The Telegraph has posted an article announcing the online publication of the Codex Sinaiticus (thanks to Cynical-C Blog for the link). This is a version of the Bible which is estimated to have been written in the 4th century A.D. It is missing most of the first part of the Bible (up to 1 Chronicles), but contains all of the rest of the Bible except occasional fragments missing here and there.
I will have to investigate this more, but one notable difference between modern Bibles and the Codex is the lack of the resurrection story in Mark. According to the Telegraph:
It offers different versions of the Scriptures from later editions of the Bible, notably in St Mark’s Gospel which ends 12 verses before later versions, omitting the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ.
It is also noteworthy I think that a number of articles I came across from American sources (such as the San Francisco Gate , Houston Chronicle , etc.) picked up the story, but are leaving out the part about missing and changed verses that the Telegraph article and Wikipedia mention. Here is the translation from the website of the Codex Sinaiticus (it may take a while to load; unchecking "Images" in the display options may help.
16:1 And when the sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first of the week they came to the sepulcher, the sun having risen.
3 And they said among themselves: Who shall roll away for us the stone from the door of the sepulcher?
4 And looking up they see that the stone had been rolled away; for it was very great.
5 And they entered the sepulcher and saw a young man, sitting at the right side, clothed in a white robe; and they were amazed.
6 But he says to them: Be not amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified; he has risen, he is not here: see the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he goes before you into Galilee: there you shall see him, as he said to you.
8 And going out they fled from the sepulcher; for trembling and astonishment had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
So here, we only have it on the authority of some guy in a white robe sitting in an empty tomb that Jesus is "risen", with no report of anyone actually seeing him again. Not very convincing proof. In fact, it says that the two Marys and Salome just ran away amazed and scared and "said nothing to any one."
Most other versions of the Bible since then have contained additional verses which claim that Jesus came back a week later, exorcised Mary Magdalene, appeared to his disciples telling them they’ll baptize, heal the sick, drink poison without getting hurt, speak in tongues etc. Then Jesus goes back to heaven. Here’s the King James Version, for example:
9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
This is a very different ending. Jesus comes back, exorcises Mary Magdalene, appears to the incredulous disciples and tells them to baptize everyone, or else they’ll be damned to hell. Plus, they get to do magic tricks like heal the dead, drink poison, and speak in tongues. Very different endings than the oldest version of the text we have, which doesn’t even mention Jesus coming back. And yet, the mainstream American press apparently doesn’t find this worthy enough to mention.
I’ve read and heard about the final verses in Mark before (see a discussion of the resurrection discrepancies between gospels by Dan Barker here ), but it’s mostly scholars who know about this. No wonder some believers are still believers: their church, their pastor, their media, and their Bibles either leave out or gloss quickly over important details like known inconsistencies in Bible versions, and what implications this might have on the text. [Update: please see comments, some churches or Bibles may be more open about this than I had thought, but the jury is out as to how widespread this is.]
Jesus appearing or not appearing are two very different endings to Mark, wouldn’t you say? We don’t know for sure why those verses were added later, or by whom, but we do know they don’t belong there. Something tells me the significance of this will not be a topic of [most] sermons on Sunday…
I think it’s very good that more resources are being made freely available for people to inform themselves. As I said before, I will have to look more into the Codex project and the differences between the Codex and other versions. But at this point, I think it’s wonderful that it’s online for all to view and read freely, with translations in 4 languages (including English). Who would have thought 20 years ago that you could consult the actual manuscripts from the oldest Bible found in the world from the comfort of your own home? Hopefully it will lead people to consider the progress we’ve made as a race and consider whether some of the content in the Bible still deserves be taken literally in the modern world.