Monday, April 4, 2016

Codex Vaticanus and the Ending of Mark

            “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”   So says a bracketed heading-note in the English Standard Version.  The number of Greek manuscripts in which the text stops at the end of 16:8 is three.
            Minuscule 304 is one of those three.  It is a medieval commentary-manuscript in which the text of Matthew and Mark is interspersed with commentary-material.  Its text in Mark is essentially Byzantine and the manuscript appears to have undergone some damage near the end.  There’s nothing about 304 that would suggest that it has more weight than any other medieval manuscript. 
            The other two manuscripts in which Mark’s text stops at 16:8 are another story:  Codex Vaticanus (produced c. 325) and Codex Sinaiticus (produced c. 350) are the oldest and second-oldest Greek manuscripts of Mark 16.  (These two manuscripts are not the earliest evidence pertaining to the ending of Mark, just the earliest manuscriptsPatristic writers in the 100’s, 200’s, and early 300’s utilized the contents of Mark 16:9-20, but the manuscripts used by those writers are not extant.)  I have previously described the unusual features in Codex Sinaiticus involving the ending of Mark.  Today, let’s examine the last page of Mark in Codex Vaticanus. 
The last page of Mark in Codex Vaticanus.
          The text on this page begins in 15:43, and ends at the end of 16:8, on the 31st line of the second column.  The closing book-title appears a little further down the second column.  The third column is completely blank.  It was normal for copyists to begin books at the tops of columns, and thus some space was typically left below the end of each book before the next book began at the top of the next column (except in those cases where the book happened to conclude right at the end of a column).  It was not normal, however, for the copyist of Vaticanus to leave an entire column blank.  This is the only blank column in the New Testament portion of Codex Vaticanus.
           Of course this raises a question:  why did the copyist leave this column blank?  The obvious answer is that the copyist was aware of copies that contained verses 9-20, and although his exemplar lacked these verses, he left space to give the eventual owner of the manuscript the option of including them in the event that another exemplar was available.
            The blank space is not quite adequate to include verses 9-20.  If one were to erase the closing-title and write the contents of verses 9-20, beginning at the end of v. 8, using the copyist’s normal handwriting, there would still be four lines of text yet to be written when one reached the end of the last line of the third column.  It is perhaps for this reason that Daniel Wallace, referring to this blank space in his chapter of the 2008 book, Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, has said, “The gap is clearly too small to allow for the LE.”  In the same book, Maurice Robinson affirmed, “The space is insufficient to contain the entire LE.”  Their co-author J. K. Elliott stated less definitively, “Vaticanus actually contains a blank column after 16:8 that could possibly contain verses 9-20, suggesting that its scribe was aware of the existence of the longer reading.”

The last page of Mark in Codex Vaticanus with verses 9-20
in the blank space after v. 8, using cut-and-pasted characters
from Mark 15:43-16:8 on the same page.  
           If a copyist were to resort to compacted lettering – the script that the copyist of Sinaiticus used in the first six columns of the text of Luke – then the blank space is practically an exact fit.  In a reconstruction of Mark 16:9-20 (shown here) in the blank space after 16:8, using characters that were written elsewhere on the page in Mark 15:43-16:8, verse 20 concludes on the next-to-last line of the third column.     
            Although the implication that the copyist of Codex Vaticanus clearly recollected 9-20 when he wrote the text of Mark 16:1-8 from an exemplar that did not have verses 9-20, Daniel Wallace has proposed a different explanation, namely, that the copyist was using an exemplar in which the Gospels, though containing the Alexandrian text, were arranged in the Western order (Mt-Jn-Mk-Lk), and although the copyist rearranged the Gospels into the order Mt-Mk-Lk-Jn, he added a blank space to represent the blank space at the end of his exemplar.  This theory seems like the result of a determined effort to dismiss the obvious implication of the blank column.  Where is the evidence that the Alexandrian form of the Gospels-text was ever anything but in the order Mt-Mk-Lk-Jn?  (In Papyrus 75, John follows Luke.)  And why would any copyist regard the blank space at the end of an exemplar as a feature worth replicating?  Any manuscript, unless its text happened to end at the end of its last column, would contain some blank space at the end.   And why would a copyist replicate such a blank space, but not the order of the books?  And why would a copyist consider such a blank column worth replicating, but not add a blank column between John and Acts, or between Acts and James, or between Jude and Romans? 
            In addition to the contrived idea of an Alexandrian Gospels-exemplar with the Gospels arranged in the Western order with blank space at the end which the copyist wished to replicate, Wallace has questioned the significance of the blank space by pointing out that there are three large blank spaces in the Old Testament portion of Codex Vaticanus.  However, all three of those blank spaces are accounted for by special factors:

