The Earliest Manuscript of Mark’s Gospel?

The Earliest Manuscript of Mark’s Gospel? February 5, 2012

The news is circulating from a blog post by Dan Wallace (picked up by Joel Watts and Brian LePort) that a manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has been found which has been dated on paleographical grounds to the first century. [The photo included in this post is not a photo of the manuscript in question. As far as I am aware, no photo has yet been released].

The first thing to be said is that this news is like any archaeological, historical or scientific proposal that grabs headlines – exciting, perhaps, but to be viewed with caution and above all patience, allowing time for the details to be published and the claims to be double-checked and cross-examined.

As for the question on Joel’s mind, will it spell the end of mythicism if it turns out to be true that a first century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has indeed been found? Of course not. Has any evidence for evolution ever spelled the end to young-earth creationism or Intelligent Design?

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  • You, too, like Jim W. raineth upon my parade 😉

  • AFB

    Do you have any idea how large it is or how which verses it contains?

  • Glenn Peoples

    Just a friendly reminder, like that needed by many, that evidence for evolution may well be evidence against YEC, but it raises no concerns for intelligent design.

    • Intelligent design = Creationism: it has been shown repeatedly to be no more than a marketing cover for creationism. ID proponents argue specifically that speciation has not happened, and does not happen. So, yes, the fact of evolution is a problem for “ID” Creationism. “ID” is *not* the view, for example, that evolution happens and is guided supernaturally. Public confusion about this fact is in part responsible for polls that very large segments of the population believe in “ID.”

      Hi Glenn, I disagree. The evidence for evolution does raise concerns concerning the validity of “intelligent design” arguments and leads one to conclude that at most one is dealing with a tinkerer, not a designer. Why so much death over so much time in order for living things to fill the earth? Why so many extinction events including mass extinction events, even before modern humans arrive on the scene? There’s also evidence of whole genome duplication (WGD) and less extensive forms of gene duplication and mutation over time (leaving behind plenty of pseudogenes). Not to mention that there’s as much if not more retroviral genes inserted into the genomes of our ancestors (by viruses, hence “retroviral DNA”) than known functional genes. No designer appears to have been keeping an eye on the process very carefully, not based on what we presently know. And the genomes and physiology of species appear jury-rigged in oh so many ways, i.e., making due with whatever genes or features previously evolved, using what’s at hand, in a trial and error fashion. The examples of such are legion. 

      Just knowing about the five or more mass extinction events in the past in which the Divine Tinkerer wiped out a countless number of species quickly, makes one also wonder how many cosmoses the Tinkerer might have allowed to perish before arriving at this cosmos!

      Lastly, Intelligent Design involves more than just adding a gene now and then. It means preserving the gene(s) that was added. This “Designer” has to keep any cosmic rays or stray mutagenic chemical in each cell away from whatever new mutation the “Designer” has added. And the “Designer” also has to make sure that that particular organism with the miraculously implanted gene has to pass that gene along to the next generation, so this “designer” has to keep “shooing away” any mutagens in the cell, and shooing away any stray cosmic rays that might strike his newly mutated gene, and also has to shoo away any predators or diseases or accidents that might lead to the organism not reproducing and passing along its new gene. Such a “designer” must be very busy indeed if I.D. is true. And I ask you is such a “busy designer” really that great of a designer in the first place?  If a person “designed” a clock but had to keep reentering the room to reset the clock’s hands every minute, and blow dust off the mechanism, and make sure the nail holding the clock up against the wall was secure? And watch after a hundred other things in order to make sure the clock continued to run at all and also keep the right time, then how wonderful a “designer” would you consider that clock maker to be? That is what I.D. amounts to. So I’d say the evidence favors a Tinkerer rather than an omniscient “Designer.”  And that raises the final question, namely how different is it to posit a divine Tinkerer rather than a Non-divine tinkerer (nature, natural selection)?  


  • Glenn Peoples

    On topic, though, didn’t this happen before? Cartsen Thiede and Matthew D’Ancona published The Jesus Papyrus. They still maintain, I think, the authenticity of the findings and what they mean, while those who we would have predicted to reject them continue to reject them, and everything continues as before.

    • Well, if this one turns out to be one allegedly found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and a very tiny fragment that can only be hypothetically and with some ad hoc changes matched up with Mark, then I think you’ll see the same sort of skepticism out in full force as with Thiede’s view.

