Oldest Copy of the Mark Gospel on Mummy Mask

mummy-mask_gospel-of-markA fragment of the Gospel according to Mark found on an Egyptian mummy mask may be the oldest copy of the Gospel. The announcement of the papyrus’ discovery was made by Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

gospel-according-to-markHandwriting analysis (paleography) and carbon dating led him and his team of researchers to conclude that the fragment was written in the 1st century, before 90 A.D. This find makes it at least a decade older than other early fragments of the New Testament. The oldest copies of the Gospel, before this discovery, dated to the 2nd century, between the years 101 A.D. to 200 A.D.

egypt-africa_mapThe copy of this Gospel was written on a sheet of papyrus, which was later used to cover the face of a mummy. Although mummified pharaohs wore masks of gold, mummified ordinary citizens had to wear masks made out of sheets of glued linen and papyrus. Due to how expensive papyrus was, people had to recycle sheets that already had text written on them.

egyptian-papyrusRecently, scientists discovered a way of removing the glue without damaging the ink on the papyrus so the text on the paper is legible. Taking these masks apart yielded a trove of ancient documents. In addition to Christian texts, hundreds of classical Greek texts, records of business transactions, and personal letters have been discovered.

News of the copy of the oldest Gospel first came to light in 2012 when its existence was revealed by Daniel Wallace, founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts at Dallas Theological Seminary. The text has yet to be published. Its planned date of publication has been repeatedly pushed back, from an original plan of 2013 to 2015 and now, just this week, all the way to 2017.