The Pierpoint Morgan Library/M.728, F. 63V/Art Resource, NY

The evangelist Mark contemplates his text, in this page from an elaborate gospel book, with the text written in gold. Mark’s symbol, the winged lion, appears above the fortified wall in the background. Now in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, the manuscript was produced in about 860, during the reign of Charles the Bald, probably at the Abbey of St. Remi, in Reims, France, an important center of classical learning. This explains why the evangelist wears a Roman toga, holds an ancient scroll in his arms and adopts the classical pose of a writer in Greco-Roman art.

Nine different versions of the ending of Mark’s gospel exist today. Sorting out which came first requires the careful detective work of the biblical text critic, who weighs both the historical (earliest manuscripts, translations and early citations) and the literary (vocabulary, style and content) evidence.