First-Century Mark Manuscript: More News?

The Live Science website is not where most people turn for breaking news on biblical studies, but they have just published a helpful summary of some of the details surrounding the still-yet-to-be-published alleged first-century fragment of Mark’s gospel. A close reading might reveal a couple details not previously known by some readers of this blog. Read the entire article here. Craig Evans appears to be the main source for it. A couple excerpts from the piece (with my own emphasis added) include…

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 analyze, by using this technique of ungluing the masks, said Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia…

The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said. When the glue was dissolved, the researchers dated the first-century gospel in part by analyzing the other documents found in the same mask

Evans said that the only reason he can talk about the first-century gospel before it is published is because a member of the team leaked some of the information in 2012. Evans was careful to say that he is not telling Live Science anything about the first-century gospel that hasn’t already been leaked online

Evans says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90

Evans said that the research team will publish the first volume of texts obtained through the mummy masks and cartonnage later this year. It will include the gospel fragment that the researchers believe dates back to the first century.

Hengel: Luke the Historian (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 6)

The final contribution to this volume examines Luke’s knowledge of Palestinian geography.

Hengel opens by noting that many Greco-Roman historians in antiquity and even educated Jews had very little information about the region, so it should not be surprising if the same is discovered about Luke. His first volume reflects scant interest in geographical details, whereas Acts shows greater effort in this regard. In reviewing the material of Acts, Hengel contends that certain sections show a much greater awareness of the land than other sections do. The two most notable passages demonstrating a high level of knowledge are the account of Paul’s arrest at the Jerusalem temple (Acts 21) and the subsequent journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 22-24), both of which appear in the so-called “we” passages of Acts. According to Hengel, the best explanation to account for the disparity in the level of Luke’s geographical knowledge is that he was present for the events described in the “we” passages.

Hurtado: Why Did Paul the Pharisee Persecute Christians?

Larry Hurtado has a helpful discussion of the reason(s) why Paul persecuted Christians before his conversion, a topic that has long been of interest to me. He engages the recent work of Paula Fredriksen in the process. Personally, I tend to agree with Hurtado that the most significant factor was early Christian devotion to Jesus, devotion so strong that it could even be defined as “worship,” which obviously would’ve struck other Jews as “blasphemous.” I do think, though, that other factors could have played a role. For example, there is the question of why it seems that only certain Christians in Jerusalem were persecuted in those earliest years – the “Hellenists” (led by Stephen), but not the “apostles” (to use Luke’s terms in Acts 6-8). There must have been differences, however slight, amongst the earliest Christians. And then to fast forward 25 years, why is Paul violently opposed by some Jews in Jerusalem, while James (and other Jewish-Christians) are free to practice “Jesus-devotion” without hindrance?

Michael Holmes Named New Director of Green Scholar’s Initiative

It was officially announced today that Mike Holmes has been named executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, and will be overseeing the Museum of the Bible’s research projects around the world. Much has been said about this project, particularly the mysterious (alleged) 1st-century fragment of Mark’s gospel, and we’ve been waiting years to see the first publications from this massive undertaking. As someone who has known Dr. Holmes for a long time, I’m confident that he will do great work leading this task (and maybe that he’ll give me the “inside scoop” on some stuff the next time I bump into him). Here’s the entire release:

Museum of the Bible Expands Staff in Run-Up to 2017 Opening

With construction set to begin this fall on the eight-story, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible, the museum is broadening its team of scholars and experts with new roles and hires. Pedagogical scholar Jerry Pattengale, Ph. D., transitions into the role of executive director of education, allowing him to focus full time on developing Museum of the Bible’s curriculum and pioneering education initiatives. Biblical manuscript authority Michael Holmes, Ph. D., will take on the role of executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, overseeing Museum of the Bible’s research projects around the world.


Pattengale’s background as an innovator in academia is well-suited for this new position. Recognized for his role as a student advocate and efforts to link education with historical research, Pattengale will continue to serve as senior editor of an innovative Bible curriculum for American and international school markets and will initiate future Museum of the Bible forays into the education space. He will also maintain his post as the first University Professor at Indiana-Wesleyan University.


Assuming the role of executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, Holmes will lead a team of researchers and student-scholars at more than 60 universities around the world advancing groundbreaking discoveries on artifacts from the Green Collection. Holmes holds a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also taught New Testament, and continues in his role as University Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity at Bethel University. He is a frequent speaker and international lecturer who has authored 11 books on biblical and early Christian writings.


“As excitement builds around the 2017 opening of Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., our staff’s roles and responsibilities are growing to reach new heights of quality and scope. Drs. Pattengale and Holmes bring world-class expertise in the fields of biblical research and education that will serve our global efforts well for years to come,” said Cary Summers, chief operating officer of Museum of the Bible.

Hengel: Hymns and Christology (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 5)

The penultimate article in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul explores the role of hymns in early christological development. It is filled with numerous helpful insights into first-century Christian worship practices.

