Scholars believe they have found the oldest fragment of the Gospel to date in a mummy mask from first century Egypt. They have dated the papyrus fragment from Mark by comparing the other document fragments used to make the mask. Prior to this discovery, the oldest known texts from the Gospel date back to the second century. This discovery would push that date back to before the year 90 AD.
Mummy masks were made with papyrus, and with the high cost of the material, Egyptians often recycled old texts to save money. In this mask, alongside the Gospel of Mark, were classical Greek texts, business papers, and other things, like personal letters. These reused writings will give us a valuable look into Egyptian history.
Through a relatively new process, scientists are able to dissolve the glue that holds these papyrus pieces together without removing the ink. The mask is destroyed in the process, but the masks that are being used are already damaged pieces that wouldn’t be able to be used in a museum anyway. There is still some debate about using this process and if being able to read these ancient texts is worth destroying a piece of art.
Why this is good for Christians is that scholars will be able to compare this text to other manuscripts we have to ensure authenticity of Scripture. This is done with each finding of a biblical text and has done a lot to give credit to the Bible. Finding older texts that are close in meaning to other manuscripts we have shows our Maker’s hand in carrying His Word to us throughout time.