One of these blank spaces is the space between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament; the last page of the Old Testament portion concludes with the apocryphal text of Bel and the Dragon, incorporated into the Septuagint’s text of Daniel.  To expect the Gospel of Matthew to begin in the next column would be a preposterous expectation. 
One of these blank spaces occurs at the end of Second Esdras, before the beginning of the book of Psalms.  Only two lines of text are placed in the first column of the last page of Second Esdras, and after the closing-title (and what appears to be the signature of someone named Klement, possibly a former owner of the codex), the rest of the page is blank.  But the reason for this is obvious:  the book of Psalms begins on the very next page, and the text of Psalms is formatted in two columns, rather than three.  It was absolutely necessary to begin Psalms on a new page, due to the difference in the number of columns on the page.
● One of these blank spaces occurs between the end of the book of Tobit and the beginning of the book of Hosea.  The text of Tobit concludes in approximately the middle of the second column of a page, and the third column is blank.  Wallace claimed that “The gap at the end of Tobit lacks sufficient explanation.”  However, the explanation becomes obvious upon close examination.
            One copyist’s work ended at the end of Tobit, and another copyist’s work begins with the Prophetic Books, which begin with the Minor Prophets, which begin with Hosea.  At this point where one copyist’s work was connected to another copyist’s work, what we have after the end of Tobit is simply leftover space.  This should become very obvious when we notice that the leftover space after the end of Tobit did not initially consist of just the remainder of the page.   As Dirk Jongkind mentioned on page 31 of Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus, besides the one and a half columns on the remainder of the page on which Tobit concludes, there was an entire unused page (front and back) after that – the last leaf of quire 49 – that was cut out when the manuscript was sewn together. 
            To restate:  what we have in Codex Vaticanus between Tobit and Hosea is nothing but a “seam,” so to speak, that resulted from the production-process, where one copyist’s work was attached to the pages produced by another copyist.  The situation is entirely different in Mark, where Mark 16:8, and the blank space, are on one side of a page, and the beginning of Luke is on the opposite side, and the text on both sides is, of course, written by the same copyist. 
            Wallace’s claim that “All in all, the reasons for the gaps are anything but clear” is not true.  Every blank space between books in Codex Vaticanus is fully capable of obvious explanation: 
(1)  The blank space before Psalms was required by the shift from a three-column format to a two-column format. 
(2)  The blank space before Hosea is a production-seam, where one copyist’s work was attached to another copyist’s work. 
(3)  The blank space between the Septuagint’s text of Daniel (concluding with the story of Bel and the Dragon) is the end of the Old Testament portion.   
(4)  The blank space after Mark 16:8 was elicited by the copyist’s recollection of verses 9-20.

            So:  there is more to the picture than the simple statement that “Some early manuscripts do not include verses 9-20.”  As far as early Greek manuscripts are concerned, “Some” = two.  “Early” = over 100 years later than clear patristic use of the contents of verses 9-20And “Do not include” = do not include, but show their copyists’ awareness of, verses 9-20.


  1. Thanks James,
    What do you mean by 'compacted' letters? Have you fiddled around with the sizing here?

  2. Peter M Head,
    As I state in the post, if one were to use the copyist's normal lettering to write verses 9-20 after 16:8, one would reach the end of the third column on the page with four lines left to be written. "Compacted" simply means that the letters have been written more closely together than usual, and the smaller forms of the letters have been used more frequently than usual. (I also used numerals rather than write "seven" and "eleven" in full. On the other hand, I included "And in their hands: in verse 18, so as to represent the Alexandrian text.

    PMH: "Have you fiddled around with the sizing here?"

    Every letter that you see in verses 9-20 appears somewhere in Mark 15:43-16:8 on the same page of Codex Vaticanus, with no artificial adjustment of its size.

  3. Thanks James, that is helpful. It must have taken a while!

  4. So if the blank column was deliberately left for possible additional text (I don't think we can know this); then it is possible to imagine that the scribe may have thought he had left enough space for 16.9-20. But a) he was wrong; and b) he didn't anticipate doing this by beginning the write smaller earlier; and c) he didn't allow for this because he included the subscription; and d) he couldn't get access to this text to actually copy it out.

