Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
When believing Christians look at any information with the assumption that Jesus died for their sins on the cross and rose from the dead on the third day, then regardless of the information, they bend it to their ends, as they are looking through the colored lenses of their biases and preconceived ideas. However, if they look at any new information with an open mind and new possibilities then they may come up with more enlightened conclusions. Read on, and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon’s advice, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”
Billions of humans have lived on the planet earth over the centuries and the world population is almost 7 billion at present and none are alleged to be candidate for bodily resurrection on our planet, other than Jesus of Nazareth. If with these prior probabilities we create the possibility that may be Jesus did not resurrect, then the empty tomb and the missing ending of the Gospel of Mark, brings new light to the reader.
One of the most dramatic facts highlighting human interpolation in the Bible is that the conclusion of the gospel of Mark, full 12 verses, are a later addition. This vulnerability is broadly acknowledged now in the Christian circles, see the New International Version of the Bible as an example. It has recently been acknowledged by the Pope Benedict XVI himself as well!
Did the writer of Mark leave it open ended because Jesus had not died on the cross and had been resuscitated, and there was no resurrection?
Even the Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged this fact in his recent writing. Given the missing twelve verses, the Gospel of Mark has been described by some as lacking a resurrection narrative, if not totally lacking lacking at least it has only a minimal resurrection narrative and in its original form, it ended abruptly at the scene of empty tomb.
Prof. Bart Ehrman describes the missing ending or the last 12 verses of the Mark that had been added at a later time in the following words in his recent book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are:
Another famous example occurs at the end of the Gospel of Mark. It is sometimes said by people who have not read the concluding chapter of Mark’s Gospel closely enough that it ‘lacks a resurrection narrative.’ Strictly speaking, that is not true. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is certainly raised from the dead. The women go to the tomb three days after he was buried in order to give his body a proper burial, but the body is not there. Instead, there is a man in the tomb who informs them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Mark, therefore, believes that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, and he tells his readers as much. But what is most astonishing is what happens next.The man at the tomb instructs the women to go to the disciples and tell them that Jesus will go before them to Galilee and that they are to meet him there. But instead of telling the disciples, ‘the women fled from the tomb . . . and they did not say anything to anyone, for they were afraid’ (16:8). And that’s where the Gospel ends. There is definitely a resurrection of Jesus here. But the disciples never learn of it, and there is no account of Jesus’s meeting with any of them.This ending is brilliant. It brings readers up short and makes them say, ‘What??? How could the women not tell anyone? How could no one learn of ]esus’s resurrection? How could Jesus not appear to anyone afterwards? That’s it? That’s the end? How could that be the end?’Scribes felt the same way. And, different scribes added different endings to the Gospel. The ending that became the most popular throughout the Middle Ages was found in the manuscripts used by the translators of the King James Version in 1611, so that it became widely familiar to English Bible readers. In an additional twelve verses the women (or at least Mary Magdalene) do go tell the disciples, who do then see Jesus and become convinced he has been raised. It is in these verses that we find the famous words of Jesus that those who believe in him will be able to speak in foreign tongues, pick up serpents, and drink poison without suffering any harm.
But Jesus never said these words, and Mark never claimed he did. They were added to Mark by a later scribe and then recopied over the years. This is a fabricated story that has been put into the Bible by a copyist who falsified the text.
Bart Ehrman gives the following speculations for the missing ending of the Gospel of Mark, “This ending is brilliant. It brings readers up short and makes them say, ‘What??? How could the women not tell anyone? How could no one learn of ]esus’s resurrection? How could Jesus not appear to anyone afterwards? That’s it? That’s the end? How could that be the end?'” I believe what is more consistent with other historical information is that Mark left it open ended as there were enough people who knew that Jesus had not die on the cross. Mark being the earliest of the canonical gospels had to contend with the earliest followers of Jesus who were not so easily given to hype and propaganda. The writers of later gospels enjoyed greater freedom to insert half truths and exaggerations.
