“Your Word Is Truth”
What About the So-called “Fragment of Mark”?
NINE fragments from the Dead Sea Scroll collection are claimed by Spanish Jesuit scholar José O’Callaghan to be part of the Greek Scriptures. One fragment, little larger than a thumb print, is dated by him at about 50 C.E. Assumed to be part of Mark 6:52, 53, it has been the particular object of much attention.
Popular newspapers and magazines have referred to O’Callaghan’s work as “the Biblical discovery of the century,” “the most sensational Biblical trove uncovered in recent times,” and one that “may revolutionize New Testament research” with its “earth-shattering implications.” However, cautious scholars and publishing houses have awaited more information before committing themselves to such strong views. Consider what the facts show about this purported section from the Gospel of Mark.
The fragment (called 7Q5)—a copy is here shown—contains less than a dozen fairly distinct Greek letters. However, the portion of Mark 6:52, 53 that O’Callaghan claims the fragment partially represents requires over a hundred letters. We have divided the lines of those verses as his theory demands and have shown how they are rendered from most Greek texts.
As can readily be seen, a mammoth portion of the verses obviously must be supplied. Just what does a study of the fragment reveal?
Line 1, as can be observed in the illustration, is virtually nonexistent.
In line 2, only about half the characters for the one word said to be rendered “their” are intact; the rest of the line must largely be reconstructed.
Then, in line 3, appears what is interpreted to be the fragment’s only complete word, KAI (the common Greek word meaning “and”). If it is assumed that this is a fragment of that part of Mark, the next two letters thereafter would be for the start of the Greek expression rendered “got across.” Though these two letters should be DI, as in all Greek Bible manuscripts, they appear to be TI in this fragment. The remainder of the line is gone.
In line 4, only two complete letters, said to be the NE in “Gennesaret,” appear. The seeming partial strokes of two other letters on each side of these are said by O’Callaghan to be N and S. The other letters in the line are torn away.
In line 5, a complete E appears, and enough of another letter to be interpreted as S; the rest of the line is lacking.
Furthermore, according to O’Callaghan’s assumed page layout, the term in line 3 rendered “to land” (found in virtually all Greek texts) would be missing in the manuscript from which this fragment is a part.
Also, the date 50 C.E., based on writing style, is questionable. Other scholars date the fragment at 100 and even 150 C.E. For the above reasons, and others, it is not surprising that many scholars have failed to embrace O’Callaghan’s theory.
For example, Pierre Benoit, director of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem, examined the actual fragments (O’Callaghan worked from photocopies). Benoit’s opinion was reported on in the New York Times: “The writing on the scraps of papyrus is indistinct, Father Benoit said in an interview, but even by stretching his imagination he was unable to make the marks that do show up coincide with the Greek letters necessary to prove Father O’Callaghan’s suggestion. Indeed, one spot that showed up in the photocopies as a possible part of a Greek letter in Father O’Callaghan’s reading turned up in the original fragment to be merely a hole in the papyrus.”—July 30, 1972, page 14.
It is commendable that some supporters of an early date for the fragment wish to silence those who claim that Mark was compiled long after Jesus’ death. But, does it take a tiny scrap of obscure papyrus to do that? What about what the Gospel of Mark itself says?
For instance, what about Mark’s prophetic quotation of Jesus regarding Jerusalem’s fall? The Romans did not destroy Jerusalem until 70 C.E. Yet Mark’s account quotes Jesus’ words to show that it was yet future. If Mark’s account was written after 70 C.E., why did not Mark record the fulfillment? Would that not show that Jesus was a true prophet? So, obviously on just this one point, Mark’s account itself indicates that it was written before those events took place in 70 C.E.—Mark 13:14-20; compare Luke 21:20-23.
But even if the 7Q5 (or another fragment like it that may later appear) proves to be what it is purported to be, would it likely influence those who do not really believe the Bible anyway? Remember, it was in a cave near where these fragments came from that the Hebrew scroll of the complete book of Isaiah was found in 1947. It proved that the traditional (Masoretic) text has reached us substantially correct.
But now some twenty-five years later do most people, even in Christendom, really believe the book of Isaiah is inspired of God? Have religious scholars worked to impress this most outstanding point on the minds of their churchgoers?
No! Rather, most of them have concerned themselves with the scroll’s style of lettering! Or quibbled about admittedly small departures from the traditional text! If an entire scroll will not convince people of the reliability of the Bible’s text, how will a few jigsaw-puzzle-style fragments?
While true Christians indeed follow with interest such discoveries, they confidently keep in mind that their faith rests, not on a few questionable papyrus scraps, but upon the clear message of the Bible and its Living Author.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
[Picture on page 27]
(1) “Meaning of the loaves,
(2) but their hearts continued
(3) dull of understanding. And when they got across to land,
(4) they came into Gennesaret and
(5) anchored ship nearby.”