Mark Chapter 16:1-11

Here is the final chapter of the gospel, which contains the resurrection story.

1 Καὶ διαγενομένου τοῦ σαββάτου Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ [τοῦ]Ἰακώβου καὶ Σαλώμη ἠγόρασαν ἀρώματα ἵνα ἐλθοῦσαι ἀλείψωσιν αὐτόν.

And having gone through the Sabbath, Mary the Magdelenian and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices in order to go (to the tomb) to anoint him.

Several points. The fact that this is nailed down to the day after the Sabbath–Sunday, per the common calendar of the West–so early and so deeply in the tradition makes this quite credible, IMO. It’s exactly the sort of thing that gets embedded into a story and sticks there because it caused just enough inconvenience to make it memorable. It’s like the day you have to get to an important appointment, you can’t find your car keys. Yes, this could be one of those details that accrued, but why?

Second, I’m still half-convinced that the mother of James and Salome was also the mother of Jesus.

Third, I rendered it as “Magdelenian” to get across that this is a designation of her town of origin, and not a surname, whether in the modern or the Roman sense of the term.

Finally, this is petty, but did they buy the spices that morning? That’s one way of reading the text. It’s a minor point, but a point nevertheless. The significance, I think, is that it indicates that the story had not quite been nailed down; the details were starting to attach to the story, but they all hadn’t been smoothed into a consistent narrative.

1 Et cum transisset sabbatum, Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi et Salome emerunt aromata, ut venientes ungerent eum.

2 καὶ λίαν πρωῒ τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων ἔρχονται ἐπὶ τὸ μνημεῖον ἀνατείλαντος τοῦ ἡλίου.

And as soon as it was morning the day after the Sabbath they went to the tomb the sun having come up.

2 Et valde mane, prima sabbatorum, veniunt ad monumentum, orto iam sole.

3 καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς ἑαυτάς, Τίς ἀποκυλίσει ἡμῖν τὸν λίθον ἐκ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου;

And they said to each other, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”

3 Et dicebant ad invicem: “ Quis revolvet nobis lapidem ab ostio monumenti? ”.

4 καὶ ἀναβλέψασαι θεωροῦσιν ὅτι ἀποκεκύλισται ὁ λίθος, ἦν γὰρ μέγας σφόδρα.

And looking up they saw that the stone had been rolled away, for it was very large.

It seems like there should be something to say about the actions to this point, but, aside from the obvious that this is stage-directed. Does this carry any sense of credibility? Was it truly intended to carry any? Or was the point simply to get the story across? And what chance is there that any of this even vaguely resembles the actual happenings?

4 Et respicientes vident revolutum lapidem; erat quippe magnus valde.

5 καὶ εἰσελθοῦσαι εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον εἶδον νεανίσκον καθήμενον ἐν τοῖς δεξιοῖς περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λευκήν, καὶ ἐξεθαμβήθησαν.

And they went into the tomb they saw a young man seated on the right, wrapped around in white linen, and they were startled into terror.

Now this is really interesting. I’ll explain after the next verse.

5 Et introeuntes in monumentum viderunt iuvenem sedentem in dextris, coopertum stola candida, et obstupuerunt.

6 ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐταῖς, Μὴ ἐκθαμβεῖσθε: Ἰησοῦν ζητεῖτε τὸν Ναζαρηνὸν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον: ἠγέρθη, οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε: ἴδε ὁ τόπος ὅπου ἔθηκαν αὐτόν.

And he said to them, “Do not be afraid. You seek Jesus the Nazarene, the one crucified. Get up. He is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.”

I’m reasonably sure that it was Bart Ehrman who came up with what I think is an ingenious explanation of this verse. The religious authorities were afraid that Jesus’ tomb might become some sort of rallying point for Jesus’ followers. To prevent this, it was the Jewish authorities who moved the body. The detail about the young man in white, he thinks, indicates one of the temple officials who wore garments that were whitened pabove and beyond what was normal. And this then explains the bit about Galilee that we get in the next verse….

