Take a close look at the two Greek manuscripts in this post. What I want you to concentrate on is the lower right hand corner of each of these pieces of papyri. What you should notice is the fraying, deterioration, and disappearance of this part of the manuscript. Contrast this with the left hand margin of these two papyri which are in tact. This pattern is regularly apparent to the observant student of Greek papyri. Why? Because in antiquity as in the 20th century with VHS tapes, people didn’t not always heed the advice— ‘please be kind and rewind’. Greek is a language read left to right, and so the extreme right of a document would often be left exposed to the elements. The results are readily apparent. One loses the end of the document.
Papyri, as we have said earlier in our ‘Memory’ posts last Fall, deteriorated quite readily in moist climates. They were made up of Nile reeds, vegetable matter, after all. It is then no surprise that we find so few papyri in Galilee and so many in the arid conditions at Qumran or in the deserts of Egypt. You can’t judge literacy very well on the basis of where you find manuscripts since ‘absence of evidence does not indicate evidence of absence’ in a moist climate when it comes to papyri and literacy, and this brings us to Mark’s Gospel and its ending.
Of course this is bad news for the KJV only/Majority Texters, but good news for Protestants in snake handling Kentucky, as it means that those verses about snake handling and drinking poison are not an original part of the inspired text of Mark’s Gospel. In short, ‘text should determine canon’ not the other way around, and this being so, if Mk. 16.9ff. is not an original part of Mark’s Gospel, which it surely is not, then it shouldn’t be in our English translations. Final note— Mk. 16.9-20 is probably too long anyway, to have fit at the end and bottom of the final column of Mark’s Gospel if it was written in a fair hand in majuscule, or even if it was written in minuscule Greek script.