Thursday, May 25, 2017

Craig Evans and the Ending of Mark

             A prominent evangelical commentator has spread misinformation about an important text-critical question.  I wrote this post as a means of doing something about it, in the hope that the commentator himself, and his publishers, will gladly do more.

            Dr. Craig A. Evans – a professor at Houston Baptist University – wrote some admiring comments about Nicholas Lunn’s 2014 book, The Original Ending of Mark – A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20:  “I have for my whole career held that Mark 16:9-20, the so-called ‘Long Ending,’ was not original.  But in his well-researched and carefully argued book, Lunn succeeds in showing just how flimsy that position really is.  The evidence for the early existence of this ending, if not for its originality, is extensive and quite credible.  I will not be surprised if Lunn reverses scholarly opinion on this important question.”
            That was 2014.  Previously, Dr. Evans had indeed dismissed Mark 16:9-20 as non-original.  In 2008, he asserted on page 30 of the book Fabricating Jesus, “The last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark (Mk 16:9-20) are not the original ending; they were added at least two centuries after Mark first began to circulate.”
            That is a remarkable claim, because it assigns the production of Mark 16:9-20 to the 260’s (if Mark wrote his Gospel-account in the 60’s) – well beyond the lifetimes of Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus, all of whom used the passage in the 100’s.   We shall take a close look at Dr. Evans’ treatment of the evidence from Irenaeus, but first, let’s consider what he said about Mark 16:9-20 in 1988, on page 543 of his commentary on Mark in the Word Biblical Commentary series:
In the ancient MSS that contain the whole of Mark, we find four endings:  (1)  in 16:8, “for they were afraid”; (2) at 16:20, the so-called Long Ending; (3) at 16:8, plus the so-called Short Ending; and (4) at 16:20, plus the Short Ending.  Many of the older MSS have asterisks and obeli marking off the Long or Short Ending as spurious or at least doubtful.”
Codex Bobbiensis -
the only manuscript
in any language to have
only the Shorter Ending
after Mark 16:8.
That statement has three mistakes:

(1)  Codex Bobbiensis (Old Latin k), the only extant manuscript in any language that ends the text of Mark with only the Short Ending after 16:8, does not contain “the whole of Mark.”  Mark 1:1-8:7 is missing in Codex Bobbiensis, due to incidental damage.  Smaller bits are also missing in the extant portion. 

(2)  No Greek manuscripts have the Short Ending after 16:20 Evans’ fourth ending is non-existent.  Five manuscripts have the Short Ending between 16:8 and 16:9, and one has the Short Ending in the page-margin, but none have it after 16:20.  Evidently, Evans depended on the error-plagued textual apparatus in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, some editions of which spread this mistake. 
            It may be worthwhile to tangentially note that such parroting is all too common in commentaries written by evangelicals after 1971, when Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament was published.  Metzger’s claims have been so thoroughly and uncritically absorbed and paraphrased by evangelical commentators that it is very difficult to correct Metzger’s well-distributed mistakes and distortions.  For example, even after Metzger himself, in 1980, wrote a major essay retracting his earlier claim that some Ethiopic manuscripts of Mark concluded at 16:8, one can still find his false claim about Ethiopic manuscripts in commentaries written 30 years later – and even on page 322 of the fourth edition of Metzger’s own The Text of the New Testament, now edited (not very carefully, it seems) by Bart Ehrman.

