Here I explain how that real history explains several assertions and silences in the official orthodox history of the early church.
To review, my scenario is that Mark’s congregation in Rome was founded by Alexandrian Judeans, probably with lay Essene religious practices. The congregation and Mark used the Letter to the Hebrews. Mark was probably himself Alexandrian Judean. He wrote a play on behalf of the congregation’s patron, Flavia Domitilla. She was married to Titus Flavius Clemens, consul in 95. They were parents of future emperors. Flavia Domitilla donated the use of catacombs on her property to this congregation. The emperor Domitian had Clemens killed and Flavia exiled in 95 CE, probably (in my opinion) out of paranoia, but claimed it was because of their “Judaizing.” The Roman congregation treasured for centuries the memory of Flavia Domitilla and Clemens, and the text (the Gospel of Mark) that memorialized their patronage. This congregation, the home of the popes, was and remained rich and well-connected.
I recognize that any two points can be connected by a straight line. But my proposed real history for Mark consistently and efficiently generates credible explanations for the impossibilities and silences in the official orthodox history of the time.
The orthodox don’t explain how or why Mark wrote in Rome
I claim that Mark wrote in Rome on behalf of Flavia Domitilla. The orthodox don’t even have a story for the origin of the Gospel of Mark. All they have is a third-hand statement by Papias preserved by the fourth-century historian Eusebius. Papias says that he was told that Peter went to Rome, where he told Jesus of Nazareth’s story to Mark, who wrote it “but not in order.” Therefore, the Gospel of Mark was the memoir, but not in order, of an illiterate fisherman.
Clearly that is not true. The Gospel of Mark is a sophisticated literary creation.
If Papias’s statement is the best origin story for the Gospel of Mark the orthodox authorities could cite, even in the fourth century, when orthodox mythologizing had been going strong for 200 years, Mark’s real life-situation must have been common knowledge even at that time. My scenario explains why.
The orthodox honored Titus Flavius Clemens
Since antiquity, the pope from 88-98 CE has been named in the official orthodox history as “Pope Clement.” That name must derive from a real-life connection between the Flavian aristocrat, Titus Flavius Clemens, and the papal congregation in Rome.
I believe that this is the same congregation Mark wrote for. Why? I believe that Flavia Domitilla, Clemens’s wife and donor of catacombs, was honored by Mark during the performance of his play.
There is no reason to think there were two proto-orthodox congregations in first-century Rome: one with Clemens, and one with Clemens’s wife Flavia and Mark.
So there was one congregation, the papal congregation, for whom Mark wrote, patronized by Flavia and associated with her husband Clemens. I believe that for centuries, all educated Christians knew that Clemens had been associated with the papal congregation.
My scenario explains how Clemens was associated with the congregation: via his wife’s patronage of it. The official orthodox story has a problem: if they portray Clemens as a Christian convert, or even a sympathizer, they have to explain how his congregation grew in 30 years from the synagogue of Judeans that listened to an illiterate fisherman to an institution at the heart of Roman society, patronized by the parents of future emperors. Better to ignore the history of the Roman congregation…
The orthodox honored Flavia Domitilla, donor of catacombs
The Roman Catholic Church assigns the second-century Catacombs of Domitilla to a historical person, Flavia Domitilla the Younger (niece of Titus and Domitian), traditionally a Christian martyr and a saint.
In my scenario, Flavia did donate catacombs, but Flavia was not a convert, and was killed by Domitian out of paranoia.
The orthodox do not explain how Flavia—the mother of future emperors—became associated with the congregation. I have proposed that Flavia became interested in the congregation through her mentor, Princess Berenice of Judea.
My scenario places Flavia Domitilla in a family and social matrix that explains the objective history about her. The orthodox draw a veil of fog over Flavia’s life before her “martyrdom.”
Acts is silent on the origin of the Gospel of Mark
One of the purposes of the Acts of the Apostles is to give authority to the founding figures of contemporary orthodox congregations. Acts mentions a minor character, John Mark of Jerusalem. This John Mark does not found anything, but in the official orthodox story, is identified with the author of the Gospel of Mark. Acts ends with Paul in Rome, with no mention of John Mark or of the composition of the Gospel of Mark, or of the papal congregation. There’s no mention of Peter. Why didn’t Acts create a pious founding story for the Roman congregation, or an origin story for the Gospel of Mark?
I suggest that my scenario for the creation of Mark’s gospel was well-known at the time of Acts’s composition (130s-150s). The author of Acts knew that Mark’s congregation was by roots Alexandrian Judean, later patronized by the Flavian family, and socially prominent in Rome. My scenario explains Acts’s silence. The author of Acts simply could not invent an apostolic origin for Mark’s congregation or Mark’s story. All he could do was drop a few breadcrumbs that might later be pieced together with other clues into a pious trail out of the woods.
The orthodox canonized and attributed Hebrews to Paul
The official orthodox story is that Paul wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. But even in antiquity many Christians dissented.
I think that Hebrews was an important text to the papal congregation prior to and during Mark’s time (and for some time after). Mark quotes from it, and both Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark portray Jesus as the heavenly high priest. There is no reason to think that any other second-century orthodox congregation shared this belief.
I suggest that the orthodox canonizer knew that Paul did not write Hebrews. My scenario with a powerful and rich Roman congregation explains why Hebrews is in the canon at all–the Roman congregation demanded it. My scenario also explains why Paul was chosen as its author—his name gave an indisputable seal of approval to that text. And hid Hebrews’s real history as a text particular to the Roman congregation.
The visit of Polycarp to Rome is compatible with my scenario
When Polycarp visited Pope Anicetus in Rome,* they discussed a number of things including the date of Easter. The question of Easter was resolved by the parties agreeing to disagree. If Irenaeus, our source, found that that resolution was the most important outcome of the meeting–he doesn’t discuss the “other things”–we may infer that other disagreements were not resolved.
It is logical that these disagreements derived from the different ritual practices and religious doctrines of Alexandrian Judeans (in Rome) and Asian/post-70 refugee Judeans (in the Ephesus area). Both ‘strands’ of orthodoxy had developed separately for nearly a century.
My scenario of an Alexandrian origin to the Roman congregation explains the existence of ritual and religious differences between Rome and the East. My scenario in which Clemens and Flavia Domitilla were associated with the Roman congregation explains why Polycarp came to Rome (instead of the Pope going to Smyrna): the Roman congregation was rich and at the center of power.
Without my scenario, we cannot characterize the Roman congregation ideologically or sociologically. All we have are a few texts ostensibly written in or to Rome: Romans, 1 Clement, 1 Peter, Shepherd of Hermas. Hebrews is not moored to a real place and time. And Polycarp’s respect for the Roman congregation is inexplicable, except for it being the home of the popes.
*I find it hard to believe that it was really Polycarp, then about 80 years old, who visited Rome. But whether he, or someone acting in his name did, is far less important than what he represented and what Irenaeus’s story reveals.
Theory of textual influences is not enough
To readers of other scholars who write about the origin of the Gospel of Mark, I say: the life-situation these authors propose for Mark should be compatible with real, objective history about the development of the first- and second-century orthodox church. This means that they have to have read about the people and organizations who might have known about the Gospel of Mark in and after its time. They have to have a scenario that is at least compatible with the prominence of the name “Clement,” the existence of Christian Catacombs of Domitilla, the fact that the Gospel of Mark used Hebrews, and the other issues I address in this post.
I have done this. My scenario efficiently and credibly explains the assertions and silences of the official orthodox story concerning the Roman congregation. Does theirs?
minor changes December 9, 2021