Monday, March 11, 2013

The long ending of Mark

I've been listening to this podcast, NT Pod extended 5, which includes a discussion about the long ending of mark. This is Mark 16:9-20, which is missing from some of our earliest manuscripts. Most scholars this these verse are a later addition to the gospel and I would agree that it is a distinct possibility.
13th century manuscript
 of long ending
But Mark 16:8 seems an odd ending to a gospel because while the empty tomb has been discovered, the resurrection appearances, which are such an important part of other early Christian accounts of Jesus, has not yet been covered. And the fact is that if it did originally end at verse 8, someone felt it needed more and added verses 9-20 fairly early in the history of the church.
I've heard three explanations advanced as to why Mark might have ended at verse 8. The first is that originally there was some other ending, but that it got torn off and lost, presumably when there was only one accessible copy. (The problem with this is that if the earliest copy was a scroll then the end would be on the inside, most protected and least likely to be lost.) The second is that the writer was interrupted before he could finish his composition, perhaps by being taken away to be martyred, which seems improbably melodramatic. And the last I've heard from other is that it is deliberately enigmatic so as leave you asking questions, which seems rather post-modern for an ancient author.
But another explanation has occurred to me which I find a fascinating possibility. So I want to write it out here and take a look at its plausibility. This idea starts with one of the scenarios for the circumstances under which Mark was written.
In the Apostolic fathers we have a few snippets of the early stories and traditions about how the gospels were composed. There is this story about how the Gospel of Mark was written were Peter is preaching in Rome and Mark is there as his translator or amanuensis. People come to Mark and ask for a record of Peter's preaching and what is produced is the Gospel of Mark. Peter finds out about this either while Mark is in the middle of writing this or after it is already finished and either approves it retroactively or just says nothing giving it implied approval.
Many scholars dismiss the patristics witness, but many also endorse the criteria of embarrassment. And the patristics authors do seem to find Peter's late approval embarrassing so it seems unlikely that they are entirely making up the story and I think it makes sense to consider what it might mean if the story is generally true.
When Peter first comes into Rome, this huge city with a small, new group of Christians who may never have talked to an apostle before, what is the first thing he is going to preach on? What is his best tool for making new converts and generally convincing people that following a executed convict from the sticks is not crazy? I'm convinced it was his personal testimony of meeting the resurrected Jesus in his new transformed body. It would make perfect sense for him to have preached on that first, probably repeating it several times in different venues, recruiting a group to come together and listen to his longer lecture series, "My memories of life with Jesus." This would mean that everyone attending the lectures would have already heard the resurrection appearances, many several times.
When someone came to Mark with the idea of making a document to help the people attending these lectures remember them, It might have been very natural to start at the beginning of more or less chronological part of Peter's tale, especially if this was proposed after the lectures were already underway.
Peter, knowing that his audience had already hear the resurrection appearance stories, might not feel the need to repeat those appearance at the end of his lectures. And I can see Mark, perhaps already uncertain about an unapproved project, thinking this is something only intended for local distribution, not adding the appearances on his own initiative. Later, when it ended up being circulated more generally people would have realized that the wider audience needed more explanation of the resurrection appearances and added the various additional material. This to me is the most satisfying explanation of why Mark might have originally ended at such an awkward point.