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We Do *NOT* Have a First-Century Copy of the Gospel of Mark

As most of us have suspected for years now, there is in fact no first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark.  If fortune smiles upon us, maybe one will eventually be discovered.  But it hasn’t been yet.  Dan Wallace, our lone public source for the existence of such a thing (announced with some flair at a public debate I had with him in 2012) has finally provided the necessary information: his claim that such a copy existed was based on bad information.   He lays it all out here.   https://danielbwallace.com/2018/05/23/first-century-mark-fragment-update/ .   I’ve copied the post here, below.

He is gracious to apologize to me, and I understand about non-disclosure agreements.  But at the same time, I have lots of questions about the entire affair.  You may have some too.  If so, let me know.  I’ll answer the ones I can and ask the ones I can’t.

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

Here is Dan’s Post:




First-Century Mark Fragment Update


There has been a flurry of announcements and comments on the internet about the “First-Century Mark Fragment” (FCM) ever since Elijah Hixson posted a blog on Evangelical Textual Criticism this morning. As many know, I signed a non-disclosure agreement about this manuscript in 2012 sometime after I made an announcement about it in my third debate with Bart Ehrman at North Carolina, Chapel Hill (February 1, 2012). I was told in the non-disclosure agreement not to speak about when it would be published or whether it even exists. The termination of this agreement would come when it was published. Consequently, I am now free to speak about it.

The first thing to mention is that yes, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5345, published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 83 (2018), is the same manuscript that I spoke about in the debate and blogged about afterward. In that volume the editors date it to the second or third century. And this now is what has created quite a stir.

In my debate with Bart, I mentioned that I had it on good authority that this was definitely a first-century fragment of Mark. A representative for who I understood was the owner of FCM urged me to make the announcement at the debate, which they realized would make this go viral. However, the information I received and was assured to have been vetted was incorrect. It was my fault for being naïve enough to trust that the data I got was unquestionable, as it was presented to me. So, I must first apologize to Bart Ehrman, and to everyone else, for giving misleading information about this discovery. While I am sorry for publicly announcing inaccurate facts, at no time in the public statements (either in the debate or on my blogsite) did I knowingly do this. But I should have been more careful about trusting any sources without my personal verification, a lesson I have since learned.

Personal History

Prior to the Debate
Just prior to the debate, this representative discussed with me the discovery of FCM. It was my understanding that their group had purchased the papyrus; had I known otherwise, I never would have made the public announcement. I was urged—and authorized—to make the announcement at the debate. I was also told that a high-ranking papyrologist had confirmed that FCM was definitely a first-century manuscript. On that basis, I made the announcement.

After the debate I posted a blog entitled, First-Century Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Found!?, which came online March 22, 2012. Hundreds of comments were made on that blog, all the way up to the end of 2017. Many of them were negative, asking me why I didn’t say more. I have been accused of dissemblage or incompetence or both. But I could not say more. The reason was simple: I was asked not to say more.

Some thought that I was the one who discovered the fragment or that I was the one editing it for publication. Whenever this was suggested, I denied both. I had not even seen the fragment!

Post-Non-disclosure Agreement
Later in 2012 I did get the opportunity to see the manuscript. I was allowed to see it only after I signed a non-disclosure agreement. From that point on, I have essentially kept my mouth shut (though I was also asked not to take the blog down, since that would only raise more questions). What struck me about the fragment especially was that in Mark 1.17 instead of αυτοις ο Ιησους the papyrus did not have ο Ιησους. I thought at the time that, if this really was a first-century fragment (which I was not prepared, with my limited knowledge of papyrology and paleography, to claim), it most likely was due to ο Ιησους existing as a nomen sacrum already in the first century. I surmised that the exemplar that the scribe was copying from most likely read αυτοιςοις (no spacing, and Ιησους written with just the first and last letters with a supralinear bar over them). The scribe of FCM then could have easily and accidentally skipped over the duplicated οις. Alternatively, it was possible that the scribe’s exemplar did not have ο Ιησους, but this seemed far less likely.

Nomina sacra are a well-known phenomenon in New Testament manuscripts from the earliest papyri, although the reasons for their creation are not altogether clear. (For a recent discussion, see Larry Hurtado, Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], 95–134.) To find a first-century fragment whose exemplar most likely had this nomen sacrum was truly exciting! But was it really from the first century? With only a few minutes looking at the papyrus, and no permission to take pictures, I too had to wait, like everyone else, to see the publication.

