The last 12 verses of Mark are attested in over 1,650 Greek manuscripts, early and abundant patristic evidence, and in multiple transmission-streams. It is not a Byzantine reading which fell into its neighbors, as shown by the following features in the Western, Caesarean, and Alexandrian texts:
(represented by Codex Bezae, D/05):
εφανερωσεν πρωτοις instead of εφανη πρωτον in 16:9,
αυτοις after απηγγειλεν in 16:10,
και ουκ επιστευσαν αυτω instead of ηπιστησαν in 16:11,
και at the beginning of 16:12,
προς αυτους instead of αυτοις in 16:15,
the omission of απαντα in 16:15, and
και before κηρυξατε in 16:15.
family-13 omits δε and inserts the contracted name “Jesus” after Αναστας in 16:9. (A lectionary-influenced reading)
Codex Θ (038) has μαθηταις in 16:10 instead of μετ’ .
Codex Θ (038) has εφανη instead of εφανερωθη in 16:12.
Codex Θ (038) has πορευθεντες instead of απελθοντες in 16:13.
Family-1, family-13, 28, and 565 (and A, Δ, and C) add εκ νεκρων after
εγηγερμενον in 16:14. (This reading may be supported by Justin Martyr in First Apology ch. 50 as well.)
C*, L, 33, 579, and 892 (and D and W) have παρ’ instead of αφ after
Μαρια τη Μαγδαληνη in 16:9.
C*, L, Δ, and Ψ (044) omit καιναις at the end of 16:17. 099 also
omits γλωσσαις λαλησουσιν, probably due to accidental lineskipping.
This implies that 099’s exemplar read:
και εν ταις χερσιν etc.
C, L, Δ, Ψ (044), 099, 579, and 892 have και εν ταις χερσιν at the beginning of 16:18.
Why, then, are some influential scholars still insisting that Mark
16:9-20 is not original, or is somehow, despite having plenty of distinct
features, a “pastiche”? This is due, I
suspect, because of dependence on outdated materials, and because of an
inability to satisfactorily answer the question, “Why would scribes omit these
12 verses if they were original?”
But this is not a difficult question. Egyptian scribes did not excise vv. 9-20 in their capacity as scribes. They excised vv. 9-20 in their capacity as framers of the apostolic text.
In Church History Book Five,
chapter 8:1-3, Eusebius quotes from the beginning of the third book of
Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (where Irenaeus seems to rely on Papias’
writings): “Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own
language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in
In addition, in Church History Book Six, 14:5-7, Eusebius presents a statement that he attributes to Clement of Alexandria: “Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: the Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion: as Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”
The accounts of Irenaeus and Clement seem to conflict: Irenaeus states that Mark wrote after the departure of Peter and Paul, but Clement states that Mark was distributing the Gospel while Peter was still alive. This should be compared to what Jerome, recollecting earlier compositions, wrote in the eighth chapter of De Viris Illustribus:
“Mark, the disciple and interpreter
of Peter, wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren
“So, taking the gospel which he
himself composed, he [Mark]
Jerome was clearly relying on
earlier accounts, including Eusebius’ Church History; the statement
about the year of Mark’s death seems to be drawn directly from Eusebius’ Church History,
Book Two, chapter 24: “When Nero was in the eighth year of his reign,
Mark the evangelist in the administration of the parish of
On the question of whether Mark
wrote his Gospel before Peter’s death, or afterward, the accounts
are divided. Their discord may decrease a little if Jerome’s statement is
understood as an
incorrect deduction based on Eusebius’ statement that Annianus succeeded Mark
in the eighth year
of Nero’s reign. If Eusebius’ statement means that Mark, instead of dying in
that year, departed
In the mid-60s, severe persecution
against Christians arose in the city of
When this is compared to the report
from Irenaeus that Mark composed his Gospel-account after the departure – that
is, the martyrdoms – of Peter and Paul, the situation becomes more clear: after
assisting Barnabas and Paul on Paul’s first missionary journey (as related in
Acts 12:25-13;13, and after assisting Barnabas in Cyprus (as related in Acts
15:36-39), Mark established
The martyrdoms of Paul and Peter are
generally assigned to the year 67. Eusebius of Caesarean,
in Book Two, chapter 25 of Church History, states that Paul was beheaded
The account preserved by Severus of Al-Ushmunain specifically states that Mark was seized by unbelievers in Alexandria on Easter, when one of their religious festivals, dedicated to the deity Serapis, occurred, on the 29th day of the month called Barmudah (the eighth month of the Egyptian calendar), and that he died the next day. Although this is a late document, its author states that he relied upon earlier sources. One such earlier text, although it does not say anything about the specific date of Mark’s martyrdom, agrees regarding the location: the author of The Martyrdom of Peter of Alexandria (a bishop who was martyred in 311) states, “They took him up and brought him to the place called Bucolia, where the holy St. Mark underwent martyrdom for Christ.” The same author states that Peter of Alexandria entreated his persecutors “to allow him to go to the tomb of St. Mark.”
