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

Like many of you I have many questions about the bizarre way the discussion of the so-called “First-Century Gospel of Mark” unfolded.  I was intimately connected with the first announcement of the discovery, which was made precisely in order to trump me in a public debate.  As it turns out the announcement was based on false information acquired through hearsay.  But that’s the past, and Dan Wallace has apologized, so that is that.

There are still questions about how the affair unfolded, but I’m not going to go into that here.   What there is now no longer any doubt about is the manuscript fragment that is involved.  It is not from the first century but from the late second or early third.  That’s not nearly as impressive but it is still mighty impressive.   Until now we had only one manuscript of Mark that dated that early.  Now we have two.

The other one is P45 (P means “Papyrus” manuscript and 45 means it is the 45th papyrus ms. discovered and published) which is highly fragmentary, but has portions from eight different chapters of Mark, and dates to the early third century.   This one is now called P137.  It is a tiny scrap, with letters from five lines on the front and back.  The letters come from Mark 1:7-9 (not the entire verses, just some words/letters) on the front and 1:16-18 (again some words and letters) on the back.

It is definitely from Mark.  It was a fragment discovered with many thousands of others in the archaeological dig at Oxyrhynchus Egypt, a dig begun by two British archaeologists Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt at the very end of the 19th century.  These two had set out to discover ancient manuscripts (classical, biblical, documentary – that is, just papyri recording land deeds and divorces and civil law suits and… everything else one would write documents about).   They had the very bright idea that the best place to find papyri was to dig in an ancient city’s trash heap, where worn out books and documents would be discarded.  They brilliantly chose the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus and started digging the trash heap and struck gold almost immediately.

They found so many papyri that it was impossible for them to analyze and catalogue them all.  In fact, they are still being published today well over a century later, in a series of volumes dedicated just to the Oxyrynchus papyri.  (It takes a long time to analyze and publish just a single papyrus: it’s a very complicated process, and most of the people doing the publishing have full-time day jobs)  Just now volume 83 has appeared in the series.  And in it is the edition of P137.

Because of the controversy surrounding P137, the owners of the collection, the Egypt Exploration Society (to see what this group is and what it does, see https://www.ees.ac.uk )  , has not sent out the following notice:


The Egypt Exploration Society
5/25/2018 1:41 pm

We have now uploaded a copy of the article to our website for those that do not subscribe to the volume: https://www.ees.ac.uk/news/poxy-lxxxiii-5345

If you click on the link you will be told that you can click on another link to see the analysis of the papyrus, a transcription of its text, and a photograph of the thing itself!  It is papyrus 5345 in the collection, so when you look at the photos, that’s the one to look at.   Here is the direct link to the analysis/transcription/photo:

https://www.ees.ac.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=45d9d9f7-8df4-4e8f-9eb5-9af2b048ef60

 

I’m sure many (most?) of you will be a bit disappointed by what you see.  It’s just a tiny scrap.  What’s the big deal?

Well it is a big deal for textual scholars.  It is probably our earliest surviving fragment of any copy of Mark’s Gospel.

(I might add that some people have asked me if the scholars dealing with this fragment were at all competent, given the shenanigans involved with its release.  There is ZERO question of the experts’ competence.  Just [try to] read the analysis.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Skilled papyrologists are amazingly competent.)

 

Here is their Greek transcription of the papyrus.   Letters in brackets are not found in the fragment because there is a hole/gap there.  A single bracket toward the beginning or end of the line indicates that the rest of the letters are also not there from the beginning up to the bracket (at the start of a line) or from the bracket to the end of the line (at the end).  The restored letters (inside the brackets) are virtually beyond doubt, however.

 

↓ . . . . . . . ]μ̣ ̣ [ ] ̣

τ̣ω̣ν̣ [υ]π̣[οδημα

των αυτου εγ]ω εβαπτ̣ιϲα υμ̣α̣ϲ̣ υδ̣ [ατι

αυτοϲ δε βαπ]τ̣ιϲει ϋμ̣[α]ϲ̣ π̣̅ν̣̅ι̅ αγ̣[ιω και

εγενετο εν εκε]ιναιϲ ̣ ̣[ται]ϲ η̣μερ̣ [αιϲ

 → . . . . . . . ] ̣ ̣ εν] τ̣η θαλ̣α̣ [ϲϲη ηϲαν γαρ αλιειϲ

και ειπε]ν αυτοιϲ δευ̣τ̣ε̣ ο̣π̣[ιϲω μου και

ποιηϲω] ϋμαϲ γενεϲθαι αλι[̣ειϲ ανθρωπω(ν)

και ευθυ]ϲ̣ αϕεντε[ϲ] τ̣α δικ[τυα

So the front can be translated as follows (this is my translation)

Of his sandals, I baptize you in water but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.  And it happened in those days…..

