“First Century” Mark and “Second Century” Romans and “Second Century” Hebrews and “Second Century” 1 Corinthians

[[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):

Green Collection Romans Fragment

Screen capture from CNN showing a papyrus fragment of Romans in the Green Collection; image source: CNN, “Hobby Lobby president’s rare collection.”

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:

Holmes 1 Corinthians

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):

obbink pattengale 3

Jerry Pattengale, Steve Green, Cary Summers, and Dirk Obbink; image source: 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.

This entry was posted in Antiquities Market, Codices, First Century Mark, Green Collection 1 Corinthians, Green Collection Hebrews, Green Collection Romans, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to “First Century” Mark and “Second Century” Romans and “Second Century” Hebrews and “Second Century” 1 Corinthians

  1. I really want to go to the MoB, but because there are some questions about the validity of the purchasing of some of their material, I waver on whether or not it is ethical to pay to look at their exhibits.

  2. JoshuaJ says:

    Daniel Wallace writes in his first FCM blog: “I was told in the non-disclosure agreement not to speak about when it would be published or whether it even exists. “The termination of this agreement would come when it was published. Consequently, I am now free to speak about it.”

    Should we take that to mean that he is no longer bound by the NDA? I, for one, would be thrilled if Wallace would post a copy of that nondisclosure agreement!

  3. JoshuaJ says:

    This is a really great post, by the way. Great information.

  4. Greg M. says:

    I thought it’s been established that the Greens don’t understand the word “provenance”.

  5. David Bradnick says:

    It is also notable that on Feb. 24, 2012 Hugh Hewitt interviewed Dan Wallace in which Wallace mentions the forthcoming (2013) MOTB publication by Brill of Luke (P.Oxy 83.5346), four Pauline texts, and a homily on Hebrews – all from 2nd century. Obbink was to be the editor of the volume, and Wallace tells us that the seller wanted to retain rights to appoint the scholar working on FCM. Was the Luke text also for sale or, at least, believed to be for sale?

    When Hewitt asked where they were discovered. Wallace states, “I wish I could tell you. I know I’m hedging so much, because that’s what I’ve been told not to say. I can’t tell all the details of this. And I can tell you this. They came from Egypt.” The key word here is EGYPT.

    Wallace knows that Oxyrhynchus texts cannot be sold & would be published by EES, not Brill. He also knows newly discovered Egyptian texts can’t be sold legally. Wallace indicates that he was originally under the impression that P.Oxy 5345 was a new discovery and only recently discovered that it was part of the EES collection. So, given all of this, it seems possible – if not probable – that Wallace was told these texts came from Egyptian cartonnage. This may be fortified by what Nongbri states above. Therefore, if Wallace is telling the truth, it seems very unlikely that Craig Evans fabricated the mummy cartonnage rumors. The seller’s representatives possibly conveyed this information to Wallace.

    Pre-1972 mummy cartonnage would be the only legal source from which to obtain and sell literary papyri. So, was the cartoonage narrative merely a ploy to hide the true provenance of all of these 2nd century text? Since 2012, experts have maintained that the practice of using literary papyri in cartonnage ended before NT texts were written, thus debunking the original cartonnage narrative. So have the Greens kept these texts under lock and key because they now know that their provenance is questionable? Note that none of the text mentioned above by Nongbri are on display at MOTB and have never been published.


  6. To this it might be worth adding the collaboration between the same group of folks (incl. Carroll and Obbink) on the Sappho papyrus. This lengthy post (linked below) contains a lot of information relevant to this discussion. The author, David Meadows, says near the beginning: “I hope to demonstrate how several years of antiquities acquisition by Scott Carroll merge with the spectacular announcements of a new Sappho papyrus a few years ago by Dirk Obbink.” https://rogueclassicism.com/2017/07/24/the-hobby-lobby-settlement-a-gathering-storm-for-classicists/

  7. Greg Given says:

    Thanks for your continued analysis of this, Brent. I’m reminded of the flurry of attention around Josh McDowell and the dissolving of cartonnage mummy masks back in 2014. Some of the items that I’m reminded of have no doubt come up elsewhere in the extensive online bibliography about P.Oxy. 83.5345, which I am hardly on top of. So apologies if this is all redundant or old hat, but it might at least contribute an image to your post above.

    Craig Evans and Josh McDowell, if I recall, both originally claimed that the Mark fragment came from a mummy mask. In the presentation from Josh McDowell that lit up the papyrology blogosphere in 2014, he mentions finding a 2nd c. Romans fragment as well through this process. When Brice Jones posted about the McDowell presentation back in 2014(1), Matthijs den Dulk found a Powerpoint presentation on McDowell’s website with photos of the dissolution of a mummy mask, as well as several of the papyri found. He pulled all the photos from the Powerpoint and posted them in a Dropbox folder, which is still live (2). One of these fragments, it was noted in the comments on Brice’s post, seems to be the same 1 Cor fragment as was exhibited in one of the pre-MoB “Passages” exhibits. It appears to match the description that you’ve located of the papyrus that Holmes and his students worked on (3).

    Finally, I have to note again here the same wild coincidence I noted at the time, and was also on my mind when there was chatter about the provenance of the Sappho fragment that Obbink edited. In Dec. 2014 as part of the “Passages” exhibit in Springfield, MO, Obbink and Jerry Pattengale co-presented a public lecture entitled, “Unveiling Cartonnage: The Practice and Value of Dissolving Reused Papyri Manuscripts for Biblical Studies” (4).

