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The Ending of Mark in the King James Bible

I have been talking about passages of the New Testament that can be found in the King James Bible but were not in the “original” text of the New Testament.  I should stress, there are not thousands of these:  among the hundreds of thousands of differences among our manuscripts, most are not significantly expanded texts that hugely affect a passage/book.  But some areAmong those is the entire ending of the Gospel of Mark, as found in later manuscripts and the KJV.  Here is what I say about it in my book Misquoting Jesus.

 

The Last Twelve Verses of Mark

The next example that I will consider may not be as familiar to the casual reader of the Bible, but it has been highly influential in the history of biblical interpretation and poses comparable problems for the scholar of the textual tradition of the New Testament.  This example comes from the Gospel of Mark, and concerns its ending.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’ passion, we are told that he is crucified and then buried by Joseph of Arimathea, on the day before the Sabbath (15:42-47).  On the day after Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and two other women come back to the tomb in order properly to anoint the body (16:1-2).  But when they arrive they find that the stone has already been rolled away.  Entering into the tomb, they find a young man in a white robe, who tells them “Do not be startled!  You are seeking Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified.  He has been raised and is not here – see the place where they laid him?”  He then instructs the women to tell the disciples that Jesus was proceeding them into Galilee, and that they would see him there, “just as he told you.”  But the women flee the tomb and say nothing to anyone, “for they were afraid” (16:4-8).

And then come the last twelve verses of Mark in many modern English translations, verses that continue the story.  Jesus himself is said to …

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Responses to Misquoting Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag
The Woman Taken in Adultery in the King James Version

36

Comments

  1. talmoore
    talmoore  February 4, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, my hypothesis (and this is just a personal hypothesis) is that the reason the original version of Mark didn’t include the post-Resurrection appearances is that that’s the part that early Christians would have already known and understood. (Notice that Paul in his earlier letters mentions the post-Resurrection appearances, but — as far as I can tell — never mentions the empty tomb.) The way it looks to me, the purpose of Mark’s Gospel was basically to fill in the backstory of Jesus right up to the Resurrection. In the literary world, this would be called a retcon, or retroactive continuity, where a character’s backstory is revised and updated to fit a new narrative.

    One example from ancient literature that I think may be analogous to the Jesus of Mark is the Odysseus of Virgil. Everyone knows that Odysseus eventually managed to get past the walls of Troy via the so-called “Trojan Horse”, and everyone who hasn’t read Homer assumes we get the story from Homer. But Homer only hints at the exploit, alluding to bits and pieces of it in the Odyssey — almost as if his audience already knows it. The details of the Trojan Horse episode of which we are familiar actually come to us from other authors, notably Virgil, who gives probably the most detailed account in the Aeneid roughly 800 years after Homer. So we have to ask, does that mean that Homer and his audience didn’t know about the Trojan Horse? No, of course they knew about it. That’s why Homer only needed to allude to it, because it was a story with which his audience was already likely familiar. It was the “further adventures” of Odysseus that Homer expands in the Odyssey in order to complete Odysseus’ tale. That is, most Greeks already knew about the Trojan Horse story, but the post-Trojan Horse tales of the Odyssey were the new bits created in order to extend Odysseus’ story.

    I think that’s what we’re seeing with the Gospel of Mark. Christians were already familiar with the post-Resurrection accounts, but they wanted to know more about Jesus before his death. That’s when legends grew up about the women finding the empty tomb and stories about Jesus intimitating his death to the disciples, who were too clueless to get the implications, and, most significantly, that Jesus’ arrest and execution weren’t an accident of history, but happened for a reason, a reason that the various Gospel accounts are attempting to unravel and adumbrate.

    A good example from modern times is the legend about George Washington and the cherrytree, a tale created out of whole cloth simply for the purpose of filling in the story of Washington’s (idealized) childhood.

  2. HawksJ  February 5, 2017

    The passage about snakes and speaking-in-tongues was critical in my movement towards agnosticism.

    I can actually remember reading that one day and, for the first time ever, actually grasping what it was implying. I thought to myself, ‘wait, that’s obviously not true; I wonder what else in this book is untrue.’ The rest is history, as they say.

    Of course, I had no idea at the time that it might have been an add-on – which raises an interesting question: if the leaders of my church had taught that the passage was of questionable origin, would that have changed my reaction and, therefore, my course? Very possibly.

