Many New Testament scholars consider Mark 16.8 to be the original ending of the gospel. Others regard the original ending as now lost. For those who think it’s lost, the most frequent explanation is that it was lost at some point given that the beginning and ends of books are particularly liable to damage and loss. Those who think that Mark 16.8 is the original ending sometimes argue against this by pointing out that, because Mark was most likely written on a roll, a loss at the end is actually very unlikely.
However, if Mark’s Gospel is earlier than this [end of the first century]—as virtually all scholars acknowledge, regardless of their view of the synoptic problem—then he would have written his Gospel on a roll, and the first generation of copies would also have been on rolls. And if the Gospel was written on a roll, then the most protected section would be the end, because when someone rolled the book back up, the end would be on the inside. To be sure, some lazy readers might not rewind the book when finished—of course, they would get fined a denarius at their local Blockbuster for such an infraction! But the reality is that this sort of thing was the rare exception, not the rule. Consequently, if Mark was originally written on a roll, it is hard to imagine how the ending could have gotten lost before any copies were made. (pp. 35–36)Appeal has also been made to the placement of the title in a scroll in this debate. F. G. Kenyon actually changed his mind on whether the end was liable to loss. He felt that the position of the title at the end of the roll would mean that “the reader of a roll would not want to wait till he had read to the end in order to know the name of the author and the title of the work; and an intending reader would not want to unroll the entire roll in order to ascertain these facts.” Because of that, Kenyon takes the opposite view of Wallace on whether a scroll might account for the loss of Mark’s original ending.
I don’t find Kenyon’s speculation convincing. While it is true that titles in scrolls are more often found at the end rather than the beginning, the more regular practice was to use a slip of papyrus or vellum hanging from the end (the σίττυβος). In other cases, the title could be written on the outside. The point is, there are many ways ancient readers solved the problem of not knowing what was inside a rolled up scroll. Re-rolling in a certain way seems like an unlikely solution.
|Fresco from Pompeii showing a scroll in the bottom left corner with a title tag (source)|
Papyrus was by no means a durable material except in dry climates. When new it was exceedingly tough, but its strength diminished with age and use. It was quickly spoilt, if not destroyed, by damp and was soon attacked by insects unless treated with cedar oil. The first sheet (πρωτόκολλον) and the last (ἐσχατοκόλλιον, Martial, ii. 6. 3) were peculiarly liable to damage. To enable the first sheet to withstand the strain of constant handling it was sometimes stiffened by a strip about an inch wide pasted on the back. The last sheet was similarly protected. The papyri which have hitherto been found do not show any traces of the rollers (ὀμφαλός, unibiliais) of wood or ivory which the Roman authors constantly mention as attached to the beginning and end of the roll. There is, however, no reason to doubt that they were in use, though they were probably confined to the more expensive rolls. It is obvious that the first or last sheet might easily be torn from such a roller if the reader was not careful in unrolling his book or in rolling it up again. The effect of mutilations at the beginning and end of the roll upon the texts of classical writers will be considered later. (pp. 13–14).The important point here is that Hall directs our attention to how the first and last sheets of rolls were damaged—and it has nothing to do with which direction they were rolled up. Rather, the problem is that they have to be rolled at all in order to be read. And the parts that are most liable to damage during rolling are the first and last sheets. That is what could explain a loss of Mark’s original ending.
To be sure, the theory that Mark’s ending was lost due to material damage remains just that—a theory. But it won’t due to argue against this theory by appealing to how scrolls were or were not rolled back up. That’s not the issue. The issue is the need to roll them at all.