More Thoughts on the Markan Manuscript Fragment

This picture has been making headlines around the Biblioblogosphere and academic community boards on

James McGrath brings up the fact that this picture was first circulated on D.M. Murdock’s message boards.  Interestingly, however, the fragment has (surprisingly) been transcribed correctly by her (though her eisegesis of the text is terrible and her correlations are nothing short of parallelomania). Still, the picture has no provenance and there is no provided moniker which is shocking (especially if such a find is legitimate; the first thing that should have happened was for the institution to issue a moniker for it and designate a group of experts to investigate it).

Here is a side by side I made of the uncial script next to the fragment (all graphics below were made by me unless otherwise specified):

And here is the overlay:

The text is of Mark 5.15-18 for those who were unaware.

A couple of thoughts:

  • First the fragment looks crisp and the text sharp.  This has been pointed out by Jim West and others, though I’ve seen the DSS’s and they look crisp and the text looks sharp (though admittedly they are still more faded than this).  Compare this fragment with the Isaiah Scroll and you’ll see a very clear difference.   Compare also to this uncial Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5072.
  • Against the authenticity of the fragment, anyone who has seen a scroll or manuscript will note that this fragment is missing scribal lines (like the lines on lined paper found in notebooks everywhere).  They appear in the two examples I gave earlier (closeup is below).  Not every papyrus has the lines this clear, but even if the lines were not present, one can clearly see that the script on the fragment changes in size and varies in placement (it is not in a straight line which is what one expects and the rows are not evenly spaced).

  • Another problem, as others have already brought to the attention of the community, is the differences in the letters; they are extremely inconsistent.  There are three different versions of alpha in the fragment alone which suggests a hand that is unfamiliar with the language.
  • There are some reasons why I would stress caution before immediately jumping on ‘fake’:
    • I would imagine that even forgers would do a better job than this; especially expert forgers who have been doing this sort of thing for years in markets where they expect to find experts (heck I could do a better job than this), so that might suggest that this is an authentic piece.  Or it might just prove that the forger was an amateur or simply didn’t care about his accuracy and just wanted to make a quick buck off a gullible tourist who wouldn’t know the difference.
    •  What really makes me pause is how the Greek of this lines up.  A forger, I suspect, would just copy off existing Greek manuscripts of Mark (from any of the codices–like the Sinaiticus or the Vaticanus–online which are easy to come by; just find it, print out a sheet, and copy onto papyrus) but these are not lined up according to the columns on any of the codices I’ve looked over.  This might mean that, if it is a forgery, then the forger could have used a Greek uncial manuscript that is not known (at least not to me, though might exist somewhere).  The letters aren’t  random, they do match up with Mark 5.  Though again this could just be a sloppy forgery and the forger could have just taken a few letters a line for a few lines to fill in the blank fragment (or a full sheet which they then cut up and distributed as fragments).
  • Finally, there are no fray marks (which has been pointed out elsewhere).  No signs of disintegration or degradation.  I’ve seen a lot of modern papyri (you can get them for a good price on eBay these days); there is no dirt on this fragment and you can clearly see that the edges appear cut rather than having been pulled apart by wear or by time.   I’ve stated before on other blogs and in comments that the piece looks ‘fresh’.

All that said, I have to say it looks fake.  The fact that the papyrus of this fragment is so clean leads me to believe that the papyrus leaf this fragment came from is modern (and you can pick up papyrus with Egyptian iconography or Greek script on them from eBay these days for relatively no cost, add text to the blank parts, cut it up, and sell it for a nice profit).  I’m still going to remain cautious about offering any definitive statement (though others have already made clear their opinions on the matter), but I lean towards forgery on this one.   Time will tell.

Further reading:

14 Responses

  1. The power of the Internet for experts to deliver judgements on exhibits is one of the reasons it exists.

    Of course, the real fragment is being hidden away, so nobody can judge it.

  2. […] is this fragment really from the 1st century? Tom Verenna has posted an initial analysis. For anyone curious about how one analyzes a fragment’s authenticity, it’s an […]

  3. Thanks for the post, Tom. The fact that this piece was posted by a character calling him/herself “GodAlmighty” on a loony internet forum is enough reason, for me, to be sceptical about the fragment.

    I think your link to James’s blog above isn’t the right post; you want the one in which he posted the photograph. Also the first alpha in ARAKA should be read in your transcription.

  4. Thanks for this, Mark! I will make the corrections (though the transcription will have to wait until I have time later). Just a thought, though: I don’t know if it is acceptable to just shrug off images because of where they were posted. If history has taught us nothing else, it has at least taught us that strange things do happen (the Marcus Aurelius ‘rain miracle’ is a good example of this). So it is possible, however unlikely, that on occasion a glimmer of sanity can come from a looney forum post which is why I believe that in instances like this, the case needs to be weighed individually upon its own merit. Still, and I think you’ll agree, there is plenty of reason to be cautious and suspicious. And I am comfortable leaning towards ‘fake’ on this one. Like with the lead codices, there is a lot off about this.

  5. These are all good points. I am deeply uncomfortable with how this is playing out. Anything this controversial should be handled with kid gloves. (Not that there is any reason why there should NOT be a 1st century fragment; but it’s too exciting a possibility NOT to do everything exactly right). The kind of scepticism that we are seeing is precisely WHY you don’t let this sort of info dribble out like this.

    It is very curious that Acharya S got hold of this first. Do we know that this is indeed the fragment?

  6. Either it is a fake that someone purchased ignorantly and is using the publicity of the Markan manuscript to try to regain some losses, someone is attempting to trick people with it, or it is a legitimate fragment. My opinion is that it is more than likely one of the first two options.

    As for D.M. Murdock, that is what really makes this doubly specious. Hardly anything good or useful comes from that site.

  7. […] More Thoughts on the Markan Manuscript Fragment […]

  8. […] Mark Goodacre, Brian Leport, Jim Davila, James McGrath, Tim Henderson, Jim West, Thomas Verenna, etc. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  9. […] In fact it reminds me a lot of the ‘freshness’ I noted with the so-called Markan fragment that hit the blogs a few months back–though admittedly that one looks *very* suspect.  This […]

  10. […] all sorts of nonsense relating to Jesus and the Bible.  When reports appeared online of a new Markan manuscript fragment, I was quick to demonstrate that the fragment was a bad fake.  Prior to that, rumors abounded […]

  11. […] have chimed in with their doubts. I will add my voice to them: “CALL ME THOMAS! (no, not that Thomas; but I’m sure he agrees with me) I’M A […]

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