A Dead Sea Scrolls Photo Shoot from the 1950s

Among the PAM negatives of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a short sequence of photos that puzzled me when I encountered them last year. The photos occur in a sequence taken in June 1956, PAM 42.139-141. They are described in the following way Stephen Pfann’s chronological list of PAM negatives:

Descriptions of PAM negatives from Emanuel Tov and Stephen J. Pfann, Companion Volume to the Dead Sea Scrolls Microfiche Edition (2nd rev. ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1995), p. 86

PAM 42.139 and 42.140 are said to show a “scroll jar” and several artifacts in a “natural setting.” These two photographs are not, as far as I know available in the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (as they don’t contain any images of actual scrolls). But it was really PAM 42.141 that had most confused me earlier. This photograph is in the Leon Levy online collection. It appears to have been taken outdoors, and it contains a mix of excavated and purchased scrolls from Cave 1 sitting together on the ground! Specifically, 1Q28a (the largest fragment in the image) was part of a purchase from Khalil Iskander Shahin (“Kando”) and not excavated. So, what was it doing sitting outside on the ground together scrolls excavated by archaeologists?

While doing some research this afternoon looking into Najib Anton Albina (1901-1983), the main photographer who worked on the scrolls on the 1950s, I stumbled across an online image of PAM 42.140 on the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library Facebook page that may shed some light on the question:

Here we see not just any “scroll jar,” but one that is fully reconstructed from fragments, along with other items set out for a nicely staged photo shoot, complete with a tipped over vessel containing a coin hoard. It seems reasonable to conjecture that this photograph was taken on the same occasion as the next one in the sequence, PAM 42.141–our mixed group of Cave 1 scroll fragments in a “natural setting.” But what exactly is this “natural setting”?

The Facebook post describes PAM 42.140 as “excavations of Qumran in the 1950’s,” but the reconstructed jar suggests that this material had already spent a good bit of time in the lab. So, a question arises: Where exactly were these photos taken? Surely the reconstructed jar and scrolls were not brought back out to Qumran! It would be good to learn more about the occasion for which these photographs were made, apparently in June of 1956.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Khalil Eskander Shahin (Kando) | 2 Comments

Online Images of Early Christian Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library

In a previous post, I mentioned that the Bodleian Library had made available nice color digital images of the Hawara Homer papyrus roll. They have also added images of several early Christian manuscripts. I provide links to the images at the Digital Bodleian and links to the editions in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri below:

All of these manuscripts are leaves from codices, but unless I’m missing something, there seems to be images of only one side of each of the first three here (Matthew, Acts, and Thomas). That last one in the list, P.Oxy. VII 1010, is a personal favorite. It’s a single leaf of a miniature parchment codex, and for this one, images of both sides are available:

Bodleian Library MS. Gr. bib. g. 3 (P), P.Oxy. VII 1010, 6 Ezra; image source: Digital Bodleian

Once again, many thanks to colleagues at the Bodleian Libraries for making these images freely available (and maybe we can get the other sides of the three other manuscripts soon?).

Posted in Codices, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 3 Comments

Color Images of the Hawara Homer Online

Thanks to Gregg Schwendner for the alert: In 2019, the Bodleian Library at Oxford posted very nice color digital images (with a scale!) of MS. Gr. class. a. 1 (better known as the Hawara Homer), a copy of books 1 and 2 of the Iliad on papyrus.

Bodleian Library MS. Gr. class. a. 1 (the Hawara Homer); image source: Digital Bodleian

I’ve written about this papyrus on a few occasions on this blog, discussing the story of its discovery in an excavation led by William Matthew Flinders Petrie and the subsequent analysis of its handwriting, the so-called “Rounded Majuscule” (palaeography part 1, part 2, and part 3).

The line number in the left margin in the picture above is modern. It was added by Petrie himself, as was this note at the bottom of the last column of text in book 2:

Bodleian Library MS. Gr. class. a. 1 (the Hawara Homer); image source: Digital Bodleian

Many thanks to the people at the Bodleian who made this possible. I’ll make a separate post about other manuscripts that may be of interest to readers of this blog.

(I should also note the old black and white images of the Hawara Homer at CSAD, which can still be helpful in seeing contrasts in certain areas.)

Posted in Hawara Homer, Palaeography, William Matthew Flinders Petrie | 1 Comment

A New Item in the P.Sapph.Obbink Timeline

Following up on yesterday’s news about the recovery of more papyri stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society, I learn from an anonymous commenter on an earlier post that there is a neglected (by me, at at least) item on the “timeline” of events associated with the so-called P.Sapph.Obbink papyrus.

