Recently NT scholar and fellow blogger Michael Kok (Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield) sent me a copy of a his newly published book–The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century–for me to review on my blog. Kok does not engage in counter-apologetics like myself, but his work on the authorship of Mark and the gospel’s reception among the church fathers of the 2nd-3rd centuries is highly relevant to my Classics PhD research. In particular, Kok’s new book is relevant to my dissertation topic, which will be about ancient authorship. Kok received his PhD in 2013, and since he is a scholar only a few years ahead of myself, who is likewise working on a number of similar issues, I have been greatly interested in his research and arguments.
The Gospel on the Margins deals with the reception of the Gospel of Mark from the church father Papias (early-2nd century CE) to Clement of Alexandria (early-3rd century CE). In particular, Kok investigates why the church fathers associated the gospel with the figure of John Mark–who is described in the company of Peter in Acts 12:12 and 1 Peter 5:13, and also as an attendant of Paul in Col 4:10, Phlm 24, 2 Tim 4:11, and Acts 12:25; 13:5; 13:13; 15:37-39. Furthermore, Kok likewise discusses how the Gospel of Mark received the least amount of scriptural citations from the church fathers compared to the other canonical Gospels–Matthew, Luke, and John–during this period. This silence is peculiar, given the fact that the gospel was claimed to be written by an attendant of Peter, who was the first head of the early church. If the gospel was really based on the recollections and teachings of Peter, as the church fathers claimed, why did it receive so little attention from them?
In his new book, Kok advances the thesis that the Gospel of Mark was attributed to the authorship of John Mark–and, by relation, was connected with the disciple Peter–in order to grant the text orthodox status early in the 2nd century CE. This designation of authority was done, in part, because Mark was the earliest gospel (and thus one of the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life), but also to prevent the text from being used by heretical sects–such as those led by Valentinus, Basilides, and Carpocrates. Nevertheless, the original composition of the Gospel of Mark in the 1st century occurred under very different circumstances, which casts doubt on the authenticity of the Petrine tradition, especially since it can be demonstrated to have canonizing motivations in the 2nd century. In short, “Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church,” as this book’s Google Books’ description summarizes nicely. Below is my review:
Kok begins his study by noting Mark’s generally poor reception among the church fathers of the 2nd-3rd centuries CE, at least in terms of scriptural citations and theological influence. As Kok (pp. 3-4) explains:
“The neglect of Mark is evident from the frequency of Gospel citations in a standard reference work like the Biblia Patristica. It lists roughly 1,400 citations of Mark in comparison to 2,000 citations of John, 3,300 of Luke, and 3,900 of Matthew from the earliest period to Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. Excluding Origen, the number of citations of Mark drops sharply to about two hundred and fifty in the third century. Compare this with the 3,600 citations of Matthew, 1,000 of Luke, and 1,600 of John. The count for Origen’s citations is approximately 8,000 for Matthew, 5,000 for John, 3,000 for Luke, and 650 for Mark. From this maximalist list, Mark is clearly cited the least by far.“
The statistics from Biblia Patristica are a “maximalist” list, and other studies, using more rigorous and selective methods, have found fewer quotations. Nevertheless, these more selective studies have likewise found that the Gospel of Mark is still quoted very rarely by the 2nd century church fathers. As Kok (pp. 4-5) explains:
“Studies that implement methodologically rigorous criteria do not have as high a number of intertextual references to the canonical Gospels in the second century. References to Mark, however, can literally be counted on one or two hands. For Helmut Koester, Justin (Dial. 106.3) gives the sole sure citation of Mark before Irenaeus. Edouard Massaux, who reaches the polar opposite verdict to Koester’s on the extensive use of Matthew in the second century, basically agrees that Mark’s influence was negligible. Adela Collins expands Koester’s list slightly to include the Papyrus Egerton 2 fragment (Mark 12:14), Hermas Similitude 9.7.6 (Mark 13:36), the Gospel of Peter 50–57 (Mark 16:1-8), and the Gospel of the Ebionites (Epiphanius, Pan. 30.13.4 [Mark 1:4-6]). Lastly, the new Oxford committee on the reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers yields very little for Mark.”
