This issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY marks the end of our seventeenth year. During this semi-score and seven the magazine seems to have fared better than the world into which it was launched. The United Nations is in disarray, and the World Council of Churches has chartered a new course that is sending the good ship Oikoumene in a direction never intended at the 1948 launching. Globally man is faced with immense problems. The poor nations are getting poorer. The Chinese are seeking desperately to become a nuclear and thus a world power. The Russians are once again stifling dissent at home. The Israelis are busily constructing a defense system against the Arabs, who in turn are using our dependence on their oil to isolate the Jews.

Amid all this there has been a marked decline in morality around the globe, which has been abetted by decadent, complacent, secularized churches. Such churches set their course not by the fixed pole of the Scriptures but according to the vagaries of human opinion. For an illustration of this kind of thinking see my article on homosexuality and the church (page 8), which calls for fidelity to revealed truth and prescriptive ethics.

The Gospel of Mark well deserves the attention it is receiving from modern students of the Bible. A recent book by Jack Finegan of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley added to the swell of interest in Mark even though Professor Finegan’s contribution is in the form of a novel! Finegan’s adventure story, Mark of the Taw (John Knox, 1972), deals with a fictitious Greek papyrus scroll entitled “Of Mark” that he was supposed to have secured in Alexandria, Egypt, during the early days of the 1967 war between Israel and the Arab nations. The book is written so cleverly that one might assume at first reading that such a scroll was actually discovered! Finegan gives his readers imaginative insights into Mark’s life and work that, if true, would certainly be of inestimable importance for biblical study.

Again in 1972 another writer claimed more seriously to have identified Greek papyri scroll fragments from Qumran as belonging to the Gospel of Mark. José O’Callaghan of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome set forth his position in the interesting article entitled “New Testament Papyri in Cave 7 of Qumran.”

After giving careful attention to his theory, I concluded that he failed to demonstrate that Mark’s Gospel was truly in Cave 7 at Qumran. Therefore his discovery of Mark’s Gospel seems to be as “fictitious” as the admittedly fictitious scroll in Finegan’s novel. In an article in Expository Times (Sept., 1972), “The Earliest Fragments of the New Testament,” I raise questions about O’Callaghan’s identifications and give the critical Greek sources.

Article continues below

It is evident that O’Callaghan has since won many adherents for his views. I welcome the opportunity to set forth a few objections to O’Callaghan’s theory in this journal, since the first mention in these pages (issue of March 31, 1972) was sympathetic toward O’Callaghan’s position.

The “fragments of Mark” O’Callaghan used to make his identification are not new. They were published ten years ago as “Unidentified Fragments” from Cave 7 of Qumran. The accompanying map, showing familiar landmarks about Qumran, help the reader to locate Cave 7 in relation to the ruins of Qumran. Cave 7, located at the southern end of the flat ridge on which Qumran is built, is only a stone’s throw from the main buildings of the Qumran community center. It is in the immediate vicinity of Caves 8, 9, and 10.


