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 . . . .

  • The reference to Peter at the end (16:7) is a classic reminder of the failure of a lead character, certainly the leading disciple, in whom so much hope had once resided.
  • Just as the would be victors (spiritually) had come out from Jerusalem into the wilderness to seek salvation (from a messenger of Jesus), . . .
  • and just as others initially followed Jesus himself, leaving all of their old world, family and home, behind, . . .
  • so at the end they come seeking near Jerusalem, now become the spiritual wilderness, in the place of tombs, Jesus. . . .
  • They see, however, a messenger of Jesus — as at the beginning.
  • Instead of following where Jesus is going on ahead, they instead flee in fear, thus losing their (eternal) lives.

This is exactly how we could expect the “gospel” of Mark to conclude if it is understood as a tragedy of the “old Israel”, the “old wineskins“, for the spiritual profit of the “new” people of God, Mark’s original audiences.

The Histories of Herodotus is likewise an historical tragedy. Modern studies of Herodotus have opened up the view of his Histories as   a theological narrative, with its regular references to Greek relations with Apollo and the theme of hubris against a deity. The Persians are the obvious primary victim of this hubris, but more significantly,  their consequent tragic sufferings and final fall is written as a philosophical or even theological lesson for the Greek audience of Herodotus. He is warning his own race against hubris, and even narrates beginning signs of this among the Athenians as they begin to emerge triumphant over the Persians.

There is probably little need to explain the Primary History as a similar tragedy.

So it is, I think, an interesting exercise to compare their endings with each other, and both with that of the Gospel of Mark. Of course these are not the only tragedies. I could also bring in some Greek plays that were well known throughout the Hellenistic and early Roman eras. But I think in this literary context, it can be less problematic to accept 16:8 as the original ending of this gospel, er, tragedy.

The Ending of Herodotus’s Histories: (Online text begins here)

  1. It ends abruptly. No epilogue or similar concluding summary or comment.
  2. Reference is made to the key figure at the beginning of the book, King Cyrus. The original hope of Cyrus at the beginning is brought to remembrance at the time of the tragic failure, through hubris, of the Persians.
  3. As foretold by the narrator in book 7, the Persian governor of the last Persian city in Greece was crucified. This was at the exact same spot where the awe-inspiring bridge between the continents of Asia and Europe had been earlier built.
  4. The Persians are forced to retreat back to Asia where they had advanced from in ignominious defeat.

Also noteworthy by way of conclusion:

  • The last city of the Persians in Europe was long besieged, suffered extreme hardships, was deserted by its governor . . .
  • Its governor, Artayctes, fled, was captured, returned in chains, crucified, and forced to witness the butchering of his son.

The conclusion of the Jewish Primary History: (Genesis to 2 Kings)

  1. It ends abruptly. In failure.
  2. Allusion is made to Joseph, a patriarchal founder of Israel, by the imprisoning of Jaehoichin, and lifting him out of prison to sit with the king.
  3. The last of the Israelites return ignominiously to where they had originated — Egypt and Babylonia.

Also noteworthy

  • The city of the hope of David was long besieged, sufferend extreme hardships, and was deserted by its king . . .
  • Its king, Zedekiah, fled, was captured, returned in chains and was forced to witness the butchering of his sons before being blinded.

And to recap . . . .

The end of the Gospel of Mark: (16:1-8)

  1. It ends abruptly. In failure.
  2. Reference is made to the key figure at the beginning of the book, Peter, the one in whom rested the most hope, but who had proved himself to be ashamed of Jesus before men.
  3. Just as people had come from Jerusalem to the wilderness to hear the messenger clothed in wild garments proclaim Jesus, so at the end the people in Jerusalem (the spiritual wilderness), the city of the hope of David, come to the tombs to seek Jesus, but see instead a messenger in fine garments proclaim Jesus. As the people had come out from Jerusalem to follow, and as the disciples had followed, they now flee in fear. Jesus goes on ahead, but they no longer follow as before.