Given Mark’s comparatively smaller influence, one might ask why the text was preserved at all, especially since such a large amount of its material had already been redacted and edited by the subsequent Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Matthew was, by far, the preferred gospel among later church fathers, and yet this text had already incorporated and re-arranged the bulk of Mark’s material. Why keep Mark, then?
Kok discusses how Mark’s continued presence in the canon was due, in no small part, to its early composition. By the time that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were circulating, Mark had already been spread to numerous centers of early Christianity.
But furthermore, the proto-orthodox church fathers of the 2nd century were also battling with “heretical” sects during this period, and they could hardly allow for such an early cornerstone text to be used by their opponents. Kok (pg. 251) argues that “there is good evidence in Irenaeus that Mark was taken in support of adoptionist and separationist Christologies,” which were views that were deemed heretical by proto-orthodox Christians in the 2nd century. There is also evidence that the authors of Matthew and Luke, too, were dissatisfied with Mark’s Christology, in that they make a number of redactions to key passages within the text. For example, Kok (pg. 252) points out:
“In Mark 10:17-18, a wealthy person greets Jesus with an extravagant gesture and addresses him as “good teacher” (διδάσκαλε ἀγαθέ), but Jesus retorts, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except one, God’ (τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός). A few scholars have flipped the text into an affirmation of Jesus’s intrinsic goodness, hence his divinity. The recourse in Matthew 19:16-17a is to excise the potentially troubling implications with a slight modification: the rich man inquires about ‘what good thing must I do’ (τί ἀγαθόν ποιήσω) and Jesus answers, ‘why do you ask me concerning the good? One is good’ (τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός). Matthew and Luke redact Mark at the points where it could be liable to be construed in support of a Christology of which they disapprove.”
Given Mark’s early circulation, and potential use among heretics for advocating adoptionist or separationist Christologies, the text could not be wholly be done away with. However, Mark was also the least preferred of the canonical Gospels among the patristic church fathers. A solution had to be reached, therefore, for how to appropriate the text into the orthodox canon of scriptures, while keeping it away from Christian heretics. As Kok (pg. 178) explains:
“In defining Christian origins and demarcating the center from the periphery, centrist Christians appropriated Mark to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Mark became a ‘prestige good’ without intrinsic value, like an unread book sitting on a shelf can be regarded as a ‘collectible.'”
The Gospel of Mark, therefore, needed some claim to scriptural authority, and assigning the text to the authorship of an early Christian figure was the primary means of granting the text canonical status. This practice was not restricted to Mark alone, but was common for many Christian texts of the same period. As Kok (pg. 183) elaborates:
“The second century was a time of intense Christian social formation and competition with rival Christian associations. Myths of origin functioned to articulate the historical authenticity and internal homogeneity of the Christian communities. Christians gravitated to all sorts of first-century texts to fulfill this purpose, some of which may have been highly valued like Matthew and others that were less so like Mark. Out of anxiety that Mark could be usurped by opposing Christians in support of divergent beliefs or practices, it was secured for the centrist Christian side by vouching for its apostolicity.”
But 1) why was the text associated with John Mark, in particular, and 2) how was the connection with Peter understood through this figure?
To answer the first question, Kok (pp. 158-159) sketches the following literary evolution for how the figure of John Mark, in particular, was associated with the Gospel of Mark:
“1. In the earliest reliable evidence (Phlm 23-24; Col 4:10), Mark is casually named among a group of Jewish missionary partners of Paul. Mark may have been involved alongside his cousin Barnabas in a short-lived spat with Paul over mixed table fellowship in Antioch (Gal 2:13; cf. Acts 15:36-38), but it is unlikely that this led to Mark’s association with Cephas as much later literature continues to remember Mark firmly in the Pauline camp (2 Tim 4:11; cf. Acts 12:25; 13:5).
