Showing posts with label Dirk Obbink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dirk Obbink. Show all posts

May 19, 2020

Prosecutors file a civil forfeiture complaint for the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet which they say was looted from Iraq.

The Gilgamesh dream tablet, Iraq, c. 1600 BCE
while on display at Museum of the Bible

“Strange things have been spoken, why does your heart speak strangely? The dream was marvelous but the terror was great; we must treasure the dream whatever the terror.”  ― The Epic of Gilgamesh, N.K. Sanders translation. 
Authorities in the United States have filed a civil forfeiture complaint for a 1600 BCE cuneiform tablet featuring a dream sequence from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Acting as the Plaintiff in the case, the US authorities brought an action in rem for the tablet pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(1)(A).  Under this section, US law authorizes the forfeiture of any "merchandise" that is "introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law." In this case, that's when it is believed that the property was stolen in a foreign country and imported into the United States illegally.  

In the complaint, Special Agent John Paul Labbat with the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, cited that the object was stolen Iraqi property introduced into the United States contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 2314, the stolen property act.  This act serves as an independent basis for the forfeiture of any stolen property that moves in interstate or foreign commerce and which is utilized whether the object in question was stolen overseas or inside the United States.

The ancient clay object, originally part of a larger six-column tablet, contains seventy-four lines of Middle Babylonian cuneiform text, and is known to be one of only thirty known surviving fragments from the Epic of Gilgamesh created during the old and middle Babylonian periods.  Written almost 4,000 years ago, the Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known literary works in the world. The earliest parts of the poem were first discovered in the ruins of the library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, in Nineveh, Iraq in 1853. 

Based upon the facts as set out in the Verified Complaint in Rem, on July 30, 2014, Hobby Lobby wired $1,674,000 to an unnamed auction house as payment for the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, having purchased the artifact for donation or display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.  This was the same year that the company's fundamentalist president, Steve Green, persuaded the United States Supreme Court that it deserved a religious exemption from a federal requirement under which employers in the country are made to provide their workers with access to contraceptives.  It is also the same month that the Egyptian Exploration Society gave Dirk Obbink an ultimatum: cut ties with the Green family or lose his editorship of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, several fragments of which are now part of a separate ongoing investigation into another illegal sale in the United Kingdom.

Three months earlier, in April 2014 Manchester-based papyrologist Roberta Mazza had already published a blog post after visiting the Green's exhibition Verbum Domini II in Rome, Italy.  There, Professor Mazza recognized that another ill-advised Green purchase, a papyrus fragment of the Coptic codex of Galatians 2:2-4, 5-6, was one which had earlier been identified by Brice Jones and Dorothy L. King as having passed through the hands of a middleman trafficker on eBay, a gentleman going by the pseudonym Ebuyerrrrr, Yasasgroup, and later Mixantik.  As the investigations into the Green's buying habits progressed, Mazza, would be integral in determining that the Turkish middleman was Yakup Ekşioğlu, a name kept discreetly amongst researchers while investigations were undergoing.

Not long after the payment for the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was finalized, the firm affiliated with the sale shipped the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet to their New York branch and then arranged for one of their representatives to hand-carry the tablet to Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City, in order to avoid incurring a New York sales tax. The cuneiform tablet was subsequently transferred to the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, where it drew concerns with one of the Museum's curators, in the lead up to the museum's grand opening. This unnamed curator queried the parties involved in the object's history post-sale, looking for evidence that would establish the artifact's legitimacy; an act of due diligence that should have been done by the prospective buyer before the tablet was purchased, and not after.  Those involved were anything but helpful.

This likely explains one of the reasons why the cuneiform tablet, once on display on the 4th floor of the DC museum in the History of the Bibles Galleries, was displayed with no provenance information whatsoever.

On 24 September 2019, the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was seized as part of this civil investigation.  As the complaint released demonstrates, the importance of export documentation, for potential owners and dealers, or the lack thereof is a useful tool for researchers, law enforcement, and customs agents who monitor and prevent the trafficking of cultural property, none of which was remotely in keeping with this particular object.