The last time anybody saw P.Sapph.Obbink? (BBC 4 documentary Sappho: Love and Life on Lesbos, aired in May 2015)

Some background: Last year, scholars at the Museum of the Bible reported that the pieces of the papyrus in the Green Collection were purchased in early 2012, citing a “purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012, and signed by Yakup Eksioglu,” a Turkish dealer and, according to reporting in The Atlantic by Ariel Sabar, a close associate of Professor Dirk Obbink. Some of Prof. Obbink’s own accounts of his first recognition of the Sappho papyrus put the date “in January 2012.” While the next couple months saw Scott Carroll fake the extraction of the Green Collection Sappho fragments from mummy cartonnage and then parade the papyri around at different speaking engagements, Prof. Obbink did not announce the existence of the larger fragments (P.Sapph.Obbink) until early 2014, when news broke in The Daily Beast, The Times, and The Times Literary Supplement.

Also last year, Mike Sampson published an article in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (and recently summarized here) reporting on the existence of a brochure in pdf format said to be produced by Christie’s offering the Sappho papyrus for sale privately to selected buyers. Sampson’s investigations showed that the document had been produced in connection with a sale (or attempted sale) of the papyrus in August 2013 and then updated for another attempted sale in early 2015.

Now to the new information: The commenter points us to a conference that was set to take place at the University of Reading in September of 2013. A blog post dated 2 September 2013 includes a list of participants and titles of papers. Among them is:

D. Obbink (Oxford): “Sailing to Naukratis: Saphho [sic] on her Brothers”

Although the title says nothing about a new papyrus, and the topic might be simply drawn from information in Herodotus’s description of the courtesan Rhodopis, it seems likely this paper would have been an announcement of the new papyrus. I say “would have been” because the commenter also points out that in the actual online program for the conference, Prof. Obbink’s contribution is not present. It seems the paper was pulled at some point between the blog post on 2 September 2013 and the date of the conference (6-8 September 2013).

It’s the timing that is interesting in connection with the metadata that Sampson extracted from the Christie’s brochure, which suggested an attempted sale of the papyrus in August 2013. The last two timestamps associated with this cluster of metadata came from 27 August, just days before what appears to have been Prof. Obbink’s (aborted) first public announcement of the existence of the papyrus.

There is also another connection here with Scott Carroll. I quote from Sampson’s BASP article:

“As David Meadows has documented on Rogue Classicism, [Scott Carroll] made a presentation to the University of the Nations Workshop in San Antonio del Mar (Mexico) on September 6, 2013, where he brought up Sappho and the Times Literary Supplement before boasting that ‘thirty of these items would be front page news when they’re published,’ a claim that would prove prescient. That date, I note, is less than a month following what I believe was the first private treaty sale of the papyrus.”

It makes you wonder if the public unveiling of the fragment (along with an article in TLS) was planned for some time in September 2013 but delayed for an unknown reason. Finally, as Sampson noted, the metadata of the Christie’s brochure pointed toward a second attempted sale in early 2015, specifically in the period around 13 January 2015 to 26 February 2015, the dates associated with the latest metadata in the pdf file of the Christie’s brochure. On this occasion, the attempted sale seems to have taken place just after Prof. Obbink’s public presentation on the provenance of the papyrus at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies on 9 January 2015. There does seem to be a very close interplay between Prof. Obbink’s academic work on the papyrus and the attempted sale of the papyrus on the antiquities market on more than one occasion. It would be useful to learn more about what appears to be the ongoing relationship between Scott Carroll and Prof. Obbink even after Carroll and the Green Collection parted ways in May 2012.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink | 4 Comments

More Stolen Papyri to be Returned to the Egypt Exploration Society

Earlier today, the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) announced the discovery that more papyri “had been removed from the EES collection without authorisation.” This follows other related announcements over the last several months.

The first announcement by the EES (25 June 2019) noted the possibility that recently published early Christian papyri in the EES collection from Oxyrhynchus were identical to four papyri that were said to have been sold to Hobby Lobby and subsequently donated to the Museum of the Bible. Further investigations revealed that EES materials had indeed been stolen and sold to Hobby Lobby. The next announcement (14 October 2019) identified 13 such fragments. This was followed closely by another announcement (21 October 2019) that 5 additional EES fragments had been stolen and sold to American collector Andrew Stimer. Another announcement (16 November 2019) raised the number of EES items held by Stimer to 6 and noted that an inventory of the EES holdings from Oxyrhynchus “has to date identified around 120 pieces which appear to be missing, almost all from a limited number of folders; it is possible that a few more cases may emerge.”

