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Non-Disclosure Agreements

Several people have made comments or raised questions about Non-disclosure Agreements with respect to Dan Wallace and the so-called (but no longer) First Century Mark.   For many years Dan refused to explain what he was talking about when he mentioned in the public debate with me in February 2012 a new discovery of a Gospel of Mark that dated to the first century.  In a later post I may say something about why I was immediately skeptical about it (he apparently is going on record now for saying that my reaction of disbelief was inappropriate; I don’t think he liked my humor at the time.  But, well, I was incredulous).  But here let me say something about NDA’s.

I myself signed a NDA once connected with the discovery of an ancient Christian manuscript, so I have some limited experience with the matter – although my direct knowledge comes from just this one instance.  Otherwise what I know has been picked up just by paying attention.

My case involved the newly discovered Gospel of Judas.   I give a full description of my first encounter with the Gospel (i.e., the ancient Coptic manuscript itself) in Nyon, Switzerland, on Lake Geneva, in my book about the Gospel (and about Judas himself), The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.   I was part of a team of specialists brought together by National Geographic to examine, authenticate, and explain the historical significance of the manuscript that had come to light.  I was not able to help in the authentication itself – apart from seeing it and saying, yup, that’s definitely an ancient manuscript (!).  My job was to talk about why it would be a highly significant find for understanding the development of early Christianity and possibly the historical Jesus.

In order to have the right to look at the manuscript, I ….

The rest of this post is for members only.  If you don’t belong to the blog yet, you don’t know what you’re missing.  But I can tell you, it’s all the interesting stuff.  So why not join?  It doesn’t cost much, and every penny goes to worthy charities.  

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Daniel Wallace’s most popular books are Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament and Reinventing Jesus.

Self-Reflection on The Process of Writing a Book
What the New Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Looks like (the so-called First-Century Mark)



  1. Avatar
    jbskq5  May 30, 2018

    I’m trying to be charitable to Dan’s side here: if I were him, I’d feel used and manipulated by the manuscript owners, who urged him to announce the discovery in order to score cheap points at a debate with you. I’ve blasted Dr. Wallace here and elsewhere for being so flippant about walking into that mess, but now that it’s done, I can certainly understand why he’d feel embarrassed and probably more than a little irritated about being misled in this way. Wouldn’t you just want to move on after this kind of revelation?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      I’d especially want the rest of hte *world* to move on!

  2. Avatar
    epistememe  May 30, 2018

    It seems likely that much of what he said is not true.

  3. Avatar
    jmmarine1  May 30, 2018

    This whole matter is very confusing and getting more so with each new statement. If the long discussed First Century Mark (FCM) fragment was from Oxyrhynchus (not from mummy masks), why would E. J. Brill have issued an NDA (see Ehrman blog posting on April 6, 2012), especially when they are not the official publishers of the papyrus from this on-going excavation (it would be like waiting for Cambridge University Press to complete the publication of the Cave 4 manuscripts from Qumran; the exclusive publisher is Oxford)? Also, since the actual publisher is the EES, and the official editor is Dirk Obbink, why was Dan Wallace under an NDA in the first place or at all (this would also be true for Evans and Habermas)? Who issued it, and for what purpose, when Dan seemed to have nothing to do with the publishing/editing of this fragment? Similarly, how did anyone in their right mind ever believe a FCM mss, especially an Oxyrhynchus papyrus, could be available for purchase?

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  May 30, 2018

    Just out of curiosity: Were you and your colleagues told you’d be released from your NDA if the “Gospel” turned out to be unimportant? If, maybe, it had been written in a *much* later century? (Though I find it hard to believe it wouldn’t have been interesting even then!)

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      As I recall, we wouldn’t be released until NatGeo did their public announcement — whatever that was.

  5. Avatar
    Steefen  May 30, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman:
    I myself signed a NDA once connected with the discovery of an ancient Christian manuscript … Gospel of Judas
    I was not allowed to say anything to anyone about it until the public unveiling (which happened at a major press event in 2005…
    Date (or month and year) of signing NDA to 2005 was how long?
    I see (page 1 of your book on the gospel) you saw the gospel Dec. 5, 2004.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 30, 2018

    Thanks so much. I understand the NDAs much better now.

