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Document number: 1475
Date: 03 Dec 1860
Recipient: BURGESS Henry
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: PUBLISHED
Last updated: 3rd June 2007

[The original has not been located. This was published in the Correspondence section of the Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record, v. 8 no. 25, April 1861, pp. 175-177.]

On St. Mark the Evangelist.

Dear Sir, - Permit me to offer a few remarks upon a singular passage which occurs in the work of Hippolytus, u On the Refutation of Heresies, p. 252, concerning St. Mark the evangelist, in which a most extraordinary epithet is applied to him, viz., "Mark with the mutilated fingers." The passage is as follows: -

Επειδαν ουκ Μαρκιων η των εκεινου κυνωντις ύλακτη κατα του δημιουργου, τους εκ της αντιπαραθεσεως αγαθου και καλου προǾερων λογους, δει αυτοις λεγειν ότι τουτους ουτε Παυλος ό αποστολος ουτε Μαρκος ό κολοβοδακτυλος απηγγειλαν. Τουτων γαρ ουδεν εν τω κατα Μαρκον ευαγγελιω γεγραπταί αλλα Έμπεδοκλης Ακραγαντινος, κ.τ.λ.

The subject here treated of is the heresy of the Marcionists. And I must first observe, that instead of αγαθου και καλου, we must unquestionably read αγαθου και κακου: a correction which it is surprising neither the editor, Miller, nor Bunsen (who cites the passage at length, p. 89), should have made. For so we read a little farther on (l. 19), Ǿερε γαρ, ω Μαρκιων, καθαπερ την αντιπαραθεσιν πεποιηκας αγαθου και κακου, κ.τ.λ.

Having corrected this error, let us consider the passage. - We see that Hippolytus charges Marcion with having stolen his principal opinions without acknowledgment from Empedocles of Agrigentum, and even given them in that author's very words (αυταις λεξεσι), as if they were a part of the Gospel truth - "whereas it is certain," says Hippolytus, "that neither Paul the apostle, nor Mark with the mutilated fingers (Μαρκος ό κολοβοδακτυλος), have ever promulgated any such opinions. Not any of these things is written in the gospel of Mark."

The opinion which Bunsen formed of this passage, was that the text was entirely corrupted, and that instead of Μαρκος ό κολοβοδακτυλος, we should read Μαρκος ό καλων λογων διδασκαλος.υ

But it seems to me that this is a violent alteration of the text, and recedes too far from the reading in the MS. A more plausible conjecture would be, to omit λογων, and read Μαρκος ό καλο διδασκαλος "Mark the giver of good advice." But even this correction is not very satisfactory. The word καλοδιδασκαλος only occurs once in the New Testament, where it is applied to old women, who are exhorted to be "givers of good advice" to the younger women. - Now in the present passage there is no question of "giving advice" to any one.

It is probable that Marcion professed some particular reverence for the gospel of Mark (from the similar name he bore), and that may be the chief reason why Hippolytus, wishing to refute Marcion, refers to that evangelist rather than the others. "Neither Paul nor Mark have said these things, nor are any of them to be found in Mark's gospel."

Nevertheless it appears to me, that the reading of the text, Μαρκος ό κολοβοδακτυλος, however singular it may seem, may admit of an explanation.

We may reasonably suppose that many epithets now forgotten, may have been applied in the first two centuries, to the evangelists and other holy persons. Thus for instance it appears that St. Matthew was called Matthew the elect, or the separated, in the earliest Syriac gospel: for which epithet a very sufficient reason may be given, namely the special call which Matthew received and which at once separated him from his former worldly occupations. Yet this epithet was subsequently entirely forgotten, and has only lately been re-discovered. But the epithet here applied to Mark, if genuine (which we will suppose it for the moment to be), alludes to some apparent defect or mutilation. Can this have been some bodily defect? Certainly not: for even if such had existed, it would have been beneath the dignity of history to have made any record of it. There remains however the supposition of some metaphor having been intended, and this I think is by no means impossible.

