October 26, 2019

Conference Save the Date: Building a Responsible Art Market

Event:  Building a Responsible Art Market
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Date: Saturday 30 January 2020


They will also cover national implementations of the 5th European Anti-Money Laundering Directive and announce other exciting projects for the RAM Initiative.

More information about the program will be available shortly. Enquiries can be sent to info[at]responsibleartmarket.org.

October 25, 2019

Arrested and released for health reasons, German Dealer Michael Schultz is accused of having deceived clients with false documentation.


For more than 30 years, Michael Schultz operated one of Berlin's most prestigious galleries, focusing on contemporary European and Asian art and selling paintings and sculpture to Germany's rich and famous.  He also was associated with two other galleries, one in Beijing and another in Seoul and is known to have regularly participates at international art fairs in Cologne, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Miami Beach, and New York,

But his future in the art market was thrown into jeopardy following his arrest by Germany's State Criminal Police Office or Landeskriminalamt (LKA) on October 17, 2019.  Standing accused of fraud, Shultz who was arrested at home, was released pending trial by the German magistrate due to his poor state of health. 

At the heart of the investigation is a forged work of art purportedly by the renowned German visual artist Gerhard Richter.  

Original Richter
"Abstract Picture" (Catalogue Raisonné: 706-2)
painted in 1989.
The forged artwork, put up for auction at Christie's in New York, was given to a collector by Shultz as a repayment for an outstanding debt, when Shultz could not repay the original loan. The collector in turn consigned the painting for auction to Christies. 

As part of the auction house's due diligence, they in turn contacted the Gerhard Richter Archive of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden for information about the painting and from there things ultimately began to unravel.   The original artwork by Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné: 706-2, failed to match the artwork the collector had readied for auction. 

What prompted Shultz to pawn a forged work of art so easily verified through a digital online catalogue Raisonné is curious. Richter has long been known as the "Man Behind the Squeegee" and his highly crafted abstract minimalist artworks bring top dollar on the contemporary art market as they are highly sought after.  

To create his original works Richter first applies paint in scrims, then uses a length of perspex encased in wood, which he then moves left to right, or top to bottom to create textured smears of the many layers of the still-wet thickened paint.  A faux Richter, could never (conceivably) smear in quite the same way as an original. The forger would not only need to know exactly where and in what quantity the artist had placed the starting paint layers on the artwork but he/she would also have to employ the exact same squeegee sluices, using precisely the same motion and pressure to come anywhere close to replicating the work. 


What drove Shultz to perpetuate this fraud is unknown.  Perhaps it was driven by long-standing debts, as the dealer is known to have closed his gallery on Mommsenstraße, opened in 1986 in the rich district of Charlottenburg, center of the former west Berlin.  He also opened preliminary insolvency proceedings in September through the District Court of Charlottenburg. 

Interestingly, his bad luck with Gerhard Richter didn't just start now.  In 2015 Shultz had to answer to embezzlement charges Tiergarten district court when he sold a Richter he held as collateral for another art dealer who conversely, in this instance, borrowed money from him.  When that borrower defaulted, Shultz sold the other dealer's Richter for €300,000.  Given that the sold painting was actually the property of the second dealer's wife, (and therefore not the dealer's to use as a guarantee for debt, Schultz then claimed the painting had disappeared from his gallery. When the artwork was ultimately recovered, Richter was fined €15,000.


October 24, 2019

The Gospel Truth? How the laundering of papyri washes away its provenance sins

Archived Facebook Screenshot
The Castle Folio Page
Image Credit: ARCA
Earlier on this blog we reported on an entry published on the Obbink/Elder's Castle Folio Facebook page.  That post made reference to the alleged first-century Gospel of Mark fragment, now known correctly as P.Oxy LXXXIII 5345, in which the writer of the entry stated that an important text had been recovered thanks to the dismantling of a mummy's cartonnage mask.

In that Facebook entry, the excited company promoter stated:

"A print of the ancient Gospel of Mark has been discovered inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask that had been fashioned with recycled papyri.

Researchers have dated this fragment to be from before the year 90 A.D., making this fragment the oldest known copy of the Gospel of Mark!"  

Clicking on the Facebook link embedded with this social media post, one arrives to a dead page link on the Obbink/Elder Castle Folio website.  An archived image of that missing page, written by an unknown author with access to the hosted company website wrote on January 28, 2015 that a piece of the ancient Gospel of Mark had been discovered inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask that had been fashioned out of recycled papyri. The writer of the article then used the significance of the purported find as a defense for the controversial text fragment recovery method, as the process of extracting papyri ultimately destroys the mummy masks.  More on that extraction method and its total disregard for the sanctity of surviving antiquities later.

Archived Website Screenshot - Castle Folio Website
Image Credit: ARCA
The same image found on the Castel Folio Facebook page was likewise published, with the same Castle Folio website link on the same day on the company's Twitter feed.

Archived Twitter Screenshot
- @thecastlefolio Profile
Image Credit: ARCA
The gospel (truth) according to...

But the Mark papyrus fragment was already in the public limelight, without mention of any association with mummy cartonnage as far back as February 01, 2012.  Back then Dan Wallace, an American professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) mysteriously reported (apparently at the urging of others) on the fact that scholars had likely found a probable first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark. 

