A New Edition of Sappho by Dirk Obbink

Following up on the fascinating article on Professor Dirk Obbink by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian, Roberta Mazza recently revisited her conversations with a representative from Christie’s in 2014 and 2015, which now raise “further questions and doubts on the newest Sappho provenance narratives, and more broadly on the mysterious ways in which ancient manuscripts move on the market.”

One of the frustrating things about the new Sappho papyrus is the repeated claim that we can be confident about its provenance because of existing documentation that has not yet been made public. All the way back in 2015, Professor Obbink said in an interview with Live Science that more detailed documentation about the provenance of the Sappho would be forthcoming:

“Obbink said he knew the Sappho papyrus had a legal, documented provenance all along. ‘There’s no question in my mind about where the piece came from,’ Obbink told Live Science. ‘I can absolutely guarantee that there’s no question about that.’ . . .In the coming months, Obbink said the plan is to make the collecting documents and related photographs of the London Sappho papyrus available online, including letters, transcripts and other papers from people, including Robinson, who worked on this collection early on.

De Gruyter Obbink Sappho Cover

This information has yet to appear. It is thus interesting to learn that Professor Obbink is set to publish a new edition of the collected works of Sappho with the respected German publishing house, Walter de Gruyter. It’s a little hard to tell what stage of production the volume is in. It has an ISBN. Amazon says the volume has 222 pages and is due out on 30 April 2020, but the de Gruyter website says the book has “approx. 202 pages” and isn’t due out until April 2025. So, perhaps we can look ahead to seeing the full provenance documentation of the London Sappho fragments later this year, or perhaps in 2025.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink | 5 Comments

MPhil in History of Religions at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society

I recently began work as Professor of History of Religions at the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society in Oslo. A big part of my position here is overseeing a masters program in History of Religions:

“History of Religions: Encounters and Conflict is focused on the issues of religious cross-pollination, coexistence and conflict with particular emphasis on Europe and the Middle East. Taking a long historical perspective stretching from Antiquity to the early modern period, the programme seeks to illuminate the roots of present peaceful coexistence and interchange, as well as of today’s antagonisms and conflicts.

The underlying idea of the programme is that, in order to fully grasp current religious conflicts and alliances, we need to understand how the perceptions of past and present are intertwined, reciprocally dependent, and constantly reshaped.”

We are currently accepting applications for enrollment beginning in August 2020 (the deadline for non-EU applicants is 1 February). This is a 2-year MPhil program featuring one year of course work and a second year dedicated to writing a 30,000-45,000-word thesis. The full description of the program can be found here.

The language of instruction is English, and one of the benefits of the program is that there are no tuition fees. See the admissions page for more information about requirements and deadlines.

We are home to the Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, which houses several research projects focused on antiquity, and Oslo is presently a hub for research on ancient cultures.

So, come live in a European capital city and study with us!

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More News on Dirk Obbink and Sappho

Charlotte Higgins has just published a long story in The Guardian on Dirk Obbink. It is a very nice compilation of what we know and how the stories of the Sappho papyrus and the stolen Oxyrhynchus papyrus intersect. It also contains some new revelations:

Image source: The Guardian
  • Dirk Obbink has been “suspended from duties” at Oxford since October 2019
  • “The alleged thefts [of Oxyrhynchus papyri] were reported to Thames Valley police on 12 November. No one has yet been arrested or charged.”
  • Mike Sampson (University of Manitoba) has analyzed a Christie’s brochure in pdf format obtained from “an academic source” that offers the London Sappho papyrus for sale; Sampson has determined through the pdf metadata that there were attempts to sell the papyrus privately in 2013 and 2015
  • The Christie’s brochure is said to contain images of the cartonnage from which the Sappho papyrus fragments were extracted. Recall that Professor Obbink’s stories about the origins of the Sappho papyrus have changed over time; first it was said to have come from mummy cartonnage, then later from “industrial” cartonnage. The Christie’s brochure contains “images that purport to show how the two different types of cartonnage – mummy cartonnage and industrial cartonnage – were confused. One picture shows a brightly painted blue-and-red piece of mummy cartonnage lying in a ceramic basin beside a brown mass of what appears to be flattened papyrus, described as ‘cartonnage’. The caption recaps the final story reported by Obbink – that the two items were muddled up in a ‘confusion of processing’. However, in the opinion of Sampson, it ‘defies belief’ that the entirely different objects could have been confused.”
  • “Perhaps Sampson’s most telling finding, though, is that parts of the Sappho manuscript were shown in public when they were supposedly still undiscovered in a wodge of industrial cartonnage. According to his study of the PDF’s metadata, the photographs of the materials sitting side by side in the ceramic basin, prior to ‘processing’, were taken on 14 February 2012. And yet there is video footage of Scott Carroll brandishing 26 small fragments of the Sappho, those that ended up belonging to the Greens, a week earlier, on 7 February 2012.”

