The classical ending of the tragedy of “the Gospel” of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

Mark’s penchant for ironic reversals is well-known. We run into difficulties, however, when we stop short and fail to see irony in his account of Peter, the twelve, and even the nature of the work itself as a “gospel”. Mark loves paradoxes: the cross is both a shame and a glory; life is only found through death; honour through dishonour; Peter’s confession is both the high point and low of his career; and on an on — enough to fill an entire book like Jerry Camery-Hoggatt’s Irony in Mark’s Gospel. So it need not be surprising that his gospel would, ironically, embody a tragedy.

The good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ is also the tragedy of his disciples. Jesus is “good news” for the gospeller’s audience, but the narrative is also a tragic warning to that same audience. The disciples in Mark serve the same function as the Israel (the many Israel’s really, generation after generation) in the Jewish scriptures. They are a warning and spiritual lesson to whatever the audience of the day who were to see themselves as the “new Israel”. (I have shown in an earlier post that the evidence for the historicity of the Twelve — especially as argued by John P. Meier — is so thin as to be virtually nonexistent.)

Tragedies, whether Latin, Greek, Jewish or Mesopotamian, very often had a conclusion that indicated a final horrific reversal of themes and images found in their beginnings. These conclusions could also be abrupt. Too abrupt for modern tastes.

I touched on these points in one of the first posts I ever composed for this blog — Those Strange NT Endings (Mark, John, Acts).

I was recently reminded of the thematic and literary correpondences between the Histories of the Greek historian, Herodotus, and Israel’s Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings) and once again I could not help comparing the Gospel of Mark. It’s original ending — at 16:8 — is a perfectly coherent one when the tragic side of the gospel is recognized. (Mark 16:9-20 is not found in the earliest manuscripts or evidence for this gospel, and can be shown to be a later addition by a scribe conflating elements of the endings of Matthew and Luke.)

Note the allusions to the beginnings, and their tragic reversals . . . . Continue reading “The classical ending of the tragedy of “the Gospel” of Mark”