Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:29 am

I have a general idea on this, but there may be something more specific that I am missing.

Basically, to assert that Jesus was both "fully human" and "fully divine" opened up the doors of the church as widely as possible. The church was not called "catholic" for nothing, after all. Those who thought of Jesus principally as a human and those who thought of Jesus principally as divine could be in the same church, just so long as neither side denied the truth of the other.

Some kinds of Ebionites and their ilk positively denied that Jesus was (really) divine, while Marcionites and other groups of a gnostic persuasion positively denied that Jesus was (really) human. It was this failure to play well with others that made them sectarians.

Also, it is easy to see why those particular Ebionites might be rejected: they were calling Jesus less than divine, merely human. Ironically, there were some kinds of docetism which sort of did the same thing: the separationist kind which said that the spirit/Christ was divine but that Jesus himself was just a human vessel, discarded at the crucifixion. Maybe that kind of docetism tarnished all kinds of docetism, even those which did not deny that Jesus was divine.

Of course, after a while all doctrines, no matter how inclusive, are able to take on an importance far beyond their original purpose, so naturally the seemingly wide-open nature of "both fully human and fully divine" could later be pinned down to such an extent as to retroactively exclude people in past generations who would have affirmed that doctrine wholeheartedly.

As a child I attended a church in San Diego, California, which split up (at least nominally) over the question of whether or not Jesus could have sinned. Both sides agreed that he did not sin; the sticking point is whether he could have sinned had he so chosen. Naturally, there are plenty of Christian groups who would be happy to welcome anyone who believes that Jesus was sinless, and who would not care whether they thought he could have sinned or not. But in this particular congregation things had come to a head on that particular detail.

I used the word "nominally" in parentheses there because there may well have been undercurrents of a more personal nature in that church, too. And I think we ought to consider those possibilities for ancient Christianity, as well. Perhaps Marcion was a really hard individual to get along with, and his docetic beliefs came to be grouped together with his rough personality. Pure speculation so far, obviously, but it does not seem outside the realm of possibility that some beliefs might leave a bad taste in the mouth simply because of the nature of those who espouse them.

Overall, though, my current thinking on the situation is more along the lines of what I was saying above about doctrines being inclusive/catholic or exclusive/sectarian.
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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:34 am

My post crossed with those of Ulan.
Ulan wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:14 am
moses wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 5:38 am
is that the lost ending may have contained something deemed heretical, like a form of docetism.
Ben, have you written on why you think it was deemed heretical?
I'm not Ben, but I can see a hint of what may be seen as wrong at the start of the gospel. Even now, the gospel looks at least adoptionist, in the sense that Jesus was a normal, just very pious guy who got "adopted" as son by God during his baptism. As result, Jesus was allowed to carry the spirit of God to the temple - or better, he was driven by the spirit, as gMark puts it. The spirit leaves Jesus again upon his death.
Yes, agreed; this is similar to something that I just posted.
Ulan wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:27 am
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:11 am
moses wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 5:38 am
is that the lost ending may have contained something deemed heretical, like a form of docetism.
Ben, have you written on why you think it was deemed heretical?
I have not, no. It is a great question. Why was docetism considered heretical?
How serious was the accusation of heresy in the early days? If I see it correctly, the word per se just translates as "philosophical school", or something rather harmless like having different ideas about certain concepts. I'm not sure when this word became a serious accusation that afforded punishment.

If I remember correctly, docetism was seen as problematic because it often (though not always) was accompanied by the notion that Jesus/Christ did not really die, with all issues regarding salvation that arise from this if you think a sacrifice is necessary to achieve salvation.
Good point! A real death seems to have been the key to some important schemes of salvation.

