Mark fragment? Well, they look like Green papyri…

I have very smart students. After I ran a seminar today on mummy cartonnage and the many issues connected with its dismounting, one of them posted a link to a YouTube video in our course Facebook page. And here we go: we seem to have the final proof that the slides shown by Josh McDowell and used also by Craig Evans in his recent exploit come from a performance that Scott Carroll gave at Baylor University in January 2012. Indiana Scott  Carroll was helped by students and scholars of the Green Scholars Initiative, and Josh McDowell was present too.

I believe it is time for the Green collection to tell us from where the mask comes from, which texts were retrieved, how decisions were taken and to give full  account of the method employed.

36 thoughts on “Mark fragment? Well, they look like Green papyri…

  1. And other questions……one’s better put to a conservator, but here is a start. Did they have a paper conservator on hand who approved of the use of the blotting towels used and the army of untrained experts working on separating the weakened and delaminated fibers? Did that conservator authorize the use of TWEEZERS by untrained students? Did they have a treatment plan in place for when ink is lifting or very flaky (I saw no use of methyl cellulose run underneath, no fine no. 00 sable brushes, no mini spatulas or thin wheat starch paste being used in the video) Did they use damp blotters (used to prevent the fragments from drying out too fast, so it does not cockle. Should we go on?

  2. “tell us from where the mask comes from, which texts were retrieved, how decisions were taken and to give full account of the method employed” This is something of an ideal wish list that is unrealistic as most papyri in most collections are published without those sort of details.

    From observing the video three things I would like to see added to the ideal wish list are:
    1. Only trained people use the techniques developed by Scott Carroll.
    2. They plan ahead with more space – it looked a little chaotic and crowded and that is a situation where mistakes could be made
    3. Every step of the process should take place with at least 2 video cameras filming from different angles. This would enable Scott Carroll and others to review the film and see such things as which fragments were adjacent to other fragments, as well as providing a back up record in case any fragment doesn’t survive the process

    • Dear Matthew:
      “This is something of an ideal wish list that is unrealistic as most papyri in most collections are published without those sort of details”: this demonstrates that you have no idea whatsoever of papyri collections and publications. The opposite is true: papyrologists do give information on archaeological finding when available and acquisition history in their publications (90-95% of the cases: the 5-10% left is about very doubtful cases and very bad papyrologists like the ones we are discussing here).
      On what is performed in this video, just go and ask any conservator working for serious collections: they would be APPALLED for what we see in the video, e.g. people with no experience washing up mummy masks in a sink for the sake of it (your hero Scott Carroll is saying he knows how to preserve the mask, but just did not care in this case? SERIOUSLY? I mean…) and using tweezers on manuscripts of the Ptolemaic period.
      “Only trained people use the techniques developed by Scott Carroll”: yes, indeed as renowned papyrologist Josh McDowell. Trained by whom? Scott Carroll? Just spare me this nonsense conversation, please.

      • Roberta, I’ve only studied the acquisition history of perhaps just over 1,000 ancient manuscripts, both papyrus and parchment/leather, and unless somehow I have only read the works of bad papyrologists then it is odd that you claim such high percentages of acquisition histories being given by good papyrologists.
        As for the technique used by Scott Carroll – I fully agree it is not ideal but then what is the alternative? Conservators that both you and I would like to see work on all MSS are not available to work on the tens of thousands as yet unpublished papyri already in collections, or to properly conserve the tens of thousands of already published papyri, let alone allocate their time to the investigation of the papyri to be found in mummy masks.

  3. Can you give me some examples of these myriads unprovenanced manuscripts you’re talking about? The alternative is very simple: not to destroy mummy masks to retrieve papyri, since we have thousands of texts already available in collections with high resolution images uploaded online that any of you can publish. By the way there is new imaging technology under development that will allow us to read texts without the necessity to destroy masks and cartonnage: do stop this madness that I suspect it is just a very convenient way for people like Scott Carroll to make money from it. Why was he fired by the Green collection? I think for good reasons…

