The Markan Mummy

The Markan Mummy January 20, 2015

We’ve been wondering for some time about the alleged first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark which Daniel Wallace mentioned some years ago now. Attention has turned to the subject again since LiveScience had an article about it. Whatever else one may think, it is good to see that the work has apparently not led to the destruction of an artifact that had historical value if kept intact, and that there will be a scholarly publication that will inform us about it properly, as well as ending the embargo on those involved disclosing crucial details.

P. J. Williams has a discussion of the news, including the ethical aspects, on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. Bart Ehrman also blogged about it, as did Tim Henderson. Craig Evans seems to have some connection with this, and so here is a video in which he talks about the topic:


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  • Jim

    Sure some may balk at the risk of using household cleaning products to separate layers on ancient mummy masks rather than taking the mummy cartonnage to specialists who have expertise in techniques that are known to result in minimal damage to the cartonnage fragments/layers. However, consider all the potential royalties to be made from dish soap commercials. Just think, you could be washing your dishes with the same apologetics-based detergent that pulled a 1st century gospel off a mummy mask. This could rival any commercial endorsements made by famous sports personalities.

  • Let’s all watch that video again in which Josh McDowell brags about handling the fragments with his bare hands.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’ll be very curious to see how transparent they are regarding their methodology/sources and forensic tools used in the ‘publication’ of their discovery; that it’s all a bunch of conservative evangelical scholars makes it fairly suspect in my opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out being centuries later than they’re claiming. Although ironically, if it is genuine, it’s close to sealing the deal for Markan priority (it’s pretty much already sealed for mainstream scholars but still a contested hypothesis in many conservative circles)

    • Centuries older would radically rewrite history. Any chance you meant centuries later/younger?

      • Andrew Dowling

        Whoops; edited.

    • A fragment of Mark dated to the first century would be very interesting and an amazing museum piece. However, given that the fragment is supposed to be small, with little text, I doubt that it will have a huge effect on NT textual or historical criticism, except perhaps to provide a firmer date for Mark’s origin. Even then, the vast majority of scholars already date Mark within the first century anyway.

      I wouldn’t necessarily doubt the authenticity of the fragment itself. I’m just curious to see if these conservative evangelical scholars will make outlandish claims that this fragment can’t support. For example, that an early fragment “proves” that Mark was an eyewitness historian.

    • Bethany

      At least according to a response by Craig Evans on Bart Ehrman’s blog today, the *funder* is a conservative Christian, but the scholars are not and the funder has apparently specifically told them that they’re to “tell it like it is” without theological influence.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Evans, McDowell and Wallace are all conservative evangelicals who adhere to an ‘inerrant’ Bible. Evans from what I know is on the more ‘moderate’ side of that spectrum but is still apart of the evangelical divinity school apparatus.

        • Bethany

          Fair enough, sounds like you know more about the people involved than I do.

        • Bethany

          Although having said that, I’m not clear on whether Wallace is actually working on this project, or just knew about it. And where was McDowell mentioned (I may just have missed it)? Evans only mentions people named Dirk Obbink and Mike Holmes (don’t know anything about them).

          • Here is a 2012 interview in which Dr. Wallace states that he is one of the authors of the book that will be published about the Mark fragment:

            “DW: Boy, I sure wish I could give you that. I can tell you this, that I have been told that a book should be out, a multi-author book, should be out early next year. Now publishers sometimes take longer. Scholars sometimes take longer. So I’m not going to bet anything on that. But I’m pretty darned confident 2013 is going to be the year all of this is going to be published. There’s so much interest in all these manuscripts all of a sudden that the scholars have got some pressure to…

            HH: Are you one of the authors, by the way, Professor?

            DW: Yes.”


          • Bethany

            Gotcha. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  • TomS

    What about the possibility of recovering a new fragment of a classical writer? A scrap of Aristarchus or Sappho?

  • Gary

    “We have to ask ourselves, do we value the cultural heritage of Egypt as something worth preserving in itself, or do we see it simply as vehicle for harvesting Christian texts?”

    If Christians “harvest” mummy masks for texts, it seems like the most likely “Christian” texts would actually be gnostic texts. If the mask makers “harvested” scrapes for a mask, they probably got them from a dump. Especially in Egypt. So they would likely be gnostic, later than 100 AD, and not the “Christian” type texts that the sponsors are paying people to find. Lacking any other specific evidence.

  • Gary


  • You make the statement that, “it is good to see that the work has apparently not led
    to the destruction of an artifact that had historical value if kept intact”.