      On the topic of ID, I know some use that term for the idea of a designer of the universe, but I was using it in its more widespread sense as denoting the sort of antievolution views promoted by groups like the “Discovery Institute.”

      AFB, I have no details apart from what Dan Wallace has shared. Apparently there’s a book in the works, and once it is nearing publication I’ll expect more details to be released to make the book seem worth buying – especially as it will be published by E. J. Brill and thus not affordable to mere mortals. 🙂

      • Trey

        I thought the Dead Sea scrolls were definitively shown to have nothing to do with Christianity. So what is this about the gospel of Mark possibly being found among the scrolls?

        • Definitively shown to almost everyone’s satisfaction – as with evolution, the Holocaust, the historical Jesus, climate change, 9/11, so too the Dead Sea Scrolls have not been immune from conspiracy theories and claims that do not fit the evidence. 

          In this case, though, there are relatively few of the more bizarre sorts of phenomena. There just happens to be a very tiny fragment that a very small number of people think is a piece of Mark’s Gospel. Here are a couple of links with more information:


      • “Well, if this one turns out to be one allegedly found among the Dead Sea
        Scrolls and a very tiny fragment that can only be hypothetically and
        with some ad hoc changes matched up with Mark, then I think you’ll see
        the same sort of skepticism out in full force as with Thiede’s view.”

        Are you talking about 7Q5? 

        • Yes, that is indeed the one that Thiede made his claims about – and I am fairly certain is not what Dan Wallace has been referring to.

  • Even if the designer makes a change in a gene in the germ cell of a male, he has to guide the right sperm to the right egg (not all organisms drop just one egg at a time like humans usually do). Sheesh, busy designer.

  • Pst. Mythicists George Albert Wells and Earl Doherty have always dated the Gospel of Mark to the first century — or at least Wells has dated it from 70 on and Doherty up to no later than 90. Even Arthur Drews put it at 70 onwards. And Price also, iirc, is happy with a first century date as a valid option.

    Perhaps Dr McGrath hasn’t got to page 3 of Doherty’s book yet.

  • steven

    So Doherty claims the Gospel of Mark was written by 90 AD at the latest, and you are going to refute by a demonstration that the Gospel of Mark was written by 90 AD at the latest?

    Wow! What a smack-down!

    You are taking a feather-duster to a knife-fight…..

    I would try to find other evidence, if I were you.

    • Careful Steven, don’t expect a rational response or they’ll call you insane. 

  • steven

    A first-century manuscript of any NT work has never been found in 2000 years. 

    Of course, really astonishing finds backed up by secure evidence in Biblical archaeology are announced on Daniel Wallace’s blog and not on the first page of the New York Times or the London Times , or CBS or CNN or other media as you might expect.

    Perhaps National Enquirer might like to run this story?

    • S.S.

      >> “A first-century manuscript of any NT work has never been found
      >> in 2000 years.”

      Well, *almost* 2000 years… pretty sure they had first-century mss in the first century… 🙂

  • steven

    Are these the same manuscripts that Wallace declared ‘I can also mention that Hitler had shown an interest in one or two of these manuscripts during WWII.?’

    Or are they different ones? Wallace find so many new manuscripts it is hard to keep up.

  • Daniel B. Wallace

    To clarify: I didn’t find this manuscript, it’s only a fragment, and a bona fide paleographer has dated it. I’m just reporting the news. And yes, of course this will have to be cross-examined once the book appears. 

  • steven

    If Mr. Wallace had reported that it was a ‘fragment’ his blog post would not have been so interesting 

    ‘Bart had explicitly said that our earliest fragment of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It’s from the firstcentury.’

    How does finding a ‘fragment’ mean that the text of Mark is now proved to be reliable?

    And I take it that McGrath’s photo exaggerates the size of this fragment?

    • Given what I said about the photo, and what Steven says in his comments, does anyone else have the distinct impression that he may not even have read my post?

      • steven

        Oh dear, McGrath puts forward an illustrative photo.

        I point out that his illustrative photo may well be an illustration of something bigger than the fragment.

        And McGrath complains….

        Still, I imagine McGrath is too busy fending off reporters , keen to get to the source of this ground-breaking news.

