Dramatic Inconclusion:

Irony and The Narrative Rhetoric

of the Ending of Mark

J.D.H. Amador - Journal for the Study of the New Testament 57 (1995), 61-86



This article focuses upon the function of the characters of the women and the young man in the ending of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:1:8) in an effort to explore more thoroughly the rhetorical and ironic dimensions of the ending of this story.[2] It is a specifically literary approach to this fascinating text, one which seeks to describe the narrative dynamics of the dramatic inconclusion of the story and how these key figures function to lull the reader into certain, specific expectations of its ending.

Throughout the gospel of Mark, the omniscient narrator has developed an ethos of reliability: Overt commentary and explicit interpretation of situations and events, insight into the internal feelings and psychological states of characters, explicit narrative predictions and their consistent fulfillment, didactic use of intertextual references to Jewish Scriptures, omnipresence and multiple focalization, all function to develop the authority and reliability of the narrator.[3] As a result, the narrator becomes the direct voice of the implied author.

In addition, the implied reader has been carefully constructed so as to condition the actual reader to understand and recognize a complex and prevalent level of inner-narrative irony.[4] This has served to intensify the connection between implied author and implied reader (esp. over against the characters within the story).[5] Up to verse 16:8, a highly sophisticated complex of narrative dynamics leads the implied reader to a specific expectation of narrative completion: namely, that the story will conclude on a comedic note.

The difficulty enters with the narrative incompletion of verse 8. The tragic conclusion of the women running away "saying nothing to anyone" is totally unexpected, throwing the whole question of implied author and implied reader reliability into doubt. The irony of the ending does not enter into the narrative world, but is outside of that world altogether: The actual reader,[6] who has always known what to expect of the ending, now recognizes that the implied reader and implied author are totally unreliable after all. The ending is not an ending, and it comes completely at the expense of every narrative expectation, causing the a breakdown of the story world which only the actual reader can rescue. This narrative breakdown demands the actual reader's involvement in rescuing the story, which is its ultimate rhetorical effect.

A Narrative "Trap"

The following approach looks specifically at the role of the women and the young man as part of a specific narrative strategy in the ending of the Gospel of Mark.[7] That strategy has been elsewhere called a narrative "trap",[8] which works by seeking to create a series of expectations on the part of the reader which is completely disrupted because of an unanticipated ending. The purpose of a narrative trap is to lure a reader into complacency, to set her hopes upon characters with whom she identifies, and then shock her out of complacency into action by showing that she assumed too much. Mark's narrative trap is highly sophisticated, taking place at the level of readerly expectation: Narrative structures develop a level of reliability on the part of the implied author of the story, one which entices the reader into a complacent expectation of narrative fulfillment.[9] Specifically, the actual reader of Mark's gospel anticipates a particular ending to the story, and the narrative serves to reinforce this expectation up to the very end. The actual reader becomes comfortable with the role she is expected to play through the narrative dynamics (in other words, the actual reader is willing to adopt to the portrait of the implied reader), and senses no duplicity on the part of the implied author or implied reader.

It is our function here to show how these characters participate, through the lack of fulfillment of specific narrative indicators, in "trapping" the implied reader, and thereby forcing the actual reader into making a series of decisions regarding its completion. It is then to the variety of potential choices for the reader's engagement with the text to which we will then turn in order to describe the rhetorical strategies of this narrative.



The character role of the women functions in several different ways within the story. With respect to the immediate narrative scene, the women act as characters who perform important plot-functional deeds: They are placed in a particular setting within which they seek to perform a given action. As they go to fulfill this action, their expectations are disrupted by unanticipated events, circumstances and character. After receiving a new commission, they then leave, but this time without any indication that they will, or indeed even intend to fulfill the commission.

The women therefore frame the important plot turning point, their actions preparing the reader for a particular set of circumstances, which are overthrown for a new set circumstances to be fulfilled. As characters through whom the story is engaged and the plot worked out, it is primarily with the women that the reader associates and has certain expectations. They are, in other words, protagonists, therefore entrusted by the reader with the success of the story.

In the larger narrative context, they have even deeper roots in the story, having been introduced earlier in two separate locations (15:40-41; 47). In both of these places, however, they are not protagonists, but are explicitly depicted as on-lookers/witnesses to the events of given narrative.[10] They therefore provide continuity to the account as a whole, and enter into our narrative segment as those who have seen what has happened. This contributes to their role as protagonist, as the reader assumes some level of authority, some level of trust in them as protagonists.

It is this aspect of the narrative authority of these characters which is so fascinating to interpreters since two consequences result:

1) This authority has been transferred from one group of characters (the disciples of Jesus mentioned in the greater narrative context; cf. also behavior of the disciples of John in 6:29) to this group, a not unexpected but certainly ironic transfer in the narrative; and most interestingly

2) this authority is the basis upon which the narrative plot direction plays and establishes the expectations which the ending so successfully shatters.

It is to the former point that I now turn, because so many interpreters have rightly seen this as an important key to the interpretation of the text. It is not just that the women play the role of protagonist and have been given narrative authority, but that in the greater story context this authority had been explicitly given to the disciples.

Here we must engage in the discussion of character traits which are emphasized by the "content" of the character role (as distinct from their plot function). The protagonists are women (who play a particular narrative role set against and emphasized by the cultural context) who are now given specific names (emphasized by the correction of the lists in 15:40 and 47 by 16:1), who are given specific traits (in 15:41) which have important implications in the greater narrative, and who replace as protagonists the expected (not anticipated) response of the disciples.

Throughout the greater gospel story the protagonist Jesus causes, by his ministry and teaching, several types of reactions from groups of characters. These characters have included the disciples, the legal authorities, and the little people (not the crowds, who function differently).[11] At this point I am suggesting that while the individuals comprising these groups may have distinctive traits in the story, they nevertheless share traits in common which can be identified and which cause the reader to develop particular associations and expectations. In other words, group identity becomes part of the character trait of the individuals associated with that group.

For example, the specific names of Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew, the list of the twelve[12] and the appellation "the twelve",[13] as well as the phrase "those who were about him,"[14] may show distinctive features, which set these characters apart from others, worth exploring in and of themselves: Here one could, for instance, explore the "round" characters of Peter, James, John and Andrew. Nevertheless, it must also be noted that they have in common the general trait that "to you has been given the secret of the rule of god".[15] In addition, they are privy to private instruction.[16] Finally, they are called to "follow" Jesus even to Jerusalem and eventually to death.