In virtually every speaking engagement I have had since then, the question inevitably comes up: “What can you tell us about the first-century Mark fragment?” The answer is always the same: I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that the world-class papyrologist who dated the fragment to the first century had already, prior to my debate with Ehrman, adjusted his views. He was not so certain about the date (perhaps it was early second century). I learned that the rep knew, two weeks prior to the debate, that the papyrologist had changed his views. But I was told none of this. Regrettably, even when I made the announcement in Chapel Hill, I was giving misinformation. Even more regrettable, I have not been able to reveal the papyrologist’s uncertainty until now.

Further, I did not know that FCM was dated to the second/third century until I saw Elijah Hixson’s blog. The reasons for my silence had to do exclusively with the fact that I signed a non-disclosure agreement. Journalists, authors, newspaper editors, and many, many others have asked for information about it. But I was not allowed to say anything. Some have accused me of being silent to protect my reputation; just the opposite is the case. I was silent because I gave my word to be, even if it would hurt my reputation.

Final Reflections
One of the lessons my wife and I drilled into our four sons was that their integrity would be in question unless there were times when being honest hurt them. When they repeatedly told us they were telling the truth, but the consequences were always to their advantage, we couldn’t trust them. In short, integrity sometimes hurts. I am glad that this fragment has finally been published, so that I can get past the accusations and condemnations. To be sure, there is much to criticize me for, in particular that I did not personally verify the information I received about this manuscript before announcing it to the world. But the speculations about my character otherwise I would hope have been resolved.


What the New Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Looks like (the so-called First-Century Mark)
Back in Business!



  1. Avatar
    tskorick  May 24, 2018

    I’m so angry about this! The fact that he signed an NDA (which he restates several times in that short post) doesn’t absolve him of his responsibility to confirm his facts prior to going public with them on his own blog. Relying on assurances of proper rigor from second-hand sources diminishes a scholar’s authority whether they apologize for it later or not. I understand that at some point you have to trust what people say to some extent, but I’m generally suspicious of the claims of academics who refuse to show their work and his bombshell announcement was no exception.

    My question for you would be this: Had this been you being urged to post those claims on your blog, how would you have approached it? Do you ever think you’re at risk in some measure due to the shortcomings of others?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      Well, one never knows how one will react in extreme situations. But I would like to think that I’d have the presence of mind to want to have some evidence before making a public statement in front of hundreds of people based simply on hearsay.

  2. Robert
    Robert  May 24, 2018

    Quelle surprise!

    Dan Wallace does not name the person who he thinks misrepresented the unsure dating of the fragment to him prior to your debate, but Peter Malik seems to assume that it was Scott Carroll, who nonetheless denies it, saying that he only learned yesterday that Dirk Obbink had changed his view of the dating.


    This is what happens when scholars get mired in apologetics.

  3. Avatar
    Adam0685  May 24, 2018

    Is it a forgery?

  4. Avatar
    Tobit  May 24, 2018

    Some more information appears in Scott Carroll’s comments on the Evangelical Textual Criticism article. He says Dirk Obbink is most likely to be the mysterious owner who was pushing the first century date:

    “D. Obbink offered a papyrus of Mark 1 for sale in late 2011 to the Greens and it was still in his possession and he was trying to sell it in 2013. On both occasions, he unequivocally said that the papyrus dated to the late first or early second century and detailed reasons for his dating. He gave no clear indication about its provenance. Without seeing the pictures, I can not confirm if P.Oxy LXXXIII 5345 is the same papyrus he was trying to sell but it seems certain.”


  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  May 24, 2018

    I think this is a very good explanation of what happened, with a sincere apology. I can understand the man’s having felt bound by that nondisclosure agreement. I admire him for acknowledging his mistakes!

  6. Avatar
    nbraith1975  May 24, 2018

    Bart – Would it make sense that the authors of the four gospels were not “trained” historians; rather, they were simply educated Christian men who wanted to compile a narrative of the life of Jesus, and in the case of Luke, early church history?

    And given the many discrepancies in their accounts of events such as the crucifixion, resurrection and several other key events involving Jesus’ life, would it be logical to assume that these authors probably never met personally to collaborate on the content of their writings in an effort to get the story straight?

