‘First-Century’ Mark Fragment: Second Update

A Note about Comments
I have been moderating the comments on my blogs and have been, up until now, responsible for approving all that are posted. On more than one occasion the comments take on a life of their own. They go down rabbit trails not related to the blog, or simply repeat the same comments over and over again. This distracts from the content of the blogs and has taken far too much time to moderate. So, for the foreseeable future, this site will not allow any comments on blogs.

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Egypt Exploration Society Statement on P.Oxy 5345
On June 4, the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) posted a statement about the ‘First-Century’ Mark fragment (a.k.a. FCM, P.Oxy. 5345, P137). The statement offered some backstory on the manuscript and the controversy that has surrounded it. Inter alia, the EES claimed the following:

  1. The papyrus fragment was most likely dug up by Grenfell and Hunt in 1903.
  2. In the early 1980s, the fragment was provisionally dated ‘I/II’ by Dr. Revel A. Coles, though it was not at that time identified as from Mark’s Gospel.
  3. A researcher working for Professor Dirk Obbink of Oxford University identified it as from Mark in 2011; Obbink decided that he would be the one to edit and publish it.
  4. The EES noted that editors of its papyri are allowed at times to remove certain papyri from the collection for study or teaching purposes. The conditions for such a privilege were not mentioned.
  5. The EES claimed more than once in this statement that the manuscript was never for sale.
  6. “The EES has no knowledge of, and has never seen, the NDA which Professor Daniel Wallace says someone required him to sign about the unpublished Mark fragment. Professor Obbink too says he has no knowledge of it.

Response and Update
In light of the fact that I am named in this statement, some clarification and response is needed. A few of these points are simply giving more details on my previous blog and not necessarily related to the EES statement.

  1. It was news to me that this fragment had most likely been excavated over a century ago, not to mention that it was provisionally dated to the first or second century about 35 years ago. My previous (incorrect) understanding, which was also that of key individuals, was that Obbink was the one who dated it to the first century.
  2. It is true that I never signed an NDA with the EES. The NDA I signed was with Jerry Pattengale, who represented a major collection that was interested in purchasing the papyrus.
  3. Pattengale was not the representative of this collection whom I had met just prior to my debate with Bart Ehrman. That representative was the one who assured me that the fragment was definitely dated to the first century. Had I known that the first-century date was not certain, I never would have said that it was in the debate.
  4. That first representative indicated that Dirk Obbink was certain of the date. Further, the representative had credentials of their own regarding the dating of papyri. Had I known that it would take years to publish this papyrus, I never would have mentioned it in the debate. So, it wasn’t hearsay or merely the statement of an acquisitions person, but on the basis of good authority that the dating was right. The date of the fragment, the date of the publication, and the publishing house were represented as certain. All three turned out to be wrong. As I admitted in my first update on the FCM, I naïvely accepted as facts things that I needed to personally vet. This has been a hard lesson but one I’ve learned.
  5. I signed the NDA in early October 2012; I still possess my copy of it along with the email it was attached to—an email that explicitly speaks of the purchase as the reason for the NDA.
  6. So far as I know, the fragment was most certainly for sale in 2012. This was confirmed to me by several individuals, Dr. Pattengale included.
  7. Pattengale relayed to me that the reason for me signing the NDA was that it was requested by the seller before I could see the images of the manuscript.
  8. I was asked by the collection that Pattengale represented to assess the fragment for two things. First, was this a continuous text? Second, was it likely to be a first-century fragment? My assessment was directly related to the purchase of the manuscript. I confirmed that it was a continuous text, but I refrained from offering any date for the fragment. With just a few minutes to examine it, and without access to my standard tools on paleography, I was unable to say anything more than that it was early. I did not, so far as I remember, even suggest any date range.

Some Questions about the EES Statement
I have a few questions myself about the backstory on the FCM. Some things are not adding up. If I were an outsider, I would most certainly trust the statement of an established, revered, and significant organization such as the Egypt Exploration Society over that of an individual. Hence, the need for this blog. I have some questions for the EES, too.

  1. Why would I be asked to sign an NDA on the request of the seller if the document was never for sale?
  2. Why would I be asked by the potential purchaser to evaluate the content and date of the fragment if the document was never for sale?
  3. My understanding was that the fragment was for sale not only in 2012, but for some years afterward. Why would the fragment be presented as for sale—and over a lengthy period of time?
  4. I was told that the condition of the sale was that the seller of the manuscript would be free to choose who would edit it. How could this be the case if there was no seller?
  5. If the content of this fragment was known in 2011, why did it take nearly seven years to publish the papyrus? Although it certainly takes some time to properly edit such a fragment, why would it take this long to get it published if there’s a straight line between discovery and publication?
  6. If the EES, according to their own statement on June 4, 2018, knew in the spring of 2016 that they possessed the so-called First-Century Mark, why did they not tell the rest of us? Further, why did they not announce its publication, in light of the “social media debate” (their expression), when Oxyrhynchus Papyri volume LXXXIII was published? This publication was stumbled upon by Elijah Hixson. His announcement at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog on May 23 says:

I have not yet seen the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The Egypt Exploration Society’s website shows vol. LXXXII as the most current volume, at least as of today. However, Amazon informs me that volume LXXXIII was published last month. – Elijah Hixon

Why was the publication not widely announced for such a significant, newsworthy, highly-rumored, and mysterious find—especially if the “social media debate” is what prompted their review of their NT fragments? This papyrus already received more international attention than any other NT papyrus in decades, yet it gets published without even a tweet. Why was it significant enough for the EES to do a review of their collection, but not significant enough to announce its publication?

Some answers, some more questions. P137 still is mysterious, and the backstory still needs clarification. I must leave that to others who know the details to fill them in.