Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel

by Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor   |   January 18, 2015


Researchers extract Papyrus Text from Mummy Mask, revealing what might be the oldest known Gospel

Extracting papyri from a Greco-Roman mummy mask, in hopes that early Biblical texts might be found.

While the death masks of pharaohs and elite members of society were made from gold, the masks created for ordinary citizens were made with linen or discarded texts on papyrus.  Many layers of papyri were moistened, shaped into a mask, plastered, dried, and then painted. Sometimes, up to 150 papyri fragments were used in the creation of a single mask.

The controversial practice of extracting the papyri involves soaking the mask in soapy water until the papyri fragments separate, a technique that destroys the mask but preserves the ink on the papyri. The practice has become increasingly popular in recent years, as researchers have discovered that some of the texts used to make masks included funerary texts, letters in Coptic and in Greek, Coptic Gospel texts, and fragments of classical writings by Greek authors. Now a team of scientists claim to have found the oldest known Gospel fragment – the Gospel of Mark, written before the year 90 AD.

Example of Egyptian mask made from papyri and linen.

Example of Egyptian mask made from papyri and linen. Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, Creative Commons. 

Live Science reports that a team of about three-dozen scientists and scholars, all of whom remain anonymous under a non-disclosure agreement, had been using the technique on a series of masks when they recovered a fragment of papyrus with text from the Gospel of Mark. While the information was supposed to remain under wraps until formal publication, a member of the team leaked the information in 2012.

According to Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, the Gospel text was dated to before 90 AD through a combination of carbon-14 dating, an analysis of the handwriting, and studying the other documents found plastered together in the same mask. However, with the non-disclosure agreement in place, Evans would not reveal any further details about the text until the papyrus is published.

“Although the first-century gospel fragment is small, the text will provide clues as to whether the Gospel of Mark changed over time,” Evans told Live Science.

Until now, the oldest surviving copy of a gospel is generally accepted to be the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St John’s fragment, a fragment from a papyrus codex, measuring only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 by 6 cm) at its widest; and conserved with the Rylands Papyri at the John Rylands University Library Manchester, UK. Although it is generally accepted as the earliest extant record of a canonical New Testament text, the dating of the papyrus, which has been placed between 117 AD and 138 AD, is still a matter of debate.

Rylands Library Papyrus P52

Rylands Library Papyrus P52 (St John’s fragment). (Wikipedia)

The practice of destroying mummy masks to retrieve ancient texts has been the subject of much controversy. While Evans claims that the masks being destroyed are not high quality ones, and the results can be significant with dozens of fragments extracted from each mask, others have argued that the ends do not justify the means.

John McDowell, a Christian evangelical apologist and one of the main persons involved in taking apart mummy masks, has perhaps attracted the most scathing criticisms. In a video in which McDowell is filmed talking to an audience, he presents slides of the work he has done to extract papyri from mummy masks. He exclaims:

Now, what you do, you take this mask [chuckles]…Scholars die when they hear it, but we own them so you can do it…. 

You start pulling it apart….Most scholars they’ve never touched a manuscript, you have to have gloves on and everything [laughs], we just wash them and hold them in our hands, we don’t even make you wash your hands before.

Slide John McDowell presents showing him pulling apart fragments of precious papyri.

Slide John McDowell presents showing him pulling apart fragments of precious papyri. Screenshot from Josh McDowell video.

According to Craig Evans, the full report outlining the discovery of the gospel text, as well as other papyri texts, will be published later this year.

Featured image: Extracting papyri from a Greco-Roman mummy mask, in hopes that early Biblical texts might be found. Screenshot from Josh McDowell video.

By April Holloway

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Tomb of ancient Egyptian queen uncovered by archaeologists

30 utensils made of limestone and copper were also found

Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed a tomb and artefacts linked to a previously unknown queen, officials have said.

Found south-west of Cairo in Abusir, the tomb is believed to belong to the wife or mother of Pharaoh Neferefre, who ruled briefly during the 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom 4,500 years ago. His short reign is believed to be the reason why his pyramid – today known as “the unfinished pyramid” – was never completed.

