Evidence of Mutilation and Deterioration— Mark 16

Posted: February 24, 2012 in General

Majority of the Greek versions of the Gospel of Mark (for example, TR, WH, NTG and UBS4) have the section 16:9-20 as part of the Gospel. The Shorter Ending of the Gospel (i.e., the little section between chapter 16 verses 8 and 9) is found only in a few early Greek mss. and versions. Unlike the Longer Ending (16:9-20), the Shorter Ending was written expressly to provide a suitable ending to the Gospel. Besides the ms. evidence, there are statements by Eusebius of Caesarea and by Jerome to the effect that 16:9-20 were missing in Greek mss. known to them. Eusebius (c. 325 AD) stated that “in nearly all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark” the end was at 16:8. (See Bratcher and Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Mark [1961]: 517f.; Johnson Thomaskutty [Chakkuvaracvkal], A Critical Review of the New Testament Translation [Delhi: ISPCK, 2004]: 70). Some mss. also add a section between v. 14 and v. 15. While some assume that 16:8 is the original ending, some others opine that the loss was accidental. At the same time a third group states that the scroll might have been damaged. Many can conjecture; but, what is the reality!?

One of Prof. Ben Witherington’s recent posts (18th February 2012) at the famous Bible and Culture blog invites the attention of the readers toward the evidence of mutilation and deterioration on the Markan manuscript. The post below is reposted with permission from Prof. Ben Witherington. Read here…

[Take a close look at the two Greek manuscripts in this post. What I want you to concentrate on is the lower right hand corner of each of these pieces of papyri. What you should notice is the fraying, deterioration, and disappearance of this part of the manuscript. Contrast this with the left hand margin of these two papyri which are in tact. This pattern is regularly apparent to the observant student of Greek papyri. Why? Because in antiquity as in the 20th century with VHS tapes, people didn’t not always heed the advice— ‘please be kind and rewind’. Greek is a language read left to right, and so the extreme right of a document would often be left exposed to the elements. The results are readily apparent. One loses the end of the document.

Papyri, as we have said earlier in our ‘Memory’ posts last Fall, deteriorated quite readily in moist climates. They were made up of Nile reeds, vegetable matter, after all. It is then no surprise that we find so few papyri in Galilee and so many in the arid conditions at Qumran or in the deserts of Egypt. You can’t judge literacy very well on the basis of where you find manuscripts since ‘absence of evidence does not indicate evidence of absence’ in a moist climate when it comes to papyri and literacy, and this brings us to Mark’s Gospel and its ending.

I remain utterly unconvinced by the arguments that Mark 16.8 is the original ending of that Gospel, an ending that involves all sorts of problems including the fact that it is unprecedented for a document to end with ‘ephobounto gar…’ (See Clayton Croy on ‘The Mutilation of Mark’). No, it seems quite likely the ending of Mark was lost due to deterioration as with the papyri shown above. If for example p46 is a guide, we can well account for the loss of say 10 lines or so of script in the final column of the Gospel, just enough for a version of Mt. 28.9-10 and an edited form of the appearance to men and women in Galilee later in Mt. 28. In other words, I don’t really think the ending of Mark is totally lost. I think the First Evangelist used Mark in Mt. 28 as elsewhere he has used 95% of Mark’s Gospel. What should be added is that the second and later century additions such as the Freer logion, or the long ending (16.9ff.) were attempts in the early church to supply an ending because the church recognized Mark 16.8 couldn’t have been the ending.

Of course this is bad news for the KJV only/Majority Texters, but good news for Protestants in snake handling Kentucky, as it means that those verses about snake handling and drinking poison are not an original part of the inspired text of Mark’s Gospel. In short, ‘text should determine canon’ not the other way around, and this being so, if Mk. 16.9ff. is not an original part of Mark’s Gospel, which it surely is not, then it shouldn’t be in our English translations. Final note— Mk. 16.9-20 is probably too long anyway, to have fit at the end and bottom of the final column of Mark’s Gospel if it was written in a fair hand in majuscule, or even if it was written in minuscule Greek script.]

  1. There are several problematic statements in this composition from Dr. Witherington. I am not surprised to see that he imagines that Mark 16:9-20 is “surely not” an original part of Mark’s Gospel, considering how poorly he covers the external evidence pertaining to Mark 16:9-20 in his commentary. But saying that he can calculate the capacity of the autograph of the Gospel of Mark so precisely that it can be discerned that mark 16:9-20 is “probably too long” to fit at the end and bottom of the final column?? I had no idea that he had acquired the power to calculate the size of a manuscript he has never seen, and to discern how many pages (or, if a scroll, how many columns) it had, and to discern its average rate of letters per column or page. (All of which would be necessary to calculate the capacity of its final page.) That’s unbelievably impressive! Incredible!

