Saturday, February 11, 2012

a first-century CE Markan manuscript?

Dan Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary) has announced the discovery of a number of papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament. He says,
[S]even New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

The first-century manuscript is of the Gospel of Mark, he claims. The difficulty, of course, with identifying Mark in fragmentary texts is that so much of Mark appears in Matthew and Luke, too. So if Wallace is this confident that we have a copy of Mark (whatever the ms's date), it must be a text that only Mark has (e.g., Mark 4.26–29, 8.22–26, etc.), or it has some detail that Matthew and Luke lack (e.g., the mention of the cushion in Mark 4.38, or the "splitting" of the heavens in 1.10, etc.), or it lacks some detail that both Matthew and Luke have (e.g., the fuller narration of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, or John the Baptist's teaching, etc.). As Wallace explains, our earliest manuscript of Mark comes from the third century CE (P45, c. 200–250 CE), so a new and early manuscript of Mark would indeed be exciting, even if it isn't as early as the first century.

But for now, we should emphasize, no physical evidence has been made public, and so we don't have any idea of what we have. In the quote I provided above, Wallace promises publication "in about a year." Unfortunately, that's hardly sufficient to give us any confidence. So, for now, we're better off to imagine ourselves sitting in a café waiting for a blind date to arrive. We've been told nice things, and we hope she's both attractive and engaging. But we sit near the rear entrance in case attractive-and-engaging's step-sister shows up instead. After all, we've been burned before.

See also comments on NT Blog, Exploring our Matrix, Evangelical Textual Criticism, Paleojudaica, and many, many others.

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