What’s at Stake in The Original Ending of Mark?

As a NT student with an abiding interest in the Gospel of Mark and its early text, Nicholas P. Lunn’s The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Wipf & Stock, 2014) has been on my radar for a while and I’ve just now gotten around to starting it. I’ve seen it get some good press (most recently here) and so, even though I tend to think Mark ends at 16:8, I am open to changing my mind.

One thing I find mildly off-putting, however, is the theological and apologetic weight Lunn attaches to this issue, beginning in his preface on page vii:


For Lunn, the ending of Mark matters for two vital reasons: first, it contains descriptions of a post-resurrection Jesus (16:9-20). Second, because Mark is the earliest written Gospel (ca. 70 AD/CE), these descriptions of a post-resurrection Jesus are important for shoring up the historicity of the resurrection. An offshoot of this point, as evidenced by Lunn’s lengthy quoting of an Islamic counter-apologetic against Christianity (among other counter-apologetics, including one from mythicist Richard Carrier), is that the Christian faith stands or falls among other religions on whether or not the earliest written gospel relates the resurrection of Jesus.

My disagreement stems not out of a “liberal” (or whatever) belief that the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t matter. For Christians, among whom I count myself, I think it absolutely does. My problem, though, is that readers (Christians or otherwise) don’t need Mark 16:9-20 in order to argue for a Markan resurrection. Mark 16:1-8, as well as 9:9-10 and the threefold passion-resurrection predictions in 8:31; 9:31; and 10:33-4, are more than enough evidence that Mark’s story is about a Jesus who is raised from the dead.

Even if we assume that Mark ends at 16:8, we are still left with a document whose composer quite obviously believed in a resurrected Jesus. The young man at the tomb tells the women that Jesus “has been raised” and that “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (16:6, 7). It is almost an abuse of the English language to read this as an “implied resurrection,” as some do. But it is definitely an abuse of English to assert that

The original authors of Mark created the first biography of Jesus, but failed to mention that he rose from the dead!

as another one of Lunn’s Internet interlocutors does (Lunn, viii).

And so I wonder: Why is Mark 16:9-20 so crucial, both for Lunn and his counter-apologist interlocutors, for the resurrection of Jesus when the resurrection of Jesus is explicitly narrated as an event that happened in Mark 16:1-8? Put differently: Do we need 16:9-20 to believe that the composer of Mark thought Jesus had been raised from the dead? Holly Carey thinks not. I agree.

I am interested to interact with Lunn’s text-critical argument but, honestly, I could do without the shrill apologetic opening salvo with which he begins his book.

Ancient Lives: Papyrology for People Who aren’t Papyrologists

A few months ago I was introduced to the University of of Oxford’s Ancient Lives papyri transcription project while TAing a class for Eric Smith. This morning I rediscovered it and have been having some fun transcribing ancient Greek fragments.

The site is an attempt to harness the power of the people in an effort to transcribe as-yet unpublished Greek papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt:

Ancient Lives is a collaboration between a diverse collection of Oxford Papyrologists and Researchers, The Imaging Papyri Project, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, the Egypt Exploration Society and the following institutions.

The papyri belong to the Egypt Exploration Society and their texts will eventually be published and numbered in Society’s Greco-Roman Memoirs series in the volumes entitled The Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

The best part, though, is that you don’t need to be a papyrologist to get in on the fun. You don’t even need to know Greek! (Although it doesn’t hurt…) The interface for the transcription project is incredibly user-friendly, even for non-specialists. I watched an entire classroom of NT Intro students (most of whom had never taken a day of Greek) spend an hour exploring the site and transcribing fragments. They were into it.

The site loads for you a papyrus fragment. You look at the letters on the papyrus (even for people who know Greek, that’s all they are at first) and try to match each one up with a letter or special character in the ancient Greek alphabet. Here’s a screenshot of a fragment I’m currently working on to give you an idea:


The blue circles are letters that I have, or think I have, identified so far. The red circle is the current letter I am deciphering.

As you can see, there’s a handy alphabet list at the bottom to help you match papyri letters to the alphabet. Even more helpful, if you hover over a letter in the alphabet with your cursor, you can see a couple “standard” examples of the letter just to the right (the current example is for “N”). If you get stumped and can’t identify any more letters, you can hit the “Next” button to see a fresh fragment. Someone else will probably ID what you couldn’t. It’s a shirker’s dream.

As I mentioned above, you don’t need to know Greek. All you need to be able to do is match handwritten shapes. Make your best guess and have fun.

Although you’ll never be personally credited, you can impress people at bars with the story of how you helped decipher some ancient texts. Trust me: you’ll never pay for a drink again.