    It’s also interesting that whoever added it would choose to manufacture such fantastic claims.

  3. SidDhartha1953  February 5, 2017

    Of course, there is a logical problem with assuming the disciples were never told: someone had to tell the author of Mark that the women told no one. If that was Mark’s ending, is he possibly saying that Jesus miraculously revealed himself to others who did not come from the apostolic tradition — that the eleven never did get his true message and significance?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2017

      Possibly. But I tend to look on it as a fantastic literary ending that simply doesn’t work historically. (As is true of many literary features of hte Gospels — and most books!)

  4. Jayredinger  February 5, 2017

    Hi Bart,

    Is this correct?

    (unlike Mark’s readers, who can understand who Jesus really is from the very beginning).

  5. RonaldTaska  February 5, 2017

    I have been repeatedly taught (often with the books written by Strobel) that the differences in the Gospels are only about incidental details and, moreover, that these differences confirm the historical truth of the Gospels because these differences regarding incidental details show that the Gospel authors did not collaborate with each other and iron out their different accounts. This Mark ending obviously shows that these differences are not just about incidental details since people have died handling snakes in response to this ending in Mark. These deaths mean that the ending of Mark is about far more than incidental details.

  6. clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 5, 2017

    At least on the surface, it sounds like one of the things the evangelist is saying is that the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection is ambiguous. To believe requires faith. Or it helps to explain why faith was not more widespread.

    The most mysterious part is about the women not telling “anyone.” If the women didn’t tell anyone, how did anyone else, including the evangelist, know about the empty tomb? Since people did know about-or at least believed in-the resurrection, it must be a literary device of some kind.

    Or maybe it suggests that people came to believe based on Jesus’s appearances subsequent to the events in the Gospel’s ending rather than based on an empty tomb. The empty tomb might be an inference based on Jesus’s subsequent appearances?

    Does this at all suggest that the community which produced Mark, the earliest Gospel, did not have the resurrection-or at least a more or less physical resurrection-as one of its beliefs? They didn’t have other Gospels or writings to fill in this gap-unless they perhaps had Paul. It seems very odd that such a central belief is not included in the community’s principal-or only-written account of Jesus. No wonder another ending was later added.

  7. godspell  February 5, 2017

    Obviously the disciples would find out–as Christians of that era would know–because Jesus appeared to many of his followers (hundreds, according to Paul). But how many, and what were the nature of these manifestations? There would have been a plethora of differing accounts. There would have been arguments among the faithful as to which stories about the resurrected Jesus were to be taken seriously. It’s literally a part of the Apostle’s Creed Catholics recite during Mass who Jesus appeared to after his death, and they don’t say it was hundreds. There was a real debate about this, for centuries afterwards.

    By ending this way, Mark avoids having to take sides over whose version of the resurrection is correct, which manifestations were real. Thus guaranteeing that his gospel will be read and appreciated by a large cross-section of the faithful.

    It’s a very clever ending, on a variety of levels. Mark, whoever he was, was one of the greatest writers of his time, or any time.

  8. Steefen  February 5, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, what has been your position of where Mark lived after the Ascension of Jesus? Did Mark go to Alexandria?

    Mark the Evangelist (Latin: Mārcus; Greek: Μᾶρκος; Coptic: Μαρκοϲ; Hebrew: מרקוס‎‎ Marqos Amharic: ማርቆስ?) is the traditionally ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark is said to have founded the Church of Alexandria, one of the most important episcopal sees of Early Christianity. His feast day is celebrated on April 25, and his symbol is the winged lion.

    We have another reason to see the gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and The New Testament at-large written under the literary gatekeeping of Rome and woefully, historically incomplete (let alone the inaccuracies, both producing an inaccurate perspective of Christianity in Antiquity) given there was the Alexandrian pogrom/riots which appear in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. The Alexandrian pogrom/riots are as big if not bigger than problems Pontius Pilate raised in Jerusalem.

    If the gospel-writer Mark were a real person, his post-Ascension of Jesus acts deserve Letters, Acts, autobiography or biography.

    After the Gospel according to Mark, is there any writings about Mark, from Mark, or from his followers?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      I don’t think there’s any reliable evidcne to suggest Mark went to Alexancria (not mentioned in NT). And I don’t thiink the author of Mark was John Mark….