(3)  Evans’ claim that “Many of the older MSS have asterisks and obeli marking off the Long or Short Ending as spurious or at least doubtful” is incorrect.  Daniel Wallace, in 2007 in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, stated that the number of manuscripts with an asterisk or obeli accompanying Mark 16:9-20 to indicate doubt about those verses (out of over 1,600 Greek manuscripts of Mark) is “at least five.”  So who is correct:  Evans, who says that there are many such manuscripts (and that they are among “the older” ones), or Wallace, who manages to list five (all of which are medieval copies)? 
            As it turns out, both Evans and Wallace are wrong.  The manuscripts listed by Wallace are 138, 264, 1221, 2346, and 2812.  I have examined photographs or microfilm-images of the relevant pages of all five.  None of them has a column of asterisks or obeli alongside Mark 16:9-20, and the only ones that have a mark resembling an asterisk near Mark 16:9 are 138 and 264 – not a column of asterisks, but a single asterisk-like mark.
            The reason for this mark in minuscule 138 is not difficult to discern:  in the rest of the manuscript, in which commentary-material is interspersed with the Gospels-text, the reader is alerted to the resumption of the Gospels-text by the presence of Eusebian Section-and-Canon-numbers in the outer margin, as well as by diple-marks (“>”) accompanying each line of Scripture-text.  For Mark 16:9-14, the diple-marks are present, but not a Eusebian Section-number, because there wasn’t one.  The asterisk-like mark merely serves as a proxy, since there was no Eusebian Section-number, to alert the reader that the Gospels-text resumes at this point.  Minuscule 138 includes in its commentary-material a comment which confirms the legitimacy of Mark 16:9-20 and its attestation in a Palestinian exemplar. 
            It is not unusual for manuscripts in which commentary-material accompanies the text to have symbols which accompany segments of the text (usually written in red, either in the margin, or embedded in the text itself), to convey to the readers where they can find the comment about that segment (by looking for the same symbol in the margin).  Anyone who can look at the symbol in a commentary-manuscript such as 2812 and call it an asterisk, and claim that it conveys doubt, when in reality it does not remotely resemble an asterisk, and serves the same purpose as a footnote-number, plainly does not understand the marginalia.
            In minuscule 264, the asterisk-like symbol in the outer margin beside Mark 16:9 also occurs alongside Mark 11:1, 11:12, 12:38, 14:12, Luke 18:2, and Luke 19:29.  Unless someone is prepared to explain the doubts that a copyist had about those passages (I jest of course), it should be acknowledged that these marks in 264 denote chapter-breaks and lection-breaks, and are not expressions of scribal doubt at all.
            Likewise, no one who has carefully examined minuscule 1221 would report that it has a symbol at Mark 16:9 that was intended to convey scribal doubt, because the same symbol (four dots arranged like the points of a lozenge or compass) is used in the same manuscript at some other lection-breaks:  at Matthew 3:1, 3:7, 4:1, 4:12, 4:18, and (moving along) in Mark at 2:13, halfway through 5:24, about halfway through 6:7, halfway through Luke 2:22, at Luke 2:41, at Luke 3:1, and more.  It would be an act of conscious deception if a writer were to carefully examine this manuscript and then describe the symbol at 16:9 as if it conveyed scribal doubt, without mentioning the ones at the other locations.  (I do not suspect Evans of doing this, since I doubt that he consulted images of any of these manuscripts before writing about them.)
            Fifteen members of two small groups of manuscripts – the family-1 group, and the “Jerusalem Colophon” group – have special annotations about Mark 16:9-20, and in some cases the annotation is accompanied by an asterisk or by a pair of asterisks, but such features are there to draw the reader’s eye to the note; in and of themselves, such marks do not express doubt; it is not rare to see them accompanying the Gospels’ titles and rubrics.  (The annotations in these groups tend to defend the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20, stating that although some copies lack verses 9-20 and Eusebius did not include the passage in his Canon-Tables, the verses are in the ancient copies, or (in a different form of the annotation) in most copies.  The later form of the annotation omits the part about the Eusebian Canons.  These are not independent notes; they echo one or two ancestors of these two small manuscript-groups.) 
            In addition to those three errors, what Evans does not say is significant.  He ensures that his readers’ perception of the evidence is blurry:  he could have said that the Gospel of Mark ends in the following ways in the extant Greek manuscripts:  (1)  in two manuscripts from the 300’s, the text ends at 16:8; (2) in one thousand and six hundred manuscripts, 16:8 is followed by 16:9-20; (3) in five manuscripts, the Short Ending is present between 16:8 and 16:9, and in one manuscript, 16:9 follows 16:8 in the text but the Short Ending is written in the lower margin of the page, and (4) fifteen manuscripts (among the manuscripts in which 16:8 is followed by 16:9) perpetuate a note which states that although some copies lack verses 9-20, the majority of copies, or the ancient copies, contain the passage.
            This would have given readers a better picture of what Evans was really saying:  that at this point in the text, he prefers the testimony of two early manuscripts over the testimony of 1,600 manuscripts (including other ancient manuscripts such as Codices A, D, and W (which has an interpolation between 16:14 and 16:15).  It does not elicit much confidence in the “embarrassment of riches” when one conveys that over 99% of the coins in the treasury are counterfeit – and this may be why so many commentators resort to vague terms when discussing this subject.

            Now let’s take a closer look at what Dr. Evans has written about the evidence from Irenaeus.  As recently as 2013, Evans claimed that the text of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies at this point is corrupt:   in the Holman Apologetics Commentary (2013), after we again encounter the erroneous claims from 1988 that begin with, “In the ancient manuscripts that contain the whole of Mark,” and so forth, we read this:

“Mark 16:19 (“Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God”) is quoted in Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.10.5), but this is uncertain testimony.  The original Greek text of this part of Against Heresies has not survived.  It survives in a later Latin translation that may have incorporated this verse from much later manuscripts.  Accordingly, it is far from certain that Irenaeus, writing c. 180, was acquainted with Mark’s so-called Longer Ending.”

