Monday, February 06, 2012

A first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark?

DANIEL B. WALLACE, of Dallas Theological Seminary, has announced (in a debate with Bart Ehrman, reported on Professor Wallace's blog, Parchment & Pen) that numerous very early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark New Testament, including one (of the Gospel of Mark) from the first century, are soon to be published: Ehrman vs Wallace: Round Three. The relevant passage of the post:
He [Professor Ehrman] answered the second question by saying that we really don’t have any early manuscripts. But this again is a huge overstatement. We have as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts (six of which were recently discovered and not yet catalogued) and a first-century manuscript of Mark’s Gospel! Altogether, more than 43% of the 8000 or so verses in the NT are found in these papyri. 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. (In the Q & A, Bart questioned the validity of the first-century Mark fragment. I noted that a world-class paleographer, a man who had no religious affiliation and thus was not biased toward an early date, was my source. Bart said that even so, we don’t have thousands of manuscripts from the first century! That kind of skepticism is incomprehensible to me.)
Well, I look forward to the book, but in the meantime I am cordially skeptical of the claim about the supposed first-century date of one manuscript—and I'm sure Professor Wallace will understand that kind of skepticism. As pointed out by a commenter at Exploring Our Matrix (noted below), claims have been made in the past that first-century fragments of New Testament texts, including Mark, were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but specialists have not found the case convincing.

At this point all we have is an extraordinary assertion, presented with no evidence and on the authority of a "world-class specialist" who, very oddly, is not named. (Wouldn't he want his name to be associated with any announcement of such an important find?) As always with such things, I remain skeptical until I see compelling evidence, but I would be delighted to be convinced.

Note the recent similar report that a first mid-second-century copy of Romans has been found in a private collection. As far as I can find out, no further substantiation has been offered for this one.

If you know any more about either of these manuscripts and are willing to share (either confidentially or for blog publication), please do drop me a note.

(HT James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix.)

UPDATE: Reader Roberto Labanti has e-mailed to correct a couple of errors (peripheral to my argument) which I have now corrected. Sorry about that.

UPDATE (7 February): I sense that my skepticism is shared by some textual critics.

UPDATE: I see that Mark Goodacre is skeptical as well. Plus, he brings Doctor Who into the discussion.