2. In the next stage, the pseudonymous author of First Peter plucks a few of Paul’s co-workers at random, Mark and Silvanus, from the Pauline sphere to suit a centrist vision of the Christian community under the leadership of Peter. First Peter popularly circulated throughout Asia Minor sometime between 70 and 93 ce, leaving its mark on the general milieu of the elder John and the author of Luke-Acts.
3. The third and most important step was taken by the elders of Asia Minor who assigned an anonymous Gospel to Peter through his intermediary Mark and passed the report on to Papias. The author of Luke-Acts may have been aware of this new tradition, which might indicate that the characterization of John Mark expresses the author’s feelings about the source material, or Acts may have just linked Peter and Mark in 12:5 under the influence stemming from 1 Peter. The rest of the patristic writers are derivative on Papias, though each develops the tradition in distinctive ways.”
But perhaps the most interesting part of Kok’s analysis is his discussion of how the gospel’s connection with Peter was understood through an otherwise obscure church figure. A common apologetic slogan in defense of the patristic authorial attributions is that the 2nd century church fathers would not have assigned the canonical Gospels to obscure figures, unless their authorship was genuine. As Christian apologist Craig Blomberg (The Case for Christ, pg. 27) argues, for example:
“These are unlikely characters … Mark and Luke weren’t even among the twelve disciples. Matthew was, but as a former hated tax collector, he would have been the most infamous character next to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus! … So to answer your question, there would not have been any reason to attribute authorship to these three less respected people if it weren’t true.”
However, Kok argues that this attribution may not be unlikely at all, especially considering how the relationship between Mark and Peter was understood. Remember that the Gospel of Mark was not a popular text among the patristic writers, and a lot of their interest in claiming apostolic authority for the text was because it was, as Kok describes, a “prestige good” and “collectible.” But it still took back seat to the other canonical Gospels in terms of its theological influence. A text associated with a disciple like Peter, but not actually written by the Peter, could allow for a greater distance between the text and the disciple’s teachings, which could account for many of the shortcomings in Mark.
Through a close reading of the patristic authorial attributions of Mark, Kok demonstrates that they very often include qualifying statements about John Mark’s limited ability to record Peter’s teachings. Kok notes that Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1) qualifies that Mark allegedly wrote the gospel after the departure (ἔξοδος) of Peter, implying that the account was written some time after the disciple’s death. As Kok (pp. 205-206) argues:
“In this way, Irenaeus subtlety distances the apostle from his protégé … by the extrapolation that Peter had died before the evangelist resolved to write.”
A similar qualifying statement is found in Clement of Alexandria’s attribution of the gospel to John Mark. Notably, Clement contradicts Irenaeus by arguing that John Mark wrote the text while Peter was still alive. Here is what Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 6.14.5-7) relates about Clement’s words:
“He [Clement] used to say that the first written of the gospels were those having the genealogies, and that the Gospel of Mark had this formation. While Peter was publically preaching the Word in Rome and proclaiming the gospel by the Spirit, the audience, which was numerous, begged Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been said, to write down the things he had said. And he did so, handing over the Gospel to those who had asked for it. And when Peter got to know about it, he exerted no pressure either to forbid it or to promote it…”
Clement’s statement might likewise contradict Markan priority and the modern scholarly consensus that Matthew and Luke were written after Mark . Furthermore, the fact that Clement probably contradicts Irenaeus’ statement about the time of the gospel’s composition (arguing that the text was written while Peter was alive, whereas Irenaeus claims that it was written after his death) casts even more doubt on whether either of these church fathers had accurate information about the actual circumstances of the text’s composition. But, what is notable, is Peter’s indifference to Mark’s composition in Clement’s description, as well as the fact that Clement seems to assign the text to a lower status than Matthew and Luke. As Kok (pp. 209-212) argues:
“Clement may have downgraded Mark by dating it after Matthew and Luke, but he would be unique in construing the literary relationship of the Synoptics in this fashion as this solution to the Synoptic Problem is otherwise unattested before the ninth century and his successor Origen assumes the canonical order … When the news reached Peter that the evangelist transcribed his preaching, the response was apathetic. Braun [“The First Shall be Last: The Gospel of Mark after the First Century,” pg. 51] amusingly paraphrases Clement’s credulity about Peter’s ‘unauthorized memoirs’ as saying, in other words, ‘I won’t stop him, but I sure as hell won’t give him any encouragement either.’ Like … Irenaeus, Clement achieved the necessary distance from Peter by having Peter not outright endorse the evangelist.”
