The Title Of The Gospel Of Mark (by Eli Lizorkin-eyzenberg)

Title of Mark's Gospel Eli LizorkinMost Christians are surprised when they first come to the understanding that in line with the Biblical tradition of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels are anonymous documents. It is clear that they are early works of Christ-following Jews, written and approved by the figures with apostolic authority, but there is nothing in the canonical Gospels themselves that gives a clear and unambiguous statement about the authorship of any of the four Gospels. (Canonical Gospels are John, Mark, Luke and Matthew. Those are  the four gospels that were accepted by overwhelming majority of God’s people worldwide.) The situation is very different with the non-canonical gospels. The majority of the non-conical Gospels display a wholly different approach. The author of the non-canonical gospel is usually identified and clearly declared to be the author of the book. The trouble is that non-canonical Gospels (such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Thomas, etc.) were authored after all their purported authors had already died. So we have an interesting irony here: the true apostolic Gospels do not state the names of the authors, while the false Gospel always do.

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But you may say, “Wait a minute,” our Bibles have titles that are rather clear. The Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to John, and so on. Yes, this is indeed what we have in our Bibles. But some things in our Bibles were not there from the beginning. For example, if your Bible has a built in concordance (that helps you to see where the same words or ideas were mentioned in other parts of the Bible) or footnotes (if it is a study Bible) we quickly understand that these additions are not in the original text and that they were added by publishers for the benefit of modern readers. In addition, we have also pages that identify sections entitled, “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament.” We understand that those pages did not exist in the original.

There are also other things in the Bible including superscriptions in the Book of Psalms, such as “a Psalm of Moses” or “a Psalm of David.” Scholars know that these superscriptions were not original, but were added to the text at a much later date. I think we must understand the titles of the Gospels in a similar way. They are statements of authorship that may be true; just like it is probably true that King David was the author of many of the psalms. After all, almost every gospel’s authorial identity was known as early as the second century (scholars use a fancy language indicating that they are “attested very early”).

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My point is not  that John Mark, Peter’s assistant, did not write down the Gospel of Mark according to Peter’s testimony (as such early attestation has it). He most probably did. Rather, I am saying something altogether different – since the superscription “According to Mark” (ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ) was not part of the original manuscript of the Gospel, the four matching titles no doubt were assigned to the four Gospels sometime after composition. If this is so, we need to ask a very important question, “what was the original title of the Gospel?”

My answer may or may not surprise you. There are a couple of possibilities here. For one, it is possible that this Gospel simply does not even have a title. It is not at all clear that ancient documents did have titles, though various theories were suggested such as the first word functioning as the title.

But even if most other ancient works had titles, it does not mean that the Gospel of Mark also must have had one. Please, let me explain. There are other things about this Gospel that are strange. None of course are stranger than its ending.

While many Bibles include (with an explanatory note) Mark 16:9-20, two of the most ancient and most reliable manuscripts of this Gospel do not contain these verses. This means that it is almost 100% certain that either the original gospel ended with vs. 8 or its original ending was somehow lost. After all, we have at least one letter that we know the Apostle Paul wrote that is not in our Bible. What we call First Corinthians is really already the second letter that the apostle wrote to the Church in Corinth since he himself mentions it in 1 Cor. 5:9.

After Jesus’ death and burial, we are told that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome collected special burial oils and spices together on Saturday night (literally when Sabbath was over), and early Sunday morning they set out for the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest. When they arrived at the tomb, they saw a man dressed in white who told them that Jesus had risen and that He was already on the way to the Galilee, where he would meet them and the disciples. After this, we read, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).

Now this is where the Gospel ends!

If this is not strange, I do not know what is. Speaking of an anticlimactic ending, we are so used to the other Gospels’ almost Hollywood like endings! But it is simply not so in this Gospel.

I am not the only one who feels this way. I think most Christ-followers do. This was likely the reason why early copyists (scribes) of this Gospel added Mark 16:9-20. This addition is probably not a fabrication, but is based on what they saw happening in the Early Jesus movement.

When the textual and grammatical styles of the sections are compared, it becomes clear that this addition was made later and was not authored by the same person that wrote the Gospel itself.

We should not come to the Gospel of Mark with preconceptions about what it should and should not say, and what it should and should not look like. The beauty of our approach is to let the text speak for itself. We must allow this Gospel to shape us and not the other way around.

If the Gospel had no title, this is certainly legitimate. After all, the title should concisely tell the readers what the book is all about. There is one sentence that’s pregnant with a variety of Jewish Royal concepts from the Hebrew Bible. This may come close to functioning as the title; and that of course is the very first verse of the Gospel:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

Prayer:

Aveinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King,

Free us to read, free us to think, free us to believe.

Amen.