        Is it on CNN yet? Why not? It is genuine, isn’t it?

        • Let’s see, since I have nothing to do with the manuscript, I am not clear why I would be talking to reporters regardless of any other consideration.

          And since I expressed skepticism and emphasized that the details need to be published and cross-examined by skeptical scholars, can anyone else figure out what it is that Steven is on about?

          I advocate waiting patiently for all the relevant details, and the relevant fact-checking of the claims, before anyone gets excited.

          Having said that, patience doesn’t mean being so dismissive that by the time the full details appear, if it turns out to be genuine one then dismisses it because one has already convinced oneself that it must be a fake. That is the path of mythicism, not historical, text critical, or any other sort of scholarly investigation. Sometimes those who study manuscripts find interesting ones – whether earlier manuscripts of a text, or a previously unknown one like the Secret Gospel of Mark. 🙂

          • Dr McGrath: Have you ever read page 3 of Doherty’s book you are supposedly reviewing or have you also by chance “skipped ahead” to page 400?

          • Dr McGrath, why would mythicists reject the manuscript as a fake if they believe and publish — as Doherty does — that the Gospel of Mark was a first century document? Or if they believe that the terminus a quo for Mark is the first century?

            Is this a sane question to ask?

  • Geoff Hudson

    There was an original document.  It was about James going into the temple to proclaim the Spirit to the priests, and not about Jesus going into Galilee to proclaim the good news. The priests were to obey the Spirit and leave sacrifice.

  • There are indeed some mythicists who date the Gospel of Mark to the first century, just as there are some who attribute them to Marcion or anti-Marcionites. Since mythicism is not based on evidence, no particular view of the date of sources corellates with it and no evidence will ever be considered to refute it. At least from the perspective of the mythicists themselves. That was my point, for those who may not have grasped it.

    • Thank you for accepting back as one sane enough to engage with, James.

      You seem to be saying that “mythicists” accept a lot of contradictory views at once so that if one is disproved another can take its place. Do I understand you correctly? If so, is Doherty one of these? What are some contradictory views he (or another) holds such that if one is disproved another can take its place? Or are you just making all this stuff up just so have something to kick mythicists with?

  • steven

    Translation. Wells and Doherty date the gospels to the first century, but McGrath hates them anyway, so will use a blog announcement of a manuscript he has never seen, dated by somebody who is not named, to be announced in a book that has not yet been published to claim that he uses evidence while mythicists do not.

  • JoeWallack

    From Wallace’s article:

    “Bart had explicitly said that our earliest copy of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It’s from the firstcentury. I mentioned these new manuscript finds and told the audience that a book will be published by E. J. Brill in about a year that gives all the data. (In
    the Q & A, Bart questioned the validity of the first-century Mark
    fragment. I noted that a world-class paleographer, a man who had no
    religious affiliation and thus was not biased toward an early date, was
    my source.”

    So we have a high profile Church Father who asserts that “Mark” is 1st century based on a non existent book, an anonymous paleographer and an unidentified fragment. As Yeshu Barra said, “Sounds like DeJa Jew all over again.”.


  • JoeWallack

    But seriously folktales, are you going to leave “Manuscript” in your article now knowing that it is a fragment? Actually what’s ReMarkable here is the if/so conclusion of you and your co-religionists. Let’s say the fragment of “Mark” is objectively dated to 1st century. It’s going to be late 1st century with a range, isn’t it. And the range is going to go into the 2nd century isn’t it. And this dating is somewhat subjective anyway, isn’t it. But let’s say you are really, really sure it is dated to 1st century. It’s one piece of evidence. You don’t make dating conclusions of an original based on the dating of one fragment. It could be a source of “Mark” (Paul, Jewish Bible, Josephus). Than you’ve got all those pesky anachronisms saying 2nd century. And a likely earliest date of post 70. You have to consider all the evidence, don’t you.

    So your if/so conclusion is conclusion generated, just like the groups you categorically dismiss. An irony that “Mark” would really appreciate.


    • A lot of ancient manuscripts are broken, and given that I don’t have further details about the extent of the manuscript, I don’t see how any other description would be appropriate for the time being.

      As for the need for deduction and inference, that will obviously be involved, as it is with all ancient sources. Does that have something to do with mythicism or history, in your opinion?

