Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Ending of Mark (Part 2 of 4): Documentary Evidence

     The Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8 in some manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus of the fourth century. While these two documents are highly esteemed as the earliest surviving copies of the complete New Testament, this in itself does not guarantee their accuracy. They are commonly touted as the "best" simply because of their advanced age, yet their survival is fundamentally due to chance of locality. The dry, arid climate of Egypt is conducive to preserving papyrus materials, but if they had been located elsewhere (e.g. Rome or Syria), it is doubtful that their alleged  "superiority" would have been recognized, and it is unlikely they would have endured.
     Vaticanus is full of careless transcription, including omissions and repetitions, and in the Gospels alone words or entire clauses are left out no less than 1,491 times. Sinaiticus is also replete with transcriptional error, including numerous careless omissions and variant readings (see J. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses 73-76). W. N. Pickering observes: "But the evidence indicates that the earliest [manuscripts] are the worst. It is clear that the Church in general did not propagate the sort of text found in the earliest [manuscripts], which demonstrates that they were not held in high esteem in their day" (Identity of the NT Text 122). Vaticanus and Sinaiticus often diverge from one another, with one or the other agreeing with the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and this early witness (along with multitudes of others) contains the last twelve verses of Mark 16.
     What about the claim that some manuscripts (e.g. codices 20, 137, 138, 215, 264, 300, 1221, 2346) are marked to indicate the questionable nature of these verses? Evidently there was enough textual evidence available to the respective scribes to justify the inclusion of the passage rather than excising it. In ancient manuscripts asterisks (*) signify added words and obeli (÷) omitted words, while the use of τλ (telos) merely designates a lectionary break and not a spurious passage at all. Upon further investigation, we learn that in 20, 215 and 300 (where the mark comes after v. 15 rather than v. 8), and in 138 and 137 (where asterisks do not appear), the marginal notations all claim the genuineness of the passage, with the observation that omission occurs only in "some" (tisi) manuscripts. Further, in 264, 1221, and 2346 the symbols simply mark the end and the beginning of lectionary readings. All of these witnesses actually provide added support for the validity of the text.
–Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Ending of Mark Part 1Ending of Mark Part 3, Ending of Mark Part 4, Text of NT Part 1, Text of NT Part 2

Related articles: J. E. Snapp, Jr., Sorting Out Common Mistakes

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  1. An inspiring bit of research. I'm curious about the illustration. Is it from Siniticus or from Vatacan? It's name in the HTML source is mark+coptic.jpg, but I don't know what that means.

    1. The image is a leaf from an ancient Coptic (Egyptian) codex manuscript of Mark's Gospel.