Paul and Jesus are contemporary figures. Nevertheless, Paul’s surviving writings never say whether he ever met the natural Jesus. In a usual “argument from silence,” scholars generally conclude that Paul probably didn’t meet Jesus, assuming that Paul would have said so if he had. Furthermore, Paul strongly suggests that his first-ever meeting with any associate of Jesus (although Paul doesn’t identify them as such) occurred years after his conversion (Galatians 1:17-18).
The absence of Paul as a character in any of the canonical Gospels reinforces the impression that he never met Jesus. If there were an ancient tradition of Paul telling his audiences about meeting Jesus, then we might reckon that that story would probably have found its way into some gospel, canonical or not, or into Acts, or into a similar work about the apostles. That’s another argument from silence.
Mark wrote his Gospel approximately one or two decades after Paul’s letters. A major theme of Mark is the breathtaking variety of human reactions to Jesus’ earthly ministry of wisdom, signs and wonders.
A literary problem arises from the gap between when Mark was writing and when his story is set. Both Paul’s churches and the disciples’ disciples are presumably contending for leadership of the second-generation movement, but Paul has no role in the story Mark is writing. Peter, James, John and the other “inner circle” disciples who traveled with Jesus dominate Mark by default. Mark has no simple way to include both “sides” of the subsequent drama playing out around him.
The principal finding of this post is that Mark found a solution to maintain the timeliness of his story. He represented a hypothetical “Paul’s” reaction to the natural Jesus using the character of an unnamed scribe at verses 12:28-32. This character more readily understands and appreciates Jesus’ message than the probably mostly younger and less educated disciples. However, the scribe declines to join Jesus. If he did join the movement later on, he may well have required some additional sign first, just as Paul himself did.
Mark – moody loner with a pen?
The previous post in this series discussed how Mark twice used a literary device, the “Markan hand grenade,” to continue his story beyond a satisfactory stopping place. The apparent third use of that device at verse 16:8 supports the hypothesis that an “authentic” performance of Mark may include the verse but needn’t end there.
Suppose Mark doesn’t end at 16:8. If Mark‘s true ending is simply lost, then there is nothing concrete to discuss. As to what is available to us, no argument is made here against the scholarly consensus that 16:15-20 is inauthentic, for reasons presented in the series’ first post. There is no serious case nor constituency for the Freer Logion or the so-called “Shorter Ending,” either. That leaves only verses 16:9-14 to search for the possible location of a satisfactory ending.
As argued in the first post of the series, 16:9-14 form a recognizable unit of Markan composition, a “build of three.” The finding of this post is that the seven verses 8 to 14 form a compound unit, grenade then build, that executes a purposeful and coherent development of the story beyond the rousing announcement that Jesus has left the tomb. Therefore, verse 14 is an admissible, even attractive, candidate for Mark‘s authentic ending.
This is the second post which searches out an “authentic” ending of Mark. Twice in chapter 15, Mark could have finished his Gospel to hearty applause, but he didn’t. What we read both times is what we see for the third time at 16:7-8. No sooner has Mark reached a fine place to send the audience home than he immediately brings up some new issue that justifies the show continuing.
We’ll call that abrupt new development a “Markan hand grenade.” Think not of a loud BOOM, but hear instead the tinny ping of a pulled pin hitting the floor and then something solid rattling around down there. However satisfied the audience was just a moment before, now they want to hear what happens next.
The finding of this post is narrow: just as acceptably real Mark doesn’t end some place in chapter 15, it probably didn’t end at verse 16:8, either. That’s weaker than finding that real Mark continued on to 16:14 specifically, but there is good reason to estimate that if true Mark made it as far as 16:8, then it also continued on to somewhere. The case for that somewhere being 16:14 will be for a future post.
Many academics estimate that Mark’s Gospel in its “authentic” form (however they define that slippery word) ends at the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter. Three women enter Jesus’ tomb, find a living young man there instead of Jesus’ corpse, and promptly exhibit symptoms of clinical shock.
Well they might. They had watched the Romans spend the day-before-last torturing Jesus to death. Since then the women had been counting on performing the funeral rites of their faith. Now suddenly, they learn that that is impossible. The narrator states with emphasis that the frightened women didn’t talk about their experience in the tomb to anyone. The end.
Actually, not the end, not since the Second Century at the latest. The “earliest and best” surviving manuscripts (mainly two from the Fourth Century, link link, whose testimony about Mark‘s ending may be mutually dependent) do end at 16:8. However, comments from early authors support awareness of additional verses after 16:8 having been part of Mark, including pieces from 16:9-20. The “third oldest” surviving high-quality manuscript includes 16:9-20, and a bit more besides, see below. Even so, two generations separate Mark‘s estimated composition date from the earliest surviving mention of what may have been composed.
This post is the first in a series considering whether 16:14 is an admissible estimate for an “authentic” ending of Mark. The finding of this first post is narrow. Verses 16:9 through 16:14 differ enough from verses 16:15 through 16:20 to suggest separate authorship. Whether or not verses 16:9-14 may actually be “authentic” is left for later posts.
Dice players (detail, Georges de La Tour, 17th C.)
Bayesian probability theory is a formal method of reasoning about evidence. Its probabilities are typically subjective and personal measures. They represent either a real person’s felt confidence, or a hypothetical person’s theoretically justified confidence. Please do not be put off by the word subjective. Justified confidence is the foundation of prudent belief, action and behavior.
Richard Carrier is a serious independent scholar and internet celebrity who earned his doctorate in ancient history from Columbia University. He uses Bayesian methods to study history, especially the question of whether Jesus was a real historical person. Carrier professes serene assurance about the objectivity and validity of his Bayesian approach to history (link),
“I don’t think I’ll convince everyone, but the only people who won’t be convinced are people who are irrationally, dogmatically opposed to what I’m arguing.”
This post discusses how well Bayesian methods can resolve historical controversies, in the sense of achieving consensus founded on objective analysis of evidence. Within a community of Bayesians, objectivity and near-unanimity aren’t completely out of reach, but they tend to be elusive except when most people would be convinced whether or not they appeal to Bayes.
Saint Epiphanius of Salamis (about 315 to 403 CE) was a hard-line defender of orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, in modern times there is a surprisingly prevalent misreading of his Panarion (29.3), supposedly telling us that Jesus had lived decades before Herod became king,
For with the advent of the Christ, the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased. The order [of succession] failed and stopped at the time when He was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Alexander, who was of high-priestly and royal race ; and after this Alexander this lot failed, from the times of himself and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, for the times of Herod the King and Augustus Emperor of the Romans ; …
“Alexander” is King Alexander Jannaeus. He died in 76 BCE, about a century before Pilate first took office in Judea. If Epiphanius really taught that Jesus had lived in a different generation than Pilate, then he would flatly contradict his creedal faith which in reality he aggressively championed.
What are the odds of a seasoned apologist making a mistake like that? Jerome and Origen made huge mistakes about what they had read (link and link), but their mistakes reinforced, not denied Christian doctrines.