Kok identifies similar statements downgrading the status of Mark in the writings of Papias and the Gospel of Luke. I should note, however, that Kok’s interpretation of these two authors is more controversial.
In the case of Papias, scholars are not certain that he knew of the Gospel of Mark, as we possess the text today. Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 3.39.15) records a fragment of Papias in which he discusses a text written by John Mark, which Papias claims was not written in an orderly fashion (οὐ … τάξει). Papias claims that he learned of this text from a certain John the Presbyter, who is an obscure and largely unknown figure from Asia Minor in the early-2nd century (Kok argues against this figure’s connection with John the son of Zebedee on pp. 60-64). However, Papias quotes no verses from the Gospel of Mark, so that it is difficult to ascertain whether Papias is referring to the Gospel of Mark, as we possess the text today, or is simply referring to another, unknown text. If Papias is referring to the our Gospel of Mark, however, his statement that the gospel was written without τάξις (“orderly structure”) could imply further denigration of the text. Papias writes:
“Mark, who had indeed been Peter’s interpreter, accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order [τάξις], about that which was either said or did by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord’s reports…”
Once more, this statement by Papias seems to distance Mark from Peter, as well as from Jesus. Papias emphasizes that Mark was not an eyewitness of Jesus and that he only recorded Peter’s teachings as much as he could remember them. In this way, the text could be associated with Peter’s authority, while still not being taken as a comprehensive account of Peter’s teachings.
In the case of the Gospel of Luke, modern scholars are certain that the author of Luke possessed a copy of our Gospel of Mark, but there is no agreement that the author of Luke believed that this text was written by John Mark. At no place in either Luke or Acts does the author identify John Mark as the author of his source material, despite the fact that this Mark makes multiple appearances in at least the narrative of Acts (12:12; 12:25; 13:5; 13:13; 15:37-39). As Randel Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?, pg. 2) argues:
“So the author of Luke-Acts not only knew about a John Mark of Jerusalem, the personal associate of Peter and Paul, but also possessed a copy of what we call the Gospel of Mark, copying some three hundred of its verses into the Gospel of Luke, and never once thought to link the two—John Mark and the Gospel of Mark—together! The reason is simple: the connecting of the anonymous Gospel of Mark with John Mark of Jerusalem is a second-century guess, on that had not been made in Luke’s time.”
Nevertheless, there are a number of scholars, Kok among them, who argue that the author of Luke may have believed that the text was written by John Mark. (This is an area of scholarly dispute, so I will not treat it as a given fact, even though I will be entertaining the possibility to discuss Kok’s analysis.) If the author of Luke believed that the Gospel of Mark had been written by John Mark, there are a number of clues that he too may be downgrading this author’s status. To begin with, there is the prologue in Luke 1:3 where the author promises to write an “orderly” account of Jesus, which Kok argues might be echoing Papias’ description of Mark. (That Luke was aware of Papias’ writings is another area of scholarly dispute; Kok notes that he is open to direct literary connection between Papias and Luke-Acts, but also argues that the two authors could only be near contemporaries drawing on common traditions circulating in Asia Minor.) As Kok (pg. 152) argues from this passage:
“Since Mark lacked a suitable arrangement (τάξις) (cf. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15), the motivation expressed in Luke 1:3 was to precisely (ἀκριβῶς) write an “orderly account” to supersede it.”