This purported "discovery" was mentioned during a lengthy public debate with Bart Ehrman held in Memorial Hall at UNC Chapel Hill which can still be viewed here.   At around 1hr and 13 mins into the video, Wallace stated that the fragment was being studied by "a papyrologist who has worked on this manuscript, a man whose reputation is unimpeachable" and whom "many consider (him) to be the best papyrologist on the planet."

Much later, Wallace would state that after that Feb 01, 2012 talk, he signed a Non Disclosure Agreement (he doesn't indicate with whom) requiring him "not to speak about when it would be published or whether it even exists. The termination of this agreement would come when it was published."  This type of NDA requirement is similar, if not identical to, ones signed by other scholars, who had access to ancient material from the Green Collection.

Just six days later, on February 7, 2012, during a Atlanta lecture series ex Green Collection buyer Scott Carroll also talked up the purported earliest fragment with no mention of mummy cartonnage, admitting he was at the Chapel Hill event and saying the fragment first came to his attention in January 2012.  As first noted by Brent Nongbri in June earlier this year Carroll Stated:

“I was with Dan, ah, five days ago, ah, prior to an important debate he had, ah, 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, ah, 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, ah, 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.”

Carroll's statement in Atlanta contradicts his own earlier statement on a now deleted Facebook post where he implied having seen a fragment that was earlier than the earliest-known text of the NT, the so-called John Rylands papyrus.

The first provenance story and photo referring to the Mummy mask origin mentioned by Castel Folio in 2015 occurred during the 2014 Apologetics Canada Conference in Vancouver, BC Canada.  Speaking at the event was Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at the Divinity School of Acadia University.  Evans was the first individual (that I have found) who publicly stated that the "discovery" of the probable first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark was attributed to a papyrus fragment taken from the Egyptian cartonnage mummy mask.


On January 18, 2015 Owen Jarus, for Live Science also interviewed Evans who again reiterated his earlier statement that the purported 1st century Mark fragment was from a sheet of papyrus reused to create a mummy mask.  Unapologetically, he went on to say "we’re not talking about the destruction of any museum-quality piece."

Evans added that he was only allowed to discuss the fragment in general details because a member of the team had leaked some general information in 2012 and he was only repeating what others had already stated, given that he too, apparently, was subject to a Non Disclosure Agreement.  This statement is interesting because nothing "leaked" in 2012 made mention publically of a mummy cartonnage provenance connection.

On January 28, 2015 Evans went on to provided the International Business Times with the same image of the mummy masque from his earlier lecture Apologetics Canada Conference.

Image Credit: Craig Evans, Acadia Divinity College
 https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/mummy-mask-found-contain-oldest-known-gospel-first-century-ad-1484086
This was quickly followed up by the January 28, 2015, Castle Folio social media posts mentioned at the start of this article, which showed the same masks on a different background.  All of which served to fan the flames of the urban legend that was now spreading through the evangelical and textual criticism communities as the purported collection source for this rare biblical fragment, turning attention away from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri at the EES to which Obbink was then affiliated.

Scholars pressed for more information... 

  • Who owned the papyrus, or the mask from which it was taken? 
  • How extensive is the fragment? 
  • Could they see it?
  • Why did Wallace, Carroll and Evans believe that the fragment was from the first century? 
  • Who were the scholars who had examined it
  • What method was used to date it? 
As everyone was occupied with either the excitement of the purported find or with the controversial revelation that the fragment had been ripped from an ancient mummy mask, few reached deeper to question if the confessed provenance was truth or if it might be fabrication.  Instead most scholars focused on whether or not this yet unseen fragment, was in fact the oldest known fragment of the Gospel of Mark and debated the voracity of this claim in light of so little proof, while everyone held their breath and waited for the fragment to be published so they could understand more.

But in May 2018 the jinn was out of the bottle


The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) reported that a fragment published in their most recent edition of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (vol. 83), was, in fact, the aforementioned and much discussed NT Mark 1.  Identifying the fragment as P.Oxy. 83.5345; P137, the EES stated that this small butterfly shaped papyrus was not, as was long flaunted to be the case, from the first century.  Instead, it had been assigned to the late second/early third centuries by none other than Dirk Obbink.   Likewise the EES also made it clear that the fragment did not come from a mummy cartonnage, instead it was part of their Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection and had never been for sale.  They even open-sourced the pages in the new publication discussing P.Oxy. 83.5345 so that interested scholars could review their conclusions.

Upon hearing the official news that the much talked about, and no longer first century fragment of Mark had been published, and being no longer bound by any non disclosure agreements, Dan Wallace, issued an apology on his blog on May 23, 2018.  In this posting he stated "In my debate with Bart [Ehrman], I mentioned that I had it on good authority that this was definitely a first-century fragment of Mark. A representative for who I understood was the owner of FCM urged me to make the announcement at the debate, which they realized would make this go viral."

If Obbink "sold" the fragment to Hobby Lobby, as evidence in the case seems to indicate, was it Scott Carroll who Wallace perceived to be the owner when asked to talk up the fragment?  And who came up with the idea of saying that the fragment was discovered inside a cartonnage mummy mask instead of from within the EES archive?

