Dead Sea Scroll Fragment:



“It is hard to overstate the significance that a positive identification of 7Q5 as Mark 6:52-53 would have on biblical literary criticism.”

Orsolina Montevecchi, Honorary President of the International Papyrologist Association
“I do not think that there can be any doubt about the identification of 7Q5”
Interview with S. Paci, 30 Giorni XII/7-8 (1994), pp. 75-76

Cave 8 opening on left ; Cave 7’s mysteriously sealed opening on right

Wikipedia Article on 7Q5

Among the Dead Sea scrolls, 7Q5 is the designation for a papyrus fragment discovered in Cave 7 of the Qumran community. The significance of this fragment is derived from an argument made by José O’Callaghan in his work ¿Papiros neotestamentarios en la cueva 7 de Qumrân? (New Testament Papyri in Cave 7 at Qumran?) in 1972, later reasserted and expanded by German scholar Carsten Peter Thiede in his work The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? in 1982. The assertion is that the previously unidentified 7Q5 is actually a fragment of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6 verse 52-53. The illustration at right gives a clear picture of how much text is conserved on the fragment 7Q5.


The argument is weighted on two points. First, the spacing before the word ?a? <kai> (“and”) signifies a paragraph break, which is consistent with the normative layout of Mark in early copies. Secondly, the unique combination of letters ???s <nnes> found in line 4 is highly characteristic and may point at the word Ge???sa?et <Gennesaret>, found only thrice in the New Testament. Furthermore, all attempts to identify the fragment with any other known Greek text have failed.

Several counterarguments exist.

* First, the papyrus is so small, and of such poor quality, that positive identification even of the individual letters is difficult at best, although identifications on similar circumstances such as literature or other subjects have been accepted with not so much discussion.

* Secondly, there is no consensus that the letters ???s are the best reading of the papyrus. Furthermore, apart from Gennesaret, the word e?e???se? <egennesen> (“begot”) is cited as another word in the Greek lexicon containing those four letters. In fact, this conjecture was proposed by the authors of the first edition (editio princeps) published in 1962. In such case the fragment might be part of some genealogy.

* Thirdly, in order to identify the fragment with Mark 6:52-53, one must account for the replacement of original d <d> with t <t> in line 3, which is unparalleled.

* Fourthly, as the lines of a column are always more or less of the same length, it must be assumed that the words ep? t?? ??? <epi ten gen> (“to the land”) were omitted, a variant which is not attested elsewhere.

* Fifthly, the identification of the last letter in line 2 with nu has been strongly disputed because it does not fit into the pattern of this Greek letter as it is clearly written in line 4. Instead, the reading of iota + alpha (which is the reading proposed in the first edition) has been reinforced.


It is hard to overstate the significance that a positive identification of 7Q5 as Mark 6:52-53 would have on biblical literary criticism, which may explain both the motivation to see the Gospel of Mark in the fragment and the reticence of many to hang so much on such a small thread. The Qumran community was disbanded no later than 68 AD, which would make that the latest possible date for any documents stored there. This would make 7Q5 the earliest existing fragment of New Testament canonical text, predating P52 by almost 100 years. It would firmly fix Mark as the earliest of the Gospel accounts, and would be a strong argument for authentic Markan authorship, as a pseudonymous work would be highly unlikely within the lifespan of the attested author.

Most significantly in theological terms, according to Christian apologists such an identification would make a strong argument for the assertion that the miraculous, divine, and messianic attributions to Jesus were very early traditions in the Christian church. However, more skeptical scholars argue that it would only demonstrate that part of the current text of Mark is very early, not that all of it was, and while modern versions contain miraculous, divine, and messianic attributions, there is no way of confirming that the document to which 7Q5 originally belonged actually contained such attributions or if it merely stated he was an ordinary man with wise teachings.

