[[Update 18 October 2019: It has now been shown that the papyri containing Romans and 1 Corinthians mentioned in this post were in fact stolen from the Oxyrhynchus collection. See details here.]]
Elijah Hixson has posted a nice update on the latest developments regarding questions around P.Oxy. 83.5345, the recently published papyrus fragment of the Gospel According to Mark. It’s well worth a read.
The lack of clarity on all sides in this episode is unfortunate. One part of Dan Wallace’s latest statement on the matter was especially striking to me:
“I signed the NDA in early October 2012; I still possess my copy of it along with the email it was attached to—an email that explicitly speaks of the purchase as the reason for the NDA.”
As I noted in my previous posting, perhaps if the party with whom Wallace and others signed this NDA (non-disclosure agreement) would now release them from it, we could have a more open discussion of the story behind this papyrus. After all, whether or not the papyrus was ever for sale, it’s certainly not for sale now. Better still would be the public release the NDA itself, so that we might see how this whole process worked.
Wallace’s post also raised for me the question of what other information might be useful in figuring out what’s going on here. Watching this episode unfold over the last couple weeks, I am reminded of the spate of other “New Testament” papyri that surfaced at about the same time as “first century” Mark. These pieces also happened to be associated with many of this same cast of characters. I am thinking in particular of three pieces in the INTF Liste:
P129: 1 Corinthians, Museum of the Bible, GC.PAP.000120
P130: Hebrews, Museum of the Bible, GC.PAP.000401
P131: Romans, Museum of the Bible, GC.PAP.000425
I’m fairly certain I saw the fragment of Romans on a CNN segment with Steve Green back in 2012 (18 January 2012, to be exact; recall that “First Century” Mark first reared its head at Wallace’s debate with Bart Ehrman on 1 February 2012):
Re-watching the CNN clip now, I find Steve Green’s description of the fragment’s recent history somewhat curious: “This [fragment] has just been discovered within the last 48 hours.” When asked by the interviewer, “How…how did you get this?” Green, tripping on his words a bit, replied,
“Well, um, this is in part of the acquisitions that we have, that we have, ah, uh, in uncovering layers of papyrus and as we’re pulling layers away, all different kinds of texts show up, and this happens to be, is, as Dr. Scott Carroll has identified it, the oldest portion of the book of Romans known, dating to middle second century. So this really adds another brick to the wall of evidence supporting what the Bible tells us.”
So, it’s not completely clear that he’s saying this fragment came from these “layers of papyrus,” but it would be great to know where it did come from. See the whole clip here.
And then there was a papyrus fragment of Hebrews mentioned on the ETC blog back in April of 2011. The fragment featured in an exhibition at Baylor University alongside other material from the Green Collection, and at least some visitors to the exhibition at Baylor came away with the impression that the Hebrews fragment was also recovered from “cartonnage” and dated to the second century. In the thread of comments to the post, a certain “Anonymous” (who seemed to speak with a lot of authority and was quite enthusiastic about secrecy) confirmed this fragment was connected to the Green Collection and had been dated by none other than Dirk Obbink:
“The item was dated by The Director of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Project at Oxford, Dirk Obbink. The papyus is being researched and prepared for publication. The Baylor student who illicitly photographed the item…was in violation of Baylor’s contractual agreement with the Exhibition. …As for the collection’s credibility, items have been lawfully acquired and research is being led by leading scholars in the world. …If you are qualified professor with an earned PhD and have an interest in working with unpublished items with students under the direction of the leading scholars in the world, contact: greensholarsinitiative.org.”
In a separate comment, “Anonymous” disputed the idea that the fragment came from “cartonnage” either “mummy” or “domestic,” and stressed the importance of “contractual agreements” and “intellectual property rights”:
While extremely significant literary papyri have come from mummy cartonnage and from domestic cartonnage in the collection, it was nowhere suggested that this papyrus came from cartonnage. The piece is quite legible, for someone who can read Greek and has basic training in paleography. The text was tentatively dated by a world-renown specialist. The papyrus has been assigned for research. It will be published according to the highest academic standards in due time. There was a contractual agreement between Baylor and the exhibition prohibiting photography of items…Ownerships, intellectual property rights, contracts and one’s word, matter.
It’s unfortunate that “Anonymous” was so bold about condemning university students with cameras but so timid about posting under a real name.
And what about the 1 Corinthians fragment? Through the magic of the Wayback Machine at archive.org, we find this from the Bethel University Faculty Accomplishments report for Spring of 2011:
So, at roughly the same time as Scott Carroll says the Oxyrhynchus Mark fragment (a small, nondescript piece of papyrus said to be of an early date) was for sale, the Green Collection managed to acquire three other small, nondescript pieces of papyrus containing New Testament texts said to be of early dates (though not quite so sensationally early as “first century” Mark). The proximate origin of these papyri, like that of “first century” Mark, was also (at least in a couple cases, apparently) implied to be cartonnage of some sort.
Back in 2011 and 2012 when all these pieces were being acquired, the figures in this drama who have been keeping frustratingly silent in the last few weeks were all together on the same page at the launch of the Brill series, The Green Scholars Initiative: Papyrus Series (a moment preserved, again, thanks to archive.org):
So, now a question for the people associated with the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible: Do we have any provenance information on these pieces? They have a similar character to the Oxyrhynchus Mark fragment, and they seem to have become a part of the Green Collection at about the same time as the Oxyrhynchus Mark fragment was alleged to have been for sale. It would be most illuminating if the Green Collection or the Museum of the Bible would provide detailed acquisition information about these pieces.
The Museum of the Bible has the beginnings of a helpful site on the provenance of a handful of their pieces here: https://www.museumofthebible.org/collections/provenance, but I find nothing there about these pieces. Now would be an ideal time for the Green Collection and/or the Museum of the Bible to publicly confirm when and from whom these three pieces were bought and document any brokers in the sale.