The back can be translated:

In the sea.  For they were fishers.  And he said to them, come after me and I will make you fishers of People.  And immediately, leaving their nets….


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

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Comments

  1. HenriettePeterson  May 28, 2018

    Bart,
    you said somewhere that literacy in Israel in ancient times was about 3%. How do you explain Jesus’ literacy? He came from a tiny village, but was nevertheless literate – He read in the synagogues, disputed stuff with established scholars, etc etc. How come he was one of the 3%?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      There is only one passage in the entire NT where Jesus is said to be able to read — the account in Luke 4. I’m pretty confident that Jesus never learned to write. And I’ve grown increasingly skeptical about his ability to read (i.e. I wonder if this account is legendary). I’m not really sure. If he could read, he would have been highly exceptional for someone in that (rural) place and time.

    • Altosackbuteer
      Altosackbuteer  May 31, 2018

      The answer to your question is this:

      Judaism depended upon an AMAZING level of religious lore transmitted orally and expected to be memorized.

      I once saw a rabbi respond to a dare — could he, from memory, recite the Torah (5 Books of Moses) from any random place in the text? He could.

      This in fact is the basis of the Talmud — oral tradition that was never meant to be written down, but was done only reluctantly in the Roman period because incessant Roman persecutions endangered the unbroken chain of passing down of oral tradition. “Moses received the Law on Sinai, and transmitted it to Joshua who transmitted it to the Judges who transmitted it to the Prophets who transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly” is how Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, commences. Then it states individual rabbis in successive generations and states their contribution.

  2. HenriettePeterson  May 28, 2018

    Did you ever write a blog that sums up all the anti-sexual nonsense in early Christian literature? Is there a trade book or scholarly book on this topic? I don’t mean sexuality in generally, but heavily anti-sexual stuff only.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Never have. But yes, there is a lot of scholarhip on sexuality in early Xty. You might look at my friend Dale Martin’s book Sex and the Single Savior.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  May 28, 2018

    “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” More people are going to hear Dan Wallace’s original claim than are going to hear his retraction. The toothpaste already out of the tube. The damage has already been done.

  4. godspell  May 28, 2018

    This is a remarkable discovery, and I sigh with a touch of exasperation at the way a badly handled rollout made it seem smaller. But that’s how it goes sometimes, and the important thing is that our knowledge of the past increases, a fragment at a time.

  5. doug  May 28, 2018

    Your translation of this fragment is fairly close to the verses in the New Revised Standard Version. Some differences in wording.

    P137 (from Mark 1:7-9)
    Of his sandals, I baptize you in water but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. And it happened in those days

    NRSV (from Mark 1:7-9)
    of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with [or in] water; but he will baptize you with [or in] the Holy Spirit.’ 9 In those days

    P137 (from Mark 1:16-18)
    In the sea. For they were fishers. And he said to them, come after me and I will make you fishers of People. And immediately, leaving their nets

    NRSV (from Mark 1:16-18)
    into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Yes, it’s becuase these verses have only one signficant textual variant in them from the text found in most manuscripts.

      • Lori Blair  June 9, 2018

        Doc, I am new here and have been quietly learning along with everyone here. I absolutely love this blog and have a question. The NSRV has the name Jesus but P137 just says he where verse 17 is. Is Jesus name substituted often by the word he in older manuscripts? Thank you for your blog again and this opportunity to ask you anything here.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 10, 2018

          Ah great question. I think I’ll answer it directly in a separate blog post! (Short answer: yes it does happen on occasion!)

  6. RonaldTaska  May 28, 2018

    Amazing what can come from a trash heap.

  7. ardeare  May 28, 2018

    So, it appears that the fragment is spot on in relation to our newest translations such as the NRSV. That’s pretty amazing.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      I think that’s to be expected: the NRSV is a translation based on what we think the oldest form of the text was, and this now gives us the oldest datable form of the text.

