A team of scientists and scholars claim to have discovered the world's earliest-known version of the Gospel, dating back to the first century A.D., which was found on a sheet of papyrus used to make an ancient mummy's mask in Egypt.
Live Science is reporting that Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, and an associated team of three dozen researchers and scholars have unmasked what is thought to be a written portion of the Gospel of Mark, that possibly dates back as early as 80 A.D.
Although most people think of Egyptian mummy masks being made of gold, Evans explained in a seminar that most ancient Egyptians, that were not pharaohs nor part of ancient Egypt's elite social class, were mummified with masks made out of used sheets of papyrus because that was the most cost efficient way for the families to preserve the bodies of their loved ones.
Because papyrus itself was so expensive, the families often used sheets of papyrus that had already been used to write on. Evans further explained that many pagans, who had no respect for Christians, often used Christian writings to mask their dead loved ones, because they deemed the Christian writings as "trash."
As a new technique was discovered that allows scientists to undo the mummy masks without destroying the centuries-old ink, scientists have been able to uncover many different secular and religious documents. But the one document that has caught Evans attention, is what he believes to be a "fragment" of the Gospel of Mark.
"Where did we find it? We dug underneath somebody's face and there it was," Evans said. " It was from one of these masks that we recovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that is dated to the 80s. We could have a first century fragment of Mark for the first time ever."
Presently, the oldest surviving copies of the Scripture are dated to the second century, between the years 101 to 200 A.D.
Even though it might just be a fragment of the Gospel of Mark, Evans said that the discovery could possibly provide clues as to how the Gospel has changed over time.
"We have every reason to believe that the original writings and their earliest copies would have been in circulation for a hundred years in most cases — in some cases much longer, even 200 years," Evans said. "A scribe making a copy of a script in the third century could actually have at his disposal [the] first-century originals, or first-century copies, as well as second-century copies."
Evans said the documents uncovered as a result of the unmasking of the mummies, including the Gospel of Mark, will be published by Brill Publishers later this year.
"[We have found] other Christian sermons and other things, as well as lots of secular stuff so the work will continue" Evans said. "This is very exciting.
"From a single mask, it's not strange to recover a couple dozen or even more [new texts]," Evans told LiveScience.com. We're going to end up with many hundreds of papyri when the work is done, if not thousands."
Some debate has arisen as to whether it is ethical to unmask the mummies and destroy ancient artifacts solely to analyze what was written on the papyri. However, Evans holds that scientists are not unraveling any high quality masks, and they are working on masks that would not interest any museum.
"We are not talking about the destruction of any museum quality piece," Evans said.