A similar thing may be said about the legal authorities: While the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians and Herod, the High Priest with the high priests and council, the Roman soldiers and Pilate may have individual parts to play in the narrative, their reaction to Jesus constitutes a common trait (they are rather "flat" characters): From the beginning they oppose Jesus' ministry and eventually threaten and take his life.[17]

It is with this view in mind that I am suggesting that the women witnessing the death and burial, and then entering our story as protagonists, should be considered as members of those characters constituting the little people.[18] The members of this group are individuals, named or anonymous, who enter into relation with Jesus for a brief moment in the story and then disappear. They do not constitute a specific social or political class or group. There is no apparent or explicit connection or title given them. Their narrative development is not one we can readily consider, since they interact with the various other groups (legal authorities, disciples) and Jesus as individuals. Yet, they share a common characteristic features of their function in the narrative. They serve to highlight the example of true discipleship in the actions of Jesus and the responses given to him by others.

For instance, they are used as occasions for healing,[19] examples of faith,[20] causes for instruction,[21] examples of appropriate leadership/service[22] to both the disciples and to the implied reader. They often stand as foils for the disciples (thus, 14:66-72), emphasizing their failure to understand. One (Barabbas) even serves as counter-example to Jesus' ministry and destiny, serving to enhance Jesus' particular and singular response in faith. But in every case, they serve to reinforce through example important, specific aspects of the ministry of Jesus according to the immediate narrative context in which they appear.[23]

This is not to suggest that other specific narrative qualities, which each individual character possesses or is portrayed as embodying, could or should not be explored. Rather, it is to suggest that through the repeated confrontations and interactions of these characters throughout the ministry of Jesus, the reader comes to anticipate a particular understanding of the function of this character-type in light of previous experiences with similar examples.

Often one such function of these characters is to act as example set over against the disciples. The narrative has been explicit concerning the role expected of the disciples throughout the story. Jesus declares that to the disciples has been given "the mystery of the rule of god", but to those outside of their circle everything is in parables, that "they may see and not perceive, hear and not understand." Yet, time after time the nature of response to Jesus' ministry is best exemplified by these outsiders, the little people. The disciples, at first portrayed as examples of faith in their immediate response to their calling,[24] start to display their lack of understanding of the nature of Jesus' ministry and their calling almost immediately.[25] Their concept of leadership is overturned time and time again. In the end they betray, deny and abandon him.

In contrast, it was the little people[26] who knew his nature and who, contrary to demands otherwise, openly revealed and witnessed to the truth.[27] In the passion narrative this contrast between the faithlessness of the disciples and the faithfulness exemplified by the little people comes to a climax. Whereas all the disciples have run away (Peter, with James and John also mentioned, especially singled out in his failure), the little people come to the fore: Simon the Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea and a Roman guard (both of these a double code--both little person and legal authority), and finally the women.

This is quite a development in the narrative, which serves to affect the reader's perception of the disciples, their behavior and beliefs. It is a didactic device, a repetitive "theme" which has consistently caused the reader to reflect upon the narrative and consider the question of appropriate action and response to Jesus' ministry. The reader, having been set up to see the disciples favorably,[28] throughout the narrative has come to see that they in fact aren't the appropriate examples to follow. This is an important ironic development in the story: The disciples may be sympathetic figures, but their portrait gradually forces the reader to come to the conclusion that they are not the ones to emulate. Instead, I wish to propose that by the time the reader has made it through the passion narrative, expectations have been reinforced (both by experience and by explicit prophecy from Jesus) that the disciples will fail,[29] and hopes turn to the little people that perhaps this time they will succeed.[30]

With the entry of the named women, who are given the specific and narratively important attributes,[31] the reader's expectation of their success stands in contrast to depth of failure by the disciples. The contrast is carefully reinforced by the protection of the names given in the narrative which thereby creates a parallel to the major male disciples/characters.[32]

Thus, once the narrative picks up again in 16:1, indicating the setting and re-introducing the women, it then gives the explicit motivation for the action on their part: The women bought spices so that going they might anoint him. This explicit mention is given not just for clarification, but for narrative reference to the anointing at Bethany (14:3-9). The difficulty immediately enters, for in this story, which Mark has transformed from prophetic proclamation of messianic office[33] to prophetic preparation for burial, Jesus has already been anointed. Furthermore, the prophetic utterances of Jesus concerning his death (8:31, 9:31, 10:34) anticipate their fulfillment in his resurrection. While the women are given specific, positive traits concerning authentic discipleship (15:41), the motivation given for going to the tomb introduces the possibility of misunderstanding on their part. With this, the implied author has given specific inner-textual clues which suggest that the initially positive assessment on the reader's part concerning with women (as protagonists who "must" get it right) may be wrong. The implied reader now functions as a dissociative device, a construct of the reader which brings to the fore the lack of recognition and the possibility of misunderstanding on the part of the characters and narratee at this point in the narrative.

The implied reader is therefore aware that the women don't understand. But the narrative continues, and the major concern of the first movement seems to be the stone. In 15:46 the stone textually represented a "final" note to the story, the last act of hopeless despair, the sealing of fate. Thus, the women wonder how they can complete what is sealed off from them. It is just such an expectation that the implied author and implied reader are against, and it comes as a suspenseful surprise in the text to the women (only) that while they are asking, "Who will roll away the stone for us?" they find that it has been done. And rather than despair at the thought of fulfilling death, the women are forced into suspense.[34]


Young Man

It is at this point that the tension generated by the suspense of the narrative has reached its apex. Both resolution ("answer") and conflict ("question") simultaneously enter into the narrative structure of the text by the presence of a figure unanticipated by narrative world. The young man as character comes at a crucial point in the plot structure. The development of preliminary conflict of expectations on the part of the women comes to resolution: the stone has been rolled away. Yet, at the same time, the presence of this character as young man immediately creates conflict in the plot development, heightens the suspense of the narrative, and sets up a whole series of narrative circumstances.

Whereas the narrative expectations are centered at finding the body of Jesus (16:1 and prophecies in 8:31, 9:31, 10:34), the young man enters into the picture as a surprise and upsets both the women as well as the implied reader.[35] Up to this point in the story, the characters have been expecting to meet the body of Jesus, and the implied reader has understood that it would not be the dead body of Jesus, but the resurrected Jesus which the women should meet. Here, instead, it is another figure altogether.

Only upon reconsideration and reflection would the connections be sought for, after the initial surprise, and narrative roots uncovered. Here, once again, the implied reader acts as a dissociative device, as the actual reader must then find several connections and predictions given previously in the gospel text which, upon reflection, may have helped to anticipate this result. That is, the young man "must" be present (speaking in terms of re-reading and insightful re-interpretation on the part of a dynamic reading process in understanding the plot development), because Jesus has indicated that he will go before the disciples to Galilee : Ah! that explains it! Not only is it now understood that Jesus is to be raised up, but also that he is to be met in Galilee.

Furthermore, the figure of the young man has roots within the narrative, and upon reflection his presence acts rhetorically as a means for engagement, i.e., as an interesting puzzle to consider.[36] A complex weaving of images is introduced by the presence of this figure beginning with the arrest narrative, continued by an oblique reference to a burial cloth, and finally culminating here with the presence of this young man at the tomb. The question here is not historical or traditional, but literary and rhetorical.

