Thursday, August 17, 2006

Plato and Mark 16:8


Earlier in 2006, Nicholas Denyer published a short article entitled "Mark 16:8 and Plato, Protagoras 328d." in Tyndale Bulletin 57 (2006), 149-150 (previously mentioned and discussed here here)

  • Summary:
    What we have of the Gospel of Mark comes to an abrupt halt at 16:8 with the words KAI OUDENI OUDEN EIPAN EFOBOUNTO GAR (‘And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’). Such a cliff-hanger was felt intolerable by some ancients, who composed and transmitted to us various passages that bring the Gospel to a more satisfying close. Plato, Protagoras 328d provides further confirmation that EFOBOUNTO GAR (‘for they were afraid’) is an astonishingly abrupt end. But it also provides proof that so astonishingly abrupt an end could well be deliberate.

The relevant section of Plato's Protagoras (in Jowett's English translation anyway):

  • Such is my Apologue, Socrates, and such is the argument by which I endeavour to show that virtue may be taught, and that this is the opinion of the Athenians. And I have also attempted to show that you are not to wonder at good fathers having bad sons, or at good sons having bad fathers, of which the sons of Polycleitus afford an example, who are the companions of our friends here, Paralus and Xanthippus, but are nothing in comparison with their father; and this is true of the sons of many other artists. As yet I ought not to say the same of Paralus and Xanthippus themselves, for they are young and there is still hope of them (ed: ETI GAR EN AUTOIS EISIN ELPIDES, NEOI GAR).
  • Protagoras ended, and in my ear So charming left his voice, that I the while Thought him still speaking; still stood fixed to hear.
  • At length, when the truth dawned upon me, that he had really finished, not without difficulty I began to collect myself, and looking at Hippocrates, I said to him: O son of Apollodorus, how deeply grateful I am to you for having brought me hither; I would not have missed the speech of Protagoras for a great deal. For I used to imagine that no human care could make men good; but I know better now. Yet I have still one very small difficulty which I am sure that Protagoras will easily explain, as he has already explained so much. If a man were to go and consult Pericles or any of our great speakers about these matters, he might perhaps hear as fine a discourse; but then when one has a question to ask of any of them, like books, they can neither answer nor ask; and if any one challenges the least particular of their speech, they go ringing on in a long harangue, like brazen pots, which when they are struck continue to sound unless some one puts his hand upon them; whereas our friend Protagoras can not only make a good speech, as he has already shown, but when he is asked a question he can answer briefly; and when he asks he will wait and hear the answer; and this is a very rare gift.

James E. Snapp, Jr. writes:

The material in Denyer's article shows that Protagoras 328c and Protagoras 328d do not support the idea that Mark intentionally ended his Gospel-account with "gar."

Protogoras 328c constitutes the ending of a speech; it is not the end of a book. The conclusion of the speech is essentially a comment made by the speaker to anticipate an objection to the speaker's main idea. Plato's text goes on (in Protagoras 328d) to present Socrates' reaction to the speech which Protagoras just delivered: Socrates continues to stare at Protagoras, expecting him to say more. But Socrates' expectation is not necessarily due to the presence of "gar," and it is easy to picture Socrates responding to the speech in exactly the same way if Protagoras' final statement had been expressed in other words.

Denyer posits that Protagoras 328d "provides proof that so astonishingly abrupt an end could well be deliberate." However, it is one thing to deliberately end a topical speech with the equivalent of, "Some may say that those boys are incorrigible; they are young, however;" it is another thing entirely to deliberately end a narrative with "gar" the way it is used in Mark 16:8. Protagoras' closing comment wrapped up a loose end. The abrupt ending of Mark creates a loose end.


  1. JP wrote:
    "...Protogoras 328c constitutes the ending of a speech; it is not the end of a book. The conclusion of the speech is essentially a comment made by the speaker to anticipate an objection to the speaker's main idea..."

