The Gospel of Mark and the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 CE

Jesus' Story as a Contrast to the Events of the War

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Stephen Simon Kimondo
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , July
     2018.
     272 pages.
     $33.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532653025.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Gospel of Mark and the Roman-Jewish War of 66–70 CE brings a new perspective on Mark’s intention. Stephen Simon Kimondo argues that one of the striking features of Mark’s Gospel is its prevalent connotations to the events of the Roman-Jewish War of 66–70 CE. According to the foreword by Jonathan Draper, the book’s seven chapters thoroughly “presents a systematic reading of Mark against the background of Josephus’s account of the war” (ix).

Dealing with introductory issues, chapter 1 focuses on how hearers might have evaluated Mark’s Gospel, rather than on Mark’s possible intentions. Adopting the literary priority of Mark’s Gospel hypothesis, Kimondo’s thesis is that Mark’s hearers, living in rural Galilee, southern Syria, or both, received the Gospel shortly after the end of the Roman-Jewish War not only as a proclamation of Jesus but also as a commentary on the war. Mark’s hearers, Kimondo argues, conceived Mark’s story of Jesus as a contrast to the events of the war.

Chapter 2 deals with the date and origin of Mark’s Gospel, based on both the external and internal evidence, and lays down the arguments in favor of a post-war date for the Gospel and of the first hearers of the Gospel being people who had direct experience of the war.

In chapter 3, Kimondo surveys Josephus as a source and provides a reconstruction of Mark’s Gospel that illuminates the hearers’ possible response to Mark’s story of Jesus. From Josephus’ account of the war, the author paints a vivid picture of the Roman military campaign that culminated with the blockade of Jerusalem and the temple. His conclusion shows that many of the events of the war that Josephus reports are closely related to Mark’s story of Jesus. Therefore, he writes, “the insights from Josephus are crucial for the study of Mark’s Gospel. Such insights give us some light as to what Mark’s hearers might have known and associated them in their evaluation of the Gospel” (112). In his conclusion, Kimondo underscores the useful information Josephus affords about “the dynamics, causes, course, and events of the Roman-Jewish War of 66–70 CE” (229).

Chapter 4 contrasts the onset of God’s empire and the Roman Empire under Vespasian. According to Mark 1:1-14, instead of employing military forces, the onset of God’s empire is nonviolent, and is based on the proclamation, teachings, and redemptive deeds of Jesus.

In chapter 5, Kimondo explores the contrast between Jesus’ life-giving, non-military campaign in Galilee versus Vespasian’s destructive military campaign in the same region. In sharp contrast to Vespasian’s campaign of conquest, Jesus’ campaign spread God’s empire through proclamation without violence. Jesus chose the twelve disciples to be with him, representatives of villages and the countryside. While Vespasian was being received by kings and powerful men, Jesus was rejected by the authorities. He welcomed the poor and marginalized peasants, including outcasts in society. His campaign was redemptive, involving healing, exorcisms, feeding, raising of the dead, and calming of life-threatening storms.

Chapter 6 highlights the contrasts of values (wealth, status, and power) based on the teachings of Jesus—while he journeys with his disciples to Jerusalem—and those of the Roman imperial power. The author gives a vivid illustration regarding the impact of the Jesus call: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34) in the ears of Mark’s first audience. The Roman domination in Judea was marked by crucifixions, as one may find extensive evidence from Josephus (Ant. 20:102; J.W. 2:75; 2:306-308; 3:321; 5:449-451. In this last reference, Josephus shows that during the siege of Jerusalem “so great was their number, that space could not be found for crosses nor the crosses for the bodies”). The author asserts that in Mark the cross “represents the sufferings that result from the unavoidable persecution that followers of Jesus experience due to their faithful commitment to the good news” (219). Also, with respect to the enslavement associated with the war, he shows that the call to become slave of all (10:44) may have appeared very bitter. Instead of being self-oriented, Kimondo rightly observes that Jesus taught his disciples to be God-centered.

Chapter 7 constitutes a summary of the book, which contrasts Mark’s Gospel and the events of the Roman-Jewish War.

Carefully researched, this book constitutes a very useful tool for anyone interested in Josephus’ literature and its connection to Mark’s Gospel, as well as in the contemporary scholarly debate over the relationship between Mark’s Gospel and the repercussions of the events of the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 CE upon its audience.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ioan Mihoc is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies “Eftimie Murgu” University, Romania.

Date of Review: 
August 3, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stephen Simon Kimondo is Lecturer in New Testament studies at the University of Iringa in Tanzania.

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