Also, yes, the term "heresy" originally meant simply a sect or a school, which is why I used the term "sectarian" in my post. To be frank, it is hard for me to use the term "heresy" (or "heretical") without thinking of its original meaning, and whenever I use the term that meaning is always there to some degree. When I said that docetism was deemed "heretical," I was not actually thinking of the later church creeds or anything; I was just thinking of Serapion and Irenaeus and other church fathers who would have objected to it.
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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Ulan » Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:54 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 5:13 am
Ulan wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:10 am
I always found it fascinating that this statement in gMatthew was never solved in that gospel: "17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted." It's a weird statement, given we are supposedly looking at a meetup. No word about whether they stopped doubting.

I generally find this whole post-resurrection business one of the most puzzling issues of the gospels. Is "Galilee" used in the literal or in some metaphorical sense that is lost to us? Did the disciples meet on a mountain or by chance, while fishing? Or did they really meet in Jerusalem, and why do we then have those Galilee episodes at all? Where does James (the alleged "brother of the Lord") suddenly come from? In general, why was this group of people, whose leader was just subjected to capital punishment for trying a political coup (the gospels may waffle around this point, but there's that pesky "triumphal entry into Jerusalem") setting up shop right next to the arm of the law? Does it really make sense that a group of people, who are comprised of the retinue of someone who was killed for treason and still openly venerate him, would be left alone, right under the eyes of both, temple and Roman prefect? If Josephus is to be believed, no Roman prefect, not even Pilate, would hesitate much to get rid of all followers of similar figures.

I have a hard time reconciling all of this into a story that makes sense.
Hear, hear. I fully sympathize (with all of it, not just with the highlighted portion). Most of my thoughts on the highlighted portion of late have been along the lines of considering the Jerusalem folks as a different sect of people than the Galilean folks, only later retrospectively merged under a single Christian umbrella, but whither that thought process leads I am by no means sure.
Thanks, and my apologies for my quick and dirty speculation following the quote, which was a bit sloppy. Some of my ideas are formed by more modern developments in the religious world. Sometimes, these prove rather insightful. Just think of Mormons. The comparison may already be strained at the start, as Joseph Smith actually left his own writings behind (regardless if he wrote them himself or had a ghostwriter), but we have a few similarities:

1) Joseph Smith was killed when he decided to run for president of the USA and introduce a theocratic regime. He got imprisoned by the state authorities and was killed by a mob.
2) Today's LDS was actually made what it is by someone who took the movement over and formed it after his own ideas, Brigham Young. He basically made the movement big and went somewhere else to do this.
3) Joseph Smith's family went on with their own "true" church, which remained much smaller than the upstarts in Utah. However, as the succession is by blood and not by faith, someone in the family line must have come to the quiet realization that gramps was probably a bit nuts, so their constant drift back in the direction of mainline Protestantism is obvious. They changed their name to "Community of Christ" at the beginning of the millennium.

Not a direct fit, but some general driving forces become obvious.

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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:28 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:46 pm
My point is that the women appear out of nowhere apparently for the sole narrative purpose of bearing witness (on behalf of the reader of the gospel, not on behalf of anyone in history) to the cross and to the empty tomb; they are present, not for what they believe or disbelieve, not for who or what they are, but rather for what they see:
With my post in this thread I wanted to contribute less my own understanding of Mark 16:1-8 than advertise to read and to understand the text generally as a pericope of Mark.

An example to clarify: 50 to 100 years ago there were hot discussions about the question of whether the temple cleansing is historical or not. Any scholar who interpreted Mark 11:15-18 had this discussion in mind and many interpretations were focused on that question. Today most scholars accept that Mark 11:12-26 is designed as a sandwich and is primarily a Markan story. This does not mean that there are not disagreements and different interpretations, but that the text is first read as a story by Mark, as something what Mark wrote. Even this does not exclude the possibility that behind this story could hide historical sources, traditions or memories. But the text is now first perceived as a story told by Mark. Formerly the text was a contested and „very hot“ pericope (so to speak), but today it is read and read with more composure.

imho, Mark 16:1-8 is still such a hot text whose reading and understanding is determined by many discussions and interpretive interests (historical, theological, etcetera). A look at this thread may be enough to understand what I mean. A much discussed, but seldom read text.