Laundering mummy masks to launder stolen property

This leads me back to 2011 when Balor Magazine wrote about a "new" method for recovering ancient texts.  The article mentioned an extraction exercise conducted by Scott Carroll, then a research professor of manuscript studies and the biblical tradition at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, as well as the director of the Green Collection.  The event was witnessed and participated in by students and faculty from the Department of Classics and the Honors College at Baylor, as well as other guests.  Video recorded, Carroll is seen gently laundering of a third-century BCE Egyptian mummy mask in soapy water as if it were someone's lingerie.   After being doused, the ancient object was then broken apart gently to extract strips of papyri, some of which reportedly dated back to the fifth century.


Likewise, scholars at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia also took mummy cartonnage apart. For this involvement Craig Evans was interviewed by Live Science who confirmed  "We're recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters" 

Joslin "Josh" McDowell, an Evangelical Protestant Christian apologist also gave a video talk with slides documenting more images of papyri extraction through the dismounting of mummy masks.

"You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

In the end, soaking these ancient mummy masks and then claiming to have extracted X-Y-Z papyrus fragment from the siggy masks during the process has created a reasonable loophole for dealing with distasteful dodgy provenance.  As this method provides the actors involved with a reasonable defense for how they came by ancient texts which in reality are not legitimate to sell.  All that has to be done, is to say that the ancient papyrus came from a deconstructed object, provide valid proof of the legitimate purchase of that cartonnage and then destroy it, as American and in some other countries, the legal owner of an ancient object can dispose of it as he/she sees fit.

By claiming that the Gospel of Mark fragment was found inside mummy cartonnage which has ultimately been destroyed during their extraction process, the actors involved in its illegal sale tried to side step the next obvious question...where the fragments came from. 

That is until the invoices of the transaction come to light and the incriminating pages of the Castle Folio manuscript were not so successfully "scrubbed".

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 22, 2019

Updates from the Egyptian Exploration Society and the papri purchased by Andy Stimer

The Egyptian Exploration Society issued an update Monday, 21 October 2019 indicating that collector Andy Stimer, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Hope Partners Industry, has confirmed to the EES that he is in possession of five papyri from their collection.  The USA collector appears to be cooperating with the EES and has agreed "to make arrangements for their return" and  "wishes to help the EES check whether he holds any other EES texts"

The EES listed the five biblical papyri Stimer reported purchasing (in good faith) as: 

Exodus 40: P.Oxy. inv. 30 4B.37/F(1-3)c
Psalms 3-4: inv. 100/103(b)
Ecclesiastes: inv. 102/124(b)
Romans 9-10: inv. 29 4B.46/G(4-6)a [three pieces]
1 Corinthians 7-10: inv. 106/116(c)

Their report also clarified that four of the papri identified in Brent Nongbri’s post of 18 October 2019, ‘Recently emerged papyri of dubious origins: a working list’, are safe within the Oxyrhynchus collection, and have been assigned to editors for publication.

Those are: 

Genesis 11: P.Oxy. inv. 11 1B.147/D(a)
Matthew 12: inv. 102/66(d)
Luke? [Luke 12]: inv. 106/113(c)
Luke 2: inv. 104/42(c)

In addition to the controversial Dead Sea Scrolls, Stimer is recorded as having donated the following objects to the Museum of the Bible: 









Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - ,, No comments

Maltese Priest sentenced for the theft of sacred church art


Fr. Deo Debono, the suspended priest from the Provincial Parish church of the Augustinians in Malta, has pled guilty during his arraignment to charges stemming from the theft of sacred art.  Asked by Magistrate Ian Farrugia if he was certain he wanted to enter a plea of guilty, Fr. Debono spoke briefly with his attorney and then affirmed his guilty plea in the theft of paintings and religious objects for services. Magistrate Farrugia then handed down a two-year jail term suspended for four years and ordered Debano to pay €9,500 to the third-party victim of fraud who had purchased the paintings in good faith, unaware that they had been stolen. 

Prior to his arrest, the popular priest told friends about missing paintings at the church and indicated that he suspected workmen from a restoration project.  Debono's story began to unravel when a thurible and an incense boat from the nun's cloister turned up at the Maltese Antiquarian Shop for €3,500 and someone notified the mother superior of the cloistered Augustinian nuns’ convent.  Police then contacted the shop, who had not suspected the priest given his position at the church. 

Augustinian Father Leslie Gatt, has stated that the provincial authorities of the church order  are still considering the way forward regarding the the priest's role in the order following his guilty please. 

October 19, 2019

A statement from Dirk Obbink and an interesting link to Mahmoud Elder, Scott Carroll and a collector named Andrew Stimer

Screenshot: 19 October 2019
https://www.museumofthebible.org/collections/artifacts/7505-letter-from-plutarchos-to-theoninos-poxy-1775#/
Friday, the Waco Tribune-Herald received a statement, relayed by the attorneys of Dirk Obbink, contesting the claims linking him with the illegal sale of ancient material to Hobby Lobby, Inc., which have been determined to have come from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Collection, which are the property of the Egypt Exploration Society.

That quote, with a link to the original Waco Tribune-Herald article, is listed in its entirety here. 

"The allegations made against me that I have stolen, removed or sold items owned by the Egyptian Exploration Society collection at the University of Oxford are entirely false," he stated. "I would never betray the trust of my colleagues and the values which I have sought to protect and uphold throughout my academic career in the way that has been alleged. 
"I am aware that there are documents being used against me which I believe have been fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career. I am working with my legal team in this regard."