Co-Author, Eyewitness to Jesus


Greek Qumran Fragment 7Q5: Possibilities and Impossibilities


The Greek scroll fragments from Qumran present a curious phenomenon: whereas the one Greek Old Testament papyrus from Cave 4 (supplimented by four Greek parchment scraps and one Exodus paraphrase on papyrus from the same cave) does not appear to belong to a separate collection, but to a general, motley, “library” preserved in that cave, the neighbouring cave 7 includes a collection in its own right — nothing but nineteen Greek fragments, eighteen of them on papyrus, and another one preserved as an imprint in the hardened soil of the cave. A few months ago, the international scholarly debate about this cave has been given a new twist. Vittoria Spottorno, the new editor of the Spanish journal Sefarad, has published an article which claims to shed new light on the most important Greek papyrus fragment from Cave 7, “7Q5”. In it, she proposes “una nueva posible identificacion de 7Q5”, Zechariah 7,4-5 (1).

Her paper appeared a couple of months after the publication of the Eichstätt University Qumran symposium, “Christen und Christliches in Qumran?” (2). At Eichstätt, it had become apparent that there are more arguments in favour of the identification of 7Q5 as Mark 6,52-53 — a New Testament identification first suggested as long ago as 1972 by the Spanish papyrologist José O’Callaghan (3) — than had previously been supposed by a majority of scholars. Above all, it was the detailed analysis presented by the Vienna papyrologist Herbert Hunger in favour of the Marcan identification which did not fail to impress the participants (4). As an aftermath of the symposium, fragment 7Q5 was analyzed in the forensic laboratory of the Department of Investigations at the Israel National Police in Jerusalem. The upper remnant of a decisive diagonal stroke be made visible in line 2 and further contributed to the solidity of the Marcan identification (5).

It is thus highly likely that 7Q5 = Mark 6,52-53 will have to be added to the official list of New Testament papyri sooner or later. On the other hand, attempts to suggest alternative identifications remain legitimate, even if — or perhaps especially when — they are carried out in ignorance of the results obtained at Eichstätt and Jerusalem. To try and find an Old Testament (LXX) passage for 7Q5 is neither new nor original (6), not least in view of the fact that a fragment from Exodus (7Q1 = Exod 294-7) and one from the deuterocanonical Letter of Jeremiah (7Q2 = EpistJer 43-44) — two texts of some importance to early Christianity — had already been identified among the 7Q papyri (7).

It is, however, not only Hunger’s paper and the forensic analysis in Jerusalem that have recently added to the arguments in favour of 7Q5 = Mark 6,52-53; O’Callaghan’s identification was checked by the Ibykus computer programme with the result that there is no other text than Mark 6,52-53 in extant Greek literature which fits the papyrological evidence of 7Q5 (8). Any alternative suggestion must therefore be expected to come up with corrections or improvements of at least equal value and importance as those represented by the Marcan “status quo”. As this tiny scroll fragment offers a mere twenty letters on five lines (9), the scope for convincing alternative readings is understandably limited.

A juxtapostion of the editio princeps, O’Callaghan’s reading, and Spottorno’s alternative highlights the problem:


Editio princeps   O'Callaghan       Spottorno

O’Callaghan’s dot underneath the nu in line 2 may now be deleted; the Jerusalem analysis proved its existence beyond the shadow of a doubt. However, this nu is not part of Spottorno’s suggestions, anyway.

The extremely damaged letter in line 1 was not even tentatively identified in the editio princeps (10), even though the working hypothesis of an epsilon was admitted. On the other hand, it cannot possibly be a tau. This is obvious from a comparison with the undamaged tau in lines 2 and 3. Should one want to look for an alternative to epsilon in line 1, it might just conceivably be sigma.

It is thus equally impossible to read gamma instead of tau in line 2. The tau of 7Q5 is above suspicion and has been so as early as the editio princeps. The first and last letters of this line are severely damaged; even so, O’Callaghan’s upsilon had been accepted as a possibility by the original editor (11). The eta, on the other hand, has gained further plausibility by the forensic analysis in Jerusalem (12). Therefore, Spottorno’s variants are highly unlikely, if not downright impossible.