  7. epicurus
    epicurus  May 30, 2018

    Hopefully we won’t have to wait another six years before Wallace fesses up to what else is going on, especially since there are apparently no longer restrictions on what he can say. I can’t say this lessens my view that conservative evangelical scholarship revolves around making evidence fit faith, even at the cost of integrity.

  8. Avatar
    cchen326  May 30, 2018

    Were the penalties on the NDA that you signed?
    What would’ve happened if you did break the NDA?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      No penalties. I could have been sued I suppose.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  May 31, 2018

        I assume if you violated the NDA that NatGeo would have sued you for the $2 million they had invested.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2018

          Sure, and would have been able to collect it the next week.

  9. Avatar
    JoshuaJ  May 30, 2018

    One thing that is becoming more clear is that either Carroll is lying or Obbink is. Perhaps Wallace knows which one…

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  June 9, 2018

      I came across this blog today that’s ran by a scholar named Ben Witherington. On Feb. 15, 2012, he posts about attending a lecture by Scott Carroll. He had some interesting things to say! Here are a few excerpts:

      “One such project has already started: academics and students from a dozen universities are working under Dirk Obbink at Christ Church College (Oxford) on a papyrus project that will lead to major publications.”

      “The brief lecture by Scott Carroll at GCTS Charlotte last Friday night highlighted some of the most exciting aspects of the Green Collection. It is possible that a very early copy of the Gospel of Mark in Greek, possibly the very earliest is a part of this collection. An epigrapher from Oxford has already prepared to say that it is a first century copy!”

      “Equally exciting was the discussion of mummy masks which the Green Collection has acquired. While the masks are interesting in themselves and of historical importance, some of these masks used ancient manuscripts retrieved from a scrap heap in Egypt in places like Oxyrhynchus to serve as the paper mache inner lining of the mask. Scott Carroll says they have found both early Biblical manuscripts and early classics manuscripts…”

      ”One interesting point made by Carroll was that there is evidence of a first century copy of a NT text in codex form, whereas various scholars thought Christians probably didn’t use this practice before the second century.”

      I found a lecture right around that time, but I did not hear Carroll say any of this unless it wasn’t recorded or it was a different lecture. There are some very interesting things brought up though. In the introduction for Lecture 1, Jerry Pattengale says that they signed 3 series with Brill Publishing, 20 books in each series over the next 20 years. (Starts around the 9 min. mark and breaks up a little). But what really got me was in Lecture 2, Carroll says they found 7 uncanonical gospels that no one has ever heard of and an unrecorded text of the life of Paul (12 min.)

      So crazy!


  10. Avatar
    Tobit  May 30, 2018

    So the NDA you signed totally finished after the official release (plus 6 month period for publications)? There’s nothing about their Gospel of Judas project you can’t discuss?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      Nope; I can discuss anything.

      • Avatar
        Tobit  May 31, 2018

        Well that makes Dan’s continued secrecy very strange in comparison!

      • Avatar
        Tricia  June 2, 2018

        I’m trying to find a place where I can ask: Do you think there is more to Christianity than what Paul established–as as in his one universal God and His son Jesus Christ? (I’m currently reading The Triumph of Christianity.)

        • Bart
          Bart  June 3, 2018

          Yes, I don’t think Paul was the only one who had a major influence on how Christianity developed.

          • Avatar
            Tricia  June 3, 2018

            It seems to me that Jesus talked quite a bit about self-abandonment and humility (i.e. Beatitudes). But Paul doesn’t include that much about it except in a physical self-denial kind of way. And also, I’m curious where the “died for our sins” as a substitutionary thing came from–was that Paul? I also don’t find that in Jesus’ teaching.

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

          Again, and at the risk of being accused of abusing this site for self-promotion, the answer to your question lies in my second book, about the impact of the Jewish doctrine of the 7 Laws of the Sons and how this doctrine affected early Christianity.


