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Fragment 5 from Cave 7 of the Qumran Community in its entirety
Among the Dead Sea scrolls, 7Q5 is the designation for a small papyrus fragment discovered in Qumran Cave 7. The significance of this fragment is derived from an argument made by Jose 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 majority of scholars have not been convinced by O'Callaghan's and Thiede's identification and it is "now virtually universally rejected".
O'Callaghan's proposed identification
This shows the Greek text of Mark 6:52-53. Bold characters represent proposed identifications with characters from 7Q5:
συνηκαν επι τοις αρτοις,
αλλ ην αυτων η καρδια πεπωρω-
μενη. και διαπερασαντες [επι την γην]
ηλθον εις γεννησαρετ και
προσωρμισθησαν. και εξελ-
θοντων αυτων εκ του πλοιου ευθυς
for they did not
understand concerning the loaves
but was their heart harden-
ed. And crossing over [unto the land]
they came unto Gennesaret and
drew to the shore. And com-
ing forth out of the boat immediately
they recognized him.
The 7th Cave at Qumran, where 7Q5 was found.
The argument is weighted on two points.
* First, the spacing before the word και
* Furthermore, a computer search "using the most elaborate Greek texts ... has failed to yield any text other than Mark 6:52-53 for the combination of letters identified by O’Callaghan et al. in 7Q5".
Several counterarguments exist.
* The spacing before the word και
* Although the sequence ννησ is unusual in Greek, the word εγεννησεν
* In order to identify the fragment with Mark 6:52-53, one must account for the replacement of original δ
* As the lines of a column are always more or less of the same length, it must be assumed that the words επι την γην
* 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.
* The computer search performed by Thiede assumed that all the disputed letter identifications made by O'Callaghan were correct. However, a similar search performed by scholar Daniel Wallace, but allowing other possible identifications for the disputed letters, found sixteen matches . If a computer search is performed with the undisputed letters of the fragment 7Q5 it will not find the text Mk 6,52-53, because the undisputed letter τ in line 3 does not fit to this text.
If 7Q5 were identified as Mark 6:52-53 and was deposited in the cave at Qumran by 68 AD, it would become the earliest known fragment of the New Testament, predating P52 by at least some if not many decades.
Since the amount of text in the manuscript is so small, even a confirmation of 7Q5 as Markan "might mean nothing more than that the contents of these few verses were already formalized, not necessarily that there was a manuscript of Mark's Gospel on hand". Since the entirety of the find in Cave 7 consists of fragments in Greek, it is possible that the contents of this cave are of a separate "Hellenized" library than the Hebrew texts found in the other caves. Additionally, as Robert Eisenman points out: "Most scholars agree that the scrolls were deposited in the cave in or around 68 AD, but often mistake this date...for the terminus ad quem for the deposit of the scrolls in the caves/cessation of Jewish habitation at the site, when it cannot be considered anything but the terminus a quo for both of these, i.e., not the latest but the earliest possible date for such a deposit and/or Jewish abandonment of the site. The actual terminus ad quem for both of these events, however difficult it may be to accept at first, is 136 AD."(italics his) This is long after the currently accepted date range for the composition of Mark.