But where was the Dream Tablet before? 

As background to the case, the US document cites that the tablet was first seen by an unnamed antiquities dealer in 2001 on the floor of a London apartment belonging to antiquities dealer Ghassan Rihani originally from Irbid in northern Jordan.

Prior to Rihani's death as well as after, a substantial portion of his "collection" of Iraqi objects began appearing on the London ancient art market. Many were believed to have been illicitly exported out of Iraq during the Gulf War following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and then recycled as being part of the not well documented Rihani family collection, something his son has denied in an interview with the New York Times.

By March/April 2003 the same dealer returned to London with a cuneiform expert and again viewed the tablet, this time with members of Rihani's family.  It is at this visit, where the dealer agreed to purchase the cuneiform table along with other items for a total of $50,530.  These items were subsequently mailed back to the United States and sold onward to two other dealers in ancient art for $50,000 along with a preliminary translation of the inscription.

By March 2007, false provenance documents had been created which omitted any mention of Rihani or the United Kingdom transaction.  Instead, the would-be provenance documentation proclaimed that the tablet had been purchased at a 1981 Butterfield & Butterfield auction in San Francisco, listed as LOT 1503.  All of which was blatantly untrue, as was the claim that the tablet had been deaccessioned from a small museum.

The cuneiform table would eventually make its way into the hands of Michael Sharpe, who published the object in his Rare & Antiquated Books catalog, where the object's constructed pedigree took a back seat to it's highlighted importance.

Like many cases before it, the multiple transactions surrounding the sales of the stolen Gilgamesh Dream Tablet reflects the inadequacy of the due diligence performed by intermediary dealers, the auction house, and the Green family themselves.  A simple check of the Butterfield & Butterfield auction records would have noted that LOT 1503 does not match the description of a terracotta cuneiform tablet from Iraq.  That alone should have given someone reason to pause.

At best, all of these dealers' behavior, the auction house's behavior and the collector's continued nonchalant attitude towards the object agreed to he purchase should be characterized as negligent. At worst, it shows the complicity of market actors, including those anonymously helping law enforcement post-facto, in prioritizing profits and plausible deniability as a masquerade for stewardship and collecting ethics.

As a result of this case, never shy Hobby Lobby has deflected its own ethical responsibilities towards due diligence by filing suit against Christie's, alleging fraud and breach of warranty in connection with the private treaty sale allegedly after the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet's provenance failed to stack up. This move confirms the auction powerhouse as the intermediary auction house, unnamed in the civil forfeiture complaint. That case has been listed as Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Christie's Inc. (1:20-cv-02239) to be heard in the Eastern District of New York and names Georgie Aitken, Head of the Antiquities Department at Christie's in London from 2009-2016 and Margaret Ford, the Senior Director, International Head of Group, Books and Science at Christie's.

In closing, it is interesting to note that in the past Christie's has voiced a willingness to work closely with law enforcement agencies and ministries of culture to resolve issues when suspect antiquities passing through their organization, but reading the emails detailed in the civil forfeiture complaint for this cuneiform tablet show acting employees of the firm being anything but that. Instead, Christie's appears to have been trying to extract itself from the difficult situation it found itself in, having failed to so their advance homework prior to accepting the object for consignment or at any point up to the final sale.

Yet guarding our past for the future, is also going to be a tough sell for the Oklahoma-based retailer/donor.  In 2017 Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million after federal authorities alleged that the firm bought thousands of historical artifacts that were smuggled out of Iraq.  In 2019 the Museum of the Bible deaccessioned and restituted a number of stolen EES papyrus fragments removed illegally from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri housed at the Sackler Library in Oxford and in 2020 the museum relinquished 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments, which had been acquired with a lack reliable provenance, or ownership histories.

Then there is that Galatians fragment Dr. Mazza has been asking about for years now, as well as many other pieces, have been tied back to Dr. Dirk Obbink and his private antiquities enterprises. 

