THE ETC BLOG: Hixson on Lesson from P137 or “First-Century Mark”
Dr. Hixton's essay on the no-longer-first-century Mark manuscript draws some valuable conclusions from the whole sad affair and is well worth reading.
I underline his first lesson: "If something sounds too good to be true, it might be. Assume it is until there is an informed scholarly consensus." I have made the same point: "... if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't." I call this the "lottery rule." If someone reports a new discovery that is the scholarly equivalent to our having won the lottery, we should assume it is fake news unless we have strong evidence otherwise.
I have applied his second lesson as well: "Overhyped expectations can result in undervaluing the actual evidence." A genuinely important discovery can be overshadowed by overdone claims, especially of some direct biblical connection, to try to get media attention. This is the principle of contrast at work. The discovery itself could be quite interesting on its own terms, but the dubious overhyped claim makes it seem less so. An example is the supposed house of Jesus in Nazareth.
Hixton's third lesson: "Don’t cite unpublished research," parallels the point I often make that the scholarly discussion of a supposed discovery does not even begin until it passes the (rather low) bar of peer-review publication. I raised the issue recently, for example, regarding the Newark Stones and some new (reportedly) late-antique Mandean amulets. I raised it regarding the ink of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife papyrus, which papyrus has since been debunked as a modern hoax. And I have raised it repeatedly about the Jordanian Lead Codices, on which, to my knowledge, no peer-reviewed publication has yet appeared nearly eleven years after the announcement of their discovery.
I have collected additional thoughts on peer review here.
As for Hixton's final lesson, "Show integrity at earliest possible opportunity," when you make an error (you will!), make sure to correct it as soon as you become aware of it. Cf., in the last several years, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
For many PaleoJudaica posts on the no-longer-first-century Mark fragment saga, see here, here, here, here, and here, and follow all the links.
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