Is “Andrew” in the Gospel of Mark the name of the author?


When I wrote the book, The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text, I concluded that the character “Andrew” (Greek: “Andreas”) was never on stage in the performance of the Gospel of Mark. “Andrew” is not necessary to the action, he does nothing individual, he does not receive a nickname like his ‘brother’, and he drops out of the action without explanation. I inferred that Andrew in the Gospel of Mark was added by an editor. I assumed that the only explanation I had encountered was correct: the Greek name “Andreas” symbolized Jesus’s “welcome to Gentiles.” I have changed my mind.

Mark, a theater professional from Alexandria

I revisited the purpose of the Andrew character in the Gospel of Mark as a result of thinking about Mark’s life before he wrote the gospel. Bear with me–this background is relevant. “Mark” was a skilled playwright, yet educated in Judean texts. Assuming at the time of the performance c. 95 CE, he had been in Rome for some years, whom did he work for? Although there were a number of competitive games and festivals during the reigns of Nero and the Flavians, these games and festivals were dedicated to pagan gods. I just can’t see Mark submitting plays to these competitions. Therefore, he probably worked mostly if not entirely for well-to-do Judeans. (Like Gentiles, they needed theatrical pieces for dinner parties and life-event celebrations.) And there may have been the profession of consultant “dinner party manager,” much like modern elite wedding planners. That job would be a natural for a theatrical professional. (His clients would be people wealthy enough to host elaborate dinner parties for life events, but who did not own a socially well-connected slave who could produce sufficiently impressive dinner parties.)

Where did Mark get the theatrical training evident in the play behind the Gospel of Mark? The logical answer is Alexandria. It is the only place that we know of with a tradition of Judean playwrights, along with a large enough Judean-heritage population to support Judean playwrights and dinner-party-entertainment writers. In the absence of any other information, my working theory is that Mark was born or educated in Alexandria.

“Mark” had a Greek name

What was Mark’s real name? Let us assume that he was 55 years old in 95 CE when he wrote and performed the play behind the Gospel of Mark. He would have had some professional training and established some connections at home prior to leaving for Rome. Let us assume he came to Rome as a young man of 25-30 in 65-70 CE, at the end of Nero’s reign. If “Mark” had a Judean name, he might have retained it, assuming his clients were mainly Judean. But professionally, a Greek name would give him a broader potential client base.

Things changed when in 69 Vespasian became emperor on the strength of his ‘conquest’ of Judea. Judeans were now defeated rebels and the new mass group of slaves in Rome. If Mark was using a Judean name, he would now replace it with a Greek name to assert a Hellenistic Judean identity separate from and above the enslaved and refugee easterners. So by 70 and after, after he had arrived in Rome, Mark would have used a Greek name. And his congregation would have known him under a Greek name.

“Andrew” did not originate in the Gospel of Luke

In the book I assumed that Andrew was an editor’s addition to Mark’s text. I speculated that Andrew originated in the Gospel of Matthew, in the mid-second century.

Now I think that scenario is not correct. I now think that Luke wrote before Matthew. Luke did not need to create Andrew as a figure who embodied “welcome to the Gentiles.” In Acts, the church mission to the Gentiles already exists. It is headed by the Judeans Barnabas and Paul.

Furthermore, in Acts 1:13, Andrew appears in the list of apostles (not disciples). That means that Luke’s constituents already recognized “Andrew” as a member of the Twelve. So Luke did not invent Andrew: he was already significant to Christians. In any case, if Luke or Matthew invented Andrew, the Roman congregation would have had to be persuaded to revise its 60-year old treasured text of the Gospel of Mark, evidence of Flavia Domitilla’s patronage, to include Gentile Andrew as the junior brother of Peter! Impossible.

Andrew was added by an editor of the Gospel of Mark

Let us imagine a different scenario. Perhaps “Andreas” was Mark’s real name. An editor of Mark’s text inserted Andrew as the biological brother of Peter, the second character in the play. To the reader/listener of the text, Peter’s importance in the world of the story bleeds over to Andrew. Since Andrew is not important in the world of the play, it is worth considering whethert Andrew was important in the world of the audience.

If this admittedly speculative theory is correct, the Andrew character was added by the first editor of the Gospel of Mark, whom I call in the book “S-Mark” for “Secretary of Mark” or “Stage Manager of Mark.” Elsewhere, S-Mark delicately sculpted Mark’s text, never writing entirely new material. The insertion of Mark’s real name via a character who has no dialogue and no influence on the action of the play, is consistent with S-Mark’s refusal elsewhere to create new material.

I infer that S-Mark worked soon after Domitian’s purge. (Flavia Domitilla was exiled and Titus Flavius Clemens and their sons were killed. So too perhaps the author of the Gospel.) In this political context, S-Mark and the Roman congregation were justifiably defensive. I suggest that to avoid the appearance of valuing an author now in disrepute, they attributed the text of the Gospel of Mark to the pseudonymous “Marcus,” a very common Roman name.

The aftermath

For many decades, the Roman congregation knew the real name of the author of the Gospel of Mark. If it was “Andreas,” the readers/listeners of the text would perceive “Andrew” as a coded message about their history. An outsider to the text would see the Andrew character as inert, but have no reason to remove him. Luke and Matthew retained Andrew. Luke included him in Acts as an early apostle of Jesus of Nazareth. Acts established “Andrew” as a character in the gospel story, even if/when the Roman congregation forgot the origin of the name.

Version December 27, 2020

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