Text from Book of Mark Found in Ancient Mask May Be Oldest Known Copy of Gospel

Mark pdEgypt — Text from the book of Mark that was found inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask may be the oldest copy of the gospel—even if just in a portion—known to man.

Through carbon dating and analyzation of the artifact, it is believed that the document is from within the first century following the death and resurrection of Christ. Heretofore, the oldest known copies of the gospels on record are from the second century.

According to reports, the rich in Egypt were often buried in masks made of flaked gold and other precious metals, but the common people were sometimes buried in masks created from recycled documents. Using a process to carefully melt the glue holding the documents together, in 2012 researchers discovered a papyrus sheet in one mask that contained text believed to be from the book of Mark—one of the four gospels in the New Testament.

But the discussion was recently revived after one of the researchers working on the project spoke about the significance of the find and the ongoing discovery of documents hidden in commoner’s burial masks.

“We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries,” lead researcher Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, told Live Science. “Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters.”

Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition states that the discovery of the biblical text is important because it helps to provide further evidence as to when Mark wrote his gospel and how quickly it began to circulate around the world.

“Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor have argued that the evidence suggests the exact date of Jesus crucifixion was April 3, AD 33,” he wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. “A fragment from before AD 80 would establish that the gospel of Mark had not only been written within 50 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that it would have already begun to circulate widely.”

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“To have a first-century witness to the text of the New Testament is unprecedented,” added Denny Burk, a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College. “That a fragment of Mark was found in Egypt is even more astonishing. That would seem to require that the original was probably penned decades before.”

But some like Burk may wonder why the gospel text was found in Egypt since Mark likely wrote the text under the rule of the Roman empire.

“In the Roman empire mail moved almost as quickly as it does today,” Evans told The Gospel Herald. “A letter put aboard a packet in Ephesus (today’s Turkey) could be in Egypt within one week. Something written in Rome could be in Egypt being read within a few weeks. Mark was written in the late 60s, so finding a copy of Mark in Egypt dating to the 80s is not strange in the least.”

The text from the find is set to be published later this year. Researchers have held back some of the information surrounding the discovery until that time.


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