At the time of the last restitution Mr. Green stated:

“One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased.” 

One would question just how many legal entanglements it will take before Mr. Green starts to acknowledge that he is a significant contributor to the problem and not merely an innocent victim.  His failure to have engaged in serious due diligence of the artifacts he has purchased has already caused the Museum of the Bible to suffer by their own hands.  Likewise, due diligence of looted antiquities, especially those that could be from conflict-based countries, must be meaningful and not superficially plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when an antiquity's background looks murky, as is the case with this important cuneiform tablet, the art market and wealthy donor collectors need to step up their game, by no longer participating in the laundering and by allowing researchers access to past sales details so that wrongs can be righted.

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 25, 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020 - ,,,,, No comments

Christ Church loans and other Dirk Obbink answered and unanswered questions.

In an article in today's UK Times, the London newspaper reported that a review of Christ Church college's annual reports indicate that there was an equity-sharing arrangement with Dr. Dirk Obbink for £434,000 in 2018 in order for the professor to purchase a property. 

Agreements of this type are not unusual per se and are even written into the Statutes of Christ Church Oxford:

5. Equity sharing arrangements for Official Students, Officers and other persons employed by the House 

(a) Subject to such provisions (if any) as may from time to time be contained in the By-laws but without prejudice to the powers of investment contained in clause 2 of this Statute the Governing Body may enter into equity sharing arrangements with an OfficialStudent, Officer mentioned in Statute XVI.  1 or other person employed by the House who does not reside in the House.

(b) Subject as aforesaid, the Governing Body may dispose of any interest in a property acquired under an equity sharing arrangement to any co-beneficiary of the trust of land on such terms as it thinks fit.

(c) For the purposes of sub-clauses (a) and (b) of this clause, an equity sharing arrangement is an arrangement to purchase property jointly with an Official Student, Officer or other person employed by the House and with family members of such persons is a constituent college of the University of Oxford.

Awkward timing and unfinished business

While The Times didn't give an exact date of the execution of this financial arrangement with Obbink, we know that by 4 June 2018, in a statement issued by the Egyptian Exploration Society that they had questioned Dr. Obbink about the sale of P.Oxy. 5345, the so-called First Century Mark fragment.  The EES has repeatedly affirmed that this papyrus fragment has never been for sale and was allegedly sold without their consent or knowledge along with other fragments determined to be missing from the collection held at Oxford University’s Sackler Library, all of which made their way into the collections at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.

According to the EES statement, when questioned Obbink acknowledged having shown P.Oxy. 5345 to Scott Carroll, at the time affiliated with the MotB and the Green Collection's point person for purchases, as well as to Oxford students in his college rooms but had "insisted that he had never said the papyrus was for sale, and that while he did receive some payments from the Green Collection for advice on other matters, he did not accept any payment for or towards purchase of this text."

How this equity arrangement with Christ Church will be effected by Obbink's legal troubles, if at all remain to be seen.   

One also has to wonder what the impact will be, if any, of Obbink's legal entanglements on the publicly funded research grant he obtained through the UK's Research and Innovation (UKRI) on Living Virtually: Creating and Interfacing Digital Surrogates of Textual Data Embedded (Hidden) in Cultural Heritage Artefacts.  Funded from May 2019 through April 2022 for £845,579 Dr. Obbink is listed as the project's Principal Investigator.

One thing the Times article did clear up is that it was Professor Obbink's legal team, and not Christ Church College, who contacted The Oxford Blue newspaper and threatened legal action for them having named the professor in reporting his arrest on 2 March 2020.  That contact has resulted in the student newspaper amending their original article, which is now back online.

April 18, 2020

Saturday, April 18, 2020 - ,,,,, No comments

Censorship by the Oxford University or by Dirk Obbink's law team?

On 16 April Lois Helsop at The Oxford Blue broke the news of that Thames Valley police had arrested American papyrologist Dr. Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford University, on 2 March 2020.  ARCA, as well as prominent news outlets, picked up on this news notice, and in our case, linked back to Helsop's original article and directed our readers also to earlier ARCA postings (see this running thread) of this professor and the buying and selling of ancient texts.   

