Mark's Ending - Pressure for Ending-Expansion in the First Century
- James M. Leonard,
Maybe /as a literary innovation,/ the Gospel of Mark was initially
unique. But as a testimony to what Jesus said and did, it was not
unique; oral traditions also testified about what Jesus said and
did. They were not comparable to the Gospel of Mark in terms of
literary format (since they didn't have any), but their content could
be compared to the contents of Mark's account.
JML: "His readership did not have built in expectations of a
lengthy account of Jesus' resurrection appearances."
But after reading 14:28 and 16:7, they very probably had an
expectation of *something,* namely an appearance to the disciples in
JML: "Only when we compare the later accounts of Matt and Luke do we
conclude that Mark's ending at 16:8 is lacking."
No; without Matthew or Luke in the equation, the Abrupt Ending is
still abrupt. The scene at the empty tomb is not a denouement; it
indicates that one is coming, and then
Just like that, the narrative stops. The explicitly predicted
appearance in Galilee is lacking. Readers of Mark can perceive this
without having Matthew or Luke for comparison.
JML: "As it stood to its earliest readers who were
otherwise not privy to Matt and Luke, the ending was quite
appropriate, leaving them with the on-going task consigned to the
women at the tomb."
I can't mind-read the earliest readers of the Gospel of Mark to
discern how happy or unhappy they were with the abruptly-ending text,
but istm that the natural reaction to the AE would be puzzlement,
since (a) Mark led readers to expect an appearance of Jesus to the
disciples in Galilee, and (b) having heard or read about Jesus' post-
resurrection appearances in oral traditions or short compositions,
Mark's readers expected Peter's Memoirs to say something more about
JML: "The theory then, is that after Matt and Luke circulated with
their much fuller endings, there arose some dissatisfaction with
Mark's relatively muted triumphal ending."
There's nothing particularly weak about that theory, but
dissatisfaction with the AE would occur with or without Matthew and
Luke. (Especially if the AE was known to be an unintended
consequence of Mark's demise.)
JML: "Considering Matt and Luke, the short ending of Mark drew
longer endings like a magnet."
That makes it sound as if a flock of longer endings popped up out of
nowhere. Although some scholars have referred to "nine endings" of
Mark in the MSS, there is really only one serious contender besides
the Abrupt Ending: the Long Ending.
JML: "This magnetic pull would have been irresistible, as is
reflected in the widespread acceptance of the alternative endings
through Mark's transmissional history."
Such a magnetic pull, though, was already in place: it was built
into the text of Mark (in 14:28 and 16:7) and was induced by readers'
knowledge that there was more to the good news about Jesus (the story
that Mark's Gospel claimed to be telling). Mark's survivors would
[be able to easily] perceive that Mark had intended to write more
about Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, and they would also [be
able to easily] realize that without a record of Jesus' post-
resurrection appearance and the commissioning of the apostles, Mark's
Gospel-account was missing an important part of the story which was
present in oral traditions, in short texts, and which had been
proclaimed by Peter.
JML: "The wonder is that any mss have survived without the fuller
One could also wonder why, if this magnetic pull toward expansion
began to exist at some later stage (when the Gospels, at least the
Synoptics, were collected), instead of already existing the first
time Mark's survivors read his interrupted text, why we see in the
MSS only two alternatives to the Abrupt Ending, instead of half a
dozen locally devised endings.
I'm pretty sure that if Mark unintentionally stopped writing at the
end at 16:8, it was nearly inevitable, in light of his Roman
associates' perception of Mark's intent (as forecast in 16:7) and
their awareness that Petrine oral tradition included Jesus' post-
resurrection appearances and His commissioning of the apostles, that
an ending relating those events would be attached to 16:8 before
Mark's book would be recopied and distributed for church use.
And if they possessed a short Markan composition that summarized
those events, it would be almost inevitable for them to regard that
summary as sufficient, and use it to conclude Mark's Gospel, rather
than compose a fresh ending. (This would mean that the master-copy
of the Gospel of Mark had two pieces: one containing 1:1-16:8, and
one containing 16:9-20. If the master-copy was preserved for several
years, but was at some point moved, and lost its second piece en
route, the presence of 16:9-20 in most of the transmission-stream,
and the absence of 16:9-20 in a narrow channel of the transmission-
stream -- a channel which received the incomplete master-copy, or a
copy of it -- are simply explained.)
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.
Curtisville Christian Church
Elwood, Indiana (USA)