Saturday, April 25, 2015

More Problems in Biblical Archaeology Review's Treatment of the Ending of Mark

(14)  “Form 3b (the long form with asterisks or notes) is represented by the Revised Version of 1881, the Jerusalem Bible (1966) and the New King James Version (1982).”

            This may be an appropriate moment for a brief detour, to consider a few inaccuracies written by the expert annotators of some relatively recent English translations. 
            ● A note in the Jerusalem Bible stated, “Many MSS omit vv. 9-20.”     
            ● The New American Standard Bible, in a 1977 edition, presented verses 9-20 in brackets, followed by the Shorter Ending in brackets and italicized; a footnote to the Shorter Ending stated, “A few later mss. and versions contain this paragraph, usually after verse 8; a few have it at the end of chapter.” This note’s claim is untrue.  No Greek manuscripts are extant in which the text of Mark ends with the Shorter Ending, either after verse 8 or after verse 20.           
            ● The English Standard Version, in a 2007 edition, featured a note which stated that “A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14.”  In real life, only one extant manuscript (Codex W) does so.  I am not sure which worries me more:  the sloppy scholarship that allowed such a note to be written, or the negligent peer review that allowed it to be distributed for over a decade.
            ● The New Living Translation still contains a note which says that “Some early manuscripts add” the Freer Logion.  It also features a note which refers to “various endings to the Gospel,” ensuring that the state of the evidence remains fuzzy to NLT-readers.

(15)  “Whether examining ancient manuscripts or consulting modern English translations, a reader of the Gospel of Mark encounters an astonishing number of alternative endings for the gospel.”

            That is astonishingly sensationalistic writing.  As previously noted, 1,600+ Greek manuscripts display verses 9-20 after verse 8; in two Greek manuscripts the text clearly ends at the end of 16:8, and in six Greek manuscripts (concentrated in Egypt) the Shorter Ending and verses 9-20 are both presented, usually with brief notes.  (The inclusion of the Freer Logion between 16:14 and 16:15 in Codex W is not another ending, any more than a ship becomes a different ship after a barnacle attaches itself to the hull.)  So in terms of independent texts that appear after 16:8, we observe two endings – not “an astonishing number.”          
(16)  [Referring to the reading in Codex W, i.e., verses 9-20 with the Freer Logion between 16:14 and 16:15]  “In short, the historical support for this form is relatively late and very slender.”
            Slender?  Yes.  Relatively late?  No.  Holmes described Codex W as a manuscript from “the fourth- or fifth-century.”  Codex Vaticanus – the earliest extant Greek manuscript of Mark 16 – is also from the fourth century.  Reckoning that these production-dates are assigned on the basis of paleography, and also taking into account our inability to discern if a specific copyist produced a specific manuscript near the beginning, or near the end, of his career, it is not impossible that the elderly copyists of Codex Vaticanus and the middle-aged copyists of Codex Sinaiticus and the young copyists of Codex W passed each other in the streets. 

(17)  “At the time of Eusebius in the early fourth century, however, the long form still was found in only a small minority of manuscripts.”

            Holmes thus treated Eusebius’ statements anachronistically, as if Eusebius had taken a survey of manuscript-collections throughout the Roman Empire.

(18)  “The historical evidence for Form 3a is early (third quarter of the second century) but very narrow until the fifth century or later.”

            That’s ridiculous, as can easily be seen from the use of Mark 16:9-20 by Irenaeus (in Gaul, in the 100’s), Hippolytus (in Rome, in the early 200’s), Eusebius (in Caesarea, in the early 300’s), Wulfilas (in Goth-controlled territory, in the mid-300’s), and other early writers in other locales.  The level of spin in Holmes’ claim is almost amusing.   

(19)  “Neither Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) nor Origen (c. 185-254) indicates any awareness of anything beyond 16:8.  But this is an argument from silence, so not too much weight can be placed on it.”

        You can say that again – especially since Clement never makes any quotations from Mark chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, and 16 (unless, in a comment on Jude verse 24 preserved by Cassiodorus, Clement uses Mark 16:19), and since Origen fails to quote from huge chunks of Mark; when we see Origen fail to quote from 54, and 41, and 22, and 25, and 39, and 46, and 63 consecutive verses, his non-use of 12 consecutive verses cannot validly be considered evidence of the contents of his copies of Mark.  Why is this never mentioned by Holmes? 

