Did Mark Invent the Empty Tomb?

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Giotto's Resurrection

The crux of the Easter faith is the empty tomb. Atheists and sketics believe they have proved that Mark made up the empty tomb.Peter Kirby once defended the idea, claiming a huge number of scholars agreed with that. I'm not sure if he still holds to that or not. The paper is still up and the argument was made so I will  refute it. Peter Kirby once wrote:

Several schoalrs doubt the historicity of the empty tomb. I intend to set out the reasons for disbelieving the empty tomb story. I will argue that the empty tomb narrative is the invention of the author Mark. This conclusion will be supported by showing that all the reports of the empty tomb are dependent upon Mark, that there are signs of fictional creation in the empty tomb narrative, that the empty tomb story as told by Mark contains improbabilities, and that traditions of the burial and appearances support a reconstruction of the events that excludes the discovery of the empty tomb.[1]
 In response I am to focus just one aspect, the idea that the empty tomb is the invention of Mark. I will demonstrate that the empty tomb existed in Christian preaching before Mark was written.

Skeptical schoalrs argue that because Mark's gospel ends with no sightings of the resin Jesus Mark must have made up the empty tomb. They reason that the longer ending of Mark was made to cover up the insufficiency of the orignial.

This original ending of Mark was viewed by later Christians as so deficient that not only was Mark placed second in order in the New Testament, but various endings were added by editors and copyists in some manuscripts to try to remedy things. The longest concocted ending, which became Mark 16:9-19, became so treasured that it was included in the King James Version of the Bible, favored for the past 500 years by Protestants, as well as translations of the Latin Vulgate, used by Catholics. This meant that for countless millions of Christians it became sacred scripture–but it is patently bogus.[2]

He's just reading in a motivation to fit the facts. BTW the longer ending includes the snake handler passage. There is no attempt to consider evidence that the Gospel really didn't end at verse 8. He just assumes it must have becuase that would give us a reason to assume his position on Mark's invention. Thus he reads into the motivations for making other endings the motives he needs to see to bolster his argument. He tries to illicit Bruce Metzger to help out:

The evidence is clear. This ending is not found in our earliest and most reliable Greek copies of Mark. In A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger writes: “Clement of Alexandria and Origen [early third century] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them.”1 The language and style of the Greek is clearly not Markan, and it is pretty evident that what the forger did was take sections of the endings of Matthew, Luke and John (marked respectively in red, blue, and purple above) and simply create a “proper” ending.[3]
 All that proves is that those particular verses are not fond in any Ms that is not proof that the Gospel really ended at v8, or if it did, why it did. There is no particular reason to assume that we know why and just becuase it did end at 8 does not establish a logical reason to believe that Mark made up the empty tomb. The "added verses are 16:9-20." There are scholarly arguments that they are valid. "...[T]he witnesses which bring the verses into question are few, and that the verses are quoted by church Fathers very early, even in the second century." [4] F.H.A. Scrivener makes arguments for vv9-20 as the proper ending. This is an older source quoted at length by Marlowe.[5] My purpose is not argue for the ending of Mark, I wont belabor that point. No logical reason is given as to why a short abrupt ending means Mark made up the tomb.

Another point that is often made is the lack resurrection sightings in Mark. That is also not proof that the tomb was made up. We are conditioned by Matthew, Luke and John to think that there must be sightings and that they must be certain ones and come out in a certain way. Since Mark was written before Matthew, Luke, or John he didn't do it the way they did. My view is that what we have in the ending in verse 8 may well be the original ending, but it reflects not a made up tomb but the uncertainty of the very period before the community sorted out all the differing testimonies. They didn't understand the event so they don't talk about it that much.

We know there was more than one version of Mark. The Version we have today is not the original version. There are at least three we know of by the end of the first century. The concept of the Ur Mark, a pre-Mark version of Mark that was latter corrected and verged into two versions, one used by Matthew and one by Luke. Neil points out that the study for an "UrMark" the Gospel behind Mark, is really very old, stretching back into the 19th century.[6] But Helmut Koster traces the actual textual criticism to show that there is clearly a Gospel behind the Gospel of Mark. This primary material is much older than the version of Mark as we know it, and there is good reason to believe that it is of great historical significance.

