Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Phantom of Ammonius (Misinformation about Mark 16:9-20)

Who was Ammonius and what did he write about Mark 16:9-20?

 Ammonius Saccas of Alexandria (175-242) was a philosopher.  He might possibly have been (like, it’s remotely possibly conceivable) the Ammonius I am about to discuss. But Ammonius of Alexandria is probably not Ammonius Saccas.  Our Ammonius is an individual mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea in his brief letter Ad Carpianus.

 So let’s ask another question:  What is Eusebius’ letter to Carpian about, and what does he say about Ammonius?

Ad Carpianus (or, To Carpian) is a brief instruction-manual about how to use the Eusebian Canons – Eusebius’ cross-reference system for the Gospels.  To Carpian is featured near the beginning of many Greek Gospels-manuscripts, and is still reproduced on pages  84*-85* of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graecae (27th ed.).   Ammonius is mentioned at the outset.   

           Using Mark DelCogliano’s translation of Eusebius’ letter (which is in the public domain (thanks, Mark!)) as the basis for the following (with minimal adjustments) we may see the relevant portion in English: 

            “Eusebius to Carpianus his beloved brother in the Lord:  greetings.

Ammonius the Alexandrian, having exerted a great deal of energy and effort as was necessary, bequeaths to us a harmonized account of the four gospels.  Alongside the Gospel according to Matthew, he placed the corresponding sections of the other gospels.
          But this had the inevitable result of ruining the sequential order of the other three gospels, as far as a continuous reading of the text was concerned.  Keeping, however, both the body and sequence of the other gospels completely intact – in order that you may be able to know where each evangelist wrote passages in which they were led by love of truth to speak about the same things – I drew up a total of ten tables according to another system, acquiring the raw data from the work of the man mentioned above. These tables are set out for you below.”

           Eusebius proceeded to describe his own cross-reference system, in which Eusebius divided the text of the four Gospels into sections, and each section was assigned a number, and each number was arranged in ten lists.  But today we are not concerned with the testimony of Eusebius; I am looking at the testimony of Ammmonius.  (Those who wish to learn more about Eusebius’ Gospels-cross-reference system are welcome to watch my video about the Eusebian Canons which I made several years ago.)

          What Eusebius says about Ammonius’ attempt to harmonize the Gospels is enough to demonstrate that Ammonius’ material is not represented by Eusebius’ Section-divisions.  This was demonstrated by John Burgon in 1871 in his book The Last Twelve Verses of Mark Vindicated.  Burgon observed that Ammonius’ Matthew-centered cross-reference system would not be capable of featuring passages in Mark, Luke, and John for which there is no parallel section in Matthew.  Referring to those sections, Burgon wrote, “Those 225 Sections can have found no place in the work of Ammonius. And if (in some unexplained way) room was found for those parts of the Gospels, with what possible motive can Ammonius have sub-divided them into exactly 225 portions? It is nothing else but irrational to assume that he did so.”  (See pages 295 to 312 (Appendix G), especially page 302, of John Burgon’s 1871 book The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to Saint Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors.)        

Bruce Metzger, I try to take it easy on
you, since you're dead, but ...   
did you expect this to just slide by?
          Nevertheless, Bruce Metzger, in his highly influential handbook The Text of the New Testament, (in the third edition, 1992) on page 226, as he commented on this passage, Metzger wrote, “Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ammonius show no knowledge of these verses.” The same sentence appears in the fourth edition (2005), co-edited by Bart Ehrman, on p. 322.

          (This particular sentence constituted a departure from how Metzger had previously described the evidence in 1964; for details see the 1:50-mark in the three-minute video Mark 16:9-20 and The Parrot Problem.)

          Also, in his influential A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Metzger wrote, “The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16.8.”

          Metzger was writing as if he had access to something to which he had no access.  While it would be correct to state that the original form of the Eusebian sections did not make any provision for numbering sections of Mark 16:9-20, it is incorrect to say that the original form of the Eusebian sections were “drawn up by Ammonius.”

          The Eusebian Sections include, in Canons (i.e., Tables) Eight, Nine, and part of Ten, sections which are not paralleled in Matthew and thus would have had no place in Ammonius’ cross-reference system.

          Ammonius cannot be considered a valid witness for the inclusion or non-inclusion of Mark 16:9-20. We simply do not have any data from Ammonius one way or the other regarding this.  Ammonius is a phantom witness – contrary to the Bruce Metzger, and contrary to the textual apparatus of the first, second, and third editions of the UBS GNT.  If you own a commentary that spreads Metzger’s and Ehrman’s falsehood about Ammonius, I recommend that you add, in the margin, in ink, “This claim about Ammonius is false.”        

[Readers are encouraged to test the data in this post and are invited to explore the embedded links.]


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