  8. Stylites  May 28, 2018

    After all the nonsense has finally been swept away, we have something totally fascinating. Not disappointing at all. In its own way it is absolutely beautiful. I just regret you had to go through all that craziness to finally bring this little treasure to us. Thank you.

  9. JoshuaJ  May 28, 2018

    Also, see Habermas’ comments from February 2018 about the fragment starting at around the 22:00 mark in the video linked below. Of particular interest is his claim that he double checked with his sources to make sure it was okay to disclose the first century dating, and that he got the green light to move forward, apparently.

    Couple of questions immediately come to mind:

    1) Who are these alleged sources who apparently confirmed the dating for Habermas and signed off on its disclosure? And why weren’t those sources also under an NDA?

    2) Habermas states explicitly in the video that because the fragment dates to the first century (which it doesn’t) that we now have to move back the dating of Mark’s authorship to the 40’s CE! What in the world is he talking about?

    https://youtu.be/KeMBH5b-3PA

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      The 40s?!? In other words, if Mark was written in 70 CE, we would not expect any manuscripts to have been made in the thirty years following?!? What’s he thinking?

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  May 30, 2018

      I’d also like to know how Habermas got permission to talk about its dating back in February when others had to abide by a NDA.

      • Bart
        Bart  May 31, 2018

        Good question!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  May 31, 2018

        As far as we know, maybe Habermas did violate the NDA during that debate, and he received a letter from a lawyer not long after that telling him to keep quiet. Who knows? That’s something one would have to ask Habermas.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 30, 2018

      Yeah, I think this all gets terribly confusing for the laity. When the experts talk about when an extant work was first written, we lay people tend to lump the content together with the inspiration. That is, when the expert says such-and-such was “written” in such-and-such year, we have a tendency to think that the moment the composition came into existence is also the moment the content itself also came into existence.

      For instance, when we are told that James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in 1922, we have a tendency to think that there is a clear division in time between when Ulysses did not exist and when it came into exist — namely, 1922. But that’s not how composition works. In fact, in the case of Ulysses, Joyce first published it as a serial over the previous several years before publishing the entire work as a whole, so it would be more accurate to say that the book Ulysses gradually came into existence — not all at once. And even before Ulysses existed in serialized form, it somewhat existed within Joyce’s mind, his notes and his early drafts. In other words, there was no clear temporal delineation in which we can say that Ulysses came into existence.

      In the case of a composition such as the Gospel of Mark, the same process must have taken place. It’s not like the composer of Mark simply sat down one day and conjured up the entire content of the gospel account. He was already working with received material — some from oral transmission, and possibly some from written transmission — and at the point of composition he was merely re-constructing a work — that, up to that point, was only published in a “serialized” form — into a whole, complete work. So while the form of Mark as we have it today probably orginated around the time of the Jewish Rebellion (ca. 66 – 73), the actual content of Mark was in existence long before that. That is, we can say that “Mark” existed in a deconstructed form long before ca. 70.

  10. rburos  May 28, 2018

    I sit in awe at what you guys do, and so a recurring question comes to me–not in reference to textual scholarship, but rather in reference to analysis of those texts. The field is getting so specialized and complex that I can’t help but wonder (occasionally) if modern analysis of texts isn’t going far beyond anything the original authors intended. If so, would we even be able to tell? I’m just wondering if what we think about the authors is based on assumptions of rationality? How do you know which stories or variances of them are intentional and which are just mistakes? How do you know you’re not reading an ancient Joel Osteen or Pat Robertson?

    p.s. I’m scared that such a question (in writing) sounds flippant. My sincerest apologies if it comes across that way, but I am never dismissive. Well, that’s a lie because Osteen and Robertson sind doch nur Klugscheisser (meiner Meinung nach…)

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Well this kind of analysis was *certainly* never imagined by the ancients. But the analysis that we’re talking about involves analyzing and assessing a textual fragment; it has no bearing on the *interpretation* of the words the fragment contains.

  11. Altosackbuteer
    Altosackbuteer  May 29, 2018

    The beginning of the 3rd century is anytime after 200 AD.

