Revisiting Some of Scott Carroll Comments in Light of the “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement

Carroll Atlanta Passages Tov IntroMy last post looked into a couple questions raised by the recently released purchase agreement between Hobby Lobby and Dirk Obbink regarding so-called “First Century” Mark. In this post, I want to explore how these new revelations might demystify some previously cryptic statements by Scott Carroll, both during the time he was associated with the Green Collection and after they parted ways. In the “Passages Speakers Series” of videos, Scott Carroll frequently introduced the sessions in 2011 and 2012. While introducing Emanuel Tov’s lecture in the Atlanta series on 7 February 2012, Carroll said the following:

“I was with Dan [Wallace], uh, five days ago, uh, prior to an important debate he had, uh, in North Carolina with a scholar by the name of Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the New Testament and New Testament manuscript evidence. In our collection, we have a wonderful collection of unpublished papyri. . . We have a number of New Testament papyri. And the New Testament papyri consist of the earliest text of the Gospel of Matthew, the second earliest text of the Gospel of John, the earliest text of Romans, the earliest text of Paul’s writings altogether, and also the earliest text of 1 Corinthians. And, uh, some others within our research scope, including the earliest text of the Gospel of Mark and the earliest text of the Gospel of Luke. The earliest text of the Gospel of Mark, uh, came to my attention a month ago with a colleague, scholar, friend of ours Dirk Obbink from Oxford, and it is certainly, absolutely–dated by a person that has no agenda whatsoever–the earliest New Testament document in the world, and it is a first-century text of the Gospel of Matt–of Mark. That’s remarkable to know. And so there are many things like that that are coming up in our research and discovery, and it’s an absolute thrill to be a part of it.”

So, in February of 2012, we have Carroll discussing the Mark fragment, a fragment of Luke, and “others” as “within our research scope,” but distinct from “our collection.” This seems to fit with the chronologies of the documents provided by Mike Holmes. That is, this purchase process began in 2012 and extended into 2013. Now, if we jump ahead to a more widely known snippet from a recording of a question and answer session that Carroll conducted with the Christian apologist Josh McDowell in a church that was posted online in 2015, after Carroll was no longer working for the Greens, we find a statement that Dirk Obbink had sold the manuscript:

Carroll: “I first worked with the papyrus in 2012. . . I saw it in, um, at Oxford University, at uh, at uh, Christ Church College, and it was in the possession of an outstanding, well-known eminent classicist. I saw it again in 2013. Ah, there were some delays with its, ah, purchase and I was working at that time with the Green family collection which I had the privilege of organizing and putting together for the Hobby Lobby family and had hoped that they would at that time acquire it. But they delayed and didn’t. We were preparing an exhibit for the Vatican Library and, um, I wanted this to be the show piece in that exhibit but it–“

McDowell: “Who wouldn’t?”

Carroll: “I know, wouldn’t that have been awesome? But it was just not the timing and so it was passed on, delayed. Um, it has since been acquired. I can’t say by whom.”

Carroll Koinonia InstituteNow I (along with most people who followed all this) simply assumed that Carroll was wrong about the fragment having “been acquired,” when it was revealed in 2018 that “First-Century Mark” was in fact P.Oxy. 83.5345, a part of the Oxyrhynchus collection. But this was not the only time that Carroll spoke of the new owners of the papyrus. There is an interesting comment in Carroll’s 2016 talk to the Koinonia Institute at about the 40 minute mark (and, once again, thanks to the resourceful David Bradnick for digging up this video):

“Let me add one more text from, uh, the gospels I don’t have a picture of, that should be published some time this year. And you’ll hear about it, and when you do, you’ll remember, ‘Oh yes, uh, Scott Carroll mentioned it.’ There’s actually a, a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that’s been discovered that has been tentatively dated somewhere between 70 AD and like 110 AD. So Gospel of Mark, maybe dating as early as 70 AD. Um, this is outstanding because, uh, the more liberal scholars, uh, like Bart Ehrman from, uh, from the University of North Carolina, uh, has said that the, uh, Gospel of Mark was the last gospel written, and was probably written around 200.  So this will completely, uh, cause him to have to rework his chronologies. That’s what these liberal scholars do. They’ll take things that are early and date them late, and take things that are late and date them early and try to turn topsy-turvey the, um, our understanding of, of things. And so, he’s already crying foul that he’s not had time to, uh, see the manuscript at all, but it’s fortunately in the hands of conservative scholars who usually don’t get an opportunity to work with these things, who are in the process of preparing them for publication. So, uh, that is something to look for. That’ll be major–While these other things may not be international news, that’ll be major international news when that’s published. And so, you heard it here first, and you heard it well in advance of its publication.”