      • Steefen  February 7, 2017

        Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

        I don’t think there’s any reliable evidence to suggest Mark went to Alexandria (not mentioned in NT). And I don’t think the author of Mark was John Mark….

        Stephen

        Early Christianity got to Alexandria somehow. What got to Alexandria, Jerusalem Church or Judaism Lite/Pauline Christianity?

        We have the New Testament, Josephus, and Philo of Alexandria. The latter two tell us problems Jews had with Romans. The New Testament gives us less than 50% of the content on this topic that Josephus and Philo give. The Gospels give us the question, should we pay taxes to Caesar. The Gospels give us a lot of torture of Jesus before crucifixion and the crucifixion, but even that is not a direct indictment, more of an accessory to the verdict of Temple authorities. Pro-Roman but not written by Rome or a Roman sympathizer, someone trying to get in the good graces of Rome–dated after Rome had extreme difficulty quelling Jewish military messianism, making the New Testament about a non-military messiah?

        We do not have a Jewish Revolt in Alexandria to put down Jerusalem Church there. Second, you throw out Mark in Alexandria and you throw out Mark as the writer of Gospel Mark. The latter first: Gospel Mark is not with us by a Genesis “Let there be the Gospel According to Mark.” Some person/persons wrote it. How do we know it wasn’t written in Alexandria? Now for the former: after Mark, we have patriarchs of Alexandria after him: Anianus (68–85) and Avilius (85–98 ). Did they write anything under their own name? It would seem Anianus would be involved in the publishing, consulting and distributing of Gospel Mark, Gospel Matthew, and Gospel Luke since they are dated to within his tenure as patriarch of Alexandria. How do you cover these two in your textbooks?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 9, 2017

          Yes, it certainly got to Alexandria somehow. Just as it got to Antioch, Rome, Gaul, Spain, etc. etc. But we almost never know how or by whom.

  9. gchrist4  February 5, 2017

    I just had this thought which I guess should have been obvious. How easy would it have been for Jesus’ followers to find his tomb? Do we have any historical evidence one way or another to indicate to us how easy or difficult it would have been for Mary Magdalene, for example, to have gone to the wrong tomb, possibly an unused one and found it empty? That seems plausible to me as an event that could have started the legend of Jesus’ resurrection. The forty days after his resurrection are so strange that they don’t really jibe with the earlier accounts to me and sound legendary versus some of the pre-crucifiction stories. The fact that his followers didn’t recognize Jesus, and how he walked through walls, etc. sound made up. I could see how in those days something like visiting the wrong tomb could start legends that begin in Judea and end up written down decades later in Greece.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2017

      I don’t think there was a known tomb. If there was, then yes, the question is whether any of the disciples knew where it was. Presumably the one who buried JEsus there would know! But were women watching as the Gospels suggest. I doubt it. But then again, I think the entire burial narrative is a later legend.

      • TWood
        TWood  February 11, 2017

        1. Do you think Mary Mag really was likely the first person to claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? (She seems to be central in all four canonical gospels to the point of rivaling even Peter and John, it seems to me at least).

        2. Do you think Paul doesn’t mention her among the witnesses in 1 Cor 15 is due to his ignorance of the tradition, or because he didn’t think a woman would be as credible so he intentionally left the tradition out?

        3. Is the common view true that Second Temple Judaism didn’t view women as credible witnesses (similar to how Saudi Arabia views women today)—Or is this not actually found in the evidence (e.g. Josephus)?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 12, 2017

          1. Either Mary or Peter; 2. I think Paul just doesn’t know the tradition; 3. Yup, but I don’t think that’s relevant to whether someone would make up the story of the women at the tomb. I discuss this at length in my book How Jesus Became God.

    • godspell  February 7, 2017

      Paul’s account of the risen Jesus is very different from that of the later gospels. Much sketchier, and indicating that hundreds of people may have seen Jesus. I think there were a lot of people having dreams and visions that seemed incredibly real, under the extreme stress of what had happened to Jesus, and bit by bit, that got whittled down into the accounts we have in the gospels. But at the time Mark was writing his gospel, there may still have been so much controversy over this, that he just avoided showing the risen Jesus at all. People reading his gospel could fill in that blank space themselves, with whatever story they had heard about the resurrection.

      Of course, if there was no tomb at all, Mark was himself crediting a story that had already circulated. There must have been so many to begin with.