As a figure witnessing the arrest of Jesus, the young man poses quite puzzle.[37] He appears without provocation or narrative set-up, is contributing very little to the storyline,[38] may introduce an inconsistency with respect to the setting as implied later (14:54),[39] and functions quite redundantly. He is totally anonymous,[40] the narrative identifying him with a description of his attire and the fact that it is upon his otherwise naked body. The story itself seems to emphasize both of these aspects in a narrative which sees him following, being seized, then running away naked. The redundancy factor, coupled with the certain elements of "nakedness" and "clothing", serves both to emphasize and to anticipate the narrative development. That is, I wish to argue, along with Kermode and Farrer, that the failure of the disciples is emphasized and re-emphasized through the intensification of various narrative aspects of this failure in the stories concerning key literary figures.

As Farrer[41] and Fleddermann[42] both indicate, in the arrest pericope three principle themes are present, each given their emphasis (not personification) in the story of a particular figure. For instance, the story of Judas, while perhaps serving many other important but related narrative functions,[43] also contributes through association the element of betrayal to the inner circle, the twelve. Peter, James and John are singled out as those who completely lack comprehension of the significance of the hour (14:33-42). Peter's story, framing as it does the confession of Jesus, further intensifies the element of denial (14:66-72). It is not that these characters are literary personifications of these themes. Instead, I am suggesting that the literary effect, with these stories coming as they do in key narrative points, is a persistent emphasis upon the totality of the failure of the whole, the role of each portraying another aspect as to the ways the whole failed their calling as disciples. It is a redundancy effect, by means of which Mark is able to repeat over and over again the prevalence of the misconceptions of the twelve with regards to Jesus' ministry even at its most crucial and decisive moment.

It is the thesis of Kermode, Farrer and Fleddermann that the young man serves to emphasize the flight of the disciples. Indeed, redundancy in the situation and response seems to support this view. The young man himself, though anonymous, is given a specific description (serving as set up for further narrative codes) and makes a specific response to the same circumstances in which Jesus finds himself. Both the young man and Jesus are seized, but rather than continuing in faithful response to god's will (cf. both the prayer at 14:36, and the call to discipleship in 8:34) the young man runs away, as have the disciples. I cannot agree with Waetjen here concerning his interpretation of this figure. The figure does not allow for participation in Jesus' fate, but separation. The disaster of such a response is emphasized by the cultural code of nudity, a sign of shame and vulnerability.

The anonymity of the figure not only sets up the narrative connection to the figure at the tomb, but also may act not to identify any one individual for such a trait as "desertion": The anonymity, though not an unfamiliar feature, could free the figure to become a "cipher", a literary device re-emphasizing the flight of the twelve and the complete failure on their part to respond faithfully to the call of discipleship. Furthermore, his flight serves to point out the singularity of Jesus' surrender to his arrest, who is now entirely alone to face his fate. The reader, who is to continue with Jesus as she has done throughout the ministry, experiences complete disappointment: Everyone has failed. Tragedy is given its fullest expression, and nothing can halt the progression of the story.

At the burial scene[44] some very incidental characters have taken on an important role to the exclusion of the male disciples, who are now completely invisible. On the one hand, at the cross there appears a centurion who rightly professes Jesus as uiJo;" qeou'. On the other hand, Joseph as a member of the legal authorities, but one who is searching for the rule of god, requests Jesus' body for burial. The women continue in their function as witnesses (14:47). Here we see the greatest expansion in character function in the profession of and commitment to Jesus, where the disciples are replaced not just by the little people, but even by a representative of the legal authorities [Joseph]!

Of equal significance to us here is the additional presence of the burial garment,[45] which alone seems to be a completely useless detail. I suggest that in order to address the image of the linen cloth, it becomes necessary to consider the other contexts of its presence, namely back at the arrest, and its implied absence/transformation at the empty tomb ahead. Insofar as it is spoken of before and after the passion ordeal, it frames the story of Jesus' arrest, trials and execution. As Fleddermann[46] has pointed out, "There is...considerable emphasis on Jesus' clothing in the passion narrative in Mark." The references by Mark to the fate of Jesus' clothing (15:17, 20, 24) from the time of the arrest (and the stripping of the young man) to the time of the crucifixion (and the wrapping of the naked body of Jesus for burial) help symbolically to emphasize the singular fate of Jesus in the narrative.

I suggest a possible interpretation of the significance of the entry of the detail of the linen into the story. It too becomes a "cipher", a literary device which causes the reader to reflect upon its previous presence in the narrative, to remember those scenes in which it appears, to ponder both the narrative dynamic and the presence and portrayal of characters. It serves to intensify the isolation of Jesus during his trials:

1) The garment is left behind after the flight of the young man, re-emphasizing the total dissociation of the disciples from Jesus' trial and death.[47] It acts therefore as a reminder of the faithlessness of all characters around Jesus in the face of persecution.

2) By reflecting upon its previous presence in a depressing scene depicting flight, the presence of this "same" garment only reinforces the tragedy as it is used to wrap the dead body of Jesus. All that the characters have been able to do is leave Jesus to his fate. The garment in this pericope is a purely literary creation used to amplify the reader's sense of distance from the events of the passion, thus intensifying the tragedy of the events to this point.

3) Finally, insofar as the garment points forward to the transformation of the young man figure, only in that it points back to that figure at the arrest, it acts as a bridge to the upcoming narrative of the empty tomb. As we shall soon see, it is precisely because of these connections that one can come to an understanding of the alteration of the tradition-narrative (i.e., the presence of a young man rather than Jesus at the tomb). Through this rootedness in the story one can come to a clearer view of the intention of the gospel ending and the fullness of its message.

The significant aspect of pointing out the narrative relationship and connections surrounding the garment lies not so much in interpretation, but in its function. The garment is acting as a "cipher", so much so that narrative details are expressed for the sake of this aspect (i.e., its explicit mention at the arrest and its explicit purchase). As a literary device it provides a connection to the events taking place in the narrative, and causes the reader to intervene and discover potential meaning and significance.

Therefore, while the initial question posed by the reader upon the entrance of the young man at the tomb may be, "Where did he come from?", the next question is, "What does his presence mean?" As I have just shown, the young man has been given roots in the story at the time of the arrest. The figure himself has undergone transformation, and has set up a complex network of associations allowing for multiple interpretations; it forces the reader toward interaction. The reader, then, is confronted with many possible interpretations. Such have been reflected throughout the history of scholarly reflection, the most widely suggested one being that he is an angelic messenger. They base this particular notion upon two observations:

1) The cross-referenced identity of the messenger(s) as angels in Matthew (28:5), Luke (14:4) and John (20:12), which could indicate a long and well-attested tradition which Mark is altering here.[48] However, as Clark[49] points out, the references to the parallels seem to support the opposite development: "Matthew describes the angel with the thought of his splendor in mind...Luke, who speaks of two messengers, mentions only the brilliancy of their raiment," and John speaks of "duvo ajggevlou ejn leukoi; kaqezomevnou." Mark's description is far simpler than these.