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:46 pm
The idea is that Jesus is so deserving of respect that your natural reaction ought to be amazement and fear (as with so many characters in the gospel) followed by unswerving devotion and discipleship. But I think it is a categorical mistake to think that Mark is concerned about the actual, specific discipleship of the characters in the story; the characters are there only to highlight how one can and should or cannot and should not react to Jesus.
I do not agree with that because in my understanding some characters are in contrast to each other. In the case of the three women in Mark 16:1-8 it is imho the anointing woman of Bethany. I see this woman as shaped by Mark as a clearly superior disciple. She is at the right time in the right place with the right work in contrast to the three women in Mark 16 which go wrong on all three levels. I really like the ironic twist that the woman of Bethany is being blamed for an alleged wasting of her very costly perfume while in fact only the money was wasted with which the women bought their spices in Mark 16:1.

Likewise, I like the ironic reversal that the women in Mark 16:1-8 firmly believe that Jesus is in the tomb but are seriously worried about how they can get into the tomb, while in both respects the „facts“ in the story are the other way around. imho Mark made that up. I had this irony in mind when I wrote about a „revenge by the author on some characters of his story“. (And I tend to think that Matthew would have agreed with me because he rejected it.)

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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Jun 06, 2018 2:14 pm

Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:28 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:46 pm
My point is that the women appear out of nowhere apparently for the sole narrative purpose of bearing witness (on behalf of the reader of the gospel, not on behalf of anyone in history) to the cross and to the empty tomb; they are present, not for what they believe or disbelieve, not for who or what they are, but rather for what they see:
With my post in this thread I wanted to contribute less my own understanding of Mark 16:1-8 than advertise to read and to understand the text generally as a pericope of Mark.

An example to clarify: 50 to 100 years ago there were hot discussions about the question of whether the temple cleansing is historical or not. Any scholar who interpreted Mark 11:15-18 had this discussion in mind and many interpretations were focused on that question. Today most scholars accept that Mark 11:12-26 is designed as a sandwich and is primarily a Markan story. This does not mean that there are not disagreements and different interpretations, but that the text is first read as a story by Mark, as something what Mark wrote. Even this does not exclude the possibility that behind this story could hide historical sources, traditions or memories. But the text is now first perceived as a story told by Mark. Formerly the text was a contested and „very hot“ pericope (so to speak), but today it is read and read with more composure.

imho, Mark 16:1-8 is still such a hot text whose reading and understanding is determined by many discussions and interpretive interests (historical, theological, etcetera). A look at this thread may be enough to understand what I mean. A much discussed, but seldom read text.

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:46 pm
The idea is that Jesus is so deserving of respect that your natural reaction ought to be amazement and fear (as with so many characters in the gospel) followed by unswerving devotion and discipleship. But I think it is a categorical mistake to think that Mark is concerned about the actual, specific discipleship of the characters in the story; the characters are there only to highlight how one can and should or cannot and should not react to Jesus.
I do not agree with that because in my understanding some characters are in contrast to each other. In the case of the three women in Mark 16:1-8 it is imho the anointing woman of Bethany. I see this woman as shaped by Mark as a clearly superior disciple. She is at the right time in the right place with the right work in contrast to the three women in Mark 16 which go wrong on all three levels. I really like the ironic twist that the woman of Bethany is being blamed for an alleged wasting of her very costly perfume while in fact only the money was wasted with which the women bought their spices in Mark 16:1.

Likewise, I like the ironic reversal that the women in Mark 16:1-8 firmly believe that Jesus is in the tomb but are seriously worried about how they can get into the tomb, while in both respects the „facts“ in the story are the other way around. imho Mark made that up. I had this irony in mind when I wrote about a „revenge by the author on some characters of his story“. (And I tend to think that Matthew would have agreed with me because he rejected it.)
This is a very good post. Thank you.

