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?
16 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magʹdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Saloʹme, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 4And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back—it was very large. 5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 6And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” 8And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.