Hengel’s starting point is 1 Cor 14:26 – “When you come together, each one has a hymn…” In this instance a hymn is not a previously existing song known to the worshipers but rather a spontaneous “new composition, inspired by the Spirit” (79). Such hymns were an important part of worship in Pauline (and other) communities. This picture is also confirmed by the evidence of two “deutero-Pauline” letters: Colossians 3:16ff and Ephesians 5:18-20, the latter of which is dependent on the former, in Hengel’s judgment. The threefold references in both letters to ψαλμοῖς ὕμνοις ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς do not refer to different genres of song, but to one and the same kind. The author(s) is simply using the three most significant LXX terms for the religious song.

Throughout the NT, hymns to Christ are far more common than hymns to God. Hengel demonstrates that early Christian interpretation of the saving activity of Christ is the driving force behind the creation of hymns. Some of this originally involved reflection on messianic psalms, particularly Ps 110, as indicated by texts such as Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 7:24-25; and 1 Pet 3:18-22. This activity was present in pre-Pauline communities, even in the earliest Jerusalem community. The resurrection experiences of the earliest Christians led them to the conviction that God had enthroned Jesus at his right hand, which consequently led to reflection on OT passages such as Ps 110.

The most common theme in early christological hymns is the intrinsic connection between the salvific death and subsequent exaltation of Jesus, which gave them a “marked narrative character” (93). Even more than earliest Christian prayer, the hymn to Christ had a “didactic” character and thus played a formative role in christological development. It served as a “living medium” for the progressive development of christological thinking, a development that eventually entailed the idea of pre-existence before creation, mediation at creation, and the incarnation itself. So what began as reflection on messianic psalms would eventually lead to the Johannine prologue.

Hengel: ‘Christos’ in Paul (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 4)

The fourth essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul examines Paul’s use of the term “Christos” (Χριστός). Even more than in the previous articles this one has a disjointed feel, as Hengel frequently jumps from one topic to the next without drawing clear connections.

The article opens with a bevy of statistics showing Paul’s preference for the word “Christos” when referring to Jesus. In fact, over half of the NT uses appear in the Pauline epistles. However, Hengel notes that this preference is more of a riddle to be solved than a key for unlocking Paul’s christology.

Even in 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s earliest letter, “Christos” seems to be used in a stereotypical fashion, thus indicating that the title had been established much earlier as a generic way of referring to Jesus. Furthermore, Paul never attempts to prove that Jesus is the Christ; it is presupposed. For Paul, though, “Christ” is as much a personal name as “Jesus” is. That Paul was aware that “Jesus” was the real proper name is evident by the fact that the confessions he uses are “Lord Jesus Christ” or “Lord Jesus,” but never “Lord Christ” (aside from Rom 16:18, which can be explained by the context). His use of “Lord Jesus Christ” has a similar form to that of Roman rulers (e.g., “Imperator Caesar Augustus”) or Hellenistic kings (e.g., “King Antiochus Epiphanes”). “Christos” points toward the crucified Jesus as the “eschatological bringer of salvation.”

My biggest complaint about this essay is that it doesn’t claim much. It’s essentially, “Paul preferred ‘Christos’ to refer to Jesus, though ‘Christos’ carries no significant meaning for Paul.”


Hengel: Origins of the Christian Mission (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 3)

The third essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul addresses the origins of the Christian mission. In doing so, he makes 5 main points, though I would question the sequence in which he chooses to tackle them:

1) The first secular Roman historians to mention Christianity (i.e., Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius) give the impression of a rapidly expanding religious movement (superstitio).

2) The Pauline mission was an unprecedented event in scope, both in terms of the history of religion and subsequent church history. Two questions are raised: i) Did Paul have his “world-wide” view of mission from the time of his Damascus Road experience, or did he develop it only later?; and ii) What were the basic motives of his mission?

Regarding the first matter, Hengel concludes that it developed only later. This is evident by the fact that Paul spent the first 14 years of his “Christian” life in the regions of Cilicia and Syria, and he operated under the authority of the Antioch church. It was only after the Jerusalem Council and his break with Barnabas and the Antioch church (cf. Gal 2:11-14) that he came to see his mission in “world-wide” terms.

On the second question, Paul was driven largely by his eschatological convictions and his view of salvation history (cf. Rom 9-11): the full number of Gentiles must convert before God’s eschatological purposes could be fully actualized.

3) The initial impulse towards a mission to non-Jews came from the “Hellenists” (i.e., Greek-speaking Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem, who were led in this direction by connecting Jesus’ critique of Torah and his activity helping outcasts with their own situation in the Diaspora. This happened upon their flight from Jerusalem in the aftermath of Stephen’s stoning.

4) The earliest Christian community in Palestine was a missionary community from its inception, the foundation of which is found in the commissioning given to them in their experience of the risen Christ. Jerusalem, as the eschatological center of Judaism, thus became the headquarters of the movement. That the first Christians were focused on missions, albeit to their fellow Jews only, is also evidenced by the office of “apostle” (one who is sent), which pre-dated Paul.

5) The ultimate basis of the Christian mission lies in the messianic activity of Jesus himself, whose own mission was the starting point for that of his followers.