Researchers claim to have found ancient Gospel of Mark fragment in mummy's mask

PHOTO: Rylands Library Papyrus P52

A group of scientists and researchers are set to publish their discovery of possibly the oldest copy of a text from the Gospel of Mark later this year.

The discovered text was dated all the way to the first century. The oldest surviving biblical copies today are dated only to the second century.

According to Live Science, the fragment text was written on a papyrus that was reused to create a mask worn by a mummy. Usually, ordinary Egyptians wore these types of masks that are made out of papyrus, paint, and glue. Papyrus was expensive at that time and people had to reuse sheets that already had writings on them.

In the recent years, scientists have developed a method of ungluing the masks without damaging the writings on the paper, making the text readable.

According to Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. "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 analyse, by using this technique of ungluing the masks.

"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. The documents include philosophical texts and copies of stories by the Greek poet Homer."

Evan's study on the first-century gospel text will give clues on how the Gospel of Mark has been changed over time. His research is mainly to analyse the texts in the mask to determine the length of time people held on to the sheets before reusing them, which could be the same period biblical texts were copied, Live Science further reports.

"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, even 200 years. This means, that a scribe making a copy of a script in the third century could actually have at his disposal (the) first-century originals, or first-century copies, as well as second-century copies," Evans said.

The researchers will publish their first volume of texts later this year.