  7. Avatar
    mannix  May 24, 2018

    “Everybody plays the fool sometime…no exception to the rule”. I admire Dr. Wallace’s honesty and candidness.

  8. Avatar
    ddorner  May 24, 2018

    “…which they realized would make this go viral. ”

    So the whole thing was a publicity stunt? Why would they want it to go viral if they already knew the papyrologist changed his views?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      It’s a little hard to work out the sequence of who knew what when.

      • jckourvelas
        jckourvelas  May 27, 2018

        Like many of the books of the New Testament…

        I wonder how much damage this has done for the fundamentalist cause.

        • Altosackbuteer
          Altosackbuteer  May 31, 2018

          I’d hazard, no harm at all to their movement.

          They harbor only suspicion of scholars and their archeological fragments anyway.

  9. Avatar
    Silver  May 24, 2018

    Why would Wallace sign a nondisclosure; would incentives – financial or privileged access – have been involved?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      That was the price he had to pay for being offered the chance actually to look at the papyrus.

      • Avatar
        Leovigild  May 27, 2018

        As a scholar, that makes no sense to me. I understand agreeing not to publish; that is reasonable. But not to be able to say anything about at all? What is the point of looking at the papyrus if not to tell something about it (even if that only amounts to attesting its existence) to others?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 27, 2018

          Once it’s published then you can talk all you want!

          • Avatar
            Leovigild  May 27, 2018

            I understand, but at that point the value of having looked at it beforehand is pretty much nil. At that point it is in the purview of the scholarly community as a whole. It seems to me the only point of having looked at it (given the NDA) was the self-satisfaction of having seen it.

            I mean, under the terms of the NDA, it appears they could have shown Wallace a cocktail napkin with ‘First Century Mark’ scrawled on it in crayon, and he would not have been able to retract his previous announcement. That’s crazy.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 28, 2018

            The value is that you get an exceedingly rare chance to see an unbelievably rare document for yourself. Dan is not a palaeographer, but he knows an ancient ms when he sees one, and could probably read most of it (some of it requires special techniques: it’s badly preserved)

  10. Avatar
    flshrP  May 24, 2018

    Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. There are mistakes and then there are foolish mistakes. In this case we have a mistake compounded by an amazing level of gullibility, which qualifies as a foolish mistake. To stake one’s reputation on the word of unnamed “experts” on the veracity of an unseen document is amazingly foolhardy.

  11. Avatar
    John  May 24, 2018

    What role did Craig Evans play in all of this? Did he sign a non-disclosure as well, do you or Dan W know?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      I *think* he did. He propagated the existence of first century Mark and apparently said it was salvaged from a mummy mask. He was evidently completley wrong about that. Not sure why he thought it.

      • Avatar
        tskorick  May 28, 2018

        I believe this was when he was attempting to rehabilitate public perceptions regarding the destruction of cartonnages in the search for early mss. Personally I think the losses involved in this practice dwarf the potential benefits.

  12. Avatar
    jbskq5  May 24, 2018

    It’s almost as if Dr. Wallace is willing to accept extraordinary claims on too little evidence. I wonder where he gets that.

    I’ve seen a lot of people detailing the Greek that appears on the papyrus but I’m having trouble finding a translation. What is the English translation of the text that appears, and can it be confirmed beyond a doubt that it is indeed from the Gospel of Mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      Yes, it’s Mark. With one important textual variant. Translations will appear very soon.

  13. Lev
    Lev  May 24, 2018

    In Dan Wallace’s apology he states: “A representative for who I understood was the owner of FCM urged me to make the announcement at the debate, which they realized would make this go viral. However, the information I received and was assured to have been vetted was incorrect.”

    Later Wallace notes: “Just prior to the debate, this representative discussed with me the discovery of FCM. It was my understanding that their group had purchased the papyrus; had I known otherwise, I never would have made the public announcement. I was urged—and authorized—to make the announcement at the debate. I was also told that a high-ranking papyrologist had confirmed that FCM was definitely a first-century manuscript. On that basis, I made the announcement.”

    So Wallace is trying to place a lot of the blame on this mysterious “representative”. This statement has caused all sorts of claims and counter-claims on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog (https://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/first-century-mark-published-at-last.html) and much of it depends on who this “representative” is. Peter Malik thought Scott Carroll was the “representative” and asks for some clarity.

