a priori: Dean Furlong’s work on John Mark

A Priori is a series in which we put three simple questions to scholars undertaking important research in biblical studies, theology, ethics, and more around the world. We seek out the authors whose work you might otherwise never hear about, who may be poised for future renown in this early stage in their career, whose mission is the church, whose vocation is research. This week we hear from Dean Furlong and his work on John Mark.

1. Who are you, where did you study, and what work have you published so far?

My name is Dean Furlong, I am a dual British and American citizen who lives near Memphis, Tennessee. I hold a PhD in New Testament Studies from the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and I recently published a work, based on my doctoral research, entitled The Identity of John the Evangelist: Revision and Reinterpretation of Early Christian Sources (Lanham: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2020). This study argues that John the Evangelist was originally identified with a figure otherwise known as John the Elder, and that he only later came to be identified with John the son of Zebedee, the Galilean fisherman of the Synoptic Gospels. It was this later identification, I argue, that gave rise to many of the anomalies in the Johannine traditions of the early Christians, such as differences with respect to the date of John’s exile (in the reigns of Claudius, Nero, or Domitian respectively) and the manner of his death (an early martyrdom and a natural death in Trajan’s reign), as writers variously attempted to conflate the previously-separate traditions of the two Johns into new narratives.

I have been working on a monograph that will explore the various traditions and identifications of John Mark in Christian tradition, entitled The John also Called Mark: Reception and Transformation in Christian Tradition (WUNT II: Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,2020).

While it discusses how John Mark came to be identified with Mark the Evangelist and Mark of Alexandria (i.e. with the Mark associated with the founding of the Egyptian Church), the most potentially significant identification it explores is that of the apparent identification in a number of sources of John Mark with John the Evangelist.

Thus, in these sources Mark is depicted as the disciple that stood by Jesus at the cross, and his house is made the setting of the Johannine narrative of Jesus’s appearance to Thomas and the Twelve. There are also a number of descriptions of Mark’s Gospel, some of which are ancient, and others of which survive in medieval works, which seem to describe Mark’s Gospel as one that gives special emphasis to the teaching of the divinity of Christ, with some even attributing a Logos theology to Mark’s Gospel. I also demonstrate how the overarching narratives of the lives and movements of John Mark and John the Evangelist were also correlated.

There are in addition what I would call “reduplicated traditions,” or traditions which are common to both Mark and John. Thus, both are described as Jerusalemites of noble birth and as priests wearing the sacerdotal plate. Furthermore, the house of both is associated with the same site of the Zion Church in Jerusalem, and both are said to have had a Levitical father named Aristobulus. I argue that these things reflect an early identification of John Mark with John the Evangelist, and that he only later came to be identified with Mark the Evangelist and Mark of Alexandria.

This monograph includes discussion of many largely unfamiliar sources. Of particular importance is a Greek work of unknown provenance called the Acts of Mark (not the same work which is often called by this title and which is also known as the Martyrdom of Mark), which contains many traditions of John Mark’s early background and early life. I also include a translation of the first ten chapters of this work in an appendix (the first time it has been published in English, to my knowledge).  

Some of the findings of this research were presented in a paper entitled “The Confusion of John and Mark in Christian Sources,” which was presented at the Central States Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (Columbia, Missouri) on March 11, 2018.

In this excerpt from the upcoming publication, I briefly discuss some of the former scholarly interaction with the thesis:  

Theodor Zahn seems to have been the first to have suggested that John/Mark and John the Evangelist were sometimes confused in sources, pointing in support to the identification of both with the young man who fled naked in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 14:51) and the association of both with the site of the Zion church in Jerusalem. A little later, Francis Pritchett Badham suggested some “confluence of personality” between the two on account of depictions of both as priests wearing the sacerdotal plate (cf. Chapter 8). J. Edgar Bruns, who, as discussed in the previous chapter, drew attention to the placement of John/Mark in Johannine narratives, also drew attention to the confusion of John and Mark, noting that both were said to have had a father named Aristobulus, the brother of Barnabas, which suggests that the two were “not distinguished”. While scholarship has not generally furthered this avenue of research, some significant Markan and Johannine scholars have accepted as a result of Bruns’s investigation that John and Mark were sometimes confused in some early Christian sources. Indeed, C. Clifton Black has gone so far as to suggest that “some writers of Christian antiquity were inclined to identify John Mark with the apostle John”. (p. 105)

3. Who is the final product intended for, and when do you anticipate we might see your research published?

This monograph is in the final stages of editing before publication, and it should be available in May 2020. While this work is intended for Johannine and Markan scholars, it is also intended for anyone, scholar or not, interested in exploring both the various identifications of John Mark in Christian tradition and the reception history of Mark’s Gospel. The work will also no doubt profit those who are interested in the question of the identity of the Beloved Disciple in early Christian sources. Others have argued for the identification of the Beloved Disciple with John Mark, beginning with Julius Wellhausen over a century ago, but while other works have tended to argue for this from the internal evidence of the Fourth Gospel, this work examines the evidence found for this identification in ancient and medieval Christian sources.

Promote your research! Send an email to tavis.bohlinger@faithlife.com, answering the three questions above. Contributions are published in the order they are received. We look forward to highlighting your work!

Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the editor of Word by Word's Lecture Hall and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger