The oldest ever certified manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has been officially dated to the late second to early third century A.D. The Egypt Exploration Society made the momentous announcement about the fragment – known as P.Oxy LXXXIII 5345 – on its website earlier this week.
“After rigorous comparison with other objectively dated texts, the hand of this papyrus is now assigned to the late second to early third century A.D.,” the society said in a statement.
The manuscript, which was discovered in 1903, contains “two sides of papyrus” which “each preserve brief traces of a passage,” according to the group.
Much debate has surrounded the manuscript. Back in 2012, some experts believed that it could be dated all the way back to the first century, which would have made it the oldest Biblical manuscript ever discovered. If this were the case, the text would have existed during the lifetime of some of the biblical characters — a tangible piece of evidence for those seeking to confirm the validity of the New Testament.
Though this was never proved, the fact that the manuscript has been dated back to the late 100s or early 200s is extremely significant, experts say.
Leading Biblical historian and author Craig Evans tweeted that, if the dating is accurate, it’s “the oldest manuscript of Mark thus far identified and published.” A prolific author on the subject, Evans is also the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University.
Much talked about old fragment of the Gospel of Mark has finally been published as P.Oxy. 5345 by @TheEES, which dates it to late second or early third century. If so, then its the oldest manuscript of Mark thus far identified and published. https://t.co/m5iIhxaWcB pic.twitter.com/b3AasPD5bw
— Craig A Evans (@DrCraigAEvans) May 28, 2018
Other experts and scholars reacted to the big news. Peter Gurry, an assistant professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary, said the official dating was “exciting,” while acknowledging that it is “not first century after all.”
Update: if P.Oxy. 5345 is “First-century Mark,” then it’s not first century after all. Still, it’s the earliest dated copy of Mark’s Gospel which is exciting! pic.twitter.com/96w1qqQu6i
— Peter Gurry (@pjgurry) May 23, 2018
“This is the same text that Professor Obbink showed to some visitors to Oxford in 2011/12, which some of them reported in talks and on social media as possibly dating to the late first century AD on the basis of a provisional dating when the text was catalogued many years ago,” the EES continued in its statement.
“Papyrus 5345 was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt, probably in 1903 (on the basis of its inventory number), and has never been for sale, whatever claims may have been made arising from individual conversations in the past. No other unpublished fragments of New Testament texts in the EES collection have been identified as earlier than the third century AD.”
You can see a picture of the ancient papyrus here.
(H/T: Christian Headlines)