"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, January 13, 2012

St. Mark of Alexandria

Francis Dvornik's 1948 study The Idea Of Apostolicity In Byzantium And The Legend Of Apostle Andrew was one of the most important to help us understand the process by which the early Church gradually shifted the argument from the "principle of accommodation" to the importance of "apostolicity" when arguing over the pre-eminence of patriarchal sees. More recently, Susan Wessel's fascinating and very important study has shown in great and convincing detail how this process was really accomplished in the fifth century under Pope Leo I: Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome.

Now another recent publication has examined the role of the apostle Mark in shaping the Church of Alexandria: Thomas C. Oden, 
The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition (IVP, 2011, 279pp).

About this book, the publisher tells us:
We often regard the author of the Gospel of Mark as an obscure figure about whom we know little. Many would be surprised to learn how much fuller a picture of Mark exists within widespread African tradition, tradition that holds that Mark himself was from North Africa, that he founded the church in Alexandria, that he was an eyewitness to the Last Supper and Pentecost, that he was related not only to Barnabas but to Peter as well and accompanied him on many of his travels. In this provocative reassessment of early church tradition, Thomas C. Oden begins with the palette of New Testament evidence and adds to it the range of colors from traditional African sources, including synaxaries (compilations of short biographies of saints to be read on feast days), archaeological sites, non-Western historical documents and ancient churches. The result is a fresh and illuminating portrait of Mark, one that is deeply rooted in African memory and seldom viewed appreciatively in the West.
One of the "blurbers" draws out the Coptic implications:
"The African Memory of Mark honors the way the Coptic Church has been the faithful, preeminent carrier of the Markan tradition in the church, and does that by weaving the different genres of sources into a narrative whole. Oden is not unaware of standard depictions of Mark and the Gospel that bears his name in which the African note is rather marginal--where it is acknowledged at all--but he challenges established scholarship by marshaling the evidence and refocusing it on the continuity of the Coptic memory of Mark. Whether or not the reader agrees with the argument of the book, Oden has raised the bar of scrutiny and challenged many of the unstated assumptions of conventional scholarship. From critic and fan alike, Oden deserves credit." (Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions & World Christianity, Yale University )

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