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Mark (Qumran fragments)

See also Quern (Mark Fragments)

MARK (Qumran fragments). On 10 March 1972, UPI broke the news to the world that a Spanish Jesuit scholar and papyrologist, Jose O’Callaghan, founder and director of Studia Papyrologica, while working at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, had identified several NT fragments among the DSS of Cave 7. The detailed account of O’Callaghan’s findings on three possible NT fragments (Mark 4:28; 6:52, 53; James 1:23, 24) was published in Biblica (vol. 53, Fasc. 1 [1972], 91-100) with promise of further articles. Scholarly response has been mixed, from enthusiastic acceptance to strong denunciation. Unless a more unambiguous text in the fragments is found, final consensus may never be reached on O’Callaghan’s thesis.

In 1955 Cave 7 in the Qumran area yielded nineteen small papyrus fragments containing Gr. writing on one side, which were published in 1962 in the series entitled Discoveries in the Judean Desert by J. T. Milik (Vol. 3, Petites Grottes de Qumran by M. Baillet, et al., 142-146; and Planches, xxx). Two fragments were identified at the time of publication (Exod 28:4-7; Ep Jer 43, 44) and the other seventeen were left unidentified. At the time of publication the British paleographer, C. H. Roberts, had dated some of the unidentified fragments at 100 b.c. to a.d. 50 on the basis of the style of the letters.

Dr. O’Callaghan claims that he has identified fragment no. 5 (7Q5) with two vv. in the gospel of Mark (6:52, 53). His conclusion is based on an extremely fragmentary scrap of papyrus one and one-half inches long by one inch wide containing four lines of text with only one certain word (“and”) and about eighteen letters, nine of which are uncertain. Furthermore, to support the connection with Mark, O’Callaghan must make some questionable alterations of clear letters and assume his own identification of other illegible letters. The same procedure is followed when he connects the NT with several of the other fragments.

Dating is still another problem. While the script used in 7Q5 (Zierstil) may be dated approximately from 50 b.c. to a.d. 50, O’Callaghan takes the later date because it best fits his Markan theory, although he recognizes the earlier date is just as possible.

In favor of the Markan identification of 7Q5 stands the high reputation of Dr. O’Callaghan as a papyrologist and the quite different nature of the materials from Cave 7 compared to those of the other caves; namely, that Cave 7 contains all papyrus fragments and all Gr. writing which is the supposed nature of early Christian documents.

On the other hand, there are a number of factors which raise serious questions over the NT identifications. In the first place, there is no unambiguous word in any of the fragments except the extremely common word “and.” O’Callaghan must identify a number of imperfect, defective, and illegible letters and accord them the same certainty as the clear ones. Further, he must assume the same stichometric arrangement on the supposed NT fragments which are found on the Exodus and Epistle of Jeremiah fragments dated 150 years earlier. Also his fragmentary text of 7Q5 must omit three words from the vv. in Mark 6:52, 53 which no other Gr. MS omits. Add to these the improbability of four different MSS of Mark being together in the same cave. Finally, Father O’Callaghan must accept, instead of “d,” a clear letter in 7Q5 reading “t,” without any precedent in Gr. MSS of the NT.

Until further evidence can remove these ambiguities, it is fruitless to talk about the implications to NT studies of a Markan fragment in the middle of the 1st cent. a.d. At present such an identification is no more than a theory that must be studied thoroughly by scholars and either come into wider acceptance or be replaced with a better one concerning these fragments.


D. M. Estrada, “On the Latest Identification of New Testament Documents” in The Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 (May, 1972), 109-117; Eternity Magazine, July, 1972, contains articles by David Estrada, William White, Jr., F. F. Bruce, and first reactions of a number of scholars; “Eyewitness Mark?” in Time, May 1, 1972, 54, 55; W. L. Holladay, Translations of O’Callaghan and Mantini’s original articles in Journal of Biblical Literature Supplement to Vol. 91 [1972], no. 2; Martini, “Note sui papiri della grotta 7 di Qumran” in Biblica, Vol. 53, Fasc. 1 [1972], 101-104; J. T. Milik, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. 3, 2 parts: Part one is Petites Grottes de Qumran by M. Baillet, et al.; part two, Planches (cf. xxx); Jose O’Callaghan, “Papiros neotestamentarios en la cueva 7 de Qumran?” in Biblica, Vol. 53, Fasc. 1 [1972], 91-100; G. E. Wright, “Are New Testament Manuscripts to be Found Among the Dead Sea Scrolls? Report of Discussion,” Newsletter No. 11, June 1972, American Schools of Oriental Research.