But furthermore, the depiction of John Mark in the narrative of Acts is relatively negative. In Acts 15:36-38, Paul decides not to take John Mark on a journey with Barnabas, because “he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.” As Kok (pg. 154) argues:
“Paul refuses to receive him back in the fold after he turns out to be a bitter disappointment (Acts 15:36-38). The text does not explicitly attribute to John Mark a motive for leaving Paul behind earlier in the narrative (13:13), but … it had something to do with his failure to continue in “the work” (τὸ ἔργον) of ministering to the nations for which they were set apart to do (15:38; cf. 13:2; 14:26). Consequently, John Mark is not the faithful co-worker at Paul’s side in the epistles, but a symbol of backward-thinking Pharisaical Christians (cf. 15:1) who thwart the progress of the good news into non-Jewish territory.”
To summarize Kok’s arguments so far: from the writings of Papias, to Luke, to Irenaeus, to Clement of Alexandria, John Mark is associated with Peter and the authorship of the Gospel of Mark. (I have noted that Kok’s interpretations of Papias and Luke on this point are controversial, but his interpretations of Irenaeus and Clement are undisputed). Nevertheless, all of these authors either depict John Mark in a negative light or include qualifying statements about his limitations in writing the gospel. While the text was associated with Peter’s authority, therefore, it was not considered to be a comprehensive or fully accurate account of his teachings. In this way, the Gospel of Mark could be granted canonical status, while still being treated as theologically inferior to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which are both cited far more numerously among the patristic church fathers.
If this is how the Petrine tradition was used to grant the Gospel of Mark authority among centrist Christians, while distancing the text from the exact teachings of Peter, where then did this tradition originate?
Before surveying the external evidence, Kok discusses how, taking into consideration the internal evidence of the gospel’s structure and sources alone, the Petrine tradition cannot, at the very least, be taken at face value. The Gospel Mark never explicitly claims to be based on Peter’s recollections, and form critics have long realized that the text is not based on one individual’s teachings, but was instead formed out of earlier pericopes and oral traditions that had circulated long before the text’s composition. As Kok (pg. 27) explains:
“A fundamental insight of form criticism is that Papias simplified a complex process by excluding all oral tradents for Mark save for Peter. The method cannot rule out the role of some eyewitnesses in the oral transmission process and, in theory, Peter may have had a big hand in shaping a number of the traditions that reached Mark … [L]et me make the point that I am not advancing a positive case that Peter played a role in formulating any of the pericopae incorporated into Mark. My contention at this point is that the method of form criticism to classify the pre-Gospel oral units according to form and seek out their functions in different social settings is inadequate to render a verdict.
So, at the very least, the Petrine tradition is a simplification of Mark’s composition. Kok (pg. 28) notes that this consideration alone “is inadequate to render a verdict” against Markan authorship, but it does show how the tradition cannot be taken at face value.
In chapter 3 of the book–“From Paul’s Fellow Worker to Peter’s Interpreter” (pp. 107-160)–Kok traces the origin of the Petrine tradition to the writings of Papias (pp. 108-111), and argues that all subsequent church fathers to report this tradition–namely, Justin Martyr (pp. 112-115), Irenaeus (pp. 115-118), and Clement of Alexandria (pp. 121)–were dependent on Papias. In short, none of the other church fathers are independent of Papias, and thus they do not constitute independent evidence for either the Petrine tradition or Markan authorship. The validity of the tradition, therefore, hinges on Papias’ testimony.