  • As for the question on Joel’s mind, will it spell the end of mythicism if it turns out to be true that a first century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has indeed been found? Of course not. Has any evidence for evolution ever spelled the end to young-earth creationism or Intelligent Design?

    Has any evidence that McGrath is wrong about mythicism ever spelled the end to his his hatred of it?

    • Geoff Hudson

      Anyone might think that you had discovered something!  So why don’t you apply your brains to discovering the origins of christianity? 

  • Dan Wallace says the very same sort of things about historical Jesus and New Testament scholars — both liberal and conservative — that Dr McGrath says about mythicists. Is Dan Wallace right and are even liberal biblical scholars as closed minded as creationists?

    Come to think of it, I do know of a prominent mythicist who did change his mind and accept some idea of a historical Jesus, but then I also know of a mainstream biblical scholar who changed his mind and became a mythicist. So maybe the barriers on both sides are not as watertight as either McGrath or Wallace seem to say.

  • steven

    Picture 11 of 19 gives some idea of the size of these ‘manuscripts’ that are being found, and the ethical nature of Wallace claiming that these sorts of manuscripts should be accepted by Ehrman as proving that the text has not been changed.

  • Geoff Hudson

    I watched the Ehrman – Wallace debate last night.  Ehrman says one can’t get back to any NT original because there are no existing manuscripts before the second century.  Wallace says that one can get back to the original meaning of the text, meaning that any corruption of the extant text is minor.  They didn’t impress me.  There was no attempt by either speaker to relate the NT to the situation that existed in the first century.  It was almost as though they didn’t know anything about it.     

    • Geoff, I have been very patient as you’ve time and again filled the comments section on this blog with comments that are irrelevant or simply focus on your pet theories. This time your comment is on topic, but still bizarre. I really do wish you would take the time to inform yourself about textual criticism before commenting in this way. It seems as though you don’t grasp what it is, how it works, why it is necessary, or why historians of antiquity feel able to draw conclusions about literature from particular periods even though we rarely have manuscripts from the time when they were written, but only later copies. We know about the past largely through people who wrote about it, not at the time of the events, but at some point later. Is that really not obvious?

      • Geoff Hudson

        That is a very convenient view. 

      • Geoff Hudson

        I question that the extant texts we have (the NT and the writings attributed to Josephus) are the originals, both historically and theologically.  The text criticism, which you allow from extant manuscripts, is not the text criticism which I see as being necessary.  This must be  based on a re-interpretation of the history.   

  • That makes no sense. Care to try again?

    • Geoff Hudson

      Very briefly, a small example, in one sentence, if Vespasian fought no wars in Galilee (there is absolutely no archaeological evidence that he did), if the coins of the four years of so called revolt were coins of peace (there IS ample archaeological evidence evidence that they were), if there was no seige of Masada (the so called circumvallation wall supposedly built to keep defenders in, was a wall built by Herod to keep attackers out), if the so called Idumeans were really Romans (they approached the walls of Jerusalem testudo fashion) led by Nero with his army in 66 CE (he left Rome with a very large army in 66 CE), then Nero killed a large number of priests including Ananus the slayer of James, and this history needs re-writing. 

      Vespasian bided his time during those years of the four emperors before his raid on the temple to steal its wealth for his rise to power.  When you go to Israel, instead of taking your party by overhead cable up to the summit of Masada, go for a walk around the so-called circumvallation wall.  Part of the wall to the south was built along a cliff face with a gorge between it and the summit. It was totally unnecessary to build a wall there to keep defenders in.    

  • Geoff Hudson

    Erhman may be right that no manuscript exists from before the second century.  He didn’t say anything that wasn’t already known in his debate with Wallace.    
    I suspect these debates are more about making money.  

    But there is one first century ancient inscription that is related to the NT. It is not Jesus, or Jesus saves, or Jesus we love you.  It is not written in Greek.  It is written in Latin like all the other 10000 grafitti found in the city. It is the Latin inscription CHRISTIANOS, a plural noun, found at No11 The Street of the Overhanging Balcony, Pompeii.  The word was self explanatory.  There was no need to explain it with other words.  It was not the plural of the name Christians in the sense we would use today, followers of Jesus.  CHRISTIANOS said everything.  It meant those anointed with the Spirit of God.  

