Soon after the 2012 leak, speculation surrounded the methods that the scholars used to figure out the gospel’s age.
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. With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can’t say much more about the text’s date until the papyrus is published…
Although the first-century gospel fragment is small, the text will provide clues as to whether the Gospel of Mark changed over time, Evans said.
His own research is focused on analyzing the mummy mask texts, to try to determine how long people held onto them before disposing or reusing them. This can yield valuable information about how biblical texts were copied 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,” he said.
This means that “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 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.
The team originally hoped the volume would be published in 2013 or 2014, but the date had to be moved back to 2015. Evans said he is uncertain why the book’s publication was delayed, but the team has made use of the extra time to conduct further studies into the first-century gospel. “The benefit of the delay is that when it comes out, there will be additional information about it and other related texts.”