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Yeshua in Context » Disciples & Named Characters, Eyewitnesses, Gospels as History » Why Are Some Characters Anonymous in Mark?

Why Are Some Characters Anonymous in Mark?

Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is my preoccupation as I prepare for the June 5 “Eyewitnesses in the Gospels” seminar here in Atlanta. Check here for information and I hope a few of you reading this can come join us.

The Passion narrative in Mark (probably chapters 11 and 14-16, says Bauckham) likely comes from an earlier written or oral source that Mark is using. Several characters in this section are oddly anonymous. They seem like the sort of people who would be named as eyewitnesses. These unusual anonymous persons include:

(1) The owner of a certain donkey in 11:1-6 (on the theory that the lending of the donkey was pre-arranged).
(2) Possibly the same man was the owner of the upper room for the Last Supper in 14:13-15.
(3) A certain woman who anointed Yeshua shortly before his arrest in 14:3-9.
(4) A disciple who cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest in 14:47.
(5) A young man who fled and his linen sheet came off leaving him naked in 14:51-52.

The possible reasons that these characters are unnamed is interesting.

Gerd Theissen proposed in 1991 that the issue here is “protective anonymity.”

In other words, these people had done things which might get them arrested. A man who supplied a donkey and a banquet room to Yeshua and his disciples on the week of his death, a woman who publicly anointed Yeshua, a disciple who attacked the Temple personnel, and a young man who made a scene while fleeing might all be at risk.

If the Passion narrative was written or started circulating orally in the 40′s, the priesthood was still in the family of Annas and Caiphas until 42 CE. Pilate was removed by Rome in 37 as a failure. But danger from the chief priests continued at least until 42 and perhaps later.

Yet, some of the unnamed characters in Mark’s account are named in the much later account of John. By the time of John’s writing, the danger of arrest was over. Bauckham lists the phenomenon of unnamed Markan characters named in John:

the woman who anoints . . . . . . . . . Mary, sister of Martha (John 12:3)
the man who wield the sword . . . . . Simon Peter (John 18:10)
the servant of the High Priest . . . . . Malchus (John 18:10)

This leads Bauckham to another very interesting point: why is the story of Lazarus only told in John? This is a major puzzle and has led many to suggest the Lazarus story is invented completely by the author of John.

Perhaps it was thought too dangerous for Lazarus to write the story down in the early days.

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Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters, Eyewitnesses, Gospels as History

2 Responses to "Why Are Some Characters Anonymous in Mark?"

  1. Donald Chase says:

    Some interesting points of view that I never heard before or that even occurred to me. Thank you for your writings.

  2. Margaret says:

    According to Orthodox tradition, Lazarus was marked for death by the Sanhedrin, because he was living proof of the Christ. He and his sisters went by boat to Cyprus. Lazarus was the first episkopos, or bishop, of Cyprus. Because of his remembrance of death, he is said to never have smiled again. His second tomb is in Larnaca, Cyprus and has carved in marble in Greek “Lazarus the friend of Christ.” Your theory makes sense in the context of the history preserved in the East; Lazarus was fleeing for his life when he went to Cyprus.

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