    Scott Carroll responds: “I only learned yesterday that D. Obbink still had the papyrus, that it was published and that he changed his view on the date. In 2013, he showed it to me again as still being available for sale with the same story. I truly thought until yesterday (5-23-18), that the Green’s had acquired it. I haven’t read what D. Wallace has said, but if he implies that I knew that D. Obbink had changed his view of the dating that is untrue–how would he know this? He has never talked to me. Did D. Obbink plant this story as well? BTW I hardly had the authority to ‘authorize’ anyone to say anything nor was this debate, which I only learned about when I met briefly with D. Wallace that day, a platform for me to make an announcement about something that hadn’t been acquired.”

    Elsewhere in the comments, Scott insisted Obbink was trying to sell the fragment: “D. Obbink offered a papyrus of Mark 1 for sale in late 2011 to the Greens and it was still in his possession and he was trying to sell it in 2013.”

    The Egypt Exploration Society (who are the real owners of the fragment) then weighs in: “The EES confirms that the Mark fragment comes from Grenfell and Hunt’s excavation at Oxyrhynchus, probably in 1903 (on the basis of the inventory number), and that it has never been for sale, whatever claims may have been made arising from individual conversations in the past.”

    Scott continues to insist Obbink was trying to sell it: “And for the record, both times I saw the Mark 1 papyrus were in D. Obbink’s office at Christ Church. It was in a fold of paper in a pile of other things he was trying to sell, sitting on the pool table in his office. An odd place for a papyrus in the Oxy collection.”

    The outstanding questions I have are:

    1. Was Carroll “the representative” Wallace cites? If so, either Wallace or Carroll is lying about what happened.
    2. Was Obbink trying to sell the fragment to the Greens (via Carroll) in 2011 and 2013?
    3. Is the Egypt Exploration Society telling the truth that “it has never been for sale”?
    4. Who insisted Wallace sign the NDA and not take his blog post down? Was it the owners of the Fragment (i.e. the EES)? If so, then wouldn’t that undermine Wallace’s account that he thought the Greens owned it (if it was Carroll who was the representative)? If Wallace knew that Carroll wasn’t representing the owners of the fragment in 2012, then why didn’t he try to sort this mess out when he knew who the real owners were? Why agree to the NDA before he put the record straight?

    So much of this doesn’t add up!

  14. Avatar
    forthfading  May 24, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    If you had been in Dr. Wallace’s shoes back in 2012 and understood the situation the exact way he did, would you have done the same thing? Why or why not?


    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      One never knows. There are no atheists in foxholes. But I think I would want something more than hearsay before making a public statement of “fact” in front of hundreds of people for all the world to hear.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  May 25, 2018

        I’m surprised by you, of all people, using that old line about there being “no atheists in foxholes”! (Which, of course, can never be proven, and probably isn’t true.)

        • Bart
          Bart  May 27, 2018

          Actually, I think there are atheists in foxholes. But still — one really doesn’t know how one will react in an extreme situation until being placed in it.

  15. Avatar
    EchoRomeo  May 24, 2018

    Eeek… I was suspicious about this from the start, but it’s really a shame. I didn’t hear it until later, but I thought the silence was odd. I do feel that Dan should’ve used better judgement when it came to hinting towards a first century Mark papyri. I’m not going to add to the ridicule though because I am sure that he is already embarrassed. It’s a sad thing though. This could’ve been the evidence to finally confirm the consensus that Mark was written prior to the 2nd century even though it’s already the consensus. It’s always good to have archaeology to validate the scholarship.

  16. Avatar
    Silver  May 24, 2018

    Since Wallace says he had not seen the document what was there for him to disclose which occasioned the non disclosure requirement?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      He heard about it before being given the chance to see it. The NDA was to give him the opportunity to see it.

  17. Avatar
    ardeare  May 24, 2018

    The entire existence of a 1st-century fragment was a classic fraud straight from the pages of Mark Hoffman (famous forger who fooled both The Library of Congress and the Mormon Church). First, you need an unsuspecting messenger who has credibility. Then you need the middleman who represents an anonymous owner. Of course, there is no owner, except for the middleman himself. The final piece of the puzzle is to be paid. Buyers are carefully chosen because the document needs to be *protected* from any mishandling…..and *inspection*. A museum piece at worst, a sacred archived piece at best.

