May 24, 2018

Earliest Fragment of the Gospel of Mark

P.Oxy LXXXIII 5345
Public Domain

During a debate in 2012 between professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, Daniel B. Wallace, and agnostic Bart D. Ehrman, Wallace announced the discovery of an early fragment of the Gospel of Mark.[1] The small fragment (4.4 x 4 cm) from the foot of a well-preserved papyrus codex leaf has been published as Oxyrhynchus Papyrus LXXXIII 5345[2] and contains Mark 1:7–9, 16–18. 
 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. . . 16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (ESV)
Although originally believed to date to the first century, a second/third cent. date, recorded in the publication Parsons and Gonis, eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 83 and is confirmed by the Oxford papyrologist Dirk Obbink who published the fragments, has been ascribed to the fragment.[3]

Of interest is that in Mark 1:17 instead of αυτοις ο Ιησους (autois ho Iēsous, “to them Jesus”) the papyrus does not have ο Ιησους (case of ho Iēsous, “Jesus”). This may be a case of nomen sacrum which is a “sacred name” that is abbreviated, in this case ΙΥ with a supralinear bar over it.[4] This may help in the dating as these nomina sacra are all found in Greek manuscripts of the 3rd cent. AD. However it is more likely that this is a case of parablepsy where a scribe is distracted and his eye omits the text.

Note that the two fragments are an example of opistrograph and actually one piece, but written on both sides, front (recto) and back (verso). The recto and verso are displayed together side by side for illustration purposes.

This discovery further supports an early date for the writing of the Gospel of Mark. This would be older than Papyrus 45 (housed in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin), which is dated to the first half of the third century and considered the oldest NT manuscript to date. It contains the texts of Matthew 20-21 and 25-26; Mark 4-9 and 11-12; Luke 6-7 and 9-14; John 4-5 and 10-11; and Acts 4-17.

The fragment was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt (ca. 1903 based on its inventory number (# 101/14(b)) and is now held in the collection of the Egypt Exploration Society. They provide further details of the history of the Mark fragments.

[1] Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden, “Why Did the Museum of the Bible’s Scholars Destroy AncientEgyptian Artifacts?,” The Christian Century, November 29, 2017, .
[2] Peter John Parsons and N. Gonis, eds., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 83, Graeco-Roman Memoirs (London, UK: Egypt Exploration Society, 2018), 5345.
[4] For a recent discussion of nomen sacrum, see Larry Hurtado, Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], 95–134.

For more on other similar biblical fragments recently released see LINK.

updated June 11, 2018

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