I think I may be taking the phrase "sweet revenge" in a way that is more "personal" than you are intending it to come across. I am still not certain how to take that phrase in any other realistic way, but I am mentally translating it into different terms (or, actually, using the other terms you have used above) in order to attempt to apprehend your meaning.

My sense of what Mark is all about is, I think, still quite different than yours. But all in good time.

In the meantime, what do you think of Ken Olson's post about this passage?
Ken Olson wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 8:29 am
The last verse of Mark may be a kind of find story designed to explain why this information about the women discovering the empty tomb was not known before. The angel’s command to Daniel, near the end of the book, to “keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12.4) has a similar function. It’s meant to explain to the original audience of the book (c. 167-164 BCE) why they are only now hearing the prophecies of Daniel, which purport to have been made some four centuries earlier.

....

First, let’s look at 1 Cor.15.3-5, the sections that is commonly held to represent a pre-Pauline creed:
1 Cor. 15: 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
So the creed tells that the Jesus appeared after his resurrection to Cephas and the twelve, but who were the witnesses to the earlier parts? What witnesses establish that (1) he died, (2) he was buried, and (3), that he was raised on the third day?

Mark tells us:
Mark 15: 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
Mark 15: 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
Mark 16: When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
....

I do not think the the correlation between the three events for which the creed names no witnesses and the things seen by the named women who show up abruptly in Mark’s gospel is coincidental. Conservative apologists often suggest that the testimony of the women has to be accepted since, in first century Judaism, women’s testimony was not valued, so no one would invent it. On that theory, the pre-Pauline creed knew of the women’s testimony, but suppressed their names. But it seems to me that the thesis that a writer might invent the testimony of women who told no one in order to explain to his readers why they have never heard this story before is the better explanation. No doubt other explanations are possible.
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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Wed Jun 06, 2018 3:07 pm

Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:28 pm
In the case of the three women in Mark 16:1-8 it is imho the anointing woman of Bethany. I see this woman as shaped by Mark as a clearly superior disciple. She is at the right time in the right place with the right work in contrast to the three women in Mark 16 which go wrong on all three levels. I really like the ironic twist that the woman of Bethany is being blamed for an alleged wasting of her very costly perfume while in fact only the money was wasted with which the women bought their spices in Mark 16:1.
Yes, there is a connection among the women. And let's not forget the woman in between, the poor widow who is also extravagant - in her generosity compared with her resources.

Not an argument for ending at 16:8, but a grace note. I think Mark intends all of these women to be viewed positively. (Maybe not the woman in the courtyard who recognizes Peter, though.)

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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:29 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 2:14 pm
In the meantime, what do you think of Ken Olson's post about this passage?
Ken Olson wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 8:29 am
...
So the creed tells that the Jesus appeared after his resurrection to Cephas and the twelve, but who were the witnesses to the earlier parts? What witnesses establish that (1) he died, (2) he was buried, and (3), that he was raised on the third day?
If I understand Ken correctly, his view is that Mark invented the women as witnesses to the elements of Paul‘s creed „1) Jesus died, 2) Jesus was buried and 3) Jesus was raised on the third day“.

I see Ken’s point about the correlation between Paul and Mark, but a problem may be that in Mark’s story is no need for a witness to the first and second part (the folks and the Romans for the dying and Joseph of Arimathea for the burying) and that the women are not narrated as witnesses to the third part. It is only in Matthew and John that they see the risen Jesus. Furthermore, in the text as it stands the young man undermines the reliability of the women when he points to their failure: „Sorry girls, but you are searching at the wrong place. One must go to Galilee to see him. He said that before."

At the end I think that Ken's view is just another reason not to read Mark 16:1-8 as a story in the assumption that the whole purpose of the story lies outside of itself (and - unspoken - that it plays no role what Mark wrote in detail and how he portrayed the characters of Mark 16:1-8).

