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article imageOldest Gospel fragment discovered in mummy mask

By Christopher Szabo     Jan 22, 2015 in Science
Cairo - Possibly the earliest known fragment of the New Testament, a papyrus with words from the Gospel of Saint Mark, has been discovered in a lower-class Egyptian mummy’s burial mask, dating from the First century, about 80-90 A.D.
Currently, the oldest Gospel fragments date to the Second Century, or at least 70 years after the death of Jesus, according to LiveScience. Clearly, the closer to the time of the life of Christ (estimated at c.6 B.C. to c. 30 A.D.). according to Encylopeadia Britannica., the better for the researchers
Craig Evans, a Professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, said the first-century Gospel is one of many texts that some 30 scientists are working on. A new method, in which the papyrus-and-glue masks are taken apart by undoing the glue has been used which preserves the writing on the papyrus. Unfortunately, the masks are destroyed in the process. Professor Evans described what his team had found:
"We're recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters."
Other documents found by the team include copies of the poet Homer, the originals of which date back to around 800 B.C. The scholars used two methods for dating the papyrus. One is carbon dating, which gives an approximate date range, the other is studying the style of writing, known as palaeography. This is possible because scribal styles changed through the centuries, and sometimes even decades.
Greek writing of the time is very difficult to read, as they had not yet separated the words and it looked rather like the Smarties advert (Smarties are like M&Ms in the US): “Wotalotigot!” That is, “Wot a lot I got”. Spelling variations also occur in these manuscripts, just as in the ad: “Jon” versus “John”, for instance.
Evans said the discovery of a possible First Century Christian manuscript from Egypt would not be unexpected, according to
“In the Roman Empire, mail moved almost as quickly as it does today. A letter put aboard a packet in Ephesus (today's Turkey) could be in Egypt within one week. Something written in Rome could be in Egypt being read within a few weeks. Mark was written in the late 60s, so finding a copy of Mark in Egypt dating to the 80s is not strange in the least.”
First prize for Bible scholars and historians of the Antique or Classical Era of Western Civilisation would be finding the so-called “autograph”, or original manuscript. In this case written, or dictated by Mark, who, according to Papias, the Bishop of Hieropolis (wrote c.95 to 120 A.D.). was the Apostle Peter’s interpreter in Rome.
While most of Papias’ works are lost, some fragments are preserved in other works, including this description of Mark, according to New Testament history Blog:
“Mark, being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he remembered he wrote accurately, but not however in the order that these things were spoken or done by our Lord. For he neither heard the Lord, nor followed him, but afterwards, as I said, he was with Peter, who did not make a complete [or ordered] account of the Lord’s logia, but constructed his teachings according to chreiai [concise self-contained teachings]. So Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single matters as he remembered them, for he gave special attention to one thing, of not passing by anything he heard, and not falsifying anything in these matters.”
Sceptical scholars, however, argue that Mark did not write the Gospel of Mark, and the authors of the Gospels are unknown.
The present First Century fragment helps the case of those scholars who accept Papias and other so-called “Church Fathers” on the authorship of these key Christian documents.
“Gospel” comes from the Old English “god spell”, meaning “good story” and was originally “euangelion” in Greek, which referred to an announcement by the Roman authorities of a victory or something else “good”, such as a new emperor.
The publication of the material in peer-reviewed academic journals will no doubt be followed with great interest by the public, slated some time in 2015.
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