  10. callmps  February 6, 2017

    I’ve always assumed that the account of the women telling no one was the author’s way to explain the absence of resurrection stories until the 60’s or 70’s, or certainly after Paul’s time.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 7, 2017

      Interesting idea.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  February 9, 2017

      Funny, I thought that the women telling no one part was a rationalization for why the empty tomb story wasn’t known earlier. That is, the Resurrection story came first and the Empty Tomb only came later, when people (rightly) had questions about what happened to Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. To answer that question, evangelists came up with the story of the women at the empty tomb. But since that story seemed to come out of nowhere, the evangalists also had to explain why this story was just coming out now, after the Resurrection story had already been going around. So the evangelists’ excuse was “the women told no one”.

      When you read enough legends, you start to see this kind of pattern again and again. For instance, the legends surrounding King Arthur are replete with such post hoc gap filling. In the earliest accounts, pre-Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was simply a distant king of Britain, and much of his story is clouded in mystery. But people had questions. Who was Arthur’s queen? Where was his castle? Who were his retainers? Who was his teacher? Etc. So starting with men such as Geoffrey, Arthur’s history slowly got filled in. Over centuries, every hole in Arthur’s narrative was filled in by subsequent authors, culminating in T. H. White’s monumental ‘The Once and Future King’, a complete narrative from Arthur’s birth to dead, in fantastic detail.

  11. Dhul_Qarnayn  February 7, 2017

    Interesting read professor I was just wondering I heard a scholar say that many scholars believe that mark 16:7 wasn’t originally in the pre markan source but was added in by Mark, can you please explain why that is and what exactly is the pre Markan source?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 7, 2017

      I don’t see any evidence for that view (and I’m not sure who seriously propounds it). It doesn’t make sense of v. 8, since if they were not told to say something, why point out that they never did so?

  12. godspell  February 7, 2017

    Bart, is there a case to be made that Mark was trying for a consensus gospel? He leaves out the virgin birth story, which must have been circulating by the time he was writing, but probably wasn’t widely accepted yet. He avoids any account of Jesus’ early life at all, the story begins with Jesus being baptized by John, which obviously everyone knew had really happened, and which had to be explained in such a way as to not make Jesus subordinate to John.

    He also really does fudge the issue of Jesus’ divinity (still controversial among the many practicing Jews in the new cult). Everybody in the Christian community agreed Jesus could work miracles, everybody agreed he was messiah, but there was also this sense of something elusive and hard to pin down about him–as you’ve remarked many times, Mark’s gospel is a sort of mystery story, where nobody quite seems to realize who Jesus is, and he never comes out and tells them–they’re supposed to figure it out themselves. He tells the story, to a great extent, by allusion. People are supposed to decide for themselves what they believe

    He ends with yet another mystery–the mystery of the empty tomb. Whether there really was a tomb is in doubt, but this could mean that the story of the tomb had become widely accepted, and Mark felt there was no controversy there.

    If Jesus was in fact eaten by dogs, as John Dominic Crossan asserts, that could have just been too bitter a pill to swallow, and there was a sort of collective unspoken agreement to forget about it, and an alternative story had to be created. Also, you can’t have a physically risen Jesus if there’s no intact physical remains. People told stories about seeing him in the flesh afterwards, were unable to bear talking about what really happened to his body, and this led to the widespread belief there must have been an entombment. But consensus about who he appeared to afterwards, and how, would have been more diverse. Mark perhaps decided to steer clear of committing to a specific version of the resurrection, because that was politically dodgy.

    After all, anyone who had encountered Jesus after his death would have a special place within the community of believers–which would create the temptation to embellish stories of dreams of visions, or perhaps even make them up out of whole cloth in some cases. Paul’s authority stemmed largely from his story of the vision he had on the road to Tarsus, which obviously could not be confirmed or denied by anyone else.

    Mark has this group of women be the first to know Jesus has risen, but they don’t see him personally, and they don’t tell anyone afterwards, which simultaneously gives them a special position in the church, and then diminishes it.

    I don’t think Mark was expecting anyone to believe Jesus hadn’t appeared to his followers after his death. He was letting each believer tell the rest of the story the way he or she believed it had happened. A tried and true literary device. But in Mark’s case, perhaps a true innovation. Not sure I can think of an earlier case. Maybe among the Greeks?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      If by “consensus” you mean that it was written to establish what everyone should think about Jesus, then yes, I do think so. If you mean that it was written to provide a middle way among other available and alternative accounts that everyone could subscribe to then I think not. So far as we know, it was the first written account.

