Mark 16:8 And Plato, “Protagoras” 328d -- By: Nicholas Denyer

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 57:1 (NA 2006)
Article: Mark 16:8 And Plato, “Protagoras” 328d
Author: Nicholas Denyer


Mark 16:8 And Plato, “Protagoras” 328d

Nicholas Denyer

What we have of the Gospel of Mark comes to an abrupt halt at 16:8 with the words καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν, ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ (‘And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’). Such a cliff-hanger was felt intolerable by some ancients, who composed and transmitted to us various passages that bring the Gospel to a more satisfying close.1 Many modern scholars, too, have found it hard to believe that Mark indeed intended his Gospel to end at 16:8. The author of the most recent monograph on the topic lists eighty-nine such scholars, and is himself a ninetieth.2

In all the debate about the end of Mark, nobody seems to have drawn attention to Plato, Protagoras 328d. Part of the significance of this passage is that it provides further confirmation, if further confirmation were needed, that ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ (‘for they were afraid’) – a two-word clause, where the second word means ‘for’ – is an astonishingly abrupt end. But its main significance is this: it provides proof that so astonishingly abrupt an end could well be deliberate.3

The context is this: various things, among them the fact that the sons of good fathers are not always good themselves, seem to indicate that virtue is not teachable; Protagoras earns his living by giving lessons in

virtue, and has been challenged to show that it is indeed possible to teach people to be good; he attempts to meet this challenge by a rhetorical tour de force; Protagoras’ speech is not on the scale of Mark’s Gospel (the speech contains around 2,500 words; the Gospel contains around 12,000); it is, nevertheless, a substantial work of literature in its own right; Protagoras brings his speech to an end by turning to talk of two men in the audience who have not, so far at least, come to be as good as their father. The last words of the speech are:

τῶνδε δὲ οὔπω ἄξιον τοῦτο κατηγορεῖν·ἔτι γὰρ ἐν αὐτοῖς εἰ...

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