And of course

  • The disciples (both men and women), on facing persecution, fled from Jesus . . .
  • Jesus was crucified, an event which is at least twice, maybe thrice, linked to the final destruction of Jerusalem (11:15; 13:2; 15:38)


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26 thoughts on “The classical ending of the tragedy of “the Gospel” of Mark”

  1. “so at the end they come seeking near Jerusalem, now become the spiritual wilderness, in the place of tombs, Jesus. . . .”

    I think the ironic balancing act is better than that. It looks like Nazareth was a first century cemetery. That means Jesus came from the dead at the beginning and came from the dead at the end. It may help explain why the demons recognize Jesus.

      1. From the above site:

        Most scholars summarily dismiss the “invention” of Nazareth on the grounds that the town is frequently mentioned in the Christian gospels. Unwittingly, archaeology is thus held hostage to literary considerations. The textual case for Nazareth in the gospels is much weaker, however, than is generally supposed. The settlement is named only once in the Gospel of Mark, at 1:9 (other instances in the Greek text read “Jesus the Nazarene”). The passage as it stands demonstrably conflicts with the remainder of the gospel, which locates Jesus’ home in Capernaum. Thus, it can be shown that the Gospel of Mark contains the later interpolation of a single word, “Nazaret” at 1:9.

        Matthew’s gospel copies and builds on the baptism scene in the Gospel of Mark. Matthew at this point says simply that Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized, thus indicating that this is what he read in his copy of Mark’s gospel. A copyist has subsequently added Nazareth to Mark at this point.

  2. Greetings Neil.

    About Mark 16:9-20 — I think you are declaring this passage inauthentic far, far too casually. A careful analysis will show that it is not a conflation of the post-gospel appearances in Matthew and Luke. Besides the materials in Mk. 16:17-18 that are in neither Mt. nor Lk, we also have several details in the LE of Mark which are unique.

    In addition, while two important fourth-century MSS do not contain these 12 verses, one of those MSS leaves blank space after Mk. 16:8, deliberately (including an entire blank column), and the other one does not have its original pages for all of Mark 14:54-Luke 1:56. Plus, Irenaeus cited 16:19 as part of the Gospel of Mark in 184, and Tatian used the entire passage when he made the DIatessaron in about 172, and Justin Martyr almost certainly makes a strong allusion to 16:20 in “First Apology” ch. 45. Considering the greater age, geographical diversity, etc., of the external evidence that supports Mk. 16:9-20, I think those who propose to end the Gospel of Mark at 16:8 might be using higher-critical tooks to solve a lower-critical question.

    For more information on this please e-mail me — james [dot] snapp [at] gmail [dot] com — and I will be glad to send you a very detailed research paper on the subject. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the endings of Mark, and I have written this paper carefully to sort it out, offering a defense of the authenticity of the passage along the way.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    cannot be shown to be a later addition by a 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.)

    1. Presumably the detailed defence you are offering is the same as was linked from the Wikipedia article on Mark 16 and The Text this Week?

      The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 A detailed defense of Mk. 16:9-20, featuring replicas of portions of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus and a list of early patristic evidence.

      The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20,” Jim Snapp II, Minister, Curtisville Christian Church, IN.
      bullet “I believe that the empirical evidence supports the view that the Long Ending was contained in the Gospel of Mark in the form in which it was first produced for distribution in the church, and that it was accepted as Scripture everywhere except in one Egyptian locale (probably Alexandria), where – due to an accident or a copyist’s misinterpretation – it was temporarily lost.”

      Why is it no longer accessible online? If you email it to me would you let me make it openly accessible on the net?

      P.S. Why do you reject the more well known explanations for the blank spaces in Vaticanus?

      Yours in our common humanity 🙂

  3. excuse out of touch occasional in touch with web stuff outside work mindset etc….. but what is FRDB? (same as or similar to internet infidels?) … and what is TAFA?

    (I now live in Singapore and they love acronyms here with a vengeance — I cannot handle any more from beyond the borders than I absolutely critically need to in order to survive for a living. No more acronyms please. Mercy.)

  4. All categories of evidence favor 16:8 as the original ending:


    1) Patristic

    2) Manuscript

    3) Difficult Reading Principle

    4) Variation of alternatives


    1) Tragic ending for a Greek Tragedy


    Especially telling are the confessions of Eusebius/Jerome that qualitatively and quantitatively the manuscripts show 16:8 as the ending.

