There was a lot of news coming out of the world of archeology this week and most of it involved controversies surrounding mummies and masks. One such story is especially significant for Christianity and biblical scholarship.
A team of researchers has apparently found what is believed to be the oldest-known copy of a gospel, a section of the Gospel of Mark dating back to about 90 CE, much older than previously discovered texts. The text was found in a papyrus-wrapped mask of a mummy, believed to be of someone from the ancient world who wouldn’t have been wealthy enough to afford a more adorned and jeweled mask.
The Smithsonian Magazine reports that the gospel section and other discoveries were made possible by a technique that removes the glue from papyrus or linen but keeps any writing in tact:
Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and one of the scientists and scholars working on the project, told Live Science that gospel text isn’t the only writing they’re finding:
“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.
Evans said that the team was able to zero in on the approximate date of the gospel text by using these other documents (some of which were dated), handwriting analysis and carbon dating.
A similar technique might have been at least partly responsible for damage reported to King Tut’s mask this week. The Huffington Post reports:
One of the most priceless treasures in archaeology, the gold funerary mask of King Tutankhamun, was damaged during a cleaning attempt at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Efforts to repair the problem were also botched, according to reports.
The mask’s beard snapped off during an attempt to clean the mask in October. Museum staff stuck it back on using epoxy, which leaked onto the face of the mask and dried. Then, the mask was scratched when the workers scraped off the epoxy, according to Al Araby Al Jadeed, a London-based Arabic news site.