          Basically, go to Acts 15 and 21. These are the stories of Paul’s two trials, both before the Apostle James and the Jerusalem Church. In Acts, 15, the issue is, should the new Christian movement now commence accepting non-Jewish followers without first making them convert to full-blown Judaism? Paul argued for NO conversion to full-blown Judaism, and the Apostle Paul WON. James decided in Paul’s favor — and did so in the name of the 7 Laws of the Sons of Noah — as the text shows, and my book demonstrates.

          Now, most Christians look to the events in Acts 15 and see in them the first signs of the coming, impending split between Christianity and Judaism. But I argue in my book, that is all wrong; the truth is JUST THE OPPOSITE. When James made that decision, he was actually bringing his own movement into harmony with the rest of Judaism, which already had long allowed Gentiles to convert to this secondary level of Judaism without converting to full-blown Judaism.

          In Acts 21, the Jerusalem Church summonsed Paul to return to Jerusalem to answer for himself — had he been preaching, not only should the Gentile followers not follow Mosaic Law — which Acts 15 had ALLOWED him to preach — but was Paul ALSO preaching that even the JEWISH followers of Jesus now ALSO should abandon Mosaic Law? For this Paul was NOT allowed to preach — though WE KNOW, from his writings, that this is EXACTLY what Paul had been preaching!

          Paul must have denied he was doing any such thing — which therefore, makes him a LIAR, because WE KNOW that’s EXACTLY what he preached.

          And since James was not certain of the truth, he proposed a Purification Test, which Paul agreed to take, and this would settle the matter of whether Paul were still true to the Law of Moses or not.

          And Paul ALMOST got away with his bluff, but he was outted on the final day of the week-long test by some Jews from Asia Minor (who may or may not themselves have been believers; Luke doesn’t say either way), who denounced Paul as the purveyor of this forbidden doctrine.

          And as a result, a riot ensued; the Romans took Paul into protective custody, and this effectively ended Paul’s missionary career.

          The Jerusalem Church — really, the Jerusalem SYNAGOGUE of the Risen Jesus — the kosher JEWISH Church of Jesus, the church which MAINTAINED its adherence to Judaism and Mosaic Law — had TRIUMPHED over Paul and his HERESY.

          At the end of my book, I speculate, what might have been…?

          What might have been had there been no Jewish War, which destroyed the Jerusalem Church of Jesus and left Paul’s heretical version the only version of Christianity left standing, leading to what we have today?

          Could Pauline Christianity have been consigned to the great Ash-heap of History, along with other little-known heresies such as Marcionism?

          Could a Jewish-based Christianity have gone on to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire? Or could Judaism itself have so triumphed?

          We will never know…

          But to answer your short question, yes; I certainly think there is a lot more to Christianity — AUTHENTIC Christianity — than one can find from Paul.

  11. Robert
    Robert  May 30, 2018

    “There are loads of questions connected with this particular NDA, and for some reason Dan won’t answer them. I don’t know why. We don’t know when he signed it, or, more important, who made him sign it. We don’t know why, if he had not yet signed the NDA when we had the debate in February 2012 (as he has insisted) he would not say anything more about the manuscript at the debate or subsequently – how extensive it was (the entire Gospel of Mark? Several chapters? Less than a chapter? As it turns out, it is fragmentary portions of six verses); how it had been dated to the first century; who provided the date; on what grounds; whether this opinion had been verified by anyone else; and on and on.

    What I am finding so surprising now is that Dan *still* won’t talk about the entire affair – e.g., who made him sign the NDA and why. I don’t understand that. I’ve never heard of a NDA that was in effect after the issue being proscribed was no longer under proscription. Or of a NDA that specified that the person signing could never indicate who had required the NDA, when, or why.”

