Mark is not only the shortest gospel in the Bible, it is also the earliest. Now, a research team has claimed that they have discovered a fragment of the gospel.
Dated to sometime before 90 A.D., the ancient document could also be the oldest known copy of a gospel. The oldest surviving copies of gospel texts are currently dated between the years 101 to 200 A.D.
More interestingly, the gospel fragment was found in the least expected of all places, in the mask of a mummy. The texts were written on a papyrus that wound up being reused to create a mask for a mummy.
Egyptian pharaohs wore golden masks but it isn't the same for ordinary people who had to make do with masks that are made of papyrus or linen, glue and paint. Since papyrus was expensive, the Egyptians had to settle reusing sheets that already had writings on them.
"If you were a wealthy person, it would be neatly carved, and then perhaps covered with gold leaf and a few jewels," Craig Evans, from the Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, said. "But if you weren't wealthy ... the mummy mask that covered your face would be made out of papier mache."
Scientists were able to come up with a technique that could undo the glue of mummy masks without damaging the ink on the paper making it possible to read the text on the sheets. The first century gospel is among the new texts, which include classical Greek texts, personal letters and business papers dating back from the first to the third centuries, that scientists and scholars analyze using this technique.
Evans said that some of the documents have dates on them so they were able to date the first-century gospel partly by looking at the other documents that were found in the same mummy mask.
Although the researchers' findings have not yet been published, it has the potential to change the scholars' perspective of the Gospel of Mark if it is verified authentic. It could also reveal whether the gospel has changed overtime as well as possibly shed more light on the life and times of the Bible's most important figure, Jesus Christ.
For now though, the scholars have signed a non-disclosure agreement that would limit what they can tell the public about the gospel until their contents are published.