2) The cross-referenced use of neanivsko", alone and with the phrase "peribeblhmevnon stolh;n leukhvn" (or similar), in other sources which use this phrase do so to refer to angelic beings.[50]

On the other hand, many authors have recognized the connections between the figures, objects, and the general vocabulary in Mark 14:51-52, 15:46, and 16:5, and have concluded that they suggest a developing symbolism within the text. From this conclusion they have proposed many different interpretations based on the textual relationship between the young man and the linen cloth. Among the more prominent are:

1) Scroggs' and Groff's suggestion that the figure is a symbolic representation of early church baptismal rites and theology;[51]

2) Waetjen's proposal that the young man is a Joseph figure whose story is based upon a combination of OT texts (Genesis 39:12; Amos 2:16);[52]

3) Vanhoye's conclusion of christological typology;[53]

4) Knox's proposal that the young man fleeing from the scene is an anticipation in the story of Jesus eventual "escape" from the authorities (through resurrection);[54]

5) Jenkins' suggestion that the figure represents a Christian martyr transformed from symbolic death to heavenly reward;[55]

6) Derrett suggested connection between the two figures in 14:57 and 16:5, who are two distinct, though related, figures symbolizing two of the Maccabean martyrs;[56] and

7) Smith's interpretation based upon the discovery of Clement's writing of a secret gospel of Mark that the figure was a baptism initiate.

To these I would also like to add another. Hamilton[57] suggests that "(t)he young man inside the tomb who informs the women may well be the same young man in 14:51-52 who flees naked. In this case he would function as a witness tying together the arrest and the empty tomb as well as the angelic messenger." That he is speaking of the young man as a literary creation and device (i.e., not as an actual historical figure present at both events whose testimony made it into the tradition) is shown when he concludes that "(a) reinterpretation of the supposed evidence for the tradition behind the story of the empty tomb has led us to the possibility at least that it is Mark's creation." [Emphasis mine.] As a "cipher", the dimensions of interpretation of this figure are broken wide open. He can then become both follower and angel, witness of both arrest and resurrection, one who flees and one who commissions. He is transformed in the narrative from one who fails and runs away to one who witnesses and is exalted.[58]

But more important than attempting to nail down any one of these possible interpretations as the intended one is the fact that the enigmatic quality of the presence of this character gives rise to the occasion of interaction with the text. Mark may not have meant any of the ideas explored above; more importantly, however, Mark may have "meant" all of them and more. In other words, while the figure certainly fulfills the narrative roles "necessary" for a character at this point in the plot structure, the content of this form breaks open the text to a multiplicity of interpretations. It draws in the reader, who must now "decipher" the function of this figure.

Finally, the young man is an important figure because of the function he plays in setting up the ensuing story development, both in terms of plot and expectation. The young man acts as a messenger, and his message is important to the connections and contrasts I've indicated above, between the women and the disciples, and to the development of the further discourse.

First, he speaks to the suspense of the women in the narrative and thus brings to a closure the discourse dynamic concerning the figure of Jesus. The young man speaks to this surprise: Do not be afraid, you seek Jesus (who had been crucified), he is risen, he is not here; behold, the place where they put him. He directs his first concern to the fear of the women. He addresses this fear by telling them what the situation is, and offers proof. They should be comforted, for although they seek Jesus (who is crucified, an additional emphasis in the text which serves to validate their expectations), he is not here, and look at the proof. The implied reader device, dissociating from the women's misunderstanding, has allowed the actual reader to anticipate the particular developments leading up to the tomb in a way differing from theirs. While not anticipating the presence of the young man, the reader is (upon reflection and re-reading) satisfied with his presence and senses a fulfillment of narrative and discourse dynamics. While experiencing unanticipated narrative developments, nevertheless the satisfactory completion of the narrative and discourse dynamics continues to reinforce the reliability of the implied author.

Hence, with the introduction of the young man's commission, the implied reader and the implied author are united in their function of assuring the reader of narrative closure: As a commission, this plot function sets up a whole series of expectations due to trustworthiness[59] of the implied author, and to the important and repetitive theme of prediction/fulfillment by which the reader has come to expect that Jesus will meet with disciples in Galilee. The message, in fact, reinforces the earlier prediction in 14:28 that it will indeed come to pass. By giving the message, the plot direction is now set, and both the implied author and the implied reader function to assure the reader that these narrative dynamics will be brought to an anticipated close.


The Rhetoric of a Dramatic Inconclusion

It is at this point in the story, after the commissioning, that the reader is now in a position to anticipate a conclusion to the story: With prior experience of the implied author's reliability, and particularly of the reinforcement of narrative authority through Jesus' own prediction-fulfillment sequences, there is nothing in the narrative dynamics of the story to suggest that commission will go unfulfilled. Therefore, the narrative inconclusion comes in an entirely surprising fashion, leaving the story incomplete. Rather than having the women communicate this message, or reporting the appearance as the other gospels do, Mark has the women fleeing the tomb in trembling and astonishment, telling no one.[60] Even if the implied reader has served to instruct the reader not to rely upon the women, there has been no reason for questioning the reliability of the implied author whose narrative predictions/anticipations, esp. through the character of Jesus, have always been fulfilled. With this ending, the reader has been duped, trusting too much in her reliance upon the function of the implied reader, as the implied author has failed the task of narrative completion.

The reader is now left to interpret this abrupt ending without many clues. Boomershine[61] suggests that at first glance Mark has seemingly exposed the women as disobedient to the command of the "angel." Williamson[62] supports this by saying that "the one group of faithful followers finally fails..." Weeden[63] has therefore concluded that the twelve never received the news about the resurrection and thus were never redeemed in the eyes of Mark or the community. Fuller[64] has suggested that the silence isn't so much failure as it is the typical result of divine encounter (cf. Luke i.20). Lohmeyer[65] has suggested that it is the result of the experience of the parousia, as though the women have perceived through the empty tomb and the speech of angel "the coming of the human one." Fiorenza[66] goes so far as to suggest that since generalized instruction to keep silent does not exclude disclosure to a specific group of people, the silence of the women with respect to the public doesn't exclude fulfilling the commandment to tell the specific group of disciples mentioned. Petersen[67] suggests that the actual reader "fills in the ironic gap" based upon the implicit extension of the story world into a future which sees the disciples faithfully facing the same persecution that Jesus did; Mark doesn't need to speak of the end because everybody knows the (comedic) end.