    The External is relatively well known among students but as Ehrman righteously points out, the average Christian has no idea that 16:9-20 is not original. The Internal support for 16:8 is much less known among students with mainstream Bible scholarship assuming it strongly goes against 16:8 as original. Congratulations to Neil for helping to explain that the Internal evidence favors 16:8 as original.

    I see Apologists often quote Mr. Snapp so I would love to debate the issue with him at FRDB, Errancywiki or anywhere. This is a huge issue as “Mark” is the original Gospel narrative and does not show any post-resurrection disciple witness to Jesus.

  5. Neil:

    The link at Wikipedia should go to a webpage where a summary of my research paper begins: http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html .

    I think the domain may have temporarily expired earlier, but things should be fine now. Certainly you are welcome the contents of the summary to others.

    NG: “If you email it to me would you let me make it openly accessible on the net?”

    A nearly finalized form of the research paper is already online, at the TextExcavation website. (Just search the site for “Snapp” and it should be close.) You are welcome to download the PDF there; the chapter by Dr. Bruce Terry is his material however.

    NG: “Why do you reject the more well known explanations for the blank spaces in Vaticanus?”

    I’m not sure what you mean. The research paper should explain my conclusions fairly thoroughly.

    NG: “You no longer wish to have your arguments published online? Are they only for behind-closed-door by invitation-only viewing?”

    They should be back online at http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html and the PDF remains available at TextExcavation.

    I accept Joseph Wallack’s invitation, provided that the debate will be civil, and will be loosely designed to have a beginning, middle, and ending. He can e-mail me at james [dot] snapp [at] gmail [dot] com to arrange a venue.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  6. Well that’s a start. But it’s only a summary you link to, and I can’t find the full argument in either textexcavation or the tc discussion site. (If you read anything on my blog you should know I do like to be thorough before establishing an argument.)

    But looking at your conclusion in your summary it looks as if you are repeating the same logical fallacy as Bart Erhman (yep, the same sceptic you love to hate 🙂 and N.T. Wright et al — conclusions drawn from the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy.

    I also learned a long time ago now, though still too late, that it is too easy to prove any case you want if one sidesteps or treats “casually” (your term to describe my position in your initial comment) the alternative arguments. But I don’t want to make assumptions from what is said to be only a summary.

    If I am free to quote from your text publicly on this blog you are always free to send the article to the address in my profile. Though it might be quite some time before I respond. And while your full argument is not public, it seems I would only be having a one to one discussion. So other priorities may take over.

    Yours in humanistic rationalist enlightenment,

  7. If you visit
    and scroll down a little, a list of downloadable PDF files should appear. The most up-to-date version of the research paper is
    “The Origin of Mark 16:9-20, eMail Edition.”

    One reason why I suspect that you have rejected Mark 16:9-20 casually, instead of due to a direct study of the evidence, is because of your statement that “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.” The earliest pieces of evidence for the passage are significantly earlier than the earliest evidence for its non-inclusion. Also, several elements in 16:9-20, such as the prophesied signs in 16:17-18, cannot be explained as having been borrowed from Matthew or Luke.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    1. One reason why I am not in a rush to put your argument high on my agenda is your “suspicion” that because I disagree with you I have not “directly studied the evidence”, and have treated it “casually”. I am well aware of the evidence found in authors dated earlier than the extant manuscripts, as are nearly every in depth study I have read on this topic. Your statements here and in your first post give the impression that you think anyone who disagrees with your interpretations of the evidence has not even looked at or seriously weighed the evidence. This is hardly a conducive starting point for an honest respectful intellectual discussion.

  8. Just obtained Gilbert Bilezikan’s [I]The Liberated Gospel[/I]. As far as I know this is the only detailed analysis of “Mark” as Greek Tragedy. You can score a used one for $ 50 and up. After skimming through it I have faith that I am still the foremost authority the world has ever known regarding “Mark” as Greek Tragedy, and Bilezikan, as an evangelistic Christian is wrong in many of his related conclusions. He does the work though in demonstrating that “Mark” clearly has the main elements of Greek Tragedy.

