Saturday, August 17, 2013

Robert Stein and the Ending of Mark

          Robert Stein’s article The Ending of Mark in a 2008 issue of Bulletin for Biblical Research has a lot of good qualities.  Dr. Stein writes clearly.  His statement that Mark’s readers “would not only find 16:8 a difficult ending for Mark but an impossible one” is one in which I am in complete agreement.  Efforts to squint sensibility and skill into the abrupt ending (undertaken, for instance, by Daniel Wallace, J. Lee Magness, John MacArthur -- who misrepresented almost every piece of external evidence he mentioned -- and, more recently, Alistair Begg) are futile exercises.  The abrupt ending of verse 8 looks unintentional because it was unintentional. 
          Dr. Stein wrote that the abrupt ending at 16:8 is found “in two major Greek Codices – Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Vaticanus (B), as well as in 304, certain Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian manuscripts, and is witnessed to by Clement of Alexandrian, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome.”
Clement of Alexandria does not witness to the abrupt ending.  Clement might even refer to Mark 16:19 in Adumbrationes in a comment on Jude verse 24 as preserved by Cassiodorus -- a reference which seems to have escaped Metzger’s attention.  But, setting aside that possibility, if Clement never used Mark 16:9-20, that is very far from Stein’s claim that Clement weighs in for the abrupt ending.  Clement of Alexandria does not use 12 entire chapters of Mark.  It is unrealistic to treat his silence regarding 12 verses as if it has any evidentiary force. 
Origen does not witness to the abrupt ending.  Origen used Mark more than Clement did, but he never said anything about how the Gospel of Mark ends.  Origen did not use many other 12-verse portions of Mark, and he did not use portions of Mark that are much larger than 12 verses.  So we simply do not know whether his copies of Mark contained 16:9-20 or not.  This finally seems to have sunk into the heads of the editors of the UBS Greek New Testament; after decades of spreading the idea that Clement and Origen support the abrupt ending, the editors finally removed the names of Clement and Origen from the apparatus-entry for Mark 16:9-20 in the fourth edition.  (Yay.  Now if we could just make fresh editions of about 200 commentaries and 20,000 seminary classroom-lessons prepared by people who depended on the apparatus in earlier editions of the UBS Greek New Testament.)
          Dr. Stein is correct that the text of Mark stops at the end of 16:8 in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, but that observation is strongly nuanced by additional factors that Stein did not mention:  Vaticanus has a distinct blank space after 16:8 (not just leftover space below 16:8, but also an entire blank column alongside it) in which a trained copyist could fit 16:9-20.  In Sinaiticus a cancel-sheet contains Mk. 14:54-Lk. 1:56 and the cancel-sheet’s copyist shifted his rate of letters-per-column in a highly unusual way on these pages.  (I won't go into detail about this here, but if I were to take the time to walk through this feature, I believe I could show that these shifts in the lettering betray the copyist's desire not to leave a blank column between Mark 16:8 and Luke 1:1 -- which implies that the copyist was aware that the abrupt ending at 16:8 was not the only known way to conclude the Gospel of Mark.)   In addition the elaborateness of the arabesque after 16:8 should be noticed.    
          The medieval manuscript 304 is very probably just a damaged manuscript.  According to a description by Dr. Maurice Robinson (who, years ago, briefly saw a microfilm of 304), 304 does not display the subscription after 16:8. 
          Stein wrote that "certain Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian manuscripts" lack Mark 16:9-20.  There's considerable ambiguity in that sentence.  Only one Syriac manuscript (the Sinaitic Syriac) ends Mark at the end of 16:8.  And only one Sahidic MS lacks 16:9-20.  (That Sahidic MS, by the way, was initially assigned a production-date c. 425, but Coptic specialist Christian Askeland has recently expressed his opinion that it could be centuries later.)  (A recently-publicized Sahidic amulet which treats 16:8 as the last verse in Mark should also be on the scales, although there's some question about its production-date.) 
          When the Armenian version and the Old Georgian version are listed side-by-side without mentioning that the Old Georgian version was translated from Armenian, many readers are bound to get the impression that these two pieces of evidence are two independent lines of evidence, when they’re not.  Also, if the Armenian manuscripts that lack Mark 16:9-20 are going to be mentioned, then it seems only fair that the hundreds of Armenian manuscripts that contain Mark 16:9-20 should also be mentioned, as well as the testimony of the Armenian writer Eznik of Golb, who utilized Mark 16:17-18 in his composition De Deo hundreds of years before the production-date of the earliest extant Armenian manuscript of Mark 16.    