The Gospel of Mark as we know it, draws upon many sources. One such source already mentioned is the Passion Narrative which all the Canonical and the Gospel of Peter draw upon. But Koseter also shows that there was another whole version of Mark that was apparently not known to Matthew and Luke. Whether or not this is the same source as that of the passion narrative we cannot say. In addition to this other version, there are several other sources which can be seen in the Gospel. These may be sources used by the original or they may be those drawn upon by the redactor who put the work into the form in which we know it.

"External evidence for two different versions of Mark circulating at an early date can be derived only from the observation that Luke does not reproduce the section Mark 6:45-8:26. Luke 19: 19= Mark 8:27 follows directly upon Luke 9:17= Mark 6:44. Luke may have used a copy of Mark that had accidentally lost a few pages. However there are some special features which differentiate this particular from the rest of Mark's Gospel. It begins with Jesus going to Bethsaida (Mark 6:45) and ends with the healing of a blind man from Bethsaida (Mark 8:22). Thereafter Jesus goes to Cesaria Philippi and the town of Bethsaida never occurs again the Gospel. This section is also of a number of other doublets of Markan pericopes. 6:44-54 the walking on the water is a variant of the stilling of the tempest (Mark 4:35-41). 8:1-10 the feeding of the 4000 is a secondary elaboration of the feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44)...The cumulative evidence of these peculiarities may allow the conclusion that an earlier version of Mark, which was used by Luke did not yet contain the Besiada section (Mark 6:45-8:26) whereas Matthew knew the expanded version which must have come into existence very soon after the original composition of the original gospel."[7]

Koester doesn't' argue for a complete UrMarkus ..as a more permeative version of the Gospel, but this evidence does suggest different versions of the same Gospel. While we can't find an UrMarkus, we can see clearly that the redactor who first formed the Gospel used several sources. The passion narrative has been mentioned, moreover, a miracle story source that is compatible with John, two written documents of saying sources are also recognizable. These include a collection of parables and one of apocalyptic material. (p.287)

But does this mean that Mark [the primary redactor] is merely a "cut and paste" which destorts previous sources and collects rumors and legends with no historical value? Where the skeptic sees this aspect, Koester does not. What Koester sees is a faithful copyist who has collected materials known to be of value to the community, and forged them into a certain order for the purposes of edification to the community.

"Mark [the primary redactor] is primarily a faithful collector. In so far as he is also an author he has created an overriding general framework for the incorporation of traditional material but he has still left most of his material intact.His Gospel is therefore a most important witness for an early stage for the formative development of the traditions about Jesus. The world which these traditions describe rarely goes beyond Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem, which is not the world of the author [primary redactor] or the readers for whom the book was intended. Mark's information about Palestine and its people is fairly accurate whenever he leaves his sources intact. But from his redaction of the sources it is clear that the author is not a Jewish Chrstistian and that he does not live in Palestine."[8]

That would explain that frightened, reverenced, alarming rushed quality that one gets reading those passages. The mysterious men in white (angles?) and the lack of sightings. Not becuase there were none but perhaps becasue they didn't know which group to believe. If James was claiming to be the first to see him,[9] (scholarly consensus holds that this is a very early creed)[10] then the claim is made about the women there may have been confusion about which group had primacy. You have two groups of women, the women who stayed at the tomb and Mary Madeline who apparently left early to get John and Peter then came back after then and had one of the sightings.[11] That would explain the confusion about naming which women went to the tomb.[12] My argument is that v8 could well be the proper ending, but this is not proof that Mark made up the tomb, a better reason for the brevity of the chapter is the copy that ends there reflects the Ur Mark which did end there. The longer version may have started with one of the other two versions that are quoted in the synoptic.

The major arguments for Mark inventing the empty tomb, apart from the brevity of his ending,are it's lack of presence in other sources, both Gospels (except for those dependent upon Mark--Matt and Luke) and it's absence from Paul's work.[13]Paul's lack of mention I exlpain in a similar way to Mark's lack of attention to post resurrection sightings, which offer above (this is my own original argument): there were two different factions, or maybe even more than two, one of them associated with James as the first witness to risen Jesus, and the other being the communities that produced Mark, Matthew, and John. Paul spent time in the James community when he was in Jerusalem following the three years he spend in Aria after his stay in Damascus when he was first converted.

