Archive for the ‘reliability of the bible’ Category

The earliest manuscript (written copy) of the New Testament is the John Ryland fragment, sometimes called P52. Concerning manuscripts, there are no original documents (called “autographs”) of any book of the New Testament.  In order to reproduce what was in the original you have to compare and contrast the varied manuscripts (copies).  The more manuscripts you have the better you can reproduce the original autograph. (See #2 here for more on the manuscripts of the New Testament).

The Ryland fragment dates from the early second century (somewhere between 100-150 AD). We don’t have or are not aware of any manuscript for the New Testament from the first century. Here is a short video about the John Ryland fragment:

 

But, back in 2012 Dr. Daniel Wallace dropped a bombshell of an announcement in a debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman.  In that debate Dr Wallace announced that a first century manuscript of the gospel of Mark had been discovered and it was to be published that year. (the relevant comment is at 1:12:00 through 1:15:00)  This was very exciting news and a groundbreaking discovery given that the earliest manuscript that we have in our possession is the John Ryland fragment.

So, if this manuscript that Dr. Wallace referenced is correct, then this would be an incredible development in manuscript studies.  We would have a first century manuscript when we only have a handful of second century manuscripts of the New Testament.

I even announced the discovery to my classes given the significance of such a find.

But then, all we heard was silence. I waited for the publication of the manuscript as it would take the world by storm.  And I waited.  And then I waited some more.

What was the hold up? Where was this manuscript found? What portion of Mark did it contain? Did it conform with our other manuscript readings of Mark or differ?

I didn’t hear anything for a long time.  Then Dr. Craig Evans at the Apologetics Canada Conference in 2014 discussed this “discovery.”  He provided a little more explanation of this supposed fragment.  The video below is a clip of his presentation:

 

From the video we learn that:

  • It apparently was recovered from a funeral mummy mask.
  • It was made of papier-mache.
  • It was made up of used paper.
  • This fragment was used to make a funeral mask.
  • They have to dissolve the mask in order to recover the fragment.
  • This fragment apparently dates from the 80s of the first century.
  • It was to be published later in 2014.

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Here is a video of the process of dissolving a funeral mask in order to recover the fragmentary manuscripts.

Well, it is late 2017 and we have yet to see a publication of the first century fragment of Mark uncovered from a funeral mask.

Well, the issue is a bit more sticky.  There has been complaints about the dissolving or deconstructing of funeral masks to recover these ancient manuscripts.  Over at Faces and Voices Roberta Mazza, lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester, complains that:

These people are not doing any good service to the public and to our cultural heritage patrimony. The audience who attend their talks are told fantasy stories on the retrieval of papyrus fragments and their date, and on the quest for Christian original texts; apologists’ speeches are not only misinformed, but can even encourage more people to buy mummy masks on the antiquities market and dissolve them in Palmolive soap – a method suggested publicly by one of them, Josh McDowell, close friend of the ex-director of the Green Collection, Scott Carroll. All this said, I must confess this pseudo-scholarship is procuring me endless, astonished entertainment…

Dr. Scott Carroll is the former director of the Green Collection which is one of the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts.  The Green Collection is a collection assembled by the Green family, founders of national retail chain Hobby Lobby.  It has 40,000 to 50,000 items.  The Museum of the Bible, which opened in late 2017, displays many of these items.  Scott Carroll was responsible for the acquisition of items in the Green Collection.

Since Dr. Carroll time with the Green Collection, we have seen him team up with Josh McDowell in dissolving funeral masks to produce ancient manuscripts.

In December of 2013, Josh McDowell held an exclusive event in which two funeral masks were dissolved by Carroll called “Discover the Evidence.”  The website of the events describes that a “meeting of so many people participating in the extraction of ancient papyri had never been tried before. Everyone attending was able to see and touch ancient manuscripts few ever experience. We heard from top scholars and experts of our day on biblical manuscript discovery including the Dead Sea Scrolls. We watched as papyri were carefully extracted from ancient artifacts.”

The dissolving of the funeral masks by Scott Carroll can be seen in this video:

 

In the video you see Josh McDowell participating.  It is a fascinating process, but not all are pleased.  Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden over at The Christian Century have written a scathing piece titled “Why did the Museum of the Bible’s Scholars Destroy Ancient Egyptian Artifacts?” They write that

The possibility of recovering ancient texts from the cartonnage of Egyptian mummy masks came to the attention of evangelical collectors and apologists like McDowell primarily through the work of Scott Carroll. Trained in ancient languages and history at the University of Miami, Carroll has made a career acting as an agent for individual collectors, most recently for the Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby company, possesses one of the world’s largest collections of biblical artifacts, and is the force behind the Museum of the Bible which opened in November [2017] in Washington, D.C.