ἀλλὰ ὑπάγετε εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ τῷ Πέτρῳ ὅτι Προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν  Γαλιλαίαν: ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε, καθὼς εἶπεν ὑμῖν.

“But get up, tell his disciples and also Peter that “He has gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, accordingly as he told you.”

OK, did I miss it? When did Jesus say anything about going ahead to Galilee? Answer, I don’t believe he did. This is the second part of Ehrman’s theory: that the religious authorities had their representative planted in the tomb to tell Jesus’ followers to leave Jerusalem and to go to Galilee where they would be Herod’s problem and not theirs.

I think this theory is ingenious. Whether it’s right or not is another story. Again, it depends pretty much on whether we believe the overall story of Mark that the religious authorities were responsible for Jesus’ execution. If this is true, then it’t not unreasonable to believe that they wanted to get rid of Jesus’ followers because there were so many of them, and they were apt to cause problems. If, as I’ve said, I don’t believe this cover story, then it really doesn’t follow that the religious authorities would have taken the initiative to concoct this scheme. So what, then?

At some level the story of the empty tomb has to be addressed in the historical analysis. Whether it was actually empty or not, this is the story that was propagated, and, as we saw in Paul, believed. Indeed, the Resurrection is the sine qua non of Christianity. Without this, Jesus is just another…whatever, however you conceive him to be, a wonder-worker, a revolutionary zealot, a wise man. He was, in short, a man. So we have to address the belief, if we don’t have to address the likelihood of the event. We have to ask if the tomb was empty. Then we have to ask why it was empty. While a miraculous resurrection is outside the usual course of historical events, and while it’s not possible that it could have occurred in the order of a ‘natural’ course of action, a miracle is always possible–by definition. But, regardless of what did happen, people believed in the phenomenon of the empty tomb, and we have to ask why that belief came about.

Of course, the simplest explanation for the belief is that Jesus did rise from the dead. FIne. But, as historians, we cannot leave it at that. To do so is to leave the realm of historical research and enter the realm of theology, or religious belief, or whatever you want to call it. So are there other possible–plausible–reasons why the tomb might have been empty?

Ehrman’s thesis is actually very attractive, because it solves a lot of problems in a way that is well within the realm of possibility. However, I don’t believe it’s likely since I don’t believe that the religious authorities had any reason to go to the effort. IMO, Jesus wasn’t that popular, he didn’t have a large following that they needed to fear, there was no reason for them to move the body, and to then plant an operative to throw the followers off-track by sending them on a wild goose chase to Galilee.

Another distinct possibility is that they had the wrong tomb. The events of the day of the crucifixion were, no doubt, stressful and confusing. The women were not from Jerusalem; it’s not hard to believe that they got confused, turned around, or that they just got it wrong because they didn’t see exactly where Jesus was placed. They went to a tomb, it was empty, but it wasn’t where Jesus had been laid. That was why the stone was rolled away; it had never been rolled in front of the entrance. A very simple mistake.

So there are plausible explanations, but I think we’re missing something. Mark did not originally include a resurrection story. Why not? That is, or seems, puzzling. But then we notice that Paul doesn’t have a resurrection story, either. IMO, I think the implication here is that the  story of the resurrection did not become…necessary until sometime in the 70s, after Mark wrote. (is necessary the right word? It’s one possible word, or conception, but it’s not the only one.)  As for why this was true, I think the reasons for this lie someplace in Paul’s writings; I need to address this, but I don’t know that this is the place. I plan to summarize Mark in toto when I finish Chapter 16, and then I plan to do a Mark vs Paul, compare and contrast sort of thing after that. The thing is, Paul’s writings that predate Mark are really the only appropriate NT writings to consider. What happened after Mark cannot concern us here. It’s inadmissible evidence for what Mark wrote, and why.

 7 Sed ite, dicite discipulis eius et Petro: “Praecedit vos in Galilaeam. Ibi eum videbitis, sicut dixit vobis” ”.

8 καὶ ἐξελθοῦσαι ἔφυγον ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου, εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις: καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν, ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ.

