The latest issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament contains a group of articles that emerged from an SBL session in 2015 arranged by Roberta Mazza on problems of dating ancient manuscripts. In addition to Roberta’s introductory essay, which discusses some of her work on the Rylands collection, there are articles by Malcolm Choat (“Dating Papyri: Familiarity, Instinct and Guesswork”) and by the Ancient Ink Laboratory at Columbia University and New York University (“Dating Ancient Egyptian Papyri through Raman Spectroscopy: Concept and Application to the Fragments of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of John”).
My own contribution is “Palaeographic Analysis of Codices from the Early Christian Period: A Point of Method.” Here is the abstract:
It is often said that palaeographic analysis of Greek literary manuscripts from the Roman era has progressed from an aesthetic judgment to more of a science, thanks largely to increased data (in the form of newly discovered papyri and parchments from Egypt) and to more sophisticated ways of describing similarity and difference in handwriting. This progress is frequently taken to mean that we may now use the analysis of handwriting to assign dates to undated manuscripts with much greater precision and accuracy than was possible a century ago. This article questions this conclusion by focusing on neglected methodological points that specifically relate to the problem of palaeographic dating of codices, namely the size and character of the corpus of securely datable samples to which the handwriting of undated codices is compared. This problem is especially relevant for early Christian books, the surviving examples of which tend to be copied in the codex format.
For those with institutional subscriptions, the articles can be found online here. Otherwise, for a copy of my article, contact me via e-mail.
Past posts on this blog have examined different aspects of Dirk Obbink’s involvement in the trade in ancient manuscripts–as buyer, seller, and consultant to Hobby Lobby. Another key part of the high-end antiquities market is the process of appraisal, assigning dollar values to cultural heritage items. The process is important both for transacting purchases and for making donations of such items, as Candida Moss and Joel Baden have reported. Professor Obbink’s name surfaces in this aspect of the market as well. The story begins back in 2015, when Roberta Mazza drew attention to the website of a firm connected to Scott Carroll called Ancient Asset Investments (AAI). The site contained several documents related to the appraisal of ancient manuscripts. These documents quickly disappeared, and their disappearance was accompanied by a curious note (Thanks to Dorothy King for having the foresight to take a screenshot and for sharing it with me [[Update 17 Aug. 2019: I see now that this notice was also recorded by Paul Barford here]]):
The documents that “incorrectly ascribed information to Dr. D. Obbink, which was incorrect” turn out to be of considerable interest in puzzling out the possible source of at least one of the manuscripts that Scott Carroll has been displaying in his lectures in the last couple years. In a recent remark on an earlier post on that topic, a commenter pointed out that these documents can in fact still be consulted online. This link points to an appraisal, dated June of 2013, for a fragment of papyrus containing Plato’s Phaedo:
The rest of the document includes a transcription and translation of the papyrus and an introduction ascribed (incorrectly?) to “Dirk Obbink, Oxford University.” According to this description, “the papyrus was recovered in papyrus cartonnage in a private European collection. It was acquired in 2011.” The introduction goes on to describe the importance of the papyrus mainly by trying to establish how the Phaedo‘s account of the death of Socrates is relevant for Christianity: “The parallels with the life and death of Jesus Christ are as readily apparent. . .The account has uncanny parallels with the life and death of Jesus Christ. . . [The papyrus] preserves the earliest-known text of this passage and fascinating parallels with the life, teaching and death of Jesus Christ.”
The document also includes a photograph of the papyrus:
This photograph allows us to confirm that this is indeed the same papyrus that Scott Carroll has repeatedly shown off in public:
In one setting, the now-deleted “Hearts of Purpose” lecture in March of 2014, he actually brought the manuscript itself, suggesting that he or his associates were at that point the owners (or at least custodians) of the manuscript:
So, what can be learned from this information? For one thing, as I’ve already mentioned, we have identified a potential (though not certain) source for one of Scott Carroll’s classical manuscripts in the Van Kampen Collection. Secondly: If, hypothetically speaking, the information in these documents was not “incorrectly ascribed to Dr. D. Obbink, which was incorrect,” the documents would attest to Professor Obbink’s involvement in yet another aspect of the antiquities trade as a provider of expert opinions for appraisals.
Finally, (if, hypothetically speaking, the information in these documents was not “incorrectly ascribed to Dr. D. Obbink, which was incorrect”), these documents would suggest that after Scott Carroll and Hobby Lobby split up in 2012, Professor Obbink seems to have continued to maintain links with Carroll through this network of dealers and collectors. At the same time, as we have seen, Professor Obbink continued his work with the Museum of the Bible. He would appear to be one of the common threads running through the recent trade in ancient manuscripts in the US.
But working through all the details can be highly confusing because, as Mazza and others have noted, key elements of the story change with each retelling. A particular locus for the changing of the story is an interview Professor Obbink gave to Live Science in January of 2015. I want to revisit some elements of that interview with the close relationship between Scott Carroll and Dirk Obbink in mind.
As Michael Holmes noted in his e-mail accompanying this documentation, all of these manuscripts can be identified with pieces in the Oxyrhynchus collection, two of which were published in 2018. The Mark papyrus can be identified with P.Oxy. 83.5345, and the Luke papyrus can be identified with P.Oxy. 83.5346. Although this fragmentary papyrus containing a few words from the Gospel According to Luke has received less attention, it deserves a closer look. What is interesting is that P.Oxy. 83.5346 has a further obvious connection to the Oxyrhynchus collection. Here is the photographic plate published with the edition of P.Oxy. 83.5346:
As is well known, Professor Obbink was one of the first “senior scholars” in the Green Scholars Initiative. It is unclear exactly when and how this relationship began. When Jerry Pattengale introduced a “Passages Speakers Series” talk by Professor Obbink on 13 September 2011, he fondly recalled a history of visits to Oxford:
“There are regular trips that take place, and, um, Steve and Jackie Green, and I think some of the other Greens have actually met with Dr. Obbink there, and some, some very serious discussions have taken place about the scholarship that is transpiring there at Oxford.”
While Pattengale and the Greens did make visits to see Obbink over the years, that history of “regular trips” to Oxford in the early days seems to have mostly involved Scott Carroll. These excursions could for a time be documented by Scott Carroll’s facebook posts. But it appears that these are no longer publicly available. Nevertheless, in his many online lectures, Carroll frequently brought up his stays at Oxford, often mentioning Professor Obbink by name.
Elijah Hixson draws attention to an article that appeared online today in Christianity Today by Jerry Pattengale, one of the core team who developed the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible: “The ‘First-Century Mark’ Saga from Inside the Room.” The article recounts his involvement with Professor Obbink and the Mark fragment. There is a lot to digest here, both in terms of new information and new questions raised. These are my initial reactions.