Moss and Baden complain that:

In the early 1980s, scholars developed a new method for extracting the papyrus cartonnage from its overlaid plaster, a method that avoided damaging the painted surface. Although relatively easy and inexpensive, the process is time-consuming, taking about a week from start to finish. This may not seem long, but it doesn’t allow for a one-day presentation of the sort led by McDowell and Carroll. For their purposes, a faster method was needed. They used an older method, developed in the 19th century.

Bart Ehrman, who was debating Wallace when Wallace announced the first century Mark fragment, over at his blog writes scathingly:

This complete disregard for the sanctity of surviving antiquities is, for many, many of us not just puzzling but flat-out distressing.   It appears that the people behind and the people doing this destruction of antiquities are all conservative evangelical Christians, who care nothing about the preservation of the past – they care only about getting their paws on a small  fragment of a manuscript.  Can there be any question that with them we are not dealing with historians but Christian apologists?

Mary-Ann Russon writing for the International Business Time writes that “although Evans’ discovery is not insignificant, there are many scholars in the archaeology world who disagree with dismantling ancient mummy masks to access the papyrus texts.”

Why hasn’t scholars who have announced this find given more information?  It has been since 2012 that the discovery was announced. It seems that Wallace and Evans have signed a non-disclosure agreement.  It it unethical to deconstruct the funerary mask to uncover ancient manuscripts?  These are hard questions.  It seems that if there is a process to preserve the mask while still uncovering the manuscripts then that method should be preferred.

Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden are the authors of Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby published by Princeton University Press.  One review for the book on the Princeton Press website stated that “The Greens may well be the most sincere and most-frequently misguided activists in America.”  The are disparaging about the Green Collection, the Museum of the Bible, and the Green Scholars Initiative as well as Scott Carroll and Josh McDowell. Moss and Baden in The Christian Century go on to claim that the reliability of the textual transmission in relation to the funeral masks is part of a “deep belief in the divine protection of the text of the Chris­tian scriptures and in their inerrant transmission across the millennia.”  They go on to assert that “those audiences are being misled about the meaning of the fragments and about their relevance to claims for inerrant transmission.”

Let me pause to comment briefly about Moss and Baden’s representation of these events.

I don’t know of any evangelical scholar or apologist who claims that the transmission was inerrant.  This is a mis-representation of the position. Unless you are a King James Only advocate, this is just a straw-man argument against evangelical Christian scholars.  In fact, if evangelical scholars and apologists believed the transmission was inerrant, there would be no need to recover manuscripts to determine what the originals said.  In fact, the opposite is true: evangelicals DON’T believe the transmission was errorless, thus the desire to recover early manuscripts to determine the original wording of the autographs.

That being said, recently Peter Gurry, a PhD student at Cambridge in New Testament studies, posted at Evangelical Textual Criticism that Carroll was not the individual to discover the supposed first-century fragment of Mark, but that he had seen it twice. Carroll likewise mentions that he doesn’t believe it came from a funeral mask as well, but the owner wants to remain anonymous.   Also, Gurry reports that Dr. Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University, appears to be the individual that dates the fragment to the first-century.

A helpful timeline of events for the supposed first-century fragment of Mark can be found here. I have provided an abbreviated timeline of this first-century fragment of Mark that we are waiting for publication:

  • Dec 1, 2011 – Dr. Carroll tweets about an earlier fragment than the John Ryland Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 11.15.12 AM.pngfragment
  • Feb 1, 2012 – Dr. Wallace announces the discovery of a first-century fragment of Mark at his debate with Dr. Ehrman
  • Feb 15, 2012 – Dr Witherington writes about the possibility of the Mark fragment
  • Sept 6, 2013 – Dr Carroll at a presentation of the University of the Nations announces the discovery of the earliest text of Mark (minute 37 and 38)
  • Mar 7-8, 2014 – Dr. Evans lectures at Apologetics Canada Conference about the first century fragment of Mark and funeral masks.
  • Oct 16-17, 2015 – Footage Carroll mentioning Dirk Obbink as the one studying the manuscript assigning a date between A. D. 70 and 120, that he has seen the manuscript twice, that the Green Collection does not own the manuscript

Well, it is 2017 and nothing has come light about this supposed fragment yet. Nevertheless, we are still waiting for any publication of this first century manuscript of Mark.  Brill announced the publication of the Green Scholars Initiative of rare unpublished papyri. Maybe that volume will contain this fragment as well as others that have been mentioned along with the first-century fragment.  But we wait…and wait we must.