    In a radio interview a few days ago (link below), Dan said that there are other things in the NDA that he still cannot speak about (19:15). I suspect some of these things might be the three other early papyri that he is studying and will be publishing on sometime next year and which he is not at liberty to speak about (17:20-35). He had also said that he had been working extensively with papyri since 2013 (16:45). So I’m leaning toward the idea that Steve Carroll and the Hobby Lobby Clan were in fact still hoping to obtain what is now called 𝔓137 and thus they had an interest in an NDA for this fragment as well as the other papyri they’ve farmed out to other conservative scholars to publish on.

    Did Dirk Obbink lead them to believe that they could indeed acquire 𝔓137? I still don’t want to believe this, nor that he seriously considered dating this fragment to the first century. Candida Moss and Joel Baden seem to suspect that Dirk has had a greater role with Hobby Lobby Clan.

    If the NDA was not with the Hobby Lobby Clan, would it be likely that Brill and/or the Egypt Exploration Society would require an NDA before showing the fragment to Dan? I don’t think these scenarios are as likely but that just might be my own bias against the Hobby Lobby Clan.

    Bottom line, the people involved really need to speak more about this situation.

    Here’s a link to the interview with Dan: https://www.spreaker.com/user/veracityhill/vh-98-the-mark-fragment-audio?utm_medium=widget&utm_source=user%3A8396609&utm_term=episode_title

    • Robert
      Robert  June 4, 2018

      The EES (Egypt Exploration Society) has released an additional statement:

      “… Non-disclosure agreement: The EES has no knowledge of, and has never seen, the NDA which Professor Daniel Wallace says someone required him to sign about the unpublished Mark fragment. Professor Obbink too says he has no knowledge of it. The EES has not received any outside request of any sort about the Mark fragment before its recent publication.

      For clarity we note that the EES has never asked anyone to complete an NDA about any papyrus fragment. …

      Offer for sale: the EES has never sought to sell this or any other papyrus. Professor Obbink says that he did show the papyrus in his rooms (where it was temporarily for teaching purposes) to Scott Carroll, but to no-one else except some Oxford students. Scott Carroll and he discussed whether the fragment could be displayed in an exhibition at the Vatican, but without conclusion. Professor Obbink insists that he never said the papyrus was for sale, and that while he did receive some payments from the Green Collection for advice on other matters, he did not accept any payment for or towards purchase of this text.”


    • Robert
      Robert  June 11, 2018

      Dan Wallace has now confirmed that his NDA was signed with the Hobby Lobby Clan, ie, more specifically, with Jerry Pattengale, who was at that time the Executive Director of the Green Scholar Initiative.


      This supports my earlier suspicion, based also on the Wallace radio interview I linked to above, that the NDA likely also included publishing access to other papyri that remained subject to the NDA. I imagine Dan sought permission to reveal the other party of the NDA.

      Dan focuses attention on the other obvious question raised above. Who gave the Hobby Lobby Clan the idea that they might be able to purchase 𝔓137, even providing them with photographs of the fragment or at least allowing their representative to photograph it? It is now doubtful that this could have happened without the knowledge of Dirk Obbink, who has also worked as a consultant to the Hobby Lobby Clan.

  12. Avatar
    kentvw  May 30, 2018

    Can’t help but think Donald Duck could be implicated..
    Could it be that there is a desire to cover for Disney Characters?

  13. Avatar
    Philmonomer  May 30, 2018

    A couple quick things:

    1) I have no personal knowledge of NDAs, even though I’m a lawyer. I think i was exposed to them at some point in law school–many, many years ago. So take this with a huge gain of salt:

    2) You wrote: “I’ve never heard of a NDA that was in effect after the issue being proscribed was no longer under proscription. Or of a NDA that specified that the person signing could never indicate who had required the NDA, when, or why.” Yup, it is my understanding that an NDA, in theory, could totally do this. It could even require the individual to never acknowledge there was an NDA!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      Interesting. Thanks! Given the national news, I suppose we should *all* learn more about NDA’s!!

