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.
This is not a new theory. In his discussion of the of Mark at 16.8 in his Moffat Commentary on Mark (1937), B.H. Branscomb writes:
That Paul does not mention the discovery of the empty tomb in his citation of the Christian proofs of the resurrection has already been referred to. In other words, the experiences of the women at the tomb were either unknown or disregarded until after a belief in His resurrection had been established on other grounds. If the early Church was aware that this story played no part in the earlier stages of the movement, and was only brought to light later, some explanation would be necessary. Mark’s final sentence gives the explanation—at first the women said nothing of these matters because they were afraid. After the disciples declared that Jesus had appeared to them, they came forward with their story. In time we can see this part of the account developing. Not only do the women discover the empty tomb, but Jesus appears to them (Matt. 28.8 and John 20.14), and they become the first witnesses to the resurrection. But this development was after Paul’s day. (Branscomb, Mark, 309).
Branscomb’s proposes that the experiences of the women at the tomb were either unknown or disregarded in Paul’s time. He ends up adopting the more conservative conclusion:
He quite possibly knew of the women’s story in the form in which Mark records it, and dated the resurrection on the third day because of it. But to Paul’s mind an empty tomb was not proof of the resurrection, and he rests his case on firmer ground.
The more radical form of this thesis about the story of the women at the tomb has been restated (relatively) more recently by Ross Shepard Kraemer, responding to F.W. Beare’s thesis that the empty tomb stories arose in response to beliefs about the bodily resurrection (Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus, 1962, 241):
When Christians eventually crystallized beliefs about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, they told stories about the empty tomb designed to confirm the physical resurrection, even though, as Beare points out, the absence of the body most readily suggests that someone has removed it, not that the person had risen from the dead. Beare did not consider the significance of the fact that women are “credited” with the discovery of the empty tomb. But why? Positing women as the original parties at the empty tomb would have provided an adequate answer to the question of why this information had not surfaced earlier, by claiming unofficial and secret witnesses and by blaming women, indirectly at least, for a failure of nerve that led to the suppression of this information. To those who might have asked, “Why doesn’t the Apostle Paul mention these stories?” or “Why haven’t we heard them before?” the answer would have been: because women discovered the vacant tomb and either they did not tell anyone (Mark 16:8) or they did, but no one believed them (Luke 24:11), and no one then retold the story until now. (Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings, 1994, 130).
On the previous page from that quoted above, Branscomb observed:
The fact that Paul’s list in 1 Cor.15.3 ff. contains appearances to Peter and the disciples as a group—all the more probably in Galilee—but knows of no appearances to the women, strongly supports this view of Mark’s conclusion. For clearly the Marcan tradition and the Pauline one are related to each other.
How closely related are they? 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: 3For 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.
(Ben Smith posted these passages from mark in the Silence of the Women thread last night as I was writing this): viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4235&p=87919&hilit=salome#p87919
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.