    So the story is, these papyri were found in a garbage dump. Personally, if I were throwing out papyri, I would save them instead to be burnt as fuel to cook my evening meal, but that’s just me.

    But presumably, anything being thrown out was already in wretched condition. Before the invention of movable type, all written things literally were worth their weight in gold, because it took so long to make even a single copy. To throw out ANYTHING written in those days was like throwing gold into a sewer, so all of these papyri must have been in horrid condition before they were thrown out.

    My question is, can we place a date on this garbage dump? If, for example, the dump itself dates from, say, 210 AD, and if into this dump someone threw out papyri in horrible condition, that would imply that the papyri in question were well-used, well-read, and were composed considerably earlier than 210 AD.

    How old is the garbage dump?

  12. jmmarine1  May 29, 2018

    If I’m not mistaken, P137/Oxy. P5345 is only one possible FCM mss (now debunked). If I recall, there was also talk of Egyptian mummy masks containing scraps of the gospel of Mark, also from the first century, championed by other scholars. What became of those scraps/mss?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      We don’t seem to know!

      • JoshuaJ  June 1, 2018

        Check out Roberta Mazza’s blog post (linked below) from November 25, 2014. The subject of her post is a video of Craig Evans lecturing quite confidently at the 2014 Apologetics Canada Conference about the alleged first century “mummy Gospel.” What is striking about Dr. Mazza’s post is the first “UPDATE” at the bottom dated November 26, 2014 (the day after her initial post). She indicates that Craig Evans himself informed her via email that the “mummy Gospel” fragment addressed in his lecture only a few months prior at the apologetics conference is the very same fragment mentioned by Dan Wallace in his debate with you back in 2012! Evans goes on to inform Dr. Mazza that he can not answer any further questions about the “dismounting of the mask ‘because of various confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.'”

        Something’s not right, here.

        1) If Evans was really under an NDA at that point, whom was it with? And why was he required to enter into such an arrangement? It now seems clear that Evans had not actually seen the fragment in question. Otherwise, he would have known that the fragment (now known as P137) was from the Oxyrhynchus stash, not from some mummy mask. So again, why was an NDA even needed in his case? He hadn’t yet seen the thing!

        2) Why in the world did Evans believe the alleged “mummy Gospel” fragment was the same fragment mentioned by Wallace in his debate with you two years earlier? Who told him that?

        3) Both Wallace and Evans were apparently under NDA’s at this point in 2014 (we know Wallace signed his back in 2012), but I just don’t see how the counterparty to each of these NDA’s could be the same group/person. If the NDA counterparty were the same for both Wallace and Evans, one would think that Evans would have had much better information. As it turns out, Evans had no idea what he was talking about. There was no “mummy Gospel”!

        4) Why didn’t anyone “in the know” reach out to Evans and say, “Hey Craig, it didn’t come from a mummy mask!” That would have been so simple and could have saved Evans A LOT of embarrassment in the end. Clearly Wallace and Evans weren’t communicating with each other. That’s why I don’t think the counterparty to Evans’ NDA was the same as the counterparty to Wallace’s NDA.

        5) All these guys have a lot of explaining to do: Evans, Wallace, Habermas, the whole lot of them. The way this whole thing went down is grossly unprofessional, and it is unbelievable to me that any of these guys would be able to continue in an academic setting based on their handling of the situation. Carroll and Obbink are also on the shady bus. Someone in this group has a very colorful imagination…

        Here is Dr. Mazza’s blog post from 2014:

        https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/mark-strikes-back-mummy-cartonnage-and-christian-apologetics-again/

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2018

          I would *love* to know the answers to these questions!! I’m not sure Obbink is part of the problem, but I doubt it.

  13. Judith  May 29, 2018

    Fascinating, Dr. Ehrman!

  14. Stephen  May 29, 2018

    Learned a new word – ATHETESIS!

    This find is disappointing only up to the point where you realize how extraordinary it is that it exists at all. There is so much we have lost from the ancient world that we know we have lost. What haunts me is the idea of what we might have lost that we have no idea we lost.

  15. rivercrowman  May 29, 2018

    Bart, off topic. Thanks in major part to you and your books, John the Baptist and Jesus have received notable mention in our modern times as Jewish apocalyptic prophets. … This is not critical, but in your research did you run across similar apocalyptic prophets at around the same time that John and Jesus lived? Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Thanks!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 30, 2018

      Funny enough, John the Baptist and Jesus have been considered apocalyptic prophets by Muslims ever since Muhammad started his own prophetic career. The idea itself is nothing new.

