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As a general rule, earlier manuscripts get us closer to the original text than later manuscripts because there are assumed to be fewer copies between them and the autographs (the original copies of the NT writings, most likely lost to history).Naturally, this news of a first-century copy of Mark generated a great deal of interest.Obbink and Colomo admit in the edition that the handwriting is difficult to date. It contains a few letters on each side from verses 7–9 and 16–18 of Mark 1.Scott Carroll stated that P137 is indeed the manuscript he had spoken about as “first-century Mark,” and Dan Wallace finally broke his six-year silence on the matter. Lines of writing preserved on each side indicate that this fragment comes from the bottom of the first written page of a codex—a book rather than a scroll.It should be stated, however, that we have no shortage of New Testament manuscripts.There are about 5,300 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament of various sizes and dates.The manuscript has finally been published, but some are disappointed because it is not what they were hoping for: It’s not from the first-century. Instead, it was published in the latest installment of the series by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) with the identifier P. Since the first volume was produced in 1898, only about one percent of the collection has been published.The fragment, designated P137, was not published in a Brill volume as Wallace had predicted, nor is it part of the holdings of the Museum of the Bible in Washington D. Among the papyri are biblical texts, apocryphal texts, classical texts, tax receipts, letters, and even a contract that stipulates the pre-determined outcome of a wrestling match.
Additionally, early manuscripts of Philemon are rare, and P139 is among the earliest.The publication of P137 was prepared by Oxford papyrologists Daniela Colomo and Dirk Obbink.Although news releases from the EES about individual papyri are highly unusual, the organization issued a statement last week reporting that P137 was excavated probably in 1903, that Obbink had previously shown the papyrus to visitors to Oxford, and that it had been preliminarily dated to the first century.A first-century fragment of Mark’s gospel would be significant for several reasons. 200 is a rare and remarkable find, much less one written before the early 100s.First, the earliest substantial manuscripts of the New Testament come from the third century. Second, early fragments of Mark’s gospel are scarce.