          Dr. Stein claimed, “A number of the manuscripts have asterisks or other markings by the text indicating that the copyists thought the longer ending was spurious.”  This appears to be an inaccurate appraisal based on Metzger’s statement about “other witnesses."  (Dr. Stein, like most commentators who mention the “asterisks and obeli” claim, did not specify which MSS he was talking about, echoing Metzger's vagueness).  Fourteen Greek manuscripts have special annotations about 16:9-20, but I have not been able to verify the existence of any non-annotated Greek manuscripts of Mark in which 16:9-20 is accompanied by text-critical asterisks or obeli.  (Plenty of MSS have lectionary-related symbols and abbreviations at the beginning of 16:9, but the MSS have the same symbols and abbreviations elsewhere; they are merely part of the lectionary-apparatus.)  
          Stein wrote on page 82 about the “Lack of Attestation by Early Church Fathers,” stating that the failure of Origen, Tertullian, Cyrian [he meant Cyprian], Cyril of Jerusalem, and others” “indicates that they were apparently unacquainted with the longer ending of Mark.”  His reference to Tertullian is somewhat puzzling because in a footnote on the same page, he listed Tertullian as a witness to the longer ending.  Regarding the other three individuals that Stein listed (Origen, Cyprian, and Cyril of Jerusalem):  Origen’s non-use of Mark 16:9-20, as I already mentioned, is a side-effect of his general neglect of Mark.  The same goes for Cyprian (whose silence was badly misrepresented by Hort).  And Cyril of Jerusalem (in Adversus Nestorium, Book 2, chapter 6) quoted Nestorius’ quotation of Mark 16:20, and did not respond by saying, “Whatever was Nestorius talking about?”.    
          By claiming that patristic writers' non-use of Mark 16:9-20 "indicates that they were apparently unacquainted" with the passage, Dr. Stein has built a hurdle which, if consistently applied, would indicate the same thing about many other 12-verse passages of the Gospel of Mark.    

          On page 82, Stein stated that Mark 16:9-20 “contains 18 terms not found anywhere else in Mark.”  That’s true, but why is there no mention that another 12-verse passage – 15:40-16:4 – contains even more terms not found anywhere else in Mark?  Is it too much to ask for some balance?  Do all future commentators have to cherry-pick the evidence in accord with a time-honored tradition?  When the abundance of once-used words in Mark 16:9-20 is mentioned, but the even higher abundance of once-used words in 15:40-16:4 is not mentioned, readers may be forgiven if they feel like shoppers in a fruit-market in which the vendor has designed his display so that the customers can only see one side of the apples.    

          On page 83, Stein referred to “the Harclean Syriac manuscript.”  I’m not sure what he meant by that, because there is more than one manuscript of the Harclean Syriac.  And, if I am not misinformed, in the Harclean (also spelled Harklean) Syriac, the Shorter Ending is not in the text between verse 8 and verse 9; it’s in the margin.
          In a footnote on page 84, Stein mentioned that the evidence from Jerome is unclear.  I think I can help clear that up.  First, regarding the commentary on Mark that Stein attributed to Jerome:  that’s not by Jerome.  Second, Jerome’s statement in Ad Hedibiam is a condensed translation of part of Eusebius’ Ad Marinum.  If Eusebius had never written Ad Marinum, this part of Ad Hedibiam would not exist. 
          It cannot be denied that Jerome took material from Eusebius’ earlier composition and included it in his letter to Hedibia without explaining that he was using Eusebius’ material.  Jerome had no problem answering questions by repeating what had been stated by other writers, whether their answers exactly reflected his own views and observations or not.  (He freely acknowledged doing this sort of thing in Epistle 75, To Augustine.)  In addition, it is plain to see in Ad Hedibiam that he followed up on the statement about “almost all the Greek copies” by recommending (just as Eusebius did) that Mark 16:9-20 be retained and that a comma be introduced into 16:9. 
          And now some thoughts about the implications of the inaccuracies in Dr. Stein's article.  If a distinguished and experienced scholar such as Dr. Robert Stein is capable of those mistakes and misrepresentations, just imagine what lesser scholars are teaching in their classrooms.  It is this sort of thing that continues to give momentum to the rejection of Mark 16:9-20.  The testimony of Clement and Origen should never have been in the equation as witnesses against Mark 16:9-20.  Jerome's statement in Ad Hedibiam should never have been misrepresented as if Jerome was not spontaneously paraphrasing Eusebius in the course of dictating a letter.  Eusebius' vagueness and ambivalence in Ad Marinum, and his recommendation to retain Mark 16:9-20, should not have been overlooked.  The dependence of the Old Georgian on the Armenian version should have been pointed out.  The asterisks-and-obelisks claim should have been checked, and specifics about how many non-annotated manuscripts have text-critically significant symbols alongside Mark 16:9-20 -- which is none, as far as I can tell -- should have been given.  But just the opposite has happened, and the  result of all this is that even when the mistakes are realized, the train of conventional wisdom continues to roll down the wrong track, even though it is out of coal.        

          Meanwhile, weighing in for the inclusion of 16:9-20, we have four second-century witnesses, including Epistula Apostolorum, the existence and testimony of which Stein acknowledged, unlike most commentators.  Julian Hills, who has specialized in the study of the Epistula Apostolorum , has said, "I would vote for a high degree of probability that the author knew the Longer Ending." 

          I wonder how rapidly the current consensus against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 would change if commentators stopped making the mistakes that Dr. Stein has made, and took the steps he has taken that were correct.  If commentators stop misrepresenting Clement and Origen, stop parroting Metzger’s vague "asterisks and obeli" claim (unless some demonstrable basis for it is found), stop pretending that the abrupt ending was  intentional, and start to draw their readers' attention to the testimony of Epistula Apostolorum, Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus, what would happen?  Would very many commentators encourage their readers to believe that a textual variant that is supported by four second-century witnesses, and 99.9% of the Greek manuscripts, and 99.99% of the Latin manuscripts, and 99.5% of the Syriac manuscripts, and 40 Roman-era patristic writers, does not have adequate support, and should be expunged from Scripture?  And if so, would very many commentary-readers take them seriously?

I hope these things will be taken into consideration by readers of Dr. Stein's article.

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