Early Mark fragment
- 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
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.
In 1972, Father O'Callaghan, then a respected young lecturer at the
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
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
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
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.?).
In his first article (there were several as the controversy developed),
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
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
The monks' scrolls and codexes were hidden in natural caves (the Qumran
remained unknown until they were discovered by accident by Bedouins in
In Venice, O'Callaghan, assisted by Father Albert Dou, a Jesuit
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 wrote:
>Can anyone bring me up to date on this?In short, it simply a statement of fact that O'Callaghan's claim has
> [...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.
_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
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@... Gather the folks, tell the stories,
http://www.sover.net/~nichael/ break the bread. -- John Shea