Not long ago, James White and several others had commented on a brief video by Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. That video seemed to have drawn its information from a Josh McDowell video that showed some pretty “unprofessional” handling of these new manuscripts.
Now another publication, again relying on a more in-depth interview with Evans, seems to have some more detailed information about how these manuscripts were obtained:
A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published.
At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200).
This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.
In recent years scientists have developed a technique that allows the glue of mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper. The text on the sheets can then be read.
The first-century gospel is one of hundreds of new texts that a team of about three-dozen scientists and scholars is working to uncover, and analyze, by using this technique of ungluing the masks, [Evans said].
"We're recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters," Evans told Live Science. The documents include philosophical texts and copies of stories by the Greek poet Homer.
The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said. When the glue was dissolved, the researchers dated the first-century gospel in part by analyzing the other documents found in the same mask….
Evans says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90. With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can't say much more about the text's date until the papyrus is published….
Because these “papier-mâché” masks have some archaeological value, Evans noted that “when the texts are published the debate is likely to move beyond the blogosphere and into mainstream media and scholarly journals.”
Evans said that the research team will publish the first volume of texts obtained through the mummy masks and cartonnage later this year. It will include the gospel fragment that the researchers believe dates back to the first century.
The team originally hoped the volume would be published in 2013 or 2014, but the date had to be moved back to 2015. Evans said he is uncertain why the book's publication was delayed, but the team has made use of the extra time to conduct further studies into the first-century gospel. "The benefit of the delay is that when it comes out, there will be additional information about it and other related texts."
Given that the earliest Christians were likely to be the poorest of the poor, all of this seems more than plausible to me. Scripture fragments thrown in with other papers by unbelieving relatives to create a burial mask. There could be some exciting news ahead.