The real secret of the mummy might be the gospel of Mark

The earliest version of the Gospel of Mark? Results to be published later this year so, for now, we’re justified in reserving judgment.

Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel.

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.

From the presentation by Craig Evans at a professional meeting.

From the presentation by Craig Evans at a professional meeting.

  19 comments for “The real secret of the mummy might be the gospel of Mark

  1. Tony
    January 20, 2015 at 4:33 PM

    For me, one thing is for sure — Craig Evans, who I assume wrote the text of his Powerpoint slide, is a bit sloppy at writing and formatting captions.

  2. Dubious f
    January 20, 2015 at 4:51 PM

    Organic carbon dating can “start” when the organism dies, in this case, the tree of that paper. When the tree went down it could have taken a lot of time to become a gospel. If I write something behind a papyrus , my text is not 2000 years old. Hoaxes in the year 1268? Possible. What is the c14/c12 of mummy?
    And what, Egyptians invented papier mâché too…

  3. Colonel Tom
    January 20, 2015 at 7:52 PM

    Dubious, papyrus does not come from a tree, rather a fast growing reed. My daughter’s seventh grade history book explains the differences between the removal of thin layers of plant material, aka papyrus versus the pulping and prep that occurs in real paper making as discovered in China. “Paper” was not available at the time. Since the material is papyrus, it reduces the uncertainty in the carbon 14 dating. Strange, I just studied this with daughter this weekend.

  4. Dubious f
    January 20, 2015 at 8:40 PM

    My apologies colonel, you are right! It wasn’t paper. My mind stuck on “mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper. The text on the sheets can then be read.” But again, reed is also organic, no different read…
    Still, my recent phrasing on a 2167 year old reed papyrus don’t make it +/- 2000 year-old gospel.
    Cut a reed cut a tree , uncertainty is the point!

  5. Colonel Tom
    January 20, 2015 at 10:20 PM

    Agreed, I mainly commented because we had just studied it in my child’s history book within the last week. I didn’t understand the difference myself until this point. There would be more uncertainty in paper, given that paper contained old rags.

    However, I am also wildly skeptical of a written gospel being used as scrap in a burial mask.

  6. Tom
    January 21, 2015 at 1:15 AM

    Biblical Archaeology is notorious for making unjustified claims and very little is actually published having failed peer review.

  7. H.K. Fauskanger
    January 21, 2015 at 3:59 AM

    Mark is commonly held to have been written around CE 70, as the oldest of the gospels. It is rather Matthew and Luke that were written about CE 90, though there are also those that would date Luke around CE 115. (Luke and Acts, by the same author, sometimes seem heavily dependent on the writings of Josephus for the historical background.)

    It will be interesting to find out what the fragment reads.

  8. Tracy
    January 21, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    Hmm…while I am skeptical overall until it passes peer review, I am not especially skeptical about about the written gospel being used as scrap. If it is authentic, it could be a copy discarded due to copyist errors or for other plausible reasons. It’s not like we know for sure that very few copies existed at that time, we only know that no copies from that time survived to the present day.

  9. Sawdust Sam
    January 21, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    A lot happened in the 80’s that we’d all rather forget.

  10. busterggi
    January 21, 2015 at 1:24 PM

    Tell that to the James Ossuary, Crucifiction Nails, Tomb of Jesus…I see what you mean.

  11. busterggi
    January 21, 2015 at 1:26 PM

    If there are substantial differences believers will be the first to scream, “hoax.”

  12. Colonel Tom
    January 21, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    During most human history, documents that contained the sacred can only be retired with appropriate and reverent ritual. Therefore, even a defective copy of the writings I’d expect not to have been used in this way. Unless, of course, the it was included in the mask not as scrap but as an aide to the deceased.

    Not that things have changed that much, I have assisted the VFW in proper disposal of soiled and tattered U.S. Flags, done with ceremony and ritual. Even though said flag worship personally strikes me as worshiping a graven image.

  13. ChristineRose
    January 21, 2015 at 4:16 PM

    You can also push Luke much later, past 130 CE, if you argue that the lost “Gospel of the Lord” in the first Christian Bible was the original and Luke the revision, rather than the reverse as the church fathers claim. Either way Mark dates tightly to 70 CE as it prophesizes that the temple at Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Romans in a time when the original apostles are mostly (but not entirely) gone and of course, right after that Jesus will return and give the Romans the smack down.

  14. ChristineRose
    January 21, 2015 at 4:20 PM

    Matthew is basically “Mark, the Revised and Expanded Second Edition,” and a lot of early Christians preferred Matthew. Matthew is better written, knows the world didn’t end in 70 AD, and has more developed theology. The early Christians argued that Matthew was written first (in Hebrew) and that Mark did a lousy job of translating it into Greek. To them it just made sense that God would have written the better book first because being the original would have made it even better. If it is truly a very old fragment of a copy of Mark, there might be some insight in the other scraps of paper used for the mask.

  15. Walter Turner
    January 21, 2015 at 6:25 PM

    The matter of preserving the papyrus masks may be solved if we believe the claim in the last few days that charred papyrus scrolls from Herculaneum can be read by “x-ray phase contrast tomography,” which is not destructive. The full results are not available without purchase of the original article, but the examples I was able to find were not encouraging: parts of words that could be known Greek words, including the Greek article. I am not sanguine that new poems by Catullus or the missing books by Livy will come out of this (especially in view of the assurance that the scrolls were from a Greek library), but reading the papyrus masks ought in comparison to be child’s play.
    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/20/words-ancient-scrolls-eruption-vesuvius-x-ray-herculaneum

  16. Colonel Tom
    January 22, 2015 at 10:35 PM

    I suppose the lost work of Homer would be too much to ask? Well, there is still hope that some day a copy will be found.

  17. Vin
    January 23, 2015 at 9:21 PM

    So the Christians and the religious folk ‘believe’ in Carbon 14 dating when it suits them? typical…

  18. Dubious f
    January 23, 2015 at 9:48 PM

    Maybe so. In the end, Vatican will decide… Sigh

  19. January 26, 2015 at 1:57 PM

    HK and Christine – I thought the dating of Mark was considered to be somewhat indeterminately in the 66-70 time frame (that is, during the opening years of the first Jewish-Roman War), but I have to say it’s been a few years since I’ve studied up on this.

    Is 70 CE now considered the academic consensus or is this still be debated?

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