On May 22, 2012 I published a post on this website about the potential of a First Century manuscript fragment of the Book of Mark. (You can find that post here). Now it seems that we are getting closer to validating that find. These things take peer-review and that takes lots of time, but LiveScience.com posted an article with more details about this discovery. (You can find that article here.)
It turns out that the manuscript pages of the book of Mark were used as something like a paper mache (or more appropriately a papyri mache) Egyptian mask. The mask, like the one pictured in this post, was much like the more popular gold masks only for those of a lower income. Even then, papyri was expensive so it made sense to use recycle papyri. It's just going to be painted anyway, right? Dr. Craig Evans has reported that he has found numerous documents contained in the recycled papyri in these masks, including business documents, classical greek works, and this very special manuscript of Mark.
Why is this a big deal?
Here's why. It's a document of Mark that's much closer to the original. Critical scholars will often argue that the Gospels were written hundreds of years after the event. This manuscript disputes those claims. It's also fascinating where it was found. It would seem that in order for the document to turn up in Egypt, it had to have been copied from another source (or the original) sometime earlier.
This is a remarkable find and will likely shake up the academic world as this makes its way through peer review. Keep your eyes open and on the lookout for more information to come.
*The mask pictured in this post is an Egyptian funerary mask located in a museum in Vienna, Austria. The photo is in the public domain.