At Hyperallergic, Michael Press has written up a very interesting piece on some of the various projects that receive financial support from the Museum of the Bible as revealed through tax documents. The whole article is worth reading. Of specific relevance to some of the recent news about “first century” Mark is the following bit:
“Besides funding institutions, the Museum of the Bible also reports grants to individuals — most of which are non-itemized scholarships. One grant, however, is itemized in some detail: in 2016–2017, the museum awarded $225,311 to an unnamed individual as a “research grant for Early Christian Lives, Proteus/Ancient Lives, and Imaging Papyri projects as well as establishing a research center.” All of these projects involve the Oxyrhynchus papyri, the largest group of papyrus documents from the ancient world. …The unnamed individual who received the grant from the Museum of the Bible is presumably Dirk Obbink, an American-born papyrologist currently at the University of Oxford. Obbink is the principal investigator for all of the projects named on the Form 990. Obbink’s relationship with the museum has been public for years, though the exact nature of it has never been clear. Obbink is listed as Papyrus Series editor for the museum’s publications with the prominent Dutch academic publisher Brill, and has been paid by the museum as a consultant, but in comments to Megan Gannon of Live Science in 2015, Obbink suggested that the Greens had more direct control over his work. Unlike many other collaborations, this arrangement was never made public — there is no press release on the Museum of the Bible website. It was also unusual in that the grant was made to an individual rather than an institution. (In a statement to Hyperallergic, the EES declared that “the EES has not, and has never had, any arrangement of any kind with the Museum of the Bible.”)”
There are a number of noteworthy things here. I mentioned earlier that the Ancient Lives project, whose website was down for quite some time, recently resurfaced in a different form. Perhaps it is this injection of funding that resuscitated the site, although I don’t see any reference on the site itself revealing that the project is sponsored by the Museum of the Bible. Curious.
For now, the only other point I’ll highlight is the old Live Science article on the Sappho fragments. Looking back at that interview now with my renewed interest in the Robinson Papyri, a number of things jump out. The article repeats the mistaken view that the University of Mississippi at one point owned the papyri. This is demonstrably not true. As I noted last year, the papyri were the private collection of David Robinson and were bequeathed to William Willis, who donated some, but not all, of the papyri to Duke University. The remaining papyri seem to have been dispersed after Willis died in a way that I have not yet been able to track.
The Live Science article continued with an interview with Dirk Obbink:
“Obbink said he knew the Sappho papyrus had a legal, documented provenance all along. ‘There’s no question in my mind about where the piece came from,’ Obbink told Live Science. ‘I can absolutely guarantee that there’s no question about that.’
So why wait a year to reveal its collecting history? For one, Obbink said he had been invited to take part in the panel at the 2015 SCS meeting specifically to address the text’s provenance, with the understanding that he would be announcing new information. He said he thought the meeting would be an appropriate, scholarly venue to talk about the collecting history.
Those intervening months also allowed Obbink to try to track down other papyri pieces that may be linked to the new Sappho poems. Robinson’s total collection at the University of Mississippi included many more items than the 59 packets from the 2011 Christie’s sale. Through various sales, these texts have dispersed widely across collections in Europe and the United States over the past few decades. Obbink said he wanted to check if any more Sappho fragments were hidden in those scattered manuscripts.
“The Robinson collection hadn’t been thoroughly looked at since it was all together,” Obbink said. “There was a quite extensive paper trail to try to track down. I had to see if there were any other pieces that could be recovered and published with the group. That didn’t happen overnight.” Obbink did not actually find any more Sappho pieces from earlier dispersals of Robinson’s collection, but, he added, “If someone else had identified other fragments in the collection, that would have interfered with my research.” … In the coming months, Obbink said the plan is to make the collecting documents and related photographs of the London Sappho papyrus available online, including letters, transcripts and other papers from people, including Robinson, who worked on this collection early on. …Some skeptics raised the possibility that the Sappho papyrus might not have belonged to the Robinson collection at all — that instead it may have been tucked in with the lot before the Christie’s sale. But Obbink says the piece does have its original Robinson collection inventory number attached to it. That will hopefully be made clear when the documents go online.
So, I wonder: Were these documents ever placed online? And what is the “original Robinson collection inventory number attached to” the Sappho fragments? Does it fit into the sequence of pieces at Duke? Perhaps I missed these announcements. If anyone can point me toward this information, I would be most grateful.