The tomb of Khentakawess III, a queen believed to have been the wife of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4,500 years agoThe tomb of Khentakawess III, a queen believed to have been the wife of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4,500 years agoEgyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said in a statement that the queen’s name, Khentakawess or Khentkaus, was inscribed on a wall in the necropolis and added that this would make her Khentakawess III.

Miroslav Barta, head of the Czech Institute of Egyptology mission which made the discovery, told the EFE news agencythat the location of the queen’s tomb made them believe that she was the wife of the pharaoh.

The Czech archaeologists also found around 30 utensils made of limestone and copper.

Artifacts found around the tomb of Khentakawess III in EgyptArtifacts found around the tomb of Khentakawess III in EgyptMr el-Damaty explained that the discovery would “help shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids”.

Amon singer coffin discovered intact

The Spanish mission directed by Dr. Francisco Jose Martin who is working at Assasif on the west bank in Luxor, at Amen-Hotep Huy tomb Valentin have discovered an intact coffin with a mummy inside the coffin of “Singer of Amon” in Amen-Hotep Huy tomb, TT28.  

Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty, Minister of Antiquities, said that now the cleaning and restoration procedures are ongoing. The coffin was dated to the Third Intermediate Period (TIP) between (1100-900 B.C) and it is a unique example of the coffin style in Ancient Egypt during the 21st Dynasty. The name of the mummified Singer is yet to be identified after cleaning the inscriptions on the coffin.

Dr. Abd El Hakim Karar said “The wooden coffin is plaster with gypsum and measures 181cm X 48cm X 50cm. The mummy inside is wrapped and the arms crossed underneath. The face details are carefully patterned.”

Karar added “The sides of the coffin shows scenes of Thoth, Anubis, Osiris, Nut, Isis and Horus 4 sons as well as hieroglyphic inscription which is being studied to know more about the deceased.”

#Egypt #Luxor #Mummy #TT28 #AncientEgypt #History #Discovery

Posted 1 week ago by Luxor Times

Labels: Ancient Egypt Assasif Egypt Luxor Mummy Singer of Amon Third Intermediate Period TIP

The sarcophagus of god Amun’s singer unearthed in a tomb at Assassif area on Luxor’s west bank

During restoration work at Amenhotep Huy tomb, at Qurnet Marei at Assassif area on Luxor’s west bank, a Spanish Egyptian archaeological mission stumbled upon what is believed to be the sarcophagus of god Amun’s singer.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told Ahram Online that the sarcophagus is well preserved condition and houses the mummy of the deceased. He continued that until now the name of the sarcophagus owner has not been revealed yet but the sarcophagus is dated to the Third Intermediate Period (100-900 BC).

“It has a unique style that was common during the reign of the 21th dynasty,” Eldamaty told Ahram Online.

Abdel Hakim Karrar antiquities director general in Upper Egypt explains that the sarcophagus is carved in wood and covered with plaster decorated with scenes depicting different ancient Egyptian gods, among them Toth, Anubis, Osiris, Isis and the four sons of Horus. Hieroglyphic text is engraved on the sarcophagus, which is currently being studied for information regarding the identity of the deceased.

Karrar continued that the mummy of the deceased is found inside the sarcophagus but wrapped with linen and its face is covered with a mask. A religious necklace was found on his chest and a wig decorated with a flower crown on his head.

The origins of the ancient Coptic Church of Egypt

Mark the Evangelist symbol is the winged lion, the Lion of Saint Mark. Canvas painting, circa 1516.

The Coptic Church of Egypt is the earliest Christian church in the world, going back to around 42 AD. According to Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as Coptic traditions, Saint Mark the evangelist, who wrote the earliest of the four New Testament gospels, was the founder and first bishop of the Church of Alexandria, even before the Church of Rome was established. In his landmark History of the Church, written in Greek about the year 310, Eusebius writes: Now, they say that this Mark was the first to have set out to Egypt to preach the gospel, which he had already written down, and the first to have organized churches in Alexandria itself “(Eusebius, HE 2.16.1). This information is supplemented by Eusebius’s Chronicle, where he places Mark’s arrival in Alexandria in the third year of Claudius’ reign, which would be AD 41-42 or 43-44. This is no more than ten years after the date fixed for the death of Jesus, traditionally held to be in AD 33.