I should note a couple reservations that I have with Kok’s thesis at this point. To begin with, as I have already discussed above, Papias’ awareness of the Gospel of Mark, as we possess the text today, is disputed among scholars. Likewise, Justin Martyr never cites the Gospel of Mark by name, and the passage in Dialogue with Trypho (106.3), which is taken as a citation of Mk. 3:16-17, is disputed among scholars. Here is an article written by NT scholar Tim Henderson that discusses different scholarly interpretations of the passage. As Henderson explains, “the memoirs of him” (ἀπομνημονεύμασιν αὐτοῦ), discussed in the passage, could be taken as referring to: 1) a collective term for the memoirs of “Jesus” (as scholar Paul Foster has argued), 2) the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (as Bart Ehrman has argued), or 3) the Gospel of Mark (as Graham Stanton has argued). Kok leans towards the third option, and argues that Justin is reporting the Petrine tradition, which Kok argues he inherited from Papias. While I think that the evidence is too limited to issue a favorable verdict for this interpretation, I nevertheless agree with Kok that it is certainly plausible that Justin is referring to the Petrine tradition in this passage. But, because of the ambiguity and scholarly dispute surrounding this passage, I will only assume Kok’s interpretation for the sake of argument (I myself am agnostic on this issue).
I should note that, If Papias and Justin Martyr are not referring to the Gospel of Mark, as we posses the text today, then the first author to connect the Petrine tradition with our Gospel of Mark is Irenaeus, who in Against Heresies is arguing against Christian sects and interpretations of the Gospels that he and other proto-orthodox Christians deem heretical. That Irenaeus would wish to connect the Gospel of Mark with a figure in the early church, therefore, in order to grant the text authoritative status, serves an obvious canonizing motive. If the tradition originated in Irenaeus, therefore, I see little reason to trust its reliability, especially since the same author also uses obviously bogus arguments–such as claiming that there must be “four Gospels” because there are “four winds” of the Earth (Against Heresies 3.11.8)–in order to defend his view of the canon. (Though, I will grant that a connection of Papias’ statement with the Gospel of Mark that we possess today may have been made before Irenaeus by another source serving similar canonizing motives. Likewise, I also grant that it is plausible that Papias is referring to our Mark, so that he may have been the first to make the connection. We just can’t know on the basis of the surviving evidence.)
But, what I find the most interesting about Kok’s thesis, however, is his conclusion that, even if the Petrine tradition long preceded Irenaeus, going back all the way to the beginning of the 2nd century CE, we would still have little reason to trust it! The reason why is that, even if the tradition dates back to the turn of the 2nd century, all authors reporting the Petrine tradition can be demonstrated to be dependent upon Papias, and Kok finds little reason to trust Papias’ testimony. Since Kok summarizes his reasoning for this verdict better than I can, I will simply quote his conclusion about Markan authorship below (pp. 104-106):
“I have tried to fairly evaluate the arguments, pro and con, on whether the patristic consensus on the authorship of Mark is a viable option for critical scholarship. If some objections no longer hold water, it does not mean that we can uncritically run back into the arms of Papias. His main source was the elder John, a figure who remains as elusive as ever. It is unlikely that he was a personal disciple of Jesus; he was probably a second-generation charismatic leader in Asia Minor. We have no clue about the elder’s connections outside Asia Minor or his general reliability. We know that Papias naively gave credence to local traditions about an original Hebrew or Aramaic edition of Matthew and other marvels (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.9, 16). If the foundation laid by Papias is rotten, how can we trust what subsequent writers build on it?
The internal evidence is no better. It would help if the evangelist stated that Peter was a vital informant or began with a dedication to Peter. Undoubtedly Mark testifies to Peter’s stature in early Christian memory and some of the material may have genuinely originated with Peter, or perhaps with other eyewitnesses for that matter, but Mark equally resists the veneration of the Twelve. For this reason Peter frequently plays the part of the ignoramus in Mark’s drama, which militates against his having a quintessential role in this Gospel’s composition. The odds of a connection with Paul are higher. Several points from the focus on Jesus’ death to the noun εὐαγγέλιον could be congenial to a later Paulinist and there are early references to a coworker named Mark in Paul’s epistles (Phlm 23; Col 4:10). On the other hand, the huge variances from Paul makes the authorship of a direct co-worker of Paul less likely, just as the differences of Luke-Acts from the Pauline epistles sway many critical scholars against Lukan authorship.