(20)  “The earliest manuscript witnesses for Form 1, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, date to about the same time [that is, contemporary to Eusebius of Caesarea], but have been shown to preserve a textual tradition that dates back to around the time of Irenaeus (c. 175).”

            Do you see what Holmes is doing here?  A footnote in his Bible Review article explains his approach:  the discovery of P66 and P75, he says, “demonstrates that these two fourth-century manuscripts in fact preserve a textual tradition that dates back at least to around the time of Irenaeus.”  He thus treats an extrapolation from manuscripts produced in the fourth century as if this should have the same weight as clear patristic utilizations of Mark 16:9-20 in the second century. 
            Such jugglery is not the same as the enterprise of “measuring Hercules by his foot.”  It is more like attempting to draw Hercules’ beard by measuring his foot.  It is unobjectionable to deduce that Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are descended from the same text-stream of which Papyrus 75 is a core member, and of which P66 is a not-so-strong member.  It is not valid, however, to treat manuscripts which do not contain a single word from the Gospel of Mark as if they shed light on any specific textual variant in the Gospel of Mark. 
            If it is valid to build second-century evidence out of general affinities and inferences, then let’s notice the general affinity between Papyrus 45 and Codex W in the Gospel of Mark, and infer that Papyrus 45, in its pristine form, agreed with Codex W at the end of Mark.  If you see why this approach would be unsound then you see why Holmes’ approach is unsound.  (In addition, one could ask that if it is okay to treat two fourth-century witnesses as evidence for an ancestor-text in c. 175, why is it not okay to treat four second-century witnesses as evidence for an ancestor-text in c. 65?)
(21)  “In summary, the evidence for a short form of Mark ending at 16:8 is both early (mid- to late second century) and broad.”

            A number of points may be made in response:
            ● His “mid- to late second century evidence” for the abrupt ending at the end of 16:8 is not evidence.  His earliest evidence is in the fourth century.        
            ● He misrepresents Eusebius’ description of the manuscript-evidence (reading it as if it is a direct observation, rather than something that Eusebius framed as something that someone might say) and reads Eusebius’ statement anachronistically, as if the manuscripts encountered by Eusebius were typical of manuscripts everywhere.
            ● He interprets the annotation in f-1 (and the note in some of the Jerusalem-colophon-group MSS) as if it is “attests to the existence of manuscripts that end at 16:8” – which is correct – without considering that these MSS are echoing older annotations from a shared source, and without considering that the oldest forms of the annotations support the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 by appealing to the majority of MSS, or to the ancient MSS.  Whatever weight is given to these witnesses for the abrupt ending, bit more weight should be placed on the scales in favor of the inclusion of 16:9-20. 
            ● On the basis of the Sinaitic Syriac and Codex Bobbiensis, he concludes that “the short form was widely dispersed geographically at an early period.”  Yet somehow, the even earlier Syriac support for Mark 16:9-20 from Aphrahat and Ephrem Syrus, and the earlier Latin support for Mark 16:9-20 from the Vulgate, leads Holmes to the conclusion that the evidence for Mark 16:9-20 is “very narrow.”  This is a terribly uneven treatment of the evidence.

(22)  “In favor of the originality of the long form, some scholars have suggested that the short form was created by Alexandrian biblical scholars who were embarrassed by the references to handling snakes and drinking poison and therefore deliberately excised verses 9-20.” 

            Holmes is referring to a theory offered by William Farmer in 1974.  This explanation for the loss of verses 9-20 in an Egyptian text-stream is the easiest one to deflect, and the only one Holmes mentions.  The theory of simple accidental loss of the final page of an early copy, the theory of excision due to a copyist’s misunderstanding of a lectionary-related note (“The End of the Second Gospel” after Mark 16:8 – meant to refer to the second Gospel-reading in the Heothina cycle of lections), and my own theory that an Alexandrian copyist removed verses 9-20 because he considered it a separate composition, are not even mentioned.

(23)  “At least 17 words or phrases (for example, “form,” 16:12; “not believe,” 16:11, 16) found in 16:9-20 do not occur elsewhere in Mark or are used with a different sense than elsewhere in the gospel.”