    • Roberta, when you take away the papyri found by excavation at Oxyrhynchus I would be surprised if even half of the other papyri have a known provenance. Some examples of these unprovenanced manuscripts I will draw from a narrow pool – the earliest known Greek MSS containing the text of Genesis
      P.Berlin Graec.Fol.66 I,II: Uncertain, perhaps from the White Monastery
      P.Oxy.VII.1007: Oxyrhynchus
      MS.89 of P.Foud 266: Uncertain, possibly the Fayyum or Cairo
      P.Beatty V: Uncertain, possibly the Fayyum or Atfih
      P.Beatty VI: Uncertain, possibly the Fayyum or Atfih
      Unpublished MS in Green Collection: Lets see what happens when it is published
      P.Mich.III.131: Unknown
      P.Lond.212: Unknown
      P.Oxy.IV.656: Oxyrhynchus
      P.Oxy.IX.1166: Oxyrhynchus
      P.Berlin Inv.Nr.17213: Unknown
      P.Oslo II 11 + P.Ryl.III.460: Probably Arsinoe
      P.Berlin inv.9778: Unknown
      St Catherine’s Monastery MS Sinaiticus MG 76: St Catherine’s
      P.Oxy.IX.1167: Oxyrhynchus
      Egypt.Mus.S.R.3805(9): Probably Aphroditopolis
      P.Munch.610 no.1: Unknown
      P.Berlin inv.18131: Unknown
      P.Lond.202: Unknown
      Out of 19 MSS only 5 have certain provenance and 4 are these are from Oxyrhynchus. If the fragment with Genesis 11 from the Green Collection is eventually published without provenance, this would not be unusual, and if it is published with provenance that would be unusual.

      Regarding imaging technology – I suspect lack of funding will maintain a gap between theory and practice, the same gap that exists for the same reasons in the conservation of papyri. I hope I’m wrong.

      • The list above shows that you have no idea about the way provenance is defined in current scholarship on the topic. The Oxyrhynchus papyri, for example, were excavated in Oxyrhynchus rubbish heaps (very few of them were acquired on the antiquities market) and were legally exported for the arrangement that at that time papyrologists had with the Egyptian authorities.
        The masks destroyed by Scott Carroll: where do they come from? Who did sell them to the Green collection? Can we see the documents related to these acquisitions since they took place during a period of massive and well documented looting in Egypt?
        I have not received any information whatsoever yet by any of the people I asked these questions: David Trobisch, Jerry Pattengale who has personally collaborated with Carroll and Mike Holmes.
        I am appalled for what has happened, and I am very worried that students and young scholars have been exposed to and involved in situations like this.
        On the technology: being personally involved in the developing of one of this project, yes I confirm you are wrong.

  4. Roberta, if my “idea” about provenance so wrong by your understanding – and it seems to be the main meaning of provenance used in a range of current print and online publications so I suppose you believe numerous others also have “no idea” – please feel free to add the provenance, as you understand it, to the 19 MSS I listed. I believe the benchmark set by yourself was 90-95%

    Of significant concern is that you make demands that others should show you documents that relate to MSS that have not yet been published, but:
    1. you have not shown by what right you make those demands. You (and I and others) are free to feel worried about legal cf. illegal provenance, but that freedom does not give you any rights to make demands of other people, still less the right to constantly make accusations that people have acted contrary to the law
    2. you have not shown by what duty the people you make demands of have to show you what may for the moment be confidential documents.

    On the technology, you miss the point. Developing a technology is one thing, funding its application is another. For example, there are documents in various archives relevant to the study of the acquisition history of various ancient and medieval manuscripts, and they could be made more widely accessible if they were digitised – using technology that is no longer new. The reason they have not been is not due to technology, it is due to funding. However, lets assume it is me that has missed the point, in which case, please advise how many manuscripts within masks and cartonnage you expect to have identified using your technology, by the time the first volume of the Green Collection papyri is published?

    • Dear Matthew,

      1) on provenance again, please read this post:
      Then sit down in a library and catch up with the last 20 years of bibliography in papyrology. A lot has happened in so-called museum archaeology, that you probably have no idea what it is.

      2) You have problems not only in papyrology, but also in reading and interpreting English. I have not moved accusations, I have asked questions. Indeed, very simple ones. Do I need to re-write them? Ok: Where does this mask come from (i.e. where and from whom was it purchased)? What kind of techniques, decisions etc. were taken before and after its dissolving in the sink? What texts did come out of it since there are some funny (so to say) people around stating that a Gospel was found in what to me looks like a Ptolemaic/v.early Roman mummy mask?
      As a scholar and a person in charge with others of a papyrus collection I have not only the right but the ETHICAL DUTY to pose the questions I am posing. Obviously the Green scholars/Museum of the Bible have the right not to answer: but believe me I will continue to ask questions, these and as many others as I will decide it’s the case to pose.