    What is the main idea of St Mark's Gospel? Whatever and however one conceives it, it has been objected to for two thousand or so odd years. I'm talking now about its motifs and subject matter. The ending of St. Mark's Gospel at vs 8 sufficiently and necessarily sends its readers back to the content of the narrative in 1:1-16:8 and causes one to seriously consider the meaning of it all and its ramifications. This is the whole purpose and effect of such a conclusion to his narrative.

    It is vain to belittle St. Mark's attempt simply because others early on in church history and even to this day did not or can not grasp the author's intent here at vs 8.

    No positing of hypothetical compostion histories will circumvent the failure on the part of modern scholars or lay persons, pastors or teachers to understand the authorial intent intended by St. Mark in his historical narrative ending as it does and was intended to end - at verse 8.

    Finally to disdain the use and for that matter the proper use of the word *various* in reference to the two *various* and occasionally later redacted endings is silly. The authors of these ending neither grasped the intend of St. Mark originally nor do those who defend either *various* ending today.

  2. The preceding post brims with assertions (about things other than my comments about how the use of GAR in Protagoras' speech is not realistically comparable to the abrupt ending), but not with arguments. The theory that the abrupt ending was meant by the author "to send its readers back to the content of the narrative in 1:1-16:8" (where have I read that?) is, imho, the product of desperate squinting, and it is beset with several problems, including

    (A) Mark’s Gospel is Peter’s gospel. With the abrupt ending, the book does not summarize Peter’s presentation of the gospel (cf. Peter’s sermons in Acts), which is contrary to the earliest description (Papias’) of the book.
    (B) The abrupt ending leaves the important question of the fate of the apostles unresolved.
    (C) The abrupt ending explicitly foreshadows not only a meeting, but a meeting in Galilee. This is unexplained by the "intentional ending" theory (except when combined with implausible theories such as Marxsen’s idea that the author meant “Galilee” in some non-physical sense, or the notion that readers would interpret the angel’s instructions in 16:7 as instructions to readers to re-read the portions of the book set in Galilee).
    (D) The claim that the abrupt ending "sufficiently and necessarily" sends its readers back to the contents of 1:1-16:8 is simply false. It simply leaves the reader puzzled and wondering what happened next. The abrupt ending is no less abrupt the second time through, or the thirtieth.
    (E) The abrupt ending historically misrepresents the women. The "intentional ending" theory offers no impetus for the author to opt to write the last sentence of 16:8 instead of something else (or nothing).
    (F) It’s not as if readers of Mark 1:1-16:20 said to themselves, "Hmm; this ending does not baffle me; therefore I don’t think I will read this book again." As the Memoirs of Peter, the book needed no gimmick-ending to encourage readers to study it.

    Regarding the claim that scholars, lay persons, pastors, and teachers have failed to understand the author’s intent: similarly, children may fail to see the emperor’s new clothes.

    Finally, I can appreciate that in some parts of the world, the word "various" is used as a synonym for "two," and to the extent that "two" and "various" are synonymous, my earlier objection (unrelated to my comment about the comparison to Plato's text) falls. But here in the USA, "various" is an imprecise term which does not mean "two." Also, I don’t think it can be denied that the word "two" is more numerically precise than the word "several," everywhere. So I don’t think my objection falls very far; nor do I consider it silly to recommend re-phrasing a statement to make it more precise. It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to persuade objective, precision-loving writers, when choosing between two terms by which to describe something, to use the more precise term.

    Meanwhile, I still contend that Protagoras 328c-d supplies no evidence that increases the probability that Mark would intentionally end his narrative in "gar," with so many loose ends remaining in the narrative, except by showing that sentences ending with "gar" are not impossible.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  3. There is no end to your rhetoric and still blinded by your own conceit. You lend yourself to no circumspection and your meaningless characterations still have no weight. "Gimmick ending?" Give me a break. Never mind I'll take leave from this pseudo-mimick of scientific endeavor.

  4. Actually James Snapp has the most incredible web site dedicated to the ending of Mark, with all sorts of textual and historical and internal information, and Jim is a stickler for accuracy.
    The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20

    When Jim's anonymous opposition, as here, wakes up and puts together a scholarship aid at that level, then their harumphs might not sound quite as shallow.

    Steven Avery