About a year ago a small sensation was created in the world of biblical scholarship when the media picked up information about an essay written in Spanish and published in the scholarly Roman Catholic journal Biblica. The essay suggested that certain fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls were to be identified with various New Testament writings. The author, José O’Callaghan, who teaches in Rome and Barcelona, puts forward a striking suggestion about the Gospel of Mark. Identifying a tiny fragment from the scrolls with Mark 6:52 and 53 and following the latest possible data suggested by the original auditor in the official Dead Sea Scrolls publication series, he pointed to a date prior to A.D. 50 for the origin of Mark. If his thesis were to prove correct, the results would be revolutionary for New Testament scholarship, since A.D. 50 is at least a decade earlier than almost any scholar would presently date Mark and some twenty or thirty years earlier than the date advocated by many. (The original would have to have been written no later than A.D. 40, since the Qumran fragment could hardly be any closer to the original than this.) Furthermore, O’Callaghan went on to suggest identifications for eight other fragments from Qumran with New Testament writings (three of Mark, one each of Romans, Acts, James, First Timothy, and Second Peter), all of them dated before A.D. 100. The implications of these suggestions are sweeping.
Article continues below
O’Callaghan’s suggestions were received very cautiously by biblical scholars, even by conservatives who would, understandably, be only too glad to welcome new evidence that would push the writing of the Gospels back to an early period in the Church’s history. A few, however, embraced O’Callaghan’s “discoveries” with open arms and pressed his conclusions into the service of Christian apologetics. Thus one well-known evangelical scholar commented:
The discovery is colossal! I think there is no question that Dr. O’Callaghan’s main points will stand up under investigation.…
The confirmation of an early date for the Gospel of Mark both in its reporting of the words of Jesus and in its narrative sections is a heavy blow at negative criticism. An early date for Acts, James and Romans does not so much upset current theories, but nevertheless it is a welcome support for the evangelical position.
Another writer wrote: “If [O’Callaghan] is correct, all contemporary Barthian and Bultmannian views of the New Testament’s formation will come crashing down in one inglorious heap.” But the more typical reaction was that, in view of the fragmentary nature of the evidence and the uncertainty of O’Callaghan’s reconstruction, it was best to suspend judgment until the material could be thoroughly examined by a variety of scholars.
O’Callaghan’s work has now been checked by a number of scholars, and nearly all have concluded that his suggestions are extremely unlikely (for reasons similar to those given in Professor Vardaman’s article). Scholars such as C. H. Roberts, G. Vermes, Frank M. Cross, F. F. Bruce, David Noel Freedman, G. Ernest Wright, Gordon D. Fee, Colin J. Hemer, and others have all gone on record against the probability of these or any other Qumran fragments’ being identified with New Testament documents. It seems likely that their judgment will stand.
This case should serve as a lesson to evangelicals. The desire to defend the trustworthiness of the Word of God is a worthy one, but one must be very careful how this is done. It brings little honor to the cause of the Gospel to use an unproven theory for apologetic purposes. Not only does a hypothesis (which is what O’Callaghan put forward) prove nothing, but it can raise serious questions concerning the truthfulness of one’s position if the data are subsequently shown to have been misinterpreted. Those who are dismayed when the critics of Christianity accept as proven unlikely theories that seem to run counter to the claims of Christian faith should not rush to any hypothesis that seems to support the Christian point of view without the most careful investigation.
Article continues below
One further point needs to be noted. Although O’Callaghan’s hypothesis would demand a radical reorientation of New Testament scholarship in some areas, its implications are not quite as great as some have suggested. On the one hand, if the Gospel of Mark had in fact been written in A.D. 40 rather than in A.D. 60 or 70 or even later, it would not follow that it would therefore necessarily be more reliable. On the other hand, a late date for Mark does not mean that it is unreliable. One must not forget that some of the most radical critics—for example, E. R. Goodenough—have dated all of the Gospels very early while regarding them as essentially untrustworthy, and that many conservative scholars date some of the Gospels as late as A.D. 80 or 90. If one believes in the inspiration of the New Testament writings, the date of an individual book seems relatively unimportant—at least it is not a factor in guaranteeing its reliability. Conversely, if one has made a prior judgment that causes him to reject the central fact taught in the Gospels, i.e., the Incarnation, it seems unlikely that an attempt to push their dating back a couple of decades will lead him to accept them as trustworthy.—W. WARD GASQUE, assistant professor of New Testament, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.

The scrap of papyrus that O’Callaghan identifies with Mark 6:52, 53 is only 1½ by 1⅛ inches. Its small size, of course, does not mean that it could not be a fragment of the Gospel of Mark. I have been studying a seal of King Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12) that is only 9/16 of an inch long and 7/16 of an inch wide. Nevertheless the seal is covered with tiny Greek letters that give repeatedly the full titles of Agrippa: “King Agrippa, Friend of Caesar, Friend of Romans, Pious.” The seal is unquestionably the very seal of the king who killed James the Apostle and who tried to kill Simon Peter. The Greek letters are crowded on the seal so closely that it simply defies the imagination to try to count each occurrence! If O’Callaghan were able to identify a sufficient number of small letters on the fragment in question, scholars everywhere would gladly accept the evidence. But he has not.

O’Callaghan does not restrict his identifications to Mark but thinks he has been able to recognize other fragments of New Testament books in the Greek papyri from Cave 7. He uses extremely small fragments to make these identifications (most no bigger than fingernails!). The number of words and letter groups on each is small. But his methods of identification are questionable, and it was easy to predict that most New Testament scholars would resist his conclusions. Since he promises to provide further evidence in a forthcoming article, we can defer a final judgment until that evidence can be considered.

Article continues below

O’Callaghan is obviously a competent scholar, well acquainted with the esoteric science of Greek paleography. His very competence has doubtless excited the hopes of opponents of Rudolf Bultmann that O’Callaghan would provide them with the exact evidence needed to demolish the positions of the famous German scholar. Indeed, if O’Callaghan had identified a fragment of Mark’s Gospel dating conclusively around A.D. 50, he would have weakened Bultmann’s position considerably. Regrettably, we must continue to dispute with Bultmann using other weapons than by the evidence furnished by O’Callaghan, for it does not stand up. Yet I do find O’Callaghan’s theory stimulating, even though it is unlikely. Let us now consider only a few of the arguments against O’Callaghan’s theory.