      3) Considering the rate of papyrus publication from the GSI (a few fragments from Sappho from 2009 to 2015), I start thinking the technology will be certainly available in the meantime. The risk is that at that point there won’t be any mummy mask left, considering the zeal Scott Carroll, Josh McDowell and others are demonstrating in their mission to buy and destroy as many as possible of them. E.g.

      • Dear Roberta, in response to the 3 points and the BTW

        1. “you probably have no idea what it is”. Part of my current research is into the dispersal of two 19th century MSS collections and I am acutely aware of how my research is hampered by past curators not recording or publishing either acquisition or disposal history. But current trends in papyrology do not change the fact that most papyri that have not been acquired by official excavations do not have a known provenance in the sense of find site.

        2. You have made accusations. When you ask a person in private about the provenance of a mummy mask, that is a question. When you then repeat that question in public, and combine it with wording such as “Can we see the documents related to these acquisitions since they took place during a period of massive and well documented looting in Egypt?”, that is an accusation.

        3. “I start thinking the technology will be certainly available in the meantime” Again you miss the point. The technology might be available, but what about the funding to apply that technology?

        BTW. First volume of Green Collection papyri delayed until 2017. Doesn’t surprise me at all that it has been delayed and would not be surprised if it was further delayed. That will give you extra time to produce lots of editions of the papyri you read with the technology you are working on – so again I ask the question: how many manuscripts within masks and cartonnage you expect to have identified using your technology, by the time the first volume of the Green Collection papyri is published?

  5. 1) …so why are you wasting my time with irrelevant questions if you’re so well trained?…

    2) I repeat one of my many questions: “Can we see the documents related to these acquisitions since they took place during a period of massive and well documented looting in Egypt?”

    3) So I am glad to have a fan of Scott Carroll and mummy masks washing up among my readers. Although you show a total lack of irony which for me is a capital sin, I am afraid. Check the rules of my blog, above, before posting here again please.

    All best,

    • Dear Roberta,
      1) because I respect most of what you have to say even if I disagree with you on many points
      2) good question, but the wording is not the sort of thing I would ever use in a public place (i.e. online) because in that context it is less of a question than an accusation
      3) I’m a fan of both mummy masks and papyri, but as I’m a bigger fan of papyri I guess that makes me a fan of Scott Carroll

  6. >>what is the alternative? Conservators […] are not available to work on the tens of thousands as yet unpublished papyri already in collections, or to properly conserve the tens of thousands of already published papyri, let alone allocate their time to the investigation of the papyri to be found in mummy masks.<<

    So if the resources are not available to do destructive investigation properly, it is best not undertaken unless there is a threat to the site/object which cannot be dealt with any other way. That's a basic principle of archaeology and preventive conservation. What about collecting?

    The papyri have survived about two thousand years in the form (cartonnage) they are in. Most of that time they were buried in the ground. They can be safely kept in the same form in proper museum storage for as long as it takes for the resources to become available to examine the object properly, and to archive properly the masses of fragments and other samples and documentation generated. That may be undertaken many years from now to benefit future generations rather than our own gobbling it all up for ourselves. That is what we call "conservation", it is what we have trained conservators for.

  7. The mummy masks and other items looted from Egypt – and I’m NOT linking those masks with the masks associated with Scott Carroll – were not protected. So it can’t be assumed that museum collecting = available “many years from now”.
    In any case, most items around the world’s museums are neither properly stored nor conserved, even the most significant ones – just think of King Tut’s beard.

    • Wow. Let’s go to Egypt, Italy and other countries and take over their inability to take care of their cultural property so that good Americans and other properly educated people like Scott Carroll can display their scholarship and high skills with their sinks. Imagine Scott and the bird of Tut: I am sure he could materialise an entire copy of the Bible with a good shave and some Palmolive soap.
      Do you realise that you are insulting museum curators and other professionals in Egypt and elsewhere who have been trained and do their best for taking care of their and OUR cultural heritage despite the disgraceful condition centuries of colonialism have inflicted upon them?

