The “Original” Ending of Mark?
Last year I was given copy of a recent book that presents an argument for Mark 16:9-20 being the authentic ending of the Gospel of Mark: Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014). It’s a substantial book, and the author has clearly invested a good deal of effort in it. Moreover, it’s generally free of the sniping sort of comments about those with whom he disagrees that one sees in some (here un-named) advocates of a similar position. But I have to say that it’s a noble failure to make the case.
To be sure, Lunn is able to score a point here and there in correcting the occasional statement of evidence by some commentators on Mark, especially when discussing the “external evidence” (i.e., evidence of manuscripts and the witness of ancient Christian writers).
But there are failures of his own, among them a failure to distinguish between evidence that material in Mark 16:9-20 was known to this or that ancient Christian writer, and evidence that the writer knew the material as part of Mark. Other reviewers have noted other flaws in Lunn’s handling of the evidence: see, e.g., Peter Head’s blog-postings (here, here, and here, with further postings to come I think), and a review by Stephen Carlson here.
This isn’t the place for a full and detailed engagement with the book, in which Lunn also proffers literary reasons that Mark 16:9-20 is original, and tries to rebut analyses about the “non-Markan” language in the passage. Instead, I’ll simply offer a couple of observations that are telling for me.
Yes, there is reason to think that 16:9-20 was part of some copies of Mark at an early point, perhaps as early as sometime in the early/mid second century. That’s both true but not as telling as Lunn wants it to be. Those of us who doubt the authenticity of 16:9-20 think that early on the endings of the other Gospels made people want a more “satisfactory” ending to Mark.
To my mind, the key weaknesses in Lunn’s case are his handling of the resurrection topic, and his attempt to account for the supposed removal of 16:9-20 from Mark. Lunn makes the Markan witness to Jesus’ resurrection pretty much stand or fall on 16:9-20. But the Markan witness to the belief is both assured and clear at various other points. Jesus’ three-fold passion/resurrection predictions (8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34), Jesus’ reiteration of this prediction in 9:9), and in 14:28, which the figure in the empty tomb cites in 16:7, and, of course, the figure’s declaration in 16:6 as well, all make it clear that Mark’s Gospel presents the familiar early Christian belief that God raised Jesus from death. Lunn’s Preface shows his apologetic anxiety about the matter, but he is misguided in thinking that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection stands on Mark 16:9-20 (and the ignorant critics of Christian faith that he cites in the Preface err in the matter also).
Second (and related to the preceding point), Lunn’s proposal for why 16:9-20 was supposedly removed (suppressed?) from some manuscripts is utterly unconvincing. He proposes that heretical Christians in Alexandria were to blame, because they were uncomfortable with a bodily resurrection notion. But Lunn doesn’t explain why they didn’t remove all these other references to Jesus’ resurrection in Mark, or why they left the much more extended and explicit appearance-narratives in the other Gospels intact. And Lunn doesn’t engage the indications that neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Codex Vaticanus (the two early witnesses to Mark ending at 16:8) were copied in Alexandria anyway. So, how would Alexandrian heretics have affected these two witnesses?
It’s entirely appropriate for scholars from time to time to reconsider positions that are long treated as secure, and seek to test and problematize them, and Lunn’s book is an attempt at this. But in the end, I don’t think that he answers the key question: If 16:9-20 was the original ending of Mark, why would Christians have removed it? For we know that from the 5th century onward it became overwhelmingly accepted.
But go to Peter Head’s blog postings cited above to see oodles of comments by various others, including some vigorous responses by Lunn.