Obbink's personal statement begs the further question as to why the MacArthur “Genius Award” grantee waited from August 2016, when the EES did not re-appoint him as a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri "primarily because of unsatisfactory discharge of his editorial duties, but also because of concerns, which he did not allay, about his alleged involvement in the marketing of ancient texts", until October 2019 to issue a statement which in effect says he's being framed.

More importantly what is he saying he was framed for? 

It is clear from the archives on the website for the Museum of the Bible that Professor Obbink found himself in the unique position as a learned scholar to leverage the value of his knowledge in ancient texts to a greater advantage financially and was actively selling directly to the Greens at least as far back as 2010, during the early formation of the family's buying spree, and in anticipation of the opening of a future biblical museum sponsored by the evangelical family.  

The photo at the top of this article, of a Letter from Plutarchos to Theoninos. (P.Oxy. 1775) was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009-2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the 1 Peter Fragment (P.Oxy. 1353; Uncial 0206)  was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the Lease of Land (P.Oxy. 1688)  was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the Account of Receipts and Expenses (P.Oxy. 1728) was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the Psalms Fragment (P.Oxy. 1779; Rahlfs 2073) was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the Return of Unwatered Land (P.Oxy. 1459) was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the Letter from Theon to His Mother (P.Oxy. 1678) was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise the Letter from Sarapion to his Father Dionysius (P.Oxy. 1756) was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 

Likewise a Draft of Release of Claims Concerning Receipt of Dowry was acquired by Dirk Obbink in 2009–2010 from the United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio and very quickly, privately sold to the Green Collection in 2010. 


While the Museum of the Bible may not comprehensively list all the provenance on all the objects within the museum's collection, this is at least ten other documented examples of sales where Dirk Obbink was not serving simply as a scholarly advisor to the Greens, but rather as a direct supplier of manuscripts to the family in addition to the purported sale of pieces already earmarked to be restituted to the EES.  

Then there are the other fargments sold to a collector named Andrew Stimer, two of which are also linked to the EES inquiries, where Stiner has stated that he purchased the pieces from M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan.  

Stimer writes: 

"I acquired both of the manuscripts in the summer of 2015 from Mr. M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. He bought them the previous year, in April 2014, via a private treaty sale executed by Christie’s London. The fragments were part of a collection of texts that had been in the Pruitt family since the 1950s. Dr. Rodman Pruitt was an industrialist and inventor in southern Indiana who was known as a collector of manuscripts, books and artifacts of various kinds. He acquired his papyri from Harold Maker, a well-known dealer in manuscripts who was based in Irvington, New Jersey. I am told that the Trismegistos database lists numerous published papyri originally sold by Harold Maker. [Coincidentally, I have another manuscript in my collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.] I contacted Christie’s London to confirm that they had indeed conducted the private treaty sale of manuscripts that had passed by descent through the Pruitt family. I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt, though he was of course restricted in the amount of information he was at liberty to provide to me. The sale included various papyri, in Coptic, Greek and Syriac. I was satisfied that the information I had been given at the time of the acquisition was correct."

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Stimer's name has been attached to Scott Carroll who has been discussed at length on this blog and Mahmoud Elder appears to have formed a joint business initiative with Obbink as one of the two founding officers of Castle Folio Limited, which was incorporated 11 March 2014 and dissolved some years later.  

The Edler-Obbink company's first introductory post on Facebook reads:

"The Castle Folio began as an idea between collectors and investors with a simple question: what would it take to start a company that provided services to prepare an exhibition focusing on ancient texts and antiquities for any major public viewing? 


We collaborated with historians, linguistics, art conservationist, appraisers and dealers to work on our board's private collection, refining our services until we were ready to offer them. 
We are not only investors. Every member of The Castle Folio family is a serious collector with a passion for collecting and preserving our shared history. 
Please take a minute to explore our services and see how we can be of help. 
The Castle Group is an Elder-Marini Group held company."

On 28 January 2015 Castle Folio's facebook page has a entry which links to a now deleted page on the company's website which gives reference to the so called First-Century Fragment of Mark's Gospel, but interestingly tries to imply that "A print of the ancient Gospel of Mark has been discovered inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask that had been fashioned with recycled papyri. Researchers have dated this fragment to be from before the year 90 A.D.!"  

The unknown author of this entry uses the significance of the find to try to put a lid on the debate over the controversial text fragment recovery method, as the process of extracting the papyrus ultimately destroys the mummy masks.  It also appears that saying the fragment was discovered inside a cartonnage mummy mask would draw less attention to the fragment than "finding" it and removing it from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection.

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 18, 2019

On the 50th anniversary, a tale of two Caravaggio (thefts)


50 years ago today, in the evening hours between the 17th and the 18th of October 1969, Caravaggio's magnificent masterpiece, "Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence", was lost, possibly forever.  The masterpiece was stolen with unprecedented ease from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo.  It is believed to be the only painting the mercurial artist painted in Palermo during the nine months he spent in Sicily. 

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio's successful artistic career was the product of his refusal to follow the conventional artistic styles of the time, focusing rather on realistic, and symbolistic detail, condensed into some of the most detailed and vivid biblical scenes.  His artistic fame, regrettably, was also accompanied by his irascibility and an unpredictable and violent temper, which frequently got him in hot water and may have significantly shortened his lifespan.  

On the day of the Palermo heist, thieves entered the oratory through a poorly locked side door and cut the large painting from its frame, rolling it up and carrying it away.  Vanishing without so much as a trace, the famous theft has been the subject of much speculation and an occasional purported sighting.  Some say the painting is (still) with the mafia, others have testified it was destroyed. 