And going out, they fled from the tomb, for they had trauma and ecstasy; and they said nothing to no one, for they were afraid.

One of the priests I heard speak on this reading on Easter made a wonderful point. He was very taken with this because he found it so believable. They were terrified, so they didn’t say anything to anyone. How human, how normal a reaction! And I agree. And it’s just this sort of very-human reaction to an extraordinary event that gives the NT, the Bible so much of its power. The authors were people with very keen insight into the human condition; they were very adept at bringing the message home and giving it a very human face, one in which almost anyone could recognize someone they know, if not themselves.

So again, we have a plausible story; does that mean it’s true? Not necessarily. We have to keep in mind that the Resurrection story was not created until at least a full generation had passed since Jesus’ death. That puts us into the 60s, after Paul; it may not have been created until into the 70s. As such, it’s really hard to argue, IMO, that there was any amount of factual accuracy in the story. Given the evidence of Paul, it’s not out of the question that it was made up of whole cloth, from scratch. Now, it’s possible that there were traditions of a Resurrection story local to Jerusalem and Galilee that Paul did not know about; however, given the changes made between Mark and Matthew, I’m not sure it’s easy to argue such a position. Not impossible, but difficult.

8 Et exeuntes fugerunt de monumento; invaserat enim eas tremor et pavor, et nemini quidquam dixerunt, timebant enim.

9 Ἀναστὰς δὲ πρω ῒπρώτῃ σαββάτου ἐφάνη πρῶτον Μαρίᾳ τῇ Μαγδαληνῇ, παρ’ ἧς ἐκβεβλήκει ἑπτὰ δαιμόνια.

(Jesus) having risen early in the morning, the first (day) after the Sabbath, he appeared to Mary of Magdala, from whom he cast out seven demons.

This is really interesting.  IMO, this is probably a gloss that got incorporated into the text. Think about it: we get the tale to the point of the previous verse, when the women ran away and told no one, and suddenly we’re back at the beginning, first light on the day after the Sabbath. And we skip over the trip to the tomb, and go right to the apparition to Mary of Magdala. In any linear sense, this makes no sense. If you think about it, though, and think of a copyist writing this a century later, he notices that we aren’t told that Jesus has actually been seen. So he makes a note to ‘correct’ the text. A century after that (and we’re still not up to the time of Constantine) a later copyist isn’t sure about where the margin begins and he (no doubt a ‘he’) just keeps going, adding this into the body of the text.

Another possibility is that the second copyist was the one who added the bit about the seven demons. This is another new bit of information. What is interesting is that it appears in Luke, but not in Matthew. What this suggests to me is that it had become part of the tradition about Mary M, in much the same way that she later became a prostitute, and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.  But that it skipped Matthew may indicate that this was a much later addition to the tradition. And note that it’s not said of her the first time she’s mentioned, either at the end of the last chapter or here in Chapter 16. So maybe the second copyist decided to ‘clarify’ things by making sure we knew this about her, or because he wanted to affirm to himself that he knew this about her from reading Luke. 

The point is, we cannot be very certain about when anything in this chapter was composed, or added.

9 Surgens autem mane, prima sabbati, apparuit primo Mariae Magdalenae, de qua eiecerat septem daemonia.

10 ἐκείνη πορευθεῖσα ἀπήγγειλεν τοῖς μετ’ αὐτοῦ γενομένοις πενθοῦσικαὶ κλαίουσιν:

Then going out she announced this to those who were being with her, being sad and crying,

10 Illa vadens nuntiavit his, qui cum eo fuerant, lugentibus et flentibus;

11 κἀκεῖνοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ζῇ καὶ ἐθεάθη ὑπ’ αὐτῆς ἠπίστησαν.

And then hearing that he lived and that he had been seen by her they did not believe.

Another very credible touch, because it’s totally a human reaction not to believe outrageous news. 

11 et illi audientes quia viveret et visus esset ab ea, non crediderunt.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 1, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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