1. O’Callaghan has to change the traditional text of Mark considerably to identify Greek materials from Qumran Cave 7 (7Q5 and 7Q6, 1) with Mark’s Gospel. He has to omit in Mark 6:52, 53 the phrase “to the land” [of Gennesareth] in order to crowd the traditional Greek text of Mark into the allowable line space of the papyrus (7Q5) he has identified with Mark. He also has to change the traditional spelling of the Greek expression “having crossed over” (by substituting a “T” for a “D”) to arrive at his identification. Whatever manuscript support (quite slim) O’Callaghan might find for his changed readings, it is not as weighty as the contrary evidence of the best manuscripts (see the eighth edition of Tischendorf and Nestle-Aland).

One might argue that in the case of the tiny fragment of John’s Gospel identified by Roberts in 1935 there were noted slight differences in spelling and word arrangements between the present text of John and the earliest form of that book. But the problem is more serious with the identifications proposed by O’Callaghan.


Raucous John skilled in epiplexis
pounds the pious ears of Pharisees,
stumps the desert to raise a righteous caucus
and clear the streets of unbelief for Jesus.
The locust/honey diet makes him lithe,
the rough leather jerkin shows him humble.
Article continues below
His lungs are purged of cant by desert air,
his Isaianic eyes alert to wonder.
Expert Messiah-watcher, he, not fooled
by desert sharpers greedy for miracles
and promising easy kingdoms, is faithfully
awake to give the inaugural word, “Behold!”

2. There is not enough writing preserved on any of the Greek papyri O’Callaghan uses to make any assured identification of any one of them. If one could establish with confidence that O’Callaghan had correctly identified Mark 6:52, 53 with 7Q5, then one might be prepared to accept some of the other equations proposed by O’Callaghan (that is, that other New Testament papyri are to be found in Cave 7 also). But O’Callaghan has by no means demonstrated that 7Q5 is really Mark 6:52, 53. Hence it is presumptuous to reason as he does and assume that since he has identified the Gospel of Mark from Cave 7, then other New Testament books must be sought in the other tiny scraps from Cave 7.

Even the few letters preserved on the papyrus that O’Callaghan wants to identify with Mark 6:52, 53 are quite difficult to identify. And where the letters are complete enough that one can make some sense out of them, the result is that only very common Greek words such as “the” or perhaps “them” or “and” can be identified. The key words needed to establish O’Callaghan’s theory solidly are simply not complete enough to enable us to be sure. Unfortunately for him, the key words of lines 4 and 5 of the papyrus can easily be understood in ways other than what O’Callaghan suggests. The few preserved letters in line 5 of 7Q5 could be restored as “has been dedicated” (Greek anathesen) instead of “they lashed to shore” as O’Callaghan understands them. And instead of “Gennesareth,” which O’Callaghan finds in line 4, one could restore just as easily some form of the Greek word “begotten,” as the original editor, Baillet, did.

In a penetrating article in the Journal of Theological Studies (Oct., 1972), C. H. Roberts shows that the identifications O’Callaghan made with portions of the New Testament can just as well, if not better, be made with portions of the Old Testament.

3. The fact that the papyri in question come from Qumran makes it improbable that they have any connection with early Christian writings. The facts are quite clear that the overly legalistic Essenes of Qumran were quite distinct from the Christians. In all the vast collections of Essenic materials edited thus far by the scholars who have worked with the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, nothing has been identified as distinctly Christian material. While we must not close our minds to this possibility, there is no good reason to accept it at the present time.

Article continues below

4. The exact date of the papyri in question is not known conclusively. O’Callaghan wanted to say that he could identify the fragments in question as from the Gospel of Mark and followed the editors of Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Volume III (Oxford, 1962) in dating 7Q5 to a period around A.D. 50. But it is important to note what the original editor of the fragment did say: “The writing pertains to the formal script and can be dated between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50.” It is hard to be precise with Greek writings of a formal type. Unless one finds a precise chronological clue, one must allow the broad limits of a century for some writings of this type (as our papyrus). Thus the papyrus in question could antedate the birth of Jesus (as early as B.C. 50), in which case it certainly could not be the Gospel of Mark, or any other New Testament work, for that matter.

