Patience, Not Undue Skepticism, Appropriate Regarding Early Mark Manuscript Claims

Patience, Not Undue Skepticism, Appropriate Regarding Early Mark Manuscript Claims February 10, 2012

Several bloggers, including myself, have urged folks not to get too excited at this early stage about rumors regarding a very early – indeed, first-century – fragment of the Gospel of Mark having been found.

But it is important that one respond with calm patience, not with the assumption that the claim is bogus.

To illustrate the danger, I link to Timo Paananen’s post about Solomon Zeitlin’s insistence over the course of many years that the Dead Sea Scrolls were fakes or at best medieval manuscripts of little value or interest.

The best course is neither to assume authenticity and risk seeming to have been duped, nor to assume inauthenticity and risk finding ourselves insisting something is inauthentic even once test results are in and point towards authenticity. Patient temporary agnosticism seems far better than the other two options I just mentioned.

On a related note, here is a collage of the different ways archaeologists are viewed (courtesy of Eric Cline via Jim West):

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  • mattkelley

    I hate to admit it, but this is the first I’ve heard of this fragment. Can you bring us up to speed on where it was found, etc?

  • Timo S. Paananen

    OTOH, if we all were ‘patient, temporary agnostics’ on absolutely everything, what topics would we speculate about? If there’s no one jumping a bandwagon rumbling past, I know I’m tempted to do it, just because. To keep things balanced.

    • I agree – I only advocate patient temporary agnosticism when the attempt to get the inside scoop, and an invite to be on the inside track participating in the cutting-edge research, doesn’t work! 🙂

  • steven

    I’m still astonished that no reporters seem to want to find out about a possible first-century manuscript of Mark, and the way evangelical Christians are determined not to let anybody see it.

  • It won’t matter if its an early edition or not.  Even if a man rose from the dead, the wouldn’t believe.

    • steven

      A bit like the way the disciples abandoned Jesus, even after they had seen Moses rise from the dead?

      Even Christian converts in Corinth appeared to scoff at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

  • Fergmcb

    To me the frustrating thing is how Wallace obfuscates the question of the size of the fragment under discussion. In his latest post* he jumps between manuscripts and fragments without indicating which we are talking about. His wording is setting of all sorts of alarms in my head.

    (* –

    • RBH

      That’s a dead link, friend.

  • steven gives an idea of the size of the fragments being claimed to demonstrate the unchanging nature of the text.

  • steven has another early piece of text. I defy anybody to spot any changes in that text, compared to todays accepted text of Romans.

  • Observer

    Fascinating, I hope something good comes out of this.

  • The forum in which Wallace chose to air the claim leaves me wary.  In earlier debates with Ehrman, he has tossed in some red herrings in what seemed to me to be an attempt to side track Ehrman.  While I thought that was fine as a debating tactic, it doesn’t seem to me to the appropriate way to announce a find like this.

    • Thank God Ehrman does not engage in debate tactics like ask more questions in 5 minutes than could be answered in two hours!

      No sir, not Bart!

      •  That sounds more like William Lane Crag to me.

    • steven

      Wallace would point out that there is nothing wrong with waving evidence in the air that has not been made public because ‘I got it from a good source. I was told not only that the paleographer was sure that it was from the first century but also that this fragment, along with the other six fragments, all confirm the general stability of the New Testament. Are you saying that it would be right for me not to mention this in the debate? ‘
      ‘ Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet. His reputation is on the line with this dating, and he knows it.’

      An anonymous guy’s reputation is on the line here, so naturally Wallace will put somebody’s reputation on the line when debating. What’s your problem with that?