My 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 In our collection, we have a wonderful collection of unpublished papyri.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.”
Now 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.