Sources:

Why did the Museum of the Bible’s scholars destroy ancient Egyptian artifacts?” by Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden | The Christian Century November 29, 2017

Mark strikes back: Mummy cartonnage and Christian apologetics, again…” by Roberta Mazza | Faces and Voices Nov 25, 2014

First-century Mark: A Timeline” by James Snapp, Jr | The Text of the Gospels Jan 31, 2015

New Details Emerge about ‘First Century Mark’ from Scott Carroll” by Peter Gurry | Evangelical Textual Criticism July 14, 2017

 

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I posted earlier how archaeology has confirmed over 50 real people from the bible.  It was one of the most popular articles published by Biblical Archaeology Review by Lawrence Mykytiuk, associate professor of library science and the history librarian at Purdue University holding a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies and is the author of the book Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004).  He has followed up that article with “New Testament Political Figures Confirmed.”  Mykytiuk starts by exclaiming, “For a collection of writings usually seen as religious, the New Testament mentions a surprising number of political figures, in connection with court trials, dates of important events and even political murders.” He plans to do a follow up article on nonpolitical figures in the New Testament whose existence is confirmed outside its page.  The list of political figures include:

  • Augustus
  • Tiberius
  • Nero
  • Herod the Great
  • Herod of Antipas
  • Pontius Pilate

Seventeen other political figures are listed with the dates they ruled, mention of them in the New Testament, a sample of evidence in historical writings, and evidence in inscriptions.  He also discusses “almost real people” (that is figures that are not certain but are reasonable) and people not clearly documented outside the New Testament. Mykytiuk has also written on confirmation of Jesus outside of the New Testament. Here is a partial screen shot of the current article on political figures in the New Testament:

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He concludes his article in the magazine stating that “All 23 of the political figures discussed in this article are clearly identifiable in sources outside the New Testament, confirming this facet of its historical reliability.”

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Post about other biblical archaeological discoveries from this blog include:

History Has Gone to the Toilets-The Ancient Latrine of Lachish

Virtual Unwrapping of Levitical Scroll

City of Geza

Philistine Cemetery

Ancient Shopping List Provides Evidence of When Bible Was Written

Hezekiah Bulla

12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave Found!

Bethsaida

53 People in the Old Testament Confirmed Archaeologically

Possible birthplace of three of Jesus’ disciples has been discovered: Bethsaida.  The apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip are mentioned in John 1:44 with the city of Bethsaida.  Here is a quick video of the discovery:

 

The National Geographic article titled “The Real Story Behind the ‘House of Jesus’ Apostles’ Discovery” states that:

The “lost home of Jesus’ apostles” has just been found, according to a recent Israeli newspaper report. Yet while the actual discovery is not nearly as sensational as many headlines suggest, the new results are adding very interesting fuel to an ongoing debate about the location of one of the most important cities in the New Testament.

While this discovery is not definitive, it will push the discussion about the location of the the ancient city of Bethsaida.  The discovery was found on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilea as pictured below:

bethsaida

Two of Jesus miracles: 1. Healing the blind man  (Mark 8:22) and 2. Miraculously feeding of the 5,000 multitude with five loaves and two fish  (Luke 9:16).

Another video on Bethsaida.

 

Articles:

The Real Story Behind the ‘House of Jesus’ Apostles’ Discovery” by Kristin Romey National Geographic | August 7, 2017

The Lost City of Jesus’ Apostles Has Just Been Found, Archaeologists Say” by Noa Shpigel and Ruth Schuster Haaretz | August 8, 2017

Is this unearthed fishing village the birthplace of three of Jesus’ apostles?” by Michele Chabin Religious News Service August 7, 2017

Archaeological Discovery: Home of 3 of Jesus’ Disciples Possibly Found” by  Michael Gryboski ChristianPost | August 7, 2017

 

 

 

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Recently several bloggers, scholars, and apologists have posted videos on the reliability of the bible.  Three such videos are below, in order of lenght (shortest first, then longest)

1. Does the Bible Have Contradictions?

Sean McDowell, Assistant Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University, earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014 and is the  author, co-author, or editor of over eighteen books including The Fate of the Apostles, and Is God Just a Human Invention?  In this short video (2:50) answers the question “Does the Bible Have Contradictions?”

 

Michael Licona of Risen Jesus ministries and associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University recently published a book with Oxford University Press on the same topic: Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

2. Are the Gospels Accurate?

J. Warner Wallace, a former cold-case homicide detective and continues to consult on cold-case investigations, applied his investigative skills to investigations the reliability of the gospel eyewitness accounts.  He wrote about his in his book Cold-Case Christianity. In God’s Crime Scene, he investigates eight pieces of evidence in the universe to make the case for God’s existence.  In this nine minute video Wallace answers the question: “Are the Gospels Accurate?”

 

3. Can We trust the New Testament?

Michael J. Kruger (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the president and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary and is author of The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament DebateThe Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press), and Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament BooksIn this video (28 minutes) Dr. Kruger is being interviewed by Ratio Christi on the topic, “Can We Trust the New Testament?” The interview covered a wide range of topics from textual criticism to bible contradictions to the development of the NT Canon:

 

Visit my page titled “Is the Bible Reliable” in which I cover the topic of the when the New Testament was written, the manuscript evidence, archaeological evidence, and non-biblical sources concerning the New Testament.