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Bullshit from Day One: The First Century Gospel Is a Third Century Gospel

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Richard Carrier has commented on the finally published "first century" fragment of the Gospel of Mark found in Egypt that "Christian historians" theologians and apologists have been hyping for at least six years. Guess what? It dates from the third century. Just another lie pushed by Jesus, Inc. 

 

Carrier:

 

It’s officially the mythical mummy Gospel. The “first century” manuscript of Mark Christian apologists have been gloating about and beating everyone over the head with for years…is not a first century manuscript of Mark. It also didn’t come from a mummy. It came from, apparently, garbage. And on top of all that…there is a weird unsolved question about it still looming. Here’s the latest.

 

Backstory & Update

I’ve written on this legendary Mummy Gospel several times already (see The Mummy Gospel Isn’t Even a Mummy Gospel!? and From Lead Codices to Mummy Gospels). Publicly, this all began in 2012 when Dan Wallace, a credentialed but oft gullible Christian apologist, tried to “gotcha” Bart Ehrman in a debate claiming we’d found a first century copy of the Gospel of Mark. Legend grew. It supposedly came from mummy masks. And this supposedly had something to do with how we know its date. All of that was bullshit. But we already knew that (see the first link above).

 

Now the manuscript in question has finally been published under peer review. Hallelujah! Only…oh no. It says it dates to the late second, early third century. And the dating is based on what it usually is: paleography (handwriting style). Also…it’s being published in the Oxyrhynchus papyrus collection. And has always been there (that collection was famously excavated in and around 1903, but as it recovered half a million papyri, the collection is still being translated and published to this day; it is nowhere near done). Which is news to us, contradicting some previous (and even some still current) insistence it was in someone’s private collection and on the market (more on that in a minute). But no. It is now confirmed to have been recovered in the original dig and never left the collection (figuratively speaking). That means it comes from the Oxyrhynchus excavation—famously an ancient garbage heap in the Egyptian desert.

 

This manuscript is also just another tiny, torn fragment, containing only a few verses from Mark 1—which we knew; but now we know it only contains mere bits of Mk. 1:7-9 and 1:16-18. The official publication is in the 83rd volume of the The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (officially dated 2017; delayed printing is common for academic journals). It was translated and edited by Daniela Colomo and Dirk Obbink. The entry: [Oxyrhunchus papyrus] ‘5345. Mark I 7-9, 16-18’. They conclude it dates by paleography to the late 2nd early 3rd century. Just as we predicted would happen. Wallace has now apologized.

Christians? You need to learn a lesson here. The Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist. That exciting new publication coming “any year now” that proves all your wildest dreams, is probably going to be bullshit. And when you start to realize that’s pretty much always the case, you’ll start to understand better why we’re not Christians.

 

More Details

 

You can see images and a brief on this new published papyrus, and how we know it’s really the mythical “mummy” Gospel, at the blog of Brice Jones (Ph.D., Early Christianity). Elijah Hixson (I assume the same who is a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament & Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh) is keeping tabs on this new development with updates appended to his own latest article on it. So much uproar has gone up already, that the owners of the fragment (the Egypt Exploration Society or EES) have posted an official press release to dispel various rumors about it. And when that wasn’t enough, within hours they just went ahead and put the whole article online. It’s now designated P137 in Lists of NT Papyri.

 

The EES press release makes a special point of noting, “No other unpublished fragments of New Testament texts in the EES collection have been identified as earlier than the third century AD.” That’s a hint. They mean: the date range including late second century might be wishful thinking. It’s probably a third century papyrus. If all NT texts found there date 3rd century or later, arguably a literate Christian presence in Oxyrhunchus itself only began in the 3rd century (and hence no Gospel could have been tossed into the garbage there in the 2nd century).

 

(snip)

 

And notice how many letters are uncertain (marked with dots beneath). They weren’t kidding when they said they had so little to go on in dating the hand! This also means the editors are relying a lot on other manuscripts of Mark even to reconstruct what is written on this one. Granted, there are limits on what letters can be there. But this just illustrates how tiny and trivial and vexed it all is. The harrumph was all about this. A few barely legible scribbles on a piece of trash. Copied well over a hundred years after the book was even authored. Wah, wah.

