Friday, December 01, 2017

Of mummy masks, Mark, and the Museum of the Bible

MANUSCRIPTS: Why did the Museum of the Bible’s scholars destroy ancient Egyptian artifacts? Christian apologists say they found New Testament fragments in mummy masks. It’s a dubious claim (Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden, The Christian Century). Excerpt:
The fragment touted by Carroll and others as part of a first-century version of the Gospel of Mark remains unpublished. Only a handful of people have claimed to have seen it, and many in the scholarly world doubt that it exists, though Green declares that he had authorized its purchase. The claim that it was discovered in a mummy mask has since been walked back. And while until recently the Museum of the Bible’s website still referred to the potential for discovering biblical texts in mummy masks, current and recent employees have told us that the practice of purchasing and dismantling these artifacts is no longer part of the museum’s practice.

What, then, of McDowell’s remarkable discoveries? In a fundraising document written in the wake of the Discover the Evidence event, McDowell describes how Carroll had extracted papyri from the cartonnage and found seven biblical texts. McDowell even provides images of the fragments: they are from fourth-century manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, John, and Galatians, and a fifth-century text of Jeremiah. What he does not make clear, however, is that none of these fragments actually came from the two mummy masks that Carroll dissolved that day. They came, rather, from cartonnage used in book bindings from centuries later. (It is not even clear that these texts are what Carroll and McDowell purport them to be. A specialist in papyrology has questioned both the dates assigned to the manuscripts and their identification.) What did come out of McDowell’s mummy masks was exactly what one would ex­pect from Ptolemaic Egypt: economic texts, letters, and burial documents.

Carroll told us, “I can only say I know what I’ve seen.” No one else has seen the materials, though. And to date, not a single Christian text has been published, formally or informally, that has come from a mummy mask.
More on the mummy masks and the Palmolive soap is here and links. And for more on that report of a first-century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark, see here and links. And for background on the Museum of the Bible, Hobby Lobby, and the Green Collection, start here and follow the many links.

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