I'm not saying that these different communities disagreed about James and the women. I'm not saying the community that produced Matthew said "no James did not see him." Nor am I contending that James said "Mary didn't see him." But each community lauded the witness of it's members. So the community with Mary in it emphasized that Mary was in on the discovery of the empty tomb. while the James community focused upon James's experience of seeing his risen brother, presumably first. After all this was two decades before the Gospels began to be made known to people in written form. Without having a Bible to read it in, the James followers probalby just said "some women saw him too, I don't know who they were just women, but James saw him!" The community with the women in it probably said "Hey our women saw him, and btw James saw him too!"

Helmutt Koester

The key question is, is there a literary tradition that is not dependent upon Mark that includes the empty tomb? Yes, there is one. It's not only independent of Mark but it existed before the Gospel of Mark was written.The Gospel of Peter was discovered in Egypt at Oxryranchus in the 19th century. It was probably written around 200 AD and contains some Gnostic elements, but is basically Orthodox. There are certain basic differences between Gospel of Peter (GPet) and the canonically, but mainly the two are in agreement.

Gpet follows the OT as a means of describing the passion narrative, rather than following Matthew. Jurgen Denker uses this observation to argue that GPet is independent and is based upon an independent source. In addition to Denker, Koester, Raymond Brown, and John Dominick Crossan also agree.[14] It is upon this basis that Crossan constructs his "cross Gospel" which he dates in the middle of the first century, meaning, an independent source upon which all the canonical and GPet draw,(also see my article dating the tomb story in the passion narrative). But the independence of GPet from all of these sources is also guaranteed by its failure to follow any one of them. Raymond Brown, who built his early reputation on study of GPet, follows the sequence of narrative in GPet and compares it in very close reading with that of the canonical Gospels. He finds that GPet is not dependent upon the canonical, although it is closer in the order of events to Matt/Mark rather than to Luke and John. Many Christian apologists think it’s their duty to show that GPet is dependent upon the canonical gospels, but it is basically a proved fact that it’s not. Such apologists are misguided in understanding the true apologetic gold mine in this fact. The fact that GPet is not dependent enables it to prove common ancestry with the canonicals and that establishes the early date of the circulation of the empty tomb as a part of the Jesus narrative. As documented on the Jesus Puzzle II page, and on Res part I. GPet is neither a copy of the canonical, nor are they a copy of GPet, but both use a common source in the Passion narrative which dates to AD 50 according to Crosson and Koester. Brown follows the flow of the narrative closely and presents a 23 point list in a huge table that illustrates the point just made above. I cannot reproduce the entire table, but just to give a few examples:

Helmutt Koester argues for the “Ur Gospel” and passion narrative that ends with the empty tomb. He sees GPet as indicative of this ancient source. Again, the argument is not that GPet is older than the Canonicals but that they all five share common ancestry with the Ur source. There is much secondary material in Gpet, meaning, additions that crept in and are not part of the Ur Gospel material; the anti-Jewish propaganda is intensified, for example Hared condemns Jesus rather than Pilate. [15]
Gospel of Peter (GPet) follows the OT as a means of describing the passion narrative, rather following Matthew. Jurgden Denker uses this observation to argue that GPet is independent is based upon an independent source. In addition to Denker, Koester, Borwn, and the very popular Charles Dominik Corssan also agree[16]

One might be tempted to argue that it's just one source, but Mark takes it form the Passion Narrative so it's still just one source. Not so, Raymond Brown proved there are two independent sources. The Passion narrative does not follow the synoptics are John, they all share a common ancestor, but Mark and Passion narrative are copied as idepndent sources. Neither depends upon the other. Mark is original and Passion narratives follows patterns from the OT. We are talking about reading that are preserved in latter documents. So while the form in which we have Gospel of Peter is latter than Mark the readings that survive in it or of a form that show they are older than Mark. They are not just copying the OT they are telling the story in the from of certain OT renditions.
Brown, who built his early reputation on study of GPet, follows the sequence of narrative in GPet and compares it in very close reading with that of the canonical Gospels. He finds that GPet is not dependent upon the canonical, although it is closer in the order of events to Matt/Mark rather than to Luke and John.

