One of the most significant Greek New Testament manuscript finds of all time was revealed in a recent article in CNN .  If confirmed, then this will be a game-changer in the way it supports by physical evidence the early date of the writing of the gospels.  As will all such claims, it is wise to maintain a level of skepticism, especially because the fragment has not yet been published.

The fragment was found as part of a funerary mask from Egypt.  The technical term for this item is a cartonnage.  The mask was made from an ancient kind of paper mache, using shredded papyrus.  A new technology was used to chemically break apart the funerary mask to reveal the shreds of ancient papyrus.  One of these contained a portion of the Book of Mark.  The discovery was announced by Craig Eavans, Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The fragment of Mark was analyzed by both handwriting style and carbon-14 dating to the 80’s AD.  This would be forty years earlier than the previous record-oldest confirmed manuscript discovery, the Rylands Papyrus.  This is a fragment of John which has been dated to AD 125.

The manuscript has only been seen by a limited group of scholars who have announced that they will not publish it for at least another year.  For this reason, it will be wise to not take this “to the bank,” but at the very least this will be an important new discovery.  If it holds up, then it will confirm what most Christians already believed, which is that Mark was published well before AD 80.  Apparently, Mark had been around long enough, and enough copies had been made that a discarded manuscript found its way into a funerary mask.  This does not give us a firm date for the writing of Mark, but it pushes the date, arguably, at least into the 60s AD.  Stay tuned, as this artifact will be in the news for the next few years.

John Oakes






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