End of the Gospel of Mark from the Codex Sinaiticus by Unknown artist

Unknown artist

End of the Gospel of Mark, from the Codex Sinaiticus, Mid-4th century, Manuscript, The British Library, London, Quire 77, fol. 5r (BL folio: 228 scribe: D), Photo: © The British Library Board Quire 77

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Mark’s Innumerable Endings

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The fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, named after its nineteenth-century discovery at St Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai desert, is the earliest, most complete version of the Gospel of Mark we possess. Sinaiticus’s original story ends anti-climactically with women fleeing the scene and in their silence disobeying the command to tell others. There are longer versions, but their endings were added later, and stylistic comparison with the rest of the Gospel suggests they were created by different writers.

The Codex’s ending concludes the Gospel with the adverb gar (‘for’), which would be like ending an English sentence with the word, ‘because’. So, is this earliest version of Mark a witness to a mutilated Gospel, a text whose first and original conclusion has been torn away? In the Codex’s closest sibling, the contemporaneous fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the Gospel ends identically. Perhaps earlier versions of the same ending motivated scribes to produce their own final account. On the page reproduced here in the space under the second column a second hand has added in abbreviated form, ‘the Gospel of Mark’.

Whatever the author of Mark’s Gospel intended (whether this or another ending), the manuscript has taken on a life of its own. The scribe recorded here has added his own words, others more of them. The creators of the Codex have added to Mark’s Gospel in a different way, by incorporating the written words of its text into a collection of writings as costly to produce as it is magnificent. They have thereby transformed its poor Greek and its surprise ending into a material object incongruent with its probable historical origins. The words have been transformed into a beautiful material artefact of ink and leather.

Perhaps we might see that empty column as an invitation to complete the resurrection story, doing what the women failed to. For Mark has this to say: wherever the raised Jesus may be, he is not here on this page—not at this (lost?) ending, nor amidst the longer ones. Could it be that he is there waiting in the empty column for us to create an Easter ending in our own response to the young man’s command at the tomb? To go to Galilee to our own resurrection story? 

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