copyright 2008 Stephan Huller
All of these discoveries are interesting and deserve special mention. However, if, as I suggest, Justus was one of many contemporary figures connected with Marcus Agrippa, why isn’t he in the gospel? The answer might, as in the case of Berenice, be that in the original Marcionite text he was but that later, with the Catholic revision of all New Testament material in the mid-second century, he was effectively written out of the gospel. Where might we have found him, had an editor not whisked him away? Eusebius says that “Philip the apostle lived in Hierapolis together with his daughters…. But as regards them let it be noted that Papias, their contemporary, mentions a wondrous account that he received from the daughters of Philip. For he recounts a resurrection from the dead in his time, and yet another paradox about Justus who was surnamed Barsabbas, as having drunk a deadly poison and yet, through the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm.” As Ben C Smith perceptively notes, “[t]his account of Justus drinking poison reminds one of Mark 16.18a: ‘they will pick up serpents, and if they should drink any deadly thing it will not harm them.’” Smith remembers also that “[i]nterestingly, Philip of Side (century V) records this same incident from Papias, but in a manner more reminiscent of the longer ending of Mark. From his History of the Church: “The aforesaid Papias reported as having received it from the daughters of Philip that Barsabas who is Justus, tested by the unbelievers, drank the venom of a viper in the name of the Christ and was protected unharmed.” He observes that “[b]oth Eusebius and Philip are paraphrasing Papias, and reporting his words in the third person. Philip, however, offers three details over and above what Eusebius has, all of which serve to draw the account closer to the longer Marcan ending.” Smith also develops some further proofs that Justus was probably present in the longer ending of Mark.
1. Philip says that Justus was challenged by unbelievers. Belief and unbelief are a central theme of the longer ending (see especially Mark 16.16-17a).
2. Philip says that Justus drank the poison in the name of Christ. The longer ending, at Mark 16.17b, has Jesus saying (in the first person) that believers will perform signs in his name.
3. Philip says that the poison that Justus drank was the venom of a viper. The longer ending tells us that unbelievers will pick up serpents and drink poison unharmed. However, it does not conflate these two as Philip has done; it does not tell us that the poison itself will be snake venom.
Smith concludes: “[t]he problem is simple. If Papias wrote only what Eusebius said that he wrote, then we have no real reason to suspect that he knew the longer ending of Mark. The only overlap would be the motif of harmlessly drinking poison. But, if Papias wrote what Philip Sidetes says that he wrote, then Papias may well have known it. Which is more likely in the paraphrasing of Papias, that Eusebius subtracted these three points of contact with Mark 16.9-20, or that Philip added them?” This would mean we have much earlier evidence for the Long Ending of Mark than scholars have thought. It need not be regarded as a later interpolation. And in this case, Mark would have ended, even climaxed, with a miracle ascribed to Justus. The absence of the Long Ending from most early manuscripts would then represent ecclesiastical censorship of the role of Marcus Agrippa and his heirs.
In closing I should merely confirm that the name “Justus bar Saba” merely means “Justus the son of the Elder” who was clearly Marcus Agrippa himself.
copyright 2008 Stephan Huller