Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Who wrote the ending of Mark?

Towards the end of the Gospel of Mark, in Chapter 16, most Bibles contain a note just before 16:9 that the earliest manuscripts of Mark do not have the final verses, 16:9-20, the "long ending". What are we to make of those final verses? How early are they? Is there any sense in which they're authentic or reliable? When were they written and who wrote them?

The verses, if not original, are known to be early because already in the 100's A.D. there are quotations of Mark's long ending. Irenaeus quoted the long ending around the year 180 in his book Against Heresies (III:10). Tatian seems to have incorporated the long ending of Mark into the Diatessaron (LV), which was probably written by around 160 A.D.

As it turns out, we do have one note passed down to us from earlier ages about who wrote the long ending to Mark.
An Armenian manuscript of the Gospels, dated 986, discovered by F. C. Conybeare in 1891, attributes Mark xvi:9-20 (the 'long ending') to the 'elder Aristion'. This may refer to Papias' Aristion, and may be correct. ("Who's Who in Eusebius" appendix, from entry on Aristion, Penguin Classics Edition of Eusebius' History of the Church, 1965, new editorial material © Andrew Louth, 1989).
By its mention in this footnote, I have to assume that this information has been known to professional scholars of church history for some time, though it has not yet crossed over into common knowledge.

Even amateur students of church history will have met Aristion before, though possibly without recognizing or taking special note of his name. The early church leader Papias made some comments about where he received his information, and he lists some names. Among a series of names that are very familiar to us, we see the one unfamiliar name, Aristion:
And whenever anyone came who had been a follower of the presbyters, I inquired into the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any other disciple of the Lord, and what Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord, were still saying. For I did not imagine that things out of books would help me as much as the utterances of a living and abiding voice. (Quote of Papias preserved by Eusebius in History III:39, introduced by Eusebius as originally occurring in Papias' preface to his work The Sayings of the Lord Explained.)
Papias lived and wrote in the first half of the second century; that is to say, this quote mentioning Aristion is probably not later than 150 A.D. In this quote, Aristion is identified as someone who had himself known Christ. Is it possible that he wrote the ending to the Gospel of Mark?

The timing is right: Aristion lived early enough to have made this addition to the Gospel of Mark in time to be quoted in the 100's A.D. He seems to have outlived many of Jesus' other disciples; Papias refers to what various other disciples used to say but to what Aristion was still saying, implying his survival at a later date. The circle of personal connections is right: Aristion had known Jesus and, judging by the honorable company in which he is listed by Papias, he was well respected in early church. And then there is the matter of the ancient manuscript which names him as the author: there is no apparent reason to have attributed that text to Aristion except for the obvious reason: whoever originally inserted that comment into the text had reason to believe that it came from Aristion.

Speaking for myself, one comment in one manuscript that is centuries removed from the original information is not enough to achieve complete certainty. But the information does fit, and unless further information comes to light I would accept Aristion as the probable author of Mark's long ending.

I've tracked down some more information, for those interested. The discovery by Conybeare had a writeup in the October 1893 (yes, 1893) issue of the Expositor, according to the references I can find. There were some subsequent discussions in the Expositor as to whether the person referenced was Aristion (from Papias) or Ariston of Pella, also of about the right time period. The name in the text is 'Ariston', though 'Ariston' was a common misspelling of 'Aristion' they say, and nobody was willing to put a huge amount of weight on the spelling of the name rather than just probabilities as to which one would more likely do that kind of work. The arguments that I read seemed to be leaning somewhat towards Papias' Aristion, though possibly with someone else doing the actual penmanship. I think the scholars studying the material got as much as they possibly could (or even more) from the one-liner in the manuscript about the origin of that section. I did see some images of the manuscript on-line (though not of the page of interest here). The manuscript seems to be called the "Etschmiadzin manuscript". So I'd probably give it 60/40 of being Aristion at this point, just based on the arguments I've heard, with the other 40 going to Ariston of Pella.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

That's a lovely, solid piece of work on your part. Thank you for the info!

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you. For a long time I had wondered who had written the ending. When I came across that footnote, I had to mention it. :)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Greetings Anne:

Mark 16:19 is, as you noted, cited by Irenaeus in “Against Heresies” Book III, 10:5-6, written in 184. Tatian included Mark 16:9-20 in the Diatessaron, which he produced in about 172. And Justin Martyr cites a combination of Mark 16:20 and Luke 24:52 in the Synoptics-Harmony that he used, in “First Apology” chapter 45. And recently no less a scholar than Robert Stein mentioned the Epistula Apostolorum (c. 150-180) as yet another early witness for these verses.

About the Armenian manuscript Etchmiadzin-229, which is now known as Matenadaran 2374 (because it has been transferred to another collection): what we have here is the simple note “from Ariston the elder” (“Ariston eritzou”) written in red ink, between the lines, between the end of Mark 16:8 and the beginning of Mark 16:9. Does this mean that the copyist – in 989 – had access to some authentic tradition about the authorship of Mark 16:9-20? Well, some things should be considered when answering that question:

(1) This Armenian MS is special. It is not the earliest Armenian Gospel-MS in existence, but it includes a post-script which states that it was produced by a copyist named Johannes under the instruction of a monk named Stephanus, “copied from authentic and old originals.” Also, the MS is accompanied by a cover and by two full-page illustrations, which are much older than the main part of the manuscript. The scribal note says that the covers and the illustrations are from the first half of the 500’s. So it seems logical to conclude that at least one master-copy of Matenadaran-2374 comes from before 550. This increases the “weight” of the manuscript considerably.