There is strong evidence to shew that St. Mark's gospel originally terminated at the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter, with the words εǾοβουντο γαρ - and that the remaining twelve verses are the addition of a later writer who thought it necessary to complete the narrative, or at least to give it a more dignified conclusion. These verses are absent from the Codex Vaticanus (B). Of this celebrated MS. there is a very interesting account by the Rev. J. W. Burgon in the last number of The Journal of Sacred Literature (p. 221), from which we learn that at the end of the gospel of St. Mark a column occurs completely blank (see p. 230), and that this is the only blank column in the whole MS., a circumstance which shews plainly that the amanuensis was in doubt whether the MS. he was employed in copying were not defective at the end. From the very abrupt conclusion of the gospel he probably judged that some part of it might be missing, and therefore he left a blank column to receive the remainder if he should find anything more contained in other MSS. - But this blank he never supplied.

Quite recently another MS. of similar value for age and antiquity has been discovered in the convent of Mount Sinai by Tischendorf; and for an account of this we are also indebted to the Journal of Sacred Literature (Oct. number, p. 186): and we find that the last twelve verses of Mark's gospel are wanting in this ancient MS. also. w Surely therefore many of the readers of the first and second centuries who read the gospel of Mark in MSS. agreeing with the Vatican and Sinai MS., and not extending further than verse 8 of chapter 16, must have been struck with its abrupt ending - εǾοβουντο γαρ - "for they were greatly frightened" - and with Mark's total omission of all the subsequent important events, and may have named it the mutilated or incomplete gospel, and given to Mark the metaphorical epithet of κολοβοδακτυλος, "the writer with the mutilated hand," meaning that his narrative was truncated and incomplete. Should the epithet however appear unsuitable in the mouth of Hippolytus (a bishop and martyr, who must have venerated all the evangelists), yet the Marcionists may have used it, and Hippolytus was speaking to them. The sense would then be, "Neither Paul nor Mark (whom you call the writer of the unfinished gospel), ever said these things," etc., etc. If we follow Bunsen in expunging the passage, and substituting for it a mere common place epithet, is there not some danger of destroying a piece of valuable evidence? I think that it is a quiestion which deserves reconsideration before his decision is finally acquiesced in.

The very summary manner in which Bunsen rejects the reading of the MS. (κολοβοδακτυλος) as absurd, led me to suppose that no other evidence existed in corroboration of that reading. But the fact is that Bunsen has been very hasty in this matter. I find in the Journal of the German x Asiatic Society (vol. viii. 586 and xiii. p. 474), the following curious statements.

In the first of these passages, Professor Fleischer describes an ancient Arabic MS. brought by Tischendorf from the east in 1853, which contains among other matters an account of St. Mark the evangelist. - This account says that St. Mark was originally a Levite, and that when he became a convert to Christianity, he cut off his right thumb in order that he might thus become for ever incapable of officiating in the Jewish temple service.

In the second passage, Professor Gildemeister informs us, that this story was not altogether unknown in western Europe, being mentioned by Ordericus Vitalis in the twelfth century (see Duchesne Script. Norm. 426), and by Peter de Natalibus about the year 1370. But the Roman Catholic critics reject the tale with contempt. "Vulgi potius decantata, quàm majorum auctoritate asserta fabella", says Baronius. - "Irrepta fabella nec refutatione digna", says Henschenius, Acta Sanctorum, 25th Apr., III., 346 D.

It does not seem to have occurred to these writers that a metaphor may have been mistaken for a fact.

H. F. Talbot.

Dec. 3rd , 1860.

u Published at first as Origenis Philosophumena. Oxford, 1851.

v He says, p. 89, "Pray correct the words in P. 252, where Mark the evangelist is called, etc., etc. The true text may easily be restored," etc., etc.

w It may be added that Eusebius says that the best codices of the gospels omit these twelve verses (J. S. L., p. 222). - On the other hand, the early Syriac gospel discovered by Mr. Cureton contains them.

x Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft.

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