As for line 3, both O’Callaghan and Spottorno read kai after a spatium, i.e., paratactically. O’Callaghan’s eta is confirmed by the editio princeps and indeed by all published enlargements, incuding an infrared photograph (13). By definition, Spottorno’s sigma must be ruled out as impossible. Prior to Spottorno, only Aland had thought of reading pi instead of tau + … at the end of this line (14), but without any serious argument in his favour.

In line 4, there are no differences suggested by Spottorno; however, she wants to find a justification for her reading of ea]n nHs[ teusHte (as in Zech 7,5) by seeing “las dos n de linea 4″ as “discontinuas”. Fragment 7Q5 does in fact offer two exceptions to the rule of scripto continua; they indicate small gaps between words — in line 2 (autwn hH of Mark 6,52) and in line 3 (kai ti of Mark 6,53). That small gap in line 3 is part of the undamaged centre of the fragment; thus it can be compared accurately to the writing of the two nu in line 4. It should be obvious to the naked eye, even without the analysis of enlargements, that the “gap” between the two nu in line 4 is anything but proper spacing. Otherwise, even the undisputed kai in line 3 could not be a kai, since the “space” between kappa and alpha is as wide as, if not wider than, that between the two nu.

In line 5, O’Callaghan and Spottorno have only one letter in common, the second one, eta. It might just be possible to admit Spottorno’s omega as a remote alternative, even though no one, beginning with the editio princeps, has ever seen it before. Sigma instead of epsilonfor the third letter was one of the two possibilities suggested in the editio princeps; the remnants appear to belong to a curvature, however, and would be much too high for the horizontal stroke of an eta. As for the practically invisible trace of the last letter in this line, it is severely damaged by a turning to the right of the papyrus, probably caused by an early attempt at destruction (15). It is hardly possible to suggest, let alone identify any letter at all. Personally, I should have preferred a mere dot, but O’Callaghan’s alpha (contrary to the sigma of the editio princeps) is supported by a concrete textual suggestion. Mark 6,52-53. Thus, if the papyrological and palaeographical evidence of the complete fragment supports the identification, as seems to be the case especially after Eichst„tt and Jerusalem, it must be allowed to stand. In principle, the same would be true, needless to say, of Spottorno’s nu; but, as we have seen, her alternative identification is doomed already on the basis of irrefutable evidence against other letters of her reading. Furthermore, she adds a sixth line to the fragment and sees an epsilon in it. Original as this addition may be, it is hampered by the papyrus itself: there simply is not enough extant material to allow for a sixth line, let alone for a letter — any letter — in it.

As we have seen, Spottorno’s alternative identification is ruled out by insurmountable palaeographcial barriers. There may be scope for debate in one or two secondary cases, but decisive letters pass an unequivocal verdict on her attempt.

All this is further corroborated by a look at the actual passage which she suggests in place of Mark 6,52-53Zech 7,4-5, and which should be, as we have seen, according to the text of her own reconstruction, 7,3b-5. To begin with, there would be no justification for the undoubtable and undoubted paratactical kai after a spatium. And, as Spottorno herself admits (16), the text presupposed by her identification cannot be reconciled with any existing critical edition; neither Rahlf’s (1979) nor any of the others corroborate what she suggests as the text of Zech 7,(3b)-5. Admittedly, she may have remembered a seemingly comparable problem in 7Q5 = Mark 6,52-53 (17). However, the singular variants in Mark make sense and could even be expected, as has been shown more than once (18), whereas Spottorno’s variants stem from an extreme and philologically unjustifiable eclecticism. Thus, she does not even try to find reasons for them. For example, there is the omission of twn dunamewn in 7,4; the impossibility of a spatium before kai in 7,4; the addition of ths ghs between hiereis and legwn in 7,5; tw pemptw instead of tais pemptais and tw hebdomw instead of tais hebdomais in 7,5.

The sheer number of these variants invalidates Spottorno’s attempt to improve upon 7Q5 = Mark 6,52-53. Her suggestion is to be rejected as impossible for palaeographical as well as philological reasons.


(1) V. SPOTTORNO, “Una nueva posible identificacion de 7Q5”, Sefarad 52 (1992) 541-543. Correctly, however, her suggestion involves 7,3b-5.