In a recently released video fragment, published earlier in September by the Guardian newspaper, Monsignor Rocco Benedetto, the pastor of the Oratory of San Lorenzo at the time of the theft, is recorded saying he was contacted by letter on two occasions by the painting's thieves.  The first letter he received appears to have been a simple query, asking the monsignor to follow specific instructions and to publish an announcement in the newspaper.  The second letter was more ominous and reportedly contained a slice of the stolen painting to prove to the church that the people sending instructions actually had the painting.

This brief video clip, likely part of a longer interview, was filmed by Massimo D'Anolfi in 2001, given as part of a planned future documentary on the stolen works. Some of what Benedetto describes happened in 1969 would repeat itself in 1984 when a second Caravaggio was stolen, this time in Malta.


But, after 50 years of waiting for the return of one of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces,  some may wonder if there is any hope at all that the painting will be recovered.  Some are cynical, but ARCA remains hopeful, and invites our readers to remember a second stolen work by the Italian master Caravaggio which had a happy ending.

The recovered "St. Jerome Writing in its pride of place at St. John's Co.Cathedral

On New Year's Eve in 1984"St Jerome Writing" was also cut from its frame and stolen from the Oratory of St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta  Held for ransom it was later recovered with the help of Fr. Marius Zerafa, a Maltese Dominican and former museum director.  He recounts his nerve racking involvement as the unintentional intermediary between the thieves and the Maltese authorities they were extorting in his book "The  Caravaggio Diaries."

Fr. Marius Zerafa
Like in the Palermo theft interview, Fr. Zerafa received a letter, though not through the post.  His was delivered by hand, when a young man approached the father and quickly passed him an envelope. Inside, along with a letter, was a shocking polaroid image which depicted the church's precious Caravaggio spread out on a table, held in place with an Italian espresso coffee pot.  The thieves demanded a ransom for the Maltese Caravaggio's return and would go on, just like in the Palermo case, a sliver of the stolen St. Jerome to prove they meant business.

Thankfully, with the help of Zerafa and law enforcement, the painting was recovered. 

If you want to read the whole story of the Caravaggio theft from St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, stay tuned.  Fr. Zerafa's out of print book will soon be republished by ARCA. 

October 16, 2019

A scandal of biblical proportions: Oxford professor, Dirk Obbink implicated in sale of EES fragments to Hobby Lobby

Dirk Obbink in his home in Oxford at Christ Church
Image Credit:  Facebook Photo Screenshot from the profile of Timothy Smith, Former Chief Development Officer at Museum of the Bible
Since early last summer the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has been increasingly concerned about the sale of P.Oxy. 5345, the once-called First Century Mark fragment, and three other pieces of papyrus from the EES Oxyrhynchus collection.  These four early gospel fragments, each conveniently including passages from the consecutive the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are some of the most important historic scriptures to come on the (il)licit market in recent years and were apparently sold, without the knowledge or consent of the EES to Hobby Lobby Inc., which purchased the artifacts in early 2013.  

The seller was Dirk Obbink, an American papyrologist, who was appointed to the University Lectureship in Papyrology at Oxford in 1994, taking over the post vacated by Peter Parsons when the latter took up the Regius Chair of Greek.  Obbink's appointment at Oxford combined a variety of responsibilities, including a Tutorship at Christ Church, where he lectures on a wide range of classical material as well as the direction of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project and its related Imaging Papyri Project.  Obbink's involvement as the seller of these ancient texts, appears to be a side pursuit which he has been involved with for a considerable period of time.   

Excavations at Oxyrhynchus 1, ca. 1903. 
Image Credit:EES

Religious Rubbish to Sacred Scriptures 

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, most of which are now the property of the Egypt Exploration Society, is a substantial collection of thousands of papyri fragments discovered during six excavation seasons carried out by British Classicists Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt from 1896 until 1907.  The literary material was uncovered outside the ruins of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus, near the modern-day city of El-Bahnasa (in the Al-Minya governorate), on the left bank of the Bahr Yussef in Egypt.  There, at the turn of the century, more than 100,000 fragments were unearthed from the city's rubbish mounds, saved by the ravages of time, with the help of Egypt's arid climate and the layers of dry sand which created the ideal conditions for preserving organic matter.  


For biblical scholars, the New Testament papyri found in the garbage heaps of Oxyrhynchus constitute the oldest, most numerous, and most geographically concentrated group of first to third century Christian texts found in any singular area.  Given the vast size of the Oxyrhynchus cache, textual critics and scholars are still deciphering, reconstructing and publishing the transcriptions of the papyrological and parchment fragments discovered by Grenfell and Hunt's team more than a century after their original discovery. 

In a strangely Ponzi-like scheme...

As the scandal reaches biblical proportions, it appears that Hobby Lobby Inc., agreed to the purchase of the four contested fragments, (see the purchase agreement and other documents provided by Michael Holmes, Director of the Museum of the Bible's Scholars Initiative) via a private sales agreement dated January 17, 2013.   

Redacted Obbink-Hobby Lobby Invoice
In that agreement, the US-based craft company is listed as the purchaser of six items including the four New Testament papyri whose dates are listed as "circa 0100 AD".  Oxford scholar Dirk Obbink is listed as the objects' private seller.  The heavily redacted invoice, released publically last June, itemized the objects to be included in the sale and sequences the invoice as number "17". This leaves one to speculate as to who Obbink's sixteen previous invoices were issued, and if they too might involve ancient artifacts that were not in the scholar's purview to sell.  