Check out the full story at The Guardian‘s website.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink | 17 Comments

A New Edition of the Freer Codex of the Letters of Paul in Greek

Freer Soderquis and Wayment Cover

Thanks to Gorgias Press for sending along a copy of the new edition of the Freer Codex of Paul’s letters (Gregory-Aland 016, LDAB 3044) produced by Justin Soderquist and Thomas Wayment.

The American railroad magnate Charles Lang Freer bought this damaged parchment codex in Cairo in 1906 together with three other early Christian manuscripts. One of these books was a well preserved copy of the four gospels in Greek, complete with wooden covers (LDAB 2985). But unlike the better preserved and more aesthetically pleasing codex containing the gospels, the Pauline epistles codex did not survive the ravages of time so well. This is what it looked like when Freer bought it:

Image source: Sanders, The New Testament Manuscripts in the Freer Collection (New York: Macmillan, 1918), Plate VI

Nevertheless, a considerable amount of text of Paul’s letters was recovered from 84 leaves after they were separated with “a thin-bladed dinner knife.” The remains of the codex were thus published in 1918 without the type of luxurious facsimile edition produced for the gospels codex. This 1918 edition, part II of Henry Sanders, The New Testament Manuscripts in the Freer Collection (New York: Macmillan, 1918), is available online at archive.org.

The readings of the Freer Pauline epistles codex were duly noted at the time of publication, but the codex has received little attention since that time. In a 2004 JBL article, Wayment reported on newly identified variants in the codex discovered with the help of new digital color images and multi-spectral images (MSI) made in 2002-2003. Wayment also contributed a short chapter on the scribal characteristics of the codex to the volume on the Freer codices published by the Society of Biblical Literature in 2006.

Using the color and multispectral images, Soderquist produced a new edition of the codex as an MA thesis in 2014 (a thesis for which Wayment was a reader). The thesis seems to have provided the basis for the edition now produced by Gorgias Press, in which Soderquist and Wayment provide an up-to-date introduction to the codex and a new transcription.

The introductory material is generally well-informed and judicious, although I would question one view repeatedly attributed to Sanders:

“Sanders assumes that Codex I was organically connected with Codex Washingtonensis that contained the four gospels. That codex was bound with painted covers, and its textual association with Codex I remains unclear despite Sanders’ assertion. If the two manuscripts originated from the same location, then they may have been used by the same community, but there is no surviving evidence to indicate that they functioned as a single codex, and the covers of the gospels codex exclude the possibility that they were joined in a physical way” (p. 6)

The reference in the edition of Sanders that prompts this observation reads as follows:

“The preservation of ten quire numbers, including the last (KZ), makes certain the original size and content of the MS. It once contained between 208 and 212 leaves. The legible fragments begin at 1 Corinthians 10, 29, and portions of all the remaining Pauline epistles are found. The Epistle to the Hebrews follows II Thessalonians. There have been lost at the beginning of the MS fifteen quires and two leaves. On the basis of the amount of text per page in the preserved portion we may reckon Acts at about sixty leaves or eight quires, of which the last was probably a four-leaf quire; the Catholic Epistles would fill 24 leaves or three quires, and the Epistle to the Romans with the missing part of I Corinthians would require some 34 leaves, i.e. just over four quires. This was then the content of the original MS. Joined with the MS of the four gospels found with it, it made a complete New Testament, which did not however contain Revelation” (Sanders, New Testament Manuscripts, p. 252)

