Well, it has been six years since the announcement that an apparent first century fragment of Mark's Gospel had been discovered, a topic of debate that I have followed closely since the news first broke. It was announced by Dan Wallace during a debate with Bart Ehrman back in 2012. Following the announcement, the academic community began to scratch its head: Where is this fragment? Who owns it? Who has dated it? Is it being published? If so, where is it being published?
Wallace has refused to provide any details, because he indicated he was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement not to talk about the fragment. Given the lack of details, some even surmised that the fragment simply did not exist. Answers to some of the questions became apparent (or somewhat apparent) only after years of public inquiry, largely based on bits of information pieced together from the internet.
The obvious significance of a first-century fragment of Mark is that it would be the first-known manuscript of the Greek New Testament (GNT) to exist. Craig Evans reported that this fragment was “dated to the 80s” (see here also) and I told CNN in 2015 that this was rubbish, based on how scholars date manuscripts according to the handwriting (=palaeography).
Today, Elijah Hixson posted a blog post over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog about a Markan fragment that is to appear as no. 5345 in the 83rd volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series. The initial post questions whether or not this fragment is the same fragment as the so-called “first century fragment of Mark.”
Dan Wallace, who first announced the discovery of this fragment, has finally broken his silence and responded to Hixson’s post, verifying that P.Oxy. 83.5345 is indeed the fragment he was referring to back in 2012. Significantly, this fragment has now officially been dated to the second/third century, as indicated in a draft of the publication shown on the ETC blog.
Wallace admits that he was “urged to make the announcement [of the fragment] at the debate.” I wonder: who urged him and for what reason? Could it have been for financial reasons?
I ask this question because Scott Carroll (on whom see here, here and here) contributed comments to Hixson’s post indicating the following:
“D. Obbink offered a papyrus of Mark 1 for sale in late 2011 to the Greens and it was still in his possession and he was trying to sell it in 2013. On both occasions, he unequivocally said that the papyrus dated to the late first or early second century and detailed reasons for his dating.”
So, based on Carroll’s comments, Dirk Obbink, the co-editor of the Markan fragment, was apparently trying to sell off this fragment for a few years. [Side note: Wallace claims in his post that he learned later the famous papyrologist who dated the fragment to the first century already adjusted his views about the dating prior to Wallace's announcement of its discovery in 2012. Carroll's comment indicates that Obbink was still arguing for a first century date in 2013, a year after the initial announcement. So, we need clarification here.] According to Hixson’s post, the Greens were “possibly inline to purchase it,” but the transaction never took place.
I have not seen the full publication or an image of this fragment [UPDATE: image of the papyrus is at the top of this post], so I cannot make any real judgments about dating, etc. But, I would be interested in knowing how Obbink got his hands on an Oxyrhynchus papyrus (presumably) outside of the Oxhyrhynchus collection, and who gave him the authority to sell it. If what Carroll says is true, Obbink was in the business to make money off this papyrus. Could it be that the manuscript was purchased by Obbink and that he finally sold it to the EES and it ended up in the Oxyrhynchus collection? Or, could the Oxyrhynchus collection/EES have been attempting to deaccession this fragment in an attempt to raise money (this seems very improbable to me)?
If Carroll's assertations are true, does the fact that we are now seeing this fragment in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series undermine the integrity of the series? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
I want more answers to the questions raised above before I say anything else. But, I will say this: some people/groups apparently missed the mark (no pun intended) by more than a century or two!
UPDATE: The EES has issued a statement about P.Oxy. 5345 and uploaded the section of the publication which includes the editio princeps of the manuscript along with an image. See here.