The earliest fragment of the gospel of Mark has been published. Elijah Hixson, adjunct lecturer at Edinburgh Bible College and a regular contributor to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, wrote for Christianity Today on May 30, 2018 that “Egypt Exploration Society has recently published a Greek papyrus” and “that the manuscript was written in the range of A.D. 150–250. The manuscript itself is tiny, only 4.4 x 4 cm. It contains a few letters on each side from verses 7–9 and 16–18 of Mark 1.”
There has been much speculation about this manuscript of the years (namely that it was possibly from the first century), but nevertheless, this is an incredible publication. For more about the sensationalism and speculation about this small fragment you can read my blog entry titled: “First Century Manuscript, Mummy Masks, Hobby Lobby, The Museum of the Bible, and waiting! [UPDATE: and . . . not first century].” That aside, the publication of this fragment is important:
- Likely the earliest fragment of the Gospel of Mark
- It dates between A.D. 150-250
- Excavated from a garbage dump next to the city of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt in 1903
- Contains Mark 1:7-9 and 16-18
- Presents no new variants showing stability of the New Testament text over time
It is designated P137 because it is the 137th fragment of the New Testament written on papyrus (the writing material of the early copies of the New Testament), while the Egyptian Exploration Society (who is responsible for publishing the finds from Oxyrhynchus for the past century) has designated it as P.Oxy. 83.5345. The latter designation (P.Oxy.83.5345) is a reference to Oxyrhynchus fragments discovered in the late 19th and early 20th century in which many Old Testament, New Testament, and other fragments where discovered.
A great interview of Dr. Daniel Wallace, New Testament textual critic and scholar of Dallas Theological Seminary and director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, on Veracity Hill (the first 20 minutes).
The EES has made the publication, including images of P137, available here.
“First-Century Mark Fragment Update” by Daniel Wallace | DanielBWallace March 23, 2018
“Despite Disappointing Some, New Mark Manuscript Is Earliest Yet” by Elijah Hixson | Christianity Today March 30, 2018
“First-Century Mark,” Published at Last?” by Elijah Hixson | Evangelical Textual Criticism May 23, 2018
“Was One of World’s Oldest Bible Passages Found in a Garbage Dump?” by Candida Moss and Joel Baden | The Daily Beast May 25, 2018