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THE ENDING OF MARK'S GOSPEL



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Scholarship and determined exploration of ancient sources for the canonical gospel of Mark has brought great rewards for the writer and readers of The Ending of Mark’s Gospel. Peter Lewis’s work has indeed provided new ‘understanding of the gospels’. The reasons for and impact of variations in the form of the ending of Mark has been speculated on for a long time. Dr Lewis puts a credible case for a reconstructed original ending while providing multiple peripheral insights. His work challenges some long held assumptions and makes worthy corrections to previous scholarship. This is a theological adventure in forensic classical philology and reads like an unfolding mystery novel with the evidence building for his ‘case’. An enjoyable read that takes theology and contemporary Jesus studies into a new era of thinking.

Dr Paul Inglis, CEO UCFORUM www.ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

In Store Price: $19.95 
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ISBN: 978-1-921118-62-3
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:116
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

© Cover Design—Zeus Publications 2019


 


Author
:
Peter E. Lewis
Publisher:
Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2019
Language: English


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This book deals with Mark’s gospel and in particular with why it has an abrupt ending. A rational investigation of the matter reveals that various influences were involved and that it can be the key to understanding how the gospels came to be the way they are. The gospels, of course, are integral to Christianity and hopefully this new perspective and fresh critical approach will revitalise the faith. Sadly in the Western world today Christianity is in decline and the number of people regularly attending the mainstream churches has dropped markedly in recent decades. If widely read this book could reverse that trend.

 

Dedication

 

For Jim, Vanessa, Suzanne and Stephen

 

Introduction

 

In this book there are three articles: ‘An explanation for the abrupt ending of Mark’s gospel’, ‘The significance of the missing beginning and disregarded ending of Mark’s gospel’ and ‘The denarius in Mark 12:15’. Although they are all about Mark’s gospel the third deals with only one verse and focuses on ancient coins, but I have included it because it explains how I got started on this intellectual journey which has given me a particular understanding of the gospels and Christianity. I now feel that I should share my insights with others, hence this book.

I am not a clergyman. Nor am I a professional biblical scholar. I am a retired surgeon, but I have always had a strong Christian faith and since I was in my 20s (I am 80 now) I have taken an interest in the academic side of Christianity. My early part-time studies in religion at the University of Queensland were cut short when I went as a volunteer surgeon to Bangladesh for three years. That was in the 1970s after the terrible war for the independence of Bangladesh. Then when I was the surgeon for the Solomon Islands (where there was no television to watch at night) I gained an honours degree in divinity from London University by correspondence. When I returned to Queensland I was a GP until I retired from medical practice in 2002 although I continued in a non-clinical capacity as the vice-president of Hopewell Hospice on the Gold Coast. During this time I studied part-time at the Brisbane College of Theology eventually obtaining a postgraduate diploma in Theology. I had studied Greek at a postgraduate level and was able to read the New Testament in the language in which it was originally written. Having done Latin at the Brisbane State High School (where I was the dux), I was well equipped to undertake research in an independent way which would not have been possible if I was a priest or minister of religion. Even if I had been a professional biblical scholar working in a university or seminary I would have been constrained by all sorts of influences because ‘rocking the boat’ could lead to unemployment.

I have always had a strong Christian faith. I regularly attend the local church where I enjoy worshipping God in a formal way and where I am grateful for the spiritual boost that I receive and for the Christian fellowship. As none of my relatives are churchgoers I have often wondered why this is so important to me, whereas they couldn’t care less. I realise it is just who I am, which means it is part of my genetic make-up. In recent years some geneticists have suggested that religious people have a ‘God gene’. In other words there is something in their DNA which gives them an innate awareness that there is more than just the material world and it directs them to believe in God. This is very much the case with me, and being rather introverted I take what would be considered a mystical approach. When I wake in the morning and see the dawn, when I look at the ocean during the day, and when I see the stars at night, I think of God and the wonder of it all. I am like a small child who holds a leaf in his hand for the first time.

But what affects me even more than the wonders of creation is the mystery of existence. Just being alive is impossible to comprehend. I find it amazing that I exist at all, that I am me! And I believe that life comes from God. When confronted by this phenomenon of the individuality of consciousness I cannot understand why others do not fall down and worship God. The German theologian, Rudolf Otto, was thinking along these lines when he wrote about the Mysterium Tremendum, the tremendous mystery of existence.