Setting aside Carroll’s blatant misrepresentation of the views of Bart Ehrman, what he says about the Mark fragment is interesting in light of this new information. Until now, it had been unclear to me what Carroll meant by “in the hands of conservative scholars.” But that description would make sense if Carroll knew that Hobby Lobby had purchased the fragment. And it seems plausible he could have known. Even though Carroll had parted ways with the Greens and the Museum of the Bible in 2012, he had deep connections with some of the people who remained a part of the organization and would have likely had information from them (and perhaps from Dirk Obbink) about the fate of the manuscript.

So, while many questions remain unanswered, the new information does help to make sense of some of Carroll’s comments about the Mark fragment over the last few years.

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, First Century Mark, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Revisiting Some of Scott Carroll Comments in Light of the “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement

  1. Rick Bonnie says:

    Hi Brent, love reading your insightful blog! I wonder what Scott Carroll’s 2015 statement on the buyer signifies. Especially since he states quite clearly that Hobby Lobby was not the buyer of the Mark fragments (but cannot say who did). This is maybe in relation to the “purchaser” being blacked out in the exhibit A document. If that would have been Hobby Lobby, it is odd to black out the address since it was already mentioned in the contract itself. I wonder if there is a potential middleman involved in this purchase.

  2. Greg Matthews says:

    So the question to me is (and has been since last year): why did Carroll out Obbink over this?

    • Yes, that is a lingering question. I suppose it could be a personal reputation thing. If Carroll had let the publication of the Mark fragment as a “second or third century” piece pass with no comment, then the “first century” Mark he had been touting for so long would have never materialized at all.

      • Timothy Bagley says:

        My concern is: Did Obbink sell a papyrus (so-called ‘earliest Mark’)? Under what auspices? Who authorized the sale? Was it in his prerogative to do so?

  3. John Thomas says:

    What I found extremely outrageous was the way in which Dan Wallace sprang it on Bart Ehrman in a debate. They knew that Bart Ehrman was going to bring the point that earliest manuscripts currently available are long after the time it was originally written. So, the Green Collection representative apparently convinced Dan Wallace to bring this point in the debate as what can only be interpreted as a marketing strategy for their material ahead of their purchase (the other possibility being to shut him down on his main talking point). But in my opinion, Dan Wallace, being a scholar himself should have known better and should have told them that a scholar does not that kind of thing to another scholar. Why don’t we just wait until it is officially published and let all the scholars in the field have a look at it critically before we make such claims? But he acted like a complete partisan for Conservative Evangelical cause instead of being a scholar.

    • Robert says:

      O.M.G. Can Carroll really be that stupid or ignorant of Bart’s (and the consensus dating) of the gospel of Mark? Or is he justified making this up to try and bash so-called liberals in front of a sympathetic audience?

  4. Pingback: First Century Manuscript, Mummy Masks, Hobby Lobby, The Museum of the Bible, and waiting! [UPDATE: and . . . not first century] | Is Christianity True?

  5. When Carroll says, “The more liberal scholars, uh, like Bart Ehrman from, uh, from the University of North Carolina, uh, has said that the, uh, Gospel of Mark was the last gospel written, and was probably written around 200,” what can be said? My instinct would be to turn to him and say, “Excuse me, sir, but are you high?!”.

    • Yes, but this is a fairly standard part of Carroll’s lectures. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the other claims he makes about the study of manuscripts and early Christianity in general.

      • Robert says:

        What kind of academic credentials does Carroll have? Any notable works?

      • As best I can tell, according to the website of one of his companies, has an M.A. in Ecclesiastical History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Ph.D. in “ancient studies” from Miami University of Ohio. His dissertation was on the Melitian schism in fourth-century Egypt. I do not think it was ever published.

  6. Pattycake says:

    I know Carroll has messed up, but this statement by him can be so easily refuted that it’s really hard to say where he got his information from, and I don’t think it’s a lie. I can’t help but have a soft spot for him. I think it’s because he displayed so much excitement when he thought they truly had first century manuscripts. And he’s extremely hands-on with the younger generation and motivating them to pursue careers in archeology. We can’t fault him for lack of enthusiasm. But his overzealousness for his faith does gets him into trouble.

    I think the EES has taken too long to get to the bottom of this. Not only that, Dirk Obbink wasn’t General Editor, yet he was still allowed to prepare Mark for publication? And why would that be? I find it hard to believe they weren’t aware of his involvement. It’s been a year since this first came out publicly…and it wasn’t even published almost as if it was a secret. How much more time do they need exactly?

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