The “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement: Some Initial Questions

The letter and documents provided by Mike Holmes in my previous post appear to provide confirmation of what many have suspected since the publication of P.Oxy. 83.5345, the so-called “First Century” Mark fragment: This papyrus and other Christian manuscripts in the Oxyrhynchus collection were offered for sale by one of the (now former) curators of the Oxyrhynchus collection, Oxford professor Dirk Obbink.

It has long been known that, especially in the early days of the building of the Green Collection and conceiving of the Museum of the Bible, Dirk Obbink was an important part of the undertaking.

Scott Carroll, Dirk Obbink, and Jerry Pattengale, circa 2011; image source: Jerry Pattengale’s introduction for Dirk Obbink in Vol. 1 of the Passages Speaker Series.

But until now, the main piece of evidence linking Professor Obbink with the attempted sale of an Oxyrhynchus manuscript was the statement of Scott Carroll in a thread of blog comments shortly after the publication.

Some further digging through Scott Carroll’s online videos turned up an additional statement by Carroll that Oxford University was the source of at least some of the mummy masks that Carroll had purchased.

This new evidence provided by Mike Holmes of the Museum of the Bible is much more concrete and raises several questions. For now, I’ll just pose two of them. The first is: How many additional similar invoices are there? The Green Collection and Hobby Lobby purchased a lot of early Christian parchment and papyrus pieces between 2009 and 2013, many of them without clear provenance. Were any of them bought from Dirk Obbink? How big might this problem be? The Museum of the Bible could help by releasing any other invoices from Dirk Obbink that they might have.

The next question is: Why did this deal fall through? The terms of the purchase agreement, dated 17 January 2013, suggest that papyri of the four gospels, all assigned, presumably by Professor Obbink, to the first century, would remain at Oxford with Professor Obbink for a “Research Period” of 4 years, after which they would be published in the “Brill Green Papyri Series.” After this, the manuscripts were to be “returned to the buyer.” So, why did this not occur?

I’m not sure, but parts of this timeline don’t really add up. According to the statement issued by the Egypt Exploration Society last year:

The identification of the fragment as Mark was made in 2011 by a researcher working for Professor Obbink, then one of the General Editors of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series. Professor Obbink decided he would himself prepare the text for publication. Editors are permitted, on certain conditions, to take out individual papyri from the collection for study or teaching on University premises. In spring 2016, in the light of the social media debate about possible early fragments of gospels being for sale, the EES decided to review what NT fragments had been identified in its collection but not yet published, and realised that the supposed first-century Mark was the papyrus now published as 5345. Professor Obbink was instructed to prepare it for publication as soon as practicable in order to avoid further speculation about its date and content, with Dr Daniela Colomo as co-editor; Dr Ben Henry also improved the edition at the sub-editing stage.”

So, at least one other “researcher” (who identified this papyrus as Mark) already knew in 2011 that this piece was part of the Oxyrhynchus collection. How, then, could Professor Obbink expect (in 2013) to be able to 1) publish the piece in the Green collection publication instead of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri series? or 2) “return” this and the other manuscripts to the “buyer”? From the terms of the agreement, it seems that all parties expected that these papyri would be physically delivered into the custody of Hobby Lobby. It’s hard to see how that could be the case if it was already known that at least one of them was part of the Oxyrhynchus collection. It would illuminate matters quite a bit to hear from the “researcher working for Professor Obbink” who identified the papyrus. Or is this researcher also under a non-disclosure agreement of some kind?

Similarly, if there was, as the Egypt Exploration Society statement says, “a record card for 5345, created by Dr [Revel] Coles in the early 1980s,” were there similar cards for the other manuscripts mentioned in the purchase agreement? And again, if so, how could Professor Obbink expect to sell the pieces without anyone noticing? Or was Professor Obbink also in charge of these cards? This is odd. It would be helpful if the Egypt Exploration Society explained this system of cards and made some examples available.

More to come.

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

30 Responses to The “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement: Some Initial Questions

  1. Pingback: “First Century” Mark, Dirk Obbink, and Hobby Lobby | Variant Readings

  2. Pattycake says:

    Yes, exactly. So was does Daniela Colomo know about all of this?

    • Pattycake says:

      Ugh, sorry! WP will not cooperate. I’ve always thought Daniela C. might have been the one to identify the fragment as Mark.

  3. Greg Matthews says:

    If the Greens don’t cooperate would EES be able to determine if other mss are missing?

    • In theory, I guess the cards could be consulted, depending on how they are organized. But I imagine it would be hard to know where to start looking

      • Tom Hennell says:

        The EES did say in their original statement, that their papyrus catalogue is supported by photographs of each item:

        “EES records include a photograph and brief record card for each papyrus awaiting publication, which were prepared to assist the General Editors in selecting papyri for future volumes. The cards were created without detailed study of the texts and without access to today’s online search tools. The record card for 5345, created by Dr Coles in the early 1980s, is marked ‘I/II’, suggesting a late first- or early second-century date. He did not identify it as Mark. ”

        So were any item from the collection to have been misrepresentedly sold, the theft would be apparent to the EES within hours of images of the purchase being published.

