Sunday, April 22, 2018

Geographical References - The Gospel of Mark

Continuing the "geography" series, the next map covers the geographic places with proper names that are referenced in the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the Biblical gospels and considered by many to be the earliest-written of the Biblical gospels. Additional notes are placed below the map.
The Breadth of the Geographical Interest
The Gospel of Mark has more places than the maps we have previously reviewed, with 27 distinct places mentioned, and 71 distinct mentions of those places. Here we see an increase in the variety of places: a collection of regions, landscape features, towns or cities, and named places within or around the city. The majority of places mentioned are in the immediate vicinity of Jesus' known historical locations, and within the range that could be easily traveled in the Roman era. In a brief comparison to the eight non-canonical gospels covered in the previous posts, those eight documents mention 6 distinct places among them: Bethlehem, Israel, Jerusalem, the Jordan River, Judea, and Samaria. The number of distinct places mentioned does vary among those documents, from a low of zero in two of the non-Biblical gospels, to a high of four distinct places in the Proto-Evangelium of James. Interestingly, the non-canonical gospels mention two places that the Gospel of Mark does not mention: Samaria is mentioned in 2 of the 8 non-canonical gospels, and Bethlehem is mentioned in one of them, while neither is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. The reason Bethlehem isn't mentioned in Mark is fairly clear: as the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus as an adult, there is no reason to mention Bethlehem. The reason there is no mention of Samaria is more open to speculation, whether because it is a minor point in any of the narratives of Jesus' life, or because there is tension between Samaritans and Jews; either would be a plausible reason. While Mark mentions more non-Jewish places than I'd realized before plotting them on a map, he doesn't mention Samaria. (With a quick preview of the four Biblical gospels, the remaining ones all mention Samaria or Samaritans.)

Relative Geographical Context
The Gospel of Mark, as mentioned briefly, has 71 references to 27 distinct places. The most common places mentioned are Galilee and Jerusalem, which combine to make roughly 31% of the referenced geographical names. This compares to the combined total of the eight non-canonical gospels reviewed with 60 references to 6 places, with over 50% of the references being broad references to "Israel", and 75% of the references going to either "Israel" or "Jerusalem". To keep these findings in perspective, it may help to refer to the previous chart on the relative lengths of these documents. None of these non-Biblical gospels is as long as the Gospel of Mark; in fact, the five shortest of them combined are still not quite as long as the Gospel of Mark. However, by the time these 8 non-Biblical documents are all considered -- including some of the longer non-canonical gospels, there is over twice the amount of material as the Gospel of Mark but noticeably less context by way of physical geography.

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