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  1. gustavo vargas angel

    Alfredo:
    I think that you never should forget a very important point: Luke, as apostle, came to believe in Jesus Christ, at very least two or three years after He died, and of course, arosen to Heaven; so his wisdom(Luke) comes from listening and researching from thrid persons; this is not a first person testimony( as Peter, Mark, John and Mathew were, in despite of differences). Shalom¡

    1. alfredo

      Should I discard Luke and Acts?

      1. Dr. Eliyahu Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        I think Luke testimony is VERY VERY important. It was a summary and of his interviews of those witnessed everything that happened.

        1. alfredo

          Thanks Dr. Eli. I do too think Luke testimony is very important, so I would never say that Luke is unreliable as a writer. He surely recorded testimonies from 1st hand witnesses very carefully. On the other hand, I would be very careful by researching about any actual text that has been pointed as suspect of being added or altered from the original (or oldest) texts by scholars, such as Mark 16:9-20 as you clearly point out in article.

  2. John C Tuggy

    Dear Dr. Eli,

    I have always read with interest your short articles about the Gospel of John and this one about the Gospel of Mark.

    My particular interest is discourse analysis of the Greek text.

    The Gospel of Mark is known for the ‘hidden identity’ motif, mainly in the first part until Peter’s confession. However, I am totally convinced that this hidden identity if marked right to the very end at 16:8. The big question is: Who is this man named Jesus?

    I consider the seemingly abrupt ending of this Gospel totally congruent with the mentioned theme, as if to say, “Who do you think this man Jesus is?”

    Sincerely,
    John

    John C Tuggy, Translation Consultant with WBT, 1203 W Fourth St., Apt. 614, Tahlequah, OK 74464, Phone: (918)708-7034, Skype: john.c.tuggy

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      John, I agree, that if we read it right the ending is just fine :-). I am saying that it reads strange IF we come to it without conditions about how this ending SHOULD look right. I prefer to be judged by the sacred text, instead of presuming that I can judge IT (the gospel). For all the appearance of the liberal approaches in my writing, my presuppositions I think are rather conservative :-).

  3. alfredo

    “Free us to read, free us to think, free us to believe.”

    Dear Dr. Eli.

    You recall that “After Jesus’ death and burial, we are told that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome collected special burial oils and spices together on Saturday night (literally when Sabbath was over), and early Sunday morning they set out for the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest.”

    Four years ago, I was reading Mathew 12:39-40 and chose to think and believe that what Yeshua said about being 3 days and 3 NIGHTS in the heart of the earth was really literal, since He said it so emphatically. So I asked Him for help and began to research in the scriptures and try to figure out what had really happened that week.

    When we read Mark 16:1, we should not infer that it is Saturday night, following the Roman Catholic tradition that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. We know that Passover (Pesach) can fall in any day of the week (Leviticus 23:5), and that the next day is always a Shabbat, a very important one (John 19:31) out of Leviticus 23:6-8. So the women, waited AFTER that Shabbat to collect special burial oils and spices together.

    On the other hand, we read in Luke 23:55-56 the same women preparing special burial oils and spices together BEFORE Shabbat.

    So how can that be?

    Well, Mark is using the High Day Shabbat (1st day of Unleavened Bread feast) as a reference, while Luke is using the weekly Shabbat as a reference.

    With that in mind, you can trace that they collected special burial oils and spices together on a Friday, being Thursday the 1st day of Unleavened Bread feast.

    If that is so, then Yeshua was buried on Wednesday, just before sunset, and rose from the dead at the end of the weekly Shabbat, and there they are: 3 days and 3 NIGHTS.

    This is what I think happened on that glorious week.

    You say “We should not come to the Gospel of Mark with preconceptions about what it should and should not say, and what it should and should not look like. The beauty of our approach is to let the text speak for itself. We must allow this Gospel to shape us and not the other way around.”

    I fully agree.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Alfredo, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I can see the logic here of course. But I am not sure that this is THE only explanation to the discrepancy. One very very interesting one is found for example in the writings of Aphrahat (the Persian Sage). He for example counted the 3 days from the time that Jesus broke the bread! For him just as for you everything fit in then. Now… I am respectful to your point of view here.

      But at the same time one of my signature approaches is to read ONLY the work I am going through WITHOUT also trying to harmonize it with other Gospels. For one no such harmonization is need. Mark was written first. So, while you may be exactly right about your reconstruction, I am interested to know what the text says without having to go to another text to make it clear or clearer.

      1. alfredo

        Todah Rabah Dr. Eli. I’ll try to keep that in mind and stick to the text of Mark, even though I tend to “connect the dots” that are all scattered all over the Scriptures, because that is the way that I learn about what HaShem wants to tell us.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          me too. But I am now sure that it was our teachers wanted us to do 🙂 and not necessarily Him.

  4. Premkumar Samuel

    /I am not the only one who feels this way. I think most Christ-followers do. This was likely the reason why early copyists (scribes) of this Gospel added Mark 16:9-20. This addition is probably not a fabrication, but is based on what they saw happening in the Early Jesus movement./
    Sir,
    also most of the verses in mark 16:9-20 can be found in the other gospels though not verbatim lending credibility of whoever added it .

