The “Acts of Mark” and the “Martyrdom of Mark” – an unnecessary confusion

There is a certain confusion in online resources between two late apocryphal texts, the so-called Acts of Mark and the Martyrdom of Mark; and that there is a connection from this material to a spurious Encomium in XII Apostolos attributed to Severian of Gabala.

This I discovered in response to an enquiry about the Encomium; and then discovered that confusion even extends to the excellent NASSCAL site which tries to index the apocrypha.  This is all caused by a certain D. Callahan who, writing about or editing or translating the Martyrdom, proceeded to entitle his several publications Acts of Mark.[1]  (My thanks to Dean Furlong, who made the enquiry, and supplied several useful documents for this article.)

Fortunately Schneemelcher’s classic tome, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, does not share this confusion.  Let’s discuss these two obscure texts, neither of which was familiar to me before today.  Most of this is summarised from Schneemelcher, of course.

Before we do so, a warning.  Neither of these should really be considered as New Testament Apocrypha.  They are really hagiographical works, “Christian novels” as a recent publication called such things.

The Martyrdom of Mark / Martyrium Marci / Martyrion tou agiou apostolou kai evangelistou Markou (NTA 2, p.461 f.)

The story is in 14 chapters and inter alia relates to Mark’s disciple, Anianus.

This work is preserved in a number of Greek witnesses, two of which have been printed, and are clearly related (BHG II, 1035-1036).

  •  Codex Vaticanus gr. 866.  This text was printed in the Acta Sanctorum, April vol. III, Antwerp 1675, XLVI-VII.
  •  Codex Parisinus gr. 881.  This text was printed in the Patrologia Graeca 115, cols. 164-9.  Note that although the PG prints the text among work of Simeon Metaphrastes, it has no connection with him.  Many of the translations into other languages seem related to this text.  English translation from the PG by A.D.Callahan, The Acts (sic) of Mark, diss. Harvard, 1992, appendix (p.119 f.)

The story must have been translated into Latin early, as a version is embedded in Prudentius (end of 4th c.).  A number of Latin versions of the story do exist (BHL 5276-5280).  An example is printed in the Acta Sanctorum (April III, Antwerp 1675, 347-349).

A Coptic version or versions also exist.

  • The Amherst Morgan 15 papyrus (7th century) is online here.  This was printed and translated in W. Crum, Theological Texts from Coptic Papyri, Oxford 1913, 65-68, also online here.  Schneemelcher lists a couple of other papyri.
  •  The Morgan Coptic Codex 635, fol. 24r-33v, contains an episode from the same narrative as part of a series of homilies or encomia.  These are the Encomia in XII Apostolos mentioned among the spuria of Severian of Gabala by the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, as CPG 4281.  This material has been published in the CSCO, and even translated into English (CSCO 545, 1992, homily 4, starting p.65), where it is headed “On St Peter and St Paul”. The homily or encomium is intended for the feast which marks the martyrdom of these two saints and the twelve apostles.  Being delivered in Egypt, it naturally devotes space to St Mark, the evangelist of Egypt.
  •  There is also a publication which I have not seen, A.D.Callahan “The Acts of Saint Mark: an introduction and translation.” Coptic Church Review 14 (Spr 1993), pp. 3-10.

There are also at least two Arabic versions.  The first (BHO 597) was published by Agnes Smith Lewis in Horae Semiticae III-IV, London 1904, 126-9, 147-151.  Another heavily reworked version (BHO 598) is incorporated in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.  I have not seen it, but there is also A. D. Callahan “The Acts of Mark: tradition, transmission, and translation of the Arabic version.” In: F. Bovon (ed), Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, Harvard, 1999, pp. 63-85.  This I assume again relates to the Martyrdom, not the Acts.

Several copies of an Ethiopic version have reached us; and there is an Old Slavonic version.

Acts of Mark / Acta Marci / Praxeis kai Thaumata kai martyrion tou agiou evangelistou Markou (Schneemelcher, p.464)

This work in 35 chapters is a massively expanded reworking and paraphrase of the Martyrdom, drawing on material about St Mark from all sides, including the Acta Barnabae.  The text is preserved in Greek in a 13th century manuscript from the Stavronikita monastery on Mt Athos, Codex Athonensi Stauronicetae 18, fol. 175v-189. (BHG II, 1036m).  It was edited by F. Halkin, Analecta Bollandiana 87, 1969, 346-371.  An English translation is in progress by Mark A. House.  A draft of 5 chapters can be found in Salm’s paper, although 9 have now been translated.

A similar attempt to expand the Martyrdom can be found in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, prefaced to the Arabic version of the Martyrdom.  It was edited with English translation by B. Evetts, Patrologia Orientalis 1, 1904, 134-40.

    *    *    *    *

The relation between these two works is now a lot clearer to me.  Let’s finish by giving Dr Callahan’s translation of the Martyrdom of Mark, as few will have access to it.

    *    *    *    *

Translated from Par. Gr. 881 = Paris Greek 881, entitled “Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark of Alexandria,” in Patrologia Graeca 115, cols. 164-69.

MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST MARK OF ALEXANDRIA

Section 1: Saint Mark’s Lot to Preach in Egypt

At that time when the apostles were being dispersed throughout the inhabited world, it was the lot of the most holy Mark to go into the environs of Egypt by the will of God, where also the blessed canons of the holy and apostolic Church decreed that he be the first evangelist in the entire region of Egypt, Libya and Marmarice, Ammaniace and Pentapolis to preach the gospel of the visitation (epidemias) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Section 2: The Idolatry of the Inhabitants

For throughout the land were people uncircumcised in heart, idolaters, full of every uncleanness and worshippers of unclean spirits. For they furnished consecrated enclosures and sacred precincts for every house and street and province; and fortunes as well as magic, and every angelic power. Moreover, demonic [power] was among them, which the visitation of our Lord Jesus Christ arrested and destroyed.

Section 3: The Evangelist in Pentapolis

Then, after the oracularly announced evangelist Mark arrived in Cyrene and Pentapolis, speaking the word of the ruling power of Christ, and performing stunning miracles among them (healing the infirm, cleansing lepers, exorcizing fierce spirits by the word of his grace), many people, believing in our Lord Jesus Christ through him, threw their idols to the ground, were enlightened and were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Section 4: The Call to Alexandria

It was then revealed to him there by the Holy Spirit to go up to the Alexandrian lighthouse [lit., Pharite] and spread the good seed of God. The blessed evangelist Mark, eagerly stepped up to the contest like a brave athlete and, greeting the brethren, said, “The Lord has told me to go to the city of Alexandria.” And the brethem escorted him to the boat. And after tasting his bread they sent him forth saying, “May the Lord Jesus Christ make your way go well.”

Section 5: St. Mark Arrives in Alexandria

And the blessed Mark arrived in Alexandria on the second day, and after disembarking from his boat came to a place called Mendion. Entering the gate of the city, immediately his sandal broke. But learning [this], the blessed apostle said, “Indeed, the way is well resolved.”

Section 6: The Evangelist Heals a Cobbler

And seeing a cobbler, he handed over the sandal to him. The needle in the hole pierced his right hand and he said [lit., says], “God is one!” And the blessed Mark, hearing “God is one,” said to himself with a laugh,” The Lord has made my way go well.” And he spit on the ground and made clay from the spittle and anointed the hand of the man, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, the son of the eternal living God, be well.” And immediately the man’s hand was healed.

Section 7: The Cobbler Invites St. Mark to His Home

The cobbler, having become acquainted with the power of the man and the efficacy of his word and ascetical appearance (or, “attire”), he said to him, “I beg you, 0 man of God, come, lodge today in the house of your servant and let us eat a morsel of bread together, and have mercy on me today.” But the blessed Mark said with glee, “May the Lord give you living bread.” And the man prevailed upon the apostle, and joyfully brought him into his house.

Section 8: At the Cobbler’s Home

The blessed Mark entered the house and said, “The blessing of the Lord [be upon] this place. Let us pray, brethren.” And they prayed together, and after the prayer they were summoned. As they made merry, the man said, “0 father, what is your name? Who are you, and whence this powerful word in you?” The holy Mark said, “I am a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God.” The man said, “I wish to see him.” And Mark the holy martyr of Christ said, “I am showing him to you.”

Section 9: Anianus, His Family, and Others are Converted

And the holy Mark began to relate [lit., ‘perform’] the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God, son of Abraham, and showed to them the matters concerning his prophets. But the man said, “I beg you, lord, I have not once heard of the writings of which you speak, but [only] the llliad and the Odyssey, and such things as make wise the children of the Egyptians.” Then the holy Mark [began: supply exate] to proclaim Christ to him and to demonstrate to him that the wisdom of this world is foolishness according to God. And the man believed in God because of the signs and wonders mentioned by Mark, and he and his entire household were enlightened along with a great multitude in that place. And the name of the man was Ananias.

Section 10: The Evangelist Ordains Clergy

As there came to be a multitude of those believing on the Lord, the people of the city heard that some Galilean had come there and was overturning the sacrifices of the gods and hindering their worship, and hatching plots against him they sought to kill him. But perceiving their designs, the holy Mark, after selecting Ananias as bishop and three presbyters Milaios, Sabinus and Kerdon, and seven deacons, i.e., eleven others for service to the church, fled and departed again for Pentapolis.

Section 11: St. Mark Returns to Alexandria

And after spending two years there, establishing the brethren and appointing bishops and clergy for each region of the countryside, he returned to Alexandria and found the brethren growing in the grace and discipline of God. And they built a church for themselves called the [places of the] Boukalou by the sea, beneath the steep banks. And the righteous one rejoiced greatly, and on bended knee glorified God.

Section 12: The Jealousy of the Pagans

But as enough time passed, the Christians multiplied, laughing the idols to scorn and ridiculing the Greeks. The Greeks learned that the saint and evangelist Mark had returned, and hearing of the wonderful deeds he was performing they were filled with jealousy. For he healed the infirm, cleansed the lepers, proclaimed the gospel to the deaf, and bestowed sight to many of the blind.