Thus, Soderquist and Wayment are surely right that these two books were never physically bound together, but I don’t think that Sanders ever implied that they were. His statement here seems to refer quite clearly to the books as a collection, not as a codicological unity. Sanders does occasionally refer to the manuscripts as “parts of a Bible,” but on such occasions, he seems to be using the term “Bible” in the sense of “library” rather than the in the sense of “codicological unit.” For instance, in one of his first reports about the manuscripts, Sanders described the books in the following way: “The four manuscripts are of different sizes, shapes, and ages, but they apparently once formed volumes of a single Bible, so I shall refer to them by the Roman numerals I to IV in the order in which they would have stood in that collection,” American Journal of Archaeology 12 (1908), p. 49.

In terms of the transcription, the new edition of Soderquist and Wayment is more conservative than that of Sanders, who, as he phrased it “tried to determine the position of the MS regarding many [variants] which fall in lines partly lost” (Sanders, New Testament Manuscripts, p. 259) Soderquist and Wayment stick to what they can see in the images and thus supply considerably less conjectural text than Sanders. At the same time, they provide a fuller (and obviously more up to date) apparatus for the text. In some instances, however, Soderquist and Wayment offer quite different readings from those presented by Sanders. An extreme example is the page labelled 6. Here is the reading of Sanders, who takes the remains as part of 1 Cor. 12:14:

And here is the reading of Soderquist and Wayment, who interpret the remains as a part of 1 Cor. 12:16:

Soderquist and Wayment do provide a photograph of this page of the codex as Plate 2:

I can’t make out the correct reading from the plate with certainty, but Soderquist and Wayment provide a thorough and helpful discussion of their decision making process both here and in other cases where their readings differ substantially from those of Sanders.

The book concludes with several data-rich appendices on different topics (terminal nu, line-ending or terminal sigma, enlarged letters with ekthesis and paragraphoi, nomina sacra, textual variants, and orthography), which again are largely based on the work in Soderquist’s 2014 thesis.

Anyone who now wishes to refer to the readings of this codex will want to make the edition of Soderquist and Wayment their first stop.

The 8 photographic plates included in the book are helpful. I would have liked to see plates of all the new color images included in the edition, but this would have likely made the volume even more expensive. And unfortunately, the plates are not as detailed as I might have hoped. I understand that they were made from digital images taken in 2002-2003, so the lamentably low resolutions (reportedly 240 dpi for the color images and just 72 dpi for the MSI images) are understandable. But it would be wonderful if the digital images themselves would be made available. The quality of the single image of the codex at the Smithsonian website is actually reasonably good.

As a side note: The 1918 edition of Sanders contained only four photographic plates, but I wonder if photographs of the other leaves of the codex were taken at the time of that publication? During my own research in the Freer archives, I saw a number of glass plate negatives of the different codices, and these could be scanned to produce images of excellent quality. Other negatives, however, were of the highly combustible nitrate variety and had to be kept in cold storage. I am unable to say anything about their present condition and quality. It would be good to have an inventory all the extant negatives.

Nevertheless, the improved legibility of the color images is obvious from the selected plates included by Soderquist and Wayment. I provide a scan of one below, showing the image published in the edition of Sanders and the corresponding new image (note the more visible letters in the lower part of the fragment):

Finally, I must report a bookbinding oddity. In my copy, the photographic plates (pages 159-166) appear out of sequence between pages 168 and 169 in the middle of the bibliography.

Justin J. Soderquist and Thomas A. Wayment, A New Edition of Codex I (016): The Washington Pauline Manuscript (Texts and Studies 20; Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2019). Hardback. $125 USD. ISBN 978-1-4632-4054-7

Posted in Freer Codex of Paul's Letters, Freer Codices | Leave a comment

Publication of the Tchacos-Ferrini Mathematical Codex

I see that later this month we can expect the publication of the Tchacos-Ferrini mathematical codex (LDAB 10719, now dubbed by the editors P.Math.). This codex travelled the antiquities market along with a papyrus codex of Exodus in Greek, a papyrus codex of the letters of Paul in Coptic, and the more famous papyrus codex containing the Gospel of Judas. All of the codices are said to have been found together in Qarara in Egypt in the 1970s, but the story is somewhat dubious (see God’s Library, pp. 95-96). The cover of the new publication gives us a first good look at the appearance of the mathematical codex, with an image of an intact bifolium:

