The EES and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri “Card” System

One of the issues emerging from the letter and documents released by Mike Holmes regarding the sale of Oxyrhynchus manuscripts has to do with the “card catalog” system for organizing the unpublished Oxyrhynchus papyri, which was mentioned in the statement by the Egypt Exploration Society last year. As a refresher, here is what the statement said:

“EES records include a photograph and brief record card for each papyrus awaiting publication, which were prepared to assist the General Editors in selecting papyri for future volumes. The cards were created without detailed study of the texts and without access to today’s online search tools. The record card for 5345, created by Dr Coles in the early 1980s, is marked ‘I/II’, suggesting a late first- or early second-century date. He did not identify it as Mark.”

What is odd about this is that if, as alleged, Professor Obbink sold the Mark papyrus and others and promised to deliver them to the representatives of Hobby Lobby, the papyri would be traceable back to the Oxyrhynchus collection by way of the photographs on these cards. So, why would someone think they could get away with this? It would be helpful to know more about this “card” inventory system: What is on these cards besides photographs and dates? Where are they kept, and who has access to them? It would be great if someone with knowledge of the matter at the Egypt Exploration Society would shed some light on that. Another issue that lingers for me is: When was this card inventory completed?

Oxyrhynchus Papyri in a tin box; image source: Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project

The sorting of the Oxyrhynchus papyri is a question that has puzzled me for some time. I’ve written a number of posts (and a portion of a chapter in my book) trying to clarify what is publicly known about the sorting process. To briefly recap the content of those posts: Most of the papyri that were gathered by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt from the garbage mounds of the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus from 1896 to 1907 were stored in tin boxes made at the site and shipped in large wooden crates back to Oxford (some select pieces they excavated were turned over to authorities in Cairo, where they still remain).

In the early days, it seems that the papyri were kept in the homes and offices of Grenfell and Hunt. In his edition of the astronomical papyri from Oxyrhynchus, Alexander Jones given an account of the initial sorting of the papyri at Oxford:

“Because of the great pace of discovery of papyri, there can have been little time for examination or sorting before they were placed in tin boxes for shipment. Later, but still in Grenfell and Hunt’s time in the early decades of this century, fragments that appeared to be substantial and well enough preserved to merit further work were extracted from the original boxes, flattened, and filed in packets in a new series of boxes, each packet apparently corresponding to one of the former boxes, and each new box therefore containing the ‘best’ pieces from several. This partition of the fragments into two series of boxes, a main series containing larger pieces (but also numerous small bits, perhaps found intermingled with the others) and a series of ‘scrap’ boxes, survives still, and matters to us here (1) because most records of the correspondences between the new and old boxes are lost, and (2) because the main series is the more thoroughly inventoried and therefore the source of most of the papyri published here. It is therefore possible that small fragments of astronomical texts and tables, including bits that join papyri edited in these volumes, remain undetected and (for the time being) practically untraceable in the scrap boxes” (Jones, Astronomical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus, 1999, p. 56).

So that division of the material (“best pieces” and “other”) seems to have been established during the lifetime of Grenfell and Hunt. After Hunt died in 1934,

“Edgar Lobel, also in The Queen’s College, first took over the care of the collection, storing the hundred choicest boxes in his far-from-fireproof college room over the war years, and adding to them twenty even choicer boxes that he retrieved from Hunt’s private house in north Oxford” (Revel Coles, Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts [Egypt Exploration Society, 2007], p. 7).

This situation seems to have changed in the 1960s, when a more systematic sorting of the papyri is said to have begun. The preface to volume 33 of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri gives an overview:

“In 1966 the British Academy accepted as one of its major research projects the task of cataloguing and preparing for publication the unedited Greek and Latin papyri in the Oxyrhynchus collection. Its generous support, and the prospect of continuation of that support over a period of years, has made it possible to set additional technicians and staff to work on the physical preparation of the material, on the compilation of an inventory of the damped-out papyri, and the formation of a corpus of photographs of them. This work is being done under the supervision of a committee of the British Academy, which has made it its business to combine effectively the resources of the Academy and the very considerable technical help and facilities offered in London by University College and in Oxford by the Ashmolean Museum (through the Grenfell and Hunt library) and the Faculty Board of Literae Humaniores. The Egypt Exploration Society will continue to bear the cost of and take scholarly responsibility for publication. Its general editors hope to be able to recruit additional scholars for the exacting task of editing papyri, a burden which Mr. Lobel has borne too long alone.”

One of the people involved in that early effort (and still involved in the publication of the papyri) is Peter Parsons. In his excellent book, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish (2007), he discusses the early days of the project:

“When I returned to Oxford in 1960 I found myself teaching documentary papyrology and deciphering unpublished papyri from the Oxyrhynchos collection. This research was by then (as it remains) a team effort, under the direction of Eric Turner, Professor of Papyrology at University College London, whose organising genius gave the enterprise a more formal shape, along with institutional premises (in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and the funds (from the British Academy) to appoint a curator of the rehoused collection and to carry through the first systematic cataloguing. In Oxford I had the privilege of working along-side two colleagues of extraordinary accomplishment, John Rea and Revel Coles. The Egypt Exploration Society, which had funded the original excavation, continued (and continues) to publish our results in yearly volumes of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri.”

