Fact and Meaning Are Inseparable in Christianity
One of the strongest critiques of O'Callaghan's identification of 7Q5 as from the Gospel
of Mark came from the late Colin J. Hemer , an Anglican expert in exegesis and
Hemer some years ago published an article in the German scholarly journal
in which he argued that 7Q5
could contain a passage written by Thucydides (a Greek historian who lived in Athens
in the period from 460 to 400 B.C.). He wrote: "Dr. J. O'Callaghan has recently
demonstrated some interesting coincidences between the 7Q Greek fragments and New
Testament texts. Whether these coincidences amount to decisive evidence for the
identifications he proposes is a different matter. On the current showing they must all
be held suspect.
"The group of 19 associated fragments may be considered under three heads: (a) the
four longer pieces (7Q1, 2, 3, 19), all sufficiently extensive to permit uncontroversial
placing. None of these have been assigned to the New Testament: two are Septuagintal,
two unidentified. (b) Those with more than two lines containing acceptably legible
letters (7Q4, 5, 8). Here O'Callaghan shows impressive coincidences, but in
each case his hypothesis must presuppose the existence of a textual error or variant. (c)
Two-line fragments, so brief that multiple alternative identifications become feasible. I
have endeavored to show elsewhere that the chances of coincidence are too high for
any solution to be regarded as exclusive.
"There is, I think, no case where the suggestion offered seems both complete and
exclusive. If any one part of the hypothesis were really established, the fragments
might indeed corroborate each other by their association. But this condition is not
fulfilled. Indeed, the pattern is otherwise: the largest pieces lend their weight to the
"There are three evident objections to this solution: (a) it depends on the
assumption of a variant which omits a phrase... ; (b) it depends on the assumption that
the only complete letter preserved of [one Greek word] is a spelling error of initial "d"
for "t"; (c) it postulates in at least two places unlikely readings of doubtful letters (to
judge from the published notes and facsimiles).
"Scribal errors and unexpected textual variants may of course occur in a primitive
document, but a hypothesis which depends on them to turn a partial coincidence into a
complete one is precarious. The present case bears more impressive testimony to the
ingenuity of the scholar than to the correctness of his solution. Diverse, while yet
plausible, partial reconstructions may be comparatively easy to find if we allow license
to assume any convenient error.
"The purpose of this note is to illustrate this point with just such a partial coincidence,
which seems to compare not too unfavorably with those of O'Callaghan. If a letter
group suggests a familiar name like it may prove too easy to build a
hypothesis round the name. The group '' might occur in a variety of contexts. A
suitable recurring name is or A few minutes with a
text of Thucydides, a manifestly implausible source for 7Q5, revealed a place where
something promising might be produced with a little textual manipulation."
He then proceeded to show how the 7Q5 fragment could be read as a text from
The Debate Continues
How certain is the dating of the 7Q5 fragment to the period prior to 50 A.D.? Professor
Vittorio Fusco , a lecturer in the faculty of New Testament Theology at an southern
Italian university, has written several articles arguing that O'Callaghan's thesis is
fragile. One lengthy piece appeared in the Italian Catholic journal in 1993.
There, Fusco wrote: "As for the Qumran fragment 7Q5, identified with Mark 6:52... it is
not explained to the readers that the date of 50 A.D. has been proposed on the grounds
of the style of writing, characteristic of the period between 50 B.C. and 50 A.D., even
though, as O'Callaghan himself has stated, that style of writing was used up until the
end of the century."
This unleashed the wrath of the Catholic magazine, <30 Giorni. >In an article entitled
"" ("Not After 50 A.D.") in its July-August 1994 issue, Fusco's
arguments were branded "nonsense." In the article, O'Callaghan was quoted as saying,
"I really don't know where Fusco got his dates. One thing is sure: certainly not from my
When Fusco then produced passages from O'Callaghan's articles in and in the
where O'Callaghan speaks of the "ornate style" being
used until the end of the century, O'Callaghan apologized.