It could be that Mark meant any or all of these, and such an ending purposely allows for such ambiguity. However, Kermode's point[68] must be emphasized here: It is part of our expectation, our institutional Vorverständnis, that the text must come to a close. This closure must satisfy both our needs as actual readers and the text's "needs" to come to a conclusion, to bring together into a coherent whole all the intricate threads and discontinuities. This may not be the case. And it may not be the case in very different ways: Mark may have been a poor author, may simply not have finished his narrative well, or may have just given up. Such was thought to be the case when Mark was held by the institution to be a poor summary document of the other canonical gospel texts. Or the author may not have intended closure, instead intending to bring about all the incumbent difficulties of an open ending.[69]

With such an ending, the actual reader is confronted with the possibility that the implied author, who throughout has been reliable in the regular fulfillment of story predications, has been unreliable and ironic all this time. The contagion effect suggested by Petersen[70] is entirely correct: If the implied author is unreliable, not only the disciples, but also Jesus must be unreliable. The actual reader is led to believe she has been duped, and the whole story is a mockery and a swindle. An actual reader who is uncommitted to the gospel message and story may just accept this and leave the story in quite a cynical mood.

An actual reader who is committed to the story, however, will feel the need to intervene.[71] This is what Petersen did not understand: Clues[72] in the narrative may allow the actual reader to "enter" into the story and assume/bring about its conclusion, but the actual reader does so in order to rescue the story.[73] This actual reader must enter into the story, search out clues to help her on the track towards fulfillment, and "go to Galilee" to see the risen Jesus. The story remains unfulfilled; it does not end this way because Mark has no need to go any further. I suggest that to such an actual reader Mark fully intended to end the story this way. The author did mean what is not said, because it brings about closure only by forcing the actual reader to finish it in her own interpretive way.[74]

This is perhaps the most effective example of rhetorical irony imaginable: It is ironic because "we know better," there is "more to it than what appears on the surface." It is rhetorical because rather than the implied author and implied reader "knowing better" than the characters in the story, only the actual author and actual reader are in the position to know better. As such, it requires the actual reader, disappointed by the role expected to play (implied reader) must enter the story and act upon it. It functions to create in a reader the disposition to action[75] The actual reader must find an interpretation which rescues the story from failure.

My own interpretation plays upon the interaction between disciples and little people. Mark has throughout the gospel given examples of faithful and faithless responses to the call of discipleship. This tension has been pushed to extreme in the passion narrative account through the intensification of the figures of the male disciples and the little people. The clues I have picked up on include the important commission "go to Galilee".[76] This is a cultural code, but more importantly a textual code as well. Textually, it is a circular answer to the question of true discipleship posed to us by the gospel's ending. Galilee represents not only the place to meet Jesus, but the place at the beginning of the gospel into which Jesus first openly declared his ministry. If the actual reader wishes to meet Jesus, she must "return" to the ministry in Galilee and relive the story by taking his place (picking up the cross and following his example). This time around, however, she knows what is in store.[77]

This is what the ending of the story does: 1) the implied reader construct, which has been a reliable construct of interpreting and experiencing the Gospel, has left the actual reader with a completely unanticipated ending, hence undermining the reliability of the narrative, but 2) the actual reader has faith in Jesus, and therefore, 3) she must enter into the story to fulfill prophecy, which is fraught with danger (chapter 13: note the continual and final reference to the implied reader explicitly). Thus, I suggest that for Mark, the women do not actually fail; but neither do they tell anyone. It is the actual reader who either fails or completes the story. Knowing that Jesus lies ahead/behind, the author is suggesting that the community live in the expectancy of that meeting, having laid before them examples of all that should and should not be done in living as true disciples, hinting to them in the figure of the young man the direction of the participation in the completion of the story. It is now up to the actual reader to learn that lesson, take up that mission, and live it in expectation.[78]



Texts themselves develop means of interpretation and contextualization through various techniques. In our case, we found an elaborate system of ciphers, characterization and plot movements within Mark 16:1-8 that suggests the possibility of intended narrative incompletion. This narrative incompletion is set up by readerly expectations concerning the women as protagonists and little people; by the presence of the figure of the young man who has served as an important "cipher" to bring continuity to the story; by the implied author's ethos as a reliable narrator whose predictions have always and consistently been fulfilled; and by the implied reader as a reliable indicator for narrative fulfillment. It is therefore "natural" that when the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away (a narrative prediction fulfilled), meet a young man (an unexpected, but nevertheless possible fulfillment an earlier narrative prediction fulfilled), that the reader has no other expectation than that the implied author will narratively work out the story according to the new commission the women receive. When this does not happen, every actual reader, of any given time and place, left watching the women run away with the story unfinished, has found herself duped! This intended rhetorical suspension of narrative dynamics forces the actual reader to enter into the story to finish it. Every single interpreter falls into this trap: Just when we think things are going well, just when we have been given every narrative clue as to the direction the story is taking, and have anticipated the right resolution, we are fooled. And in order to "rescue" the story, and ourselves, we are forced to enter in and finish it without the explicit help of the implied author or implied reader.



