|Some Coptic text from the papyrus|
manuscript of Acts of Pilate at Turin.
Red = damaged text.
Yellow = use of Mark 16:15-18.
That headline is technically correct, but there is more to the story. Similarly, when you read the Gospel of Mark and encounter headings and footnotes at 16:8 that say, “The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8” (NLT) or, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20,” a closer look at the evidence may yield a very different impression than what one might initially receive, particularly when one notices that there are only two early Greek manuscripts of Mark in which the text ends at 16:8, and that both of those manuscripts from the 300’s (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) have unusual features at the end of Mark, and that there is significantly earlier support for Mark 16:9-20, unmentioned by the footnote-writers.
But if you’ve read my book, Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20, you already know that. Let’s look at something new: papyrus support for Mark 16:9-20! The papyrus in question is a manuscript of a composition called the Acts of Pilate (or Gesta Pilati), also called the Gospel of Nicodemus. Though little-known nowadays, the Acts of Pilate was widely circulated in medieval times, often in an expanded form that featured an account of the “Harrowing of Hell.”
It is precarious to assign production-dates for such stratified texts. At least three points involving patristic testimony should be considered:
● Justin Martyr, writing in his First Apology chapter 35, around 160, stated that a record of the events involved in Christ’s trials and crucifixion could be confirmed by consulting the Acts of Pontius Pilate, but Justin gives no further details and so it is impossible to determine from such a statement that Justin was referring to this particular composition, or if he was referring to another text, or if he simply assumed that the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (to whom Justin’s First Apology was addressed) would have access to archives that contained Pilate’s annual reports.
● Eusebius of Caesarea (in Book 9, chapters 4-5 of Ecclesiastical History, around 320) mentioned that an anti-Christian book called the Acts of Pilate had been concocted and circulated by agents of Emperor Maximinus as part of his persecution efforts, but Eusebius does not mention any similarly titled texts written from a pro-Christian perspective.
● Epiphanius of Salamis (around 375), in Panarion, (under heading IV, part 50, on the Quartodecimans), commented that some persons had found, in their copies of the Acts of Pilate, a reference to the eighth day before the calends of April as the precise day on which Christ was crucified. Epiphanius also stated that he had seen copies of the Acts of Pilate in which the date of Christ’s crucifixion was given as the fifteenth day before the calends of April. In the opening chapter of the extant text of Acts of Pilate, there is a reference to the date of Christ’s crucifixion as the eighth day of the calends of April, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius (or, in some copies, the nineteenth year); so it would seem from this that by the time Epiphanius wrote, the earliest form of Acts of Pilate had been already been written and had been in circulation long enough to undergo some corruption where its numerals were concerned.
|Codex Einsidlensis 326, 18v, |
with a utilization of Mark 16:15-16.
In 1973, H. C. Kim produced an edition of the Gospel of Nicodemus based mainly on the text as found in a Latin manuscript from the 900’s, Codex Einsidlensis (or Einsiedeln). On page 18v of the manuscript, an excerpt from the fourteenth chapter runs as follows:
“Now a certain priest named Phinees, and Addas a teacher, and a Levite named Haggaeus came down from Galilee to Jerusalem, and told the chief priests and all the synagogue-rulers, ‘We saw Jesus who was crucified, speaking with his eleven disciples, and sitting in their midst upon the Mount of Olives, and he said to them, “Go into all the world; preach to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he who believes and is baptized shall be saved. And as he was saying these things to his disciples, we saw him ascend up into heaven.”
We now turn to the papyrus manuscript, which is housed in
, at the Turin,
Italy Egyptian Museum, where it is catalogued as
item 129/18. This papyrus manuscript was
produced in or near the 700’s. It was probably
once housed in . (This location is named in a note in another
manuscript which was taken to Italy around 1820 along with the manuscript that
is in view here.) Thinis, Egypt
It, too, contains the Acts of Pilate in its early form. However, the text in this manuscript is in Coptic, rather than Latin. Its Coptic text was published in Patrologia Orientalis, Volume 9 (1913) by Eugene Revillout, who also provided a French translation of it. Its text had previously been published by Francesco Rossi in 1883, and had been studied by Amedeo Peyron, whose research-work was used by Tischendorf.
Compared to the excerpt from Codex Einsidlensis, the Coptic text in the Turin papyrus at this point is somewhat different: instead of blending Matthew 28:19 with Mark 16:15-16, it presents Mark 16:15-18, as follows (I have relied upon the recently released English translation by Anthony Alcock, whose work I have somewhat adjusted) –
“One of the priests named Phineas, and Addas the teacher, and Ogias the Levite came from
and said to the synagogue leaders and the people of the Jews, ‘We have seen
Jesus and His eleven disciples sitting on the mount called Mambrech and saying
to them, “Go into the world and preach to the entire creation. He who believes
and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be judged in the Judgment.
You, my disciples, will cast out demons from those who are afflicted by them.
You will speak in another new language. You will take poisonous serpents in
your hands and they will do nothing to you. You will be given deadly lethal potions,
and nothing will be able to harm you. You will lay your hands on the sick and
they will be healed. Everything that you ask in my name will be granted to you.”
We heard Jesus saying these things. Then He ascended to heaven in great indescribable glory.’”
|An account of the "Harrowing of Hell," pictured here |
in the Beaupre Antiphonary (from 1290), was part of a
secondary portion of the Acts of Pilate (or, Gospel of
Nicodemus) which was very widely circulated
in the Middle Ages.
The Latin text probably preceded the Coptic text, for the most part. Without delving into a detailed comparison, it looks like the initial author used and condensed material from the fifty-fifth chapter of the Diatessaron, and his work is reflected in the Latin text; a revisor replaced the Diatessaron-text with a block of text from Mark 16 (and a flourish based on John 13:14). There is not much way to tell if this happened in Latin, or exclusively in the Coptic text; however, the reference to taking up serpents “in your hands” in the Coptic text of Acts of Pilate suggests that this particular detail, at least, was introduced by a revisor who possessed a text of Mark 16:18 that contained the phrase about serpents being taken “in their hands”).
If the Latin text of Acts of Pilate utilized the Diatessaron at this point, then here we have yet another piece of evidence that Tatian, around 172, used a text of Mark that contained 16:9-20. If not, then the author of Acts of Pilate is a witness for Mark 16:9-20 (for when part of the section is used, it implies awareness of the whole section, as when part of a skeleton is excavated; the existence of the rest of the body is deduced) from the mid-300’s, contemporary with the copyists of Codex Sinaiticus, and the papyrus manuscript at Turin is an additional witness for the Coptic text of Mark 16:15-18.