The Markan Alphabet Theory: Eschatological Origins of the Gospel of Mark

The Markan Alphabet theory is a hypothesis which posits that the Hebrew alphabet was utilized by the author of the Gospel of Mark and/or his sources as a means of referencing, sequencing and exploring key themes and moments in the Gospel’s three major sequences: (i) the dominical discourses, (ii) the miracle narratives, and (iii) the Passion-Resurrection narrative. It is premised on the facts that the Hebrew word אוֹת (oth) can be translated as ‘letter’, ‘sign’ or ‘miracle’; and that twenty-two (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet) represents a cycle of completion and perfection.

It is not known whether the Markan Alphabet system was used first by the author of the earliest Gospel (usually identified with the disciple John Mark) or borrowed by him from one or more of his sources. If the latter, it’s possible that the Hebrew alphabet as a mnemonic or preaching technique was first used by Jesus himself; the same system might then have been used by followers or witnesses of his ministry, Passion and Resurrection.

In addition to assisting believers in retaining and transmitting both sayings and narratives during the pre-Greek, oral phase of the Gospel’s development, the divine perfection of the alphabetical system bolstered claims that the Master who might have employed it – in word, in deed and/or in the manner and circumstances of his death – was indeed the Son of God. Yet, while first-century Jews would have recognized the Hebrew word-clues of the Markan alphabet system, it was concealed by the Greek of Mark’s Gospel; thus the evangelists Matthew and Luke, who borrowed extensively from Mark, neglected to retain it.

Some areas where the Hebrew alphabet and eschatology converge include: the coming of the Messiah as an eschatological event; the development of the miracle narratives around Mosaic and Elianic themes; and the realization of eschatology as the end-time equivalent and complement of protology.