Mark’s version of the resurrection.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 April
Mark 16.1-9 KWL
1 After Sabbath finished, Mary the Magdalene,
Mary James’s mother, and Salome
buy fragrances so they can anoint Jesus
when they come to his sepulcher.
2 Very early, on the first day of the week,
the women go to the sepulcher at sunrise.
3 They’re saying to themselves, “Who will roll away for us
the stone at the sepulcher door?”
4 As they look, they see the stone was rolled away
—for it’s very big.
 
5 As they enter the sepulcher they see a “young man”
sitting on the right, clothed in a white robe.
They’re alarmed.
6 The “young man” tells them, “Don’t be alarmed.
You seek the crucified Jesus the Nazarene.
He is risen! He’s not here. Look at the place he was put.
7 But go; tell Jesus’s students and Simon Peter this:
‘He goes before you to the Galilee.
You’ll see him there, like he told you.’ ”
 
8 Coming out, the women flee the sepulcher,
for they’re shaking and ecstatic.
They say nothing to no one, for they’re afraid.

This is all Mark has about Jesus’s resurrection. Seriously: The book ends with καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ/ke udení udén eínan—efovúnto yár, “and nothing to no one they say, for they be afraid.” Done. The end.

Since it’s kind of a sucky ending, Christians came up with two better ones. One is the Short Ending, which I’m gonna include here. The other is the Long Ending, which I’ll discuss later. You’ll find the Long Ending in the King James Version and most bibles. No, Mark didn’t write either of them; they were written centuries later. Even so, Christians are agreed both of them are scripture. (I’ll come back to that.) And now, the Short Ending:

Mark 16.9 KWL [Short Ending]
[The women concisely inform those with Peter
everything the “young man” commanded.
After these things, Jesus himself sends them forth
from the place of sunrise to the place of sunset,
with the holy and immortal message
of salvation in the age to come.
Amen!]

Jesus’s women disciples.

I’ve elsewhere pointed out these women, the same women who watched Jesus die, are Jesus’s disciples. Same as the men. Plus two of them were family: Mary and Salomé were his aunts.

Various Christians like to describe ’em as if they’re groupies: They hung out with Jesus and the Twelve, but they weren’t students of Jesus like the Twelve. They were Jesus’s support system. They funded stuff, and brought ’em food and clothing, and did the gruntwork while the menfolk studied. But I remind you Jesus let them listen to him as he taught, and in some cases even let ’em sit up front where only men customarily sat. Lk 10.39 He didn’t discriminate. Sexism is our thing, not his.

Christians like to talk about how brave these women were, in comparison with the boys:

  • Judas Iscariot turned Jesus in to the police, then repented and unsuccessfully tried to undo things, then killed himself in despair.
  • Simon Peter followed Jesus as far as Annas’s courtyard, but denounced him to Annas’s slaves, and went off to cry about it.
  • The student Jesus loves (whom we all assume is John bar Zavdi) alone followed Jesus to the cross, and was tasked with taking care of Jesus’s mom.
  • The other nine? Went into hiding.

But the women, like John, watched everything. And Sunday morning they came to Jesus’s sepulcher to put more spices and perfumes on Jesus’s corpse… whereas the boys were still in hiding. Hence some preachers like to scorn the boys, and praise the women.

I’m not sure whether that’s fair. Remember, sexism isn’t just a present-day problem. It was a problem back then too. And because Pharisees wouldn’t let women study alongside the men, the women who followed Jesus wouldn’t be recognized as his actual students, disciples, and apprentices. The Romans would likewise naively assume they weren’t real followers; they were just fans. It gave the women a lot of freedom to pass by under the radar… unlike the boys.

Since the women had taken care of Jesus’s personal needs in his lifetime, of course they’d try to care for him after he died. They may not have had Joseph and Nicodemus’s money, but they could do something. So they brought ἀρώματα/arómata, “fragrances.” Perfumes, ointments; stuff to mask the stench of decay. Sometimes arómata is translated “spices,” but the verb ἀλείψωσιν/aleípsosin, “they may pour oil,” indicates these are liquids.

Mark says they bought it. What stores were open before sunrise? Probably none… but in Judean reckoning, the new day began at sundown, so what we’d call Saturday night, they’d call the first day of the week. Stores and restaurants were open Saturday night. The women bought fragrances, then went home and went to bed, then got up very early in the morning to go anoint Jesus… although along the way, they realized they weren’t quite sure how they’d get the stone off the sepulcher door.

