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

A New Origin Story for the New Sappho

[[Update 9 December 2019: Transcribed more of the video clip below for greater context.]]

The Sappho papyrus published by Professor Dirk Obbink has obscure origins, as many have noted and as I’ve discussed here before. Professor Obbink has provided two quite different accounts of how he came to publish the papyrus. Each of these two accounts actually have a few variations, but we need not go into that here (if you’re interested, see the recent Eidolon article for a good overview of the state of affairs). And this is to say nothing of the complications caused by Scott Carroll’s claims regarding the Green Collection Sappho fragments. But I digress…

To recap: According to Professor Obbink’s first version of the story, presented in an interview with Bettany Hughes for an article in The Times published on 2 February 2014, an anonymous owner “had material from an ancient Egyptian burial in his possession. He’d noticed that scraps of the cartonnage (the Egyptian equivalent of papier-mâché, made of recycled papyrus) bore the ghostly imprint of writing.” The owner contacted Professor Obbink, who “prised the layers of shredded papyrus apart” to reveal large fragments of papyrus containing lines of Sappho. According to this article, “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.”

Professor Obbink’s second version of the story was presented in an interview with Megan Gannon for an article in Live Science  that ran just under a year later on 23 January 2015. The “high-ranking German officer” is gone, and the papyrus was said to have been part of a lot purchased from Christie’s in November 2011. “Obbink said the anonymous buyer called to ask for advice a couple of months after the auction, in January 2012. The new owner wanted to know if some of the compressed bits of papyri could be identified without peeling the layers apart. Obbink said he went to see the packets for himself later that month. One small chunk of cartonnage appeared to contain multiple layers of papyrus, with fragments peeling off from the outside, Obbink said. The anonymous owner — who is a businessman, not a professional collector or academic — had his staff dissolve the tiny stack in warm water. From that pile, they found a folded-up, postcard-size manuscript with lines of text in ancient Greek. When Obbink later read the text, he said he knew he was looking at poems by Sappho. . . [Some scholars have questioned why the] “German officer” has disappeared now from every other account of the papyrus’ provenance. But 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.)”

Now we have a third version of the story. In this video from 2016 (at about the 12:55 mark), Professor Obbink puts forth an entirely new account.

According to this version, it was “Ancient Lives,” an Arts & Humanities Research Council funded project run by Professor Obbink, that led the anonymous owner to reveal the papyrus:

“One of the major beneficiaries of the system has been ironically the poetess Sappho, the most famous female poet, uh, perhaps of all time. We put all kinds of papyri fragments into the system, not just from the Oxyrhynchus collection here at Oxford but also from other collections, uh, like the Tebtunis papyri who contributed images to go into it, uh, and even private collections of papyri. And we’ve had people come forth and want their papyri put into the system. And one of these was a private collector in London who brought this papyrus in wanting it to be put into the system to have it included in the database and hopefully identified. Uh, and even before we put it into the database, we immediately recognized it, uh, from the meter and the language and the content. It has a name in the first line: Charaxos, which is only known as the name of Sappho’s brother in antiquity…”

So, in this account, there is no cartonnage at all–just an anonymous collector in London owner who wanted a privately owned papyrus to be studied in a publicly funded project. It will be interesting to see which (if any) of these versions of the story is actually accurate.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Mummy cartonnage, P.Sapph. Obbink | 5 Comments

An Image of the Green Collection "Aristotle" Papyrus?

I’m preparing a post on recently emerged Coptic manuscripts of dubious origins to go along with the working list of similarly dodgy Greek and Latin manuscripts. In doing so, I’ve revisited some material put out by the Christian apologist Josh McDowell, who claims to own several very small fragments containing bits of the New Testament in Coptic. But I came across something even more interesting in one of McDowell’s PowerPoint presentations that is available online. It shows images that appear to have been taken during one of Scott Carroll’s cartonnage dismantling sessions held at Baylor University at which McDowell was present (the session recorded in this video that took place on 16 January 2012). The images from McDowell’s presentation were made available in a DropBox folder and highlighted on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog in 2014. During that session, Scott Carroll brought some papyri that were not extracted from cartonnage that day. They are distinguishable because they were mounted between glass panes. This latter group included some pieces now known to have been stolen from the Oxyrhynchus collection, such as the Green Collection fragment of 1 Corinthians, GC.PAP.000120 a.k.a. P.Oxy. inv. 106/116(d) + 106/116(c). Another piece that was displayed on that occasion has a Ptolemaic (or very early Roman) look to it:

I had of course seen this image of the manuscript on the ETC blog back in 2014, but I had not looked closely at it before this evening. Enough of the text is visible to run TLG searches and to be able to say with confidence that the text on this papyrus is not part of the TLG database. The vocabulary, however, overlaps significantly with a commentary on works of Aristotle. It may well be the case that this is the Green Collection papyrus that Scott Carroll has called an “unknown work of Aristotle” and that was displayed at the Verbum Domini exhibition at the Vatican in 2011. The catalog entry from that exhibit reads as follows:

It is difficult to know for sure if this identification is correct when the description is so vague, but the chronology works reasonably well (the papyrus was a part of the Green Collection already in 2011), the handwriting is a reasonable fit (I don’t know if I would say “early 3rd century,” but it looks Ptolemaic to me), and the contents make sense. The reference to “several columns” doesn’t quite work, as I only see two here, but not everything in this catalog is totally accurate.

