Some lessons from the Diatessaron of Tatian (Part 5)

The opening words of Mark's Gospel, from the Book of Kells (9th century), Folio 130R
The opening words of Mark’s Gospel, from the Book of Kells (9th century), Folio 130R

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6]

Last time round we saw several instances where the text of the Diatessaron supports some of the New Testament’s marginal or disputed readings; and one instance where it very clearly didn’t.

In this the fifth post in our series, we shall consider what the Diatessaron tells us about the so-called ‘Longer Ending’ of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20.

#9. The Diatessaron clearly supports the Longer Ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20

If you’ve ever read Mark’s Gospel in a modern translation, you may have spotted the little notice which generally occurs between verses 8 and 9 of chapter 16 to the effect, “[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.]

Some translations even give multiple different versions of the ending of Mark’s Gospel, generally known as the ‘Longer Ending’ and the ‘Shorter Ending,’ for obvious reasons.

“I am not here going to argue that the Longer Ending is, or is not, part of the original of Mark’s Gospel. But, based on the evidence of the Diatessaron, I will suggest that if it is an accretion, it must be an early one.”

We will not say anything more here about the Shorter Ending; it seems to be less well attested than the Longer Ending.

It is often observed[1] that the Longer Ending is a composite of statements from elsewhere in the four Gospels, and this observation is used as evidence of its being a later accretion to Mark’s Gospel and not part of what the author originally wrote.

I am not here going to argue that the Longer Ending is, or is not, part of the original of Mark’s Gospel. But, based on the evidence of the Diatessaron, I will suggest that if it is an accretion, it must be an early one.

Before we go on, let me give you Mark chapter 16 in full from the ESV, including the Longer Ending:—

[16:1] When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. [v.2] And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. [v.3] And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” [v.4] And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. [v.5] And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. [v.6] And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. [v.7] But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” [v.8] And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.]

[v.9] [[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. [v.10] She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. [v.11] But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

[v.12] After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. [v.13] And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

[v.14] Afterwards he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. [v.15] And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. [v.16] Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. [v.17] And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; [v.18] they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

[v.19] So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. [v.20] And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

Now when we look at the Diatessaron, we find nearly all of Mark 16:9-20 attested therein.

“But,” you may ask, “could it not be another instance of assimilation of parts of the standard text of the Gospels into the Diatessaron?”

“In the case of Mark 16:9-20, I am firmly convinced that it is not a case of later accretion into the Diatessaron from the standard text.”

We discussed this in Part 3 of our series and noted some possible instances where this could have occurred in Part 4.

However, in the case of Mark 16:9-20, I am firmly convinced that it is not a case of later accretion into the Diatessaron from the standard text.

Why? Because if the passage from Mark had been grafted into the Diatessaron text in later centuries, in the way that the genealogies of Jesus have been grafted into the Vatican manuscript, it would certainly have been done as a block copy & paste.

Instead, what we find is that Tatian has carefully integrated the text of Mark 16:9-20, verse by verse, into his harmony.

“The way Mark 16:9-20 is used [by Tatian] is entirely consistent with Tatian’s process of weaving the Gospel passages together.”

In other words, the way Mark 16:9-20 is used is entirely consistent with Tatian’s process of weaving the Gospel passages together.

What this means is that Mark 16:9-20 was in the text of Mark’s Gospel that Tatian had before him in the middle of the second century — or, at the very least, Tatian had a text (not necessarily part of Mark’s Gospel) largely the same as our Mark 16:9-20 before him in some form, and he regarded it as a genuine part of the Gospels.

That is the conclusion. Let me spend the remainder of this post showing you the detail, as there is nothing like seeing the evidence at first hand.

Exhibit A. Mark 16:8, in Diatessaron sec. LIII

Firstly, it is worth our observing that the ‘original’ ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:8, occurs in sec. LIII of the Diatessaron, and it is there separated from verses 9-20:—

[Luke 24:8] And they remembered his sayings;
[Matt. 28:8] and they departed in haste from the tomb with joy and great fear, and hastened and went;
[Mark 16:8b] and perplexity and fear encompassed them; and they told no man anything, for they were afraid.
[John 20:2] And Mary hastened, and came to Simon Cephas, and to that other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken our Lord from the sepulchre, and I know not where they have laid him.”[2]

You can see above that the last verse of the ‘original’ ending of Mark’s Gospel, 16:8, is immediately followed by a line from John’s Gospel.