I have explained all this about my Christian faith because I want to reassure you that I am not going to destroy your belief in God or attack the Trinity or cause you to deny that Jesus was both human and divine. On the contrary, I am confident that after carefully reading these three papers with an open mind your Christian faith will be strengthened. It will, however, be changed in some ways because unnecessary burdens and obstacles will have been removed and you should have a fresh understanding of what life is all about. You might be shocked by some of the statements that are made, but like a rose bush it is necessary to cut off dead branches and prune it back to essentials. Only then can new growth occur and gorgeous roses blossom. In using the pruning shears I have followed where truth has led me. As Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Because I have made truth my guide on this path of clarification, the three papers have been written in an academic style, i.e. there are footnotes, and evidence is given for every step in the argument. I did not want it to be just a matter of personal opinion and speculation, as so many books about Christianity are today. There is, of course, always a degree of speculation in any form of research, but I have tried to keep it to a minimum. Of course, you may not agree with all the details but I hope you will find the overall picture compelling. It will be rather like a jigsaw puzzle which you only really see when it has been completed. Although it is written in an academic style I have tried to write as clearly and simply as possible, and where there are Greek words they have been translated. It will not be an easy read because complex matters have to be explained and understood but nothing valuable is ever gained without effort.

The gist of my thesis is that by looking critically at the beginning and end of Mark’s gospel one will gain knowledge of how the gospels came to be the way they are. Consequently a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible will be untenable. In the past the fundamentalist view that every word in the Bible was true resulted in such disasters as the perpetuation of slavery and flat-earth cosmology. Modern Christians must move beyond this way of thinking if Christianity is to survive into the future. Hopefully the ideas put forward in this book will initiate a new Reformation, a fresh look at what Christianity is all about. It will still be based on the Bible but in a rational way that includes these new insights. A new Reformation is greatly needed in the Western world because secularism is on the rise and overall church attendances are declining. Like my relatives, more and more people couldn’t care less.

Read the first and second articles in this book in that order. The third article, about the denarius, is not as important and need not be read if time is limited. I have included it because it was the way that this whole area of biblical research was opened up for me. My hobby for many years has been collecting and studying ancient coins, and I have focused on coins relating to the history of Christianity. I have written books and many articles on the subject, and when I thought about the denarius in Mark 12:15 I realised that it could not be a denarius and it made me look critically at other passages in Mark’s gospel, especially the beginning and the end where the abrupt ending has been a major problem for biblical scholars in modern times. The coin in Mark 12:15 could not be a denarius for several reasons, the chief one being that denarii did not circulate in Judaea at that time. After considering which coin was the one actually shown to Jesus it became obvious that it was a silver coin that was minted in Antioch by the emperor Tiberius. On the coin was the claim that his predecessor, the emperor Augustus, was a god. The Jews must have shown it to Jesus to get his reaction. It revealed to me a whole new scenario behind the written text.

There was another important aspect to my numismatic studies. I was impressed by how often Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) appeared on ancient coins. From 126 BCE to 66 CE he appeared on all the silver coins minted at Tyre, which was the main commercial centre in the region. He appeared on all the silver coins issued in the name of Alexander the Great during his lifetime and for many years after his death. Actually Heracles had appeared frequently on coins ever since they were invented in the 7th century BCE, and this showed me how popular he and the other Greek heroes were in ancient times, but unlike Superman and the other modern superheroes Heracles and the like were incorporated into the prevailing religion and mythology. A common feature of these ancient superheroes was that they were conceived by the intercourse of a god with a mortal woman. So when the Christian gospel was first preached to the Gentiles they would have anticipated that Jesus was conceived in the same way.

 Mark, who was the first to write a gospel and whose work was largely copied by Luke and Matthew, did not believe that Jesus was conceived in the same way as Heracles. For Mark, Jesus was born naturally. For some readers this will be the most shocking revelation in this book, but as Bishop Spong wrote in his book Born of a Woman the virgin of a literal Bible, the virgin of the annunciation ‘will have to go’. I agree. The doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus is an unnecessary burden on faith. In an article entitled The Coming Radical Reformation Robert Funk wrote: ‘The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned.’ But conservative Christians should not despair: Jesus can still be the Son of God even though he was born naturally.

Christianity needs to get rid of the Virgin Mary if it is to be acceptable to future generations. Of course, Christians should still honour Mary as the mother of Jesus, but unfortunately during the Middle Ages (especially in the overheated religiosity of the Byzantine Empire) the situation got out of hand with Mary becoming the Queen of Heaven and the one to whom Christians should pray. The cult of Mary with the Christ child derived largely from Egyptian religion where Isis and her son Horus were worshiped with great devotion, and coins of ancient Egypt show them as they are portrayed on Christian icons.

There are other aspects of conservative Christianity which will need to be reassessed after reading this book. For example, does one need to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian? Admittedly the form that Jesus might have taken after his resurrection is beyond human comprehension. It belongs to the realm of the supernatural, but in thinking about these matters one needs to follow the path of truth as far as possible and on this path one should be accompanied by Reason.

On the Christian quest for truth it is important not to deny the supernatural. Otherwise Christianity is reduced to an ethical code or a secular philosophy. For Christians it is much more than that. They must be constantly aware of the spiritual aspect of their lives. Then life becomes really exciting and positive. They become co-creators with God in the amazing adventure to transform the cosmos and establish the Kingdom of God.

 

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