Geography of St Mark's Gospel


In the lecture that gave an introduction to the Gospel of Saint Mark at university today, there were some rather confusing statements made. They concern Markan authorship.

The professor made the argument that Mark had “catastrophic knowledge of Palestinian geography”, which would rule him out as the one mentioned in Acts, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy. She cited two verses as examples.

Mark 5:1
Gerasa is not directly next to the sea of Galilee, but ca. 35 miles south.

Mark 7:31
Mark says they went from Tyros via Sidon to the Decapolis, but nobody would take such a detour.

Is there anything to say to this? I’m confused, having read through manuscripts, commentaries and such, but they all say different things.

One extra:

Mark 14:12 apparently says that the first day of Unleavened Bread was identical with the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed, but that is inaccurate, for it actually falls on the day before the Passover.

Can anyone clear up what is meant by those verses? Is Mark simply wrong?


“Gerd Theissen, Professor of New Testament Theology at Heidelberg, in The Gospels in Context (1992), demonstrated that many stories in Mark reveal a genuine familiarity with social, economic and political conditions in Palestine that can be dated quite narrowly - to the situation as it was before the Jewish Revolt of 66-70, which obviously caused massive upheavals at both regional and local levels. This familiarity is sometimes reflected in very specific situations within a small geographical area, such as Jesus’ intriguing encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman, which we will discuss later. For example, Mark often refers to toll stations on the northern side of the Lake of Galilee, positioned on the border, which in Jesus’ day ran between the territories of Galilee (controlled by Herod Antipas) and Gaulanitis (controlled by his brother Philip). But the frontier was only there between 4 BCE (when Herod the Great’s territories were divided) and 39 CE (the year of the accession of Agrippa I, who again ruled both territories), and it had certainly ceased to have any relevance after the Revolt. All of this makes it highly likely that Mark’s source recalled the area as it was before 39.” (The Masks of Christ page 28)


Mark 14:12 apparently says that the first day of Unleavened Bread was identical with the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed, but that is inaccurate, for it actually falls on the day before the Passover.

I think Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke about this in his book “Jesus of Nazareth part two” pg106


In his book Benedict gav a very good solution to this “what day did what happen” discussion. There were two passovers celebrated that week, the old jewish passover and the new christian passover, not on the same day of course :slight_smile:


I found it in the book, a very good one indeed. I’m now listening to Scott Hahn’s talk “The Fourth Cup” just to really get it. :slight_smile:

Any comments on the other verses?


There’s nothing bizarre about what Mark says about the Feast of Azymes.

After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.

The Passover is the prelude to the week-long feast, so it is natural to include it, especially since the leaven was cast out for Passover and they ate unleavened bread at the Passover meal. Think about a long vacation time from school. Imagine that the last day of school before Christmas break is Tuesday and then the break begins on Wednesday. It would be perfectly natural to refer to Tuesday evening as Christmas break even though it does not actually begin on the calendar until the following calendar day. It’s not just St. Mark. St. Matthew also calls Nisan 14 (the day on which the lambs were sacrificed) the “first day of unleavened bread” so it is reasonable to conclude that this was an idiomatic way of speaking at the time.

I don’t buy into a “two different Passover night” hypothesis. The Gospels almost certainly rule that out.


I read Scott Hahn’s “The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth” excellent book ! I just love it when someone understands what we are into :thumbsup:

I think Mark was the son of Peter (1 Peter 5:13)


The message of the scriptures is unerring. Many of the scripture writers, including the evangelists, rearranged events in order to strengthen the teaching they had to reveal. Don’t let such things disturb you.

In addition, while the evangelists were unerring, copyists were not. They can and did make errors in their copying. This in no way changes the inerrancy of God’s revealing Word.


I’m not sure I’m following. Was Jesus celebrating the Passover meal on Thursday? There was no lamb at that meal.

According to Scott Hahn, Jesus died on Good Friday just as the lambs were being led to the slaughter for Passover.