Today the EES announced that in cooperation with the Museum of the Bible, they had identified an additional 21 fragments that had been stolen and then “acquired by Hobby Lobby and its agents from a number of third parties.” This time, the EES statement did not reveal the contents of these 21 pieces (it would be good to know if any of these pieces are among those that have been displayed over the years by Scott Carroll and others). The announcement goes on to note that the recent repatriation to Egypt of the bulk of the 5000 or so papyri held by Hobby Lobby and the Museum of the Bible likely means that some additional EES materials will probably be included in that lot (thus the task of sorting, identifying, conserving, and providing long-term storage for these pieces will now fall to Egyptian colleagues). Finally, the EES notes that the police investigation into the theft of the papyri in their care is ongoing.

So, out of (at least) 120 missing papyri, 40 have now been identified and are reportedly being returned to the EES. Those that the EES has identified have been exclusively Christian (or possibly Jewish) literary texts. That leaves (at least) 80 or so missing pieces. I find it somewhat strange that the EES has not made publicly known what these pieces are. I am not a specialist in cultural heritage crimes, but it’s my understanding that when thefts occur, it is common practice to let the community know what pieces have gone missing in order that they might be identified when they surface on the market (at least, I take this to be the logic behind, for instance, the “Stolen Art” and “Missing Art” sections of the International Foundation for Art Research Journal).

In any event, hopefully more of the stolen items can be identified, and those responsible for the theft can be brought to justice.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 2 Comments

Museum of the Bible Papyri in Egypt

From Egypt Today:

“CAIRO – 27 January 2021: A large group of Egyptian artifacts that were in the possession of the Holy Bible Museum in Washington, USA, arrived at Cairo International Airport on January 27, as a result of the great efforts exerted by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the concerned American authorities.”

Many familiar pieces in the article. More thoughts on this in the coming days.

UPDATE 28 January 2021: Some better images of the returned items (including several mummy masks) can be found at Ahram Online (H/T Paul Barford)

Posted in Antiquities Market, Green Collection, Green Collection 1 Samuel | 1 Comment

New Facsimiles of the Chester Beatty New Testament Papyri

I had heard rumors a few years ago that a new facsimile edition of the Beatty Biblical Papyri was in the works. It looks like the New Testament papyri have now appeared courtesy of Hendrickson. This is exciting. The volumes look very nice, judging from the photos on the website. They use the images taken a few years ago by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. The price, however, is a little disappointing, given that high-quality facsimile editions of manuscripts are now frequently being produced at more reasonable prices.

Posted in Chester Beatty Papyri, Codices | 9 Comments

Back When Single-quire Codices Were Strange

Since the discovery and publication of the Nag Hammadi codices, the single-quire codex format has become very familiar to papyrologists and historians of the book. It’s interesting, however, to recall that there was a time when the idea of an ancient book consisting of just one single large quire seemed a bit strange. The year was 1899. In the second volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Grenfell and Hunt published a fragment of a bifolium from a papyrus codex containing the Gospel According to John in Greek (P.Oxy. 2.208; LDAB 2780). They assigned it to the third century. For Grenfell and Hunt, it was a curious item, as only the central fold and a few centimeters on either side of the fold are preserved.

P.Oxy. 2.208 (British Library Papyrus 782); image source: British Library

The contents turned out to be John 1:23-41 on one leaf and John 20:11-25 on the other. It is thus very likely to be the remains of one of the outer bifolia of a single-quire codex containing the whole Gospel According to John. For Grenfell and Hunt, this format was something odd, “rather awkward,” as they noted in their edition:

“If, then, the original book contained the whole of the Gospel, which is certainly the most natural supposition, our sheet was very nearly the outermost of a large quire, and within it were a number of other sheets sufficient to hold the eighteen intervening chapters. Written upon the same scale as the surviving fragments, these eighteen chapters would fill twenty-two sheets. The whole book would thus consist of a single quire of twenty-five sheets, the first leaf being probably left blank, or giving only the title. Such an arrangement certainly seems rather awkward, particularly as the margin between the two columns of writing in the flattened sheet is only about 2 cm. wide. This is not much to be divided between two leaves at the outside of so thick a quire. But as yet little is known about the composition of these early books; and it is by no means improbable that the simpler and more primitive form of a large number of sheets gathered into a single quire was prevalent before the more convenient arrangement of several small quires placed side by side came into fashion.”