      • godspell  February 9, 2017

        I believe it was the earliest gospel, certainly the earliest we have now, but obviously Mark was drawing selectively from a great variety of stories that had been circulating in oral and written form in the preceding decades.

        He had to choose which stories to highlight, and if he was hoping to use his gospel to create greater consensus and coherence among the faithful, he might have decided to avoid things that might cause controversy. Like Jesus’s early life–he begins with Jesus as an adult being baptized by John, and apparently hearing God’s voice for the first time. He ends with an empty tomb, and no indication of Jesus appearing to any of his followers, and it’s impossible to believe Mark didn’t believe Jesus appeared to at least some of his followers, and my point is that he didn’t want to take a position on who was so favored.

        Because he wanted to write a book that any Christian could read, whether he or she believed in the Virgin Birth or not, whether he or she believed Jesus appeared to hundreds of people, or just a few. To create consensus, you avoid controversy.

        Then as the later gospels were written, the balance was shifting away from those who did not believe in the divine conception and virgin birth, and the early accounts of the resurrection had been substantially pared down, and also Matthew and Luke may have been more inclined to try and impose their ideas on the faithful, to create consensus by pretending there is no controversy, and never was. And I don’t honestly think John gave a damn either way, he was just going to tell the story he wanted, whether anyone agreed with it or not. I guess I’m doing the same myself, but I honestly do care what you think. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2017

          My sense is that all the Gospel writers were trying to tell the story in a way that would be persuasive to their readers, less that they wanted to give their readers what they wanted to hear (although that was obviously a part of it) and more that they wanted their accounts to shape how their readers thought about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

          • godspell  February 10, 2017

            I certainly don’t think ‘Mark’ was only trying to give the people what they wanted. But what he leaves out of the story is at least as significant as what he puts in, wouldn’t you say?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 12, 2017

            Absolutely! As is true of all Gospel writers — and in fact all writers!

        • HistoricalChristianity  February 14, 2017

          We have no clue what sources Mark used, if any. It’s our earliest bios narrative about Jesus. I think it’s likely the synoptic authors used writings about the ideas of Hillel. They portray Jesus as a sage of Second Temple Judaism, so I think they used Hillel as a source for things Jesus might have said.

          Similarly, I’m not sure we can say for certain what (if anything) Confucius actually wrote.

  13. Eric  February 9, 2017

    I think the abrupt ending is brilliant writing given Mark’s motifs and themes. He was writing for an audience who already had their own understanding of Jesus, theologically.

  14. Jason  February 9, 2017

    Is it really likely that “Mark,” the least sophisticated of the gospel authors, would have intended an ending parallel to a motif of obliviousness? Doesn’t the “motif” read more like a boy’s night story about a hero and his bumbling cadre?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      I think I disagree about Mark. I think he is incredibly sophisticated (and subtle!). Part of his sophistication is precisely that he seems not to be so. But after you read him about a hundred times, you start realizing….

      • godspell  February 10, 2017

        You’ve read Fahrenheit 451, right? i realize there’s only so much time for contemporary fiction in a scholar’s life, but for the benefit of those who haven’t read it, it’s a science fiction novel set in a future where all books have been outlawed, and ‘firemen’ go around finding hidden libraries and turning them into ashes.

        And the protagonist, at the end, finds a community of people who have themselves become living books, by memorizing texts they are not allowed to possess. One will say “I am the Book of Job” or “I am Gulliver’s Travels”, etc. They do this in hope of someday returning the words to paper (perhaps with some textual errors, but one somehow believes they will keep the spirit of the books alive, if not the exact letter).

        I should very much like to be the Gospel of Mark, if that ever came to pass. God help anyone who has to be Remembrance of Things Past. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  February 12, 2017

          Yes, read it a couple of times. Tried to reread it again a couple of years ago, but my taste in literature has gotten a lot more refined and I had trouble handling its rather weak writing! But the concept is fascinating and … important!

    • HistoricalChristianity  February 14, 2017

      Mark is infamous for the briefness of his stories. One of his favorite words is immediately. The other synoptic authors took Mark and added more than they took. But they left behind only 3% of Mark. They obviously thought Mark was too brief.

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