Tag Archives: Young Man in the Tomb

McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 3

[This post concludes my review of “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” by Dr. James F. McGrath. You may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.]

Fish stories

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of part 1, I mentioned that McGrath commits the fallacy of relying on other gospels to shape his expectations of how Mark should end and then magnifies that error by looking for clues to the end of Mark’s “story” in other written gospels. I had to delay this discussion until now, because I spent so much time writing about oral tradition and “orality” in part 2.

The idea that a possible continuation of Mark’s story might be found in the incomplete, apocryphal Gospel of Peter or perhaps in the canonical Gospel of John is not a new one. McGrath reminds us that Burnett Hillman Streeter back in 1924 (The Four Gospels), building on C. H. Turner’s work proposed that very thing.

McGrath writes:

Streeter was of the view that not only the story in chapter 21, but also the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden, were derived from the Gospel of Mark. (See Streeter, 1924, pp. 351-360)

To be fair to Streeter, he presented this notion as a “scientific guess” — a “speculation” he said should not be mistaken for the “assured results of criticism.” While he seemed rather enamored of the idea, he acknowledged that it would be difficult to prove.

Streeter thought that the authors of the Gospels of Peter and John were aware of an earlier version of Mark that contained the appearance to Mary Magdalene and the miraculous fish fry on the lake, and that the later evangelists built on those stories. read more »

McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 1

The Two Marys at the Tomb
“The Two [or Three] Marys at the Tomb” by Bartolomeo Schedoni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stopping short

In his paper, “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” Dr. James F. McGrath asks some interesting questions about the last chapter of Mark and what “story” the author may have understood to lie beyond it. This sort of question reminds me of the difference between the larger story arc of a character’s life in a play or film and the limited, internal story within the work itself. We have the backstory of the characters leading up to the opening scene, and we often also wonder what will happen after the curtain falls.

Mark’s Gospel, like many stage plays, covers a focused narrative that depends on our familiarity with a rich backstory (the entire OT?).  And similar to many plays based on well-known myths or historical events, we know (or we think we know) what will occur afterward. So the question at hand is, “What did Mark think happened next?” Surely such a question is legitimate, since the story of the early Christian church presumably begins somewhere in the murky shadows beyond the grave in Jerusalem. How did the early church emerge from two silent, terrified women?

McGrath’s paper addresses four major questions.

  1. Why do we perceive the short ending of Mark to be problematic?
  2. Why might Mark’s original audience not have thought it was problematic?
  3. Can we find clues to the ending of Mark’s Gospel (beyond the written ending, that is) in the Gospels of Peter and John?
  4. Does the ambiguity of the empty tomb story in Mark point to a greater reliance on religious experiences in Galilee that gave rise to the belief in the resurrection?

He must have died while carving it . . .

Just to be clear here, McGrath is not talking about a written ending that somehow got lost or was mysteriously suppressed. Nor does he posit that Mark died in the middle of chapter 16 — “. . . for they were very afraid — Aaaaagh!” Most modern scholars now believe Mark’s Gospel ended at 16:8 (often referred to as the Short Ending or “SE”). McGrath is asking what the author of Mark and his community believed happened after the disciples had scattered. That is, what happened once the curtain fell on the final scene with the women too afraid to tell anyone what had happened? read more »

Why Christ rose from the dead in four different ways

Five different ways if you count the Gospel of Peter but few of us know much about that Gospel so I’ll restrict myself to what we find in those burning candles of spiritual wisdom drawn out from the dark Orient by the iron tongs of Rome — the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark. Luke and John.

Let me be perverse and open not with the first but with the second of these. I’ll conclude with the third but not omit the fourth. read more »

That Mysterious Young Man in the Gospel of Mark: Fleeing Naked and Sitting in the Tomb

Baptism of Christ. Fresco in Cappadocia
Image via Wikipedia

An old (1973) article in the Journal of Biblical Literature by Robin Scroggs and Kent I. Groff make a case that the young man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and the young man (reappearing?) in the tomb to announce Jesus’ resurrection were originally created as symbols of the baptism ritual for new converts to Christianity.

