Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Missing Gospel Fragment

Of all the cases which my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes undertook, one of the most curious presented itself to him, as I recall, shortly after one Easter Sunday.

That spring, I recall, had been exceptionally wet and dismal. Holmes and I were in our living room at 221B Baker Street when there was an abrupt knock on the door. Before we could even answer, a young woman burst in peremptorily and sat down heavily on a chair. 'Why, Miss Eliza Faversham of Eden Lodge, Sloane Square,' said Holmes. 'A woman in domestic service of many years good standing and highly regarded by her employers.'

A strange case for Sherlock Holmes.Pixabay

'Why Holmes!' I exclaimed. 'How on earth could you know that?' 'Because, Watson,' my friend responded sharply, 'I was introduced to her at a party last week, and furthermore, it also serves as a useful plot-shortening introduction to this piece of writing.' But turning to Miss Faversham, who was plainly in a state of great distress, Holmes addressed her directly: 'Now come, come, my good lady. What is it that brings you here today?'

Eliza turned tearful violet eyes upon him, and dabbing at her cheeks, said: 'Why Mr 'olmes, I 'ave a real mystery and I think you may be the only man who can explain it to me.' She continued: 'On Easter Sunday I attended the church of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and 'eard Mr Charles Spurgeon preach. I was greatly moved, and at the end resolved to read for myself the Gospel of Mark in accordance with his exhortations. But,' she went on, 'when I got to the end of it – the end was missing! And now I don't know what 'appened... Please 'elp me Mr Holmes!' And sobbing all the more, she thrust out a dog-eared document, damp from her tears, into his outstretched hands.

Holmes took it and examined it. 'Hmmm,' he said, reading it aloud. '"So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." It is indeed a curious place for Mark's gospel to end,' he added. 'But be of good cheer Miss Faversham, for in addition to all my other skills, I happen to be an expert in the study of ancient Near Eeastern documents and indeed have read a number of notable monograms on the subject.'

And so it was that, as Mrs Hudson served tea, Mr Sherlock Holmes explained the possible reasons for the abrupt ending to Mark's account of the resurrection. 'You see Miss Faversham, it might just be possible to think that Mark did stop there, and that he intended anyone reading the book out loud – as they would have in those days – to call on one of the eye-witnesses present to tell the story of what they had seen, either that first Easter Day or shortly afterwards.

'But I am getting ahead of myself,' he said, 'since I seem there to be quoting verbatim from Professor Tom Wright's commentary on this which is not due to be written for another century or so. However, let me continue. For even such a notable figure as theologian David Wenham has been heard to suggest in public lecture that, since Mark's gospel is based on the recollections of St Peter, maybe even the great apostle Peter himself would have stood at the end of such a public reading of the gospel and given a firsthand account of what next transpired.'

At this Miss Faversham dabbed her eyes with her kerchief, and said in a more composed fashion: 'And is that the theory to which you yourself incline, Mr 'Olmes?' My friend paused, lit his pipe, and smoked reflectively for a few moments.

'I think,' he said, 'if I may continue prophetically to anticipate the words of the good Professor Wright, we can make a theological virtue out of necessity. Perhaps, in the strange providence of God, the way Mark's book now finishes encourages us all the more to explore not only the faith of the early church, that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, but our own faith. There is a blank at the end of the story, and we are invited to fill it ourselves.' He continued: 'Do we take Easter for granted, or have we found ourselves awestruck at the strange new work of God? What do we know of the risen Lord? Where is he now going ahead of us?'

Miss Faversham rose abruptly. 'Why thank you, Mr 'Olmes,' she exclaimed, grasping his hand warmly. 'You 'ave 'elped me ever so much.' And then fixing her lucid violet eyes on me, she added: 'And perhaps your record of this time will 'elp others who will read it in the future. Goodbye!' And with that, she turned and swept out of the room.

'And now,' said Holmes, 'I believe I am prompted by this very conversation to avail myself of Divine Worship.'

'Evening prayer, Holmes?' I inquired. 'No, Communion,' he replied. And then added, with a wink: 'Sacramentary, my dear Watson.'

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly series.