(2) B. MAYER (Hrog.), Christen und Christliches in Qumran? (Regensburg 1992). This volume contains the most up-to-date photographs of Qumran fragment 7Q5 on p.41, 242 and 243 (enlargement of nu detail, cf. n.5). Photographs of 7Q5 can also be found in Bib 53 (1972). J. O’Callaghan, Los papiros griegos de la cueva 7 de Qumran (as in n.13) and in C.P. THIEDE, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? Qumran Fragment 7Q5 and its Significance for New Testament Studies (as in n.8). The first published photograph of 7Q5 was part of the original DJD III edition (cf. n.7), vol. 2, Planches, planche XXX, no. 5.

(3) J. O’CALLAGHAN, “Papiros neotestamentarios en la cueva 7 de Qumran?”, Bib 53 (1972) 91-100. Authorized English Translation by W.I. Holladay: JBL 91 (1972), Suppliment 1-14.

(4) H. HUNGER, “7Q5: Markus 6,52-53 — oder? Die Meinung des Papyrologen”, Christen und Chrisliches, 33-56, with 22 ill.

(5) C.P. THIEDE, “Bericht uber die kriminaltechnische Untersuchung des Fragments 7Q5 in Jerusalem, Christen und Christliches, 239-245, with 4 ill.

(6) Detailed documentation and analysis in F. ROARHIRSCH, Markus in Qumran? Eine Auseinandersetzung mit den Argumenten fur und gegen das Fragment 7Q5 mit Hilfe des methodischen Fallibilismuprinzips (Wuppertal-Zurich 1990) 106-128.

(7Les ‘Petites Grottes’ de Qumran (ed. M. BAILLET – J.T. MILIK -R. DeVAUX, OP) (DJD III; Oxford 1962) 142-146.

(8) Cf. C.P. THIEDE, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? The Qumran Papyrus 7Q5 And Its Significance for New Testament Studies (Exeter-Carlisle 1992) 40-41, n.31.

(9) For the sake of comparison: 7Q2 = EpistJer 43-44 has twenty-two letters on five lines; Masada fragment 721a = Virgil Aeneid 4:9, has fifteen letters on one line.

(10DJD III, 144.

(11) O’CALLAGHAN, Los papiros griegos.

(12) THIEDE, “Bericht”, 240.

(13) J. O’CALLAGHAN, Los Papiros griegos de la Cueva 7 de Qumran (Madrid 1974) infra-red englargement of 7Q5 on plate VI, infra-red photographs of other 7Q fragments on plates IV and V.

(14) K. ALAND, “Neue neutestamentliche Papyri III”, NTS 20 (1974) 357-381, here 375.

(15) See THIEDE, “Bericht”, 240.

(16) SPOTTORNO, “Una nueva posible identificacion”, 543.

(17) Omission of epi tHn gHn in 6,53 suggested by stichometry; tau instead of delta in tiaperasantes in 6,53.

(18) Most recently by HUNGER, “7Q5: Markus 6,52-53; — oder?” and C.P. THIEDE, “Papyrologische Anfragen an 7Q5, im Umfeld antiker, Handschriften”, Christen und Christliches,57-72. See also ROHRHIRSCH, Markus in Qumran?, 73-83, and THIEDE, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript?, 29-32.


Hans Forster
“This article has attempted to show that the alleged identification of 7Q5 as a text of Mark’s Gospel is even more speculative than many others, albeit supported by well-meaning believers.” (7Q5 = Mark 6.52-53 – A Challenge for Textual Criticism? (PDF))

Michael J. Bumbulis
“All of this means that we do indeed possess independent evidence that corroborates a pre-60s date for the synoptic Gospels as indicated by my earlier analysis of Acts. This is significant as it clearly shows the belief in Jesus’ resurrection cannot date after A.D. 60-65 and thus dates to a time when most of Jesus’ contemporaries were still alive. In fact, since it is unlikely that the authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke invented the resurrection claims, but instead were more likely to have incorporated older oral traditions into their Gospels, the resurrection belief is pushed back much earlier Any skeptical theory that depends on a late date for the resurrection belief is thus severely damaged.” (Mark Was Composed Long Before A.D. 70 – Below)


Mark Was Composed Long Before A.D. 70
Michael J. Bumbulis

In the past, I have argued that the best evidence to date points to a pre-70 date for the synoptic Gospels. In making this argument, I drew primarily from the internal evidence that is present within Acts.  Now, I would like to offer independent evidence that corroborates such an early date for the synoptics.