The young man having his linen cloak (σινδόν / sindon) snatched from him is substituted by Jesus who is entering into his “baptism” of suffering, death and burial — as depicted by Jesus himself being wrapped in a σινδόν/sindon for burial. The young man then reappears in the tomb, sitting on the right side, clothed in white like Jesus at the transfiguration. These narrative scenes find their meaning in the baptism ritual of early Christians: the initiate first removed his garment and entered the baptism naked and was then given a new robe to symbolize a new life in the resurrected Christ. read more »

Jewish Mysticism and Heavenly Ascent Legends and the Context of Christian Origins

Moses Comes Down from Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:25,2...
Image via Wikipedia

Some of the most interesting work I read to help expand my understanding of early Christianity comes not from traditional biblical scholarship but from classical literature and Jewish studies. Here are a few new questions about the religious world from which Christianity emerged I would like to investigate. They came to mind as I read an old article (1971) in the Jewish Quarterly Review by Dr Joseph P. Schultz, Angelic Opposition to the Ascension of Moses and the Revelation of the Law. I really do need to read a lot more from specialist Jewish studies that do not directly attempt to address New Testament literature. I feel such publications are giving me an unfiltered view of the broader context of religious thought contemporaneous with our earliest Christian records.

So what on earth led me to read a 1971 article in the JQR? Blame April DeConick for that. I was following up some footnoted articles, and footnoted articles in those articles, from her Voices of the Mystics (in which she discusses the relationship of the Gospel of John to mystic forms of Christianity), and one of those led me to the 1971 article. It is all interesting stuff when read alongside some of the New Testament epistles and the Ascension of Isaiah, too. But this post confines itself to general questions arising.

Ascension themes in Mesopotamian literature read more »

Why did Jesus not wait for his disciples at his tomb? — Or, Why did the disciples not follow Jesus on water? — same question

I’m restricting this question to a study in the Gospel of Mark, and to its ending at 16:8 with the women fleeing in dumbstruck fear and after the young man told them to:

Go and tell his disciples, and Peter: He is going before (προαγει) you into Galilee: there you will see him, as he said to you. (16:7)

Why the rush? Why did the author want to write story where Jesus leaves the disciples behind?

I’ve no doubt someone has discussed this before much more competently somewhere in the lit, but this being my turn to notice it too, here goes.

The last time we saw Peter in Mark’s gospel he was caught “following Jesus” but “from afar (απο μακροθεν)” (14:54). But from this distance he was cornered into a situation where he felt his only escape was to deny Jesus who by this time was on his way to the cross.

Before that, all the disciples had “forsaken Jesus and fled” (14:50).

Earlier the author had even linked the denial of Peter and failure of all the disciples with Jesus saying he “would go before them” to Galilee. Will return to that link near later in this discussion.

The forsaking and denying of Jesus is a complete turn around from their first encounter with Jesus. So back to the beginning:

The first calling and following

The beginning is a mysteriously immediate following the moment Jesus — who was passing or walking by — called them.

And as he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew . . . Then Jesus said to them, “Come after me . . .” (Ditto as he walked a little farther and saw James and John.)

And as he passed by, he saw Levi . . . and said to him, “Follow me . . .”

In each case those called immediately responded and followed.

The starkness of the call, and particularly the equal starkness of the immediate response following, registers in the reader’s mind, right through to the end and beyond.

Later there is another incident where one person wants to follow Jesus, but is forbidden to do so. The one possessed by Legion (the multitude of demons) had spent time among the tombs, an outcast among the dead. Having restored him, Jesus authorizes him to go back and preach among his people.

But back to those called to follow him. read more »

The Young Man in the Tomb in “The Existential Jesus”

Wow, I love it when I read of an idea I have often wondered about being picked up by someone else who has obviously wondered the same things, but then gone on to develop that idea in a way that forces me to start reading the basic text again from scratch.

John Carroll does not allow for the young man who appears in the tomb at the end of Mark’s gospel to be an angel.

He is not an angel, as some have speculated; if we were, Mark would have said so. (p.127 of The Existential Jesus)

Mark reads more like a Greek tragedy in prose than a Christian text: read more »