The “young man” and his message.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, what’s left of Jesus’s tomb is inside the Kuvuklion, a small chapel beneath the church’s rotunda. You go in there, and there’s the slab Jesus’s body laid on, just at your right. The “young man” whom the women saw, must’ve been sitting on it—on the now-empty strips of linen Jesus’s corpse had been wrapped in.

If you’re a biblical inerrantist, you’ll go a little bonkers trying to explain why all the gospels describe different things:

  • Mark says there was a “young man.”
  • Matthew says an angel.
  • Luke says two men.
  • John says two angels.

Much easier to not worry about it. One or two people; maybe they were angels or men; who cares? The important thing—which the gospels all have in common—is the women got a divine message from a divine messenger. (Or two.) Jesus isn’t there. They were gonna see him in person. He’s alive.

Since the women were expecting no such messenger, nor any such message, they lost their heads. As anyone would. So you can totally see why none of the gospels have the details straight. You can also see why the boys didn’t believe them at first: The women were too excited, too emotional, too irrational; they couldn’t tell you whether it was a man or angel, whether there were one or two, or what the sequence of events was. They were all over the place.

From the sound of it in Mark, they didn’t even tell the boys at first: They were too afraid to say anything. We don’t know how long it took before they could pull themselves together and share the good news. Sometimes it takes us a good long time before we can share with others what God’s told us. We find it too hard to believe, or too good to believe. This was likely these women’s very first experience with divine messengers (apart from Jesus, of course), and they had to get up the nerve to share the message. But eventually they did… and in Luke, nobody believed them but Peter. (In Matthew and John, the students believed them—or if they doubted, it wasn’t for long, since Jesus visited ’em later that day.)

The takeaway from the resurrection stories is how details are way less important than the message. You wanna nitpick the details, you’re gonna miss the forest for the trees. “Jesus is alive, and you will see him” is the important thing. Not how many angels there were, nor what they wore. Fools care about such things—because they wanna use these details, not to add to their knowledge, but to pick things apart. Those who seek God only care what he has to say to us, and what he promises us.

So… is there more?

Like I said, Mark’s ending sucks. The women run away terrified, and say nothing to no one. Obviously they didn’t continue to say nothing to no one, for they obviously told somebody, ’cause that somebody told Mark. So… what happened after that? Don’t leave us hanging!

And yet that’s all Mark has.

I think it’s fair to assume Mark wrote more. Some scholars actually claim no, the essential facts are all there; Mark didn’t have to write more. Just think how intriguing the idea is: A gospel which doesn’t tell any post-resurrection stories about Jesus. Maybe it’s because we Christians are each supposed to have our own individual post-resurrection experiences with Jesus. Sometimes even see him for ourselves.

Maybe. But maybe not; I think it’s better to have resurrection stories than not. When you’re presenting the gospel to pagans, they haven’t yet had any Jesus-experiences, so perhaps we oughta tell them what such experiences look like. What did the first Christians experience? Was Jesus visible? Did he walk around with them? Could people touch him? Could he still give orders and teach lessons? Or was this a ghostly, spiritual, real-but-not-physical resurrection, like gnostics and spiritualists claim?

Mark likely wrote something. But it’s gone. Something happened to it. Maybe some persecutor got hold of the only copy of Mark in existence, and tore the ending off the scroll, or set fire to it, or otherwise destroyed it. Maybe some copyist, in a rush, forgot to include the last column. Maybe some gnostic, finding the ending made Jesus too physical for his comfort, got rid of it. Conspiracy theorists can speculate the original ending actually was gnostic, and Christians got rid of it in embarrassment.

We can speculate all day long, but we’ll never know. That is, till Mark gets resurrected and tells us.

Anyway that brings us to the Short Ending. In the absence of a proper ending, some scribe tacked on the Short Ending, which you’ll find in the footnotes of most bibles. Basically the women pulled it together and told Peter; then Jesus showed up and send his students everywhere to proclaim the gospel. Done. Amen.

Like I said, it’s scripture. As we know from John and Matthew and Luke/Acts, the women did share the message with Peter, and Jesus did commission his apostles to spread the gospel. It’s not false. The only reason we go with the Long Ending, or put the Long Ending in a more prominent place, is because we like it more. But this doesn’t mean the Short Ending isn’t just as valid and true—and just as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Christians have asked me,“Which one should we put at the end of Mark?” And I say: Why not both? After all, we have four gospels. We can have four records of the acts and teachings of Jesus. We can’t have two endings for Mark? Please; the more the better.