Professor Obbink has been the focus of much journalistic attention regarding the unauthorised sale of papyrus from the Oxyrhynchus collection, which is owned by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) and housed at Oxford's Sackler Library, pieces of which were discovered to have been purchased by the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. 

Today that Oxford Blue article has been removed.  Replaced by a brief statement which reads:
"This article is currently not available while The Oxford Blue takes counsel on legal threats it has received. The factual accuracy of this article is not contested by any party."
One has to ask, whose lawyer's rattled the young newspaper's cage?  Was it Oxford University's or Dr. Obbink's? While official guidance over whether arrested suspects’ names should be published ahead of charge is mixed, it is poor form to intimidate journalists for reporting facts on a high profile case, knowing a student newspaper doesn't have the funds to fight a litigious battle.  Luckily, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, a service that preserves web pages, has a copy of the original story archived, at least for now, or until they too receive a lawyerly take down request. 

Archived news articles are indispensable research resources as they can help reconstruct events, even the distasteful ones, which are necessary for historical and comparative research.  Often they are the last trace we have before knowledge is locked away in private nondisclosure settlements, or worse, when reporting is removed to avoid threats, legal and otherwise.

Here's to a universal access to all knowledge and if you have not already PDFed this webpage to memorialise the material for your own research, then now might be a good time, especially if you are following the interrelated cases of ethical behaviour in the museum and academic worlds as closely as we are.

April 16, 2020

Dirk Obbink arrested on suspicion of ancient papyrus theft

It has now been made public, by the Oxford Blue that American papyrologist Dr. Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford University, was taken into custody on 2 March 2020 by the Thames Valley police on suspicion of theft and fraud.  His arrest last month came in direct response to a formal complaint filed on 12 November 2019 involving the theft of papyrus fragments from the Oxyrhynchus collection, owned by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), and housed at Oxford's Sackler Library.  

To date some 120 pieces have been identified as having been removed without permission from Oxford University premises.  Thirteen of these fragments eventually found their way to the United States where they were purchased by the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.  

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]

Obbink 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.  His appointment at Oxford combined a variety of responsibilities, includes a Tutorship at Christ Church, where he lectured on a wide range of classical material and at one point included the direction of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project and its related Imaging Papyri Project which gave him complete access to the society's collection. 

Suspended from duties at Oxford in October 2019 pending further inquiry, Obbink has only issued one public statement, for his part, denying any wrongdoing.  In that public statement, Obbink stated: 

March 28, 2020

The Museum of The Bible's Chairman's letter leaves many unanswered questions

Issued on 26 March 2010 and uploaded quietly to the Museum of the Bible website here

Statement on Past Acquisitions Published: Mar 26, 2020 

Museum of the Bible’s Chairman of the Board, Steve Green, makes the following statement on past acquisitions: 

In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting. It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years. One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. 

When I purchased items in those early years, dealers would make representations about an item’s provenance, which the consultants I employed would say was sufficient. As I came to understand taking a dealer at his or her word was not good enough, I cut ties with those consultants. When I engaged with new advisors, I acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance and we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes. 

For the past several years, the many dedicated curators at Museum of the Bible have quietly and painstakingly researched the provenance of the many thousands of items in the collection. That work continues. 
While this research was proceeding, beginning in late 2017, we also engaged with officials in several countries, including Egypt and Iraq, to open a dialog regarding items that likely originated from those countries at some point, but for which there was insufficient reliable provenance information. Those discussions have been fruitful, and continue to this day. 

I long ago made the decision that when our research revealed another party had a better claim to an item, I would do the right thing and deliver such items to that party. We have already proactively made several such returns. 

Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively. As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance. We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future. We also hope to finalize agreements with organizations in Egypt and Iraq that will allow for us to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property. 