      • Altosackbuteer
        Altosackbuteer  June 4, 2018

        Islam regards John the Baptist and Jesus as proto-Muslims..

  16. fishician  May 29, 2018

    Do you find it a bit peculiar that fundamentalists are so intent on proving that our current translations are so close to the originals? I mean, even among churches who use standard translations like the KJV there is still a lot of disagreement about what the writings mean (baptism would be a prime example of disagreement). Finding out that our translations are accurate would do nothing to resolve such differences. And then there’s the question of why the Gospels, as written, differ in so many of the details, especially in the resurrection story. I’m not clear on where they think this is going.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2018

      Yes, it’s all part of the drive for *certainty* — so important for fundamentalists, who insist, above all, on being *right*!

    • clongbine  June 3, 2018

      Being a recovering fundamentalist, I can tell you it is complex. To say the text changes is to say it isn’t the infallible word of God. To say there are mistakes is to say that the Bible is not reliable as God’s revealed word to mankind. Christianity’s very foundation is reliant on this doctrine. Subjects like this cause many people genuine fear, even panic. Many of them would have to be open to the possibility to even look at the material and they won’t, they can’t. Not because someone told them not to, but because they can’t. Faith is deeply personal and people do more with it than just think it might be true. People do the same with political systems (think Stalin, Mao and Che) and culture (think about the American Indian and what happens when cultural identity is endangered of being changed or even lost). It becomes interwoven into the fabric of who they are. That is what you are up against when trying to “convince” people that they are all wrong about everything, and that their entire life is one big waste of time, because that is exactly how they will see it. That is why they fight so hard to preserve the story as it was handed down to them and will continue to do so.

  17. Lev
    Lev  May 29, 2018

    “There are still questions about how the affair unfolded, but I’m not going to go into that here.”

    Did you mean “here” or did you mean “now”? I think a lot of us would really like you to get into this at some point.

    I’ve been following the fall-out on twitter and the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog and the sight of Evangelicals devouring themselves over this is highly entertaining. There is so much DRAMA! Words such as “money”, “lies”, “scandal”, “reputation”, “the Greens”, “evasion” and “deceit” are all being cast about. It’s the evangelical equivalent of a reality TV show – I’m stocked up on popcorn, shouting at the TV and I’m loving it!!

    The only thing that would make this even more entertaining is if you got involved. Maybe challenge Dan Wallace to a trial by combat? You’re in much better shape than he is, and I reckon you have much better footwork than he does. I think you could take him, Bart!

  18. JohnMuellerJD  June 1, 2018

    Do you know where the next “oldest” manuscript containing Mark 1:7-9 and Mark 1:16-18 was found, when it dates to, and how (presuming it does) the words/letters specifically differ from the ones in P137?

  19. FluminenseFC82  June 11, 2018

    Well DARN IT! When I first heard/read about this Mark fragment P137 I was really hoping it was from chapter 16, maybe another rendition of 15-16. (wink)

    Interesting that this was found in a garbage dump. Would this be indicative of how Hellenistic Christology was usurping and eliminating “heretical” Sectarian Judaism/Messianism post 70-73 CE?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 12, 2018

      It was one of the many thousands of fragments discovered in the digs in Oxyrhynchus, our major source for ancient manuscripts. Google it. It’s a fascinating archaeological story.

  20. Vinterstum  June 18, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    As you know, this is a piece of the narrative that what we have is basically indistinguishable from the “original text” – the crux of the debate with Dr. Wallace. And the “majority” view is trotted out quite a bit as well – as though you’re on the fringe. What other scholars can I read who deviate from the “consensus” that there’s nothing lost between the original texts and the oldest manuscripts?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 19, 2018

      I find it interesting that even though it’s just a tiny scrap, it contains a textual variant that was virtually unheard of before! Here’s a question for you: if these scholars are really and truly convinced that was already know the original text in every place, why are they devoting their lives and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the manuscripts? To what end? As to people with my view, well, how ’bout starting with every textual critic up to modern times. Think of Westcott and Hort, e.g., and their many conjectural emendations!

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