GA 304 and the Ending of the Gospel of Mark

Mina Monier - 23.05.2019

What is manuscript GA 304, why does it matter (if it does)? As part of the Swiss National Science Foundation project MARK16, which is hosted in the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, we aim to provide a careful assessment of evidence by looking into the manuscripts, which should help future scholars who investigate the problem of Mark’s ending. This etalk will survey what we know and what we can see in the interesting manuscript GA 304.
If you look at the footnote on Mark 16:8 in some of the standard critical editions of the New Testament, such as the famous Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece, you will notice this: next to the sign om. [omit], there are three Greek manuscripts: the famous fourth century codex Sinaiticus, codex Vaticanus and a minuscule manuscript 304. These are the three Greek witnesses to the so-called short ending of the Gospel of Mark. That is, ending at verse 8.
Scholars disagree over the need to include this manuscript in the list of witnesses to the short ending, due to its nature as a commentary, rather than a continuous biblical text. We have those who think it is not worthy of mentioning, while leading voices such as Kurt Aland think that it is an important witness. Yet, the swift comments and footnotes about GA 304 do not really reflect the scholars’ examination of the manuscript itself. While an abundance of information on the first two famous codices can be found, not much is written on GA 304.
Located in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) under shelf mark ‘Grec 194,’ GA 304 is a commentary on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It is not clear whether the codex is complete or whether there is a missing part on Luke and John. The work is in the form of an alternating catena with biblical lemmata distinguished from the commentary with a short space in the same line. Abbreviations of the quoted church fathers appear in the margins. On the form of an alternating catena see Hugh Houghton and David Parker’s introduction to New Testament commentaries (in the reference that appears below).
Identifying the catena has been a problem. A careful examination of the text of GA 304 shows that the catena is closely related to Theophylact of Ohrid’s commentary. Both share the same Byzantine text, with some minor differences between them. However, these similarities are not present in terms of the commentary. We can observe varying degrees of textual agreements in the comments, from simple key words to several sentences. However, there is no full agreement in a complete section.
Now, the ending of Mark 16 reflects a fundamental difference between GA 304 and Theophylact catena. While Theophylact’s commentary covers the longer ending (Mark 16:9-20), GA 304 stops at verse 8. Before jumping to any conclusion, let’s have a look at the manuscript.
What you see now is the end of the manuscript. Next to the red line, this is the second half of Mark 16:6 (you seek Jesus of Nazareth) to the end of Mark 16:8 with the famous proposition γάρ. Then the commentary starts.
This image also shows us the black dot (at the green arrow) which is used throughout the commentary to conclude the biblical lemma before starting the comment with a big letter (the blue arrow) in a different colour, as you can see (the omicron is a bit pale). So, there isn’t any disruption or any suggestion of something missing.
But what does the commentary say? The compiler of this commentary shows no reference of the longer ending, neither here nor in the parallel part in the Gospel of Matthew. He describes the differences between the Gospels in the number of the angels, where the angel is receiving the women, who these women are and why Peter is particularly mentioned (in Mark 16:7). Here, we find him in agreement with Theophylact, but his text looks shorter, simpler and we cannot construct any sensible passages from Theophylact in it. In other words, it would be presumptuous to suggest that GA 304 is based on Theophylact.
After explaining why the women were afraid, the comment concludes in a similar manner like Theophylact’s without showing any abruption. This is followed by an epigram commonly used by Greek scribes: “As the travellers rejoice upon reaching their homeland, Likewise the scribe is upon the end of this book.” Interestingly, if you look closer, you will notice that a later owner was not really happy with this end, so he attempted to erase it. Can you see that in the red square? Yet, a later user seemed to have decided that this is indeed the proper end of Mark, so he tried to rewrite again! Can you see that in the blue circle? Unfortunately the page is cut through the later epigram. This shows us how later owners or users had different views on the ending of Mark.
Now, lest you think that this epigram concludes the entire work. No, it only concludes Mark, and we know that because there is another epigram at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.
But what about Theophylact’s catena? Did it reflect any tension? Interestingly, one of its manuscripts preserved in the National Library of Venice (GA 888) has a note after the end of the commentary on Mark 16:8, which says: “Some of the exegetes say that this [the short ending] is the fulfilment of the Gospel according to Mark, and that the following words became later. It is necessary, then, to interpret this [the longer ending] in order to maintain the truth unharmed.” This note was added later, because it does not feature in the other manuscripts of this famous work. But … why did the compiler or the copyist feel the need to add it?
Looking into the text of this commentary, one would wonder: would a literary relationship between GA304 and Theophylact explain the agreements between these catenae? If yes, what would it be? Could this help us understand why they have different endings of Mark? Did the copyist of GA 304 have a biblical text that ends at Mark 16:8, which led him to stop the copying at this point rather than continuing with a note, like the copyist of Theophylact’s GA 888? Did the copyist simply use a copy that lost a few pages that happen to be exactly after the end of the commentary on the short ending? What are the observations that could support your chosen scenario? These questions are open for further discussions. Stay tuned! This is Minas from Lausanne.
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