But even if this identification is correct, we still don’t know the key question: Where did this papyrus come from? The papyrus in the image looks a little too old to have come from the dumps at Oxyrhynchus. We don’t really see many papyri of that age among the published pieces from Grenfell and Hunt’s excavations. The Verbum Domini catalog entry says the “Aristotle” piece was extracted from mummy cartonnage. For a seemingly Ptolemaic papyrus like the one in the image, that is actually a real possibility. But where might such cartonnage have come from? Recall that Scott Carroll stated in an interview in May 2011 that he extracted this mask with a friend: “Recently I would say the most surprising discoveries have come from working with mummy (mask) coverings…A professor from Oxford and I have extracted a lost work of Aristotle…” And “the unusual work on Mystery Religion” mentioned in the same Verbum Domini catalog entry above appears to have been published by Professor Obbink.

As I reported last week, at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Mike Holmes of the Museum of the Bible stated half of the Green Collection’s mummy masks were purchased from Professor Dirk Obbink of Oxford University. And it does seem to be the case that Professor Obbink had access to the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of cartonnage (which includes items from sites other than Oxyrhynchus). Perhaps representatives of the Green Collection or the Museum of the Bible will be able to shed some light on the identity and origin of this papyrus.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Aristotle, Mummy cartonnage, Scott Carroll | 1 Comment

Recap of the SBL “First Century Mark” Session

A few days ago, I was fortunate to be a part of the a session dedicated to a “postmortem” on so-called “First Century Mark” at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego. Below is a quick summary derived from my recollections. Please let me know if there are any inaccuracies, and I will correct them.

SBL 2019 “First Century Mark” panel: image source: Twitter feed of Charles J. Schmidt (via Evangelical Textual Criticism)

Bart Ehrman started things off by revisiting his 2012 debate with Dan Wallace. He made the case that even if we did have a fragment of Mark datable to the first century, it wouldn’t really tell us much that is new. If it looked like the text of Mark that we know, that’s great, but we still wouldn’t know how it matched up with the lost earliest copy of the gospel. If the first century manuscript looked too different from the Mark we know, then “scholars like Dan” might claim it wasn’t actually a copy of Mark. Bart finished up by speaking out against relying on hearsay (as Dan Wallace had in their debate).

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Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, First Century Mark, Mummy cartonnage, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 30 Comments

The Coptic Material from Oxyrhynchus

Several people have asked me why there are no Coptic pieces on the list of recently emerged papyri of dubious origins. I put that list online in the hopes of identifying more material that may have been stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society. Having seen plenty of Greek papyri from Oxyrhynchus, we all have a pretty good sense of what that material tends to look like. But the profile of Coptic materials known with certainty to have come from the Oxyrhynchus trash heaps is something of a mystery. Very few of them have been published. This post will summarize what has been published.

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Posted in Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 3 Comments

News: Egypt Exploration Society Missing At Least 120 Papyri

I missed this news from a couple days ago. The Egypt Exploration Society has announced that they are missing at least 120 papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection.

Read the full announcement here.

Posted in Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 6 Comments

Once Again, Scott Carroll and a Papyrus of Plato

I’ve written before about Scott Carroll’s connection to a papyrus of Plato’s Phaedo. What I have only just now realized while reviewing some of Carroll’s past lectures is that his association with this piece goes back to early 2012 (or maybe even 2011), when he was still the director of the Green Collection.

In remarks made during a Passages lecture in Atlanta on 27 March 2012, Carroll said the following:

“Three days ago, discovered at Baylor University, ah, with students, ah, one of the earliest texts of Plato. And it’s, just so happens to be an account that Plato wrote of the death of Socrates, a very famous account, that was used in the early Church period as a contrast with the death of Christ. And so it’s a very interesting passage.”

Now, it seems to be a good rule of thumb to take Carroll’s claims of “X days ago I discovered Y papyrus” with a grain of salt. But this description does sound a lot like the description (attributed to Dirk Obbink) of the papyrus of Plato’s Phaedo appraised by Lee Biondi in 2013 (“The account has uncanny parallels with the life and death of Jesus Christ, something not lost on scholars through the ages.”).

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Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Scott Carroll, Van Kampen Collection | 3 Comments