In this e-talk, I will show how the Eusebian canon tables were used by scribes as a tool of interpretation of Mark 16. This is Mina Monier of the department of Digital Humanities Plus, at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne – Switzerland. This study is part of the MARK16 project, led by Dr. Claire Clivaz, and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Probably in early fourth century, the prominent Christian writer Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to a certain Carpianus a letter that offers him a helpful tool for handling the parallels between the four canonical Gospels. In this letter, which you can see a Greek copy of on the right side, Eusebius explains to Carpianus a solution offered by a 3rd century Alexandrian writer called Ammonius. Ammonius, Eusebius tells us, produced what he called a Diatessaron (διὰ τεσσάρων) which is a Gospel harmony made of the four canonical Gospels. In this Diatessaron-Gospel, Ammonius used the Gospel of Matthew as his primary source for the sequence of events. Then he fed in the parallel accounts from the other three Gospels.
While this was a helpful way to see the parallel accounts, Eusebius tells us that prioritising the Matthean order meant sacrificing the order of events in the other three Gospels as a collateral damage to the final product. To avoid this problem, Eusebius came up with an ingenious solution: he extracted the sections of Ammonius’ Diatessaron-Gospel and reordered them in ten tables showing the parallels. These sections would become known in scholarship as the Ammonian sections. The first table shows the Ammonian sections that have parallels in the four Gospels. The second, third and fourth tables show combinations of the sections that have parallels in two other Gospels. Then from the fifth to the ninth table we have combinations of sections that have one parallel in another Gospel. And finally you get the tenth table which shows the unique sections that have no parallels in any of the other Gospels.
So, this handy solution became one of the most famous and widely used tools to surf the Gospels and easily locate parallels across the Gospels without fusing the four accounts into a single narrative. Therefore, you can find these tables in many manuscripts across languages. Can you see these three examples? They are from left to right Ethiopic, Armenian and Latin.
In fact as early as the fourth century itself, the tables became famous and authoritative to the point that Jerome wrote a letter to pope Damasus of Rome urging him to produce a new standard edition of the Gospels, which would become the Vulgate, but to reorder it according to the Greek order of the Gospels and introduce the Eusebian tables and how to use them.
So, how do we use them then? If you have a manuscript of the four Gospels supplied with the tables, you will see that the text of the Gospels is broken down into sections. In the margin next to the text, you see two numbers: an Ammonian section number and, usually beneath it, the table number in which you can find that section. Can you see it in this picture on the left side? This is from the Gospel of Mark in manuscript GA 019. You will see that this is section number 233 (of course in Greek), and below it, number two, which is the table number. Now, we go to the tables at the beginning of the codex, and we try to find table number 2, and section 233 of Mark in it.
Here's table 2 on the right side. Can you find Mark’s column and section 233 in it?
Well done! Yes that’s it. So, we learn from it that section 233 in Mark has two parallel sections: section 354 in Matthew and 338 in Luke.
Now, if you go to any standard printed edition of the Gospels, you will learn that they are equivalent to Mark 16:8, Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9. This means that the event of the women’s encounter with the young man inside the tomb is the same event found in Matthew and Luke but of course each Gospel has varying details. That’s what the Eusebian tables lead us to think. So, in fact it is not just a helpful tool to guide us through parallels, but it is a helpful tool to guide us through what Eusebius, or perhaps Ammonius, thinks that they are parallels. It is an exegetical process that goes through the four Gospels through the Eusebian lens.
Now, when it comes to Mark’s ending, we have a big problem. In his epistle to Marinus, Eusebius tells us that “in virtually all manuscripts” he accessed, the Gospel of Mark ends at what we today call the Short Ending, when the women fled the tomb saying nothing to anyone for they were afraid, which is section 233 that we have just located in the tables. Therefore, we find that the Long Ending, that is, the later 12 verses, is absent in his canon. They have no section numbers and therefore they cannot be located in the tables. What should the copyists of the Gospels do then? In fact, evidence shows that they were left to come up with solutions that fit their own understanding of the canonicity of the text.
In the picture you see here, this is Mark’s end in manuscript GA 1. The copyist left a note written in semi-majuscule text and purple ink, that precedes the Long Ending verses. It says: In some copies, the Evangelist (Mark) concludes (the Gospel) here, where (also) Eusebius Pamphile canonised (ἐκανόνισεν) up to. However, in many (copies) this is also extant.
Now, if you look at the left margin of the manuscript image, you will see (in the blue oval) that our copyist continues dividing the Long Ending to new sections beyond the Eusebian limit. Here you can see three new sections 234, 5 and 6, corresponding to verse 16:9, then 10-11, and finally 12-20, respectively. You can also see that the copyist did not give table numbers ... that’s because they were simply made up by him… so, you won’t find them in the tables of Eusebius.
