The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 15 (October 2012)

Mark 16:9–20 in Tatian's Diatessaron

James Snapp, Jr.Mailto: Icon

Minister, Curtisville Christian Church (Indiana, USA)

© 2012 by James Snapp, Jr. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2012 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

Abstract: This paper presents an analysis of the arrangement of Mark 16:9–20 in two major witnesses to Tatian's Diatessaron, an important second-century witness to the text of the Gospels.

§1.  One of the most important, and most difficult, remaining tasks in New Testament textual criticism is the reconstruction of the Diatessaron, a compilation of the contents of the four canonical Gospels blended into one continuous narrative, made by Tatian in about AD 172. Although earlier patristic writers, such as Tatian's teacher Justin Martyr, used many snippets of the Gospels, the Diatessaron's testimony to a Gospels text from the mid-100's is much more extensive, and it is significantly earlier than any other testimony of similar scope. The arrangement of the Diatessaron is easier to discern than its exact contents, but that is enough to establish its testimony in the case of major variants such as Mark 16:9–20. This article will examine the treatment of Mark 16:9–20 in three major witnesses to the Diatessaron.

§2.  Three texts, in three languages, are the foundational witnesses to Tatian's Diatessaron:

  1. Ephrem Syrus's Syriac commentary on the Diatessaron, produced before 373
  2. Victor of Capua's Latin Codex Fuldensis, produced in the 540s
  3. Abu-l-Faraj Abdullah Ibn-at-Tabib's Arabic Diatessaron, produced before 1043

Each attests to the inclusion of Mark 16:9–20 in the Diatessaron.

§3.  In the most ancient witness to Ephrem's Commentary (Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709, from about 500), Ephrem combines Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19: "After they had crucified him, he commanded his disciples, 'Go out into the whole world and proclaim my Gospel to the whole of creation, and baptize all the Gentiles'" (Comm. 8.1, as cited in McCarthy 1993, 145). This statement is absent from the Armenian form of Ephrem's Commentary, preserved in two copies from 1195. Their non-inclusion is almost certainly one of many cases of condensation in the Armenian text; nevertheless, it would be helpful if additional testimony about the presence or absence of Mark 16:9–20 in the Diatessaron could be found.

§4.  Unfortunately, additional testimony is hard to find. The text of the Arabic Diatessaron is suspect because it has two parents: Tatian's Diatessaron, and the Peshitta. Although the Arabic Diatessaron includes Mark 16:9–20, how can we discern whether this trait descends from Tatian's Diatessaron, or from the Peshitta? Similarly, the text of Codex Fuldensis includes Mark 16:9–20, but it also has two parents: Tatian's Diatessaron, and the Vulgate. How can we discern whether this trait descends from Tatian's Diatessaron, or from the Vulgate?

§5.  Fortunately there is a way. In both the Arabic Diatessaron and the Codex Fuldensis, the text of Mark 16:9–20 is divided into several pieces, which are blended with material from the other Gospels. Neither the Peshitta Gospels nor the Vulgate Gospels have this feature, being continuous texts. So by comparing the arrangements of the pieces of Mark 16:9–20 in the Arabic Diatessaron and Codex Fuldensis, we can discern whether their arrangements can be reasonably attributed to two independent harmonists, or if they are so similar as to demand to be recognized as a trait derived from Tatian's Diatessaron.

§6. An adequate basis for comparison is provided by the English translation of the Arabic Diatessaron made by the Reverend J. Hamlyn Hill (1894), and the presentation of the Latin text of Codex Fuldensis made by Ernestus Ranke (1868). By placing Hill's English translation of the Arabic Diatessaron alongside Ranke's presentation of Codex Fuldensis, we can compare their arrangements of the pieces of Mark 16:9–20 and see whether they agree or contradict each other. In the following list of comparisons, "AD" represents the Arabic Diatessaron, and "CF" represents Codex Fuldensis.

§7. This evidence is compelling. The differences are trivial, while the arrangement of the contents of Mark 16:9–20 in Codex Fuldensis, and the arrangement of the contents of Mark 16:9–20 in the Arabic Diatessaron, are essentially the same. Besides the consistency with which the Arabic Diatessaron and Codex Fuldensis divide the text of Mark 16:9–20 into portions of the same size, and blend then into the texts of the other Gospels at the same points, two clear indications that these two arrangements are not independent are:

  1. the shared depiction of Jesus and the disciples proceeding from Galilee directly to Bethany before returning to Jerusalem
  2. the shared depiction of the scene in Mk. 16:14 as occurring in Galilee.

§8. This testimony is supplemented by Aphrahat, a Syriac writer who used the Diatessaron. In Demonstration One: Of Faith (336), chapter 17, Aphrahat used Mark 16:16 and 16:17–18, stating, "When our Lord gave the sacrament of baptism to his apostles, he said thus to them: Whosoever believes and is baptized shall live, and whosoever believes not shall be condemned," and, "Again he said thus: 'This shall be the sign for those that believe; they shall speak with new tongues and shall cast out demons, and they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall be made whole'" (Gwynn 1898, 351).

§9. This information shows that Mark 16:9–20 was present in Tatian's Diatessaron, thus providing the earliest extensive witness to the text of Mark 16—roughly 150 years earlier than Codex Vaticanus (c. 325), the earliest manuscript that contains Mark 16. Also, while customary caution is in order regarding simple arrangements which could be made by harmonists working independently, this information also recommends the use of arrangement-agreements in the Arabic Diatessaron and Codex Fuldensis as a standard by which to measure the fidelity of other Diatessaronic witnesses.

Works Cited

Gwynn, John. 1898. Selections translated into English from the hymns and homilies of Ephraim the Syrian, and from the demonstrations of Aphrahat the Persian Sage. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, 13. Oxford: Christian Literature Publishing Company.  [Back]

Hill, J. Hamlyn. 1894. The earliest life of Christ ever compiled from the four Gospels. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.  [Back]

McCarthy, Carmel. 1993. Saint Ephrem's Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  [Back]

Ranke, Ernestus. 1868. Codex fuldensis—Novum Testamentum Latine interprete Hieronymo. Marburg/Leipzig: Sumtibus N. G. Elwerti Bibliopolae Academici.  [Back]