From Michael J. Bumbulis
Newsgroups: soc.religion.christian
Subject: Mark Was Probably Written around AD 50
Date: Tue Feb 18 23:34:00 EST 1997
Organization: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH (USA)
Message-Id: 5edvro$

Mark Was Composed Long Before A.D. 70
by Michael Bumbulis, 1997

In the past, I have argued that the best evidence to date points to a 
pre-70 date for the synoptic Gospels.  In making this argument, I drew 
primarily from the internal evidence that is present within Acts.
Now, I would like to offer independent evidence that corroborates such 
an early date for the synoptics.

Such evidence comes from the field of papyrology which is the study of 
ancient manuscript evidence on papyrus.  Papyrologists study the 
contents and writing styles of ancient manuscripts, including fragments 
that might be no larger that the size of a typical commemorative 
postage stamp.  While such a study is not an exact science, papyrology is 
akin to a specialized field in archaeology.  It is one of the primary methods 
by which an unknown manuscript fragment is identified and dated.  For 
example, papyrology was used to date the Johannine codex P66 to ca. 
125 A.D. [1]  Papyrology has also been extensively used to date the Dead 
Sea Scrolls, and the dates arrived at have been largely supported by 
radio-carbon dating [2].

In 1972, Spanish papyrologist Jose O'Callaghan (who is also editor of the 
Palau-Ribes papyrus collection) made an identification of the small 
manuscript fragment that shocked the academic world.  The fragment in 
question is called 7Q5 and was found in Cave 7 among the Qumran 
caves.  Cave 7 is very interesting in that the manuscripts found in this 
cave are all written exclusively in Greek.  Furthermore, archaeological 
evidence exists so that there is a consensus among scholars that this 
cave was closed in A.D. 68. [3] Thus, anything found in this cave would 
unlikely to be dated later than this time.  Yet in the case of 7Q5, a date 
of A.D. 68 would represent an upper-limit, as the text is written in the 
Herodian "decorated" script which dates between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50.  

But what manuscript is represented by 7Q5?  At first glance, making an 
identification is no simple task.  This fragment contains only 20 Greek 
consonants (whole or damaged) on five lines.  The fragment itself is also 
very small, about 4 cm. X 3 cm.  Furthermore, only one complete word 
can be read - the word kai (which means "and").  While these facts 
might seem to suggest that any attempt to identify this fragment is 
futile, it is not uncommon for papyrologists to identify fragments (from 
Virgil, for example) with evidence of this type.

To see how this works, consider a simplified example.  Let's say I wrote 
the following sentences on a piece of paper, copied it several times, and 
then deposited one copy in a cave.

The Original:

               The boy ran to the store.  When he got to the 
               store, he found that it was closed.  Then he ran 

Now, let's imagine a few hundred years go by such that some of the 
writing flakes off the paper.  As a result, my sentences now look like 

After Time:

                   b          the                               
                                       a    lose     en  

Let's further imagine that someone in the future discovers this flawed 
fragment and wants to identify it.  If they possess copies of my original 
sentence that have been passed on through the years, the task would 
not be hard.  They might start with the four letters that spell 'lose' and 
search a database that contains, among many other writings, a copy of 
my original sentence.  Of course, the database-search would also detect 
all writings with the letters l,o,s,e in sequence in addition to my original 
sentence.  The next step would be to start measuring the distance 
between letters and find which of these selected writings also has an "a" 
a specific distance before "lose" and an "en" a specific distance after 
"lose."  My original sentence would probably be the only one detected 
and the identity of the fragment would be discovered.  One could verify 
this claim by making more distance measurements and considering the 
line-placement of all the other letters.  If they all "fit," a conclusive 
identification has been made.  Then, one could draw upon archaeological 
considerations (concerning the place where the fragment was found) 
and a comparative analysis of writing styles of various documents to 
arrive at a date for this fragment.

Again, papyrology is not an exact science (especially when it comes to 
dating), nevertheless, it reminds me of a common method employed by 
molecular biologists.  Molecular biologists often work with gene 
fragments and the genes are represented as a linear sequence of 
molecules known as nucleotides (which are represented by the letters G, 
T, A, and C).  A partial sequence of an unknown gene can be used to 
search a database of other genes and the same logic employed by 
papyrologists is used to determine if the unknown gene belongs to a 
class of known genes from other organisms.  Put simply, a molecular 
biologist will tend to have great sympathy for the approach of the 

When this approach was applied to 7Q5, a revolutionary finding was 
uncovered.  One of the five lines contains a rare combination of letters: 
n/n/e/s.[4]  When this combination was used, along with the other 
known letters and their spacing and line-placement, to search an 
extensive database of Greek literature (including the Septuagint), the 
only good match was found from Mark 6:52-53 (where the n/n/e/s 
would correspond to Gennesaret)!  The match was further strengthened 
by the larger than usual space that occurs before the only complete 
word on 7Q5, kai (translated as "and").  Such spaces were often used by 
ancient scribes to indicate a new "paragraph" or break in the narrative,  
and sure enough, Mark 6:53 begins with "And."  Furthermore, 7Q5 also 
preserves the last letter of the last word before this space, an eta.  Mark 
6:52 ends with this same letter.  As if this wasn't enough, the Greek 
letter "n" was identified in line two following the letters "t/o".  This 
matches nicely with the Greek word "auton" (meaning "their") in verse 
52 [5].

Given the revolutionary nature of this identification, it is not surprising 
that many New Testament scholars have raised objections and very few 
have agreed with the identification.. However, papyrologist Carsten 
Theide has marshalled some very powerful replies to these 
objections[6].  Since it is beyond the scope of this article to get 
bogged down in the details of this technical debate*, I will simply point 
out that the list of papyrologists who agree with the identification of 
7Q5 as Mark 6:52-53 is growing.  Apart from Thiede, who has 
championed this identification, the list includes Sergio Davis, honorary 
president of the International Papyrologist's Association and Orsolina 
Montevechhi, author of the standard introductory manual to 
papyrology[7].  Furthermore, Shemaryahu Talmon, one of the Jewish 
members of the editorial board of the Qumran scrolls also supports this 

All of this means that we do indeed possess independent evidence that 
corroborates a pre-60s date for the synoptic Gospels as indicated by my 
earlier analysis of Acts.  This is significant as it clearly shows the belief 
in Jesus' resurrection cannot date after A.D. 60-65 and thus dates to a 
time when most of Jesus' contemporaries were still alive.  In fact, since 
it is unlikely that the authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke invented the 
resurrection claims, but instead were more likely to have incorporated 
older oral traditions into their Gospels, the resurrection belief is pushed 
back much earlier   Any skeptical theory that depends on a late date for 
the resurrection belief is thus severely damaged.

*I am willing to debate the technical details with those who 
deny 7Q5 is a fragment from Mark.
Ours is one nation, increasingly divisible, with excuses and 
victimhood for all. - Columnist Dick Feagler 

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