            That is historical revisionism of a pernicious and preposterous kind.  Fortunately it can be easily refuted.  Granting that in some patristic writings, copyists or translators substituted their own texts when presenting quotations made by the patristic author, Evans’ proposal involves more than a simple substitution of one form of a passage for another.  He contends that the Latin translator inserted a quotation of Mark 16:19 where there was previously nothing.  That is, Evans is not proposing an exchange of texts; he is proposing that the text of Against Heresies, Book 3, chapter 10, part 5, contains a large interpolation.  His theory requires that this entire portion that consists of the quotation and the explanation of it, is all an interpolation:

“Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says:  ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God,’ confirming what had been spoken by the prophet:  ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’  Thus God and the Father are truly one and the same; He who was announced by the prophets, and handed down by the true Gospel; whom we Christians worship and love with the whole heart, as the Maker of heaven and earth and all things therein.”

A note in minuscule 72 beside Mark 16:19:  
“Irenaeus, who lived near the time of the 
apostles, cites this from Mark in the third 
book of his work Against Heresies.” 
            Is there any evidence that the translator of Against Heresies tossed this into the text, out of the blue?  No.  Is there any evidence that this was part of the text of Against Heresies, Book Three, from the time it was written by Irenaeus?  Yes.  A Greek note in the margin of Greek minuscule 1582, next to Mark 16:19, confirms that Irenaeus quoted the verse, in Book Three of Against Heresies.  (I have read the note in digital images of minuscule 1582, and have a picture of it, but I have not posted it here due to a restrictive copyright policy.)  A Greek note in the margin of Greek manuscript 72, next to Mark 16:19, says the same thing.  And according to Jeff Hargis in a report about the findings of a CSNTM-team in Romania, a Greek manuscript at the Museum of Oltenia, in Craiova, Romania, also has this note alongside Mark 16:19.
            Does Dr. Evans imagine that the author of that Greek note was using a Latin translation of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies?  Such a theory is highly unlikely, especially considering that 1582’s annotations echo the fifth-century ancestor of the family-1 group, of which 1582 is the strongest member.  So I confidently categorize Evans’ entire theory about Irenaeus’ statement as arbitrary, baseless, and absurd.        

            Finally, further along in the Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Gospels and Acts (edited by Jeremy Royal Howard), Evans wrote:  “Some manuscripts preserve the so-called Short Ending to Mark (L Y 099 0112).  Almost all of those that do also contain the Long Ending.”  He is mistaken in two ways:  first, Codex Y does not contain the Short Ending.  A typo has occurred, and the symbol Ψ should appear instead of Y.  Secondly, as far as Greek manuscripts are concerned – and that is the only kind of manuscript that Evans lists here – only six Greek manuscripts have the Short Ending, and all six contain at least part of 16:9, showing that they all had verses 9-20 when in pristine condition. 

            None of this should be considered relevant to any of Dr. Evans’ work in other fields.  But when it comes to his text-critical treatment of the ending of Mark, Craig Evans’ commentary contains numerous mistakes – so many and so bad that his commentary should be withdrawn from publication as soon as possible, so that he can correct it, in order to stop misleading his readers.  (Some other books should also be withdrawn and corrected by their authors, because of worse mistakes.  Looking at you, Stephen M. Miller.)  If he and his publishers do not do that, then it is up to ordinary readers to make full use of the margins of his commentary to ensure that future readers are not led astray by such erroneous and irresponsible mistreatment of the evidence.


Ken Ganskie said...

Thanks James for once again shining the light of truth in the darkness. Keep these authors on their toes and may they retract what is in error. I applaud your courage to stand against that which is blatantly false in light of the evidence. Way to go! A home run for truth!

Ken Ganskie

Daniel Buck said...

One errant scholar accepting correction--many more to go.

Daniel Buck said...

In the interests of accurate reporting (what this blog is all about, after all), I would not say that Codex Bobbiensis is missing the beginning of Mark "due to incidental damage." Given that fact that k consists exactly of all of Matthew up to the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and all of Mark from the Feeding of the Five Thousand on, it is at least probable that someone took an unwieldy (and, from our perspective we would add "idiosyncratic to the point of being unuseful for public reading") four-gospels pulpit codex, cut it down to a fraction of its original size, and re-bound it as a transportable tool for evangelism. And this indeed fits with what is recorded of the codex's history.