As usual, Grenfell and Hunt were willing to be surprised and recognized that many of their expectations might be overturned by the vast amount of new evidence they were uncovering in those early days.

This passage came to mind because I just stumbled across a fascinating earlier moment in their process of thinking about this piece. In a preliminary report published in 1898, Grenfell floated a different interpretation of the fragment:

“Since the issue of the first volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Mr. Hunt and I have opened a number of fresh boxes, and the plan of the second volume, which will appear next year, is now for the most part arranged. The department of theology will include 3rd century fragments of St. John’s Gospel, written in parallel columns with another work.”

The idea that columns of writing containing the first chapter of John and one of the last chapters should appear next to each other was so unheard of that Grenfell and Hunt seem to have initially interpreted the fragment as part of a roll containing the fourth gospel and an altogether different text written next to each other in parallel columns. It’s a neat reminder of just how little was known about papyrus codices at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1922, Grenfell and Hunt published a fragment of another leaf from this codex as P.Oxy. 15.1781, which contains John 16. That leaves from both the inner sheets and the outer sheets were found in the trash heaps at Oxyrhynchus probably indicates that the whole codex was thrown out (and not just a stray leaf that fell out). On this point, see AnneMarie Luijendijk, “Sacred Scriptures as Trash: Biblical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus.”

Posted in Book binding, Codices, Codicology, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 1 Comment

Hugo Ibscher Trading Cards

When I was a kid, I enjoyed collecting sports cards. In those days (early 1980s), the cards came in wax-paper wrappers with a flat rectangular piece of so-called “chewing gum” that was so stale and hardened that it would shatter almost like glass (but I always chewed it nevertheless). Because child-Brent was not entirely different from adult-Brent, even then I looked into the history of sports cards and became aware that early cards came not with gum but with cigarettes. For collectors, the most sought-after baseball card was (and, to the best of my knowledge, still is) a tobacco card, the so-called T206 Honus Wagner, produced from 1909 to 1911:

What child-Brent didn’t know and what adult-Brent just recently learned was that cigarette cards of the early twentieth century were made depicting all sorts of things…including famed book conservator Hugo Ibscher! Regular readers will know that Hugo Ibscher (1874-1943) was an esteemed conservator of ancient books who was based in Berlin. Many of the most important ancient codices discovered in the early twentieth century passed through Ibscher’s hands, and his descriptions of them are often our only evidence for the construction of these codices (here, for instance, are some of his notes on the Berlin Coptic Proverbs codex).

The Ibscher cards came with packages of Churchman’s Cigarettes in 1937. Here are the cards, in all their glory (front side on the left, reverse on the right):

The cards depict Ibscher working on mummy cartonnage (card number 29) and on what appears to be one of the Manichaean codices from Medinet Madi (card number 30). The images on these cards seem to be derived from a photo shoot that took place a couple years earlier. They are very similar to photographs published in The Sphere (an illustrated newspaper published in the UK) in 1934:

The rest of the series of cards (50 in all) are equally interesting. They depict various archaeological topics that were current in the 1930s. Some show contemporary excavations in Italy carried out under Mussolini:

And of course there is a card relating to the British Museum’s acquisition of Codex Sinaiticus:

I’m almost certain that child-Brent would have been bitterly disappointed to open a pack of cards and find Hugo Ibscher and Codex Sinaiticus, but adult-Brent is pretty delighted (and in any event, child-Brent should not have been buying packs of cigarettes).

Posted in Codicology, Mummy cartonnage | 6 Comments

Further Revelations from Sampson’s Article: The Sappho Papyrus and the German Officer

In a previous post on C. Michael Sampson’s article in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the American Association of Papyrologists, I mentioned that Sampson’s essay contained a number of interesting but somewhat complicated revelations about questions surrounding the Sappho papyrus.

One seemingly intractable mystery that Sampson has (to my mind, anyway) solved involves one of the first provenance stories associated with the Sappho papyrus. Early on, it was claimed that the papyrus had originated in mummy cartonnage that had once been owned by “a high-ranking German officer.” This provenance story quickly evaporated and was never explained. A little background will help to illuminate Sampson’s discovery.