At the time this purchase agreement was drawn up, Obbink's role as the director of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, gave him hands on access to any number of ancient texts for scholarly interpretation.  Yet his sale's agreement to Hobby Lobby makes no mention of the four fragments true owners, the EES, or any other provenance collection history for that matter.  Nor does their agreement state when or under what condition these slips of papyri left the territory of Egypt or in what capacity Obbink was acting as the UK-based seller.  

Instead, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., seemed more focused on obtaining the fragments' in time for an upcoming exhibition at the Vatican in Rome and for control of any future academic publication.  Under their mutually negotiated sales agreement, Hobby Lobby agreed to Obbink's stipulations for exclusivity regarding the research and publishing of the circa 100-300 CE fragments.  They also granted him permission to retain the fragments for a period of four years so that he could conduct scholarly research.    

Yet the path to this sale is filled with contradictions and some statements made by several overlapping actors who were aware of the sale rebut the facts and one another. 

In a video interview at the National Apologetics Conference, held on October 16-17, 2015, almost three years after the alleged sale, the Green Collection's controversial former buyer, Scott Carroll commented on seeing the Mark fragment on a pool table along with a number of pieces of mummy cartonnage, in what is believed to have been, but was not explicitly stated to be, Obbink's office in Oxford at Christ Church.    

Here is a brief excerpt from that interview between Carroll and the Evangelical Protestant Christian apologist Josh McDowell.  The full seven minute video is also included below. 

Carroll: 
"Now, this Mark may have been in that kind of a context. I’m not sure um I saw it in, ah, at Oxford University, at uh, at uh, Christ Church College and with, it was in the possession of an outstanding, well-known, and eminent classicist. I saw it again in 2013.  

There were some delays with its, with its, ah purchasing, and I was working at that time, ah, 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. Um, we were preparing an exhibit for the Vatican Library, and um, I wanted this to be a 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. It has since been acquired. I can’t say by whom. It is in the process of being prepared for publication and what’s important to say is…."  

McDowell:
"What does that mean, “process of being prepared”? What does that mean?"  

Carroll:
"It’s a lengthy process, actually going through, especially with this because it’s going to get, it’s going to go out there, and there are going to be people immediately trying to tear it down, ah questioning its provenance, so where it came from, what it dates to, especially with the date. And so they want an ironclad argument on the dating of the document so that, ummm, it won’t be, I mean they have a responsibility to that. But this is going to be very critical (***inaudible***). It will be a major flash-point in the news when this happens."  

McDowell:
"Who’s the main person in the publishing of it?" 

Carroll: 
"Well, umm, the most important person of note is Dirk Obbink, who is… see this is a lot more information than you heard last time."  

McDowell:   
"Yeah it is."  

Carroll: 
"Dirk Obbink is an outstanding scholar. He’s one of the world’s leading specialists on papyri. He directs the collection, for students who are in here, you may remember hearing the word “Oxyrhynchus Papyri.” He is the director of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri

Um, I can’t speak to his, like his own personal faith positions and I don’t think he would define himself as an Evangelical in any sense of the word, but he is um, not, he doesn’t have a derogatory attitude at all. He’s a supportive person. But he, he, specializes in the dating of handwriting. And as he was looking at the, both times I saw the papyrus, it was in his possession. So, it was in Oxford at Christ Church, and actually on his pool table in his office, along with a number of mummy heads. So, he had these mummy heads..." 

McDowell: 
"So, you’re playing pool [laughter, inaudible]."

Carroll: 
"And you’ve got that document there. And that’s the setting. That’s kind of surreal. And Dirk, Dirk was wrestling with dating, somewhere between 70 AD and 120, 110/120..."


On December 1, 2011 Carroll took to social media and wrote on Facebook "For over 100 years the earliest-known text of the NT has been the so-called John Rylands papyrus.  That is about to change with a sensational discover[y] I made yesterday.  Stay tuned for the update."  The same day he tweeted the same in shorter form on the social media site Twitter. "For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-call John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more."

In this instance Carroll was referring to the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St John's fragment, (accession reference P. Rylands 457), a papyrus fragment which Carroll believed was superseded, in terms of earliest known NT scripture by the yet to be published fragment shown to him in Oxford by Obbink.

In 2018 Professor Obbink himself reported to EES that he did show the Mark papyrus to Scott Carroll in his rooms, where he claimed it was temporarily there for teaching purposes.  Obbink reported that Scott Carroll and he discussed whether the fragment could be displayed in an exhibition at the Vatican but without conclusion and insisted that he had never said that the papyrus was for sale.  Obbink also informed the EES that while he did receive some payments from the Green Collection for advice on other matters, he had not accepted any payment for or towards the purchase of this previously unpublished text.  The exhibition Obbink obliquely referred to would have been the Verbum Domini which highlighted 152 pieces from the Green's collection and which opened in Rome on March 1, 2012, long before the sales agreement between Obbink and Hobby Lobby was finalized. 