Intentional Scribal Changes and Textual Threats

One of my current interests lies in an attempt to answer the question of why some ancient scribes felt free to make intentional changes to the NT traditions as they copied them, while other scribes conducted their work more conservatively and tried, to the best of their ability, to reproduce their exemplars perfectly. Answers have been offered for particular kinds of scribal editing (e.g. Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture), but I am wondering why, given the apparent fixity of text, such habits even existed in the first place. Leaving small editorial changes, like alterations to spelling, to one side, let’s think about a few examples of scribal changes—two of which are quite major and have become much-beloved by many Christian readers.

Mark’s Ending, Bezae’s Luke, and the Pericope Adulterae

Off the top of my head, I can think of three examples of the NT gospels growing through the additions of later scribes: the endings of Mark 16, Luke 6 in Codex Bezae, and the Pericope Adulterae in John 8:1-11. Of course, I am tipping my hand to some of my assumptions on these debated texts: I think Mark ends at 16:8, Bezae’s addition to Luke 6 (otherwise unattested) is not original, and that the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is a much later addition to John’s text. But these contested texts are just some particularly good examples of the phenomenon I’m talking about; the so-called “free text” manuscripts of the gospels (e.g. P45) are more ho-hum examples of scribal freedom to alter the traditions being copied.

Mixed-Media Culture, Chirography, and Textual Threat

It’s interesting to me that the technology of chirography (handwriting) gave rise to a heightened system for fixing and securing traditions, even while some scribes persisted in editorial freedom. I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with the mixed media culture of antiquity. Early Kelber wasn’t so off-base; there is something to the shift in medium from oral to written that affects the shape of the tradition. Writing allows for some movement towards stability, if for no other reason than written documents are very concrete aids to memory. You don’t have to recall the tradition from memory; you can look at it. It’s right in front of you.

But still, some scribes persisted in making their changes; some of them smallish and relatively unobtrusive, others striking and and obvious. Is the freedom to alter a ‘hangover’ from a predominately oral media culture in which small changes were allowed, so long as the tradition remained largely intact? Might some scribes have been operating akin to oral performers, whose task was to retain the gist of the tradition, in the reproduction of their texts?

Chirography also affords authors some ability to secure the tradition by textual threat. Revelation 22:18-19 famously threatens any scribe who would add to or take away from the text with divine plagues and denial of the benefits of the tree of life. Such a textual showing of force is not unique. As R.H. Charles points out in his classic commentary on Revelation, there are more than a few examples of ancient authors of written texts proscribing the alteration of their text: Deut 4.2; 1 Enoch 104.10-11; Letter of Aristeas 310-311; 2 Enoch 48.7-8; Josephus, Contra Apion 1.8; Irenaeus in Eusebius HE 5.20.2; Rabbi Meir in Sota 20.[1]

As the reasoning goes for laws, I suppose you don’t threaten against what isn’t already happening. Are these textual threats evidence that relative levels of freedom in scribal activity were common in antiquity?

What are the Rules? Why Changes?

I’ll end with some questions, and would welcome your responses: Was there a sense that some texts, but not others, could be changed? Was there some kind of media-cultural rule set governing which was which? Or do the above examples give us the “default setting” for expectations of scribal activity? If so, why so many examples of intentional scribal changes?

[1] R.H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol. 1, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1920), 223–4.

Whether a Made-Up Text-Critical Problem Can Be Solved?: Mark 13:33 in the Manuscript Tradition, Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea, and Hilary of Poitiers’ De Trinitate

“Whenever a transcriber of a patristic treatise was copying a [biblical] quotation differing from the text to which he was accustomed, he had virtually two originals before him, one present to his eyes, the other to his mind; and if the difference struck him, he was not unlikely to treat the written exemplar as having blundered.”[1]
.J.A. Hort

* * *

Mark 13:33’s Variant Readings

I have an abiding interest in Mark 13:33 and the scribal addition therein that creates an interesting narrative parallel to 14:38. I’ve been reading a lot of NT text criticism lately and have been thinking, on and off, about Mark 13 for the better part of the last five years. Today the two came together in a way that has turned out to be pretty fun.

The text of Mark 13:33, in NA28 and the NRSV, reads as follows:

Βλέπετε, ἀγρυπνεῖτε· οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ καιρός ἐστιν (NA28).
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come (NRSV).

In a slew of manuscripts (some quite weighty and important), however, it reads:

Βλέπετε, ἀγρυπνεῖτε, καὶ προσεύχεσθε· οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ καιρός ἐστιν.[2]
Beware, keep alert, and pray; for you do not know when the time will come.

The initial text of Mark 13:33 likely did not include the addition of καὶ προσεύχεσθε to Jesus’ exhortation but, as early as the fourth century (and likely earlier!), a competing tradition arose that included it. The addition likely reflects a change on the part of an early Christian scribe (whether intentional or unintentional) that brought Mark 13:33 into striking harmony with Mark 14:38, which reads:

γρηγορεῖτε καὶ προσεύχεσθε, ἵνα μὴ ἔλθητε εἰς πειρασμόν· τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον ἡ δὲ σὰρξ ἀσθενής (NA28).
Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (NRSV).