These early mistakes resulted in Museum of the Bible receiving a great deal of criticism over the years. The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified. My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world. That goal has not changed, but after some early missteps, I made the decision many years ago that, moving forward, I would only acquire items with reliable, documented provenance. Furthermore, if I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items. 

I understand established museums, universities, and other institutions have evolved over the years and developed sound protocols for dealing with cultural property with insufficient provenance. I intend to continue to learn from the collective efforts and wisdom of those institutions, and support every person and organization possessing such items to continue their research into the provenance of their items. 

Steve Green Chairman of the Board Museum of the Bible


This letter and these restitutions do not adequately address the negligence of the museum's management or the indiscretions of its philanthropists.  Nor do statements like these erase the indelible blemish on the museum's founding history.

Green claims to have unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers without appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items he purchased. Does he want us to believe that HAD he appreciated the importance of provenance he would have walked away from the many once-in-a-lifetime pieces dangled before him?

Green explains that the consultants he employed were overly trusting of dealers, which is why he made mistakes and why he "cut ties" with those consultants. Emphasis on the word cut ties.  Fired? Let go? Contract not renewed? Swept under the rug? Who and When? What does "cut ties" mean exactly?

When he relates only his own story of events, it seems more like he is trying to control the narrative than do anything to actually make amends.

If we look back in the history of this scandal, it took Green an exceedingly long time to "cut ties" and when he did, we didn't see a great deal of improvement in the museum's operational model, purchasing due diligence, or its transparency.

January 3-5, 2011 is when US Customs inspected Five Federal Express antiquities-filled packages shipped bearing air waybills:

  • No. 7286 2809 6729 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Mardel’s address.
  • No. 7286 2809 6751 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby’s principle address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7162 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Crafts, Etc!’s address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7173 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Mardel’s address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7162 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Crafts, Etc!’s address. 

But despite this embarrassing faux pas, by May 16, 2011 Hobby Lobby was still sticking to their guns that the plundered material was rightfully theirs.  To substantiate that claim, they had their attorney file an administrative petition with the CBP seeking the return of their seized property, which one can assume by all the lawyer fees that would have entailed, that at least on paper, Hobby Lobby still felt their claim to the ancient objects, was legit. 

As spring turned eventually to autumn, on September 7, 2011 Hobby Lobby was still defending its honor, submitting a supplemental petition to the CBP trying to satisfy the governments concerns about the payment methodology used in the purchase of the antiquities contained in these shipments.

The Supplemental Petition stated that the reason the payments for the order were made through “separate wire transfers was that various original owners were to be paid directly.” This explanation however proves inconsistent with the fact that Israeli Dealer #3’s provenance statement covered almost the entire order and Israeli Dealer #3 was not one of the payees. It was also inconsistent with representations made to Hobby Lobby about listing Israeli Dealer #3 in the purchase agreement “because the invoice is from [Israeli Dealer #3’s] family and the collection is the [Israeli Dealer #3] family collection.”

Two days after the Supplemental Petition on the problematic shipment, on September 9, 2011, still-consulting "Director" of the Green Collection, Scott Carroll, was out destroying mummy masks at Baylor University with washing up liquid.

Nine months after the problematic shipment, on October 15, 2011, still-consulting Carroll took the last flight out of Heathrow bound for Israel to retrieve still more "unknown, significant Hebrew biblical manuscripts", where upon arrival he poured over 1100+ scrolls spanning 700 years, and spent the day looking at someone's private collection of papyrus.

Such were the Green's buying power that on November 27, 2011, and despite an open investigation into their previous purchases, Carroll set off yet again on another international buying trip.  A voyage which would take him from West Africa, to Istanbul, and then on to London, where in addition to making purchases, he met with people in Oxford, in all probability, Dirk Obbink, regarding the Green Scholar Initiative.

Three and a half months later, on March 12, 2012, Carroll, still consulting for the MoTB, is quoted in the Toledo Blade saying:

“I tell the Greens that I trust them to know where to put a store, and they need to trust me to stock the shelves,”
Carroll goes on further to add:
“We’ve been extremely careful to vet everything acquired and are fully aware of the issues and problems,” declaring “I work closely with international and national agencies reporting suspicious items that come our way.” 

