Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Case of the Missing Ending of the Gospel of Mark.

1. Introduction of the Issue

Excuse me Mahmoud, just one more question.
           It would surprise most people and especially Christians to know that it is unclear what the original ending of the likely original Gospel "Mark" was. For most of its 2,000 year history Christianity claimed that 16:20 was the original ending of "Mark". It's only in the last few hundred years that 16:8 became a competitor as the original ending. 

             While extant Manuscripts indicate several different endings to "Mark", current Bible scholarship thinks that only two are the most likely:

1) 16:8 And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.
2) 16:9 Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.
16:10 She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
16:11 And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved.
16:12 And after these things he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country.
16:13 And they went away and told it unto the rest: neither believed they them.
16:14 And afterward he was manifested unto the eleven themselves as they sat at meat; and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen.
16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation.
16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.
16:17 And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues;
16:18 they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
16:19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
16:20 And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.
16:9-20 is also known as the LE (Long Ending).

          Textual Criticism is the process used by Bible scholars to try and determine the likely original text. A key criterion of Textual Criticism is The Direction of Change. Which candidate for originality does the evidence show is the more likely to have been where the evidence was moved from and which candidate for originality does the evidence show is more likely to have been moved to? An important consideration here is motive. What are likely motives for movement from one candidate to another?

        Applying the criterion of The Direction of Change to these two candidates the big difference between the two as to meaning is:

        1) 16:8 has no post resurrection communication with Jesus.

        2) 16:9-20 (LE) is dominated by post resurrection communication with Jesus.

       Essentially than we need to play the role of a detective to deduce what originally happened to the body of Jesus at the end of the Gospel of Mark.

 2. Discussion

It's better for the text to look good than for the reader to feel good.

    The Direction of Change criterion consists of Intrinsic and Transcriptional evidence. Intrinsic evidence is concerned with which candidate is the author more likely to have written. Transcriptional evidence concerns which candidate is a copyist more likely to have changed to. 
      For Instrinsic the question is the likelihood of whether or not the author wrote a post resurrection communication with Jesus. The narrative as a whole is the primary consideration here. Since the narrative as a whole is negative towards the Disciples having faith in Jesus and specifically describes the disciples as either denying or ignoring Jesus' predictions that he will be resurrected, not having a post resurrection communication between the Disciples and Jesus is consistent with the majority of the narrative. On the other hand 14:28 specifically has Jesus predict that after he is resurrected he will go to Galilee before the disciples go to Galilee. The problem though is the LE does not have the post resurrection communication in Galilee. 
      Intrinsic evidence also involves which candidate is more likely based on what is known about the author in general. Since the author of the Gospel of Mark is generally considered anonymous, not much is known about him. You have to consider based in general on what were popular existing Christian beliefs prior to "Mark". Paul is the only known significant Christian author prior to "Mark". In a passage who's originality is disputed but generally accepted as likely original, Paul writes that a resurrected Jesus did appear to disciples but does not describe any related communications to disciples. 
      For transcriptional evidence clearly copyists would prefer an ending to the Gospel of Mark with post resurrection communications between Jesus and the disciples rather than an ending not having any. An attempted argument to this is that the LE contains contradictions to other Gospels' post resurrection communications and that removing the LE removes these contradictions. This is true but than you are left with a potentially larger individual contradiction that "Mark" would than end with no one telling any disciple that Jesus was resurrected versus all other Gospels saying that the disciples were told that Jesus was resurrected. 
     In general the external evidence, which consists of Manuscripts, Patristic writings, Scribal comments and the opinion of Bible Scholars, all show evidence of movement from 16:8 to the LE except for Authority. Manuscripts which support 16:8 are very few but the ones that do are relatively earlier in the original Greek (just two early ones and only three in total) and most versions (translations). Patristic writings are more balanced and there may actually be more second century witness to the LE than 16:8 but the earliest Patristic Textual Criticism comments with scope, that actually provide their evidence, mainly Eusebius and Jerome, clearly provide evidence that supports 16:8 as earlier. Scribal comments are also especially valuable here as evidence since they were obviously responsible for the copying process. The overwhelming majority of Scribal comments indicate that 16:8 was likely earlier. As previously mentioned for most of the last 2,000 years Bible scholars claimed that the LE was the original ending and it's only relatively recently that 16:8 became a candidate. This is the one category of External evidence where later is better than earlier as it is generally accepted that modern Bible scholarship is superior to ancient Bible scholarship. 
     All in all here, let's face it. As text to be used to promote Christianity, the LE looks mahvelous as an evangelical tool compared to 16:8.  

3. Conclusion              

      In conclusion, every category of evidence for the criterion of The Direction of Change supports 16:8 as being the likelier original ending of the Gospel of Mark compared to the LE:

  • The Intrinsic evidence
  • The Transcriptional evidence
  • External evidence (all subcategories):

      All this means though is that only the one criterion of Textual Criticism that has been looked at here, The Direction of Change, supports 16:8 as the more likely original. Also, even if Textual Criticism for all criteria supported 16:8 as more likely original it still may be not be the likely ending of the Gospel of Mark due to overall uncertainty. If there is significant difference between what quality evidence would be to establish the likelihood of an original ending and the evidence we have for the most likely ending, than no ending has been established as the likely one and no absolute conclusion can be made.
      To put it simply for the above though, which ending got better (for Christianity) and why?




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