Friday, September 21, 2018

Mark 16:9-20 and the Strange Scholarship of BAR

This is a sequel to my post Mark 16:9-20 and Early Patristic Evidence.  A fellow researcher, upon encountering my post, referred me to an article at the website of the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine:  James Tabor’s The Strange Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference.  I saw this material when it was first published, and I had hoped that the editors of BAR might let Tabor’s embarrassing inaccuracies (and lack of quotation-marks when borrowing from Metzger’s Textual Commentary) quietly slip into the shadows.  Alas, the article is still being circulated and still needs to be addressed.
In the interest of brevity I will not address the parts of the article in which Tabor promotes his books and his view on peripheral subjects, and via this step alone I have spared myself from delving into most of the article. 
Rather than convey his position in anything like a restrained and measured tone, Tabor describes Mark 16:9-20 in boisterous terms:  he calls this passage “concocted” and “patently false” and “forged” and “bogus” and a “forgery” and he then attempts to make a case for his own belief that Mark believed in something other than the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  But where and how does he present the evidence?  His presentation of external evidence begins and ends with this excerpt: 

            The evidence is clear. This ending is not found in our earliest and most reliable Greek copies of Mark.  In A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger writes: “Clement of Alexandria and Origen [early third century] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them.” 

Tabor’s concise description misleads his readers at every step:  he fails to mention that he is referring to only two manuscripts as “our earliest and most reliable Greek copies,” namely Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus – and he fails to mention that both of these manuscripts contain unusual features at or near the end of Mark that indicate that their copyists were aware of the existence of the missing verses.  In Codex Vaticanus, for example, the copyist left a distinct blank space (including an entire blank column) just the right size for a skilled scribe to fit verses 9-20.  In Codex Sinaiticus, the four pages containing Mark 14:54-Luke 1:76 written by the main copyist are not extant; the four pages which now exist in the manuscript are a single sheet of parchment (written on the front and back and folded down the center, so as to form four pages) which replaced the work of the main copyist; for details see the post Codex Sinaiticus and the Ending of Mark).  He fails to mention that over 1,500 Greek manuscript of Mark include 16:9-20.       
Tabor also repeats Bruce Metzger’s claim that Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses, letting readers imagine on their own that the writings of Clement and Origen are jam-packed with quotations from the rest of the Gospel of Mark, while in real life Clement of Alexandria hardly ever made specific quotations from the Gospel of Mark except for one long extract from chapter 10.  To put it another way:  according to the data in Carl Cosaert’s research, Clement of Alexandria does not makes specific citations from Mark chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 15, and 16.  Even if tomorrow someone were to discover a dozen citations from Mark made by Clement, the implication would not change:  Clement cited the Gospel of Mark only very rarely and his lack of usage of Mark 16:9-20 is merely a symptom of his general neglect of the entire book.  What Tabor (and Metzger) says about Mark 16:9-20 as a passage not used by Clement can be said about almost every 12-verse segment of the book, outside chapter 10.    
As for Origen, while he cited Mark more often than Clement did, he did not cite it anywhere near the frequency with which he cited the other Gospels.  As far as I can tell via a study of Origen’s major works, Origen cited nothing in Mark 3:19-4:11 (28 consecutive verses), or in 5:2-5:43 (41 consecutive verses) or in 8:7-8:29 (22 consecutive verses), or in 10:3-10:42 (39 consecutive verses), or in 1:36-3:16 (54 consecutive verses).  If we should conclude that a non-use of Mark 16:9-20 means that the verses were absent in Origen’s copies (as Tabor seems to expect his readers to conclude that it does), then by the same measure, they would conclude that Origen had a much shorter text of Mark.  Whereas the proper conclusion is simply that Origen’s non-use of Mark 16:9-20 – if a reference in Philocalia 5 does not allude to Mark 16:17-20 – is a side-effect of his general preference for the other three Gospel-accounts.
Tabor also misrepresents (because Metzger did) the testimony of Eusebius and Jerome; those who seek a more realistic and informed perspective on their testimony may want to bypass the misleading snippets used by various commentators and read Eusebius’ comments for themselves in Eusebius of Caesarea – Gospel Problems and Solutions, and to compare it to Jerome’s Epistle 120 – To Hedibia, and notice (as D. C. Parker noticed) that Jerome’s comment is not a personal observation by  Jerome about Jerome’s manuscripts; it is part of Jerome’s Latin abridgment of part of Eusebius’ Ad Marinum, cobbled together in response to Hedibia’s general question about how to harmonize the Gospels regarding events that followed Christ’s resurrection.  Those who take the time to do so will see that Eusebius, rather than forcefully reject Mark 16:9-20, advised Marinus about how to punctuate and pronounce (and thus retain) Mark 16:9; they will also see that Eusebius used Mark 16:9 himself on two other occasions in the same composition.  
Tabor then mentions “two other endings,” and here too he misleads his readers.  For he fails to mention that when every Greek manuscript that includes the Shorter Ending – all six of them – was made, the usual 12 verses were included too.  And he says that these endings show up in “various manuscripts” but there is only one manuscript that has what he describes as an ending:  the Freer Logion, found in Codex W.  Furthermore, it is plainly false to call the Freer Logion another ending, because it is not an ending; it is an interpolation, as you can see (page-views below).  This material does not appear after Mark 16:8.  It appears between Mark 16:14 and 16:15, right where Jerome mentioned in one of his writings that he had seen it, “especially in Greek codices.”    
            And that is where Tabor’s presentation of the external evidence ends; the remainder of the article is not much more than restatements of the author’s unorthodox beliefs regarding the nature of the resurrection of Christ.  Where does he mention that Irenaeus specifically quoted Mark 16:19 around the year 180, over a century before Codex Vaticanus was made?  Nowhere.  Where does he mention that manuscripts representing the Byzantine, Western, Caesarea, and Alexandrian text-types include Mark 16:9-20?  Nowhere.  How is it that in a footnote Tabor mentions (via a quotation from Metzger’s Textual Commentary) two Georgian manuscripts from the 800s and 900s, but none of the patristic utilizations of Mark 16:9-20 from the 300s and 400s?  Is evidence from the Vulgate, from Codex Alexandrinus, from Codex Bezae, from Apostolic Constitutions (380), from Ambrose, from Augustine, and from Jerome suddenly so trivial as to be ignored?  No?  Then why – I ask the editors of BAR – was none of this mentioned in their article?     
            No matter what the answer is – whether such glaring omissions and evidence-molding were intentional or accidental – it seems obvious that BAR should be considered a dry well – or worse, a poisoned well – by readers thirsty for accurate descriptions of the external evidence pertinent to important text-critical questions about the text of the New Testament.