The evidence is insufficient to ascribe the Gospel to an associate of Peter or Paul, albeit it is not inconceivable that some Petrine or Pauline elements were mediated to the evangelist from various streams of tradition. We cannot peek behind the screen of the evangelist’s intentional anonymity. This does not mean that nothing can be said about the author from the internal clues of the text. Its author was likely Jewish, though the Aramaic translations and clarifications of customs point to an ethnically mixed audience, and the text has the hallmarks of an intramural dispute within Second Temple Judaism(s). The product of a disenfranchised author, alienated from the Judean aristocracy as backed by Roman imperial authority and the symbolic world that centered on the temple cult, the author dared to envision a new world order called the ‘kingdom of god.’ Pursuing this social program engendered opposition from the political and religious leaders, leading to a preoccupation with the symbol of the cross. The ‘good news’ is that soon there would be a regime change and reversal of fortunes at the return of Jesus as the Son of Man.
The message was far more important than the medium. Baum [“The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books,” pg. 142] elucidates the motivations behind the purposeful anonymity: ‘The anonymity of the Gospels is thus rooted in a deep conviction concerning the ultimate priority of their subject matter.’ Only when second-century Christians were confronted with competing visions of the ‘good news’ did it become a necessity to validate some versions of it over others by ascribing them to legitimate apostolic channels and did an anonymous Gospel need to be authored by an apostolic interpreter.”
The only final point that I will make is that I find it interesting that Kok identifies the anonymous author of Mark as most likely being Jewish in background. Scholars of the late-20th century leaned towards the view that Mark was most likely authored by a Gentile convert living in the Jewish Diaspora. This interpretation was based on a number of passages in Mark that scholars argued showed a lack of familiarity with Jewish customs, as well as the observation that the author of Matthew (whom the same scholars regarded as most likely being Jewish in background) seems to redact a number of the Jewish teachings Mark. Kok (pp. 51-55) raises a number of arguments against this interpretation, but I find it interesting that Talmudic scholar Daniel Boyarin has likewise argued that the author of Mark was probably Jewish in background in The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (pg. 105). Perhaps the majority view of the 20th century on Markan authorship will be changed in the 21st, and this is an issue that I will certainly be exploring in more depth as I work on my dissertation.
Overall, I found Kok’s The Gospel on the Margins to be a well argued, nuanced, and highly informative read. As I have noted above, there are places where I have reservations about some of Kok’s interpretations of the external evidence. But, Kok does a great job of interacting with both the liberal and conservative scholarship on Markan authorship over the past century. His arguments for why Mark was associated with an attendant of Peter are innovative, and I especially appreciated his reasoning about how this tradition actually downgraded the importance of the text. It is not at all surprising to me, after reading Kok’s analysis, that the church fathers of the 2nd century would assign the Gospel of Mark to the authorship of an obscure church figure. As Kok explains, Mark was not their favorite gospel, but they still needed to preserve the text’s canonical status. Assigning the gospel to an attendant of Peter, who had imperfectly written a disorderly account of his teachings, provided a perfect means of both preserving the text’s canonical status, while downplaying its importance to Christian doctrine and theology.
 There is there is an argument that Clement of Alexandria did not contradict Markan priority, but was referring to Matthew/Luke (the Gospels with the genealogies) being “set forth publicly” or openly published while Mark’s text was meant for a small private circle in Rome. This argument is set forth by Stephen Carlson in “Clement of Alexandria on the ‘Order’ of the Gospels.”