The earliest fragment of the Gospel of Mark, dating between A.D. 150 – 250, was recently published by the Egypt Exploration Society from a Greek papyrus.
Although it is the earliest known example ever found of the book of Mark, it has still disappointed some Bible scholars, because they thought it might have dated even older — to the first century.
It is believed the earlier writings of the New Testament Gospels were no doubt shared by Christians and congregations. Finding any of these first-century writings today would bring the reader closer to the original manuscripts. Unfortunately, the original letters and manuscripts that make up the New Testament have been lost to history.
According to Christianity Today, the newly released Mark manuscript was found in the form of papyri in an ancient Egyptian garbage dump between 1896 and 1906. The papyri include biblical texts, apocryphal texts, classical texts, tax receipts, letters, and even a contract that stipulates the pre-determined outcome of a wrestling match. Only about one percent of what was found at the site has been published.
Some of this collection now resides at the Museum of the Bible located in Washington, D.C.
The Mark fragment is tiny, measuring only 4.4 x 4 centimeters. Christianity Today reports (LINK) that it contains only a few letters on each side of the papyri from the verses 7 -9 and 16 – 18 of Mark 1, indicating it was in the form of a book rather than a scroll.
Also published in the latest release of manuscripts from the ancient dump is a third-century papyrus of Luke 13: 25-30 and a fourth-century papyrus of Philemon 6 – 8 and 18 -20, which is rare and is among the earliest ever found.
View the publication and the images of the Mark manuscript here.