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Ending Mark

David Cowles

May 9, 2024

“Can you help us choose the best ending for the Gospel of Mark?”

I’m sure the Church didn’t intend it…but the Fathers may have given us the world’s first audience participation narrative

As you know, Scripture comes to us in pieces. It would be an exaggeration to say ‘on cocktail napkins and post-it-notes’, so let’s just say ‘multiple fragments from multiple sources’. Few, if any, are complete and faithful to the author’s every intended word. Yet they overlap enough that we believe we can form a largely accurate sense of the authors’ intentions and of events themselves.

Anyway, this polyphony leads to some interesting dilemmas. Take the Gospel of Mark, for example. A narrative fit for any stage or screen, except one thing: we don’t know how it ends. We have multiple versions of the ending. Some versions are compatible with one another; others much less so.

Suppose we suddenly find ourselves, dear readers, in the screening room at MGM, hob-bobbing with movie moguls (as we might have called them in the ‘50s). The propeller-headed creatives have worked themselves into a frazzle; they can’t agree on how to end the soon-to-be released film, The Gospel of Mark. Multiple endings have been filmed, and we are being given final cut.

I don’t know about you but I’m glad I didn’t have that 3rd martini at lunch today. So here it goes…

On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, three women visited the tomb where he had been laid. They found it empty, but they were reassured by an angel:

“Go tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him as he told you.’” (Mark 16: 7) 

Option A: “Cut! That’s a wrap!” What an ending! And without Steven Spielberg. 

This is the Hollywood Ending; and it’s what the investors want. But let’s hear what others have to say first:

Option B: Add some intrigue at the end, a twist; leave the audience on cliff’s edge:

“Then they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them; they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” (Mark 16: 8a)

OMG, is this how it all ends? “Not with a bang but a whimper.” (Eliot) Was the ‘greatest story ever told’…never told? It takes your breath away. I’m feeling vertigo and I’m writing this blasted piece. Surely, this is the Existential Ending

Of course, I think we know that things didn’t end just that way; the story was not lost. It was told, somehow, by someone. In fact, Mark is telling it right now – by writing his Gospel. But just imagine what might not have been!

Option C: You could go the other way and clear up every possible ambiguity:

“And in brief, they delivered all these instructions to Peter and his companions. Afterwards, Jesus himself sent out by them from east to west the sacred and imperishable message of eternal salvation.” (Mark 16: 8b)

This is the Corporate Ending. Everything buttoned-up. No furrowed brows leaving this theater. Wake no patrons from their sleep!

Option D: Or don’t end the story here at all. Extend the narrative. You’ve got a good thing going, why not milk it? This allows us even more options for the denouement. It will require a longer screenplay but here are a few ideas (Mark 16: 9-20):

“Now when he had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…She went and told those who had been with him…(and) they disbelieved. 

“…He was revealed in another form to two of them as they walked on their way into the country. They…told the rest and they didn’t believe them either. 

“Afterwards he was revealed to the 11 as they sat at the table…He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation’…So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven and…they went out and preached everywhere…”  

This might be called the Religious Ending. It fills in earlier blanks, but it also gives the story a well-defined trajectory, pointing directly at the Kingdom of Heaven.

Surprisingly, there is documentary support for each of these finales. There are translations that present all 4 versions as if they constituted a single, all encompassing record of events. This puts a stain on credulity. It is hard to see how Option B could be combined with Option C, or even Option D, for example.

All versions agree on the text through Option A, so the question is whether the narrative should end there or whether the texts associated with Options B, C, and/or D should be added. What say you? Can you help us find an ending for the Gospel of Mark? In the poll below, choose Option A to end the story there or choose instead to add text from Options B, C, and/or D. Which ending works best for you?

Record your preference right here, right now:

Thank you for participating…and for reading Aletheia Today Magazine and Thoughts While Shaving.


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