Recently NT scholar and fellow blogger Michael Kok (Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield) sent me a copy of a his newly published book–The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century–for me to review on my blog. Kok does not engage in counter-apologetics like myself, but his work on the authorship of Mark and the gospel’s reception among the church fathers of the 2nd-3rd centuries is highly relevant to my Classics PhD research. In particular, Kok’s new book is relevant to my dissertation topic, which will be about ancient authorship. Kok received his PhD in 2013, and since he is a scholar only a few years ahead of myself, who is likewise working on a number of similar issues, I have been greatly interested in his research and arguments.
The Gospel on the Margins deals with the reception of the Gospel of Mark from the church father Papias (early-2nd century CE) to Clement of Alexandria (early-3rd century CE). In particular, Kok investigates why the church fathers associated the gospel with the figure of John Mark–who is described in the company of Peter in Acts 12:12 and 1 Peter 5:13, and also as an attendant of Paul in Col 4:10, Phlm 24, 2 Tim 4:11, and Acts 12:25; 13:5; 13:13; 15:37-39. Furthermore, Kok likewise discusses how the Gospel of Mark received the least amount of scriptural citations from the church fathers compared to the other canonical Gospels–Matthew, Luke, and John–during this period. This silence is peculiar, given the fact that the gospel was claimed to be written by an attendant of Peter, who was the first head of the early church. If the gospel was really based on the recollections and teachings of Peter, as the church fathers claimed, why did it receive so little attention from them?
In his new book, Kok advances the thesis that the Gospel of Mark was attributed to the authorship of John Mark–and, by relation, was connected with the disciple Peter–in order to grant the text orthodox status early in the 2nd century CE. This designation of authority was done, in part, because Mark was the earliest gospel (and thus one of the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life), but also to prevent the text from being used by heretical sects–such as those led by Valentinus, Basilides, and Carpocrates. Nevertheless, the original composition of the Gospel of Mark in the 1st century occurred under very different circumstances, which casts doubt on the authenticity of the Petrine tradition, especially since it can be demonstrated to have canonizing motivations in the 2nd century. In short, “Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church,” as this book’s Google Books’ description summarizes nicely. Below is my review: