The Oldest Manuscript of Mark?

The chance that we might have a first century fragment of the gospel of Mark has recently caught alot of attention (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, add your link in the comments if I missed you).  First, I agree with Jim West that caution is the order of the day until more scholars are able to independently examine the manuscript, though from the initial report at least it does not appear to be just a repeat of some apologetic claim such as the one that still circulates around sometimes about the discovery of Mark among the Dead Sea Scrolls (see my post here).  Second, against all the hype, lets consider the possibility of what a discovery of a first century fragment would mean for the guild:  1) although there is the occasional scholarship on the fringe that wants to date the gospel of Mark well into the second century or even after Bar Kochba (H. Detering, R. Price), there is good reason already on the external and internal evidence to date Mark to the first century with the consensus dating from the mid-late 60s or early 70s (though for earlier dating, cf. E.E. Ellis, R. Gundry, M. Casey, J. Crossley); 2) Mark is pretty weakly attested with the oldest manuscript evidence is the third century Chester Beatty papyri (p45) so I would be interested in knowing about the provenance of the manuscript as maybe a clue on who was actually reading Mark whether in the late first or in the second century.  Lets wait and see how this one turns out.

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8 Responses to The Oldest Manuscript of Mark?

  1. Steven Carr says:

    ‘First, I agree with Jim West that caution is the order of the day until more scholars are able to independently examine the manuscript….’

    According to Dan Wallace, it seems there is going to be a book published on it.

    So need to examine the manuscript. Just read the book.

  2. [...] Euangelion Kata Markon: “…caution is the order of the day until more scholars are able to independently [...]

  3. Brett Williams says:

    Hasn’t Dan earned the right to make such a claim in light of his accomplishments as an internationally respected TC scholar? Dan also is quite capable of dating ancient Greek mss. Would Dan make such a statement if he would only be proved wrong and suffer the same humiliation as Bart E? All my interactions with Dan show him to be a man of integrity, not given to hype, and certainly understands the proper protocol for this first century Mark small fragment. Remember, Dan did NOT find this ms; he has nothing invested in it. My instincts would be to accept the statement by Dan and the other scholar. I often ask skeptics of first century GNT mss… What date would you give the examplar from which P52 (dated AD 125, less than 1 generation from the death of the last Apostle!!) was copied?

    • Mike K. says:

      Hi Brett, thank you for your comment. But please consider what I did and did not say – I did not cast doubt on the integrity or academic competence of Dr. Wallace and was clear that “from the initial report at least it does NOT appear to be just a repeat of some apologetic claim”, but only advocated caution and a wait-and-see approach until the results are published and independently examined by other trained paleographers and text critics. This is not a slight on any individual scholar since ALL academic scholarship must go through the process of critical peer review (if a 1st or early 2nd century dating is verified I think that will be great news). Note the similar cautious approach of another internationally respected textual critic and conservative Christian scholar Dr. Larry Hurtado (he gives his reasons at And though I may agree that Dr. Ehrman may sensationalize some things too much for popular consumption, I am not sure your remarks about “Bart E.” are completely on the objective side :)

  4. Brett Williams says:

    Mike K.

    Is anyone’s comment on the objective side,
    other than one’s own :o )

  5. Robert Conner says:

    Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman are both pretty formidable scholars, but doesn’t the debate about the age of particular gospel fragments risk evading some basic and widely conceded conclusions about the canonical gospels? That, to start with, they are pseudonymous works of unknown provenance drawn from sources that are long since lost? That with the possible exception of Mark, they were written a generation or more after the fact by men who were not eyewitnesses and that they may, in fact, contain no direct eyewitness testimony at all?

    I have argued that the gospels are confabulations in the strict psychological sense: “confabulation” is a compensatory mechanism seen in persons with basically intact mentation but with faulty long term memory. It is associated particularly with patients with Korsakoff’s syndrome. Subjects use confabulation to fill in missing memory, but the “filler” differs with each retelling of a narrative, thus revealing both the lacunose memory and the confected ad hoc narrative that fills the holes.

    If, as Ehrman has persuasively argued, the primitive Christian movement was intensely apocalyptic and lived in the expectation of an imminent end, there would be little motive to record Jesus’ ipsissima verba or an exact chronology of his career and the gospels would accordingly be back formations composed after Jesus and many, if not most, of his contemporaries had died. Direct eyewitness testimony would therefore be rare, the institutional narrative (to the extent that the nascent Christian movement could be considered an “institution”) would be lacunose and the narrative used to fill in missing memory would at best be faulty if not frankly fictive. In short, it would have the characteristic of confabulation.

    My own writing is based on the presupposition that the gospels contain historical core material although how much, from whence, and how reliable are all subject to doubt and conjecture. That the evidence was already fairly scant at the time of their composition is supported by the fact that Matthew and Luke use Mark (and Q) quite extensively as sources and the conflicting infancy narratives are nearly perfect examples of the process of confabulation. The relatively scant early manuscript attestation for Mark may simply reflect a lack of popularity and have nothing to do with the time of its composition. Debate about the age of the gospels, no matter how erudite, will never recover the aides-memoires (assuming such even existed) on which they were based.

  6. jacob says:

    It is interesting that it has been nearly 2 years now and there seems to be not even a hint of further development. Has anyone heard anything?

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