Is there any other Markan pericope to which such theories are currently being developed?

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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Jun 07, 2018 5:07 am

Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:29 am
At the end I think that Ken's view is just another reason not to read Mark 16:1-8 as a story in the assumption that the whole purpose of the story lies outside of itself (and - unspoken - that it plays no role what Mark wrote in detail and how he portrayed the characters of Mark 16:1-8).
Okay, I can see that I thoroughly lack understanding of what you are saying here. Even if Mark's purpose with the story was merely to entertain, that purpose lies outside of the story: the readers he is entertaining are not inside it. I imagine we would agree that his purpose is more than entertainment, however; it probably has something generally to do with supporting or promoting or explaining the Christian faith, right? Again, though, that purpose for writing the story lies outside the story, since Christianity exists/existed quite apart from Mark's writing. Specifically, Mark is probably supporting the Christian idea of the resurrection of Jesus in some way, right?

I apologize for being dense — I can see that you are trying to distinguish your interpretation of the women from mine and others', but I am not "getting it" yet.
Is there any other Markan pericope to which such theories are currently being developed?
By my calculation, based on what I understand by the notion of purposes outside of the story, the answer would be all of them. There does not exist any pericope in Mark which is not being wrung for information about the development of Christianity itself. The baptism and death stories are pressed for information about adoptionist/separationist Christianity; the sayings are examined for authenticity or for creative invention; the miracles are compared to and contrasted with Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Jewish magical practices in hopes of shedding light on Christian syncretism; the whole text is scoured for signs of knowledge of Petrine and Pauline Christianity; and on and on and on.
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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Thu Jun 07, 2018 7:56 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 5:07 am
I apologize for being dense — I can see that you are trying to distinguish your interpretation of the women from mine and others', but I am not "getting it" yet.
No problem.

So what Ken and you (?) want to say is that Mark wrote it ("they said nothing to no one"), but that he did not really mean what he wrote. He wrote it only because he wanted to solve the alleged "problem" with Paul's creed. He wanted to solve the "problem" because Mark favored always the proof by historical witnesses against the proof according to the scriptures. Actually, it ("they said nothing to no one") has nothing to do with the women, the disciples and Mark's story. Because of this nobody needs to be worried about Mark 16:8.

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Re: Mark 16 and the silence of the women: The disciples redeemed?

Post by Ulan » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:35 am

Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:29 am
If I understand Ken correctly, his view is that Mark invented the women as witnesses to the elements of Paul‘s creed „1) Jesus died, 2) Jesus was buried and 3) Jesus was raised on the third day“.

I see Ken’s point about the correlation between Paul and Mark, but a problem may be that in Mark’s story is no need for a witness to the first and second part (the folks and the Romans for the dying and Joseph of Arimathea for the burying) and that the women are not narrated as witnesses to the third part. It is only in Matthew and John that they see the risen Jesus. Furthermore, in the text as it stands the young man undermines the reliability of the women when he points to their failure: „Sorry girls, but you are searching at the wrong place. One must go to Galilee to see him. He said that before."
Two remarks: The "folks and the Romans" are not witnesses in the actual sense, as they remain unknown, which makes the women the only witnesses from the circle of Jesus. Also, regarding point 3, the women as witnesses to the empty tomb on the morning of the third day are already important enough. I don't think it's important to Mark's story as we have it that they don't see the risen Christ at this point. We don't know what followed if there was anything else that is followed, and thus the empty tomb and the message from that young man is as close as we get to a risen Christ. I see this point of yours as rather nitpicky, unless you don't think the empty tomb and the message are dealing with the risen Christ.

I'm not sure, but does anybody who reads this, regardless whether that's all that Mark wrote or not, think that there was nothing else to tell, which remained, for whatever reason, untold? I think this still remains true even if we try to forget for a moment that other gospels existed.

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