Exhibit B. Mark 16:9, in Diatessaron sec. LIII

Mark 16:9:—

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.

This appears in Diatessaron, sec. LIII, as follows:—

[John 20:17] Jesus said to her, “Touch me not; for I have not ascended yet to my Father: go to my brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’”
[Mark 16:9] And on the First-day on which he rose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.
[Matt. 28:11b] And some of those guards came to the city, and informed the chief priests of all that had happened.[3]

Exhibits C, D, E. Mark 16:10b-12a, in Diatessaron sec. LIII

The next three verses from Mark 16:9-20, namely verses 10b-12a, although occurring in distinct places, appear so closely together in sec. LIII of the Diatessaron, that we may as well treat of them all together.

Mark 16:10-12:—

10She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country.

These verses appear in Diatessaron, sec. LIII, as follows:—

“And they, when they heard them say that he was alive and had appeared to them, did not believe them.”

Diatessaron, sec. LIII

[Luke 24:9] And those women returned, and told all that to the eleven, and to the rest of the disciples;
[Mark 16:10b] and to those that had been with him, for they were saddened and weeping.
[Luke 24:10] And those were Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the rest who were with them: and they were those that told the apostles.
[Mark 16:11] And they, when they heard them say that he was alive and had appeared to them, did not believe them:
[Luke 24:11a] and these sayings were before their eyes as the sayings of madness.
[Mark 16:12a] And after that, he appeared to two of them,
[Luke 24:13] on that day, and while they were going to the village which was named Emmaus, and whose distance from Jerusalem was sixty furlongs.[4]

Exhibit F. Mark 16:13, in Diatessaron sec. LIII

Mark 16:13:—

And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

This appears right at the end of sec. LIII of the Diatessaron, as follows:—

[Luke 24:33] And they rose in that hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered, and those that were with them, saying,
[Luke 24:34] “Truly our Lord is risen, and has appeared to Simon.”
[Luke 24:35] And they related what happened in the way, and how they knew him when he broke the bread.
[Mark 16:13] But neither did they believe that also.
[*Diatessaron sec. LIV*]
[Luke 24:36a] And while they talked together,
[John 20:19a] the evening of that day arrived which was the First-day; and the doors were shut where the disciples were, because of the fear of the Jews; …[5]

Exhibit G. Mark 16:12a, in Diatessaron sec. LIV

Mark 16:12 again:—

After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country.

It seems to me that Mark 16:12a makes another appearance — albeit in a loosely-quoted form — in the fragment below from Diatessaron, sec. LIV:—

“But he did not appear to them in his own form.”

Diatessaron, sec. LIV

[John 21:11] Simon Cephas therefore went up, and dragged the net to the land, full of great fish, a hundred and fifty-three fishes: and with all this weight that net was not torn.
[John 21:12] And Jesus said to them, “Come and sit down.” And no man of the disciples dared to ask him who he was, for they knew that it was our Lord.
[Mark 16:12a?] But he did not appear to them in his own form.
[John 21:13] And Jesus came, and took bread and fish, and gave to them.[6]

Exhibits H (Mk. 16:14), I (16:15), J (16:16-18), K (16:19a), L (16:19b-c), M (16:20), in Diatessaron sec. LV

The final seven verses (16:14-20) of the Longer Ending are again worth treating together, as they are incorporated into six closely-coupled but distinct fragments of Diatessaron, sec. LV.

Mark 16:14-20:—

14Afterwards he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

The whole of sec. LV of the Diatessaron reads:—

“Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved; but whosoever does not believe not shall be rejected.”

Diatessaron, sec. LV

[Matt. 28:16] But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
[Matt. 28:17] And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but there were some of them who doubted.
[Mark 16:14] And while they sat there he appeared to them again, and upbraided them for their lack of faith and the hardness of their hearts, those that saw him when he was risen, and did not believe.