Jerry Pattengale, former Executive Director of Education Initiatives at Museum of the Bible also gave his own version of his long and sometimes contentiously bumpy relationship with Obbink, Carroll, the Museum of the Bible's benefactors and the controversial sale of the stolen EES artifacts.  In an article penned for Christianity Today on June 28, 2019, Pattengale reported being present during the infamous viewing of the Mark fragment on Obbink's pool table and writes that he and Carroll were about to leave the scholar's office, when Obbink stood up and told them “I have something you two might like to see.”

According to Pattengale, Obbink then opened a manila filing envelope containing the four papyrus pieces of New Testament Gospels of Matthew 3.7-10, 11-12; Mark 1.8-9, 16-18; Luke 13.25-7, 28, and John 8.26-8, 33-5, which the scholar  was purportedly shopping to the pair of MOTB affiliates on behalf of a confidential seller.  In Pattengale's version he tries to paint an innocent portrait of himself as having been duped by the Oxford professor.  He even goes so far as to admit that he was the individual who photographed Obbink’s handwritten list of the four manuscripts for sale, reporting that he carried the slip of paper, folded up in his own wallet, for years.

In reality, it was the file metadata of the photo of the handwritten inventory which tied the photo to Pattengale, and which showed that the image was taken near Indiana Wesleyan University, where Pattengale works.  Despite throwing Obbink under the bus, Pattengale gives the reader no information on whether or not he or Carroll pressed the Oxford scholar for any documentation on the objects' legitimacy for sale before he and Carroll brought the offer forward to the Greens and Hobby Lobby. 

Buyer's Remorse? 

The evangelical Green family's private collection of biblical artifacts is known to have been gathered and purchased, in staggering quantities, over a ten year period, many brokered through purchases arranged by Scott Carroll, in anticipation of the opening of the family-sponsored $800 million, eight-story, Museum of the Bible.  Brimming with objects gifted to the Washington DC museum by their deep-pocketed benefactors, this family-sponsored museum opened its doors, just two blocks south of the National Mall, in November 2017.

Since then, many of the objects and texts purchased by the Greens, and in some cases donated on to the museum, have caused reputational damage to DC's youngest museum, as well as to the Green family themselves and their zealous buyer. So many purchases were made during the Greens antiquities shopping sprees that at times the museum's upper level directors appeared to be somewhat in the dark about when, and what, had been purchased, and from whom.   

As aggressive buyers who at times have been portrayed as being unfamiliar with, or obtuse to ethical collecting practices, the Greens and the Museum of the Bible have not commented publicly on their own involvement leading up to the sale of the EES fragments. It is not known (publically) if the Greens or anyone connected to the sales and ownership transactions queried Obbink at any point to produce documentation demonstrating how the scholar came to acquire the manuscripts, or when, and under what circumstances, the artifacts had left the source country.

What is known is that after agreeing to the Obbink's conditions and proceeding with the invoiced transaction.  The museum waited from 2013 until June 2019 to get cold feet and only transmitted the sale's details to worried scholars, confirming that something was afoot with this purchase, a full year after the Egyptian Exploration Society had identified the Mark fragment as their own. 

This lack of transparency is not the Museum's first, or only time that their collection's acquisition and disclosure details leave a lot of unanswered questions and have proven problematic for the Greens' reputation.  In their drive to acquire, the family has not only purchased stolen artifacts, tied to multiple transactions, but they have also been snookered into buying forgeries which later proved to be too good to be true.  

With the transmission of this controversial purchase agreement and other documents sent to Dr. Brent Nongbri's and published in his June 2019 blog post, Obbink's statements regarding what happened during the his MOTB meetings can now, once and for all, be concluded as false. This plus the continued scholarly outcry from Roberta Mazza, Josephine Dru, Candida Moss, Brent Nongbri, Ariel Sabar, David Bradnick, and a host of other concerned scholars, perhaps served to impetus to the EES to initiate a thorough, internal investigation into what else, in addition to these fragments, might be missing from within their collection while under Obbink's supervision.

Screenshot:  Facebook, taken 16 October 2019. 
That inquiry, facilitated by information and photographs provided by the Museum of the Bible staff, has served to confirm that the MOTB purchased 13 EES fragments stolen from their collection.  Likewise, their investigation has revealed that key file records, including some catalogue cards and photographs relating to the missing fragments (twelve on papyrus and one on parchment) were also methodically removed, likely to cover the tracks of the thief or thieves involved.

For the moment it has been determined that eleven of these fragments were sold directly by Obbink to Hobby Lobby Inc., in two batches in 2010 which were then donated to the Museum of the Bible for the museum's collection.  The other two fragments identified as missing from the EES collection came into the MOTB's hands via Khader M. Baidun & Sons who operate Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel.  Baidun was one of five antiquity dealers in East Jerusalem, arrested in Israel in 2017 in connection to a large smuggling scandal involving antiquities purchased by Hobby Lobby.

Yet whomever removed the artifacts from the Egypt Exploration Society and tampered with the find records, in furtherance of the theft and subsequent sales, was evidently unaware that the EES still had a small ace up their sleeve.  Archival records stored in another area of the society enabled EES staff to identify several missing texts. With this iron-clad evidence, the Society then worked with the MOTB to developed a mutually beneficial agreement which would allow research on the stolen fragments by scholars under the auspices of the MOTB, who would publish their findings in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series, in exchange for the museum's Board of Trustees acceptance of the Society's claim to ownership and the museum's voluntary forfeiture of the contested pieces.