  1. My thanks to Dr. Paul Danove, Villanova University, Philadelphia, PA, for his encouragement and discussions (some of which I have attempted to refer to here) concerning the following interpretation.
  2. The level of second-degree narrative irony (irony within the narrative) is quite prevalent: the contrasting portrait of the disciples of John after his death with that of the disciples of Jesus; the replacement of the male disciples by female disciples; the command to speak vs. the silence of the women at the end. What this paper chooses to focus upon, however, is the concept of irony, first proposed by Dr. Danove in his dissertation Failed Story But A Successful Plot (Berkeley, CA: Graduate Theological Union Ph.D. Dissertation, 1991), which takes place outside of the story between the actual author and actual reader, and the rhetorical effect of this ironic ending.
  3. Cf. Petersen, "When is the End?", pp. 155-156, regarding prediction-fulfillment device.
  4. For a thorough and insightful analysis into the levels of narration and the presence and function of irony throughout the gospel of Mark, see Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel: Mark's World in Literary-Historical Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), pp. 93-103.
  5. For an exploration into the function of rhetoric to serve to develop a connection between implied author and implied reader over against the narrator/narratee (or, if these two constructs have been collapsed through omniscient, third-person narration, over against the characters within the story), see Wayne Booth, Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
  6. It is my contention that every audience, whether that composed of the first century "authorial" audience to whom the author of Mark "intended" to portray a story of Jesus, or of a modern or future audience, knows how the story was supposed to end: with the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus.
  7. This analysis is based upon the narrative theory presented by Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978). For an overview of the various reader constructs, with alternative definitions and functions, see also Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1978) and Wayne Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, revised second edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
  8. For a more detailed structuralist analysis of the "trap" of the ending of the Gospel of Mark, see Paul Danove, Failed Story But A Successful Plot .
  9. As opposed to the more frequent "ironic" portrait of a character's or narratee's expectations being disrupted; e.g., King David in II Samuel 12:1-5. This narrative dynamic is "ironic" because it helps to develop a dissociation, a distance between implied reader and the narratee; i.e., the narratee has been duped, but not the implied reader who understands and anticipates the trap.
  10. Note certain Jewish Cultural Code in Witness Event at 15:40-41: Distance = Rejection? Cf. Psalm 38. On the one hand, the women are given certain primacy in narrative role as protagonist with this previous narrative reference to witnessing; on the other hand, even the act of witnessing symbolizes in a particular code a misunderstanding on the part of the women (Characters X), signaling in the implied reader a sense of "something's not right with this picture.". But see another opinion in Schottroff, "Frauen am Grabe," p.6.
  11. Cf. for an overview David Rhoads and Donald Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp. 101-136; see also David Rhoads, "Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 50 (1982), pp. 418-419.
  12. Mark 3:13-19.
  13. Mark 4:10; 7:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43.
  14. Mark 4:10 = "disciples" 4:33.
  15. Mark 4:11.
  16. Mark 4:34, 7:17, 9:28, etc.
  17. Cf. for more detail Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story, pp. 117-122; Rhoads, "Narrative Criticism...", p. 415.
  18. Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story, pp. 129-136.
  19. Mark 1:21-28, 29-31, 32-34, 40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:1-20, 21-43; 7:24-30, 31-37; 8:22-26; 9:14-27; 10:46-52.
  20. Mark 2:1-12, cf. 5; 3:31-35; 5:21-43; 9:14-27; 10:46-52; 12:41-44; 14:3-9.
  21. Mark 2:15-17; 3:1-6; 9:33-37, 38-40; 10:13-16, 17-22.
  22. Mark 8:45-38; 9:33-37; 10:42-45.
  23. Whereas Robert Tannehill, "The Disciples in Mark: The Function of a Narrative Role," Journal of Religion 57 (1977), pp. 395f. suggests that the developing negative portrayal of the disciples causes the actual reader to "begin to seek another way...[to] imagine an alternative," I suggest that the reader realizes that the alternative has been lurking there before her in the figures of the little people.
  24. Mark 1:16-20, 13-14.
  25. Cf. Mark 5:35-41; 5:31; 6:45-56; 7:17-10a; 8:14-21; 8:27-30, 31-33; 9:2-10, 30-32; 10:32-34.
  26. In the case of openly revealing the nature and position of Jesus, but not as examples of appropriate response, we must also include here the demons, and eventually even the legal authorities.
  27. Mark 1:32-34, 40-45; 3:4-12; 5:1-20, sep. 7, 20; 7:31-36; 14:61; 15:39.
  28. Tannehill, "Disciples...", p. 392.
  29. Contra Petersen, "When is the End...", pp. 165-166. The discourse world supposes in ch. 13 an extension of the story world beyond the text at 16. In ch. 13 it is accepted that the disciples will in fact faithfully undergo similar persecution in the future, thereby implying rehabilitation in the discourse. However, I am convinced that the Little Apocalypse is not just directed to the disciples, but through them to the actual reader. The reasons for such an indirect address has to do with the function of the position of this speech in the story context: While the implied reader may need the comfort of Jesus' advice (with respect to the story world and real world) concerning foreknowledge of these events, the first four disciples have been given additional insight into the events to come. That is, in the discourse world the disciples are given additional knowledge into future events, and armed with this should be in a position to respond faithfully to what will take place. When the implied reader sees what happens later in the narrative, disappointment is heightened by the disciple's faithlessness, and possibly even uncertain whether the disciples will live up to facing their own trials. In other words, how much more damning can it be than for one to know all that is going on and will go on, and still fail? One should further note that in ch. 13 it is not the case that the point of view of Jesus is one of describing fact only, but of predicting and warning. This speech recognizes the possibility of continual failure. (Tannehill, "Disciples...", p. 404) Since the discourse world will show the disciples failing even after all these warnings, the implied reader is in the position to be suspicious of the disciples in the future time of the story world, this suspicion being emphasized by the warnings of the possibility of failure given throughout the pronouncement (13:5b, 6, 13b, 22, 23,36).
  30. Contra Tannehill, "Disciples...", p. 394, where he argues against Weeden's analysis of the intended polemical and negative portrait of the disciples in Mark by stating, "such a view cannot explain the positive aspects of the Markan portrayal of the disciples." My argument is that another rhetorical tactic in polemical argumentation may be first to admit certain important authoritative and positive traits and positions, so that the following negative portrait becomes all the more intensified. Furthermore, a critique, even a polemical one, can include the appeal to restore ties between the parties in conflict. This is the nature of epideictic, for example: to praise or blame in order to secure adherence to shared beliefs. Thus, the "intention of restoring the broken relationship between Jesus and the disciples" implied in both chapter 13 and in 16:7 does not preclude the possibility that the narrative also has served to criticize severely the behavior of the disciples. Finally, since the narrative leaves unfulfilled the possibility of rehabilitation of the disciples, the enigmatic ending strengthens the direction of the story to involve the actual reader, whatever she may think of the disciples, to complete the story herself.
  31. See Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroads, 1984), pp. 318-321.
  32. Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, p. 320. Wilhelm Wuellner, Conversation, Fall 1989, suspects an even stronger contrast is implicit here on the level of cultural code, since women are not to prepare a body for burial, but men! Perhaps, therefore, an even bigger surprise and deeper implicit condemnation is at hand. (Cf. A. P. Bender, "Death, Burial and Mourning," JQR 7 (1894), pp. 259-269, where he mentions explicit references to women preparing the body for burial as exceptional cases. Cf. however Don Zlotnick, The Tractate "Mourning", vol. xvii of Yale Judaica Series (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 89 where women may shroud the body of either a man or a woman.). Furthermore, note also that the explicit and named mention of the three women in the text on three occasions serves to prepare the aural audience for these same expectations: The men are replaced, the named women are now in charge!