[Matt. 28:18] Then said Jesus unto them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth;
[John 20:21b] and as my Father hath sent me, so I also send you.
[Mark 16:15] Go now into all the world, and preach my gospel in all the creation;
[Matt. 28:19] and teach all the peoples, and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit;
[Matt. 28:20] and teach them to keep all whatsoever I commanded you:  and see, I am with you all the days, to the end of the world.
[Mark 16:16] For whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved; but whosoever does not believe not shall be rejected.
[Mark 16:17] And the signs which shall attend those that believe in me are these: that they shall cast out devils in my name; and they shall speak with new tongues;
[Mark 16:18] and they shall take up serpents, and if they drink deadly poison, it shall not injure them; and they shall lay their hands on the diseased, and they shall be healed.
[Luke 24:49b] But as for you, remain in the city of Jerusalem, until you are clothed with power from on high.”

[Mark 16:19a] And our Lord Jesus, after speaking to them,
[Luke 24:50] took them out to Bethany:  and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.
[Luke 24:51a] And while he blessed them, he was separated from them,
[Luke 24:51b; Mark 16:19b] and ascended into heaven,
[Mark 16:19c] and sat down at the right hand of God.
[Luke 24:52] And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:
[Luke 24:53] and at all times they were in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

[Mark 16:20] And from there they went forth, and preached in every place; and our Lord helped them, and confirmed their sayings by the signs which they did.

[John 21:25] And here are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written every one of them, not even the world, according to my opinion, would contain the books which should be written.[7]

Conclusion on Lesson #9

“The final seven verses of the Longer Ending [of Mark’s Gospel] have been made repeatedly to weave in and out of the resurrection narratives from the other three Gospels. This can only be the work of Tatian himself.”

You can see from the thirteen exhibits given above, that the ‘Longer Ending’ of Mark’s Gospel, 16:9-20, has been woven with great craft into the Diatessaron’s resurrection narrative. This is particularly shown in the last section (Diatessaron, sec. LV; Exhibits H—M), where the final seven verses of the Longer Ending have been made repeatedly to weave in and out of the resurrection narratives from the other three Gospels.

This can only be the work of Tatian himself.

What the Diatessaron’s use of Mark’s Longer Ending shows us, very clearly, then, is that Tatian had the Longer Ending before him as part of the text he considered Gospel.

I don’t think the evidence here permits us to say definitively that Tatian found the Longer Ending as the ending of Mark’s Gospel — or even as any part of Mark’s Gospel — though that would be the most obvious supposition. But in whatever location he found it, he considered it a genuine part of the Gospel narrative.

“The Longer Ending [of Mark’s Gospel] cannot date from later than the middle of the second century A.D., and probably somewhat earlier.”

That means that the Longer Ending cannot date from later than the middle of the second century A.D. (see here), and probably somewhat earlier.

We can also take it as probable, though not certain, that the Longer Ending was already attached to the end of Mark’s Gospel by this time — i.e., in the position where it is today in our Bibles — at least in some copies including Tatian’s.

 

In our next and final post in this series of ‘Lessons from the Diatessaron,’ we will consider how and why — as a literary project — the Diatessaron was not, and could not be, entirely successful.

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] See, e.g., https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 and https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/the-strange-ending-of-the-gospel-of-mark-and-why-it-makes-all-the-difference/ for two quite different discussions of this subject.

[2] The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. X (henceforth referred to as ANF). The Diatessaron of Tatian, sec. LIII, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf09.iv.iii.liii.html. (Note: In the online version Vol. X is referred to as Vol. IX.) I have slightly adapted the quotation and subsequent quotations to make them more readable to modern readers, e.g., in this case by the addition of quotation marks.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., secc. LIII, LIV. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf09.iv.iii.liii.html and http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf09.iv.iii.liv.html.

[6] Ibid., sec. LIV, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf09.iv.iii.liv.html. The translation given in the Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. X (see the above hyperlink, and note there) only gives John 21:12 as the reference for this line: and that is true up to the words, “for they knew it was our Lord.” But the words following seem to me to be a loose quotation of Mark 16:12a.

[7] Ibid., sec. LV, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf09.iv.iii.lv.html.

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