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An Expert Talks About Mummy Masks and Papyri

One of the things that I find disconcerting about all the discussion about whether it is legitimate to destroy mummy masks in order to get NT papyri is that the only people who seem to know anything about what has been found (this alleged first century copy of the Gospel of Mark) are not experts in the specific fields in which expertise is required, both to dismantle masks and to date papyri.   As it turns out, they’re all friends of mine.  Craig Evans is a New Testament scholar, but he is not a textual critic, let alone a papyrologist (expert in papyri) or palaeographer (expert in dating manuscripts).   Dan Wallace, who first announced the discovery in a debate against me over two years ago, is in the same boat; he’s done lots of good for the academy by going around the world to photograph/digitize manuscripts, but he is not trained in either papyrology or palaeography and is expert in neither.  My oldest friend in the field, a good friend for some thirty years now, Michael Holmes, is, as Craig told us in his response to the criticism, the person in charge of textual research for the Green Scholars Initiative (the group behind the destruction and discovery) (and is on this Blog!), and even though he is one of the leading textual critics in North America, he too is not trained or expert in papyrology or palaeography.   Why don’t we have an expert tell us what’s going on???

Someone who is trained in, and expert in, these fields is Roberta Mazza, lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester. She currently is Research Fellow of the John Rylands Research Institute (John Rylands Library, University of Manchester), and honorary academic curator of the Graeco-Roman Egypt collection of the Manchester Museum.  Here are some of her trenchant comments on the  whole situation, very much worth reading!


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Would a First-Century Fragment of Mark Matter?
Defending the Destruction of Mummy Masks



  1. Avatar
    J.J.  January 24, 2015

    Evans said that Dirk Obbink heads up the papyrus work for the Green Scholars, so presumably he worked on these mummy mask papyri. Obbink is well recognized as an expert papyrologist. Roberta Mazza cites one of his articles in her blogpost that you quoted above.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2015

      Thanks! He’s the one on the team that I don’t know. And you’re right — he is the resident expert. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, he’s not saying anything!!

  2. Avatar
    Tom  January 24, 2015

    “These are perfect conditions, however, for the flourishing of ignorance and propaganda as a consequence.”


  3. Avatar
    AnonUkrainian  January 24, 2015

    Thank you for explaining this entire situation. All this buzz can get very confusing. As an ignorant undergrad in a completely different field, I was wondering if you could explain why exactly would “non-disclosure agreements” be in place for academics doing research? And why would publication of any supposed new findings be taking so long?

  4. gmatthews
    gmatthews  January 24, 2015

    I guess I’ll have to change my mind again! At first I was uneasy about destroying the masks and then after the response from Dr. Evans I thought it must be ok and now that a real expert has responded I guess I go back to the uneasy feeling. Regardless though, I’m really surprised no one in the mainstream media finds a problem with Palmolive. Even I picked up on that one with a shocked reaction!

    • Avatar
      Scott  January 25, 2015

      We used to find that simple Dawn was the best thing for removing oil from contaminated wildlife. I always thought it was funny.

  5. Avatar
    dws  January 24, 2015

    Really interesting blog entries. I didn’t realize I would get topical gems like these when I signed on.

    “academics are far from cool, trust me: badly dressed, usually unfit and clumsy, always exhausted. ”

    Frankly, I resemble that remark.

    • Avatar
      RobertaMazza  January 25, 2015

      It is so cool not to be cool. Don’t you think?

  6. Brad
    Brad  January 24, 2015

    “….letters of people who ask to send donkeys up and down the Nile…..” Interesting!

    Dr. Ehrman, NT question, is that similar to Paul’s comment on the “slip of the knife” to the people who still practice circumcision? I am kidding. Funny comment?

    Thanks for the post Roberta Mazza. Great job.

  7. Avatar
    Silverk333  January 24, 2015

    It is almost as though christian apologists have secured this so that this so called “evidence” will be a money maker; to be released in a book or media outlet *without* proper procedural care of the cartonage. What are they hiding from true experts in the field… This is my hypothesis of the behind the scene activity. Sounds like more money will be made that way when the so called research is “complete”. Am I wrong?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2015

      I don’t think money is involved. They are simply excited because this is a striking find and they find that it conforms with what they have already thought was the case about the transmission of the NT.

    • Avatar
      Scott  January 25, 2015

      They will be trotting this out in every debate for the next hundred years as “proof” that we have the actual words of Jesus. Of course, snippets from 3 verses of Mark proves only that Mark was likely composed before 90 ad – but e already KNEW that

  8. Avatar
    deadkennedy  January 24, 2015

    You can tell a man by his friends.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 24, 2015

    Can anything good come from the Green (Hobby Lobby) family???? Probably but not unbiased scholarship.

  10. Avatar
    Jimmy  January 24, 2015

    I would definitely concur with your last statement. It is a mess. There would appear to be even more questions regarding the publishing of it, as much of the papyrus itself. If it does exist and if it does ever get published. I see your point about experts in the proper field. However, there was Bagnall and Luijendijk that both vetted the “Jesus wife fragment”. Since then I would assume both have distanced themselves from it. Though I do not really know because I have heard absolutely nothing about it since the pile of information contending it was fake.

  11. Avatar
    Jana  January 26, 2015

    Realizing that what I’m adding is anecdotal, having survived all of the fraudulent hoopla created by nonprofessionals regarding the “End of the World Dec 2012” Maya myth, an event supposedly extracted from a shard of a much larger Maya stone and then further misinterpreted by nonprofessionals (in short the ancient Maya NEVER predicted the end of the world), I’m suspicious when other non experts start making claims. Why all of the secrecy? As written it is unprecedented and to me goes against the grain of scholarship.

  12. Bethany
    Bethany  January 26, 2015

    On another blog I read, there seems to be considerable concern that all the work on this is being done by conservative religious scholars. I don’t know to what extent that’s (a) true and (b) a subject of concern. I’m curious what your thoughts on the matter are?

    If this came from a paper-mache mummy mask and paper-mache mummy masks were not longer being made in the 1st century AD… that seems problematic.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2015

      The only ones who I know who are involved area all conservative religious scholars. My view is that an entire range of experts should be involved.

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