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image of Novum Testamentum

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, rhetorician and historian in Rome during the waning years of the first century B.C.E., wrote an essay on Thucydides in which he noted that some critics faulted the great historian of the Peloponnesian War for the arrangement (ταξις) of his work. They complained that Thucydides "neither chose the beginning of the history that was needed, nor did he fit it with a suitable ending." These critics insisted that "by no means the least important part of good arrangement was to choose a beginning, prior to which there would be nothing, and to conclude the matter with an ending in which nothing seemed to be lacking" (On Thucydides 10).

If we overlook for the moment that Thucydides's history differs significantly in literary terms from the Gospel of Mark, we might find it remarkable how the same criticism has been leveled against the author of the second gospel. The oddity of Mark's ending at 16:8 is well known, but the beginning of Mark is also inauspicious. Does he, like Thucydides, suffer from faulty ταξις? This paper will examine the beginning of Mark's gospel and propose, or in truth, recall and corroborate, a rather pedestrian explanation of its many peculiarities.


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