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Early Mark fragment

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  • Paul Miller
    Can anyone bring me up to date on this? The story begins with a fragment of papyrus (the reed-based paper of the ancient world) about the size of a postage
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 21, 1998
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      Can anyone bring me up to date on this?

      The story begins with a fragment of papyrus (the reed-based paper of
      the ancient world) about the size of a postage stamp. In the world of
      biblical studies, this
      fragment has become the center of furious controversy because it
      threatens to make and
      un-make decades of scholarly biblical research.

      The St. Mark Conference, convened in Venice on May 30, brought together
      leading biblical
      scholars from around the world. At the center of attention: Spanish
      Jesuit Father Jose O'
      Callaghan, who claims to have identified the controversial fragment as a
      piece of the Gospel
      of Mark, and German papyrologist Carsten Peter Thiede, who thinks
      O'Callaghan is right.

      The following is a reconstruction of the phenomenon and debate.

      The Discovery

      In 1972, Father O'Callaghan, then a respected young lecturer at the
      Pontifical Bible
      Institute - the Rector at the time was the present cardinal archbishop
      of Milan, Carlo Maria
      Martini - made a startling claim. He argued in an article in the
      Institute's research journal,
      Biblica, that a miniscule fragment of text found in 1947 in one of the
      Qumran caves near the
      Dead Sea in the Holy Land - the 5th fragment taken from Cave 7 (thus its
      shorthand
      identification as "Fragment 7Q5") - contained a text from the Gospel of
      St. Mark, and that
      the handwriting dated from between 50 B.C. and 50 A.D.

      The identification was a tour de force, since the fragment contains a
      mere 11 letters of the
      Greek alphabet and not a single complete word.

      But O'Callaghan, who is famous for having made a number of clever
      identifications of tiny
      Greek fragments during his career (he told Inside the Vatican he
      believes he has "a gift" for
      identifying such fragments), was persuaded that the letters were from
      Chapter 6 of the
      Gospel of Mark, from the end of verse 52 ("For they did not understand
      about the loaves,
      but their hearts were hardened") and the beginning of verse 53 ("And
      when they had
      crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the
      shore.")

      One group of letters caught O'Callaghan's attention: the four letters in
      the center of the
      fragment "nnes." The letters puzzled him. Suddenly, he recalled what
      they reminded him of:
      the middle four letters of the word "Gennesaret."

      When he checked the various passages where the word "Gennesaret" appears
      in the Bible,
      only one had words around it which could fit the other letters he could
      read on the
      parchment: Mark 6:52-53.

      Thoroughly astounded (he knew that, if the identification was correct,
      he had discovered the
      oldest text of the Gospel we possess), O'Callaghan consulted with his
      Rector, Martini, then
      published his discovery.

      O'Callaghan's "discovery" generated a storm of controversy, first among
      a limited group of
      specialists, and then throughout the mass media. Every aspect of the
      phenomenon was
      scrutinized: O'Callaghan's reading of the various letters (Had he
      identified each letter
      correctly?); the correspondence between 7Q5 and the Gospel of Mark
      (Might not the
      passage come from somewhere else?); and, above all, the dating of the
      fragment (Could it
      really be from the period between 50 B.C. and 50 A.D.?).

      Dating Difficulties

      In his first article (there were several as the controversy developed),
      O'Callaghan stated
      he had used the writing style of the fragment as his dating standard.

      Since 7Q5 was written in Zierstil (ornamental style), a style used from
      50 B.C. to 50 A.D.
      (this was the dating of the noted Oxford University paleographer, Colin
      H. Roberts), the
      fragment was necessarily datable to around 40-50 A.D. (It had to be a
      few years after the
      death of Jesus, but prior to 50 A.D.)

      Moreover, it was clear to O'Callaghan 7Q5 could not be dated later than
      68 A.D., the year
      the Qumran caves had been sealed by the Decima Legio Pretensis
      (Vespasian's Roman
      legion). In that year, Vespasian, marching toward Jerusalem, had arrived
      at the Dead Sea
      and ordered his troops to fan out and massacre the small Jewish monastic
      communities of
      the area.

      The monks' scrolls and codexes were hidden in natural caves (the Qumran
      caves), and
      remained unknown until they were discovered by accident by Bedouins in
      1947.

      In Venice, O'Callaghan, assisted by Father Albert Dou, a Jesuit
      mathematician, used
      statistics to show that the text of 7Q5 cannot be anything but a passage
      from Mark. In
      fact, he said, computations show the odds are 1 in 900 billion of any
      other passage having the
      same sequence of letters.

      by Antonio Gaspari

      Paul Miller
    • Nichael Lynn Cramer
      ... In short, it simply a statement of fact that O Callaghan s claim has _never_ been taken seriously by more than a couple serious textual critics in the
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 21, 1998
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        Paul Miller wrote:
        >Can anyone bring me up to date on this?
        > [...re 7Q5...]
        > ... In the world of
        >biblical studies, this
        >fragment has become the center of furious controversy because it
        >threatens to make and un-make decades of scholarly biblical research.

        In short, it simply a statement of fact that O'Callaghan's claim has
        _never_ been taken seriously by more than a couple serious textual critics
        in the nearly 30 years since it was first proposed. There is "controversy"
        on this topic only in the sense that there is "controversy" among
        physicists on the existence of perpetual motion machines.

        For a good survey of reasons why this claim is almost certainly wrong see
        the early article published by Gordon Fee, in JBL(1973), pp109-112.

        More recent (and possibly more accessible) sources on this topic can be
        found in the corresponding sections Graham Stanton's "Gospel Truth?"
        (Trinity, 1995). An article by Stanton, containing --in part-- a
        condensation of this material was published in the Dec 1995 issue of Bible
        Review.

        Similarly, see the discussion of O'Callaghan's claims in the appendix of
        the 3rd edition of Bruce Metzger's "Text of the NT".


        Nichael Cramer
        nichael@... Gather the folks, tell the stories,
        http://www.sover.net/~nichael/ break the bread. -- John Shea
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