5. There still remain uncertainties concerning the accurate reading of the main Greek papyrus O’Callaghan identifies with Mark (7Q5). This uncertainty is due to the poor preservation of the papyrus right at the places where the readings are most critical for his theory. In any case, when one compares the reconstruction of the papyrus by Roberts-Baillet, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, III, with that of O’Callaghan, one immediately notices differences between these authorities. The restoration of the text is therefore quite uncertain. I suggest an alternative reading in the illustration.

The following notes might be helpful on the text at this point:

Line 1. This line is completely undecipherable with any degree of assurance. Only a smear of ink remains in the highest part of the papyrus.

Line 2. One cannot be sure that the word is to be restored as O’Callaghan resores it. AUTOI or TOI are also possible. The following letter is difficult to restore as “E” (eta) as O’Callaghan does. The stance of the letter is quite different from the “E” of line 4. Therefore I suggest (in broken lines) an “A” (alpha) in that position. Parts of this “alpha” seem to be detectable on each side of the lacuna there. Following this lacuna, enough of the next letter seems to be preserved to make doubtful the reading of a “K” (kappa) at that spot.

Line 3. The identity of an “E” (eta) as the first recognizable letter in this line is not certain, since no trace remains of the crossbar of that letter in the section of the papyrus that is preserved sufficiently well to determine the letter’s identity if it were an “Ē” (eta). The first letter could be a “P” (pi).

Article continues below

The form of the “T” (tau) in line 2, with a gently arched, extended crossbar to the left, raises a question concerning the identity of the first Greek letter following the word “KAI” (= “and” in Greek); the letter in question could be a Greek “P” (pi). If so this makes O’Callaghan’s reading “crossing over” impossible, and at best he can salvage only “PERASANTES” (= crossing) out of the text! The “I” (iota) in “KAI” (“and”) in line 3 curves off to the left at the bottom of the letter (cf. the same feature in line 2). This evidence favors the possibility that we must read “P” (pi) instead of “TI” (tau + iota) in line 3.

Lines 4 and 5. Other possibilities for reading the letters here are noted above.

We can confidently say, therefore, that O’Callaghan’s theory remains unlikely. In other words, we are led step by step to the conviction that O’Callaghan has not as yet demonstrated sufficiently that Qumran Cave 7 has yielded fragments of Mark’s Gospel. What we have thus far may be only figments of the imagination instead of fragments of the New Testament.

Bibliographical Note

José O’Callaghan’s original article appeared (in Spanish) in Biblica 53 (1972), pp. 91–100. An English translation was published as a supplement to Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972), No. 2, along with the English translation of an Italian article by Carlo M. Martini, which accompanied O’Callaghan’s in Biblica. Further articles by O’Callaghan appeared in Biblica 53 (1972), pp. 362–67 (on First Timothy), and pp. 517–33 (replying to critics).

The most useful information available to the layman was published in a series of articles by David Estrada, William White, Jr., and F. F. Bruce in Eternity (June 1972) and reprinted as an offprint ($. 50 from The Evangelical Foundation, 1716 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103). The photographs of the Qumran fragments under discussion are excellently produced, and early comments by a number of scholars are included. It should be noted, however, that the weight of academic opinion has not tended to support the views of Estrada and White.

Other important comments include: P. Benoit, “Nouvelle note sur les fragments grecs de la grotte 7 de Qumrân (Planche I),” Revue Biblique 80 (January, 1973), pp. 5–12 (contains clearer photographs of fragments which tell against some of O’Callaghan’s readings); David M. Estrada, “On the Latest Identification of New Testament Documents,” Westminster Theological Journal 34 (1972), pp. 109–17; Gordon D. Fee, “Some Dissenting Notes on 7Q5 = Mark 6:52–53,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (March, 1973), pp. 109–12; Paul Garnet, “O’Callaghan’s Fragments,” Evangelical Quarterly 45 (1973), pp. 6–12; Colin J. Hemer, “New Testament Fragments at Qumran?,” Tyndale Bulletin 23 (1972), pp. 125–28, and “Fragments of Mark at Qumran,” TSF Bulletin 64 (Autumn, 1972), p. 11; C. H. Roberts, “On Some Presumed Papyrus Fragments of the New Testament From Qumran,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 23 (Oct., 1972), pp. 446–47; J. Vardaman, “The Earliest Fragments of the New Testament?,” Expository Times 83 (1972), pp. 374–76; William White, Jr., “O’Callaghan’s Identifications: Confirmation and Its Consequences,” Westminster Theological Journal 35 (1972), pp. 15–20. Estrada and White are more positive toward O’Callaghan’s hypothesis than other scholars mentioned above.

Article continues below

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.