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Another (Final!) Insight into that Mummy Mask and Papyrus

OK, I am at the tail end of this thread on mummy masks and the alleged discovery of a first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel.  But I did want to provide access to an interesting article and penetrating set of questions on the issue published a week ago on CNN by my friend Candida Moss and her partner-in-all-things-editorial Joel Baden (they crank out a lot of articles on issues in biblical studies, especially as items appear in the news).  Candida is a Professor of New Testament at Notre Dame and Joel is a Professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale.  I’ve re-posted this article with permission.  It comes from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/living/gospel-mummy-mask/

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(CNN)Media outlets have been abuzz this week with the news that the oldest fragment of a New Testament gospel — and thus the earliest witness of Jesus’ life and ministry — had been discovered hidden inside an Egyptian mummy mask and was going to be published.

The announcement of the papyrus’ discovery and impending publication was made by Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Evans described the papyrus as a fragment of the Gospel of Mark.

He added that a combination of handwriting analysis (paleography) and carbon dating led him and his team of researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before 90 A.D. This would make it at least a decade older than other early fragments of the New Testament and, thus, an invaluable resource for biblical scholars and object of considerable interest for Christians the world over.

The fragment, according to Evans….

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Why I’d Be Thrilled If A First-Century Manuscript Appeared

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    qaelith2112  January 30, 2015

    The post from January 23 included this: “According to current scholarship and archaeological finding, the use of recycling papyri for making mummy masks and panels ended in the early Augustan period, i.e. when Jesus was not even born or just a child.”

    Has this point been pressed to determine whether it is in fact still known to be true, and if so, that this would make the recovery of a Christian document from Egyptian cartonnage rather unlikely? Or is the possibility being left open that this could overturn the understanding as to when the recycling of papyri actually ended? No one seems to be discussing that point further, and it seems to me to be important.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2015

      I’m afraid we need more information before we can say!

  2. Avatar
    nichael  January 30, 2015

    I’d like to clarify an issue about the destruction of the mask/cartonnage that didn’t really occur to me before reading the above.

    That is, am I correct that there is no useful way to make even a rough guess as to whether an artifact, such as the mask, *might* contain an interesting item before that artifact is disassembled?

    Or to state this another way: It is not the case that the particular mask was destroyed _because_ it was assumed to contain a previously unknown papyrus; rather a mask was destroyed, essentially at random, and it “just happened” to contain the papyrus.

    (Which would lead to the obvious question of how many untold zillions of masks –and other artifacts– are destroyed that we just don’t hear about?)

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2015

      Great questions — I’ve been asking them too. I don’t see how they would know there was anything valuable in the mask until they destroyed it.

  3. Avatar
    Tom  January 30, 2015

    This thread has been fascinating.

    I appreciate the time and effort you have put into it.

  4. Avatar
    Jana  January 30, 2015

    Astonishing … am I to think that those searching for texts do not know what texts are in the mask before destruction? Therefore, how many masks are destroyed before something of real value is discovered?

  5. Avatar
    spiker  January 30, 2015

    Thanks for this last post. It answered some of my questions about the difference, for scholars between, artifacts that are Museum quality and those that are “very poorly made” or are in poor condition. Certainly, their quality doesn’t affect the questions scholars might be able to answer
    by examining them. There’s no telling how many pieces of the Egyptian puzzle are lost now due to
    their destruction: The more cartonage (by which Craig seems to mean garbage) available, the more
    scholars can increase their understanding and thereby help fill in other blank areas.

    All this reminds me of a discussion with a friend a few years ago about how often Noah’s Ark
    had been discovered. We soon found a website with pictures!! Unfortunately, many of them were
    of people involved in this “project”. There was, perhaps one or two of some sort of brown residue
    on the ground that MIGHT have been the bottom of a boat: Noah’s Ark or Noah’s Surfboard?
    Even if you could date it to that time, how would you determine it belonged to Noah rather than
    Shemp who also might have had visons of an impending flood.

    Is it instructive that Wallace used the Dead Sea Scroll comparison? There seem to be many similarities. Who’s wagering on publication around 2050?

  6. Avatar
    walstrom  January 30, 2015

    Something similar comes to mind, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were withheld rather notoriously until leaked on the internet, way back when.
    The controversy was Byzantine, even if the scrolls were not!
    If genuine, there is certainly money to be made by those first into the marketplace with ‘opinions.’
    If not genuine, well, remember Hitler’s Diaries?
    Sigh. . .

  7. Avatar
    sashko123  January 30, 2015

    I suppose the most significant information will be in the dating and the text. Other than legal problems with publishing and selling the texts, does lack of provenance pose any significant problems for research?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2015

      Yes, to some extent. In this case at least we can say the masks come from Egypt. But we really would like to know where, exactly. Possibly the owners of the masks know.

  8. Avatar
    Jimmy  January 30, 2015

    CNN article says “led him and his team of researchers”. However, since then he admits he has not seen it. Right? Very troubling.

  9. Avatar
    Thomasfperkins  January 31, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, Please tell us why there are non-disclosure agreements for these matters.

  10. Avatar
    fishician  January 31, 2015

    I’m with Indiana Jones – relics belong in a museum, for all to see, not in private possession. If they exist at all. I’m not clear on this – if a fragment that coincides with a part of a gospel is found, what does it prove? That stories that made it into the gospels existed in the 1st century? Don’t we already know that?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2015

      Unfortunately, antiquities go to whomever can afford them, public institution (museum) or private individual/foundation.

  11. Avatar
    Jason  January 31, 2015

    What kind of information is the farthest-out, most surprising possible information you can imagine being contained in this (or any) fragment of papyrus? An introduction naming an author? Confirmation of Secret Mark? Vader is really Christ’s father?

  12. Avatar
    jmmarine1  February 3, 2015

    Another question: Can they tell us if there is writing on both sides of the fragment, or only on one side?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 3, 2015

      Terrific and important question!! They will not, of course, tell us!!

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