      • During WWI the library in Louvain was intentionally burned, in 1967 a number of Dead Sea Scroll fragments were stolen from the Rockefeller and have not been seen since, and a few years ago there was widespread looting of collections in Egypt – 3 examples from different parts of the world from within the last 100 years where despite there being curators and conservators who have aspirations of what is best as they seek to curate and conserve, their aspirations failed when faced by the realities of the world.
        But the losses due to war, disasters and theft might only be a fraction of what is being slowly lost. Within collections (which will remain nameless) I’ve seen valuable documents concerning the acquisition of MSS turning to brittle flakes because of lack of funding to preserve them and the same lack of funding has meant nobody has made any copies – and these are some of the better collections in the West. No amount of “been trained” and “doing their best” will overcome lack of funding.
        As for “insulting museum curators and other professionals” – not so as I previously was one of those professionals.

  8. Since there is lack of funding, disasters and wars, let’s let Scott Carroll dissolve mummy masks in sinks! That’s the recommendation of a well trained former museum curator or sim.
    Auguri to us all.

  9. Roberta,
    (Without wanting to stem the merry exchange of banter between yourself and Matthew)

    Well done to yout students for tracking down the source and context of the various images that have been applied to illustrate this story. But if the performance on the video is to be dated to January 2012, then it must be sometime subsequent to the ‘discovery’ of the Mark fragment. As I recall from a previous update to your blog, Scott Carroll first announces finding a first century gospel fragment (on Twitter I think), about a month earlier, on Thursday 1st December 2011. None of which excuses the sloppy procedures on the video; if you are going to dismantle a historic artefact in the hope of finding lost texts of greater value ; then failure to do so in accordance with scholarly protocols is inexcuseable. That applies to mummy masks as much as to any other form of palimpsest.

    If the Mark fragment that everyone is legally precluded from revealing anything about, didn’t come from the mask in the video; then nor was it extracted by Prof. Craig Evans. Indeed Prof. Evans now says that he has not been involved in any way in the dismantling of masks and cartonnage; but rather in researching what may be learned about the expected lifespan of documentary and literary papyri from their being found together as re-used rubbish in cartonnage.

    I have a worrying suspicion that nobody in this emerging story, apart from Scott Carroll and the person from whom he obtained the objects in question, actually knows for certain which mask the Mark fragment may have come from. Your Twitter quotations show Dr Carroll as having been in Oxford on Tuesday 29th November, having been in Istanbul, examining a private collection. on Sunday 27th. I doubt that Scott Carroll does his douche act in his hotel room (at least I very much hope not); so it sounds to me more likely that he identified the key papyrus as a Mark fragment when he sorted through photographs of one of the private collections he had seen on his trip.

    • Dear Tom,
      Yes, you are absolutely right and this underlines that Evans and others have played with this story for their own aims (see more below).
      As for the Mark fragment, it does not exist. It will exist the day we will eventually read about it in a publication or we will be given an image and some solid information about it. I am not particularly concerned about the ghostly Mark fragment, my main concern is to call attention on how people like Wallace and Evans have disseminated an incredible amount of misinformation thanks to the irresponsible behaviour of people who used to work and still work for the Green collection.
      We have now found that the mask supposedly dismounted according to Evans in the Livescience article seems in fact to be safe and undissolved in an Australian museum:
      Despite the irony I have exercised so far, I have not really found what I have seen from the new Sappho fragments coming out last year till now really funny. I am actually very worried for non-disclosure agreements, established papyrologists dissolving mummy masks in sinks with pseudo-scholars, cartonnage sold through Christie’s from where papyri magically appear but without records of the way they were retrieved by the staff of private collectors, and no images taken before their sale, and so forth so on. I personally think this is unethical and irresponsible, and I feel we must all ponder about what happened. When people buy antiquities they buy a piece of OUR collective history: think about it. I care about OUR cultural heritage, that’s why sometimes I lose my temper with Matt Hamilton and many others. I am Italian after all! Possibly (and I say possibly because I wonder about the way Carroll has operated on the market: if he takes care of legal documents when purchasing antiquities as he dates mummy masks and papyri, I see troubles…) all this was legal, but does legal necessarily means ethical?