Such evidence comes from the field of papyrology which is the study of ancient manuscript evidence on papyrus. Papyrologists study the contents and writing styles of ancient manuscripts, including fragments that might be no larger that the size of a typical commemorative postage stamp. While such a study is not an exact science, papyrology is akin to a specialized field in archaeology. It is one of the primary methods by which an unknown manuscript fragment is identified and dated. For example, papyrology was used to date the Johannine codex P66 to ca. 125 A.D. [1] Papyrology has also been extensively used to date the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the dates arrived at have been largely supported by radio-carbon dating [2].

In 1972, Spanish papyrologist Jose O’Callaghan (who is also editor of the Palau-Ribes papyrus collection) made an identification of the small manuscript fragment that shocked the academic world. The fragment in question is called 7Q5 and was found in Cave 7 among the Qumran caves. Cave 7 is very interesting in that the manuscripts found in this cave are all written exclusively in Greek. Furthermore, archaeological evidence exists so that there is a consensus among scholars that this cave was closed in A.D. 68. [3] Thus, anything found in this cave would unlikely to be dated later than this time. Yet in the case of 7Q5, a date of A.D. 68 would represent an upper-limit, as the text is written in the Herodian “decorated” script which dates between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50.

But what manuscript is represented by 7Q5? At first glance, making an identification is no simple task. This fragment contains only 20 Greek consonants (whole or damaged) on five lines. The fragment itself is also very small, about 4 cm. X 3 cm. Furthermore, only one complete word can be read – the word kai (which means “and”). While these facts might seem to suggest that any attempt to identify this fragment is futile, it is not uncommon for papyrologists to identify fragments (from Virgil, for example) with evidence of this type.

To see how this works, consider a simplified example. Let’s say I wrote the following sentences on a piece of paper, copied it several times, and then deposited one copy in a cave.

The Original:

The boy ran to the store. When he got to the store, he found that it was closed. Then he ran home.

Now, let’s imagine a few hundred years go by such that some of the writing flakes off the paper. As a result, my sentences now look like this:

After Time:

b the
a lose en

Let’s further imagine that someone in the future discovers this flawed fragment and wants to identify it. If they possess copies of my original sentence that have been passed on through the years, the task would not be hard. They might start with the four letters that spell ‘lose’ and search a database that contains, among many other writings, a copy of my original sentence. Of course, the database-search would also detect all writings with the letters l,o,s,e in sequence in addition to my original sentence. The next step would be to start measuring the distance between letters and find which of these selected writings also has an “a” a specific distance before “lose” and an “en” a specific distance after “lose.” My original sentence would probably be the only one detected and the identity of the fragment would be discovered. One could verify this claim by making more distance measurements and considering the line-placement of all the other letters. If they all “fit,” a conclusive identification has been made. Then, one could draw upon archaeological considerations (concerning the place where the fragment was found) and a comparative analysis of writing styles of various documents to arrive at a date for this fragment.

Again, papyrology is not an exact science (especially when it comes to dating), nevertheless, it reminds me of a common method employed by molecular biologists. Molecular biologists often work with gene fragments and the genes are represented as a linear sequence of molecules known as nucleotides (which are represented by the letters G, T, A, and C). A partial sequence of an unknown gene can be used to search a database of other genes and the same logic employed by papyrologists is used to determine if the unknown gene belongs to a class of known genes from other organisms. Put simply, a molecular biologist will tend to have great sympathy for the approach of the papyrologist.

