The origin of the Gospel of Mark has never been explained satisfactorily. The traditional Christian explanation is that “Mark” wrote down Peter’s memoirs of his time spent with Jesus of Nazareth. But this explanation is now untenable because recent scholarship has demonstrated that Mark’s Jesus was a heavenly figure, not a human one.

Independent scholar Danila Oder has an entirely new proposal for Mark’s life situation and his purpose in writing the Gospel. In The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text, Oder proposes that Mark first wrote a play. The play was a journey story that ended with the Passion, an originally separate tragedy. Mark directed and acted the role of Jesus in a private performance in a Greek-style theater. Separately, Mark “preserved” the performance in a narrated text. He condensed the dialogue and added literary features such as chiasms, and names of characters and places not spoken onstage. That second text is the ancestor of our Gospel of Mark.

For most of the book, Oder takes the point of view of a director and stage manager. She analyzes the text of the Gospel to reveal the underlying performance. The plot concerned Jesus’s mission on earth to die and rise: would Satan succeed in derailing him from his mission? The subplot concerned Jesus’s earthly activities: would he be able to incite the Council of Jerusalem (the Sanhedrin) to kill him? (The Temple Incident answers that question.)

Oder itemizes the theatrical elements of the play, such as the lighting and the use of the theatrical space. She discusses the characters and finds that some were added by editors. She reconstructs the action of many scenes, and revises the Bethsaida section. Oder proposes that the play ended with a spectacular ascension scene. An appendix to The Two Gospels of Mark includes a summary reconstruction of the action of the original play.

Mark’s play was written for and produced between 90 and 95 CE in Rome by his patron, Flavia Domitilla, a niece of the Emperor Domitian, for her congregation of the Jesus movement. It is speculative to identify Flavia as Mark’s patron, but her participation is consistent with a scene of the play: the anointing at Bethany. There, Jesus promises the anointing woman eternal fame, an anomaly in the world of the play. (The woman never appears onstage again!) But in the world of the audience, the promise of eternal fame fits as flattery of Flavia: she played the role and anointed the Jesus actor onstage. She was then applauded by the congregation for her donations to them.

The Gospel of Mark is often called pro-Gentile or Pauline. Oder cautions that we should not infer that Mark’s congregation was majority-Gentile, or that Mark had read (and agreed with) the Letters of Paul. Flavia’s patronage is sufficient to explain the pro-Gentile slant. Any doctrine expressed in the Gospel of Mark–assuming that we are looking at Mark’s original text–only had to be acceptable to the congregation in the context of an entertainment.

Oder discusses the fate of the Gospel of Mark in the second century, and its usefulness when the Roman church decided to reconceive their heavenly Jesus as a historical human being, Jesus of Nazareth. The Roman church downplayed the life-situation of the historical Mark and obfuscated the occasion for which he had written his two gospels of Mark.

The Two Gospels of Mark is a telescopic view into the past. The fog of the text’s origins is dispersed, and for the first time, the Gospel of Mark belongs to a specific time and place. Its date can now replace the dates of Jesus of Nazareth (30–33 CE) as an anchor for studies in early Christianity.

The book is written for scholars and advanced amateurs who are familiar with the Gospel of Mark and who are willing to assume that Mark’s Jesus was a heavenly figure. The book has discursive footnotes, endnotes, a bibliography, and a real index. It includes a photograph of the miniature theater that Oder built to test the movements of the actors in Mark’s play.