Saturday, May 6, 2023

Mark 16:9-20 - Why Egyptian Scribes Removed It

             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:

            Western (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:

                        δαιμονια εκβαλουσιν

                        γλωσσαις λαλησουσιν

                        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  This is due, I suspect, because of dependence on outdated materials, and because of an inability to satisfactorily answer the question, “Why would scribes omit these 12 verses if they were original?”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.

             It ought to be remembered that Eusebius of Caesarea, in Church History Book Three, chapter 39, preserves Papias’ statement that “The Elder” reported the following: “Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of those who listened to him, but with no intent to give a sequential account of the Lord’s discourses. So that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing: not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.”

            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 Rome. After their departure (έξοδον), Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter also transmitted to us in writing those things which Peter had preached.”

            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 at Rome, embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority, as Clement in Book 6 of his Hypotyposes, and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record. Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon: “She who is in Babylon elect together with you salutes you, and so does Mark my son.”

            “So, taking the gospel which he himself composed, he [Mark] went to Egypt. And first preaching Christ at Alexandria, he formed a church so admirable in doctrine and continence of living that he constrained all followers of Christ to his example. Philo –  most learned of the Jews – seeing the first church at Alexandria still Jewish in a degree, wrote a book on their manner of life as something creditable to his nation, telling how, as Luke says, the believers had all things in common at Jerusalem, so he recorded what he saw was done at Alexandria under the learned Mark. He died in the eighth year of Nero and was buried at Alexandria, Annianus succeeding him.”

            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, Annianus succeeded Mark the evangelist in the administration of the parish of Alexandria.”   Eusebius provides a second affirmation of the year of the beginning of the bishopric of Annianus in Church History, Book Three, chapter 14: “In the fourth year of Domitian, Annianus, the first bishop of the parish of Alexandria, died after holding office twenty-two years, and was succeeded by Abilius, the second bishop.”   Figuring that Domitian’s reign began in September of 81, adding four years brings us to September of 85. By subtracting 22 from 85, we arrive at the year 63. If Annianus served as bishop for a bit more than 22 years but less than 23 full years, Eusebius’ two statements agree.

            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 from Alexandria to go to Rome, then if Nero’s eighth year is calculated to be 62 (since his reign began on October 13, in the year 54), the emerging picture is that Mark established a Christian community in Alexandria, and then went to Rome, possibly at the urging of Timothy (see Second Timothy 4:11). According to this hypothesis, Peter and Mark were both ministering in Rome in the year 62.

            In the mid-60s, severe persecution against Christians arose in the city of Rome, and Paul and Peter were martyred. What then happened to Mark? He apparently did not remain in Rome; as Peter’s assistant he would have been a natural choice to lead the congregation there; yet a man named Linus is reported by Eusebius (in Church History Book Three, 3:2) to have been the first bishop of Rome after the martyrdoms of Paul and Peter. A detailed tradition is found in the medieval composition History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria by Severus of Al-Ushmunain (in the mid-900s), who stated that he accessed source-materials from the monastery of St. Macarius and other monasteries in Egypt, and from Alexandria. Severus of Al-Ushmunain states that Mark was martyred in Alexandria.  

            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 churches in Egypt in the 50s, and traveled from there to Rome in 62, leaving behind Annianus in Egypt. Immediately after the deaths of Paul and Peter, Mark left Rome and returned to Egypt.

            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 in Rome, and that Peter was crucified in the reign of Nero. He also reports that they were both martyred at the same time, and cites as his source for this information a man named Dionysius of Corinth.  Dionysius of Corinth is a fairly early source.  Eusebius reports that he served the church in the early 170s. Jerome, in the first and fifth chapters of De Viris Illustribus, echoes Eusebius’ information, stating that Peter and Paul were both martyred “in the fourteen year of the reign of Nero, which is the 37th year after the Lord’s Sufferings.”  

            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 Alexandria, less than a year after Paul and Peter were martyred in 67 in Rome. If the gist of the tradition preserved by Irenaeus is followed, then Mark must have had only a small window of opportunity, if any, after the martyrdoms of Paul and Peter to finish his Gospel-account.

            This does not mean that the tradition reported by Clement of Alexandria is entirely untrue.  After Mark had been in Rome long enough to be recognized as Peter’s assistant and interpreter, he would have had opportunities to respond to requests for copies of collections of Peter’s sayings. These collections, though, may have been shorter than the final form of the Gospel of Mark. A definitive collection of all of Peter’s remembrances would not be feasible until after Peter stopped recollecting.

            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 Rome, and a date in 68 for the martyrdom of Mark in Alexandria, then the date for the composition of the Gospel of Mark must be somewhere in between.

            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 Rome, his definitive collection of Peter’s remembrances was unfinished and unpublished.

            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.

            Now let us turn to the subject of scribes in Egypt as canon-framers.

            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 Egypt?  It is possible that Mark composed it earlier, during the period in the 50s-62 when he was in Egypt – the only locale in which the Freer Logion is known to have existed.  (Jerome may have seen the Freer Logion in Didymus’ church’s copies.)

            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 Alexandria to read the Gospel of Mark would thus be inclined to regard 16:9-20 as a distinct Marcan composition which, though valuable as a Marcan text, simply did not belong in the memoirs of the apostle Peter. As a result, they declined to perpetuate it in their copies of the Gospel of Mark, thinking that it lacked apostolic approval.   Everywhere else, the verses were accepted as part of Mark’s Gospel.


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.


1 comment:

Demian said...

The venerable Bede in his commentary on 1 Peter 5:13, seems to suggest that Mark wrote his gospel during the time of the emperor Claudius and after that was sent to Egypt. If that is correct, then his gospel would have been written no later than 54. Here’s what he says:

“Peter and Mark both came to Rome during the time of the emperor Claudius and Mark himself, having written his Gospel at Rome, was sent to Alexandria. Hence it is gathered that when it is asked where and when Peter wrote this Letter (the 1st letter of Peter), the place was Rome, the time that of Claudius Caesar”

Theophylact is also of the same mind. Here’s what he says in the preface of his commentary to the gospel of Mark:

“The Gospel According to St. Mark was written ten years after the Ascension of Christ. This Mark was a disciple of Peter, whom Peter calls his son, that is, his spiritual son. He was also called John,' and the nephew of Barnabas, and the companion of Paul. But eventually he accompanied Peter the most, and was with him in Rome. The believers in Rome begged Mark not only to preach orally, but also to give them a written account of Christ’s life. He agreed, and composed it immediately. God revealed to Peter that Mark had written this Gospel, and when he saw it, Peter confirmed its truth, and sent Mark as bishop to Egypt. There Mark preached and established the Church in Alexandria, enlightening all those in that sunny land to the south”

PS: Both fathers commented on the gospel of Mark and had in their bibles the long ending of Mark, by the way.