GPet follow the classical flow from trail through crucifixion to burial to tomb presumably with post resurrection appearances to follow. The GPet sequence of individual episodes, however, is not the same as that of any canonical Gospel...When one looks at the overall sequence in the 23 items I listed in table 10, it would take very great imagination to picture the author of GPet studying Matthew carefully, deliberately shifting episodes around and copying in episodes form Luke and John to produce the present sequence.[17]

Brown follows the flow of the narrative closely and presents a 23 point list in a huge table wich illustrates the point just made above. I cannot reproduce the enire table, but just to give a few examples:

In the Canonical Gospel's Passion Narrative we have an example of Matt. working conservatively and Luke working more freely with the Marcan outline and of each adding material: but neither produced an end product so radically diverse from Mark as GPet is from Matt." [18]
Koester demonstrates agreement with many scholars as he puts the date for the Passion narrative mid first century. However, "there are other traces in the Gospel of Peter which demonstrate an old and independent tradition." The way the suffering of Jesus is described by the use of passages from the old Testament without quotation formulae is, in terms of the tradition, older than the explicit scriptural proof; it represents the oldest form of the passion of Jesus.Philipp Vielhauer, Jurgen Denker argues that the Gospel of Peter shares this tradition of OT quotation with the Canonicals but is not dependent upon them. [19] Koester writes, "John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century! This means the source for the Passion narrative is much older than our version of Mark, it's only 18 years after original events. It constitutes two independent sources testifying to the empty tomb early on, Mark (Ur Mark) and Pre Mark passion narrative. Even if we want to say it's just one source which stands behind all of these different Gospels it removes the onus that Mark invented the tomb and it places the tomb well witin living memory of eye witnesses.

 [1] Peter Kirby, The Case Against the Empty Tomb, fall 2002. 176 Online materiel pdf  http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/kirby_tombcase.pdf
accessed 4/12/14

[2] Jame Tabor, "The Strange Ending of the Gospel of Mark and why it makes all the difference: James Tabor Presents a New Look At the Original Text of the Earliest Gospel." Bible History Daily, published by Biblical Archaeology Society. 4/24/2013. on line http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/the-strange-ending-of-the-gospel-of-mark-and-why-it-makes-all-the-difference/
accessed 4/13/14.

[3] Ibid. the quote from Metzger is from Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 123.

[4] Michael D. Marlowe. "Bible Research, Textual Criticism, Finding the Ending of Mark," Bible Research: Internet Resources for Students of Scripture. site dated since Feb 2001. On line
accessed 4/13/2014.
Marlowe also presentes F.H.A. Scrivener's arguments from 1984, that argue for Mark 16:9-20 as the valid ending.


[5] Marlowe, quoting Scrivener, Ibid, http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html#dissent
accessed 4/13/2014

[6] Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1961, Oxford: Oxford University Press. see UR Marcus.

[7] Koester, 285

[8] Ibid.Koester p.289

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:5.

[10] Peter May, quoting Gary Habermas, "the Resurrection of Jesus and the Witness of Paul." Be Thinking blog. on line
May is a retired GP who held layman's rank of leadership in the Church of England.Peter May served on the General Synod of the Church of England from 1985 to 2010 and was Chair of the UCCF Trust Board from  2003 to 2010. He is a retired GP.He cites  C.H. Dodd The Founder of Christianity Fontana 1971, and Gary R. Habermas The Risen Jesus & Future Hope Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield 2003, Chapter 1.

[12] Metacrock, "Resurrection Harmony Page 1," The Religious A prori, no date given. on line:
http://religiousapriorijesus-bible.blogspot.com/2010/05/resurrection-harmony-page-1.html  accessed 4/13/2014

Please read my page on The Religious a priori and follow my sense of harmony of the events. we see Mary leave when they first see the tomb stone is ajar. She goes to get Peter and John, returning after them, and seeing Jesus.

[13] Peter Kirby, Op cit. 176.

[14] Helmutt Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, Their History and Development. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990, 208.

[15] Ibid, 217

[16] Ibid. 218

[17] Raymond Brown, Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave, A commentary on the Passionnarratives in the Four Gospels. Volume 2. New York: Doubleday 1994, 1322

[18] Ibid., 1325

[19]  Koester, Op cit, 218