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Would Mark’s Jesus have us handle snakes and drink poison? (part 1 of 2) (BibleWorks 9 review, continued)

August 24, 2012

First century snake handler?

Many believe that Mark’s Gospel ends rather abruptly at 16:8 (“for they were afraid”), but others have found it difficult to think of a Gospel ending with Jesus’ followers’ being afraid to say anything to anyone about the resurrection.

So there is the so-called shorter (add-on) ending of Mark, which adds to the above, “…the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation” (RSV). This has 10 words that otherwise appear nowhere else in the book.  In my view the vocabulary and style of the shorter ending do not seem to fit well with the rest of the Gospel, and have the feel of an effort to give the book closure well after the fact of the writing.

Then there is the so-called longer ending of Mark, which is also not satisfied in ending with his followers’ fear. This records Jesus’ appearance to some of his followers, as well as the commissioning of his disciples, including the hard-to-understand reference to picking up snakes and drinking poison.

Mark could well have ended with “For they were afraid”–Mark is not unknown for being abrupt—nor would he have a problem upbraiding (or reporting Jesus’ upbraiding) people for their lack of faith or for their fear.  But would someone who started so positively with a proclamation of Jesus as “Son of God” in 1:1 have truly ended on such a dour note?  One possibility is that Mark’s original ending was lost.  R.T. France says, “It is one thing to emphasise and exploit paradoxical elements within the story of Jesus’ ministry and passion, as we have seen Mark doing again and again, but quite another to conclude his gospel with a note which appears to undermine not only his own message but also the received tradition of the church within which he was writing” (683).

Of course, lacking evidence of such a “lost” ending means that to postulate one is speculative, and it is perhaps a wiser hermeneutic to accept the text as we have it to be the intended one.

Can BibleWorks help here? One of the major new features in BibleWorks 9 is the BibleWorks Manuscript Project. From the BibleWorks site:

This massive project has been years in the making. BibleWorks 9 includes the first installment of this ongoing work. The BibleWorks Manuscript Project’s initial release covers the following:

  • Sinaiticus
  • Vaticanus
  • Alexandrinus
  • Bezae
  • Washingtonianus
  • Boernerianus
  • GA1141

For these manuscripts, the BibleWorks Manuscript Project includes the following:

  • New full NT transcriptions
  • Complete NT digital image sets (over 7.5 GB!!)
  • Verse location tagging in images
  • Extensive transcription notes
  • MSS comparison tool
  • Morphological tagging (not complete for all manuscripts but updates will be provided free of charge to BibleWorks 9 users as they become available)

Manuscripts are fully searchable and integrated with the full array of BibleWorks analysis tools. As you change verses in BibleWorks, the MS image display tracks with the current verse. Compare, inspect, and analyze the text and images of key original manuscripts. Tweak and enhance the manuscript images using the sophisticated image processing panel now included in BibleWorks.

Before I could even get into the manuscripts, there were two ways BibleWorks immediately helped me to explore this issue. First, with my NET Bible notes open in the Verse Tab (which I review here), I see a nice, lengthy note that explains the options–with manuscript evidence–for Mark’s possible ending. (You can see the NET note itself by clicking on footnote 9 here.) That much I’ve come to expect from BibleWorks.

What pleasantly caught me by surprise was that the NET note mentions a section in Wallace’s Greek Grammar that discusses the grammar of the contested snake-handling verses. I quickly and easily navigated over to the “Resources” tab in my analysis window and looked it up (click for larger image, or open in a new tab):

Wallace’s grammar is free with BibleWorks, a nice bonus. And it’s set up so that as you’re working your way through a text, Wallace tracks with you, so you can easily look up what he has to say about a given verse or grammatical topic.

Already some great help from BibleWorks in exploring a difficult textual issue. In my next post, I’ll use BibleWorks to get into the Mark manuscripts themselves, exploring the possible endings of the Gospel of Mark.

See all that’s new in BibleWorks 9 here.

I received a free upgrade to BibleWorks 9 in exchange for an unbiased review. See my prolegomenon to a review here, part 1 (setup and layout) here, and part 2 (the Verse tab) here. You can order the full program here or upgrade here. It’s on Amazon, too.

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