Despite the damage to the top of the bifolium, it looks like the format of this codex roughly resembles that of the other Tchacos-Ferrini codices, in which the height of the leaf is about double that of the width:

Tchacos-Ferrini Gospel of Judas codex, Exodus codex, and Coptic letters of Paul (not to scale)

The publisher’s blurb for the book is as follows:

“Mathematics, Metrology, and Model Contracts is a comprehensive edition and commentary of a late antique codex. The codex contains mathematical problems, metrological tables, and model contracts. Given the nature of the contents, the format, and quality of the Greek, the editors conclude that the codex most likely belonged to a student in a school devoted to training business agents and similar professionals.

The editors present here the first full scholarly edition of the text, with complete discussions of the provenance, codicology, and philology of the surviving manuscript. They also provide extensive notes and illustrations for the mathematical problems and model contracts, as well as historical commentary on what this text reveals about late antique numeracy, literacy, education, and vocational training in what we would now see as business, law, and administration.”

I look forward to the discussion of provenance to see if anything new can be learned on that front.

Posted in Codices, Codicology, Find Stories, Tchacos-Ferrini Codices, Tchacos-Ferrini Exodus Codex, Tchacos-Ferrini Math Codex, Tchacos-Ferrini Pauline Epistles Codex | Leave a comment

Vatican Library Website on Greek Palaeography

Thanks to Gregg Schwendner for drawing my attention to the Vatican Library website on Greek palaeography prepared by Timothy Janz, scriptor graecus and director of the printed books department of the Vatican Library. The site has an excellent discussion of the history and practice of Greek palaeography and is, as you might expect, very well illustrated.

Especially noteworthy is Janz’s evaluation of the developmental schema for the “Biblical Majuscule” most closely associated with Guglielmo Cavallo. Note Janz’s comments in the second paragraph and at the end of this quotation:

“A defining moment in the history of Greek paleography was the publication in 1967 of Guglielmo Cavallo’s book Ricerche sulla maiuscola biblica. … [I]t was a methodological manifesto, explicitly invoking a theory about how scripts develop and change (namely, the one set forth in G. Cencetti’s book Lineamenti di storia della scrittura latina, esp. pp. 51-56). Cencetti’s theory posits a ‘normal’ script (scrittura usuale) in everyday use at any given time and place and subject to continuous evolution (due to both cultural and technical factors), which constitutes the ever-changing background or ‘climate’ within which contemporary book scripts and chancery scripts establish themselves as ‘canons.’ (He further distinguished between ‘styles’ [which may be thought of as optional but systematic modifications of a ‘canon’] and ‘types’ [which, while similar to ‘canons,’ cannot be observed to have reached the same level of standardization].) According to this theory, ‘canonized’ scripts (scritture canonizzate) — of which the Greek ‘Biblical majuscule’ is one —, bearing well-defined characteristics, far outlive the momentary state of the constantly evolving “normal” script which gives birth to them, and as a result they tend to evolve according to a predictable pattern, involving an initial period of formation, followed by what one might call a period of maturity (though Cavallo speaks rather of ‘perfection’), and then by a period of decadence which sets in when the deviation between the ossified canonized script and the constantly evolving ‘normal’ script has grown to a point where scribes are no longer able to produce the canonized script naturally and proficiently.