    Obviously Christian Bible scholars would generally have no interest in writing such a book or even addressing such a book but predictably there is no shortage of Apologetics on the Internet denying that “Mark” is Greek Tragedy.

    The book is dated 1977 and I. Howard Marshall, a major Christian Bible scholar (author of the NIGTC for “Luke” and several Pauline Epistles), checked the book for references to the Christian Bible. So the man is connected.

    I’ll post here his major points. I have Faith than many Skeptics here now believe that “Mark” is in the Form of Greek Tragedy, they just don’t know how to articulate and Bilezikan will help do that. I also have faith that after this Thread Bilezikan will regret having written the book.

    My related Thread is at:



    1. Dennis R. MacDonald, “Mythologizing Jesus: From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero” (2015) which recaps much of the Homer aspect, has had some tributes from Christian scholars.

  9. Interesting. Thanks for this. I did read it because the Gospel of Peter is one of my favourite gospels. As some of us know, quite some time ago I explored its relationships with the canonical Gospels, particularly with Mark, only from something of the converse of McG’s approach: I was working with a “GPeter ‘narrative’ as known before the GPeter text” while McG is working with a “GMark ‘narrative’ as known before the GMark text”. http://vridar.info/xorigins/marktraject.htm and http://vridar.info/xorigins/Gospel%20of%20Peter.htm and http://vridar.info/xorigins/GP.htm

    I have no doubt moved on a lot since I wrote those so don’t hold me too harshly to anything I wrote back then.

    You are right, Joseph. If a mythicist wrote an article as distant from any facts or evidence as he does in this article McG would be crowing.

    What struck me most about the article was the clear indicators that McG’s whole interpretative study is based on two assumptions; historicity of the narrative’s core and the existence of a number of oral traditions stemming from that historical core.

    I would suggest a simpler approach to understanding Mark’s ending is to dispense with such assumptions and read it as it is. The women said nothing to anyone, thus leaving the conclusion hanging in yet one more of Mark’s many (even characteristic) ambiguities.

    A problem only arises if we try to relate this narrative to history. How did the disciples ever hear the message and how did Christianity start? But that question simply does not arise if we read the gospel as a story.

    It is our historicist assumptions that create the problem.

    Get rid of the unfounded assumptions and there is no problem with the ending.

  10. JW:
    For all you James McGrath fans here, JM (backwards from MJ, coincidence?) has just had the following published:


    “Mark’s Missing Ending: Article in The Bible and Interpretation”

    Note that JM’s related conclusion:

    “There can be no doubt that, even if the written Gospel of Mark ended at 16:8, the story known to the author and his readers did not.”

    Is not supported by any evidence. There is no evidence of any post-resurrection reunion narrative before “Mark”. JM sounds eerily (creepily?) exactly like the MJs that he mocks.


  11. JW:
    I think “hypocrisy” is too strong a term since it indicates intent but JM’s offending article:


    is a classic illustration of the misuse of the criterion of embarrassment. Not having any post-resurrection reunion with the Disciples would be hugely embarrassing for the Church. Thus, by the criterion, it is solid evidence that post 16:8 was not original in any way. Either for the end of “Mark” or its source. Yet JM never invokes it here. Apparently because when it goes against the conclusion wanted it can be ignored.

    Actually “the criterion of embarrassment” belongs in the broader criterion of External Pressure and is a Qualitative (valuable) criterion.


    1. Of course it can be ignored when not convenient. It’s only purpose is to manufacture evidence for the life of Jesus that is otherwise lacking but absolutely essential to justify an academic study of a culturally sanctioned myth.

  12. JW:
    For all you fans of the original ending of “Mark” I’ve posted Dr. Richard Carrier’s already Legendary article on the subject at

    http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php?title=Main_Page ErrancyWiki

    http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php?title=Legends2 Mark 16:9-20 as Forgery or Fabrication by Richard Carrier, Ph.D. (2009)

    and for those who must have my complimentary corresponding attitude on the subject you can find that here:




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