It would seem that this is the process that generated the “card” system described in the Egypt Exploration Society’s statement regarding the Mark papyrus. Now, a couple things stand out. First, as I noted last year, it is surprising bordering on shocking that this item, which is pretty obviously a leaf from a codex and not a roll, should be dated to the late first century. Regardless of its contents, such a date would have made this papyrus potentially the earliest surviving example of the codex format. And nobody took notice. Astounding.

Next, this process seems to have gotten underway in the 1960s, and, according to the EES statement, it was ongoing in the 1980s. I do wonder when it was completed. By the late 1990s, Martin West was able to consult an apparently full inventory of unpublished papyri of the Iliad from Oxyrhynchus (see West, Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad, 2001). Also in the 1990s, Alexander Jones was able to state that he had “examined all papyri that were inventoried as astronomical texts, tables, and horoscopes, as well as many items classified tentatively as mathematics, calculations, or astrology” (see Jones, Astronomical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus, 1999, p. 57). So it seems like there was a decent working inventory of things in the 1990s.

There are a couple weird things about this. The first I’ve already mentioned here: If there were a relatively complete photographic archive of the papyri that included records of the papyri that Professor Obbink allegedly sold, how on earth would he have thought the papyri couldn’t be traced back to the Oxyrhynchus collection? And second, something I’ve also been puzzled about before: What was going on with the “Ancient Lives” project launched in 2011, supposedly to “crowd source” the identification of Oxyrhynchus papyri? Why would such a project be needed? The publicity for it was was over the top. In this video (at about the 5 minute mark), Dirk Obbink claims that “Almost every year we do find a new gospel that was previously unattested but offers a completely new account.” An interesting claim in light of the Egypt Exploration Society’s recent announcement that the unpublished Christian material from Oxyrhynchus consists of “some twenty New Testament” pieces “some ten patristic texts” and “over eighty Septuagint and related texts.” The numbers literally don’t add up.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 7 Comments

Dirk Obbink and the Oxyrhynchus “Distribution” Papyri

There is an interesting twist with the developing story of the alleged attempt by Dirk Obbink to sell Oxyrhynchus papyri owned by the Egypt Exploration Society. It appears that he had some prior experience selling Oxyrhynchus papyri that he did in fact own. This can be a little confusing for the uninitiated. So, let me stress at the outset that the material released by Mike Holmes and the Museum of the Bible yesterday deals with manuscripts that are the property of the Egypt Exploration Society. What I am about to discuss is something different.

Let me first summarize an earlier post on the topic. Starting in the early days of the excavations of Grenfell and Hunt, the Egypt Exploration Society (then known as the Egypt Exploration Fund) had a regular practice of “distributing” excavated artifacts to donors. Pieces usually ended up at libraries, museums, or schools in the UK and the US. With respect to the Oxyrhynchus papyri, this practice only involved pieces that were already published, and it took place from about 1920 to 1924.  In the Appendix to Volume 4 of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (published in 1904), the editors gave a list of the papyri that had been donated up to that time and prefaced it with the following note:

Similar lists appear as appendices to Volume 5 (1908), Volume 11 (1915), and Volume 16 (1924). I’m not aware of further distributions of papyri after 1924. Now, the fates of these “Distribution Papyri,” as they have come to be known, have varied. Some remain in the institutions to which they were sent. Some are simply lost now. In some cases, the institutions themselves have ceased to exist. So, for instance, the papyri sent to the Andover Newton Theological School are now in the library of Yale Divinity School, which absorbed the remains of the Andover faculty when the school closed. It also happened that some of these “Distribution Papyri” were put up for auction by institutions in the US in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. It is well known that the Green Collection swooped in to buy such manuscripts, especially Christian pieces. What was not so well known (at least to me) was that the Green Collection seems not to have bought all these papyri directly from the institutions. The Museum of the Bible has added several of their Oxyrhynchus papyri to their growing “Provenance” page. The details of ownership history of some pieces include a surprise. Here is the entry for P.Oxy. 1779, a papyrus fragment of the Psalms:

“Provenance” information for P.Oxy. 1779 at the Museum of the Bible website

Now, the buying and selling of these “Distribution Papyri” is legal. Whether it’s ethical is a separate question (the Egypt Exploration Society has taken a stand against the sale of “Distribution” items). These records, if accurate, show that Professor Obbink was active in the antiquities market, and it is fascinating to see that Professor Obbink was buying and then almost immediately reselling these pieces to the Green Collection. It’s not just this Psalms fragment. It’s several pieces bought from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio: P.Oxy. 1353; P.Oxy. 1459; P.Oxy. 1678; P.Oxy. 1688; P.Oxy. 1728; P.Oxy. 1756; and P.Oxy. 1775, as well as a Tebtunis papyrus.