  14. Avatar
    evalis  May 30, 2018

    Legallly valid or not, NDAs can have restrictive clauses beyond event demanding silence on parties, content, the very existence of the NDA etc. Let’s hope he just needs time to evaluate the odds of talking …

    What about NDAs that, say, effectively force someone to keep silent e.g. about criminal activity/suspicions thereof, when provenance of item unclear (theft; if financing terrorism even through sale of stolen goods seems likely e.g.). or forgery evident etc etc?

    Tricky to act in interests of public/research in situations where obstruction of facts or public knowledge altogether are at risk, when money-making, more than just for securing honest publication, is main goal behind getting experts on board …

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      Interesting; and good questions!

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  June 1, 2018

      I don’t believe that any NDA can compel anybody to violate the Law.

  15. Avatar
    jmmarine1  May 31, 2018

    Forgive me as I sort out this whole mess: First Century Mark (FCM) seems to be two separate manuscript (mss) possibilities (though it turns out to be neither);
    (1) a non-Oxyrhynchus papyrus peeled off the faces of Egyptian mummies (the ethics of which were secondarily debated), the revelation of which cannot be disclosed due to the existence of an NDA (ostensibly issued by one of the oldest and most prestigious publishing operations in the world—even you have published with E.J. Brill), though it can be hinted at as a way of neutralizing your argument(s) during a debate. This sounds a lot like the stories from the 1970’s when those assigned Qumran mss would show up at SBL meetings and state that the Dead Sea Scrolls in their possession would render the position taken by the speaker as superfluous. Show us the mss! Would be their demand, unfulfilled.
    (2) an Oxyrhynchus papyrus (P. Oxy) that is supposedly a FCM mss that is clearly in codex form (due to writing on both sides), that would have no involvement with E.J. Brill (who, then, issued the NDA and why?) whatsoever (due to the exclusive on-going publication of the P. Oxy. by the EES), yet is in the aftermath of the publication of a late Second Century/early Third Century Mark mss by the EES, we read of apologies for lack of due diligence. Similarly, it is not until after the publication of this mss that the name of an editor attached to it, namely, Dirk Obbink—why was he not consulted during this controversy?
    It seems as though the externals alone would have sent up a series of red flags to those trained in the handling of ancient mss. Also, once it was determined that mss in question was, in reality, an P. Oxy, why wait until after publication to issue an apology and then go silent when there are clearly many other questions still left to be answered?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      Yes, things obviously got confused at some point; but now the thinking is that #2 is the correct scenario and #1 is simply a confusion of the facts. And it’s a good question!

  16. Avatar
    jmmarine1  May 31, 2018

    Sorry to prattle on about this matter, but I am simply unable to eject from my mind the number of obvious errors committed here by people who should have known better. Bart, you have been accused of using textual criticism as a tool for tearing down faith (especially in Misquoting Jesus), yet Wallace and the evangelical apologists (Habermas and McDowell—who should rename his book on ‘Straight Talk with your Kids about Sex’ to ‘Evidence that Demands a Virgin’) were positioning themselves to use this very same tool to promote faith; for this I have yet to see an apology.

  17. Avatar
    gwayersdds  May 31, 2018

    I’m interested in how experts determine that a very small fragment can be from a particular gospel. Does that particular fragment contain wording unique to Mark? Or could it be from one of the other synoptic gospels? I just finished rereading “Jesus Misquoted” and that question of where the fragment came from came to mind. On a similar topic, what is your opinion of the Common English Bible. Is it better than the NRSV?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 31, 2018

      It’s becasue the wording found on the fragment coincides only with Mark (since it’s written on front and back, you can calculate how many letters/lines there would be between the end of the front side and the beginning of the back, and Mark’s Gospel is the only one where that wording works, when you calculate his own letters)

    • Lev
      Lev  May 31, 2018

      Gwayersdds – I believe Bart prefers the NRSV above all other English translations. I think he mentioned this in a previous blog post.