  10. ” it sounds to me more likely that he identified the key papyrus as a Mark fragment when he sorted through photographs of one of the private collections he had seen on his trip.”

    Which raises again a question I and others asked earlier – what evidence is there that any Green biblical papyrus actually came from a mummy mask? Is this not a red herring introduced to ‘explain away’ the surfacing of a papyrus that came from somewhere else? Will we see in the final publications documentary photos of the papyri in question actually being in situ in any piece of cartonnage? Are these films being released in a way calculated to draw attention away from another issue?

    • I fully agree Paul, that we would ideally have a lot more documentation and supporting contemporaneous recording of the process of extracting this particular papyrus from its former location in a mass of cartonnage. But that may not exist – as we have found in the narrative (involving many of the same participants) of the recent publication of newly discovered Sappho poems. A collector buys a block of cartonnage – maybe from a mummy mask, maybe not – and then separates the papyri. Its only when the fragments are found to include a Sappho poem (or a Christian gospel) that it becomes necessary to work back retrospectively and fettle the best approximation to a proper provenance history.

      In the case of the Mark fragment, this is overlaid with all the paraphenalia of non-disclosure contracts. Everyone in the loop has been legally bound not to reveal any substantial information; with the corollary that anyone who is giving away information is likely not in the loop. The latest bout of speculation essentially derives from the video record of Craig Evans’s ill-judged presentation last year; and his subsequent interviews. He was assumed to be in the loop, but to have revealed substantial new information – very specifically that the Mark fragment would be published by Brill this coming year. We now know (as he subsequently made clear) that nothing he said about mummy mask deconstruction was from inside the loop – he was simply retailing hints previously dropped by those he knows to be insiders, illustrated by pictures they had made. Prof. Evans was not involved in the dismantling of the cartonnage that formerly contained the Mark fragment, indeed he has not himself seen the fragment (and does not appear to know its specific content). And now he has admitted that he wasn’t even privy to latest intentions on planned publication.

      I don’t see this as any sort of planned disinformation or distraction. Essentially we know no more now than we did three years ago; that an apparently early papyrus fragment of Mark exists, which Scott Carroll is maintaining as having been extracted recently from cartonnage. That the fragment is likely not a pure forgery may perhaps be assured from the rigour of the non-disclosure discipline – academics with a high reputation tio maintain are only going to cooperate in keeping a secret if they are convinced there is a substantial secret to be kept. But nothng more.

      • We don’t know anything about this and other papyri except misinformation and propaganda; and I also have doubts about their provenance. As I said before, this fragment does not exist. It will exist the day we will have a publication or at least an image with some solid data. Finally, what we will eventually see is just a fragment with few lines from Mark that certainly will not revolutionise our knowledge on the New Testament and early Christianity.

  11. While I sympathise with your adherence to principle here Roberta, I am rather worried that we maybe arguing ourselves into a second sucessive Catch 22 in respect of this particular papyrus fragment. First, we have had non-disclosure agreements apparently laid on anyone who has seen images of the fragment, or has any knowledge of its content, ownership of provenance; or indeed any specific details as to the terms and parties of the non-disclosure agreements themselves. Such that the only way to access the fragment, or obtain any publishable information about it, is to agree not to publish that information. But then we appear further to be insisting that the fragment cannot be published unless problematic issues as to history, provenance and ownership are fully documented and resolved; but also insist that until it is properly published, it cannot be recognised as existing. Maybe your colleague George Brooke would point out that this is all getting a bit reminiscent of the Dead Sea Scrolls scandal. That counterpart logjam was eventually only broken when ‘guerilla’ academics (acting out of far from un-mixed motives) nevertheless published anyway.

    But I suppose I really do want the fragment published as soon as possible – and, to be honest, I would be overjoyed if it could be shown more likely than not, to be late first century in date, even if the unscholarly and undiligent behaviours of Dr Carroll have rendered it impossible ever to be 100% certain either way. Which is where I might take issue with what I take to be the emphasis of your final sentence. A few lines from Mark on a surviving fragment of likely first century date, from Egypt, could well be quite close to revolutionary in respect of a number of live issues in the scholarship of Early Christianity; even if it agrees entirely with the ‘standard’ critical text of Mark (indeed perhaps especially if it agrees entirely with the ‘standard’ critical text of Mark). I can see Roger Bagnall having to retract a large body of assertions around the impossibility of such a papyrus book existing before the end of the 2nd century, for one thing. And it could well reinforce the mid 2nd century dating of other early gospel papyri – including P104, and our very own P52.