This explanation of lack of ending of Mark is in keeping with the historical facts that I have presented in two of my other articles:
Why the writer of Mark had less of a license to play with reality than the writer of John; to explain this I quote an excerpt from Robert Wright that is particularly insightful in understanding the different books of the New Testament:
“Hard evidence about the ‘historical Jesus’ is scanty. The Bible’s gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and words-the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were written sometime between 65 and 100 CE, thirty-five to seventy years after his death. By that time, their raw material, stories then circulating about Jesus in oral or written form, had no doubt been shaped by the psychological and rhetorical needs of his followers. (The letters of Paul – New Testament books such as Philippians and Romans – were written earlier, beginning around twenty years after Jesus’s death. Unfortunately, they say almost nothing about Jesus’s life and very little about his words.)The book of Mark is generally considered the most factually reliable of the four gospels. It was written around 70 CE, roughly four decades after the Crucifixion. That’s a long lag, but it offers less time for the accrual of dubious information than the roughly five decades available for Matthew and Luke or the six or seven decades for John. What’s more, during Mark’s composition there would have been people sixty or seventy years old who as young adults had personally witnessed the doings and sayings of Jesus and knew his biographical details – and whose recollections may have constrained the author’s inventiveness. This population would shrink during the decade or more before other gospels took shape, expanding creative freedom.Certainly as we move through the gospels in the order of their composition, we can see the accumulation of more and more dubious information. Mark doesn’t give us anything like ‘the plain unvarnished truth,’ but his story is plainly less varnished than are later accounts. (The actual name and identity of the author of Mark, as with the other gospels, is unknown, but in all cases, for convenience, I’ll call the authors by the names of their books.)Consider the problem of Jesus being from a humble village, Nazareth. The Hebrew Bible had said that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David and, like David, would be born in Bethlehem. Mark never addresses the question of how ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ could have been born in Bethlehem. But by the time Matthew and Luke were written, an answer had emerged – two answers, even. Luke says Jesus’s parents went to Bethlehem for a census and returned to Nazareth after his birth. In Matthew’s version, Jesus’s parents just seem to live in Bethlehem. How then would Jesus wind up in Nazareth? Through an elaborate side story that has the family fleeing to Egypt under duress and then, upon leaving Egypt, deeming a return to Bethlehem dangerous, and settling in ‘a town called Nazareth.’ This contradiction between Luke and Matthew suggests that in this case, Mark, the earliest gospel, is the place to find the awkward truth: Jesus of Nazareth was Jesus of Nazareth. (Mathew 2:23) John (1:46-49) solves the Nazareth problem in yet another way.…Indeed, by the time of John there has been a general change in the tenor of Jesus’s miracles. In Mark, Jesus didn’t do miracles ostentatiously, and sometimes he even took pains to perform them in private. (An answer to critics who .noted that few people other than Jesus’s followers claimed witness to his miracles?) In John, Jesus turns miracles into spectacles. Before raising Lazarus from the dead-something Jesus does in no other gospel-he says Lazarus’s illness was ‘for God’s glory, so that the son of God may be glorified through it.’ Moreover, the miracles are now explicitly symbolic. When Jesus heals a blind man, he says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ (Mark 5:37, Luke 8:51, John 11:4 & 9:5)A fairly immodest claim – but John’s Jesus is not a modest man. In no previous gospel does Jesus equate himself with God. But in John he says, ‘The Father and I are one.’ (John 10:30) Christian legend and theology have by this point had sixty or seventy years to evolve, and they are less obedient than ever to memories of the real, human Jesus.All of this suggests that if we are going to try to make a stab at reconstructing the ‘historical Jesus,’ even in broadest outlines, Mark, the earliest gospel, is the place to start. There, more than in any other account of Jesus’s life and sayings, the number of plainly awkward and barely varnished facts suggests at least some degree of factualness.”
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Page 260.
- Prof. Bart Ehrman. Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Harper One, 2011. Pages 242-243.
- Robert Wright. The Evolution of God. Little Brown and Company, 2009. Pages 249-254.