Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nick Lunn's Book about Mark 16:9-20 - Reviewing a Review

Yet another author supports the
genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 --
and the defenders of the status quo
are getting nervous
Recently a review of Nick Lunn’s book, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 appeared online at the website of the Australian Biblical Review.  I believe that that poor quality of the review demands a response.  In the following eight ways, and more, reviewer Stephen Carlson has done a disservice to readers of ABR.

(1)  The paperback edition of The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 might be $53 in Australian dollars (in the USA, it is currently $43 at Amazon), but the Kindle e-book is $9.99 US.  The availability of the book in an electronic format (available since at least November of 2014) that can save readers $33 is worth mentioning. 

(2)  Carlson frames Lunn’s view as something that goes “against the weight of critical opinion.”  That’s okay.  But then he goes further and says, “This issue is no longer disputed among New Testament textual critics.”  This is mere “poison-the-well” rhetoric.  It is like beginning the review of a restaurant by saying, “True connoisseurs do not visit this restaurant.”  
          One could similarly claim that before the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece was released, the reading of Second Peter 2:18 was no longer disputed among textual critics; the adoption of ολιγως instead of οντως received an “A” from the UBS Committee; implying, as the UBS Introduction says, that “the text is certain.”  It was certain, until the decision about this variant-unit was reversed in the 28th edition!  Meanwhile, advocates of the Byzantine Text had favored οντως the whole time.        
          Furthermore, Carlson’s statement is flatly wrong.  In the 2007 book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, Dr. Maurice Robinson and Dr. David Alan Black both argued for the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20.  Dr. Dave Miller has advocated the genuineness of the passage.  Dr. David Hester has offered a case that “modern day readers of the Gospel of Mark should use the verses as part of Scripture.”  I, too, have written a detailed defense of the passage, which members of the NT Textual Criticism group on Facebook can obtain for free, in an expanded and updated edition.  Several recent English translations, including Gary F. ZeollaAnalytical-Literal Translation (based on the Byzantine Text), the New Heart English Bible, the World English Bible, the English Majority Text Version, the Eastern/Greek Orthodox New Testamentand the Modern English Version (the MEV is based on the Textus Receptus) also format Mark 16:9-20 as part of the text.  Does Carlson truly have the temerity to deny that there are textual critics who accept Mark 16:9-20 as authentic, or is he merely out of touch?
          It is understandable that Carlson, having claimed that Lunn is not likely to convince textual critics, did not mention what Craig Evans says about Lunn’s book on its cover.  Craig Evans’ misrepresentations of important aspects of the relevant evidence still circulate in his commentary on Mark; nevertheless Evans acknowledges:  “Nicholas Lunn has thoroughly shaken my views concerning the ending of the Gospel of Mark,” and, “As in the case of most gospel scholars, I have for my whole career held that Mark 16:9-20, the so-called ‘Long Ending,’ was not original.  But in his well-researched and carefully argued book, Lunn succeeds in showing just how flimsy that position really is,” and, I will not be surprised if Lunn reverses scholarly opinion on this important question, and so forth.  
          I do not think that Carlson could gather a list of very many textual critics who reject Mark 16:9-20 if, in order to be on the list, one would have to have not written anything erroneous about the passage.  (This would certainly rule out Bruce Metzger and Daniel Wallace; Wallace’s writings on the passage are a veritable cornucopia of misinformation.)  As a New Testament textual critic who regards Mark 16:9-20 as part of the original text, and who has documented an epidemic of inaccuracies in commentators’ treatments of the evidence pertaining to these verses, I regard Carlson’s insinuation that if one is really a textual critic, one cannot think that Mark 16:9-20 is genuine, to be nothing but hollow, desperate rhetoric that is inappropriate in a book-review.      

(3)  Carlson states that Lunn’s arguments “often contain factual mistakes.”  Granting that Lunn overplays the differences between the wording of the resurrection-predictions in 8:31, 9:31, and 10:34 and the wording in 16:6, this is a minor consideration that is nowhere near the core of Lunn’s case.  In addition, Carlson seems to think that the angelic announcement that Jesus has been raised and will be see in Galilee – without any narrative about His post-resurrection appearance – satisfies the prediction in 14:28, and that Lunn’s denial of this is problematic.  Whether this is or is not the case, we are dealing here with a point of interpretation, not a “factual mistake.”    

(4)  Carlson put his own spin on Lunn’s descriptions of the evidence, as if Lunn has somehow minimized some of the main witnesses for the abrupt ending at 16:8:  when Lunn points out (correctly) that “within the confines of the Greek evidence both the abrupt and the shorter endings are restricted to the Alexandrian text-type,” Carlson objects that “The limitation of this argument to Greek evidence weakens the argument.”  However, Lunn does not ignore the non-Greek evidence.  He describes it and even devotes several paragraphs to Codex Bobiensis.  Readers of Carlson’s review – particularly his claim about “Lunn’s attempt to avoid this Western witness” – are likely to get a different impression, that is, a false impression.   

