph on Kinzer, Kinzer argues re: Mt. 23 that Jesus affirmed the role of the Pharisees as authoritative teachers sitting in the seat of Moses. But would Jesus have validated one particular halakhic stream as authoritative? I would have problems with that approach since Jewish Christians presumably as far as they continued to live halakhically probably followed the halakha of their own stream, Pharisaic, Sadducean or otherwise.

    • Anonymous

      Rich you’ve gone way back to find this post. I will have to look at the book again. I can’t recall the point about secret gospel. You do make a good point re Kinser. I do think I agree with his interpretation of Matt 23. I would assume there was a wide variety of expressions of halakha in early church. I think even with thus being granted there are to additional qualifications. 1. Jesus own interpretation would have created a unique halakha, esp his rejection of the tradition of the fathers. Perhaps like a Karaite approach. 2 the Jewish practice would still have been within Judaism.


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