🔼The name Mark: Summary
- Huge Hammer, Battering Ram
- From the Latin noun marcus, the largest of a set of impact tools.
🔼The name Mark in the Bible
The name Mark (or rather Markos in Greek) belongs to the assumed author of the second synoptic gospel. Neither of the gospels mentions the name Mark, but since the times of the early church fathers, it's been attested that the gospel of Mark was written by John Mark (the name John is Hebrew, while Marcus is Latin), the colleague missionary of Peter (who called him his "son"; 1 Peter 5:13) and Paul and Mark's cousin Barnabas (Acts 13:13, Colossians 4:10).
For some undisclosed reason, Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas in Perga and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Whatever the reason for their fallout, Barnabas was ready to forgive and forget and take Mark along on their journey from Antioch, but Paul wouldn't hear of it. This resulted in Barnabas and Paul splitting up; Barnabas took Mark along to Cyprus and Paul took Silas to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:37-41). Much later Paul seems to have changed his mind about Mark, as he asked Timothy to bring to Rome with him (2 Timothy 4:11).
The same tradition that identified John Mark as the author of the second gospel also identified him with the "certain young man" who witnessed Judas' betrayal of Jesus and the latter's arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51). This young man wore nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body, and when the Roman soldiers tried to catch him too, he shed the sheet and took off naked through the city. Seeing his beloved Rabbi first betrayed by a man he must had known well too, and then humiliated and treated like a criminal must have caused severe mental distress in young Mark.
Mark must have realized that followers of Jesus, including himself, would receive the same kind of treatment, and must have witnessed in horror how all the Master's men betrayed and left him. When he then experienced at first hand the enmity of the Romans, he was forced to flee in a most humiliating, depowered and vulnerable way. Perhaps Mark was simply too traumatized in Perga to continue his journey or to be of much help to anyone. He went back to Jerusalem, where Mark's mother Mary owned a house large enough to accommodate a substantial gathering of Christians, to have a large gate with a smaller door in it, and to necessitate the employ of a servant girl named Rhoda (Acts 12:12-13).
The name Mark occurs 8 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Mark
Attested by the dozen or so name-explaining websites on the Internet, the name Mark or Marcus is commonly regarded as a contraction of the Latin words martius or martialis, meaning of Mars or belonging to Mars, but although this is certainly the case for the unbiblical name Martin, it's not for the personal name Marcus.
The word marcus is part of a threesome of words, explained by Isidore of Seville in his Etymologies (also known as Origins): "The marcus is a rather large hammer, called marcus because it is larger and stronger for striking. The martellus is medium-sized. The marculus is a very small hammer" (Isid. Orig. XIX, vii. Metalworkers' tools, 2). Isidore distinguishes the marculus and its kin from another impact tool called malleus: "is so named because it strikes and stretches out anything when it is hot and soft (mollis)" (ibid.).
Lewis and Short (A Latin Dictionary) state that these words were imported from Sanskrit (from the verb mar, mrid, meaning to break, crush) and although Isidore wrote his Etymologies in the first quarter of the seventh century AD, he illustrated these three words with a quote from the Satires of Lucilius, who wrote in the second century BC: "And just as when in the smithy, the marculus beats the hot iron with the great blows of many workmen". (Satires 1165). Valerius Martialis, who wrote in the first century AD, uses this same word (Mart. 12, 57, 6).
Isidore of Seville also notes that "the Greeks say that Pythagoras discovered the elements of this art [of music] from the sound of hammers" (Isid. Orig. III, xv. The inventors of music, 1), and that "a hard (durus) voice is one that emits sounds violently, like thunder, or like the sound of the anvil, when the hammer strikes on the hard iron". (Isid. Orig. III, xix. The first division of music, which is called harmonic, 12), and that "iron that has been in the fire is ruined unless it is hardened by hammering" (Isid. Orig. XVI, xxi. Iron,3).
Isidore's brief definitions of the marcus, martellus and marculus may not be very accurate. If the diminutive marculus denoted a hand-held hammer with which workers beat hot iron with great blows, a medium sized martellus must have denoted something like a Sledge Hammer and a marcus must have been something truly horrendous, like a War-Hammer or a Battering Ram. Note that stages of comparison in English go the other way around in Latin. To us the marcus is a "very big" hammer, but in Latin the marculus is a very small marcus. In fact, the Romans had a separate word for hand-held hammer: porticulus, although that device seems to have been more of a signaling device, like the hammer still used today in courtrooms and auction houses.
The name Mark or Marcus was one of the most popular names of the old world, especially after emperor Marcus Aurelius instituted the Marcianus, which means "of Marcus" and which denoted a priest who performed the sacred rites instituted in honor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The Biblical Mark, however, was almost certainly a Jew, and his name was undoubtedly associated with that of Judas Maccabeus (from the Hebrew noun מקבת, maqqebet, meaning hammer), the famous second century leader of the Maccabean revolt against the Persians. This revolt allowed for the formation of the Jewish kingdom of the Hasmonean dynasty, and this kingdom ended when the Romans defeated it in 63 BC. Much of the tone of the gospel is set by the people's frustration about losing their autonomy, and the war-hammer became somewhat of a symbol of the war against Roman totalitarianism (see our article on the name Pilate).
Even Mark's gospel is a bit of a hammer. The Oxford Companion To The Bible states, "one of the features of Mark's arrangement is the frequent sandwiching together of incidents," and in their introduction to the gospel of Mark, the authors of the NOBSE Study Bible submit, "The distinctive word of this book is euthus, translated "immediately," and it appears more often in this compact gospel than in the rest of the New testament". The word(s) that NOBSE refers to is, or are related to, the adjective ευθυς (euthus), meaning straight or level; which is exactly what the hammer in a smithery is used for.