Saturday, January 24, 2015

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 papier-mâché 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.


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