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes (though only partially), but it does not make them original, but only may justify the scribal openness to this add on.

  5. Ramon Antonio

    Very auspicious begining for this new chapter in our joint quest. The discussion on why and how texts were “named” and managed in antiquity merits a dissertation by itself. The interesting thing is that it can’t be cross referenced, that is, most cultures managed written material in different ways so its imposible to transpose a line of practice from one culture to another. Some of the oldest written records differ in material, in alphabet, in ways and means of recording or keeping and most importantly, in use.
    The Chinesse wrote mainly for government management and war control. The summerians for “bookkeeping” of sorts and religion in certain ways. The Hebrews mostly for religious purposes, specially for that gray area of recording God’s messages to them (thus they wrote mainly to record what someone who literally didn’t exist as an objective reality but whose existence they took for granted mainly because that nonexistent One said so). So in a way, this kind of writing is not human writing since its inception.
    Over that quicksand of foundation, the Hebrews wrote what has become the unequaled written “historical-religious” reference dpcument pf humanity, the “so called” testaments which, as you say, almost no one refered to as such but as the writings. So, Dr. Eli, how we start discussing one of the most crucial documents of the “new” testament if in fact, its own standing is almost literally ” a mystery, surrounded by a riddle inside an enigma…”?
    A document which stands tall because precisely of its brevity and conciseness. A document that seems to be a foundational cornerstone of the rest. Atributed to a specific author of whom we know probably more than of his own literary creation. Just imagine if we had more information about Einstein’s life than about his Theory of Relativity. On the contrary, we know more of his theory than of him but in fact, in any given decade, only some 50 persons in the world at the same time actually understand the theory.
    According to Mark was a customsrily use to manage the documents in hebrew and israelite document management. This was derived from greek and then roman usage which attached a strip in which the attributed author was identified to be used when searching for a document. Myth or reality, that is the common idea of why the documents were attributed authoship.
    In Spanish language, there is a story based on legend, that the most prolific author of novels is none other than Corin Tellado, a dame that wrote romantic novels that were almost a dreadknought of production. Some people suggest that it is almost phisically imposible that a single person could actually write, dictate less so even publish so much literature. But she defended her authorship till dead.
    So then, lets continue to take a look with you to Mark, whoever he or she actually was. And lets focus on the work and the story. If we dig into autorship, we may never have time to read, less search for Jesus in it. For Mark is the clockwork for the rest…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I agree… the important thing here is the text!

  6. gustavo vargas angel

    Ok, dear Dr.,
    lets see, learn and lets make comments, if possible. ( I have read a gospel, but I do not remember which one, that ends with a some stranger phrase, like ” you will drink poison and you will not die”) Greetings¡

  7. Fred Aguelo

    Hello Dr. Eli,

    It is with great anticipation that I study with you the Gospel of Mark. I will never tire of studying the Gospels especially with a unique Jewish approach. Your introduction is refreshing and I totally agree with it. Aveinu Malkeinu bless you!

    Shalom alecheim!

    Fred

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, my friend and you as well.

  8. Guillermo Del Solar

    sorry, meant to say Luke and Matthew , not Luke and Mark.

  9. Guillermo Del Solar

    That begs to me a deeper analysis about the resurrection of Rabbi Yoshua , since Luke and mark copies mostly from Mark and Q, then they may also have added the resurrection story. So in reality this basic tenet of Christianity might not be so.
    Might this concept of resurrection refer to something different than what the early church fathers understood or wanted it to mean? Rav Isaac Luria teaches only through repentance (inner change) can we reconnect to resurrect our happiness and resurrect what ever has died in our life. When enough individual people reconnect, then the gates of the 99% realm will open wide enough so that even the dead will resurrect and immortal existence (Messiah) will arrive.

    On another note , I respectfully disagree about calling the other Gospels “false”. Why are they “false” ? Just because they did not convey the story that a bunch of bishops decided they wanted to tell the world? That is like commissioning a group of republicans to write the books of history based on their view of iraq …. Of course they will say that Iraq was a threat to the world and they had WMD ! But is that the truth ? does that mean that all of us who saw no weapons after exhaustive inspections believe in the “false” notion that were really other ulterior motives for invading ?
    Not trying to start a political argument here, just used this example to illustrate my point. Hope it is clear.

    Thanks

  10. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    Surprising opening Eli.

    Maybe the irony of stating the names of the authors or stating not, can be that the authors of the true apostolic Gospels – in contrast to the authors of the false Gospels – did not seek their own glory, but the glory of God.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Perhaps, but it could also be due to the fact that it was KNOWN who wrote it (that one) or that it was very much inline with Hebrew Bible. There two very often we are not told who was the author of the book. Genesis for example does not say “I Moses”, etc., but Mosaic authorship is assumed.

      1. Drs. Charles van den Berg

        That can be true, but not for the book of Hebrew .