"My aim is not to see O'Callaghan's thesis stand or fall, or to date the Gospel of Mark a
few decades earlier or later, but simply to place in context the problem of the historicity
of the Gospels,"fusco then said. "Even if the date of 50 A.D. were confirmed, the
problems would essentially remain the same. And those who suggest that the historical
value of the Gospels depends on their early dating are certainly not rendering a
Many doubts have also been raised by Father Gianfranco Ravasi , a member of the
Pontifical Biblical Commission. "O'Callaghan's thesis is fascinating," Ravasi said in an
interview published in on June 1, 1991. "Nevertheless, his proofs seem
insufficient to allow a definite 'yes' or 'no.' Personally I tend toward 'no.'
"The Qumran fragment does not contain whole words, only letters, and O'Callaghan
resorts to putting several words of the Marcan text in parentheses in order to make the
passage match. The doubts about his thesis reflect the caution of exegetes toward
"As for Catholic exegetes have employed this method since Vatican
II. The method grew out of an effort to show the superiority of the Christ of faith to the
Jesus of history, to find a balance between two extremes: a radical historicism and
gnosticism. The main objective of our work is to save Jesus Christ after the Easter event:
the Gospels, which are not historical books, are to be read with the principle of
(message). Therefore, even if we were to prove beyond a doubt that the
Gospel of Mark was composed in 40 A.D., it would be of marginal importance and the
kerygmatic principle would remain the same.
"Certainly, any new discovery alarms the dominant system. But the objections to
O'Callaghan's discoveries derive primarily from the weaknesses of O'Callaghan's
arguments. In the same way, Carmignac's theses have not convinced me, not to mention
those of Tresmontant [Carmignac and Tresmontant have argued Matthew was
originally written in Aramaic and that the Greek version we have is a translation of that
early original]. In short, there has to be stronger evidence."
Significantly, among O'Callaghan's supporters is Father Albert Vanhoye , Secretary of
the Biblical Pontificate Commission.
"I have followed the debate as a non-specialist, but O'Callaghan's arguments seem
plausible to me," Vanhoye said. "The paragraph containing the section change is rather
uncommon in ancient manuscripts as, for example, in the Old Testament. Therefore, the
probability that the text if from Mark increases decisively.
"The title of 's article is imprecise: it gives the impression that Mark wrote
the text as if he were a reporter taking notes. In reality, his Gospel is the fruit of
evangelical catechesis. Saint Irenaeus, by the way, writes that Mark was in contact with
Peter in Rome and it is probable that the text was written in Rome.
"Unfortunately, whenever someone discovers sources that prove historically the truths
of the faith, there is an outcry. On the other hand, whenever research suggests the
contrary, the results are received with great favor.
"O'Callaghan has been subjected to tremendous criticism. His discoveries greatly upset
many biblicists: it had been taken for granted that 40 years had passed from the time of
the death of Christ to the writing of the Gospel of Mark. To discover instead that less
than 20 years had divided the two events - that threatened to undermine the whole of
New Testament exegesis.
"In any event, it is of extreme importance that the question be raised again, and that
there be discussion in the Church on the matter."
Father Ignace de la Potterie , Professor Emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, also
supports O'Callaghan's theory. "I'm glad the fragment studied by Father O'Callaghan is
again being discussed," de la Potterie said. "The implications of the discovery are so
great that it merits renewed interest. The Enlightenment philosopher Gotthold Lessing
once said 'an insuperable abyss separates us from the origins of Christianity.' The new
date attributed to the Gospel of Mark, if verified, would help this great abyss.
"If he is right, the modern distinction between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of
history would be put into question. And we must keep in mind that it the Gospel of
Mark which most exalts the divinity of Christ with its miraculous power.
"Modern exegesis has tended to separate the historical fact from its meaning. Facts
became increasingly secondary, almost mythological, and only the spiritual meaning
remained. But fact and meaning are inseparable in Christianity."
This article was taken from "Inside the Vatican."
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