When this approach was applied to 7Q5, a revolutionary finding was uncovered. One of the five lines contains a rare combination of letters: n/n/e/s.[4] When this combination was used, along with the other known letters and their spacing and line-placement, to search an extensive database of Greek literature (including the Septuagint), the only good match was found from Mark 6:52-53 (where the n/n/e/s
would correspond to Gennesaret)! The match was further strengthened by the larger than usual space that occurs before the only complete word on 7Q5, kai (translated as “and”). Such spaces were often used by ancient scribes to indicate a new “paragraph” or break in the narrative, and sure enough, Mark 6:53 begins with “And.” Furthermore, 7Q5 also preserves the last letter of the last word before this space, an eta. Mark 6:52 ends with this same letter. As if this wasn’t enough, the Greek letter “n” was identified in line two following the letters “t/o”. This matches nicely with the Greek word “auton” (meaning “their”) in verse 52 [5].

Given the revolutionary nature of this identification, it is not surprising that many New Testament scholars have raised objections and very few have agreed with the identification.. However, papyrologist Carsten Theide has marshalled some very powerful replies to these objections[6]. Since it is beyond the scope of this article to get bogged down in the details of this technical debate*, I will simply point
out that the list of papyrologists who agree with the identification of 7Q5 as Mark 6:52-53 is growing. Apart from Thiede, who has championed this identification, the list includes Sergio Davis, honorary president of the International Papyrologist’s Association and Orsolina Montevechhi, author of the standard introductory manual to papyrology[7]. Furthermore, Shemaryahu Talmon, one of the Jewish members of the editorial board of the Qumran scrolls also supports this identification.[8]

All of this means that we do indeed possess independent evidence that corroborates a pre-60s date for the synoptic Gospels as indicated by my earlier analysis of Acts. This is significant as it clearly shows the belief in Jesus’ resurrection cannot date after A.D. 60-65 and thus dates to a time when most of Jesus’ contemporaries were still alive. In fact, since it is unlikely that the authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke invented the resurrection claims, but instead were more likely to have incorporated older oral traditions into their Gospels, the resurrection belief is pushed back much earlier Any skeptical theory that depends on a late date for the resurrection belief is thus severely damaged.

*I am willing to debate the technical details with those who deny 7Q5 is a fragment from Mark.

7Q5 – An interesting Detail
Stefan Enste, July 2002

Line 2 is very important in the discussion whether Qumran papyrus-fragment 7Q5 is part of the gospel of Mark or not. In line 2 there is the decisive spot: the identification with the text Mk 652 – 53 recommends a Ny. Actual it is impossible to detect a Ny on this spot of the fragment. To prove the supposed Ny, fragment 7Q5 was examined microscopical in Israel in the year 1992. Video recordings and printouts exist to document the examination. Below you can see such a printout, showing the decisive spot in line 2, large and in high resolution (that causes longer download-time). When you move the mouse over the green plus sign a circle will appear, marking the important spot in the fragment (Maximize the browser-window, resolution 800 x 600; I hope all different browsers understand my intention…)

The supposed traces of the diagonal Ny-stroke. In fact there only is a rugged piece of papyrus. This is proven with this picture: The rugged structure continues beyond the borders of an imaginary Ny-stroke, especialle above the ´stroke´.

Very important is the beginning of a new letter that can be seen very clear in this area. It is impossible to think that in this area the diagonal Ny stroke could ´arrive´. Supporters of the markan identification reconstruct the Ny in the following way – with the diagonal Ny-stroke making a turn at exactly this place:


The best interpretation of this part (line 2) of the document is the following sequence of letters: Iota – Alpha.
Against this interpretation supporters of the markan identification allege that the visible traces of letters exclude the possibility of the letter Alpha at this place. But this is nonsense. In line 3 an Alpha in the word “kai” can be seen. The connection (or ligature) between this nearly complete Alpha and the Kappa is not preserved. The ink-traces you can find in line 2 fit exactly in this little lacuna. On the left you can see the traces standing alone and then combined to a complete Alpha.
It is quite clear that the vertical stroke in line 2 is the letter Iota. Only the discussion whether 7Q5 is a part of the gospel of Mark made some people question this Iota. The reason is clear: They need a Ny in this place, the Iota-Alpha-sequence would make their desired identification impossible.

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