  5. Peter M. Head,
    We can't know /in an empirical sense/ that the blank column was deliberately left for additional text (after all, the request to /know/ this is a request to read the mind of someone who lived in the 300's). But inasmuch as there is a blank space here, just at the point where there is a 12-verses-long major textual variant, and the blank space is just the right size to fit that 12-verses-long variant in compact lettering (which the scribes knew how to write, as shown in Luke 1:1-76 in Sinaiticus), then as a deduction based on evidence, the conclusion that the scribe's memory of verses 9-20 elicited this blank space seems extremely probable. I don't know why this is not as obvious to you as it is to me.

    The evidence fits the following four points:

    (A) The scribe's calculation that vv. 9-20 could fit in the blank space was correct; he merely reckoned that one would need to use compacted lettering, which any trained scribe could do.
    (B) He perceived that there was no need to begin to compact his lettering earlier, since the calculated space was sufficient for the compactly written passage.
    (C) I don't grant that the same scribe added the subscription -- but if this was the case, it would not be a hard task to pumice out the subscription.
    (D) Either the scribe could not access a copy with vv. 9-20 in the time he had to finish his work, /or/ he did have access, but made a conscious decision to defer the include-or-omit decision to someone else, either a supervisor, or the future owner of the manuscript.

    The only real question, istm, is whether the copyist made a precise calculation of the space that would be required for vv. 9-20, or merely (as I have previously thought) an estimate. The cut-and-pasted reconstruction of verses 9-20 shows that a precise calculation is a valid possibility.

  6. James,
    plenty of things that other people think are obvious do not seem obvious to me. Sometimes it is interesting to figure out why, sometimes it is not really worth the time and energy. I think in this case I am a bit reluctant to claim that I can interpret with any particularly significant degree of confidence the significance of nothing (i.e. a big blank space). So you stare at the big blank space and think, 'Aha, that is just the right amount of space to squeeze in 16.9-20 [with a few proviso]'. I look at the big blank space and think, 'Aha, a big blank space after the end of Mark's Gospel, there is nothing written on it, so that is not very interesting - I can't interpret big blank spaces because intrinsically they entail lack of evidence rather than provision of evidence.' Further 'I see James thinks it is a bit more interesting than I do, and I'm glad to see his reconstructed text; but he has had to fiddle/squeeze the text and he is not appreciating the subscription, so I don't need to think like he does at this point.'

  7. Peter,
    I think our confidence-level in the deduction that B's scribe was aware of the existence of Mark 16:9-20 should be very high. Aside from the three places that I reviewed in the post, he never left an entire blank column between books -- not even where the genre changes. Yet he leaves a blank column *exactly* where a textual variant exists. It's like watching a driver stop his car *exactly* where ducks are known to cross the road in a city part. He /could/ in theory have stopped for some unknown or arbitrary reason, but the probability is that he is aware that ducks are crossing the road -- particularly if it is known that exactly 12 ducks cross the road at that place, and he stops his car for almost exactly the amount of time it takes for those 12 ducks to cross the road. I don't think that the mere observation that the driver is doing *nothing* is a sufficient reason to resist the natural conclusion about *why* he is doing nothing.

    PMH: "He has had to fiddle/squeeze the text" --

    Using compacted lettering is something scribes knew how to do, as demonstrated in Sinaiticus on the pages with Luke 1:1-76.

    PMH: "and he is not appreciating the subscription" --

    On the contrary, while I acknowledge that the subscription exists (though I do not grant that the scribe who wrote the text also wrote the subscription on-the-spot), I also acknowledge the ease with which such a feature can be erased with a knife and a pumice-stone by someone who knows how. I draw your attention to the subscription to the Gospel of John in Sinaiticus which was written immediately after 21:24. That subscription was written, and then erased so effectively that to this day it it cannot be detected (without passive light or ultraviolet light), even using the digital images at the Codex Sinaiticus website.

  8. Snapp: "as a deduction based on evidence"

    This is a fascinating read, and I greatly enjoyed it. In your comments, you indicated that this was a deductive inference. However, speaking precisely, it is an abductive inference (a.k.a. an inference to the best explanation). This is, however, a minor point that has no effect on your overall argument. Also, and I appreciate your clarification to Peter Head on the method you used for fitting the text into the blank space.