    1. Brice Jones post: https://www.bricecjones.com/blog/the-first-century-gospel-of-mark-josh-mcdowell-and-mummy-masks-what-they-all-have-in-common
2. Photos from the powerpoint: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/t7rwsfy1t07kttt/AABJIcNWGj74HiieL2S3WDOqa?dl=0%E2%80%A8
    3. Apparent 1 Cor fragment: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/t7rwsfy1t07kttt/AABJIcNWGj74HiieL2S3WDOqa?dl=0%E2%80%A8&preview=PastedGraphic-9.png
    4. Also visible thanks to the blessed wayback machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20140705131120/explorepassages.com/speakerseries

    • Greg Given says:

      Final thing: in the original mammoth Elijah Hixon post, he mentions a video in which Scott Carroll said, “And as he was looking at the—both times I saw the papyrus, it was in his possession. So, it was in Oxford at Christ Church, and actually on his pool table in his office along with a number of mummy heads.” If Carroll’s recollection is correct here, I’m curious about those “mummy heads” (by which he surely means mummy masks). Are there mummy masks in any of the Oxford collections that Obbink oversees and has authority to store in his office? Or would those be in his possession through other means?

    • Thanks, Greg. I’ll post some further thoughts on some of these points later. As to your last question about mummy masks at Christ Church, I don’t know. But they do seem to be around:

    • David Bradnick says:

      Thanks for this. Notice that the 1 Cor. papyrus, also P129, (PastedGraphic-9.png) is already behind glass, and in comparison to the other fragments, appears to be dry. This suggests that P129 was not discovered during the destruction of this mummy cartonnage. Is it possible that P129 was brought as an example of what kinds of texts could be found by using this process; however, we now know that the use of papyri for mummy cartonnage stopped before the writing of the NT. Therefore, it is quite possible that the mummy cartonnage narrative was used merely as a cover to deal papyri. Why? One logical reason would be to peddle illicit artifacts. Is it also possible that the Greens and MOTB later discovered the ruse, which might explain why none of these discoveries are on display at MOTB and why they parted ways with Carroll?

      • David Bradnick says:

        Also, if you download the entire Josh McDowell powerpoint from the link provided above by Greg, slide #80 is the Romans fragments (P131). So the implication here is that P131 was also found from cartonnage. Couple this with Steve Green’s comments from the CNN interview, and it appears that the Greens were told these fragments came from cartonnage.

    • Mike says:

      I’m reminded of some comments made by Roberta mazza a few years ago
      “1) There is not a single New Testament or early Christian papyrus published so far coming from mummy cartonnage. Correct me if I am wrong, please. Mummy cartonnage = a sort of papier-mâché constituted by various materials sometimes including recycled papyri and used for fabricating masks and other covering panels for mummies.

      2) According to current scholarship and archaeological finding, the use of recycling papyri for making mummy masks and panels ended in the early Augustan period, i.e. when Jesus was not even born or just a child. So what reported under point 1) is unsurprising. We have hundreds Ptolemaic papyri coming from mummy cartonnage, very few from the Roman period, and at the moment all dated inside this span of time. On the standard dates see e.g. D. Obbink, ‘P. Artemid.: The Artefact’, in: K. Brodersen, J. Elsner, Images and Texts on the “Arthemidorus Papyrus”, Stuttgart 2009.

      Attention Josh mcDowell: This is evidence that demands a verdict

  8. Pingback: P129, P130, and P131: A Couple More Observations | Variant Readings

  9. Jeff says:

    About the same time period, Hobby Lobby was involved in a different case regarding ancient relics with compromised provenance:

  10. Steven Avery says:

    “The purchase as the reason for the NDA”

    It sounds like Daniel Wallace signed the NDA simply so that the “hopeful monster” seller could get top dollar. Wallace had been shilled, (accidentally or not) into publicly claiming it was first century, thus enhancing the potential value multi-fold.

    His responsibility to the public, which he had misinformed, was to offer a proper public correction of his debate ambush claim. First.

    (And now, we have to wonder if Wallace was to receive any benefits of any kind.)

    Steven Avery
    Dutchess County, NY

  11. Pingback: The Green Collection 1 Samuel Papyrus and Mummy Cartonnage | Variant Readings

  12. Ficino says:

    I notice the consistency of second-century dates. Does the dating of the above fragments suffer from the same problems of circularity that you, Prof. Nongbri, and Roger Bagnall have pointed out? As I recall, you have both argued that NT papyri tend to be dated according to similarity of their script to the script of other NT papyri. Do we have enough external anchors for dating (e.g. a dated document on the recto or verso) to establish dates of pieces that lack same?

    • In these particular cases, no justification at all has been given for the datings. In general, I tend to think the date ranges given for Greek literary manuscripts of the Roman era are usually too narrow, when the only criterion applied is handwriting.

  13. Pingback: National Geographic’s “Bible Hunters”: Some Observations | Variant Readings

  14. Pingback: A “Second Century” Papyrus of Matthew in the Green Collection | Variant Readings

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  16. Pingback: More of Scott Carroll’s Papyri? | Variant Readings

  17. Pingback: P129: Some Questions about a Papyrus of 1 Corinthians | Variant Readings

  18. Where can I read 2nd Century Hebrews 11 homily? The manuscript Dr. Dan Wallace spoke of.

  19. Pingback: The “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement: Some Initial Questions | Variant Readings

  20. Pingback: Dirk Obbink and the Oxyrhynchus “Distribution” Papyri | Variant Readings

  21. i am still trying to locate Second Century Hebrews, the homily. Does anyone know anything like when it will be published?

  22. Pingback: One of the “Other” Oxyrhynchus Gospels for Sale and a Pattern in the Green Collection | Variant Readings

  23. Pingback: Fragmento de Marcos foi escrito entre 150 e 250 d.C. | Observatório Bíblico

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