Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Questions about “First Century Mark”

26
Discussion is beginning again about the claim that there is a first century manuscript of part of Mark’s Gospel. In particular LiveScience reports such a claim associated with Craig Evans and this has been reported positively elsewhere. The report in the International Business Times is a bit more critical.

So I thought it would be good to raise a few questions about this alleged “First Century Mark”, hereafter FCM.

If we begin with the LiveScience report, which is our most recent ‘source’ for information about FCM, we note that it has not been written with great care about accuracy. The second century is said to consist of dates between 101 and 200. It is suggested that ‘ordinary people’ had mummy masks.

It is said: “In recent years scientists have developed a technique that allows the glue of mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper”. It would be hard to harm the ink on the paper of a mummy mask, because one can be sure one will not find paper in one.

This and other features of the article mean that one must show extreme care about using this report as a source to gain information. I am not even confident that we can use it with any accuracy as a source for what Craig Evans has said.

Therefore although I’d be delighted if we could rely on the source to establish that we have a single sheet of papyrus, and that currently seems probable, it’s difficult to be certain.

We come now to a central paragraph:

“Evans says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90.”

As the source is demonstrably not particularly careful and as this is also not a direct quotation from Evans it is difficult to know what Evans actually said.

However, C14 dating will not render a date as precise as ‘before 90’; nor will palaeography. That leaves us with two other methods of dating: archaeological context and associated writings.

If for convenience we suppose that other manuscripts in the mask are ones with dates that survive (remembering that for a majority of texts no date survives) and that the mask luckily enough contains four texts with firm date formulae (which would be really nice, but quite unlikely) and that these date formulae show manuscripts from the years 50, 60, 70 and 80, that would still not mean that they could not be put together with a manuscript from considerably later than the year 90 to make a mummy mask.

Finally, it might be possible that archaeological context would date a mummy mask to a particular date, but that would be highly unusual, and would not accord well with Dan Wallace’s earlier emphasis on the expertise of an unnamed palaeographer as the basis for the dating. Palaeographers don’t normally deal with archaeological dating.

Therefore the public claims about the basis for dating this fragment appear incoherent.

Ethics
Something should be said about the ethics of extracting texts from mummy masks. I actually have no objection to this in principle. Obviously the process is somewhat destructive, but archaeology is inherently destructive. However, every effort must be made to minimise destruction and every step should be carefully recorded photographically and scholars should keep a record for posterity of exactly what they’ve done and explain why they chose to do so, and show a process of evaluation in which the benefits of what they do are shown to be superior to other options, including leaving the mask intact.

There are also ethical questions which surround the acquisition of such items.

It is common for researchers to have explicit statements on ethics and it is important for scholars to have an ethical code that they have written or one to which they publicly subscribe prior to handling such controversial matters.

26 comments :

  1. I think the source is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kPgACbtRRs

    Craig Evans there talks about "paper" etc. etc.

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  2. Live Science used that video, and perhaps actually talked with Craig Evans; IBT simply made up more stuff by putting two and two together and making five (OK in some situations of course; but not here). What a sorry mess.

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  3. Reading the comments here...
    http://danielbwallace.com/2012/03/22/first-century-fragment-of-marks-gospel-found/#comments

    ...on 1-2-15 someone posted in the article comments a speculation that due to the multi rumors and different individuals showing involvement in the FCM, that perhaps there are actually two different FCMs in the works. This shows how absurd all of this has gotten over the recent years.

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  4. Peter, it looks like that video may indeed be the source. And I noticed Evans's use of the word "paper" as well. Obviously, he knows that the it is a papyrus fragment. He was just using "paper" as a shorthand for a popular audience. But I'm guessing that the author of the LiveScience.com piece probably doesn't know the difference.

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  5. Is this page at Baylor the origins of these discoveries? http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=100064

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  6. Ben, I think even before that, the start was when Scott Carroll posted a blurb on social media saying that the position of P52 as the oldest witness to the New Testament was about to be changed per the new discovery he had just made.

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  7. "It is suggested that 'ordinary people' had mummy masks."

    I saw that movie and there were no mummy masks in it.

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  8. How hard would it be to draw up a list of material from Mark that this fragment would have to be in order to be clearly Mark rather than Matthew? I suppose it would depend on the size.

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  9. Assuming for the moment that something actually exists behind this generally hearsay reporting, then you could surely identify it as a Mark on the basis of a pretty tiny fragment especially if it has two sides - the wording is generally distinctive.

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  10. Craig Evans is quoted as follows on Ben Witherington's blog:
    “Last summer I gave a presentation on the number, age, and reliability of New Testament manuscripts. In this lecture I described the effort under way in recent years to recover manuscript fragments, including biblical manuscripts, from ancient cartonnage, including mummy masks. All of these materials are from Egypt. Just over three years ago a fragment of Mark was recovered, which those studying it think dates to the 80s. If they are correct, this will be the first New Testament manuscript that dates to the first century. The fragment is to be published later this year (by E. J. Brill). Someone video-recorded my lecture and posted it on YouTube. Last week a reporter, Owen Jarus, from Live Science contacted me and I gave him an interview. What he wrote was posted on Sunday 18 January 2015 and is accurate. However, other journalists have made use of his story and/or the video on YouTube and have misunderstood some aspects of it, claiming incorrectly that I was myself the discoverer of the fragment of Mark or that research on the papyri recovered from the mummy masks is going on here in Nova Scotia. Some have also posted a photo of a mummy mask giving me credit for the photo. The photo is not mine. I have directed reporters who inquired to the person to whom the photo does belong. Unfortunately, not all reporters inquired. The Live Science link is http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html.”

    Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2015/01/20/earliest-fragment-of-marks-gospel-apparently-found/#ixzz3PSnbjDBY

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  11. Combine that with what we learnt from Roberta Mazza's blog:
    Professor Evans has kindly informed me via email that this is the same fragment mentioned by Daniel Wallace and it is his understanding that the fragment will be published by Brill in 2015. He cannot answer other questions I posed on the dismounting of the mask “because of various confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements”.
    https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/mark-strikes-back-mummy-cartonnage-and-christian-apologetics-again/

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  12. From this we learn that Craig Evans knows nothing himself about the purported manuscript.

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  13. So the whole news wave is nothing. There is no multiple attestation. Craig Evans was following Dan Wallace; Dan Wallace is sticking to his original story (as per Denny Burk's blog). The amount of additional reliable information above and beyond Dan Wallace's original comment in the debate with Bart is ... well ... hmmm ....

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    1. I agree. The only two things I hadn't seen before in the recent LiveScience story was (1) the claim that it had been dated with methods beyond palaeography and (2) that publication is set for 2015.

      My favorite part is this bit though: "In recent years scientists have developed a technique..." which sounds much more exciting than "scholars dissolve the masks with water and light soap."

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    2. Yes, and they are both, as far as I can tell, without any foundation in fact.

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  14. Apparently Craig Evans gave a more lengthy response which is on Bart Ehrman's blog (http://ehrmanblog.org/defending-the-destruction-of-mummy-masks/) -behind a paywall. Jeff Cate summarised this on fb as follows:
    Basically, Ehrman posted a lengthy response (6 paragraphs) from Evans about this whole matter. Basically, Evans says there are "thousands" (his words) of these mummy masks and cartonnage, possessed by many different owners, and that many of them are in poor quality. The various owners have felt recovery of written texts outweighs the value of these deteriorated artifacts. He names some of the people working on these, even if in an advisory role. He emphasizes that there is no theological agenda in the study of these. Evans says he doesn't like to see anitquities destroyed in this process, but it's necessary, and he makes an analogy to archaeologists having to destroy one layer to get to another one. He also states that the Mark fragment will not be published this year after all. Jerry Pattengale told Evans that it will be another "couple of years." (Evans then speculates that maybe that is to include other papyri into the publication.)
    Source: https://www.facebook.com/groups/11404207692/permalink/10152480487192693/?comment_id=10152484808417693&offset=0&total_comments=26

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  15. Hopefully someone is documenting the chronology of all this...either to accurately record the history of the discovery, analysis, and publication of the greatest find since P52, or as a comedy of errors in what happens when rumors run too far out ahead of facts.

    I am not surprised that there is a delay of a couple of years, as the Brill website doesn't include anything like this in their list of forthcoming volumes in 2015.

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    1. The general agreement is reported here: http://www.brill.com/news/brill-publish-new-papyrus-series-green-collection
      And we discussed it here: http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/green-scholars-initiative-papyrus.html

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  16. So if that is accurate it would seem to confirm what Dan Wallace intimated but which has never been stated clearly, that the piece does now belong in and to the Green Collection (since Jerry Pattengale works for the Greens), and is a part of their publishing plans (albeit not to be published with any urgency).

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    1. So that being the case, perhaps this explains why other of the Green Collection fragments like their 2nd-3rd century papyrus fragment of 1 Corinthians 8:10-9:3; 9:27-10:6 still remains unpublished. Mike Holmes was commissioned to study it back in 2011. Four years later, nothing has been published. So maybe the research is complete and it is simply waiting to be bundled together in a publication with other fragments still being studied.

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    2. Sometimes publications are delayed beyond the expectations and hopes of an author.

      Setting up a new series, getting all the individual authors and chapters finished, and trying to do as good a job as possible on the publication of the pieces, let alone copy-editing the details, must all take a load of time.

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  17. Mike Holmes confirms that the Green Collection has Gospel papyri and says they will be published when they're published.

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  18. You mentioned ethics and that's interesting and irrelevant. The owner of the mask can do whatever they want in much the same way a person can do whatever they want to a button up shirt that they bought at the thrift store. However the "person" that owns the mask is the same person that wanted the WHOLE research team to sign a non disclosure agreement, limiting what they are able to say publicly. Did you find that part irrelevant? Do you think that the owner could be a different race (nonhuman), or know more about them than your 'ordinary person'.

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  19. Famuk, how do you know that the owner is the person who wanted the research team to sign an agreement?

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  20. Whatever the involvement of Wallace and Evans, non scholar Josh McDowell claims to be directly involved in the extracting of texts from the masks. He shows a hubristic and callous attitude towards scholarly protocol in this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-cl=85114404&x-yt-ts=1422579428&v=Sf6S3bTjkko

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  21. Maybe caution and verification are more important than rushing to publication?

    Maybe whoever is asking for non-disclosure agreements does not want these folks speaking out before they have more than just a 'few' people examine the text for verification--only to find out later that those 'few' dated the papyri wrong.

    I know if I found such a document, I'd want as many 'experts' to verify the text as I could find,
    before I published and end up making a fool of myself.


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