    Finally, the fact that they are named gives them a certain authority, individuality. These women are somebodies (not just anybodies), they are given something extra than just an anonymous role; perhaps certain micro-cultural reactions are expected to influence the audience (Ah! not just women, but Mary, Mary and Salome!). All of these clues serve to heighten the audience's (including but not limited to the reader's) awareness in some fashion.
  33. Cf. Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, p. xiiif.
  34. Danove, Conversation, Spring 1992, suggests that the specific traits which I have indicated in arguing for the women to be understood as members of the narrative construct "little people" in fact are those which suggest they are rather members of the narrative construct "disciples." Furthermore, the behavior of these women "disciples" should be contrasted with that of the disciples of John in Mark 6:29 who faithfully come to bury him. He therefore argues that from the beginning the implied reader recognizes the negative potential in the presence of these characters by their association with "disciples". This potential is then fulfilled in their failure to complete their narrative role in contrast to John's disciples.
  35. Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), has indicated the existence of a secret gospel of Mark in which the youth plays a specific and important role. This would indicate a tradition within the Markan corpus which shows an independent narrative function and development of this figure. I suggest this indicates a literary figure created by Mark, given narrative roots in the story (14:51-52), and developed with a specific plot strategy in mind: to emphasize narrative incompletion. This character is picked up and wrestled with by the later canonical and extra-canonical authors. The historical result is a tradition in which the young man develops into angelic messenger(s), and replacing an appearance tradition which remembers Jesus first meeting with the women. Nevertheless, enough strength to the tradition concerning the appearance to the women would see it begin to enter into the stories of the other authors. This would help to explain the redundancies in the Matthean account, and the basis of the Johannine tradition. In other words, it may be easier to presuppose (1) a failed/misunderstood function of the young man in Mark, a figure who later enters into the tradition as a messenger and angel; (2) an eventual patriarchalization of the tradition eliminating the appearance of Jesus to the women; and (3) a tendency in the tradition to give to Peter and the others a primacy, than it would to suppose a willy-nilly and unnecessary appearance to the women as given in Matthew and John.
  36. Cf. here Chatman, Story and Discourse, p. 221, the discussion concerning the implications of description in a verbal medium. By choosing to describe a certain object in a certain way, the implied author intends the given description. It is my point that the details the implied author intends to describe help the implied reader to focus upon them as though they are somehow important. Such descriptions also bring to the implied reader various associations both of the object just described and of the details used to describe it. Thus, in the case of Mark, as no other descriptions of the young man are given, he remains anonymous, but nevertheless known with respect to the details concerning his garment. As the appearance of the young man at both the arrest and the tomb are so described, the implied reader tends to make a connection and consider the implications of the details given.
  37. neanivsko": Appears only twice in the gospel, both within the passion narrative, the other occasion at 16:5. The question before us is in two parts: Who is this young man, and what is his purpose in Mark's passion narrative?

peribeblhmevno": Appears only twice in Mark, the second occasion at 16:5

sindovna: It is mentioned only twice in Mark, the other time in 15:46.

Assuming the historicity of this pericope due to its "literary/narrative difficulty," several scholars have suggested many possible interpretations of the purpose of its presence in the narrative, as well as the identity of the young man. To begin, many scholars have suggested that there is no good reason for the presence of this pericope in the text unless it is based upon "genuine reminiscence." (Taylor, St. Mark, p. 561; Cranfield, St. Mark, p. 438) Accepting this appraisal, further authors have endeavored to discover the identity of the witness, with suggestions ranging from St. John (Ambrose, cited in Taylor, St. Mark, p. 562, and in Lohmeyer, Markus, p. 232), James the brother of Jesus (Epiphanius), to Mark himself (Taylor and Cranfield). The final suggestion seems to have been the favorite of many early modern scholars, including Holzmann and Zahn. These authors suggest that Mark has pulled something similar to what we would now call a "Hitchcock," not being satisfied without some reference to him/herself in her/his text.

However, it is my opinion that all such attempts at discovering the identity of the young man unsuccessful at best. The question of historicity, and the problems inherent in such a position, have been discussed by many authors, such as Ernst Haenchen, Der Weg Jesu (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1968), pp. 502f.; Harry Fleddermann, "The Flight of a Naked Young Man," SBL 1983 Seminar Papers, p. 413, n. 8; Taylor, St. Mark, p. 565; Cranfield, St. Mark, p. 441; and Lohmeyer, Markus, p. 325.

Hänchen, Der Weg Jesu, p. 502 suggests that it contributes the following additional information: "a) man hat versucht, auch Jesu Begleiter festzunehmen, und b)...es waren anscheinend bei Jesu Gefangennahme nicht bloß die Elf dabei..."

  1. ejpi; gumnou': According to Ernst Lohmeyer, Das Evangelium nach Markus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967, 17th edition), p. 232, this phrase is elliptical and is to be completed by the addition of tou' swvmato", the translation then being "on his naked body." There is, however, no example of either the ellipse or the whole phrase. The expectation is the phrase ejpi; crwvsto" or ejn crw'". Some scholars have suggested eliminating it from the text, saying that it was "inserted inadvertently in 51 by an early scribe misled by sindovna gumnov" in 52." [Taylor, St. Mark, p.561]

  1. gumno;": Both Taylor, St. Mark, pp. 561-562, and Gourgues, "A propos du symbolisme christologique et baptismal de Marc 16:5," New Testament Studies, 28 (1981), p. 675 opt for the latter rendering, though the former is more common. A question arises at this point: Why, in light of the fact of the time of year/day and of the fire at the courtyard mentioned in 14:54, all of which indicate the temperature as quite cold, is the young man so scantily clad?

Does fw'" equal "fire"? It may also carry with it additional meaning "illumination" with all the consequent interpretive implications within the story of his denial. See Taylor St. Mark, p. 565, and Cranfield, St. Mark, p. 441 and Lohmeyer, Markus, p. 325.

  1. Dieter Lührmann, Das Markusevangelium, p. 246 suggests that this young man must have been known by both Mark and the community, but not by the authors and communities of Matthew and Luke.
  2. In Kermode, Genesis, p. 62. Cf. also Austin Farrer, A Study in St. Mark (New York: Oxford University Press, 1952).
  3. Fleddermann, "Flight...", p. 417.
  4. See George Nicklesburg, "The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative," Harvard Theological Review 73 (1980), pp. 153-184. For an important review of Nicklesburg's article and the possible implication for historical research upon the passion narrative of Mark, see Mack, Myth of Innocence, pp. 265-268.
  5. There seems to be a wide array of hypotheses concerning the origins for this pericope, insofar as it has been argued that the historicity of the figure of Joseph and the account of the burial are dubious. It has been suggested that the early kerygma account of Acts 13:29 more accurately reflects the historical situation when it suggests a hostile burial of Jesus by his enemies. [Fuller, Formation, p. 54] This is evidently in keeping with Roman burial customs which traditionally buried convicts in a common grave, according to Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (Toronto: Paulist Press, 1973). At least a hurried burial is implied in the text, as the women bring spices to anoint Jesus once the Sabbath has past (16:1). It seems likely that the Joseph legend was created out of an apologetic interest to counteract the claims of a hostile burial. [Fuller, Formation, p. 55] But, to the extent that the women in the earliest stratum of the pericope (15:47) are witnesses to his burial, it does not seem likely that the Joseph legend was originally intended to account for the whereabouts of the body (cf. Mt. 17:62-66, 28:11-15).
  6. ajgoravsa": Among the four passion accounts, only Mark makes mention of the purchase of the linen. Mark intended to supply the information regarding the purchase of the garment in order to further a symbolic image, and in so doing made the historical context subservient to a specific narrative purpose: it causes the implied reader to reflect upon the full development of the preceding scenes, esp. upon the garment left in the hands of the guards in 14:51-52.

sindovna: Appears in Mark only twice, the previous time being in the pericope of the flight of the young man. In light of this, it is possible symbolically to represent this sindovna as the same one in 14:51-52, a point which may help develop the image/purpose/portrait of the young man being developed. It is a very calculated connection which Mark is creating here.

