Papyrus fragment discovered in 1903 now dated as oldest surviving piece of Gospel of Mark

London, May 30, 2018

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A new scholarly publication makes the argument that an ancient and much discussed fragment of the Gospel of Mark has now been dated as the oldest known surviving piece of the Gospel, going back to the late 2nd-early 3rd century.

The case is made in the latest volume of the Egypt Exploraton Society’s ongoing Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection of Biblical texts.

“The two sides of the papyrus each preserve brief traces of a passage, both of which come from the [G]ospel of Mark. After rigorous comparison with other objectively dated texts, the hand of this papyrus is now assigned to the late second to early third century AD,” the Society reports.

The papyrus has preserved Mark 1:7-9 and 16-18.

The fragment, Papyrus 5345, was excavated somewhere around 1903 (on the basis of its inventory number), and has never been up for sale. No other New Testament texts published by the Egypt Exploration Society have been dated earlier than the 3rd century.

The document sparked a debate in 2012 when it was reported that it could possibly date to the 1st century, which would have made it the oldest surviving New Testament manuscript overall. Nevertheless, it is still the oldest surviving fragment of the Gospel of Mark.

“It’s not 1st century after all. Still, it’s the earliest dated copy of Mark’s Gospel which is exciting!” Peter Gurry, assistant professor at Phoenix Seminary, wrote on Twitter.

The earliest known fragment of the New Testament comes from the Gospel of John and is dated to 125 AD.

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