  9. JW:
    I like professor Head's comment that the offending blank space is a sort of Rorschach test. You see the LE, the professor sees Sergeant Schultz and Bernie Sanders sees White privilege.

    I mentioned in our debate that I agree it likely that the Scribe was aware of the LE (Eusebius/Alexandrian text). Your theory that the space was an invitation to add an ending (not necessarily limited to the LE) is a reasonable one. However, if this was the case, it would not help you in the Manuscript category. Vaticanus is still against LE. In the Scribal category it would hurt you because of the important criterion The Direction of Change. This would be evidence that the exemplar and tradition was against LE yet the Scribe was okay with a change to LE. This especially hurts with the important Coordination criterion. This would be about the right time when the other evidence indicates that the AE is dominant but the LE is starting to replace it as evidenced (so to speak) for example by circa Jerome who provides the evidence against LE but uses it anyway in the Vulgate.


  10. When we are working with the idea that the scribe did know of our traditional ending of Mark, then you have two main alternatives:

    a) the ms not in view, an estimate,
    e.g. based on previous reading or sight or his scriptorium head saying "leave space"

    b) the ms. in view

    On (b) the scribe would have four possible thoughts as to his calculation, and any of these can be combined with others.

    1) not an exact calculation, done quickly and looked ok enough
    2) compression can deal with it
    3) in a pinch the margin can add a bit
    4) since there is a decent possibility that the ending is not going to be added, the space is muy suficiente.


    Sloan makes a good point that the conclusion of James is more abductive than deductive (thank you, Sloan, I am considering which way describes better the conclusion of Sinaiticus as an 1800s production)

    It is abductive because with the evidence we have:

    c) the scribe simply decided to start another page, knowing only the "woman afraid" ending

    Is surely at least a small possibility. We cannot accurately mind-read this scribe. Also the lack of a specific notation, even in the margin, favors c.

    (Sidenotes: Remember that Wieland says the ms. looks washed, a curious point that is rarely placed in consideration. The ms. is not physically available to be scoured for little original notes erased. And there can be places where the undertext looks at least a bit different than the overtext, I pointed that out on the textualcriticism forum, the experts did not disagree but they do not seem to care. I presume that this ending is overwritten, retraced.)


    Now, returning to (a) and (b) James only mildly alludes to (a) above, eg. when he refers to an "estimate" as what James "previously thought" (however both a and b allow for the idea of an estimate,)

    In (a) though, the ms. not in view, there is virtually zero compressed issue, the idea that the space "looks big enough" for a previous ending section is fine.

    The scribe would think that even if there is a little mental side-proviso ..

    "if I'm off, and it is needed, we simply compress or place a bit in the margin."

    Also note that in (a) the scribe did what was the best thing possible. The only reason to leave space on the next page would be a clear idea that the section would likely be added, and would spill over. But if he had the section and thought it would likely be added, then he also could have simply included the section, you have to start really doing mental scriptorium conjecturing.

    Also, in either scenario, he would feel very awkward starting the next column somewhere other than the start of the page. It is very natural, and who can tell if the section will be added, and as the Beatles said, if so "we can work it out".

    My sense is that among the two possibilities that the space shows scribal awareness of the ending, which is a fine abductive conclusion, (a) and (b) are rather equal possibilities, one should only be given mild preference over the other, if any.

    Steven Avery

  11. The debate over whether the scribe of Vaticanus was aware of the longer ending appears to me to be an absurd one. If one reads the early Fathers, it quickly becomes apparent there was rapid and widespread sharing of Christian writings, even before the time of Constantine. For instance, Irenaeus was acquainted with the writings of Justin within a couple of decades of them being written, and Tertullian and Hippolytus were acquainted with those of Justin and Irenaeus in short order as well. Many of those who wrote show knowledge of those who came before them. Yet we are to imagine that non-canonical writings circulated widely and quickly - even some referencing the 12 verses, such as Irenaeus' Against Heresies - but NT manuscripts containing the end of Mark somehow did not make come to the awareness of scribes in Alexandria (or possibly Caesarea) after well over one hundred years? Eusebius, a contemporary of the scribes of B, and who also lived in the city where B possibly was copied, was certainly aware of them, even if he tended against accepting them. The Christian communities were not isolated from the rest of the world, and exchange between them was vigorous, even during the age of persecution.