Applying such a theory to Greek majuscule scripts, as Cavallo did, produced results which were, and remain, remarkable in a number of ways. On the one hand, the deductive reasoning on display throughout Cavallo’s account of Biblical majuscule means that almost every one of his assertions — from his exemplifications of the letter-shapes themselves (pp. 7-10), which are not reproduced from any particular manuscript source but apparently represent Cavallo’s own idealized abstractions from his (admittedly considerable) experience with many manuscript sources, to the characterization of this or that concrete instance of the script as ‘formative,’ ‘perfect’ or ‘decadent’ — is open to the charge of begging the question. On the other hand, this method allowed Cavallo take a large group of manuscripts which offer hardly any clues as to their original provenance or (even relative) date, and to assign to each one a fairly precise place on a developmental arc (one might also say, on a continuum) which he interpreted in chronological terms, running from formation to maturity to decadence. Since very few of his manuscripts are actually objectively datable, the only “proof” of the validity of his interpretation is the observation that the method “works” in the sense that it yields a plausible classification of otherwise unclassifiable hands (it is fair to add that the few objectively datable manuscripts included do indeed fall in the “right” places, namely P. Ryl. 16, before 255-6 [“perfection”, pp. 45-47]; Vindob. Med. Gr. 1, about 512 CE [“decadence”, pp. 94-97]; Vat. gr. 1666, 800 CE [“decadence”, p. 107]; it is notable that Cavallo’s entire reconstruction of the ‘formation’ of the canon is not, and cannot be, corroborated by any objective evidence, due to the lack of dated exemplars)[my emphasis–BN]. In the absence of other workable proposals, this has become the standard chronological framework for classifying exemplars of the script known as “Biblical majuscule.”

These remarks seem to me to be a fair assessment of Cavallo’s method, at least as it was represented in his 1967 classic. In more recent years, Cavallo has moved away from the vocabulary of “canon,” although the developmental schema remains in place (see, for instance, Cavallo, La scrittura greca e latinia dei papiri: Una introduzione, Fabrizio Serra 2008, page 15, note 1).

Janz’s last sentence really jumped out at me: “In the absence of other workable proposals, this has become the standard chronological framework…” This statement reminds me of multiple conversations I have had with Dead Sea Scrolls scholars in relation to Frank Cross’s typology of Hebrew and Aramaic scripts. The Scrolls scholars, at least those who acknowledge the extreme fragility of Cross’s schema and its lack of securely dated samples, will often tell me that they simply have to use Cross’s datings of the scripts of the scrolls because there is nothing to replace it. This seems to me to be one of those cases in which we should instead just admit that, with the current state of the evidence, we cannot carry out assignment of dates to scripts with the fine-grained precision that some scholars of older generations have pretended to achieve. Palaeography can be a useful tool for assigning dates with broad ranges, but we risk deceiving ourselves if we expect high levels of precision.

It is also good to recall that for the Biblical Majuscule as for other types of Greek writing of the Roman era, graphic difference does not always mean chronological difference.


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Frank Moore Cross, Guglielmo Cavallo, Palaeography, Vatican Library | 5 Comments

Recently Emerged Coptic Manuscripts of Dubious Origins: A Working List

In an earlier posting, I started compiling a list of recently emerged papyri of dubious origins. It turns out that several of these pieces were among those stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of papyri excavated from Oxyrhynchus. I excluded Coptic material from that earlier list because I wanted to first draw together the scant information that is publicly available regarding the Coptic material from the EES Oxyrhynchus collection. I have now done this in a separate post. With that as a basis for comparison in mind, I list here several recently emerged Coptic manuscripts of dubious origins.

Once again, these pieces are linked to Scott Carroll, who was in charge of acquisitions for the Green Collection at the time when Professor Obbink is said to have sold the Oxyrhynchus materials to the Greens. This connection suggests that other pieces of dubious provenance linked to Carroll may also go back to Prof. Obbink. So, some of the pieces pictured here might be linked back to Dirk Obbink and from there back to the Oxyrhynchus collection. When I say “First appearance,” I mean the first time I know of the piece being displayed publicly. And again, I welcome corrections to any information I post here. 

Deuteronomy 31-32 on parchment (Green Collection, GC.MS.000596). First appearance: 2014 (Verbum Domini II exhibition). Assigned to the 3rd or 4th century.

2 Kings 8-9. Fragment of a parchment leaf. First appearance: 2015. Said to have been part of a collection with a fragment of Acts on parchment (see below) and a fragment of Matthew 2 on parchment (see below). More info here.