Not all copyists were shy and reluctant like our friend behind GA 1. Some of them were bolder to the point that they put no notes, extrapolate the sections to cover the Long Ending, give these sections table numbers and even edit the Eusebian tables to fit them in. This is manuscript GA 1230, which comes from Sinai. It includes the biblical text alternating with a commentary, which is known as alternating catena. If you look at the margins in the left image, in red circles, you will see sections with tables numbers given to the Long Ending. We have four new sections from 234 to 237. The first two sections were assigned canon table 8, which is the canon table for parallels between Mark and Luke only. Meanwhile, the sections 236 and 7 were assigned to canon table 10, which means that these sections are unique and have no parallels anywhere else.
Now, look at the right side image of the table in the same codex. The copyist squeezed in these new sections in their corresponding tables.
If you look at the top table, you will see the translation of these sections in chapters and verses we are familiar with. So, what does our friend want to say by these parallels? He tells us that Jesus’ apparition in verse 9 was not only to Mary Magdalene, even if Mark mentioned her name only, because it is the same situation mentioned in Luke 24:10 ... Mary was accompanied by Johanna, Mary the mother of James and the others. That’s why he assigned it table number 8, because if it was table 6 for example then it means that Mark has a parallel with Matthew, in other words Mary Magdalene had with her the other Mary (which is presumably the mother of Jesus) only. And if it was assigned table number 1 then we have Matthew and Luke and John in parallel with Mark 16:9 and these could be conflicting scenes. So, he carefully targeted table 8 because this is how he understood the scene.
In other manuscripts, like the Syriac Peshitta, which is a revised edition of the Eusebian tables, we will find that it was assigned number 10, which makes it unique.
Let’s have a look at this interesting case. This is a bilingual Coptic Arabic manuscript. Each language has its own section and table number.
Both agree on considering verses 16:10-11 as a single section, which is section 235.
For the Coptic side (the left arrow) section 235 is assigned table number 1, which means it has parallels in the other three Gospels. When we go to the tables, we find that the parallel in John is section 212 which is John 20:13-18. It is about Mary’s confusing encounter with Jesus.
Now, the Arabic side, which uses a Coptic numeral system called epact, tells us that this same section 235 is assigned table 2, which automatically excludes the Johannine parallel. This is certainly more consistent.
But what does that mean? It means that the gap left by Eusebius for the Long Ending gave the copyists the freedom to express their own understandings of the events in the Long Ending through this powerful tool.
This is also reflected on the miniatures, or little icons portrayed around or within the texts. Look at the image on the right side. This is supposed to be Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the first verse of the Long Ending. But if you look a bit closer at Jesus, you will notice that he is actually disguised as a gardener … can you see the shovel he is holding? This is actually the scene of their encounter in John 20… it is when she mistook him for the gardener (which is fair enough if he appeared like that!). But this icon is situated right above Mark 16:9, not in John. The Arab scribe wants to draw our attention to the parallelism here.
Again, on the left side, in this Armenian manuscript, the scribe is supposed to have portrayed the scene in it, which is the Short Ending of Mark when the angel commissions the women to report what they saw. But if you take a closer look, you will see that this is the scene from Matthew... we have two women only, clearly the Magdalene is the one on the top because she held the spices, and the angel is not inside... he is outside the tomb, sitting on the top just as depicted in Matthew. So, we have a clear harmonisation, through visual art, between the two accounts of Mark and Matthew. If you look at the table number given to that scene ... yes you guessed it right, it is canon table 6, which is a modification of Eusebius’ canon 8.
So, when Mark wrote his Gospel, what did he himself do with his sources? Did he write the Long Ending or has it been added? And has it been added to the Gospel of Mark as we know it?
Was Mary Magdalene on her own when Jesus appeared to her first? Was she accompanied with other Marys but she was the main figure worthy of mentioning? Mmm… what about the Mother of Jesus.. if she was not with her, where was she? And if she was, why did the Long Ending mention the Magdalene only? Ok… what about those two whom Jesus met and appeared to in a different form… where they the same two mentioned in Luke’s story of the walk to Emmaus? If they were the same ones, how did the Long Ending author say that the apostles didn’t believe them while in Luke they found them already believing in the resurrection?
The ancient commentators wrestled with these questions and provided clever, yet diverse and sometimes contradictory answers. Actually, we should thank Eusebius for leaving such a room in his canon for later writers to use freely.
How about you create your own sections and table of the Long Ending as those copyists did? if you do one and would like to share it with me, go ahead and send it by email: email@example.com
This is Mina Monier, from Lausanne – Switzerland.