Remember the discovery of the “Jesus tomb”? The “crucifixion nails”? Noah’s Ark? Each of these supposed finds was at the center of a brief but intense media frenzy in recent years. These discoveries, often suspiciously timed around major Christian holidays like Easter, might prompt interesting discussions about the historical reliability of the Bible, but rarely turn out to be legitimate archaeological finds.
Papias, (flourished 2nd century), bishop of Hierapolis, Phrygia (now in Turkey), whose work “Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord,” although extant only in fragments, provides important apostolic oral source accounts of the history of primitive Christianity and of the origins of the Gospels. According to the 2nd-century theologian Irenaeus, Papias had known the Apostle John. FRAGMENTS OF PAPIAS FROM THE EXPOSITION OF THE ORACLES OF THE LORD. THE writings of Papias in common circulation are five in number, and these are called an Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord. FRAGMENTS OF PAPIAS FROM THE EXPOSITION OF THE ORACLES OF THE LORD. THE writings of Papias in common circulation are five in number, and these are called an Exposition of.
Christianity Today is reporting on another recent (possible) discovery of special interest to Christians: an alleged early fragment of the Gospel of Mark. Daniel Wallace, the professor at Dallas Theological Seminary who earlier this year announced the find, claimed during a debate that the fragment is the earliest known New Testament text. (You can read Wallace’s account of the debate and the surprising announcement at the Parchment & Pen Blog.)
This would certainly be exciting news if it’s confirmed. However, the CT article describes the very cautious reaction this announcement has received from scholars:
Other New Testament scholars won’t get a chance to study this gospel portion until it is published in a book about a year from now. They are admittedly skeptical, since the alleged fragment would be almost two centuries older than the current oldest copy of Mark….
“I won’t believe it until I see it,” said Simon Gathercole, editor of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Peter Head, a New Testament research fellow at Tyndale House, a British residential center for biblical research, is likewise eager to get a look at the fragment before rendering an opinion….
Biblical scholars are increasingly frustrated with sensational finds, often announced during the Christmas and Easter seasons. Magazines, book publishers, and cable channels seem more interested in pumping up sales and viewers than in assuring that discoveries stand up under scholarly scrutiny.
Healthy skepticism seems like a reasonable response to sensational claims—better to wait for a scholarly consensus before splashing the news across magazine covers. If the find is genuine, it could add significantly to our understanding of the New Testament and its formation… but let’s make sure it’s true before we get too excited.
This is a topic that we’ve discussed at times in the past—see our earlier post about how to respond to sensational archaeological claims. For more specific reactions to the Mark fragment announcement, see some helpful words of caution at The Biblical World.
Available in PDF, epub, and Kindle ebook. This book has 473 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1900.
A fascinating read from G. R. S. Mead, this book is one of the best about Gnosticism. Even though this was written before the Nag Hammadi discoveries, it explains a great deal about what we knew about the Gnostics at the turn of the twentieth century. Mead draws on information provided both by the Early Church Fathers hostile to Gnosticism, and the available corpus of actual Gnostic documents at the time. He includes excerpts from previously untranslated manuscripts, and extensive summaries of the Pistis Sophia and the writings of the critics of Gnosticism. This book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand Gnosticism and the development of early Christianity. Includes some nice illustrations at the beginning of the main chapters.
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