Papyrus sheet containing Psalm 111 (112) in Sahidic (Green Collection, probably GC.PAP.000125). First appearance: 2012. Exhibited in Passages in 2012. Assigned to the fourth century and said to contain magical words on the reverse. Alleged provenance according to Scott Carroll: “The papyrus purportedly came from a burial, discovered in the 19c.” Scott Carroll, Passages 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible: Exhibition Catalog (Oklahoma City: Passages, 2012).

Ecclesiastes 2:3-5 and 2:10-11, (misidentified by Scott Carroll as Matthew) on parchment [[thanks to Dan Sharp for the proper identification]]. First appearance: 2009. Image displayed on Scott Carroll’s Facebook account in 2009 and associated with pieces identified as coming from the Van Kampen Collection (see comment from David Bradnick below). Image displayed by Scott Carroll at the Koinonia Institute in 2016.

Jeremiah 33:24? Unverified identification, presumably by Scott Carroll? First appearance: 2013. The website of the Christian apologist Josh McDowell contains a document describing an event that took place in December of 2013, during which McDowell apparently acquired several papyrus and parchment manuscript fragments said to contain Greek and Coptic biblical passages. One of the main speakers was Scott Carroll. Many of the identifications in the document seem dubious to me, and some of the pieces look like fakes (the one pictured here looks authentic, but the identification of the passage seems uncertain to me). Many of these pieces, including the one pictured here, are said to have been freshly extracted from cartonnage, but this item looks like it has been repaired with at least three different types of adhesive. This whole collection is really strange and disturbing. More info here.

Matthew 2 on parchment. First appearance: 2016. Image displayed by Scott Carroll in 2016. Apparently sometimes known as “P.Aslan. 112.” Said to have been part of a collection with a fragment of 2 Kings on parchment (see above) and a fragment of Acts 19 on parchment (see below). More info here.

Matthew 27-28 on parchment. First appearance: 2013. Scott Carroll seems to have displayed this manuscript in Mexico in 2013. Subsequently, he displayed images of it in his lectures. More info here.

Acts 19. Fragment of a parchment leaf. First appearance: 2016. Said to have been part of a collection with a fragment of 2 Kings on parchment (see above) and a fragment of Matthew 2 on parchment (see above). More info here.

Romans 14 (unverified identification by Scott Carroll). Fragment of a leaf of a papyrus codex. First appearance: 2016. More info here.

Galatians (Green Collection, GC.PAP.000462). First appearance: 2012. This fragment of a leaf of a papyrus codex was for sale on eBay before ending up in the Green Collection. More info here.

Ephesians 4 (Green Collection, GC.PAP.000414). First appearance: 1983. The appearance of this piece is not exactly “recent,” but in more recent years it may have travelled on some of the same paths on the antiquities market as other pieces that ended up in the Green Collection. It is a portion of the Tchacos-Ferrini codex of Paul’s letters. It appeared in the Green Collection’s “Book of Books” exhibit in Jerusalem in 2013. More info here.

Philippians 2 (Green Collection, GC.PAP.000249). First appearance: 2014 (Verbum Domini II exhibition). Assigned to the 4th century. [[Update 10 December 2019: A commenter below points out that this piece was for sale on eBay in February 2006. It was apparently part of the collection of Bruce Ferrini, which was being dispersed at that time and was bought by Ernest Muro. Details noted by Robert Kraft here with image here.]]

Papyrus codex containing letters of Paul. First appearance: 2015. Images displayed by Scott Carroll on multiple occasions. More info here.

Greek-Coptic lexicon (Green Collection, GC.MS.000754). First appearance: 2014 (Verbum Domini II exhibition). Assigned to the 6th-7th century.

Unidentified “patristic text” on parchment. First appearance: 2016. Image displayed by Scott Carroll at the Koinonia Institute in 2016.

Unidentified “patristic texts” on parchment. First appearance: 2016. Images displayed by Scott Carroll at the Koinonia Institute in 2016,

Coptic letter on papyrus. First appearance 2011. Image displayed by Scott Carroll at 2011 Passages lecture in Oklahoma City.

Coptic letter on an ostracon. First appearance: 2011. Image displayed by Scott Carroll at 2011 Passages lecture in Oklahoma City.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Green Collection, Scott Carroll | 3 Comments