    I just wanted to point out that Roberta Mazza has a very different opinion on this:

    “What is also alarming for someone who is supposed to teach and write on a history subject, is the way Evans approaches archaeological objects and their significance: he is reassuring us that ‘We’re not talking about the destruction of any museum-quality piece,’ as if all the rest of our ancient evidence has no importance whatsoever. Do we need to comment further on this? I do not think so.”

  • Here’s another statement about the implicit assumptions being made about the historical value of the mummy masks:

    “We have to ask ourselves, do we value the cultural heritage of Egypt as something worth preserving in itself, or do we see it simply as vehicle for harvesting Christian texts?”

    Douglas Boin, a professor of history at St. Louis University, in the following CNN article:

    • Thanks for these. I share their concerns. I am aware, though, that sometimes one has to choose between preservation of something intact or analysis which may yield additional information. If I had more information, I might be more troubled, or less troubled. For now, I’ll be more troubled about King Tut’s mask…

      • If this Josh McDowell video is any indication of who is doing the choosing, then I think we have reason to be troubled:

        Take a look at about counter 26:10. I took the time to transcribe it. McDowell is referencing a powerpoint point showing him working with the masks with bare hands. He says:

        “Now, what you do, you take this mask … oh … [giggle] Scholars die when they hear, but we own ’em so you can do it. You take these manuscripts, we soak them in water. There is a process we use with huge microwaves to do it, but it’s not quite as good … we take … show it … we put it down into water … can you put it up here too? We put it down into water at a certain temperature, and you can only use Palm Olive soap, the rest will start to destroy the manuscripts … Palm Olive soap won’t. And you start massagin’ it for about 30, 40 minutes. You’ll pull it up, wring it out — literally wring it out! These are worth millions! And then you put it back in for about 30, 40 minutes. And then you pull it out, and this is what it’ll look like, just like a gob … next one … a gob … it looks like a cattle … uh … a cow’s head. But that’s all papyrus manuscripts, folks. Over 2000 years old.

        And you start pulling it apart. Say what?! Yep. They’re layered on top of each other. You start pulling ’em apart … keep going .. see there? You put ’em right …

        See most scholars have never touched a manuscript, you have to have gloves on and everything … [giggle] … We just wash ’em and hold ’em in our hands. We don’t even make you wash your hands before. See? This is a manuscript right there. See? A manuscript, by definition, is not an entire book; it’s a portion of the book. It could just be a little piece to … to … we have one now that’s 38 pages on Corinthians, probably greater discovery than the dead sea scrolls. And … uh … keep going here. This is all … now … see my hand up in the right hand, that’s a pair of tweezers … and you take those tweezers, and you start pulling the layers of manuscripts off.

        I was so scared the first time I did it. It was last January … I mean I was … er, no, it was … little bit before then … I was so scared bec- … what if you tear it? And they say, well, you tear it. Since we own it, it’s OK.

        • Apparently, since they own it, it’s OK.

        • Paul E.

          Thanks for posting this. What little I had seen about this before seemed pretty concerning; now, this is extremely troubling.

        • Paul E.

          I really appreciate you posting this stuff. I had never heard of this televangelist before – really, really troubling.

          Incidentally, although Craig Evans is considered more on the mainstream side of apologetics, he is still an apologist, and I think his mere involvement does not do much to alleviate the concern here. (I have an amateur interest in Jesus’ burial, and have other general concerns about how Evans presents evidence and/or what he has apparently concluded is evidence for his arguments in that area.)

          I wonder how wide-spread this practice of mask destruction is, how it is regulated (if at all), and what is happening to that which is being recovered? All of this would be concerning even without the personalities and agendas involved. When you add that into the mix? Very concerning.

          • Thanks – I had been hearing about McDowell’s little rant for some time, but never took the time to listen to it. When I did, I was so dumbfounded, I had to transcribe it!

            I wonder, too, how many of the “scholars” are treating these artifacts with the same callous lack of care. I know from a friend that undergraduate students at Baylor were allowed to take part in the process, but I don’t know how it was conducted there.

        • Jim

          Something that I wonder about is the affect of their “unique protocol” on the carbon-14 dating. But I also wonder how this process may affect paleography, especially on small fragments where there are not a lot of letters and where their processing might result in some level of distortion of the ink. Is there any chance that their protocol (if you can call it that) might obscure the dating of these fragments?

          • Jim

            Although the Green machine apparently has some staff scholars that should have some expertise:


            Hopefully the Josh McDowell video was just a re-enactment for entertainment purposes only. I suppose one can only hope that was the case as we await the publication of the exact protocol.

          • I doubt it was a re-enactment. He shows slides of barehanded handlng of the masks and manuscripts throughout the entire process, and it does not look staged.

          • This level of abuse results in all sorts of artifact contamination. And McDowell is bragging about it!