Section 13: The Pagans Seek to Capture the Evangelist

And they sought to capture him and could not find him. And they gnashed their teeth against him, and in the festive processions of their idols they shouted at him saying, “Many [are the] powers of the sorcerer!”

Section 14: St. Mark Arrested During the Passover

But it happened [that] our blessed feast of Passover fell on the holy Sunday, Pharmouthi 29th, from the eighth Kalend of May, i.e., April 24th, which coincided with the festive procession of Serapis. Finding such an opportune moment, they deployed spies; they fell upon him saying prayers of the divine offering. And seizing him, they threw a mooring rope around his neck and dragged him, saying, “Let us drag the antelope to [the places of the] Boukalou.”

Section 15: The Evangelist is Tortured

But while the holy Mark was being dragged along, he offered up thankgiving to the savior Christ, saying, “I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, that I have been counted worthy to suffer these things on behalf of your name.” And his flesh was falling to the ground, and the stones were stained with his blood.

Section 16: St. Mark is Incarcerated

When evening had fallen, they threw him in prison, and deliberated upon the manner of death by which they should destroy him. But in the middle of the night, after the doors had been shut and the guards stationed at the doors, behold, a great earthquake occurred. For an angel of the Lord, coming from heaven, touched him saying, “O Mark, slave of God, chief of the saints in Egypt, behold your name has been inscribed in a book of eternal life and counted along with the holy apostles. Behold, your memorial shall never be forsaken. You have become a companion of the powers above in heaven. Archangels shall receive you and your remains on earth shall not perish.”

Section 17: The Lord Appears to the Evangelist

Having seen this vision, the blessed Mark, his hands outstretched, said, “I thank you, my Lord Jesus Christ, that you did not desert me, but you have numbered me with your saints. I beseech you, O Lord Jesus Christ, to welcome my soul and not reject me from your grace.” And after he said these things, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in the form [that he bore] when he was with his disciples, the very form [he bore] before his suffering and entombment, and said [lit., ‘says’] to him, “Peace to you, our own Mark, my evangelist.” And Mark said, “Peace to you, my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Section 18: St. Mark is Tortured to Death

But early in the morning, the multitude of the city returned and removed him from the prison. They again threw the rope around his neck and dragged [him about], saying, “Let us drag the antelope to [the places of the] Boukolou.” But the blessed Mark again offered up thanks to the creator of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, saying, “Into your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit.” And after he said this he surrendered his spirit.

Section 19: The Pagans Attempt to Burn His Remains

But the multitude of impious Greeks kindled a fire in the so-called Angels, and incinerated the remains of the righteous [one]. Then, by the foreknowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a squall arose, and a great windstorm came along, and the sun ceased shining, and there was a great roar of thunder and heavy rain with lightening until evening, so as to knock down many dwellings and kill many. Afraid, they released the corpse of the saint and fled. But others sneered and said, “How their thrice-blessed Serapis made a visitation to the man on account of his birthday festival!”

Section 20: The Evangelist is Buried

Then devout persons came and wrapped up the body of the righteous one from the ashes and bore it to where they finished their prayers and hymn-singing, and dressed him [i.e., his body, for burial] according to the custom of the city, and laid him out in a place that had been splendidly hewn. They completed his memorial prayerfully and decorously; they valued him as the first treasure in Alexandria. They laid him to rest in the eastern section [of the city].

Section 21:Conclusion

The blessed Mark, the Evangelist and first martyr of our Lord Jesus Christ was laid to rest in Alexandria in the Egyptian month of Pharmouthi 30th, but according to the Romans before the Kalends of May; according to the Hebrews the 17th of Nisan, during the reign of Gaius Tiberius Caesar, but according to us the Christians during the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.

  1. [1]This I learned from independent scholar Rene Salm, The Acts of Mark: An important discovery, online at Academia.edu here.

2 thoughts on “The “Acts of Mark” and the “Martyrdom of Mark” – an unnecessary confusion

  1. The St. Mark bit of B. Evetts, Patrologia Orientalis 1, 1904 there is [135]-48 (= 160-73/737).

    Agnes Smith Lewis in Horae Semiticae III-IV, London 1904, 126-9, 147-151:

    https://archive.org/details/actamythologicaa00lewiuoft

    Again, I’m not sure of the pagination: in this first scan, the scanned text of the English trnaslation of the Acts is pp. 100-09 and of Martyrdom, pp. 110-12 (= scan 100-113 “of 265” for both: but this volume follows III [where there seem to be faint indications of added pagination in pencil] on 4-254/572). Note also the relevant ‘Notes on the English Translation’, pp. xxvii-viii (= scan 280-83/572).

    https://archive.org/details/mythologicalacts00lewi

    The corresponding ‘Notes’ and translation here = scan 35-37/326 and 100-12 “of 265”.

    https://archive.org/details/actamythologica3v4lewi

    This corresponds to the first scan: somehow, the scan pagination in both cases can alternate between “/572” and “of 265” (with something analogous in the second scan…).

    Incidentally, lots of other interesting-looking works of Agnes Smith Lewis.

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