Only in certain years would Easter
coincide on the calendar with the festival of Serapis, and the year 68 is one
of those years. Thus, it appears Mark was martyred in 68, in
This does not mean that the
tradition reported by Clement of Alexandria is entirely untrue. After Mark had been in
The tradition preserved by Irenaeus is not likely to be a later invention; creative tradition inventors would tend to emphasize the apostolic authority of the text. Clement’s tradition, by stating that Peter neither approved nor disapproved Mark’s undertaking, certainly does not seem to have been designed to ensure that readers would regard the Gospel of Mark as apostolically approved, but Irenaeus’ tradition, by stating that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark after Peter had departed (that is, died), is even less positive, inasmuch as the martyred apostle Peter cannot even acquiesce to the text’s contents.
If we thus accept Irenaeus’ basic
version of events, and assign a date in 67 for the martyrdom
of Peter in
All this provides the background for the following hypothesis:
In the second half of the year 67,
following the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, as Mark was almost finished writing
his Gospel-account, he was in imminent danger and had to suddenly stop writing
his nearly-complete text, leaving it, and whatever else he had written, in the
hands of his colleagues. Thus, when Mark left
Mark’s Roman colleagues were thus entrusted with an incomplete and unfinished text. They had no desire to insert material of their own invention into Mark’s text, but they also had no desire to publish a composition which they all knew was not only unfinished, but which would be recognized as unfinished by everyone who was familiar with Peter’s preaching – indeed, by everyone acquainted at all with the message about Jesus. Therefore, rather than publish the Gospel of Mark without an ending (that is, with the abrupt ending), they completed it by supplementing it with a short text which Mark, at an earlier time, had composed about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Only after this supplement was added did the Roman church begin to make copies of the Gospel of Mark.
B. H. Streeter, in his influential book The Four Gospels, made an insightful surmise about Mark 16:9-20: “The hypothesis that Mark 16:9-20 was originally a separate document has the additional advantage of making it somewhat easier to account for the supplement in the text of W known as the “Freer logion.” A catechetical summary is a document which lends itself to expansion; the fact that a copy of it had been added to Mark would not at once put out of existence all other copies or prevent them suffering expansion. No doubt as soon as the addition became thoroughly established in the Roman text of Mark, it would cease to be copied as a separate document. But supposing that a hundred years later an old copy of it in the expanded version turned up. It would then be mistaken for a fragment of a very ancient manuscript of Mark, and the fortunate discoverer would hasten to add to his copy of Mark – which, of course, he would suppose to be defective – the addition preserved in this ancient witness.”
That seems to me a very plausible origin for the Freer Logion. Slightly adapted, Streeter’s theory implies that the Freer Logion did not originate as an expansion in the Gospel of Mark, but as an expansion of the freestanding Marcan summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances which Mark’s colleagues incorporated into the text of the Gospel of Mark.
But what was such a text doing in
If Mark’s brief summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances was already used in Egypt as a freestanding composition, then when the Gospel of Mark arrived from Rome in the late 60s, it would not be difficult for them to compare it to their copies of the Marcan composition about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and immediately see that the final portion of the text from Rome was not, and could not be, part of the Petrine Memoirs.
Some of the first individuals in
|Replica based on an image in a booklet|
from the British Museum.
P.S. The tendency to apply a sort of higher criticism to justify the excision of verses that did not seem to come from the primary author was apparently shared by one of the copyists of Codex Sinaiticus. At the end of John, Scribe A finished the text at the end of 21:24, and followed this with the decorative coronis and the subscription. Then he had second thoughts, erased the decorative design and subscription, and added 21:25, followed by a new decorative design and a new subscription. Tischendorf had detected this in the 1800s, but it was not until the page was exposed to ultraviolet light in research overseen by Milne and Skeat that the evidence of what the copyist had done literally came to light.
The initial excision of John 21:25 in Sinaiticus was probably not an altogether isolated case; Theodore of Mopsuestia (350 to 428), in a statement preserved in Ishodad of Merv’s Commentary on the Gospels, claimed that the extra material in the Septuagint version of Job, and the sentence about the angel moving the waters in John 5:4, and this verse, John 21:25, are “Not the text of Scripture, but were put above in the margin, in the place of some exposition; and afterwards, he says, they were introduced into the text by some lovers of knowledge.” Theodoret may have been repeating a theory of an earlier writer which was also known to Scribe A of Sinaiticus.