The Greens eventually cut ties with Carroll only in May 2012, yet the continued to put their trust in Dirk Obbink, whom they had purchased from since 2009.  Despite terminating their relationship with Carroll, by January 17, 2013 the Museum, had arranged to purchase four early gospel papyrus fragments from the Oxford-based scholar via a private sales agreement.  These turned out to be stolen from the EES Oxyrhynchus collection.  By November 2019, a total of 13 stolen fragments from the EES collection had been identified as having been purchased by the Museum of the Bible through various buying channels. 

Given all that, the fact that Green's press release statement yesterday, relays that they did not get around to speaking with the source countries of the looted material until 2017 is not surprising.  In an earlier Wall Street journal article, also by Crow, the Museum of the Bible's Vice Chairman of the board Robert E. Cooley indicated that the museum's board itself only learned about the government’s six-year smuggling investigation involving Hobby Lobby when the craft company was close to signing the settlement... so again, the year 2017.

Green purportedly did not tell the museum's board sooner because he considered it a Hobby Lobby matter which brings into question Green's statement yesterday about having "acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance... we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes."

So this more vigorous acquisitions policy applies to the problems in Green's private collection or to the objects from that collection he donated onward to the Museum?

That said, it was around 2017 that the Museum's board hired cultural-heritage lawyer, Thomas Kline, to vet the pieces remaining in the museum’s collection.  One question which remains is whether or not they hired anyone else besides one busy lawyer, who does not have manuscript provenance experience.  If not, then that might explain why it took an additional three years for this next, and I suspect not last, round of at a snail's pace restitutions.

The final interesting statement is Green's letter is his hope that Egypt and Iraq will allow the Museum of the Bible to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property.

Having (possibly) worn out their welcome with the EES, and having hooked their dreams on folks like Carroll, Obbink and company, Green now hopes that the very source nations their purchases robbed will see their better late than never restitutions and a single carefully-worded, reputation management letter from the Museum's principle donor as a sincere and real attempt at righting several wrongs.

For me it doesn't even start. 

It should not have taken this many years for Mr. Green to own up to his and his buyers indiscretions. He may have been blindsided by his consultants in the beginning, but throughout this process he has been the one to control the narrative.

If he truly wants to earn my trust, and really make meaningful amends, he could start by addressing the degrees of his own culpability, both for his actions (wantonly and  heedlessly purchasing objects without any due diligence consideration) and his inaction, (to get ahead of this, to his refusal to answer researchers questions about where and from and in what time frame he or his consultants purchased suspect material) from 2009 to present.

For now I remain skeptical and as unconvinced as my venting yesterday further explains.

Lynda Albertson

November 18, 2019

At least 120 pieces of papyri appear to be missing from the Egypt Exploration Society collection

 Papyrus from the EES Collection
Graeco-Roman Memoir 103/Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXXXII
In continuing their internal investigation surrounding the illegal sale of papyri from their collection, The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has issued a statement to members of Society at the Annual Gathering Meeting (AGM) which took place on 16th November 2019.  During that meeting, they indicated that it has determined that at least 120 pieces of papyri from Oxyrhynchus appear to be missing, from the EES collection, almost all from a specific group of folders.  

The EES collection is estimated to hold some half a million fragments so reviewing what is missing may take a considerable amount of time.  Previously it was announced that 13 of the missing pieces were determined to be in the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.  An additional 6 fragments were located with a collector, Andrew Stimer in California.

This is the first time that the EES has mentioned that they are cooperating with the University of Oxford and the police to try to determine how papyri from their collection were illicitly sold on the art market. 

The EES stated that while the police investigation is in progress, they will not comment further "but will report on developments as and when it is possible."

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
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 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
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 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. 

"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…." 

"Who wouldn’t?" 

"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…."  

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

"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."  

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

"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."  

"Yeah it is."  

"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..." 

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

"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