 

 

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Thanks for the Carrier update, Blood.  I had forgotten about this alleged "find".

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If we ever do find an intact manuscript from the late 1st or early 2nd century I do hope one of our skeptics who reads Greek will examine it to identify how it differs from the modern Bible.  I'm talking about stuff like "Mark doesn't include the resurrection" and so on.  I suspect that the much older copies would have even less in common with the modern Bible and I'm dying to see that confirmed.

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That was a fascinating update! Thanks! I haven't been keeping close tabs on this but I do vaguely remember my fundie relatives boldly claiming some fragment of Mark that dated to the first century or something like that.

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Here's a very thorough video examination and commentary on this massive fraud:

 

 

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Thanks for posting this, Blood. I assume this video will be edited to take out some of the long pauses etc.

 

This whole affair is fascinating. I think it's pretty obvious that the Green family thought they could buy what is now P Oxy 5345. What I don't understand is Obbink's role. Obbink had been criticized also for publishing a papyrus of hitherto unknown lines from Sappho, when the papyrus' provenance is unknown and it came from a dealer (owner anonymous). Obbink's response encourages both theft of antiquities, and similar crimes, and also encourages shoddy scholarship. The fact that Obbink received money from the Greens' foundation for other consulting work etc. makes me think that 1) Obbink was eager for the fame and possibly money that could come if he could convincingly date the fragment to the first century, and 2) maybe Obbink thought he could broker a trade or deal between the Egypt Exploration Society / Oxyrhynchus Society and the Greens? I don't know what to make of my thought in 2); perhaps that suspicion is unfounded.

 

Richard Carrier notes that in a press release from the Egypt Exploration Society, which I also have read, the EES say that they have surveyed other Christian papyri in the Oxyrhynchus trove and find no NT papyri earlier than the third century. Carrier points out that this fact makes it probable that the gMark fragment is also third century, since otherwise it would be an outlier - if there were literate Christians in Oxyrhynchus already using Christian texts in the second century, it would be unusual for only this one fragment to survive from their decades and all the other ones to be from decades later.

 

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/14055:

 

The EES press release makes a special point of noting, “No other unpublished fragments of New Testament texts in the EES collection have been identified as earlier than the third century AD.” That’s a hint. They mean: the date range including late second century might be wishful thinking. It’s probably a third century papyrus. If all NT texts found there date 3rd century or later, arguably a literate Christian presence in Oxyrhunchus itself only began in the 3rd century (and hence no Gospel could have been tossed into the garbage there in the 2nd century).

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A lot about speculations on who knew what when and who alleged what when. Dirk Obbink is not looking great in this whole mess.

 

http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2018/05/first-century-mark-published-at-last.html

 

Adding: Brent Nongbri in an initial reaction thought the hand looked more similar to something from mid-third century than to late 2nd-early third:

 

https://brentnongbri.com/2018/05/24/p-oxy-83-5345-a-picture-and-still-more-on-inventory-numbers/

 

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I believe this entire bizarre episode was driven by the American evangelical community's growing insecurity over the fact that there are no first century texts for Christianity. Ehrman is out there with videos which are being viewed by church-goers and Baptist college undergraduates stating this repeatedly, and this is making the apologists embarrassed and defensive. They did not want their cult following to know their inside secrets. So now they desperately want to find a first century fragment. I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't attempting to forge one as we speak. 

 

These people are so transparent. Their motives and insecurities are on full display to everyone. 

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I still don't understand the relationship between the mummy mask text and P.Oxy. LXXXIII 5345. This whole time (since 2012) the "first century Mark" fragment has been publicized as coming from a mummy mask, and suddenly last week we learn that it's actually just another scrap of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a collection that has been known since 1903. 

 

What was found in the mummy mask? Josh McDowell's birth certificate? 

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According to the things I've seen on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, Richard Carrier's blog, and elsewhere, it seems to me that the gMark fragment was not from a mummy mask. It seems always to have been part of the Oxyrhynchus trove at Oxford. That's what the Egypt Exploration Society insists. 