Meanwhile, the traditional Egyptian account regarding the history of the early Coptic Church agrees with Eusebius on Mark’s role as the founder of the Alexandrian Church. However, Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa’ gives a slightly later date to Mark’s arrival in Alexandria: In the fifteenth year after the Ascension of Christ (c. AD 48), the holy Peter sent Saint Mark, the father and evangelist, to the city of Alexandria, to announce the good tiding (Gospel) there.1 The History of the Patriarchs attributed to Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa is actually a multi-generational compendium of Egyptian church history that relies on several early Coptic sources, and was redacted and translated into Arabic in the eleventh century.

More information on Mark’s life in Egypt is found in the Coptic account recorded by Sawirus, which is believed to have come from an earlier source. This source, known as the Acts of Mark, gives more details about Mark’s activities in Egypt, including the account of the evangelist’s martyrdom in Alexandria. The Acts of Mark has collected some early oral traditions and set them within a larger narrative, describing the details of Mark’s mission and martyrdom in Alexandria. While the exact date of composition for the Acts of Mark is uncertain, these traditions are traceable at least to the late fourth or early fifth century. The Acts incorporates two streams of tradition within a single narrative. The first stream concerns Mark’s founding of the church in Alexandria. The second stream concerns Mark’s martyrdom, and provides an explanation for the establishment of his martyr church on the outskirts of Alexandria.

Detail, painting of Mark the Evangelist

Detail, painting of Mark the Evangelist. Public Domain

The document was originally written in Greek and Coptic, and was rendered into several other languages. The main line of the story in the Acts of Mark goes like this: when the apostles were sent out in their missions, Mark received as his lot the country of Egypt and its surrounding territories. He went first to Cyrene, (in Libya) (a second version makes him a native of Cyrene) where he did a lot of work to convert many to the Christian faith. While in Cyrene, Mark received a vision that he should go to Alexandria.

He arrived in Alexandria the next day and came to a place called Mendion. As he was entering the gate of the city, the strap of his sandal broke, and Mark looked for a cobbler to fix it. As the cobbler was working on the sandal, he injured his left hand and cried out in pain, ‘God is one.’ Mark healed the cobbler’s hand in the name of Jesus. To show his gratitude, the cobbler invited Mark to his home for a meal. There Mark began to preach the gospel of Jesus, telling the man of the prophecies related to Christ. The cobbler said that he did not know of these writings, though he was familiar with the Iliad and the Odyssey and other things that Egyptians learned from childhood. The man was eventually converted, and he and his whole household were baptized, and many others besides. The cobbler’s name was Ananias (the other version has Anianus).  Eventually, some pagan ‘men of the city’, angered by these conversions, sought to kill Mark. The evangelist decided to leave Alexandria and go back to Pentapolis, in North Africa. However, before leaving he ordained for the church Ananias (Annianus) as bishop, along with three presbyters (Milaius, Sabinus, and Cerdo).

The Healing of Anianus by Cima da Conegliano

The Healing of Anianus by Cima da Conegliano (Wikipedia)

After two years absence, Mark returned to Alexandria to find that the Christian community there had flourished, and a church had been built in a place called Boukolou, near the sea. However, the pagans of the city were very angry at Mark for all of his mighty works. That year, Easter celebration occurred on the same day as a festival for the Egyptian god Serapis (April 24). Incited, pagan groups entered the church, seized Mark at the service, put a rope around his neck, and dragged him through the streets of Alexandria, until his flesh was falling.

The death of Saint Mark. c. 1412 and 1416.

The death of Saint Mark. c. 1412 and 1416. Public Domain

That evening they threw him into a prison. During the night Mark was said to have been visited first by an angel and then by Jesus himself, receiving words of encouragement. The next morning (April 25), the pagans took Mark from prison and dragged him again through the city until he died. They then built a fire in the place called Angeloi and tried to burn Mark’s body on it, but according to legend a great storm arose, and the pagans fled in terror. Finally, the faithful took Mark’s body and brought it back to be buried in the church, in the eastern outskirts of Alexandria.

