“First Century” Mark, Dirk Obbink, and Hobby Lobby

I am pasting below an e-mail I and several other people received this afternoon from Mike Holmes regarding P.Oxy. 5345, the so-called First Century Mark and other Oxyrhynchus fragments allegedly sold by Dirk Obbink:

[Update: For some initial reactions, see my questions here and Elijah Hixson’s here.]

“Dear Bart, Roberta, Brent, Jill, and Elijah,

I am sending you this note because (1) we are all members of the SBL panel scheduled to discuss P.Oxy. 5345, otherwise known as “1st c. Mark” (FCM), at the SBL Annual Meeting in November, and (2) earlier this year I acquired some additional information regarding this document—information that I feel obligated to communicate to you, in your capacity as fellow panelists.

You will recall that in the aftermath of the publication of P.Oxy. 5345 in mid-2018, one of the lingering questions centered around the role of the Green Collection (owned by Hobby Lobby Stores) in the matter. Given that the Egyptian Exploration Society (EES) repeatedly (and rightly) affirmed that the fragment has never been for sale, why did representatives of the Green Collection seem to think that the Collection had acquired the fragment?

The answer is relatively straightforward: Prof. Dirk Obbink sold it and three other allegedly early Gospel fragments to the Green Collection, the result of negotiations that began in early 2012 and continued into early 2013, when a purchase agreement was executed.

Accompanying this email is a file containing two items. The first is a redacted copy of the purchase agreement between Prof. Dirk Obbink and Hobby Lobby stores, which documents the sale of four Gospel fragments—one each of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each allegedly dated “Circa 0100 AD.” The second item is a photograph of a list written by Prof. Obbink himself (and in the photograph held down by his fingers) that specifies the contents of these four fragments: Matthew 3.7-10, 11-12; Mark 1.8-9, 16-18; Luke 13.25-7, 28, and John 8.26-8, 33-5. The two items together document the fact of the sale and the identity of the items sold.

In the agreement Obbink clearly asserted (in item 1) that he was the owner of the property described therein. The fragments in question, however, were and remain the property of EES. This is certainly the case in regard to the Mark and Luke fragments, which were published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 83 (2018) as P.Oxy 5345 and P.Oxy 5346, respectively. It is almost certainly the case in regard to the Matthew and John fragments: an EES representative has confirmed to me that EES also possesses fragments of Matt 3.7-10, 11-12 and John 8.26-28, 33-35.

It is worth noting that the Green Collection, though having received title to the fragments (see point 10 of the purchase agreement), never took physical possession of the fragments. Instead, in accordance with other terms of the agreement (see points 10.1-10.2) the fragments were left in Obbink’s custody for research and publication (the intended venue of initial publication being specified in 10.3).

It seemed advisable to consult with the EES about the FCM matter before sharing the information mentioned above more widely, so earlier this month I met in London with representatives of the EES and discussed with them its significance and implications. I am now sharing it with you. You, in turn, are free to share with others or post in your blog (a) the information contained in this letter, and (b) the accompanying document. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,


The documents that Mike mentioned are appended below:

Wow. More analysis to follow in due course. . .

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, First Century Mark, Green Collection, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to “First Century” Mark, Dirk Obbink, and Hobby Lobby

  1. Pattycake says:

    So Dr. Scott Carroll was telling the truth.

  2. Greg Matthews says:

    Can’t wait to see EES’s response now after they stood behind Obbink last year.

  3. Robert says:

    Does Dirk Obbink have legal liability in this matter? If not, why not?

    • I am not a lawyer, so I can’t say, but I would assume representing oneself as owner of items that one does not own and then profiting of the sale of said items would constitute some kind of fraud.

    • James Dowden says:

      That is a plausible reason for delay. It is of course difficult to publish information relating to serious misconduct if it might prejudice a criminal investigation or even a disciplinary investigation by the individual involved’s employers. Obviously in this case, enough of the other participants would likely enough be embarrassed by the incident that I would not be confident that any investigation has taken place, but it’s a possibility.

  4. D. Bradnick says:

    This answers many questions and also raises many more!

  5. Gregg Schwendner says:

    EES already removed Dirk from his editorial position.

    • Yes, although that seems an instance of “too little, too late.”

      • spiker says:

        Dr. Nongbri: I’m not sure if it matters or if it is something different, but according to the recent EES statement: “We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.” So either someone noticed that he was not “general editor” and assumed he was removed due to recent developments or the EES did something more definitive after your articles.

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  8. Peter Gainsford says:

    It may be worth leaving a record here that the photo on the last page of Holmes’ file can be dated by its metadata, which are still embedded in the PDF file. It was taken on 20 November 2017, by an iPhone 7 Plus (released in 2016).

    It may not matter in the long run, but it does at least indicate pretty strongly that at that date, Obbink and Hobby Lobby were still communicating about the purchase agreement on the understanding that it was going ahead.

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  13. Dave Burke says:

    Lock him up!

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  25. Frank Rabinovitch says:

    Someone has asked: why did the 2013 sales contract with HL not go through? DO claimed the right to retain P137 for research for four years (2017). And EES writes that they learned of their ownership in 2016, presumably allowing them to put on the kibosh. 2016 is the same year DO lost his editor position. One wonders if those events are linked.

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