Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Legacy Revisited

I wrote recently about my experience of pilgrimage in visiting St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai (see Legacy). It was the place where in the 19th century Count Von Tischendorf “discovered” what was arguably the most important biblical manuscript ever produced outside of the yet undiscovered autographs, Codex Sinaiticus. The manuscript dates to the fourth century and preserves a text of the New Testament older by centuries than anything we had seen prior to its discovery. Its text, along with its companion uncial, Codex Vaticanus (in the Vatican Library in Rome), rewrote the textual tradition of the Greek New Testament and became the foundation for virtually all modern translations of the New Testament today.

Sinaiticus is of particular interest to me in that my PhD dissertation, written in the late 70’s, focused on “Fear in the Gospel of Mark.” Of course, anyone who has given any time to the Gospel of Mark knows that one of the knottiest issues in the study of Mark is the ending of the Gospel. Later manuscript traditions (those that underlie the textual tradition behind the KJV) include twelve verses (Mark 16:9-20) not found in Codex Sinaiticus which concludes the Gospel at 16:8 with the rather strange ending in which the women who discovered the Empty Tomb fled the tomb in fear saying nothing to anyone about what they had seen. Indeed, in the Greek text of Sinaiticus, the Gospel actually ends with a preposition (gar, Greek for “for”). Mark 16:8, in Sinaiticus says: “And departing, they (the women) fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment (Greek, “ecstasy”) took hold of them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid” (my translation). Scholars have debated this rather unsatisfying ending for years, but in my dissertation I proposed that if fear is a major theme in Mark’s Gospel (and in my doctoral dissertation I make the case that it is), then this is the perfect ending for this gospel. Indeed, rather than being unsatisfying, it completes a major emphasis in the Gospel of Mark, bringing the “fear motif” full circle. The fact that there is a manuscript tradition that concludes the Gospel at 16:8 (Codes Sinaiticus) supports my thesis in that, apparently, people read a version of Mark’s Gospel (the oldest we know of) for centuries that concluded the Gospel with the strange phrase: “…for they were afraid.” Hence, my excitement at visiting the place where this important manuscript was discovered.

I’m thrilled to report in follow up that Codex Sinaiticus will now be made available to everyone on the internet! And you thought the internet was a wasteland! Beginning next Thursday (July 31st), the first parts of the manuscript will hit the Web with the rest following throughout the year. And now the best news: They will begin with the Gospel of Mark! I can hardly wait! The full story is available on USA Today.

Somewhere Tischendorf is smiling.


James Snapp, Jr. said...

Dear Wayne,

I'm kind of excited about the imminent online appearance of Codex Sinaiticus too. Now almost anyone will be able to see virtually firsthand that the pages containing Mk. 14:54-Luke 1:56 are replacement-pages and not the pages made by the main copyist.

The witnesses to Mk. 16:9-20 include not only "Later manuscript traditions," (i.e., 99.9% of the Greek MSS, plus the Vulgate) but also very early patristic witnesses: Justin (160), Epistula Apostolorum (150/180), Tatian (172), and Irenaeus (184), among others. The patristic evidence for the inclusion of Mk. 16:9-20 is well over a century older than Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.

Vaticanus' main NT copyist is very probably the same individual who made the replacement-page in Sinaiticus at the end of Mark. And clearly this copyist was aware of additional material after Mk. 16:8; the extra blank column in B demonstrates this.

Regarding the idea that 16:8 is an ideal ending for the Gospel of Mark: imho this requires a lot of squinting from the reader as well as a sort of hyper-sophistication from the author -- a hyper-sophistication which he does not show elsewhere. (Plus, where else does Mark abruptly end a pericope with GAR like in 16:8?!)

A better explanation is that Mark, writing in the mid-60's in Rome, was forced by unknown factors (probably persecution) to unexpectedly stop writing at the end of 16:8. His colleagues at Rome proceeded to attach another Markan composition -- a short catechetical or liturgical text about Jesus' post-resurrection appearances -- to the main text (possibly making some other adjustments, such as the addition of a title in 1:1), and then they began to disseminate the Gospel of Mark.

Later, someone who had copies of all four Gospels, and some knowledge of how they were produced, regarded the added-on material at the end of Mark as an unauthorized addition, and removed it -- not only out of a sense of commitment to preserve only the writings of the (main) author, but also because this step made the accounts easier to harmonize. This form of the text of Mark was circulated in Egypt, where someone, unable to tolerate the abruptness of the ending, created and added the "Shorter Ending." Meanwhile, copies based on the Roman autograph (including 16:9-20) continued to circulate practically everywhere else.

For more info see
www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html .

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

R. Wayne Stacy said...


Thanks for your comments. Needless to say, I don't agree about the "squinting" necessary to justify such a level of literary sophistication by either first century writers or readers. They were not nearly as "primitive" as we "sophisticated" moderns sometimes like to think. As to the specifics of my arguments from internal evidence for the Shorter Ending of Mark, you'll have to read my dissertation, preferably when you're having trouble sleeping!



James Snapp, Jr. said...


Robert Gundry, Ben Witherington III, and Robert Stein have each presented reasons why the GAR at the end of 16:8 is not analogous to the other GARS in Mark, plus other reasons why the abrupt ending at 16:8 is not an intentional ending.

I don't think that all writers in the first century wrote in a relatively unsophisticated, unsubtle style -- just this particular one. Throughout his book Mark is direct and straightforward. Occasionally Mark includes extraneous details, such as the color of the grass. Does it really seem plausible to you that the same author who did that would intentionally stop writing without telling his readers what happened to the disciples -- who, at last sight, had all abandoned Jesus?

I'm interested to see how you climbed such an intimidating mountain. If possible, could we trade papers? If you send a copy of your dissertation to me at

office -at- curtisvillechristian -dot- org

and provide your e-mail address, I'll be glad to send you, by e-mail, a copy of the most recent revision of my research on the ending of Mark.

Btw, the www.codex-sinaiticus.org website is live now -- but it has been pretty busy; plus it looks like a high-speed connection is required, and the format appears to have some problems. It will no doubt be a fine resource soon, though, God willing.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

R. Wayne Stacy said...


Once more...with feeling. Three points:

(1) I know you don't know me, but those who do know that I don't give much weight to ad hominem arguments. (Actually, in logic it's called a "logical fallacy.") I know all three of the men you cite, and I would be happy to examine their evidence. But only arguments and evidence persuade me, not names.

(2) As to Mark's use of the preposition "gar," he employs it 66 times in his Gospel, each time exactly as it should be employed. It is postpositive; that is, it cannot be the first word in a sentence or clause. Probably, the closest parallel to Mark 16:8 is 1:16 in which Mark, commenting on the fact that Jesus had called disciples by the Sea of Galilee, says, "for they were fisherman" (Greek: esan gar halieis). He could have made the observation without the copula, esan, but notice: He would have had to have used the verb rather than the noun, and he would have had to put "gar" last in the sentence - elieusanto gar! Which is, of course, precisely what we have in 16:8. In Mark 16:8, we're dealing with a two-word clause. In a two-word clause employing the postpositive preposition "gar," how else could Mark have said it but to end his clause with "gar"?

(3) Finally, while I am aware that Mark's Greek is not always the best (witness Mark 4:1), grammatical awkwardness is not the same thing at all as literary unsophistication or ineptitude, especially if there are reasons for the grammatical deficiencies. I think there are; namely, that Mark is not working in Greek as his first language. His Greek is translation Greek and when you read Mark in Greek it shows, much as it does when one tries to speak Spanish when English is their first language. The native Spanish speaker will get the gist even if the grammar is mangled.

Hope that helps. rws