A First-Century Copy of the Gospel of Mark?

January 26, 2015   

In the last week or so I’ve had a number of inquiries about news stories of the discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark dating to the first century AD.  Actually, this isn’t a new claim, but instead a rehashing (or belated notice) of a story that initially appeared back in early 2012.  But, thanks to an article more recently in “Live Science” (here) the story has taken on renewed life.  Concerns and critiques have been offered in news outlets as well, this one instance here.  So, I’ll offer some comments in what follows.

First, some background.  The original news derived from a public debate held in Chapel Hill, North Carolina between Dan Wallace and Bart Ehrman, during which Wallace mentioned that he’d been told that a first-century fragment of Mark had been identified.   That generated some excitement and critical comments, such as those from Brice Jones here.

The more recent excitement seems to have come from someone, apparently at “Live Science”, noticing a Youtube talk by Craig Evans (here) given in Canada back in 2014, in which he mentions again this putative fragment of Mark.  Evans appears essentially to be reporting on the claim initially reported by Wallace, and was not himself directly involved in the process of taking apart mummy cartonage to look for manuscript fragments.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter.

1) First, no such claim can be engaged at all unless/until the item in question is made available for critical scrutiny by qualified scholars (and that means scholars who are qualified to make an independent judgement on palaeographical grounds).  This hasn’t been done, and so the entire matter is (or should be) moot.  What do I think of the claim?  Can’t comment, as there is no item openly
available for critical scrutiny.

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