In an article in the Times (2 February 2014) that announced Professor Dirk Obbink’s forthcoming publication of the Sappho papyrus, Bettany Hughes noted that the owner of the papyrus, an “elderly gentleman,” had engaged professor Obbink to examine “material from an ancient Egyptian burial.” Professor Obbink, after “prising the layers of shredded papyrus apart,” recognized the text on the papyrus as poems of Sappho. At the conclusion of the article, Hughes had hinted at the provenance of the cartonnage from which the Sappho papyrus had allegedly been extracted:

“The elderly owner of our new Sappho papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, and its provenance is obscure (it was originally owned, it seems, by a high-ranking German officer), but he was determined its secrets should not die with him.”

In his own article published a few days later (7 February 2014) in the Times Literary Supplement, Professor Obbink also referred to the “ancient mummy cartonnage panel” that was the alleged source of the Sappho papyrus.

The difficulty with this story, as Roberta Mazza pointed out a few months later in May 2014, was that the Sappho papyrus, which Professor Obbink assigned to the “late second/early third centuries” CE, was very unlikely to come from mummy cartonnage. The practice of using inscribed papyrus to make mummy casings seems to have died out two-hundred years earlier:

“According to standard papyrology manuals, the practice of fabricating cartonnage for mummy masks and panels went on throughout the entire Ptolemaic period, and ended towards the end of the Augustan era, so at the beginning of the first century AD.”

Thus, when Professor Obbink revisited the question of the provenance of the papyrus in 2015, there was no mention of the “German officer.” The story was now that the cartonnage did not come from a mummy casing after all, but rather was “domestic or industrial cartonnage” purchased at auction in a lot derived from the Robinson Papyri, the somewhat murky collection of an American academic. In a story in Live Science published on 23 January 2015, Megan Gannon asked Professor Obbink what had happened to the “German officer” mentioned in the article by Hughes. Professor Obbink responded that Hughes had simply fabricated the story.

“Obbink characterized Hughes’ story as a ‘fictionalization’ and an ‘imaginative fantasy. …Bettany Hughes never saw the papyrus,’ Obbink said. ‘I never discussed the ownership with her. She published the story without consulting me.’ (Hughes did not respond to a request for comment.)”

The “German officer” did not appear again in any discussions of the possible source of the papyrus. So, the matter rested there for five years.

But now the Christie’s brochure analyzed by Sampson brings the “German officer” back into view. The Christie’s brochure includes a photograph of a Ptolemaic-era panel of mummy cartonnage sitting next to another clump of “plain” cartonnage. The caption beneath the photograph states that “The Sappho fragment was initially thought to derive from a painted mummy cartonnage panel (left), with which it was simultaneously dissolved, but this was discovered to be a confusion of processing.” This is quite similar to the explanation that Professor Obbink had presented in his paper on the provenance of the papyrus in January 2015: “The owner originally believed that he had dissolved a piece of ‘mummy’ cartonnage, as I reported in TLS. But this turned out upon closer inspection of the original papyri not to be the case.”

Charlotte Higgins had interviewed Sampson and mentioned the panel of mummy cartonnage in her article in the Guardian back in January 2020:

“In the brochure, there are, at last, 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.”

What is new in Sampson’s article is the identification of this Ptolemaic-era cartonnage. With some impressive sleuthing, Sampson was able to identify this panel as (the lower half of) one that was purchased through Sotheby’s in 2008:

What was especially intruiging was the alleged provenance of the panel:

The person listed as the previous owner of the panel was Rainer Kriebel, “military attaché to the German Federal Republic’s embassy to Egypt in Cairo.” It’s hard to believe that there would be two pieces of cartonnage connected to both the Sappho papyrus and a German military official. It seems that Sampson has found our “German officer.”

Sampson’s reconstruction of events is sensible: As mentioned in my previous post, Sampson’s analysis of the metadata associated with the pdf file of the Christie’s brochure indicated that there were likely two attempted sales of the papyrus, one in 2013 and one in 2015. For the 2013 sale, the images of Kriebel’s mummy cartonnage panel very probably served to reflect the “Original Provenance Fiction,” as Sampson calls it: the idea that the Sappho papyrus had come from a Ptolemaic-era panel of mummy cartonnage. The sale in in the summer of 2015 continued to use the same images (likely in an effort to preserve some aspects of the story, namely extraction from cartonnage of some sort), but the text of the brochure reflected the “Revised Provenance Fiction,” that the Sappho papyrus had come from “domestic or industrial cartonnage” and had only been associated with the mummy material through a mistake of the owner.

While there are still many questions about the ultimate origins of the Sappho papyrus, it is satisfying that Sampson’s research has explained the mysterious “German officer.”

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Find Stories, Mummy cartonnage, P.Sapph. Obbink | 3 Comments