ARCHAEOLOGISTS at a Baptist theological college in Canada
believe that they have uncovered the oldest known copy of a Gospel
- inscribed on a fragment of papyrus used to make an Ancient
Egyptian mummy mask.
The discovery was made by a team at the Acadia Divinity College,
Wolfville, in Nova Scotia. The papyrus fragment contains a text
from the Gospel of St Mark, and appears to have been written in the
first century AD - at least ten years older than the earliest
surviving copies of the Gospel.
The mummy masks of pharaohs were usually fashioned out of gold,
but those worn by ordinary people were made of papyrus or linen,
and glue. People usually reused sheets because papyrus was
expensive. Scientists have recently developed a way to dissolve the
glue, allowing them to separate sheets of papyrus.
"We're recovering ancient documents from the first, second, and
third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical
documents, but . . . personal letters," Craig Evans, a professor of
New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College, told the website
The researchers are analysing the texts to discover how biblical
texts were copied, and whether there were any alterations to the
Gospel of St Mark over time. "We have every reason to believe that
the original writings and their earliest copies would have been in
circulation for a hundred years in most cases; in some cases, much
longer," Professor Evans said.
The fragment of the Gospel of St Mark in question was dated
through a combination of carbon-14 dating, a study of the
handwriting, and an analysis of the documents found in the same
mask. This led researchers to conclude that the fragment was
created before the year AD 90.
Some scholars question whether or not the destruction of the
mummy masks is worth the recovery of the documents used to make
them. Professor Evans argues that the masks are not
"museum-quality" pieces, and some are simply pieces of