      • Yes, this is a part of the story that doesn’t add up. I’m writing up a post on this now.

    • Michael Holmes says:

      Re the Greens cooperating: on behalf of both Hobby Lobby/Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible, I raised the matter of “FCM” with a representative of EES, and that led directly to the meeting between leading representatives of EES and myself (again, representing both the Green Collection and MOTB) in London earlier this month. The issue of “other items” from the EES/Oxyrhynchus collection having been sold was raised at that meeting, and we are collaborating on resolving it. Please don’t expect any news soon: it is a difficult and time-consuming challenge.

      • Pattycake says:

        Why is everyone meeting at the SBL this year to discuss FCM? Is it open to the public?

      • A few months ago, the Textual Criticism of the New Testament group set up a panel to discuss the “First Century” Mark situation. It is open to the public.

      • Pattycake says:

        What’s the date it’s scheduled for or is there a link for it?

      • 11/23/2019 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
        Theme: Post-Mortem on the So-Called First-Century Mark Fragment
        This session is a panel discussion on issues around the announcement of a first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark, and its subsequent publication as a second/third Oxyrhynchus papyrus.

        Jennifer Knust, Duke University, Presiding
        Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist (25 min)
        Elijah Hixson, Tyndale House, Cambridge, Panelist (25 min)
        Brent Nongbri, Panelist (25 min)
        Roberta Mazza, University of Manchester, Panelist (25 min)
        Jill Hicks-Keeton, University of Oklahoma, Panelist (25 min)
        Michael Holmes, Museum of the Bible, Panelist (25 min)

      • Pattycake says:

        Thank you Brent

      • Greg Matthews says:

        Thank you, Michael.

    • Pattycake says:

      Just curious, did anyone think to invite Dan Wallace to the SBL meeting? I’ve not seen Knust’s name or Hicks-Keeton’s connected with 1Mark before. What involvement do they have with it?

  4. Isaac says:

    The “researcher” might have been an Oxford student as Obbink used to run papyrus workshops where students would get to learn about papyrology while working on a POxy fragment which could/would then get published in the series. It might have been him/her who first identified it.

    • Pattycake says:

      I would think that if it was a student s/he would have come forward or given the credit.

      • Isaac says:

        Of course in ideal circumstances we would like to think that but the dissemination of information about this fragment has hardly been straightforward. A student could have identified it early and then the editors taken it off their hands for a detailed analysis.

  5. John Thomas says:

    What I am confused about is this: The earlier claims about FCM was that it was obtained from mummy masks. But now it is revealed that the said manuscript is part of Oxyrhynchus papyrus collection. But Oxyrhynchus papyri to my understanding was bunch of papyri that was obtained from some dump in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt (correct me if I am wrong). Both these claims do not match to me. Were those who made the claims about mummy masks wrong? Do you know what is going on here?

    • Yes, some people did claim the piece was found in a mummy mask, but those people either didn’t know what they were talking about or deliberately lied. I think it’s probably the former.

      • D. Bradnick says:

        In a 2015 presentation, Scott Carroll stated, “The group that’s working on its publication . . . contacted me, I think, about a year ago, wanting some definitive information on how it was extracted from a mummy-covering. And I was not involved in that process.” So Carroll was one of the people making the claim about mummy cartonnage. Who knows if he was told this information or if it originated with Carroll.

        The fact that the sales invoice states that these texts were from Egypt should have raised some questions about provenance. Were these questions asked? If so, what were representatives of the Green collection told, especially in light of UNESCO? Here, again, the Greens failed to follow through with due diligence

        Relatedly, I have similar questions as you. You write, “And again, if so, how could Professor Obbink expect to sell the pieces without anyone noticing? Or was PRofessor Obbink also in charge of these cards? This is odd.”

        Or were the record cards forged? Is it possible that some biblical texts were found in domestic or industrial cartonnage from Oxyrhynchus? There is some evidence suggesting that LOGOS SCiO dismantled cartonnage from Oxyrhynchus. Was it one of these graduate students who discovered it, and they were bound by NDA? Perhaps Carroll was told that it came from cartonnage independently acquired/owned by Obbink and, as Carroll typically does, he exaggerated this to mummy cartonnage.

        Hypothesis in short. FCM and other texts found in domestic/industrial cartonnage from Oxyrhynchus. Sold to Greens as but kept in the care of Obbink for research. Deal falls through. Obbink still wants to publish his work and discovery. Record cards are created for texts. Texts published by EES.

    • Pattycake says:

      The earliest date I could find about FCM being from a mummy mask was on Ben Witherington’s blog when he discussed it with Scott Carroll.

  6. Pingback: Revisiting Some Scott Carroll Comments in Light of the “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement | Variant Readings

  7. Pingback: Revisiting Some Scott Carroll Comments in Light of the “First Century” Mark Purchase Agreement | Variant Readings

  8. Pingback: First Century Manuscript, Mummy Masks, Hobby Lobby, The Museum of the Bible, and waiting! [UPDATE: and . . . not first century] | Is Christianity True?

  9. Pingback: Eerste-eeuwse Marcus – Mainzer Beobachter

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