    • From the Green papyri I have seen so far (those in the Vatican exhibit) we are far away from the importance of the Dead Sea scrolls. The only interesting pieces were those deaccessioned by Bodmer and other well known collections (apart the infamous Galatians 2, v. interesting for other reasons). The other pieces were small fragments very much comparable to some already known material. Nothing revolutionary, although of course each piece is of some importance to us.
      I don’t see any problem in publishing papyri of dubious provenance as long as the collector promises to give them back to the legitimate owner, e.g. the Egyptian government. They can easily be deposited in a secure home, for instance the Michigan collection in Ann Arbor, waiting for repatriation.
      If Scott Carroll dates papyri the way he dates mummy masks as the video shows, you can be sure that this fragment, if ever exists, is not from the first century AD. I found surprising that the well established GSI/Baylor University papyrologist in the video did not stop him disseminating incorrect information.
      As I already said in other occasions, I agree with Brent Nongbri’s critical attitude towards past and current palaeographical dating methods: on the basis of comparable evidence our P52 can be dated in a date range which goes from the 2nd to the late 3rd – early 4th century AD. I am very upset with the Rylands Library for despite my continuous complaints they have not yet changed labels and the website accordingly (but they will soon…they promised me!). For carbon dating, I have recently used it for the new Rylands Christian amulet: what you are given are probability percentages over a century (in my case, for instance: between 574 and 660 with a margin of certainty of 95.4 %; between 608 and 650 with a margin of 68.2 %). We are still far away from the ridiculous precise date some papyrologists and other scholars pretend to attribute to papyri.
      Roger Bagnall does what the others are rarely doing: he puts the Christian papyri and the rise of Christianity in Egypt into a wider historical discourse, with an in depth knowledge of the material I wish any of those involved in such discussions including myself could have. Finally, there’s over too much ideological wishful thinking in all this debate which should be much more scientifically oriented.
      (To reassure you and the audience that I am not a blind follower of Roger Bagnall, I wrote a review of Early Christian Books in Egypt where I moved some critics for the Journal of Hellenic Studies).

  12. Thank you for your clarifications Roberta.

    I have long been puzzled though, as to why Brent Nongbri’s article on P52 should be regarded as undermining Colin Roberts’s dating of that papyrus to the first half of the 2nd century, when Nongbri himself – at least in the article in question – explicitly denies that his findings should do any such thing. While he certainly advances dated close comparanda of the later 2nd century, he equally demonstrates that parallels with the earliest of Roberts’s dated comperanda – of the last quarter of the 1stt century – are if anything stronger than Roberts’s original article allowed. So if, contrary to Nongbri, Roberts’s dating ranges were to need revision, they ought logically to be extended both later and earlier.

    That the impetus is rather towards later, and not earlier, datings of P52; I have speculated as being due to consideration of the arguments advanced by Roger Bagnall. Bagnall correctly notes that the several claimed, paleographically dated, 2nd century papyrus biblical fragments, stand as a lone cluster. No other historical or archeological findings demonstrate the presence of Christian communities in the Egyption nomes before the end of the second century; nor, amongst the mass of other Egyptian papyri found, are there any other 2nd century documents or letters indicating specfically Christian individuals or practices. Applying this observation back across to the gospel papyri, the consequence is to regard the latter years of any dating range as far more likely to be populated with papyri, than the earlier years would be.

