In the Gospel of Mark, why does Jesus appear in Galilee?

In the Gospel of Mark, why does Jesus appear in Galilee, and not in some other place? There are three good reasons why Jesus appears in Galilee. First, the Sea of Galilee borders the Galilee. Mark can have characters in his story who are fishermen. He can stage scenes that use a boat, such as the water walk and the stilling of the storm. And Mark can make references to the Odyssey.

Second, Galilee is near enough to Jerusalem that Jesus and his entourage can plausibly, in the world of the play, walk to Jerusalem, where the play concludes.

Third, Galilee had a majority Judean population at the time the play is set (c. 30 CE, datable by the presence of Pontius Pilate). Jesus can walk about the countryside and expect to find synagogues and potential (Judean) followers. There are also Judeans of other sects, including Pharisees and their scribes (house intellectuals). These two groups are Jesus’s opponents before he arrives in Jerusalem.

I note that in the Gospel of Mark, the scribes are members of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). This is dramatic license* that allows the scribes to serve as a bridge between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Once the Jesus character arrives in Jerusalem, the chief priests (Sadducees) become his major opponent.

Mark’s audience was pro-Jesus. They would not have cared about the misrepresentation of the actual alliances on the ground. Mark created a wall of opposition against his protagonist so that he took on the traditional tragic role of the lone individual against the powerful Establishment.

*The alliance of the Pharisees and the chief priests/Sadducees is not realistic: 

“The Gospels are also completely wrong about first century Jewish religious politics. The Pharisees and the High Priest were never in cahoots with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth – they were bitter political enemies. In reality, most everyone in Judea hated the High Priest, who was both a Sadducee (the Pharisee’s political opponents), and a puppet appointee working for the hated Romans. The Pharisees regarded the Temple priesthood as mere ceremonial functionaries doing the nation’s spiritual grunt work, keeping the sacrifices going and maintaining the Temple.5 Even in the best of times the Pharisees seemed to regard most high priests as little more than trained monkeys, saying “a learned bastard takes precedence
over an ignorant High Priest.”6″ – David Fitzgerald, Nailed (p. 94)

(References are #5 Maccoby, Hyam, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, Harper Collins 1987, pp. 26-27. #6. ibid, p. 23)

revised January 25, 2021


  1. Per Carrier (22 December 2019). “Tim O’Neill & the Biblical History Skeptics on Mythicism”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

    [Tim] O’Neill also asks why Jesus is in Galilee. He evidently doesn’t know scripture required him to be. Or that such a location was remarkably convenient for Mark’s messaging. As I show in my article on “Mark’s Use of Paul’s Epistles”, the very passage of Isaiah, Isaiah 9, that predicts the messiah will come out of Galilee calls it “Galilee of the Gentiles,” perfectly suiting Mark’s repeated messaging that the Gentiles will be saved along with the Jews (see Chapter 10.4 in OHJ). Thus Galilee allows Mark to have Jesus interact as often with Gentiles as with Jews and still be solidly in the Holy Land and in agreement with scripture. It also gives him a body of water in the middle of it all to emulate the miracles of Moses in.

    Notably, Paul never shows any knowledge that Jesus ever had any connection with Galilee. That idea first appears with Mark. And the other Gospel authors entirely get it from him. There is no other source for it. So it’s actually one of the least credible facts claimed about Jesus.

    1. I am glad to see Dr. Carrier looking at the text of GMark from Mark’s practical point of view, and noting that he accomplished several things with Jesus’s appearance in Galilee. Mark had a remarkable ability to do several things at once.

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