  1. Fleddermann, "Flight...", p. 417. Cf. also Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel, p. 280 for the presence and rhetorical/symbolic function of garments in the passion narrative.
  2. Gourgues, "A propos...", p. 676, similarly gives the garment a symbolic significance as that object which helped the young man to escape from capture, thereby dissociating the young man from Christ's death.
  3. Cf. Trompf, "First Resurrection...", p. 320, n. 2 , and Cranfield, St. Mark, p. 464 and "St. Mark 16.1-8", p.284, do not speak of alteration, just that Mark must have meant (for various reasons) that this figure was an angel.
  4. Clark, Commentary, p. 252.
  5. Cf. Taylor, St. Mark, p. 606f.; Lohmeyer, Markus, p. 254.
  6. Scroggs and Groff, "Baptism in Mark." Cf. the very careful critique by Gourgues, "A propos...", pp. 671-678.
  7. Cf. the critique by Fleddermann, "The Flight...", pp. 412-418. See also Waetjen, Reordering of Power, p. 218, where he develops the interpretation of the cloth of the young man in the garment, seen in relation to the burial garment in 15:46, into a symbol of the body of Jesus.
  8. A. Vanhoye, "La fuite de jeune homme nu (Marc 14.51-52)," Biblica 52/3 (1971), pp. 401-406.
  9. John Knox, "A Note on Mark 14.51-52," The Joy of Study (New York: Macmillan, 1951), pp. 27-30.
  10. Allan Jenkins, "Young Man or Angel?" Expository Times 94 (1983), pp. 237-240. See also Tannehill, "Disciples...", p. 403 and n. 38.
  11. J. Duncan Derrett, The Making of Mark, vol. 2 (Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire: P. Drinkwater, 1984), p. 279.
  12. N. Hamilton, "Resurrection, Tradition and the Composition of Mark," Journal of Biblical Literature 84/4 (1965), p. 417f.
  13. Ernst Schnellbächer, "Das Rätsel des neanivsko" bei Markus" ZNW 73 (1982), pp. 127-135 picks up and elaborates on some of these, with the added interesting proposal that the young man is another example of Mark's "two-step" progression.
  14. See discussion on pp. 38ff. in Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story.
  15. Further on the concept of narrative silence, its modern literary theoretical interpretation, and numerous ancient-literary examples of suspended endings, see J. Lee Magness, Sense and Absence: Structure and Suspension in the Ending of Mark's Gospel (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).
  16. Boomershine, Interpreter's Bible, pp. 225-239.
  17. Williamson, Mark, p. 285.
  18. Weeden, Traditions in Conflict, p. 50.
  19. Fuller, Formation, p. 67.
  20. Lohmeyer, Markus, p.357.
  21. Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, p. 322. Note also the "fear"--is it a "holy awe"? Cf. Cranfield, St. Mark, p. 470 and "St. Mark 16.1-8," pp. 294ff. What does it mean to be silent in such a context? Cranfield seems to be concerned more with respect to modern theological developments about Easter than cultural-code significance.
  22. Petersen, "When is the End...," pp. 162-163.
  23. Kermode, Genesis, p. 72. "The end of a text is not the end of the work when the narrator leaves unfinished business for the reader to complete, thoughtfully and imaginatively, not textually." This is my point exactly: I do not find Mark's ending the end of the story, one which requires the actual reader to complete it. Petersen, "When is the End...", p. 153.
  24. See discussion of "Omniscient Narrator" and its effects upon the implied reader in Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story, pp. 35-43
  25. Petersen, "When is the End...", pp. 161-162.
  26. See Magness, Sense and Absence, pp. 87-125 concerning Markan use of literary structures and foreshadowing gives the interested reader the interpretive tools to generate satisfactory meaning from the suspended ending.
  27. And such clues may even be aural clues. A textually based reader is certainly in a better position to explore such connections. But an audience whose primary means of learning the story is by listening may also hear and understand the clues of the women, the young man, "Galilee", and so on.
  28. Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel, picks up on this on pp. 297-299, but speaks of "authorial audience" which is still a textual embed, and a historically specific one at that. Cf. pp. 52-55. In the model of irony I am considering here, any textually embedded reader construct is in fact "duped" by the narrator/implied author. It is only the real author and real reader "know how it should really end" and it is the real reader (of any time and any place) who is dissatsified with the narrative incompletion and debates whether to rescue the story. It might be the case that the audience which the author had in mind would be the kind who would pick up the story where it left off and search for ways to complete it, but there is no textually (re-)constructed reader to relate to which would not lead to failure. The only textual construct to turn to, since both implied author and implied reader have been unreliable, would be Jesus.
  29. In other words, I simply don't hold to Petersen's view that "our narrator leads us readers to expect something other than what we find in 16:8 and finding 16:8 to disbelieve that he means it." [Petersen, "When is the End...", p. 156; emphasis mine.] If the narrator is considered reliable (p. 161), why does he turn ironic only at the end? It is my view that we believe the narrator, but simply are dissatisfied with the results. The actual reader knows there is more to the story, but the implied reader is not given any more. This forces actual reader to re-enter the storyworld and work out an ending satisfying to herself. This view is different from Petersen's, insofar as it does not presuppose an embedded textual closure (i.e., we believe that the narrator means to end it there), but instead suggests closure only through the interaction with the actual reader who feels the need to find an extra-textual ending.
  30. See also Magness, Sense and Absence, p. 123-124.
  31. Cf. Cranfield, "St. Mark 16.1-8," pp. 289-293 for a thorough discussion of the literature concerning the interpretation of the reference to Galilee, from Parousia to Resurrection appearance.
  32. Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story, pp. 70-72, 96-100.
  33. I further think it possible that as part of the actual audience of the first century community, Mark is posing an ironic reminder to the disciples that their mission lies in the past: It is a reference to the Galilean ministry, to the immediate response they made in leaving all to follow Jesus (i.16-20, esp. 18 & 20), and a literary device which brings attention back to the beginning of the ministry in order for the disciples to re-read, as it were, and to re-learn what it means to follow Jesus. Along this line, it seems possible to consider the role of the ideal reader to replace the disciples in the extra-narrative impulse to go to Galilee. That is, it seems possible to discuss also the possibility that such an ending may have something to do as a critique against the leadership concepts exhibited by the disciples in the narrative, and possibly the actual disciples.

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