(5)  Carlson’s misrepresentation of Lunn’s treatment of Codex Bobiensis is particularly blatant.  Here is Carlson’s sentence:  “Lunn’s attempt to avoid this Western witness because it is “geographically closer to Alexandria” is simply wrong because Carthage is twice as far from Alexandria as it is from Rome.”  But consider Lunn’s entire sentence:   after proposing that Codex Bobiensis “most probably originated in North Africa,” Lunn states:  “This places it geographically closer to Alexandria in Egypt than the European Old Latin manuscripts.” 
          Either the point of Lunn’s sentence did not register to Carlson, or Carlson is guilty of misrepresenting Lunn’s position about this, which is simply that Old Latin transmission-streams on the European continent were a greater distance away from Egypt (by land-travel) than North Africa is, rendering the Old Latin transmission-stream in North Africa relatively more vulnerable to the sustained influence of the transmission-stream in Egypt.  Lunn clearly acknowledges that “the negative testimony begins to take on a broader shape” when versional evidence is considered.  But perhaps Carlson, instead of taking a cheap shot via his claim that Lunn “avoids” some evidence, was working under a tight deadline, and simply failed to notice what Lunn wrote about the versional evidence as a whole. Either way, the picture painted by Carlson is sadly out of focus to the point of being useless.
          What gets lost (or obscured) in Carlson’s comments is Lunn’s conclusion about the Old Latin evidence in general that “Bobiensis displays an entirely unique manner of ending Mark, while the weight of the testimony of other Old Latin Gospels is decidedly in favor of including 16:9-20.”  (This point alone should compel numerous commentators (such as James R. Edwards) to rewrite their comments about the testimony of the Old Latin regarding Mark 16:9-20.)

(6)  Carlson states, “Lunn admits that the Old Syriac witnesses in favour of the short ending is Western.”  Not only is this claim grammatically challenged, but it obscures Lunn’s description of the Syriac evidence, which consists of much more than the Sinaitic Syriac:  Lunn affirms that Tatian’s Diatessaron (produced around the 170’s), the Syriac Didascalion (third century), Aphrahat the Persian (early fourth century), Doctrine of Addai (fourth century), and Ephrem the Syrian (around the middle of the fourth century) support the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20.  
          Lunn describes the Sinaitic Syriac as “quite exceptional among the various Syriac witnesses” due to its non-inclusion of Mark 16:9-20.  [In the interests of brevity I will not address some quirks/mistakes in the nomenclature used by Lunn.]  Lunn also points out that in the Curetonian Syriac, the only text from Mark that has survived is 16:17b-20.  His conclusion regarding the Syriac evidence is that with the exception of the Sinaitic Syriac, “every other shred of evidence, both earlier (Diatessaron, Didascalion, Aphrahat, etc.) and later (Curetonian, Peshitta, Harklean) testifies to the existence of 16:9-20 as the ending of Mark in the Syriac tradition.”  This is a much more significant point that the point that the Sinaitic Syriac is a Western witness (which Lunn readily grants).            

(7)  As is often the case with commentaries about Mark 16:9-20, one must consider what is left out.  (Like when the NET’s note on Mark 16:9-20 does not mention Irenaeus.  Epic fail, NET!)  Carlson does not mention Lunn’s evisceration of Wallace’s flimsy dismissal of the blank spaces in the Old Testament portion of Vaticanus.  Nor does Carlson mention Lunn’s analysis of the blank space that follows Mark 16:8 in Vaticanus:  Lunn concludes that Vaticanus “provides indirect evidence for the prior existence of 16:9-20.”  Isn’t this something that Carlson’s readers might like to know?  In addition, Carlson does not mention Lunn’s analysis of the decorative design in Sinaiticus which follows Mark 16:8; Lunn concludes that it is plausible that via this feature, “Sinaiticus joins Vaticanus in its implicit testimony to the existence of a Markan ending beyond that which these two present.”  Did Carlson think that news of this would bore the readers of his review?

(8)  Again:  Carlson did not mention Lunn’s investigation into external evidence that has only rarely been covered by commentators.  Regardless of what one’s view on the main question is, Lunn should be thanked for offering an apparatus-listing for Mark 16:9-20 that is a substantial improvement upon the comparatively meager apparatus offered in the Nestle-Aland and USB compilations.  Lunn’s chapter on patristic citations, in the portion sub-titled “Evidence Prior to AD 150,” is bound to be interesting to all readers, whether they are persuaded or not.  Lunn proposes that the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas, and Barnabas probably contain utilizations of the contents of Mark 16:9-20.  He also offers evidence for utilizations of Mark 16:9-20 from the Gospel of Mary and the Epistula Apostolorum and other works that are not found in the UBS apparatus.  He also upgrades the testimony of Justin Martyr:  rather than consider Justin as merely a highly probable witness for Mark 16:9-20, Lunn affirms, with detailed analysis, that this is “a certainty.”  Is this not worth mentioning in a review?    

More could be said about Carlson’s spin on Lunn’s approach to the internal evidence and his strange selectivity of detail when describing the contents of Lunn’s book.  But you get the idea.  If there is a sufficiently detailed, careful, and unbiased review to be had of Lunn’s book, it is not likely to come from Stephen Carlson.


Wayne Steury said...

Thanks for sharing this information, James. It makes me want to read this book and to read your material on it.

JoeWallack said...

Grace to you James Snapp. Carlson has his own solution to the problem of 16:8 which goes the other way (so to speak). The qualitative part of the LE argument is the claimed 2nd century Patristic support. At my blog:


I am currently reviewing this evidence and you are welcome to comment. I have faith that you approve of the name of the blog.


James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

I addressed such a view in the course of the summarized presentation that begins at www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/MarkOne.htm . See, especially, the paragraph above the "Concluding Thoughts" at http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/MarkThree.htm . Basically, (a) it puts vv. 9-20 in a heads-I-win (because close parallels would show that the author of verses 9-20 used Matthew and Luke) and tails-you-lose (because a lack of close parallels shows that Matthew and Luke didn't use vv. 9-20) scenario. And (b) Luke doesn't use Mark 6:45-8:26 but nobody (or almost nobody -- there are probably still a few folks who like Streeter's theory about this) is saying that this means that Luke used a copy of Mark that lacked those verses.

JoeWallack said...

Thanks for your response Mr. Snapp. I've responded to the above here:


and here:


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