    Also, the statement, “Some mss. also add a section between v. 14 and v. 15” is false. Codex W is the only extant that does this. Get your act together, people. And stop misrepresenting Jerome’s abridged translation of Eusebius’ earlier statement as if it is an entirely independent statement by Jerome. Jerome was borrowing material from Eusebius, in the course of dictating his letter to Hedibia. If Eusebius hadn’t written “Ad Marinum,” that statement wouldn’t have been in Jerome’s “Ad Hedibiam.”

    And why is there no mention in your post of the evidence for Mark 16:9-20 from Epistula Apostolorum (see Stein’s 2008 commentary), Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus? Why is evidence from the 100’s being pushed out of your readers’ sight, while evidence from the 300’s is put in the spotlight?

    Also, Eusebius’ actual statement is a lot more nuanced than Bratcher & Nida made it seem. I recommend that you give this some more study before oversimplifying his statement again (even though that seems to be a cherished tradition among American commentators).

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Thanks a lot for this informative write up, Snapp. When we discuss about the section between v. 14 and v. 15, I am convinced that W mss. (according to Jerome) is the only one that includes the section in whole. But, some other mss. add in part “episteusan. kai eipen autois” (mss. like A, C, L, Delta, Theta, Psi, 009, f1, f13, 28, 33, 157, 180, 205, 565, 579, 597, 700, 892, 1006, 1010, 1071, 1241, 1243, 1292, 1342, 1424, 1505, and 2427 support this reading). Also it appears in the writings of some of the manuscripts of ‘Itala’, ‘Vulgate’, ‘Syriac’, ‘Coptic’, ‘Armenian’, ‘Ethiopic’, ‘Georgian’ and ‘Slavonic’. Church Fathers like Ambrose and Augustine also support the ‘in part’ reading. On the basis of this information, I am willing to alter my statement from “Some mss. also add a section between v. 14 and v. 15″ to “Some mss. also add, in whole or in part, a section between v. 14 and v. 15”. I think that this will make a sense on the basis of abundant mss. evidences. Anyway, thanks a lot for pointing out this important area of information.

    • Perhaps another cup of coffee is in order. A few things need to be pointed out to you.
      First, Codex W is the only *existing* manuscript that has the Freer Logion between v. 14 and v. 15. But Jerome shows (in Against the Pelagians 2:14-15) that he had seen Greek codices that contained it; he probably saw those copies when he visited Didymus the Blind, c. 386.
      Second, “episteisan. kai eipen autois” is simply the last word of verse 14 and the first three words of verse 15. Codex W replaces “kai eipen autois” with “alla” because in Codex W, there’s no reason to say, “and he said to them” because in Codex W Jesus is already talking.
      Third, you need to update your data; 2427 is not a legitimate manuscript; it is a forgery based on a printed text (Phillip Buttmann’s) from the mid-1800’s. It should be removed from the textual apparatus of UBS-4.
      Fourth, D does not add “prous autous” between v. 14 and v. 15; D has, at the beginning of verse 15, “KAI EIPEN PROS AUTOUS” instead of the usual “KAI EIPEN AUTOIS.” (The UBS-4 apparatus is not spectacularly clear, but you should be able to figure it out. Or you can just look at the relevant page of Codex D, at
      http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch/org/public/AuthSuppl.html . See the third-to-last line in Image #16.)

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

  3. Moreover, manuscript D adds “pros autous” between v. 14 and v. 15. This can be considered as a third variant reading of the text. The UBS(4) Greek New Testament editors consider the reading “episteusan. kai eipen autois” as an “A” reading (means, as a “certain text”). Thanks.

  4. Dear Snapp, from your site I gather that you are an authority in Textual Criticism. I studied Textual Criticism considerably for translation purposes; but, not as a specialist as you are. Thanks a lot for the site and your valuable comments. For me, Textual Criticism is a fascinating field and I usually spend time in reading books of Metzger, Kurt and Barbara Aland, Matthew Black, Kilpatrick and others. Along with all those, Greek Versions of Alexander Souter, TR, UBS(4), WH, NTG, and others. Usually I study Textual Criticism by the help of these. Now, my border is further expanded through your comments. If you don’t mind, occasionally I would like to republish some of your writings at this site. Thanks once again.

  5. That would be fine. I have written some materials on NTTC (including a detailed research-book specifically about Mark 16:9-20, which is supplemented by a couple of video-lectures on YouTube) that I’d be glad to share digital copies of, if you’d like to read them.

    Also, the mistyped “episteisan” in my previous comment should have been “episteusan.”

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  6. That’s appreciable. Kindly share those links to me. My E-Mail ID is: jesusandjohnson@gmail.com

    As you are an expert in Mark 16:9-20, I would like to learn a lot from you. Thanks and blessings.

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