    Seneca the tutor and secretary to Nero wrote: “God is with you, He is within you.  So I say unto thee Lucillius, a Holy Spirit dwells within us.  Our good and evil He observes, having our own custody.  As we treat this Spirit, so He treats us.  In truth, no man is good without God.” 

    The first CHRISTIANOS came from the heart of the Roman Empire, Rome, not Antioch.        

    • Geoff Hudson

      The CHRISTIANOS inscription at Pompeii was discovered in 1862 by the German archaeologist, Alfred Keisling.  

      Ten years before 1862, the Italian scholar Raffaele Garrucci had put forward the remarkable proposal of the possibility of christian testimony yet to be uncovered.  He was the first of any academic to advance the question: Does evidence remain to be discovered of the christian faith at Pompeii?  Garrucci’s assumption was based on an inscription which included the word LIBERTINORUM.  This word led him to the conclusion that a Jewish synagogue had existed in the city, and had been associated with the Synagogue of the Libertines (freed men), as in Acts 6:9. This was reinforced by the discovery of several terra-cotta lampstands, all bearing symbols that resembled the christian cross.  Garrucci died in 1873, having lived to witness Keissling’s findings. (See p.23,24 of The Christian Inscription at Pompeii, by Paul Berry).

      It seems that people were only granted their freedom if they could communicate in Latin.     

      • Geoff Hudson

        So may be CHRISTIANOS was first used in Pompeii, not Rome, nor Antioch.

  • Guest7
  • Geoff, you asked on another thread how to tell if one is sane.

    For what it’s worth, having extended conversations with yourself on other people’s blogs, posting things that no one responds to because they are unintelligible or irrelevant, is not a good sign, as far as sanity is concerned. Just in case no one has ever told you this before, although I am pretty sure they must have.

    • Geoff Hudson

      I am sure you are wrong.

  • TomVerenna
  • Geoff Hudson

    Paul supposedly wrote the second letter of Timothy from Rome where he was supposedly imprisoned.  I propose that the letter was originally written by James from his prison in Jerusalem where he was awaiting trial before the Sanhedrin.  His letter was addressed to Timothy, probably a soldier in the Roman army (see 2 Timothy 2:3,4).  It would have been in Latin, and very early indeed.  So what language would the scrolls and parchments that Timothy was supposed to bring have been written in?  The language of communication used in the Roman empire, Latin.    

    • You are out of your mind.

      • Geoff Hudson

        No. It is consistent with my view that Paul going to Rome was really James going to Jerusalem.  The flavian editors reversed the sequence and the players.  

        • You can be consistent and out of your mind, and even consistently out of your mind. Please seek help.

          • Geoff Hudson

            But how do you know you are not out of your’s.

          • Geoff Hudson

            I mean you can be almost consistent with the consencus, and be consistently out of your mind, so who needs help, if not yourself.  When do you become the Dr?  In your dreams.

  • Geoff Hudson

    On pages IX/X Paul Berry in his book Correspondence Between Paul and Seneca has: In 1986, the Oxford classicists, Reynolds and Wilson, summarised the product of later research, 

    “… the lands of the eastern Mediterranean commonly believed to have been bi-lingual under the Roman Empire.  But this view is exaggerated, and the mass of the population probably spoke little or no Greek.” (see Reynolds, L. and Wilson, N. Scribes and Scholars, Oxford, 1986, p48)

    The original documents that ‘paul’ edited were written in Latin.  

  • Devan Dale

    I shocked at how stupid some of these comments are. There is NO real evidence for evolution. It’s nothing more than an atheistic religion and in no way science backed. In fact, it contradicts well know laws and breaks logical thinking by using circular reasoning, with the predisposed idea that evolution is true. Stupid.

    • Devan Dale, saying there is no evidence doesn’t make the extensive genetic, paleontological and other evidence go away. If you want to try to offer an alternative to mainstream genetics with respect to the evidence for fusion in human chromosome 2, or try to spin evidence such as Tiktaalik to try to undermine its significance, that is your prerogative. But when you say “There is NO real evidence for evolution” what you are really saying is either “I don’t know what the real evidence for evolution is” or “I’ve been told that there is no real evidence for evolution and was gullible enough not to fact check the claim.” Either way, it is you who ends up looking foolish as a result, not mainstream science.