Today’s Chocolate: Simple Truth Organic 71% Cacao Maca Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Mark 16
The gospel of Mark contains some weird parts. For example, there’s that guy in a sheet shadowing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who escapes naked when the chief priests’ hired muscle try to seize him. And we didn’t even get to talk about the dudes that Jesus heals with his spit, two more Mark exclusives. (The blind guy initially remarks, in so many words, “Whoa, everyone looks like walking trees!”) Then there are the parts that other gospels include but Mark omits, like Jesus’ birth, and in fact any mention of Joseph. That’s right: in Mark, Jesus’ dad is completely absent! Mark doesn’t consider him important at all! But perhaps the weirdest part of Mark is its ending.
Maybe I should say the weirdest part of Mark is the different portions of its ending.
You may have noticed that just after verse eight, the narrative takes a hard left turn. You’d expect the women and disciples to head to Galilee, where the White-Robed Tomb Kid said Jesus would be waiting for them (5). But there’s no indication that Mark’s recorded resurrection appearances take place in Galilee at all! Luke lets us know that Mark’s two disciples traveling to the countryside (12-13) are bound for Emmaus (Luke 24:13). Emmaus, to the west of Jerusalem, wasn’t on the way to Galilee at all. Yet apparently Jesus gave up waiting, left Galilee, and intercepted his knucklehead disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But that’s not the first appearance of the post-crucifixion Christ. That’s just the narrative leaning into the turn it took with Jesus’ first resurrected appearance: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons” (8). This is the last time Mary Magdalene is mentioned in Mark’s gospel, and we’re only just now discovering she was the subject of a septuple exorcism? Isn’t this the sort of thing you include when you introduce a player in your account? Imagine if, in the epilogue to the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling mentioned “Hermione, whose parents were both Muggles, yet who was herself one of the most talented practitioners of magic that Hogwarts ever produced.” No, even that doesn’t work. Imagine if Rowling dropped some completely new and jaw-droppingly unusual information about Hermione on us in the epilogue. I realize I have probably lost the more fundamentalist-leaning among you with the Harry Potter analogy. Let’s get back to Mark.
Take a look at your Bible’s margin notes for verse nine. If yours is anything like my NASB, or the NIVs my church commonly uses, or the Greek-English interlinear that I at times refer to, it contains a note to the effect of “Some of the oldest manuscripts do not contain vv.9-20.” How old are we talking? Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, our two oldest complete copies of the New Testament, don’t contain these latter verses, and they’re from the mid-to-late fourth century. Church fathers from that time period attest that almost all their Greek-language copies of Mark stop at verse eight. We could dig deeper, but numerous versions of Mark just stop without the resurrected Jesus even actually appearing.
It’s weird. I’ve known of this for years, I still don’t know exactly what’s going on, and I can’t dispute a tonal shift in the final eleven verses of the chapter, a shift which scholar James Tabor notes is reflected in the original text: “The language and style of the Greek is clearly not Markan” (“The ‘Strange’ Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference”). Just take verse twenty, whose final statement “And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation” is overtly theological and codified in a way you don’t see anywhere else in Mark. Mark’s all about the events, the actions of Jesus, the “immediatelies!”
So while the last word of the Mark in your Bible, the final thought his gospel leaves us with, may be “salvation,” in our oldest copies the last word is “afraid.” And it’s not even “afraid!” Due to a quirk of Greek word order, the original language ends verse eight with the word “for!” I’m reminded of the Strong Bad email “Trevor the Vampire,” in which an email from a fan abruptly ends after revealing that its author is a vampire. “And what?” Strong Bad asks. “That’s it? I am a vampire and…here’s a million dollars?” Or there’s that classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the knights of the round table find the last words of Joseph of Arimathea, which state that the grail may be found in the Castle of Argh. Why did Mark apparently end his gospel so abruptly? Did he die while writing it? Perhaps he was dictating it? Maybe he added the other stuff in later editions, or maybe somebody else did. If you really want to find out, go ask someone you trust with a Ph.D. in this stuff, because I can’t tell you for certain.
But as readers of the Bible, we have to face the reality of this weirdness. Maybe Mark didn’t write these final verses. Even so, they’re at least consistent with Matthew, Luke, and John. If they represent a later addition by some overzealous scribe, I can’t entirely blame him for trying to codify the truth about Jesus Christ’s earthly life after death while not wanting the last word to be “for.”