    I doubt the actual fragment will ever be viewed by any recognized body of professionals. If it is, I predict the assembly date will be somewhere in the 2000’s CE. P.Oxy. LXXXIII 5345 may very well be FCM. But what does that say about the professor who supposedly dated it or the papyri itself? Am I to believe that this is a lone copy of First Century Mark and it’s being kept on a common pool table, covered with felt, having had drinks and multiple persons sweat, hair follicles, dust, and god knows what else laid on it and this is how you preserve it? A person such as Dan Wallace can view it once briefly but some fellow I’ve never heard of has seen it twice; sitting by heads of mummies. Sounds more like a workbench in a Hollywood costume studio.

    The Amazon book with it’s whole *one* copy is laughable. Maybe the con artists can find some unsuspecting fool to buy it and make a tidy profit. This is pretty much the same thing I wrote on this blog some months back, but I think it’s even more apparent what’s happening now.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      This isn’t a copy of a first century Mark. It’s a fragmentary copy of Mark that was wrongly thought to belong to the first century. And I don’t think that if Carroll actually saw it on a pool table he was saying that it was a table in active use.

      • Avatar
        ardeare  May 26, 2018

        Then what century is it from? Who is in possession of the fragment today? Who is the other party that signed the NDA? What law firms were involved? Who wrongly, besides Dr.Wallace, thought it belonged in the first century? Yeah, I don’t think Carroll saw the fragment on a pool table while playing a ring game of nine ball with a rotating system to see who racks next. The point is, anyone who has ever researched how to properly store a comic book knows that it should be put in plastic, starved of oxygen, and placed in a dark place. I assumed the process for one-of-a-kind 1st-century documents would have been stricter. This whole story is strictly amateur hour and I would like to be proven wrong…..but I won’t.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 27, 2018

          Sorry, my wording was wrong. My point is that it is not an imitation or forgery of a copy. It’s an actual copy of Mark’s Gospels. And some of these are questions we all have!

  18. Avatar
    godspell  May 24, 2018

    I agree this is a gracious apology, and I don’t believe there was any intentional deception on his part.

    However, it’s kind of weird that they were, at the same time, making him sign a legal agreement not to talk about a document he’d never seen, and yet at the same time urging him to talk about it at a public debate.

    There’s been a lot of weird stories about non-disclosure agreements lately, hasn’t there?

    They don’t seem to work very well, do they?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      The NDA came after he made his announcement. He was later given the chance to see the thing, if he would sign a NDA.

  19. Avatar
    Stephen  May 24, 2018

    I’m not a scholar and certainly not privy to the conversations going on between scholars but as a layman it seems to me these non-disclosure agreements are problematical and contrary to the spirit of open inquiry. I realize that interested parties want to maintain control over how discoveries are presented to the larger community but this situation can’t help but invite abuse. And it obviously can subject well-meaning scholars to the whims of people who don’t seem to be entirely honest in their dealings.

  20. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  May 25, 2018

    I have a question.

    As I mentioned to you, Professor, in a recent blog, I had it on the authority of a one-time student at the Harvard University Divinity School that Harvard has in its possession a FIRST century manuscript of the Gospel of MATTHEW in which “The Salutation” — the section of Matthew 16 where Jesus says to Simon, “You are Peter, and upon this rock…” etc. — is MISSING — the implication being that The Salutation was added at a later time, to (another) manuscript(s), before everything was canonized and set into stone forever, to give a retroactive and spurious proof of the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

    (I knew my friend from a German Bavarian brass band in which he played trumpet and I played trombone. We did an Oktoberfest job once at the Divinity School, and another old trumpet player was Prof. Harvey Cox himself!)

    My friend had told me that he had seen this manuscript with his own eyes, and could verify that it was MISSING The Salutation.

    You told me the other day that Harvard cannot possibly have a FIRST century manuscript of Matthew. That being the case, my friend evidently was in error. So then, what is THE EARLIEST full manuscript we have of Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2018

      No, there are no manuscripts of Matthew, or of any other book, from the first century. The earliest ms of Matthew may be P104, dated to the second century.
      But I’m not sure the dating is secure. It is a fragment with only parts of six verses. The other early ones are usually dated to the third century. Most of these are just small fragments (P1; P53; P70; P101); one, though, is relatively extensive and is thus the most important of the lot, P45.

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