  18. Avatar
    TheCaseGuy  May 31, 2018

    You raise a good question here, regarding the secrecy of Dan Wallace’s claimed NDA, when espousing information about an apparent first century find of the Gospel of Mark. By your comparison with what was required of you and others, by National Geographic when the Gospel of Judas was being revealed, this Mark situation seems rather suspect, and will continue to be so, until such information comes out in the open. One can only speculate upon the intentions now, but it is easy to guess that this is an attempt to control the information, so as to yield the result that certain Christians wish to achieve.

  19. Avatar
    JoeWallack  June 1, 2018

    Professor Ehrman, I enjoyed having lunch with you. One of the things we disagree on is whether someone who believes the impossible is possible can be a “professional” Bible Scholar. I don’t think of Bible Scholars as professionals in the same sense that Doctors, Lawyers and CPAs are professionals. Here, at a minimum, Wallace and Obbink have lost independence and credibility in appearance. I wonder:

    1. What professional organization does Obbink belong to?

    2. How does this organization regulate Obbink?

    3. Will this organization investigate Obbink?

    I think the issues here do not indicate a breakdown in the existing system of control over Bible Scholars in the context of “Professionals” but rather illustrate the existing weaknesses/lack of control.

    The other thing that’s not helping here are notices by the “EES” rather than a named individual like Sarah Sanders Huckabee. Am I the only one reminded of The Wizard of Oz:

    ” Come back in 6 years and bring me fragments from The Witch of Endor.”

    • Bart
      Bart  June 2, 2018

      Obbink is a brilliant classicist who teaches at Oxford University. (He’s not a biblical scholar) His credentials are impeccable. You can google him to get an idea.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  June 3, 2018

      I don’t know what to make of Obbink at this point. He was directly involved in the GSI with mentoring, acquisitions, as well as the destruction of the mummy masks according to Moss and Baden’s book Bible Nation. He’s also been said to have promised positions at Oxford to certain graduate students affiliated with the GSI. The insinuation is that he was granting favors because of his connection to the Greens.

      Carroll is another one I can’t figure out. In 2015 at the National Apologetics Conference, there’s a cell phone recording of Carroll stating that the first time he saw the fragment was in 2012 in Dirk Obbink’s office. He saw it again in 2013 in hopes of acquiring it in order to showcase it for the Greens at the Vatican Library, but it’s purchase was delayed. He said that Dirk was wrestling around with the dates of 70-120AD and that it was part of the Oxy P. When asked if it was taken from a mummy mask, Carroll said no, that it was a flat piece and not like what was extracted from mummy masks which all had white plaster adhered to them.

      Why was Carroll able to talk about it when Wallace couldn’t? This is one of the reasons I’ve wondered whether it was the Greens who required the NDA thinking they would acquire it eventually and also because the Greens required anyone who worked with their collection (Larson, Kent State University and its students for example) to sign a NDA. Since Carroll was the one requiring them, he wouldn’t have necessarily been under a NDA himself. Not to mention, Habermas got permission from some mysterious person and gave a similar date range as Carroll. Did he get permission from Carroll? Carroll maintains that he just found out its true dating along with everyone else. Additionally, Carroll says that Obbink has had 7 years to clear this up but hasn’t. Apparently, he wasn’t under a NDA if Carroll is telling the truth.

      Craig Evans said on the ETC blog that he was not going to embarrass the person who said the fragment came from a mummy mask. (He didn’t bother acknowledging his own part in the matter.) I get it, but at the same time the public has a right to know the entire truth so embarrassment is not an excuse. What’s embarrassing is their silence, and despite how the saying goes, no one actually dies from embarrassment.

      I hope the EES clarifies things, but what’s taking so long in coming out with a truthful statement? At this point, it looks like they’re strategizing instead.

  20. Avatar
    seahawk41  June 1, 2018

    There is a controversy going on in the sciences re NDAs, but in this case they apply to journalists. A number of prestigious science journals are giving selected journalists access to upcoming major publications, provided they sign an NDA to not say/publish anything about the work till it is in press and has been announced by the journal perhaps with a press conference by the authors. Similar but not the same as your case. The ethical question is that these agreements give *selected* journalists a leg up in publishing pieces on the work.

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