Saturday, December 10, 2016

New Coptic Evidence for Mark 16:15-18

          If you’ve already carefully read Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20, then you may recall that in the list of patristic witnesses supporting the passage, there was one called The Enthronement of the Archangel Michael.  Even though this short book was composed before the year 600 – and is thus older than several other witnesses which are routinely cited when the subject of the ending of Mark is addressed – it is not mentioned in the lists of witnesses in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, nor in the Nestle-Aland compilation, nor in the notes in the New English Translation.  Bart Ehrman does not mention it in his descriptions of the evidence pertaining to the ending of Mark; nor did Bruce Metzger, his mentor, who authored the influential (but obsolete) A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.         
A page from a manuscript of
The Investiture of the Archangel Michael
          The tendency to ignore The Enthronement (also called the Investiture, or Institution) of the Archangel Michael – a tendency exhibited by almost all English-writing commentators on the Gospel of Mark – may now be remedied by the availability of an English translation by Anthony Alcock of the Sahidic text of this composition.  As Alin Suciu recently noted at his blog, The Investiture of the Archangel Michael was translated into several languages and dialects in ancient times but it was probably composed in an Egyptian language.       
          This implies that sometime before bishop John of Parallos (c. 540-620) wrote his criticism of heretical books, including objections against The Investiture of the Archangel Michael, someone in Egypt borrowed verbiage from Mark 16:15-18 when constructing the closing narrative of this text – and this implies, in turn, that at that time, copies of Mark were circulating in Egypt that contained verses 9-20 of chapter 16. 
          Because the composition-date for The Investiture of the Archangel Michael is centuries earlier than the production-dates of Armenian and Old Georgian manuscripts that are often mentioned by commentators as witnesses against the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, The Investiture of the Archangel Michael should be mentioned in any future commentaries’ discussion of the ending of Mark that mention those versional copies, lest the authors risk being accused of cherry-picking the evidence deliberately as so many of their predecessors have done accidentally.   
          The author of The Investiture of the Archangel Michael covered a variety of topics, ranging from the rebellion of Satan (the story in this text resembles one that was known to Muhammad, and which is echoed in the Quran in surah 7:11-18) and the promotion of Michael to take Satan’s place, to the benefits of acts of piety done in the name of Jesus and Saint Michael, especially when they are done on the annual feast-day of the archangel Michael (the 12th of Hathor in the Coptic calendar).  Along the way, the author utilized Matthew 26:29, Acts 3:6 (with the variant “rise and walk”), and Matthew 13:16, as well as the Gospels’ narratives about the death of John the Baptist.  And in the 20th chapter, the author makes extensive use of Mark 16:15-18, depicting Jesus telling His apostles the following:
Another manuscript
of the Investiture text.
See the Morgan Library's website
for the full-color image.

“Now then, my disciples, go forth into the world and preach the four gospels and the sweet teaching that I told you when I was teaching. . . . . Everything you eat, pray over it first, because everything is purified by prayer.  Everything you embark on, pray first before you do it and preach the gospel to all creation.  The one who believes and receives baptism will not be slighted.  These signs will be revealed to those who believe.  They will cast out demons in my name.  They will speak other languages.  They will seize serpents in their hands.  Even if they drink poison, it will do them no harm.  They will place their hands on the sick, who will be healed.” 

          A clearer utilization of Mark 16:15-18 could hardly be asked for.  It should be noted that the text which the author used included the variant “in their hands,” showing that his text of Mark likewise contained this phrase at the beginning of Mark 16:18.  This little detail suggests that the author was using a form of the text of Mark that was indigenous (because this reading tends to be found in the Alexandrian form of Mark 16:18), not something newly arrived from a locale where the Byzantine Text was in use (because the Byzantine Text does not have “And in their hands” in Mark 16:18).
          Anthony Alcock is to be thanked for this new English translation of The Investiture of the Archangel Michael.  May the news of its existence be shared with, and by, future commentators!



Timothy Joseph said...

Really? This is not a continuous text Greek manuscript, not a version, not a quote from an early church father nor even an amulet, but from a late Apochrophal story. At the most, it confirms that a 6th century writer know of a story that included a text like Mark.


James Snapp said...

Timothy Joseph,
An apocryphal story -- in this case, in the genre of Coptic Apostolic Memoirs -- is still a patristic witness, and, in this case, its composition-date is before 600, which, compared to almost all other Sahidic evidence of the text of Mark, is early. (The codex in Barcelona was assigned an earlier date, but there's centuries' worth of wiggle-room for it.)

So confirmation from a Sahidic writer in the 500's is significant -- certainly as significant as the Old Georgian copies that are consistently mentioned in discussions about the ending of Mark.

As for this being confirmation of the author's knowledge of "a story that included a text like Mark" -- my turn to say "Really?". That's special pleading. When an author utilizes, say, Matthew 28:18-20, we do not say that such a feature is evidence that the author knew a story that included a text like Matthew 28:18-20.