The earliest version of the Gospel of Mark? Results to be published later this year so, for now, we’re justified in reserving judgment.
This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.
In recent years scientists have developed a technique that allows the glue of mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper. The text on the sheets can then be read.[Craig] Evans [professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia] says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90. With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can’t say much more about the text’s date until the papyrus is published.
Although the first-century gospel fragment is small, the text will provide clues as to whether the Gospel of Mark changed over time, Evans said.
His own research is focused on analyzing the mummy mask texts, to try to determine how long people held onto them before disposing or reusing them. This can yield valuable information about how biblical texts were copied over time.
If this turns out to be the gospel of Mark, it will be the earliest known version of the gospels to exist, which has been dated to be written around the year 90 AD. The earliest known copies of the gospel of Mark today are dated to somewhere between the years 101-200 AD.
Professor Craig Evans from the Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia says they are not only uncovering biblical texts by analyzing old mummy masks but also ancient Greek classical texts as well as a lot of personal letters and business documents from the era.
However, the procedure in which they use to uncover and analyze the masks is heavily debated among scholars, as it tends to destroy the masks themselves during the procedure. But Evans are claiming they are not destroying anything worthy of museum conservation. He was quoted saying that a single mask could contain up to dozens of texts and when the work was done they could have as many as thousands of papyri texts to publish.
The finding was announced last July. The results have yet to be published in a journal for peer review. There are many who are highly dubious of the claims as many obvious questions remained unanswered, calling it non-science, pseudoscience or just plain garbage.
Note that the Book of Abraham, a work by Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) that he said was a translation of ancient records of the writings of Abraham in Egypt, was also said to have been found in a mummy mask. This document was also controversial and said to be mistranslated by Smith.