(2) F. C. Conybeare did not describe the features in this MS at the end of Mark accurately. (If you go to and download Henry Swete’s commentary on Mark, you can find therein a black-and-white picture of the page of this MS.) He claimed that the ornamental flourishes that appear on the last line of 16:8 “indicate that the Gospel proper of Mark is ended,” but this feature appears elsewhere in the MS at the end of paragraphs. Conybeare also claimed that the a large design composed of concentric circles of color near the end of verse 8 shows that the copyist regarded Mark’s proper ending at the end of verse 8, but E.C. Colwell pointed out in 1937 that the this feature also occurs elsewhere in the MS at the end of paragraphs within gospels. Once these things are sorted out, it becomes clear that the title “Ariston the elder” was not added by the copyist as a sub-title for a separated section of text. Verses 9-20 are not actually separated from 16:8 in any special way; the note “of Ariston the elder” was inserted between the lines, after the text was written. So there is no reason to suppose that these words were present in the master-copy.

(3) There are over 800 years between the lifetime of Ariston (a.k.a. Aristion) and MS Matenadaran-2374. And there are over 300 years between the lifetime of Ariston and the translation of the Gospels into Armenian. It would be remarkable to find an authentic tradition preserved only in one MS in one transmission-stream, and nowhere else. Conybeare thus had a right to be excited about his discovery. But there’s another explanation besides the theory that an Armenian copyist in 989 had exclusive access to some genuine ancient tradition about the authorship of Mark 16:9-20.

(4) The Armenians were big fans, so to speak, of Eusebius of Caesarea, the scholar/historian who served as bishop of Caesarea in the early 300’s. (Practically all Armenian copies of the Gospels include Eusebius’ Canon-Tables, a cross-reference system for the Gospels. In many Armenian MSS the Eusebian material is elaborately decorated.) Eusebius’ writings were highly respected. If you read a bit further in the part of “Ecclesiastical History” which you already cited (3:39),you will see that Eusebius, after mentioning Aristion, writes as follows: “We must now point out how Papias, who lived at the same time [i.e., the same time that Philip’s four daughters were said to be living in Hierapolis], relates that he had received a wonderful narrative from the daughters of Philip; he relates that a dead man was raised to life in his day. He also mentions another miracle relating to Justus, surnamed Barsabbas, how he swallowed a deadly poison, and received no harm, on account of the grace of the Lord.”

In this citation from Papias, the daughters of Philip are identified as the source of the story about a dead man who was raised to life. But who was the source of the story about Justus Barsabbas (cf. Acts 1:23)? Only a small speculative leap would connect the story to Aristion, since Papias identifies him as one of the sources of the stories he preserved.

Some manuscripts have material in the margins, consisting of pertinent snippets from the writings of revered authors. An Armenian copyist who knew about the story of Justus Barsabbas – told by Aristion to Papias, and mentioned by Eusebius – could add a margin-note next to 16:18, not to express the idea that all of 16:9-20 originated with Aristion, but simply as an abbreviated way of conveying that an instance of the fulfillment of 16:18 was related by Aristion.

Now picture an Armenian copyist hundreds of years later: he finds an ancient copy of the Gospels and decides to make a copy of it. He is aware, like many Armenian copyists, that the last 12 verses of Mark were rejected by Eusebius of Caesarea. He notices, in his exemplar, in the margin, the note “From Aristion the elder.” But instead of seeing it as a reference to the mention of Aristion in “Ecclesiastical History” 3:39, and connecting it specifically to 16:18, he misinterprets it to mean that the entire disputed passage is the work of Aristion, and so instead of keeping it in the margin, he reformats it as an interlinear gloss before 16:9.

Such a theory is of course theoretical, but it completely explains the evidence.

A little more info about Aristion: in the apocryphal composition known as the “Acts of Peter,” a character named Aristo is identified as a Christian from Puteoli (in Italy) who worked with Peter. And in the “Apostolic Constitutions” Book 7, ch. 4 (written in about 380, but based largely on earlier source-materials), the first three bishops of Smyrna (the city in Asia Minor) are listed as Aristo the first, then Strataeas the son of Lois, and the third Aristo.” Figuring that there was a father and a son, both named Aristo, who served as bishop at Smyrna, we have here in “Apostolic Constitutions” the reason why Ariston is referred to as the elder (to distinguish him from his son); we also see in “Acts of Peter” the reason why a bishop of Smyrna could be considered capable of supplying a supplement for the Gospel of Mark, inasmuch as “Acts of Peter” pictures Aristo working side-by-side with Peter in Rome, before moving to Smyrna.

Bottom line: the note in Matenadaran-2374 is almost certainly the result of (a) the copyist’s misunderstanding of a short marginal note that was originally intended to point out that 16:18 was fulfilled in a story from Aristion, combined with (b) the copyist’s awareness that Mark 16:9-20 was disputed.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Tony-Allen said...

No need to debate...t'was I who wrote the ending to Mark.

Jokes aside, good work on research on the part of both Anne and James ;)