Monday, February 06, 2012

Earliest manuscript fragment of Mark rumour

There's nothing more likely to get the blogs all talking than a rumour about a newly discovered manuscript fragment.  See Jim Davila on Paleojudaica, James McGrath on Exploring our Matrix, Peter Head on Evangelical Textual Criticism (with tons of comments), Joel Watts at Unsettled Christianity,  Jim West and others.  The basic gist is that Dan Wallace, in a debate last week with Bart Ehrman, made the following claim:
Bart had explicitly said that our earliest copy of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It’s from the firstcentury. I mentioned these new manuscript finds and told the audience that a book will be published by E. J. Brill in about a year that gives all the data.
I'll throw in a couple of quick things in.  The first is that the claim is, of course, hopelessly vague, and that the promised Brill publication "in about a year" may well mean that the book in question is not even in press yet.  Authors are typically over-optimistic about when they think the press will publish their work and if the author is saying "about a year", my guess is that s/he has not let go of the manuscript yet.

It's also worth adding that it is a fair guess that this manuscript discovery is connected with Scott Carroll (HT Matthew Hamilton) who tweeted on 1 December 2011: 
For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-call John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more. Stay tuned .
I am staying tuned but there is nothing more yet.  I'd guess that Carroll is connected with Wallace's announcement given the unlikelihood that there are two such discoveries at the same time, and given the similar contacts the two figures have (e.g. both are part of a series on The Bible's Survival and Success).  However, it is worth noting that Wallace remarked that the "world-class paleographer" in question had "no religious affiliation" and this does not appear to be the case with Carroll, who is advertised as an expert on, among other topics, "the Authenticity of the Bible".

I would also add at this point that it is always good on these occasions to begin with a healthy scepticism.  As often, the hunt for the lost Doctor Who episodes provides a good analogy with New Testament textual criticism. There have been rumours over the years that a new discovery of one of the lost episodes is about to be discovered, and often these come to nothing.  As with manuscripts, we should wait for the physical evidence before we get our hopes up.

Update (Tuesday, 6.41): sage comments from Stephen Carlson on Hypotyposeis.

Update (Tuesday, 9.01): Larry Hurtado weighs in with similarly useful comments.


Steven Carr said...

I think people have learned from the Lead Codex fiasco not to publish pictures of the artefacts to allow their authenticity to be determined.

So we will have to wait for this book...

Ken Schenck said...

My guess is that this is more from the Green collection, with which Scott Carroll is associated. I don't believe the Brill volume will be solely dedicated to any one fragment but to a number of the fragments they have.

Mark Goodacre said...

I agree -- most likely to be the Green collection and most likely that the book will feature a number of fragments.

John Dyer said...

Dr. Wallace just wrote an update here:

Matthew Hamilton said...
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Steven Carr said...

Why can't a picture of this fragment be posted? Is this the 21st century?

Why the secrecy?

What is there to hide?

Peter Malik said...

I am generally uncomfortable with any dating that is trying to be more precise than 50 (preferably 100) years. In case of Mark, my general skepticism will need an extremely heavy compilation of evidence to convince me (and neither material nor shape of the script is not one of them).