Hashing out this agreement may explain the nearly one year delay between the time EES issued a statement that the fragment of Mark P.Oxy. LXXXIII 5345 was theirs and the time in which Michael Holmes, Director of the Museum of the Bible's Scholars Initiative, released information on the sale's process to worried scholars. 


Genesis 5:  P.Oxy. inv. 39 5B.119/C(4-7)b.  [PAP.000121]
Genesis 17:  P.Oxy. inv. 20 3B.30/F(5-7)b.   [PAP.000463]
Exodus 20-21:  P.Oxy. inv. 102/171(e).   [PAP.000446]
Exodus 30.18-19:  P.Oxy. inv. 105/149(a).   [PAP.000388]
Deuteronomy:  P.Oxy. inv. 93/Dec. 23/M.1.   [PAP.000427]
Psalms 9.23-26:   P.Oxy. inv. 8 1B.188/D(1-3)a.   [PAP.000122]
Sayings of Jesus:  P.Oxy. inv. 16 2B.48/C(a).   [PAP.000377]
Romans 3:  <related to P.Oxy. inv. 101/72(a)>.   [PAP.000467]
Romans 9-10:  P.Oxy. inv. 29 4B.46/G(4-6)a.   [PAP.000425 one part]
1 Corinthians 7-10:  P.Oxy. inv. 106/116(d) + 106/116(c).   [PAP.000120 three small fragments]
Quotation of Hebrews:  P.Oxy. inv. 105/188(c).   [PAP.000378]
Scriptural homily:  P.Oxy. inv. 3 1B.78/B(1-3)a.   [PAP.000395]
(parchment) Acts of Paul:  P.Oxy. inv. 8 1B.192/G(2)b.   [MS.000514]

In June 2019, perhaps in tandem with the release of the purchase agreement documents, the EES formally banned Obbink from any access to its collection, at least for the moment, pending his satisfactory clarification of his 2013 contract for another fragment.  For the moment, no formal charges against Obbink have been made public and Oxford University seems to be carrying out their own internal inquiry.  The EES has also stated that it is "also pursuing identification and recovery of other texts, or parts of texts, which have or may have been illicitly removed from its collection."

Further investigations by Candida Moss outlined on Twitter show a connection between two  antiquities trading company one called Oxford Ancient headed by Dirk Obbink and a second called Castle Folio was jointly owned by one Mahmoud Elder and Dirk Obbink.

In the meanwhile, David Bradnick points out that two additional fragments with private collector, Andrew Stimer, in California, one of 1 Cor 7:32-37; 9:10-16 and the other of Rom 9:21-23; 10:3-4 which were reviewed by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) also appear to likely belong to the same codex sold separately to the MOTB by Obbink.

Stimer has long been connected with Scott Carroll, as well as with his exhibitions in eastern Europe and Russia.  He is also believed to be the same individual who may have sold fake Dead Sea Scrolls fragments to the Museum of the Bible.

Knowing that this could be the tip of what could be a much larger iceberg, the EES will continue carrying out its systematic review of their entire collection, in order to determine what else might be missing and might have been sold. Further details into their internal investigation and whether or not law enforcement authorities in the UK or US will become, or are, involved have not been publicly confirmed as of the writing of this blog post. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 9, 2019

5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium

Image Credit:  City Gallery Wellington
Event:  ArtCrime2019 - the 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington (Māori: Te Whare Toi)
Te Ngākau Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday 19 October 2019

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors, ArtCrime2019 will encompass a wide range of presentations on issues and aspects of art crime in New Zealand and elsewhere, under the umbrella of the overall theme of "iconoclasts, vandals and artists".

The event includes a range of presentations, plus ample opportunities for networking.

Schedule of Event

9.30am Welcome given by Elizabeth Caldwell, Director of City Gallery, Wellington and Arthur Tompkins, Chair, NZ Art Crime Research Trust

9.35am Opening Address by Sir David Carruthers

9.40am Introduction to Session One - Penelope Jackson

9.40 am The Vandalism of Art: When Critiquing Goes too Far - Catherine Gardner

10.10am Public Art and Vandalism - Sue Elliott

10.40 am Q & A

10.45am Morning tea

11.05am Introduction to Session Two - Ngarino Ellis

11.05am Towards a Concept of Curatorial Property to Protect Culturally Significant Artworks from Destruction - Jonathan Barrett

11.35am Must Rogues Fall? Iconoclasm and the Mathematics of Monuments - Ewan Morris

12.05pm Q & A

12.15pm Lunch

1.15pm Introduction to Session Three - Louisa Gommans

1.15pm Crook Cook’ and other targets for vandalism in an era of historical rebalancing - Linda Tyler

1.45pm Colonial Cabinet Makers and their Disregard for Copyright - William Cottrell

2.15pm Q & A

2.25pm Afternoon tea

2.45pm Introduction Arthur Tompkins

2.45pm Civil Law Remedies for Breaches of Duties Owed to Owners of Art Work - Rod Thomas

3.15pm Vandalism and Censorship of Maori Carving - Ngarino Ellis

3.45pm Q & A

3.55pm Presentation from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage: An Art Loss Register for New Zealand - Sebastian Clarke (tbc)

4.25 pm Louisa Gommans talks with Penelope Jackson about her new book, Females in the Frame: Women, Art, and Crime.

4.50pm Closing comments and final Q & A - Arthur Tompkins

Those interested in registering should click on the following link. 

For further information please see ehe New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust  symposium website page