Mark 16 and the Digital Humanities

Claire Clivaz — 29.10.2018


The topic

This etalk presents the main lines of a 5 years Swiss National Foundation PRIMA project, MARK16.An etalk is a multimodal digital object, with references and hyperlinks, entirely quotable in details with the share button. To know how it works, please look at the video of demonstration by clicking on the link under the slide.The topic of the project is a well known enigma of the New Testament textual criticism: the end of the Gospel according to Mark.Does it end with the following verse in Mk 16,8 : “So they [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” ? If yes, it would mean that the second gospel does not narrate any appareance stories of the risen Jesus.Manuscript evidence offers rich contribution to this topic. An ending in Mark 16, 8 is attested in the two oldest manuscripts we have for this verse, codex Sinaiticus (01) and Vaticanus (03), as well as in the 12th century minuscule 304, as Keith Elliott underlines. But several other endings exist, such as those listed, for example, by Camille Focant, and including notably Mk 16,9-20, or a combination of the short and the long endings, or the Freer logion in the Codex Washington, or even a lost ending.

Mark 16,8 in research

In the last decades, the hypothesis of an end in Mk 16,8 has won the “lion share” in exegetical debates, which led Focant, in 2006, to affirm that it was an almost aquired result in research.Based on this succesful textual critical choice, numerous scholars have proposed interpretations to understand such an end in the Gospel according to Mark.Among the recent propositions, Gert van Oyen argued in 2012 that Mark’s intent would mean “the presence of the crucified-risen Christ [is] real in the lives of those who live ‘between fear and hope’”.In 2016, applying an intertextual reading with Derrida, McLellan proposed to understand that Mark’s ending “demonstrates [that] a ‘memory for the future’ also serves a haunting function, because a ghost can never really die”.Whereas Stephen Hultgren proposes to read an intertextual reappraisal of Dan 10,7 in Mk 16,8 in order “to establishes a pattern of revelation, concealment, and future revelation, in which the resurrection of the dead is apocalyptically deferred - its truth not confirmable until it happens at the end of days”.Meanwhile, other opinions have never stopped to be expressed, as the David Alan Black 2008 collected essays demonstrates. Moreover, Clayton Croy reminded usefully in 2006 that “the majority view that developed in the late twentieth century and continues to this day stand in contrast both to the lively debate of the 1960s and the 1970s and to the opposite consensus that existed prior to that era”.

To look at the manuscripts

In this apparently quite stable state of the art, the digital culture could be the driven force that changes our perception of it. Indeed, one can now look at an amount of New Testament manuscripts online. And it changes everything.In our cases, indeed, we have no evidence on the last chapter of Mark anterior to the 4th century, and no papyri evidence. As said above, Mark 16 ends in 16,8 only in 03, 01 and 304.Looking into the two 4th century codices leads for example Keith Elliot to consider that the scribes of א and B “were aware […] that the ending of Mark was disputed”.And you? What do you think?You can look at the codex Sinaiticus in Mk 16,8 by clicking directly on the link below the screenshot.Regarding the codex Vaticanus, you can also look at its wonderful folios online. Let’s look at them together. As you can see, there is more than one empty column after Mk 16, 8 on the folio. And it is not by chance, as a comparison with the other gospels endings demonstrates.The Gospel according to Mark begins at the 3rd column of the folio, directly after the end of Matthew.The same is for the Gospel according to John after the Gospel according to Luke.In the same way, the Acts of the Apostles come directly in the second column after the end of the gospel according to John. So no doubt: in the codex Vaticanus, there is more than an empty column after Mk 16,8. What happened? In any case, the immediate consequence of these observations is to realize the diversity of evidence we have for this quite open Mark ending.

Diversity in Early Christianity

I would like to propose to consider this diversity at least in as much important as the quest of the most ancient version.It indicates lively early debates in Christianity, and provokes also lively debates in the present scholarship. The case deserves to listen to the question raised by the French historian François Hartog: Is it possible to write history from the point of view of both the losers and the winners?Or to say it in French: «Alors que l’histoire des vainqueurs ne voit qu’un seul côté, le sien, celle des vaincus doit, pour comprendre ce qui s’est passé, prendre en compte les deux côtés. Une histoire des témoins ou des victimes peut-elle faire droit à cette exigence qu’emporte avec elle le très vieux mot d’historia ?».

The project

In the SNF PRIMA grant, our target is to build a new research model in Humanities to get a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) able to show the diversity between the losers and the winners in early Christian communities and in the scholarly positions today. Diversity and comparison of the positions are here at stake.So during the first year, we are building the architecture of this VRE that will focuse on a research topic, here on an textual variant of the New Testament.It will contain a small manuscripts room with the available folios of Mk 16 from diverse manuscripts and languages.It will present all the material that can be proposed in OA online or in reference, including audio-visual material and videos, and work with data visualization.In this VRE, we will build an innovative tool to compare efficiently the diverse scholarly positions.It will allow the users to build their own opinion and hypothesis from that material.This first mockup shows the general aspect of the VRE, with the material classified chronologically, and according to the type of material.Audio-visual material will be also referenced and compared with the written productions of the same scholars. In videos, rhetoric is used and the communication can passably differ from the written productions. Rhetoric has a strong impact on the way we perceive argumentation.The datavisualisation will be developed in collaboration with Pelagios and the Peripleo tool.A deep attention will be devoted to the users and their needs in the VRE, with regular tests with students classes, in different countries.The collaboration with the colleagues of the scientific board will be crucial to test the VRE. MARK16 is very lucky to be able to count on Leif Isaksen, University of Exeter, UK ; Jennifer Knust, soon at Duke University, USA; Valérie Nicolet, IPT, France ; Laurent Romary, INRIA, France; Joseph Verheyden, Catholic University, Leuven, Belgium ; Peter Williams, Tyndale House, UK.A big thanks also to the team, in construction, the crucial element of the project!Finally, the communication will be very important, and we schedule to be present on Facebook and Twitter and on our blog. Stay tuned!