    But Bagnall’s arguments are inherently weak, they rely entirely on an absence of contrary evidence; when as we all agree, absence of evidence can never provide conclusive evidence of absence. One finding of a clear dated contradictory example, and the argument collapses. This would especially be true in this instance, as finding a clear 1st century Christian papyrus in Egypt – such as a fragment of Mark – would reinforce sound 2nd century dating for some half dozen other Christian ‘biblical’ papyri. Maybe we ought not to expect Christian references in documentary papyri, and would not have found any such, even in those other Roman provinces where we know there to have been many Christians in this period? There clearly must have been substantial numbers of Christians, and gospel papyri, somewhere in the 2nd century Empire. What Bagnall needs, and does not have, is clear contrary Egyptian evidence for early Christianity; say, an early 2nd century letter remaking that while Christians are plentiful in Pontus, they are totally absent in Egypt. ,

    • What Nongbri has shown is that at the moment we cannot fix a precise date for fragments such as P52 and others. This is what I want explained in my labels at the Rylands: it’s a mirage to have P52 dated around 125 AD as some did in the past and the Library put on those disgraceful labels. Of course it would be another mirage to fix it to let’s say 280 AD.
      Again I see your points, but the new Mark fragment – if ever exists – will not solve any of your problems. Bagnall does not say that Christians were absent from Egypt, he says that on the basis of our evidence they were few: and I would agree. New evidence could come out but that is what we have at the moment.
      As for 2nd century Asia Minor we don’t know about numbers, what we know is that winner Paul visited some cities there and that Christians posed a threat/problem to some communities and the Roman authority intervened. So we have voices from there.
      Low numbers of Christians before Constantine’s conversion are perfectly reasonable: I am puzzled by the fact that some Christians nowadays need to have an ancient world full of Christians in order to be happy about their own history and strengthen their faith, which must be indeed very weak if they have such needs.

      • As to changing the labeling of the P52 exhibit, Roberta, you have my full support (and while you are about it, can you get them to redo the blow-up photographs alongside, which are now so darkened as to be illegible).

        If I may crave you indulgence on a rather more general issue, I think that the debate around these matters is clouded by an incoherent understanding of what a dating range means. I don’t know how statistically sophisticated Colin Roberts was at the stage in his career when he published P52, but his dating conclusions (which Nongbri quotes with apparent approval) are explicitly couched in terms of confidence and probability; “we may accept with some confidence the first half of the second century as the period in which P. Ryl. Gk. 457 was most probably written”. In terms of current scholarly conventions therefore, Roberts’s dating ranges are ‘confidence intervals’; and do not exclude the likelihood of some
        papyri with the paleography identified, nevertheless having a date outside the range. I take Nongbri’s main argument being that certain non-specialists (often with a faith-agenda) have taken these confidence intervals and treated them as absolute limits.

        But it is also fundamental to the application of confidence intervals that no specific value within the upper and lower ranges can with confidence be stated as being any more likely than any other. So translating Roberts’s “first half of the second century’ to ‘c.125 AD’ is plain wrong; but so too would be a dating ‘range’ that extended to include the whole of what Nongbri terms; “the window of possible dates”.

  13. I note that Brent Nongbri himself posted this on Bart Ehrman’s blog; and I find all the key points in my long-winded posts much better expressed:

    “Hi Bart,
    I agree with you that, in text critical terms, this fragment will probably not tell us too much that’s new. But I think whicks1 has a point–not so much that Mark may have been written in Egypt but rather the fact that Mark might have been circulating in the chora (where these masks are generally thought to originate). Unless you’re really convinced of the early second century dates sometimes ascribed to P52, P90, P104, etc., there really is no evidence for the existence of Christian communities in the Egyptian chora even in the second century. A first century papyrus of Mark floating around in the Fayum or elsewhere south of Alexandria would thus be pretty big news for the history of Christianity in Egypt, no? But whether the fragment is actually from the first century…well, we’ll just have to wait and see the evidence. As for the 2017 publication date, I don’t think it’s too cynical to posit a connection to the planned opening of the Bible Museum in D.C. in autumn 2017.”

  14. I noticed in this video, the palm olive soap that McDowell later references, and the phrase “we own it” that McDowell abuses.

    I also noticed among the participants Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, the erstwhile provost at Baylor who was brought in by former president Robert Sloan along with such luminaries as “Intelligent Design” proponent William Dembski.

    Jeffrey made a reputation at Baylor for arguing that academic freedom is a “strategic initiative” … “consistent with a subversion of traditional religious authority” (The Bible and the University, 2007). Jeffry tried to get a new phase inserted into Baylor’s academic freedom policy, barring research or teaching advocating “practices that are inconsistent with Baptist faith or practice”. It is to Baylor’s credit that the faculty senate voted down this attempt with virtual unanimity.

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