The Martyrdom of St. Mark by Fra Angelico

The Martyrdom of St. Mark by Fra Angelico (Wikimedia Commons)

The tradition of Mark’s martyrdom at Alexandria spread all over the Roman Empire, especially in Italy, and many Christians travelled to Egypt in order to visit the evangelist’s tomb in Eastern Alexandria.

The most important of the early Christian holy places in Alexandria was undoubtedly Boukolou, where, according to the Acts of Mark, the earliest Christians had their place of worship and where the saint met his death and was buried. Here was erected the martyrium of Saint Mark, attested from the late fourth century on. … Epiphanius refers to is as ‘the church of Baukalis,’ which I take to be a corruption, or variant, of Boukolos. … there is no doubt that the memorial to Saint Mark was located in the north-eastern part of town (‘in the eastern district,’ ‘beside the sea, beneath the cliffs’), probably near the site of the present College of St. Mark run by the Christian Brothers. By the fourth century, when our documentation begins, the area in question was outside the city, a place for ‘cow pastures.’ But in the first century this area was the main Jewish neighborhood, described by Josephus. 2

One of the earliest testimonies relating to the martyrium of Saint Mark in Alexandria, apart from the Acts, is found in the poetry of St. Paulinus.  St. Paulinus of Nola (c. 352-431), south of Rome on Italy’s west coast, was ordained a priest at Christmas in 395 and became bishop of Nola in 409. As well as being prominent Christian poet, he provides the earliest external witness to the tradition about Mark’s martyrdom in Alexandria. In one of his poems he mentions Mark’s conflict with the cult of Serapis in Alexandria, a conflict that led to his imprisonment and death:

On you, Alexandria, Mark was conferred, … so that Egypt would not stupidly worship cattle under the name of Apis; (the holy animal of Serapis worshipped in Alexandria) … Satan has also fled from Egypt, where he had taken countless forms and countless names appropriate to different monsters. Thus he fashioned holy Joseph into Serapis, hiding that revered name beneath a name of death.” 3

Marble bust of Serapis wearing a modius

Marble bust of Serapis wearing a modius (Wikimedia Commons)

Eventually, in the ninth century, according to a legend, two or three ambitious merchants from the Italian city of Venice were able to smuggle Mark’s remains from his tomb in Alexandria. In 828, Mark replaced St. Teodora, the first patron saint of Venice, where a new basilica was built for him.

Featured image: Mark the Evangelist symbol is the winged lion, the Lion of Saint Mark. Canvas painting, circa 1516.  Public Domain


  1. [History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, p. 140.]
  2. [The Roots of Egyptian Christianity, Editors Birger A. Pearson & James E. Goehring, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986. Birger A. Pearson, Early Christianity in Egypt, p. 153.]
  3. [The Poems of St. Paulinus of Nola, translated by P.G. Walsh, Newman Press, New York, 1975, p. 134.]

By Ahmed Osman

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Karomama tomb discovered in the Ramesseum temple

The French-Egyptian mission working at the Morturary temple of Ramses II on the west bank of Luxor “The Ramesseum”has discovered a tomb of the divine wife of Amon “Karomama” during the excavation work in the temple. 

The tomb is a 5 meters shaft and a funerary chamber has a stone door which its lower part remains in situ. Inside the tomb, some offerings and remains of 20 Ushabtis bearing Karomama’s name at the entrance of the chamber which indicates that it could be her tomb.

At the moment, the team is still working to define the King she was married to as “God’s Wife of Amon” title was only given to the King’s wives.

Dr. Youssef Khalifa, head of Ancient Egyptian Antiquioties department, said that the discovered tomb in the Ramesseum dated to the Rammaside period. The importance of the discovery that it would help to shed more light on this characher (Karomama) as we only have 12 Ushabtis bear her name as well as to canopic jars and a bronze statue in the Louvre.
#Egypt #Luxor #Karomama #Ramesseum #Amon #History #AncientEgypt #Discovery

Posted 5 days ago by Luxor Times

Labels: Divine Wife of Amon God’s Wife of Amon Karomama King’s wife Ramesseum temple Ushabtis