 

I don't know where the mummy mask story originated, though from the video you linked it seems that Josh MacDowell was spreading it. Dirk Obbink found a fragment of unknown lines of Sappho from a mummy mask. Maybe someone who dealt with Obbink got confused.

 

??

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Here's a pic of Obbink in his office with the now-infamous mummy masks on a table (pool table?) in the background. I seriously doubt these were for sale. Surely they are the property of Oxford? It's not like a typical classics professor could afford to purchase these on his own. 

obbink.png

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EES statement. Hopefully, Obbink has learned something from this episode, namely: never deal with Christian apologists or "the Green Collection" for any reason. It can only bring disrepute.

 

"Offer for sale: the EES has never sought to sell this or any other papyrus. Professor Obbink says that he did show the papyrus in his rooms (where it was temporarily for teaching purposes) to Scott Carroll, but to no-one else except some Oxford students. Scott Carroll and he discussed whether the fragment could be displayed in an exhibition at the Vatican, but without conclusion. Professor Obbink insists that he never said the papyrus was for sale, and that while he did receive some payments from the Green Collection for advice on other matters, he did not accept any payment for or towards purchase of this text."

 

https://www.ees.ac.uk/news/poxy-lxxxiii-5345

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On 5/25/2018 at 5:46 PM, mymistake said:

If we ever do find an intact manuscript from the late 1st or early 2nd century I do hope one of our skeptics who reads Greek will examine it to identify how it differs from the modern Bible.  I'm talking about stuff like "Mark doesn't include the resurrection" and so on.  I suspect that the much older copies would have even less in common with the modern Bible and I'm dying to see that confirmed.

 

For your Greek needs, well named has studied ancient Greek -- let me or him know and we'll see if he can help.

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I just discovered this on Daniel Wallace's blog. Wallace is the guy who first made it public that there was a purported 1st century fragment of gMark. 

 
 
Elijah Hixson is the guy who originally broke the news that the controversial fragment just appeared in vol. 83 of POxy. He zeroes in on Wallace's statement that the prospective seller demanded an NDA. Who was that prospective seller? 
 
 
Weird. Something still seems fishy about Obbink's role in this.

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I can't shake the suspicion that Obbink requisitioned a chunk of untranslated papyri from the Ashmolean Museum, specifically to try to find something New Testament-sounding. Then he sent everything back except this Mark scrap. Then he contacted the Green Collection and told them he found the scrap in a mummy mask he owns -- possibly first century! -- and what would they be willing to offer? Next thing you know, Obbink quietly purchases a castle in Waco, Texas, for no reason whatsoever. 

 

I can't prove that's what happened. But I have my suspicions. 

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The plot thickens.

 

Some other early NT papyri surfaced at the same time as "First Century Mark" and was purchased by The Museum of the Bible. But the source of these discoveries remains elusive. 

 

P129: 1 Corinthians, Museum of the Bible, GC.PAP.000120
P130: Hebrews, Museum of the Bible, GC.PAP.000401
P131: Romans, Museum of the Bible, GC.PAP.000425

 

Steve Green himself went on CNN to talk about the acquisition of the Romans papyrus:

 

“Well, um, this is in part of the acquisitions that we have, that we have, ah, uh, in uncovering layers of papyrus and as we’re pulling layers away, all different kinds of texts show up, and this happens to be, is, as Dr. Scott Carroll has identified it, the oldest portion of the book of Romans known, dating to middle second century. So this really adds another brick to the wall of evidence supporting what the Bible tells us.”

 

That last statement gives away what's really going on here. In the deranged minds of Steve Green and Scott Carroll, papyri are "evidence" that "support" the factual basis of the Bible. That is the only reason they are devoting such time, energy and money to papyrology. Fundamentalists don't like liberal New Testament scholars who make such a big deal about not having early manuscripts. In the old days, the church would have simply forged the manuscripts necessary, but that horse has left the barn. They can't get away with that anymore. So the only other option is to get heavily involved with papyrology and infiltrate scholarship, all backed by loads of cash flowing into "The Museum of the Bible." 

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Desperate rats on a sinking ship...

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