The longer ending of GMark, III: Verses 8 to 14 cohere

portrait of Mark

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. Of 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 constituency for the Freer Logion or the so-called “Shorter Ending,” either. That leaves only verses 16:9-14 to search for 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.

The problematic verses 8 and 9

Gospel verses in this post are from the World English Bible (link).

8 They [the women] went out, and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them. They said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.

9 Now when he [Jesus] had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.

10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 When they heard that he was alive, and had been seen by her, they disbelieved.

One objection against moving beyond verse 8 is: If there ever was additional authentic material, and assuming it wasn’t lost somehow, then why would anybody have cut the Gospel back to verse 8?

Verse 8 speaks poorly of what supposedly would happen if women were given responsibility for important church tasks. Orthodox contempt for the leadership fitness of women was rife.

John Chrysostom (309-407, not long after the time of our “earliest and best” manuscripts that end at 16:8) wrote about female incompetence in his De Sacerdotio at 2.2 (link)

[Some tasks] might easily be performed by … women as well as men; but when one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also …

Epiphanius inventories the Biblical foundation for excluding women from responsible orthodox office (Panarion 49.3.1 to 3,3 link) – in contrast to what some heretics do instead:

… Even though it is because of Eve that they ordain women to the episcopate and presbyterate, they should listen to the Lord when he says, “Thy resort shall be to thine husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16) And they have overlooked the apostle’s command, “I suffer not a woman to speak, or to have authority over a man,” (1 Timothy 2:12) and again, “The man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man, (1 Corinthians 11:8) and, “Adam was not deceived, but Eve, deceived first, fell into condemnation.” (1 Timothy 2:14) What a profusion of error there is in this world!

Verse 9 instantly defuses verse 8’s possible misuse against women. Mary Magdalene is Jesus’ personal choice to be his apostle to the apostles. This is consistent with the undisputed Gospel: the women don’t collapse in verse 8 from weakness, but from exhaustion. They stayed when the men ran.

A scholarly objection to verse 9 is that the narrator’s remarks about Jesus’ resurrection repeat what a character has just said. Even if so, then the narrator in undisputed verse 8:2 also repeats what Jesus has just said in verse 8:1, about the crowd having been with Jesus for three days. However, it’s not quite so. The young man in the tomb hasn’t said when Jesus rose. Jesus predicts the third day in verse 9:31; it is reasonable to establish that he was correct. Finally, as noted in the previous post, no basis for the young man’s authority is ever stated. The narrator’s endorsement of his testimony is crucial to the listener’s understanding of the author’s intent.

Another objection to verse 9 is that Mary Magdalene has already been introduced, so why is she being identified “again?” In fact, new information, Mary’s demonic possession, is given here. This new information recalls a precedent in undisputed Mark. The Gerasene from whom Jesus exorcsized multiple demons (5:1-20) also sought to follow Jesus and also received an apostolic commission.

Mark typically introduces visionary episodes by disclosing information about the credibility of sparsely witnessed events, consistent with an overall theme of exploring belief and disbelief. The “walking on the water,” for example, begins with tired disciples and dim lighting. The narrator then “overcomes” any reservations by describing the experience as genuine. Jesus walks on the water, not “seems to walk.”

The disciple’s reluctance to accept Mary’s testimony needs to be motivated. What she’s telling them now, Jesus has told them three times before. Disclosing Mary’s history of what we’d call mental illness explains, if not justifies, the eleven’s jaundiced reaction to the best news they’re ever going to hear (echoing Jairus’ household disbelief of Jesus’ good news about the girl they thought they’d lost forever, 5:40). Mark’s style tells us why someone might disbelieve Mary, but assures us that Jesus really did visit her.

Has Jesus forgiven his boys by verse 14?

The second step of the build, Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples, has a similar structure to the first and follows nicely from it. Jesus’ being seen in an unspecified “different form” and the disciples’ continuing emotional vulnerability provide an excuse for discounting the report.

This sets the stage for verse 14:

Afterward he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at the table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn’t believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Jesus has been rebuking these men (boys, most of them?) throughout the Gospel. They weren’t chosen for their records of accomplishment, but for their long-term potential. Jesus has stuck with them despite their immature fixation on their own status and future glory, their frequent lack of understanding, and their reluctance to ask him questions about what they don’t understand. That reluctance includes the idea of resurrection, in a missed opportunity placed near the very center of the work, at verses 9:9-11.

One also has to admire Mark’s economical dispatch of an issue which later Gospel writers will spin into whole scenes: is this really Jesus? Mark’s Jesus has been grouchy throughout the story. This is him, all right.

Jesus foresaw the disciples’ desertion, but didn’t cut them loose. Now he has returned to them. To do what? Get in a last word? Jesus loves them. That’s why he’s there. What more “redemption” could a critic demand?

Do the disciples begrudge Jesus the rebuke? The emotional impact of this moment literally exceeds all previous human experience. Imagine a reunion with a loved one we fully believed we had lost. The apostolic relationship never was butterflies and puppies, it would be sappy if it turned saccharine now.

Disbelief of resurrection reports before a personal confirmation isn’t unique to the disciples. The women didn’t believe the man in the tomb. Outside the story, Paul apparently didn’t believe the disciples. In Mark’s own time, the predicament of the second-generation church is who will believe what no living person has seen? Not a bad note to end on.

What is authentic?

The illustration that accompanies this post is a conventional portrait of Mark: a man alone, receiving divine inspiration, pen poised near “the autograph” of his Gospel. There is no evidence for that autograph (a hypothetical first complete definitive version of the work). There is no evidence about whether “Mark” worked substantially alone. “Divine inspiration” exceeds the scope of secular inquiry, but what a coincidence that the image of one man working in isolation on the unique definite version of his work meshes so nicely with the concept that God simply gave it to him whole.

There needn’t ever have been such an autograph, however. The modern “gospel” Godspell doesn’t have one. The show began as a performers’ collaboration under a student director at Carnegie-Mellon, then crossed over into the commercial theater. Along the way it acquired a fixed musical score. Later, an additional song (“Beautiful City”) was added for a film version. For the 2012 Broadway revival, that “additional” song was woven into the finale. The student director back at Carnegie Mellon had died by then. The 2012 decision makers had known him, worked with him and thought highly of him. I’ll bet they pondered whether he’d have approved of their new finale.

Now imagine it’s the year 4017. We’re theatrical historians, reconstructing an “authentic” Godspell. Which “authentic” version should we aim for?

There is no unique answer. Fidelity to the original creators’ intention will not necessarily mean going back to the student days.

So it is with us in 2017 and Mark. Verses 16:8-14 “sound like” the rest of Mark, in form and content. Wait – what about those unique vocabulary words and unMarkan restraint in using kai (see the first series post)? Eight words are unique to the 79 Greek words of 16:9-14. Eight words are also unique to Mark‘s first 79 words (verses 1:1-5, “unique” means absent from 1:6 through 16:8). Both those passages use kai four times apiece. There are many possible reasons for congruent distinctiveness at the beginning and ending of a story, including a single author’s rhetorical choices.

We know that verses 16:9-14 have been around about as long as the work we find them in. We don’t know that the verses were added later than any other arguably authentic version. If they were, whoever added them was plausibly mindful of comporting with Mark’s intentions.

I conclude that verse 16:14 is an admissible candidate for an authentic ending of Mark.


Ilustration: ca 12th Century Byzantine manucript detail, St Mark


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