7 comments:

Wayne Steury said...

I subscribe to BAR but am often disappointed in their modernist theology. Thanks for sharing this truth about the ending of Mark. I believe in this ending as evidenced in many good manuscripts.

Daniel Buck said...

So, Dr. Tabor is welcome to use such epithets as “concocted”, “patently false,” “forged,” and “bogus” in his article, but you are expected to be the model of decorum in all your reviews of such folderol? Sounds like a double standard to me. But maybe someone can explain the difference.

Peter Gurry said...

James, what is your explanation for the origin of shorter ending?

James Snapp said...

Peter Gurry,
(Working on the premise that "shorter ending" = the Shorter Ending)

I would refer you to my book for details about that, but, basically: I think that Mark was permanently interrupted mid-sentence (with "gar") and left his work in the hands of colleagues at Rome before departing; these colleagues recognized the narrative as unfinished, and completed it (before any copies were made) by attaching an already-existing short Marcan account of Christ's post-resurrection appearances (which we know as verses 9-20). In this finished form, the Gospel of Mark reached the end of its production-stage, and in this form, the Gospel of Mark began to be copied and disseminated for church-use.

But in an early transmission-stream, someone who regarded the Gospel of Mark as the Reminiscences of Peter (Mark being seen as merely a secretary), and who had encountered vv. 9-20 as a freestanding composition, removed the 12 verses in the interest of meticulously perpetuating *only* the work of the author (who, as far as he was concerned, was Peter).

This truncated form of the text circulated exclusively in Egypt (affecting not only the Alexandrian line but also the very narrow line that led to the Sinaitic Syriac) where it was not long until someone who could not stand the abruptness of the ending (or rather, non-ending -- stoppage) at the end of verse 8 composed the Shorter Ending to round off the narrative. The Shorter Ending circulated in Egypt long enough to affect some Egyptian versions (including a local, severely edited form of the Old Latin, in k) but dwindled as the 12-verse ending reappeared and was accepted.

Ross Little said...

What about Burgon’s point that lectionaries stopped at verse 8. And the last 12 verses were the reading for the next day (or Service). So the translators for the shorter version mistakenly believed that the ending for that days lectionary was the end of the chapter and book.
I’m thinking that the end of the lectionary included some words indicating it was over so their assumption (although wrong) was not unreasonable.

maurice a. robinson said...

Lectionaries did not "stop" at verse 8 -- a particular lection itself stopped at verse 8, but another lection (that for Ascension Day) reads all the verses from 9-20 (as even Burgon had noted).

James Snapp said...

Ross Little,
Burgon's theory has some force -- i.e., it is not hard to picture a novice copyist who possessed a damaged MS of Mark coming to the end of 16:8 and noticing a margin-note stating, "End of the Second Gospel" (i.e., end of the second Gospel-reading in the Heothina-series) and concluding that the text of the whole account ended there -- but not enough: first, one would expect any copyist to look for the rest of the text if he were familiar at all with the contents of the Gospels; and second, while the inclusion of 16:9-20 in a series of resurrection-readings almost certainly goes back to Cyril of Jerusalem's time, the loss has to have happened earlier. But the heaviest point against Burgon's theory is the cumulative weight of the internal evidence, particularly the narrative restart that happens between v. 8 and v. 9. It's not absolutely impossible that a MS could just happen to get damaged at exactly that point, but it's a "Goldilocks" kind of solution.