People like to write about irony in Mark. I suppose that irony is fashionable these days (and I assure you that I write this ironically). But today I am more interested with an unintended irony in Mark: the extended ending(s). In short, Mark does not include an extended account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The earliest manuscripts simply end Mark on this note:
As they [i.e. Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome] entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (16:5-8)This ending indicates that Jesus has been raised from the dead but does not portray Jesus himself—walking, talking, eating, breathing—as such. Later interpreters, it seems, added a few more paragraphs to the conclusion so to portray the resurrected Jesus. Most modern Bibles will include this detail in a footnote before moving onto verses 9-20. In this extended section, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, Peter, to two other disciples, commissions the disciples, and ascends to heaven.
But even without these extra paragraphs, Mark’s story does indeed convey Jesus’ resurrection. This message is conveyed through the voice of a “young man” who looks as one might expect an angel to look. My point: even if read without Jesus’ appearances, the story ends with a heavenly assurance of the risen Jesus. So why embellish it?
My best and only guess is that Mark was extended for apologetic purposes. Here is the logic: if the news of a risen Jesus will elicit belief, how much more so will a portrayal of a walking, talking Jesus elicit belief? The fact that Jesus is no longer among the dead is good news. But the fact that Jesus has no interest in eating your brains is even better news! Mark's editors don't want to end with the women's horror. These editors want to end with a fully restored Jesus. I.e. Mark's editors embellish for the same reason that the Fourth Gospel does: "so that you may believe."
But the enlightened mind is a suspicious mind. Moreover the enlightened mind is not the sort of mind that Mark's editors have in mind. When we see an embellished ending, we lend less trust to the editor, not more. So the paragraphs meant to elicit belief end up doing the opposite. Such is the case for most of my students who encounter Mark's final footnote for the first time. Not only has Mark's extended ending outlived its purpose, it can and does have the opposite-than-intended effect.
Allow me to conclude with a suggestion: why don't we move all of Mark 16:9-20 to a footnote? This would better serve both the scholar and the believer. It would be a more honest rendering of Mark's first-century composition—which is what most seminarians want anyway in a translation.