Whether the change is likely intentional or unintentional is best left for another discussion. What matters here is that the tradition with the addition of καὶ προσεύχεσθε was widely adopted across many important manuscripts, notably in א A C K L W Γ Δ Θ and the Vulgate, among others. The reading that lacks καὶ προσεύχεσθε, however, is also widely attested—notably by Vaticanus (B) and Bezae (D). Thus two traditions split from one another and were used by different groups of Christians in various places.

Mark 13:33 and Hilary of Poitiers (and Matthew 25:13) in Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea

Interestingly, it was in the 13th century that the two readings met—sort of—on the writing desk of Thomas Aquinas as he compiled his Catena Aurea. Aquinas quotes the Latin form of Mark 13:33, which includes the addition of “and pray,” and, in typical fashion for a catena, cites various commentators beneath. In forging his chain of commentaries on Mark 13:33, Aquinas includes Hilary of Poitiers’s De Trinitate:

Denique, ne per infirmitatem ignorare dicatur, continuo subiecit videte, vigilate et orate: nescitis enim quando tempus sit.
Lastly, lest He should be said to be ignorant from weakness, He has immediately added, ‘Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is.’ (Hilary, Trin., 9.65, as quoted in Aquinas’s Catena, Mark 13:33)

Hilary’s original text, however, differs markedly from its quotation in Aquinas’s Catena:

Denique ne per infirmitatem ignorare existimaretur, continuo Apostolis ita locutus est: ‘Vigilate itaque, quia nescitis diem neque horam.’
Hence, in order that we should not impute His ignorance to infirmity, He says immediately to the Apostles, Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour (Hilary, Trin. 9.65).[3]

Not only does Hilary’s text lack the addition of “and pray,” it appears to be quoting Matthew rather than Mark. Matthew 25:13 has “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν ἡμέραν οὐδὲ τὴν ὥραν), while it is Mark who forms the phrase as “for you do not know when the time will come” (οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ καιρός ἐστιν) in 13:33.

Whether a Made-Up Text-Critical Problem Can Be Solved?

This is pretty meta stuff: Aquinas quotes Hilary quoting Scripture, but Aquinas misreads Hilary’s quotation of Matthew 25:13 as a quotation of Mark 13:33. As Aquinas misreads Hilary as quoting Mark instead of Matthew, he is faced with (read: has created) a text-critical problem. Which reading of Mark 13:33 is more likely correct: the one that includes et orate (καὶ προσεύχεσθε), or Hilary’s quotation of Matthew, which Aquinas apparently perceives as Mark, which lacks it?

For Aquinas, the perceived Hilarian quotation of Mark, which lacks both “and pray” as well as the Markan “when the time will come” is juxtaposed with the Vulgate and the commentary of Theophylactus, which Aquinas also includes in his catena, both of which include the addition (and, of course, the Markan formulation regarding unknown chronology). Faced with two variant readings, Aquinas made an editorial choice and did just what Hort suggested such an editor would do: he assumed that Hilary “had blundered.” Twice.

Since the Vulgate, Aquinas’ holy text, disagreed with Hilary’s quotation of Matthew 25:13 (which, again, Aquinas took to be a citation of Mark 13:33)—and was further supported by Theophylact’s commentary—I suggest that a heavily-edited quotation of Hilary’s De Trinitate was included in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Mark as the ‘fix’ for Aquinas’s perceived text-critical problem. Faced with a discrepancy between his Bible (and Theophylact) on one hand and the fourth century commentary of Hilary on the other (which Aquinas misread), it seems to me that Aquinas regarded Hilary’s quotation as faulty and emended it in his Catena to bring Hilary into agreement with the Markan text as it was known to him.

This is, of course, something he did not need to do, since Hilary was quoting Matthew just fine, but far be it from me, a graduate student, to finger-wag a Doctor of the Church.

Kidding aside: has Aquinas simply made a mistake, or is there another explanation for his quotation/emendation of Hilary?

[1] Westcott, B.F., and F.J.A. Hort. The New Testament in the Original Greek. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896), 202.

[2] The addition is found in these manuscripts: א A C K L W Γ Δ Θ Ψ f13 28. 565. 579. 700. 892. 1241. 1424. 2542. {M} lat sy co

[3] http://www.clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/it/ftf.htmhttps://books.google.co.uk/books?id=WSBAAQAAMAAJ&pg=PT2&dq=%22circumspicienti%20mihi%20proprium%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RkOiVfzUG4X0UKf6vjg&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false