New Older Manuscript of Mark? Cool it, please.

There is something people are passing around on FaceBook that is a bit befuddling. It sounds fantastic, but, really….It is not news or even really newsworthy.The Blaze ran a sensationalizing story on January 20th, 2015 titled

Bible Scripture Found Hidden in Mummy Mask Could End Up Being the Oldest Gospel Ever

This was based on a story at the LiveScience website published January 18th, 2015 titled

Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel

The story is not new. It dates back to 2012.

In the article at LiveScience a brief YouTube video of Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at the Divinity School of Acadia University, was cited as the source for this news. The YouTube video is of Dr. Evans speaking at the 2014 Apologetics Canada Conference held at Northview Church in Abbotsford, BC in March of that year.Dr. Evans described a discovery to his audience that had been reported by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace in a debate with Bart Ehrmann [James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] in February 2012 at UNC Chapel Hill.

Dr. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, posted about this debate and the manuscript on March 22, 2012 at his blog under the title

First-Century Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Found!?

At that time the hoped for publishing date was 2013. But as for many works of scholarship that publication date has been delayed. Evans guessed 2014. Now it is 2015.

One of the problems people are having with the information that Wallace and Evans have given is that the information is so little.

What has been stated:

  • The fragment is possibly part of a manuscript of the Gospel of Mark
  • The fragment was dated paleographically [by handwriting style]
  • The fragment was dated by Radiocarbon
  • The fragment is claimed [by Evans] to date to A.D. 80.
  • The fragment was discovered as part of a papiermâché mix to make a mummy mask
  • The fragment was successfully removed from the mask by a special process that preserved the writing.

Beyond this the rest is still undeclared and cannot be known until the scholarship about the fragment, its provenience, the chain of custody, the dating methods, and the textual analysis are completed.

We simply have to wait and not conjecture.

Why are these scholars so hush-hush about the manuscript?

Discoveries like this are kept under fairly tight wraps with confidentiality agreements. There are a couple of justifications for this. First: it preserves the integrity of the evidence physically and academically. This is a good thing. This helps to prevent the wildfire spread of forgeries and hasty conjecture of forgery. Second: it preserves the rights of those who did the work and, perhaps, own the manuscript, so that they are the ones who are properly credited–and in some cases receive reimbursement for their work. These scholars and the publishers spend their lives studying and publishing about such things. And, in the end, the economic value that people place on their work is how they feed their own families. Let them do their work. And after they have published, then let us evaluate the claims.

About Pastor Joseph Abrahamson

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson serves Faith Ev. Lutheran Church, Clara City, Minnesota (E.L.S.). He and his wife, Mary, have 10 children. Pastor Abrahamson is a graduate of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, and of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. He has served on the Faculty/Staff at Bethany Lutheran College teaching Religion, Linguistics, Archaeology, and Self-Defense; and was on Staff at the University of Wisconsin as an Information Processing Consultant (Computer Geek) while doing graduate work in Semitics. Pastor Abrahamson served Clearwater Lutheran Parish (ELS) from 2001 to April 2015.

Comments

New Older Manuscript of Mark? Cool it, please. — 4 Comments

  1. Well said, Pr. Abrahamson.

    The Church of Christ already knows and believes that the Gospel of Mark was written before 80 AD. It is only the secularists, confounded by the false and speculative claims of so-called Higher Critics, who should be surprised to find manuscript evidence from the first century.

    It is unbecoming of a faithful Christian, to be overly exuberant or despondent when such things are discovered. We have the prophetic and Apostolic witness in Holy Scripture. The evidence grows daily about its validity, but the Church carried it for millenia without such external evidences. Archeology will come and go, but the steadfast Word of the Lord endures forever.

  2. Do we know what the Gospel of Mark says and that it was written in the first century? Of course.

    But should we care about archaeological finds such as this? MOST CERTAINLY YES!

  3. @Nicholas #2
    We aren’t even really told whether or not it is an “archeological find” if by that you mean that it was recovered from a controlled archaeological context. It may be a mummy mask that has floated around in private collections for 50-100 to 200 years and even more. Even more reason to wait for the formal publishing of the document before conjecturing on any value it might have for Christian apologetics.

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