I will not hesitate to say that Scott Hahn is dead wrong if he said that. Scott Hahn is not the magisterium, and his opinions are not necessarily a reflection of Catholic tradition. His opinions must stand up to scrutiny from the teaching of Holy Scriptrure as much as anyone else. Some things he says are undoubtedly wrong (like his story about what the sin of Adam really was, if what I have heard is true).

(1) The Last Supper took place after the slaughter of the lambs on Holy Thursday.

And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? (Mark 14:12)

Then came the day of unleavened bread, are when the passover must be killed. (Luke 22:7)

(2) Even if the Last Supper did not have had a lamb, that does not meant that the Passover lambs were not slaughtered that day. The Last Supper was unique from the Passover that the other Jews celebrated that night. But, in truth, there almost certainly was a lamb at the Last Supper, since the Mark speaks of the disciples not just eating and preparing, but sacrificing the passover (pasch), i.e. the lamb. Read this blog post.

When Scripture explicitly says that the passover was sacrificed before the Last Supper and never says that the passover was sacrificed during the Crucifixion, I am inclined to side with Scripture over Scott Hahn (if he indeed said what you report).


Thank you for this. I was mistaken that it was Scott Hahn. I believe it was Jeff Cavins who said this in the “Bible Timeline.” I’ll look it up when I get home.


John’s Gospel has Jesus being crucified the day before Passover:

It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon.* And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king!” John 19:14

NAB footnote:

  • [19:14] Noon: Mk 15:25 has Jesus crucified “at the third hour,” which means either 9 A.M. or the period from 9 to 12. Noon, the time when, according to John, Jesus was sentenced to death, was the hour at which the priests began to slaughter Passover lambs in the temple; see Jn 1:29.


That’s a disputable translation. The word “preparation (paraskeue)” can simply mean “Friday,” the day of preparation for the sabbath, in Jewish terms. In that case, the genitive can be translated as possessive rather than objective (i.e. “preparation (Friday) of the passover” rather than “preparation for the passover”). Here’s the Haydock commentary.

Ver. 14. The Parasceve of the Pasch; that is, the day before the paschal sabbath. The eve of every sabbath was called the Parasceve, or day of preparation. But this was the eve of a high sabbath, viz. that which fell in the paschal week. (Challoner)


Could you translate that? :stuck_out_tongue:

Was Thursday the Passover or was Friday?


The passover lamb was sacrificed on the afternoon of Holy Thursday (Nisan 14).
The passover meal was eaten the night of Holy Thursday (Nisan 15).
The passover could also mean the whole week-long feast of unleavened bread. Nisan 14/15-21)

Passover probably also refers to other temple sacrifices during the week (see John 18:28). Unless of course we take Chrysostom’s explanation that the Jews were so consumed with hatred persecuting Christ that they forgot to celebrate the Passover meal on the right day!

PS: In case you meant translate the words, “Paraskeve” means preparation and “Pasch” means Pascha, which is the Greek word for Passover.


You were right the first time. I’m confused. So Holy Thursday was the Passover. Friday was the preparation day for the Sabbath? John 19:14 is a bad translation. Jesus really died on the preparation day for the Sabbath, not the preparation day for the Passover.


LOL! That is a bit of an overreaction. John 19:14 as far as I’m concerned is perfectly fine in the Greek (and Latin). Also both the King James Version and Douay-Rheims translate it correctly as “preparation/paraskeve of the passover/pasch,” so it is only certain translations that are problematic.

The dating of the events surrounding the passion is difficult, but however it is done, it must be done in a way that harmonizes all the Gospel accounts. That said, if I thought that a two-calendar hypothesis was possible and the only way to harmonize the Gospels, I would accept it. As it is, I think it is unnecessary and unlikely.


If Jesus died on the Preparation Day for the Passover (Friday), how could he have celebrated the Passover meal on Thursday?


Different sects of Judaism used different calenders. Some used solar calendars while others used lunar calendars.

Jesus was likely an Essene Jew and their calendar was quite different from that used by the temple authorities, priests and Pharisees. There were many calendars in use and the Jewish concept of weeks, months and years was not universal.

The bottom line is that the feasts often started on different days depending on what sect of Judaism you belonged to and what calendar they used.



Thank you.

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