It’s also noteworthy that this was happening quite early in the formation of the Green Collection–in 2010. If these records are accurate, then almost from the beginning of the enterprise, Dirk Obbink was not just an advisor, but also a supplier of manuscripts to the Green Collection. It certainly makes the question of the ownership history of the unprovenanced Christian manuscripts in the Green Collection and Museum of the Bible all the more pressing.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 7 Comments

Revisiting Some of Scott Carroll Comments in Light of the “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement

Carroll Atlanta Passages Tov IntroMy last post looked into a couple questions raised by the recently released purchase agreement between Hobby Lobby and Dirk Obbink regarding so-called “First Century” Mark. In this post, I want to explore how these new revelations might demystify some previously cryptic statements by Scott Carroll, both during the time he was associated with the Green Collection and after they parted ways. In the “Passages Speakers Series” of videos, Scott Carroll frequently introduced the sessions in 2011 and 2012. Continue reading

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, First Century Mark, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll | 10 Comments

The “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement: Some Initial Questions

The letter and documents provided by Mike Holmes in my previous post appear to provide confirmation of what many have suspected since the publication of P.Oxy. 83.5345, the so-called “First Century” Mark fragment: This papyrus and other Christian manuscripts in the Oxyrhynchus collection were offered for sale by one of the (now former) curators of the Oxyrhynchus collection, Oxford professor Dirk Obbink.

It has long been known that, especially in the early days of the building of the Green Collection and conceiving of the Museum of the Bible, Dirk Obbink was an important part of the undertaking.

Scott Carroll, Dirk Obbink, and Jerry Pattengale, circa 2011; image source: Jerry Pattengale’s introduction for Dirk Obbink in Vol. 1 of the Passages Speaker Series.

But until now, the main piece of evidence linking Professor Obbink with the attempted sale of an Oxyrhynchus manuscript was the statement of Scott Carroll in a thread of blog comments shortly after the publication.

Some further digging through Scott Carroll’s online videos turned up an additional statement by Carroll that Oxford University was the source of at least some of the mummy masks that Carroll had purchased.

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Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, First Century Mark, Green Collection, Mummies, Mummy cartonnage, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 27 Comments

“First Century” Mark, Dirk Obbink, and Hobby Lobby

I am pasting below an e-mail I and several other people received this afternoon from Mike Holmes regarding P.Oxy. 5345, the so-called First Century Mark and other Oxyrhynchus fragments allegedly sold by Dirk Obbink:

[Update: For some initial reactions, see my questions here and Elijah Hixson’s here.]

“Dear Bart, Roberta, Brent, Jill, and Elijah,

I am sending you this note because (1) we are all members of the SBL panel scheduled to discuss P.Oxy. 5345, otherwise known as “1st c. Mark” (FCM), at the SBL Annual Meeting in November, and (2) earlier this year I acquired some additional information regarding this document—information that I feel obligated to communicate to you, in your capacity as fellow panelists.

You will recall that in the aftermath of the publication of P.Oxy. 5345 in mid-2018, one of the lingering questions centered around the role of the Green Collection (owned by Hobby Lobby Stores) in the matter. Given that the Egyptian Exploration Society (EES) repeatedly (and rightly) affirmed that the fragment has never been for sale, why did representatives of the Green Collection seem to think that the Collection had acquired the fragment?

The answer is relatively straightforward: Prof. Dirk Obbink sold it and three other allegedly early Gospel fragments to the Green Collection, the result of negotiations that began in early 2012 and continued into early 2013, when a purchase agreement was executed. Continue reading

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, First Century Mark, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll | 24 Comments

Another Part of Scott Carroll’s Manuscript Network

A couple days ago, Roberta Mazza pointed out that Scott Carroll and Josh McDowell have been active recently in Russia. Thanks once again to the sharp eye of David Bradnick, another piece of Scott Carroll’s network of manuscript dealers is beginning to come to light. David notes the image below, which comes from a video describing Scott Carroll’s exhibition in St. Petersburg, Russia:

The manuscript on the right is a facsimile of a fragment of 2 Kings in Coptic on parchment. It is pretty clearly meant to represent the manuscript that Carroll was displaying back in 2016:

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The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath: Synoptic Problems

I’ve been knee-deep in Synoptic Problem things for the last couple weeks, and it has been quite enjoyable. The degree of complication you face when trying to balance the best critical text of each synoptic gospel with the question of dependence among the gospels really is tricky. The saying in Matthew 12:8 (and its parallels) presents a fun puzzle. After the Pharisees confront Jesus because his disciples plucked grain on the sabbath, each gospel ends the passage with a version of this saying. Here are all three gospels in Throckmorton’s synopsis (NRSV translation):

Matthew 12:8
the Son of Man is

of the sabbath.”
Mark 2:28

“the Son of Man is
of the sabbath.”
Luke 6:5

“The Son of Man is

of the sabbath”

Aside from the introductory “For” in Matthew, the core saying differs in just one word across the three synoptic gospels, the “even” in Mark. Thus, the passage presents a very minor agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark. That is how the NRSV translation makes it appear, anyway. The situation in the Greek text is a little more complicated. Here is the text of the passage in the 28th edition of Nestle-Aland along with its critical apparatus:

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Posted in Codex Vercellensis, New Testament, Textual criticism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment