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The Gospel Of Mark And The Qumran Caves


J.L. McKinley



In 1972 Spanish papyrologist Jose O’Callahan made an astounding discovery. This discovery was so significant that it made headlines around the world. Among Greek fragments that were discovered in 1955 among the Qumran caves were possible fragments of the Gospel of Mark. The New York Times reported that if "O’Callahan’s theory is accepted it would prove that at least one of the gospels was written only a few years after the death of Jesus." The Chicago Tribune acknowledged that the discovery would revolutionize "biblical research." UPI noted that these findings indicate that "the people closest to the events–Jesus’ original followers–found Mark’s report accurate and trustworthy, not myth but true history" (The First New Testament; D Estrada, W. White; pp. 23-24).


The first of the several New Testament texts to be identified was called 7Q5. This fragment is believed to contain Mark 6:52-53. The size of the fragment is 3.9 cm high and 2.7 cm wide. The document contains 20 letters, partly fragmentary, covering five lines. Like the other fragments found on cave 7, it was written in Greek only on one side, indicating that it was at one time a part of a scroll.


It is agreed that the Qumran caves were abandoned in AD 68 when the Roman Tenth Legion over ran the area. Thus, all the finds connected with the caves automatically pre-date AD 68. In 1962 C. H. Roberts analyzed the fragments using paleographical dating. This method for determining dates is carried out by comparing unknown fragments with the characteristics of known dated documents. By studying the style of writing the experts can determine whether the style represents a certain time frame. The unbiased verdict of C. H. Roberts was that it should be dated between 50 BC – AD 50. This determination was unbiased because the texts had not yet been identified.


Up until O’Callahans announcement the oldest papyri fragment was the P 52 at John Rylands University Library. This fragment which was discovered in Egypt contains a small portion of the Gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38). It too was analyzed by C. H. Roberts, who placed it as being written within the first quarter of the second century.


O’Callahan’s curiosity was peaked by four letters–nnes–in line four. Immediately he thought of the word Gennesaret, but the one reference in the LXX did not match with the surrounding words in the 7Q5 fragment. He then turned to the New Testament and discovered that not only did one passage have ‘Ge[nnes]aret,’ but it also fitted all the other characteristics of the 7Q5 fragment. It’s important to note that since that initial discovery, O’Callahan had identified other New Testament texts among the Qumran fragments from James, I Timothy, Acts, Romans and II Peter.

The best work available concerning the technical and historical aspects of this discovery can be found in a book by C. P. Thiede called The Earliest Gospel Manuscript.



Many have not heard of this discovery because the standard commentaries mostly used today pre-date O’Callahans announcement. Such being the case, their introductions do not contain this new information. However, many in religious circles have given this discovery the cold shoulder. If it is accepted as true, it causes many of the theories concerning the Synoptic Problem to become suspicious. Methods of Criticism claiming the Gospels originated from anonymous authors using early sources rather than eyewitnesses are no longer ‘assured.’ With evidence of a Gospel written as early as AD 50 liberal theology and skeptical agendas are shattered! Statements from atheists like G. A. Wells who affirms "Mark’s Gospel...was written outside Palestine, not earlier than AD 70, quite possibly sometime later," are destroyed (The Jesus Myth; pp. 129).


Such an early date provides a safeguard against arguments that the Gospels are full of embellishments and legends. The presence of the apostles and eyewitnesses would have prevented any falsification in the written documents. Even the apostles themselves warned against perverting the Gospel message. The existence of the Jewish Sanhedrin was also a powerful force in preventing embellishments for apologetical purposes. This is why skeptics wish to date the Gospels after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Without the presence of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, the Christians would have been free to embellish without being hindered by the facts. We should expect that early Christian documents found their way into the hands of the Jewish high council. In fact, the large amount of manuscripts we possess today of New Testament writings compared to other ancient literature reveals that the Christian community was eager to copy and distribute as many copies as possible. The more copies in circulation would have raised the chances of copies being acquired by the enemies of the Church. Had the Jewish leaders been able to find a single falsehood they would have used it to bring discredit upon the preaching of the apostles. Since none was detected at the time when witnesses were present, we should not accept the conclusions of rationalists 2000 years removed from the event.


The power of the New Testament not only resides in the fact that it is the inspired word of God, but also in the fact that, unlike other so-called holy books (Koran, Book of Mormon, etc), it can be shown to be trustworthy from a purely historical investigation. Indeed, the events contained in the Gospels were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26).


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