            That’s all fine as far as it goes, but if readers were aware of Bruce Terry’s research of the internal evidence, in which he pointed out that a nearby 12-verse passage (Mark 15:40-16:4) contains 20 (or 22, depending on textual variants) words found nowhere else in the Gospel of Mark, and that Mark 1:1 through 12 contains 16 once-used words, and that 14:1-12 contains 20 once-used words the existence of 17 once-used words (and phrases) in Mark 16:9-20 would tend to be seen as an example of a recurring phenomenon in the Gospel of Mark, rather than as evidence that Mark did not write verses 9-20. 
            In addition, Holmes only told one side of the story, mentioning none of the Marcan features displayed in 16:9-20, such as the words αναστας, πρωϊ, αγρον, εφανερώθη, σκληροκαρδίαν, 
κατακριθήσεται, αρρώστους, and πανταχου, and the phrase in 16:15, εις τον κόσμος άπαντα κηρύξατε το ευαγγέλιον, to which the verbiage of Mark 14:9 is very similar.      

(24)  “In the end, verses 9-20 give every indication of having been tacked on to the end of 16:8, probably sometime early in the second century.”

            Holmes is partly right:  Mark 16:9-20 does look “tacked on,” for all the reasons that he lists:  the transition from 16:8 to 16:9 is awkward; Mary Magdalene is reintroduced; the day and time are restated; Mary’s companions are suddenly off the narrative stage; the resurrection-appearances in 16:9-20 are situated in, or near, Jerusalem, although Galilee would be expected in light of 14:28 and 16:7.  All of these points indicate that this passage was not composed by someone whose purpose was to conclude the narrative that otherwise would end at 16:8.  However, this works against the idea that the passage is a second-century pastiche as effectively as it works against the idea that Mark wrote these verses to conclude his account. 

            I consider the following scenario the best explanation of the evidence, both external and internal:
            (1)  Mark, before composing his Gospel-account, wrote a short freestanding summary of Jesus’ resurrection-appearances.  This text was known and used in Rome in the 60’s.
            (2)  Mark, as he was writing his Gospel-account, was interrupted by an emergency as he was writing 16:8.  He left the city of Rome, leaving behind his unfinished account.
            (3)  Mark’s colleagues in Rome, possessing Mark’s unfinished Gospel-account, and Mark’s short summary of Jesus’ resurrection-appearances, were unwilling to distribute Mark’s Gospel-account in its obviously unfinished form.  So instead of composing a fresh ending, they combined the two Marcan compositions.
            (4)  After those two texts had been combined and only then – Christian copyists at Rome began to produce and distribute copies of the Gospel of Mark for church use.  (Verses 9-20 thus form part of the original text of the Gospel of Mark, just as Proverbs 30 and 31 are part of the original text of Proverbs, and Jeremiah 52 is part of the original text of Jeremiah, even though they were not added by the primary human author of those books.)
            (5)  One recipient of a copy of Mark 1:1-16:20, when encountering 16:9-20, recognized it as a separate text which he had already encountered.  He therefore separated it from the rest of the text, in accord with the meticulous Alexandrian practice of preserving only the text which came directly from the primary author.  The consequently abruptly-ending form of Mark’s Gospel was circulated in Egypt.
            (6)  Some Egyptian copies with the abruptly-ending text of Mark were transported to Caesarea, where they were known to Eusebius in the 300’s.  Eusebius was unaware of the existence of the Shorter Ending.
            (7)  Someone in Egypt, unable to tolerate the abrupt ending, composed the Shorter Ending. 
            (8)  When copies with verses 9-20 entered the Egyptian text-stream where the Shorter Ending was circulating, copyists reacted by combining the Shorter Ending and verses 9-20, putting the Shorter Ending first because (a) it had been the first ending they had encountered, and (b) it tidily wraps up a lection after 16:8, but would be a textual island after 16:20.  Meanwhile, outside Egypt, copies of Mark 1:1-16:20 were distributed far and wide, as the patristic evidence plainly shows.
            Perhaps some readers will prefer the idea that Mark deliberately stopped writing at the end of 16:8 – thus misrepresenting the women as if they remained silent, and trapping the reader in a state of empty and unfulfilled expectation.  Hort regarded such a notion as absolutely impossible.  Whatever conclusion one reaches, the path toward a conclusion should be made without the encumbrances of half-truths, exaggerations, distortions, inaccuracies, falsehoods, and selective evidence-picking which currently pervade not only the Biblical Archaeological Review article, but also the vast majority of commentaries on the Gospel of Mark.    


(For more information about the evidence pertaining to the ending of the Gospel of Mark,
including details about some evidence which was mentioned here only briefly (such as the anomalies
in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and the comment of Victor of Antioch), see my book,
Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20.)

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