The Egypt Exploration Society has issued a statement on the alleged sale of Oxyrhynchus papyri: Professor Obbink and sales of papyri to Hobby Lobby.
I recommend everyone read the full statement at the link above. I note that the statement does not positively affirm one of the central claims in the letter sent by Mike Holmes, namely that the documents supplied with the letter– 1) the redacted copy of the purchase agreement between Prof. Dirk Obbink and Hobby Lobby for four gospel fragments and 2) the photo of a list specifying the contents of four gospel fragments that match the contents of items in the Oxyrhynchus collection–“together document the fact of the sale and the identity of the items sold.”
The EES statement phrases the organization’s position this way: “At present we cannot confirm or deny that the four texts in the photographed list are the same as the four texts summarily described in the appendix to the 2013 contract.”
The statement concludes with the following:
“We are grateful to Professor Holmes for sharing with us in advance the newly revealed contract and photograph, and we are working with him to clarify whether the four texts in the photographed list, or any other EES papyri, were sold or offered for sale to Hobby Lobby or its agents, and if so, when and by whom. This may take some time, and unless and until new evidence emerges, there is no more we can say. We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.”
It is encouraging to hear that Holmes and the EES will be working together to get to the bottom of this. If, as Holmes’ letter alleges, “a purchase agreement was executed” in 2013, presumably money changed hands and there are additional financial records to examine.
A couple points made in the statement do seem to call for further clarification. The first is this one: “In our statement of 4 June 2018 we simply reported Professor Obbink’s responses to our questions at that time. . .” It would be helpful to know how much of that 2018 statement was “simply reporting” what Professor Obbink said. For instance, the account of the identification of the fragment: “The identification of the fragment as Mark was made in 2011 by a researcher working for Professor Obbink.” Was this claim is based on anything other than Professor Obbink’s answers to questions posed in 2018, or was there some EES oversight of the matter before that time?
The second point is related. The final line of the statement reads: “We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.” Can representatives of the EES clarify whether this fact is at all related to this portion of last year’s EES statement: “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”? Or is the timing of the two simply coincidental?
And again, for reasons I outlined in a previous post, it would be useful to have some clarity about the system of photographs and cards mentioned in the June 2018 statement: “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 existence of such records makes it hard to see how anyone could think it was even possible to get away with what Professor Obbink is being accused to doing (selling Oxyrhynchus papyri that are owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and that are documented as such). I’ll repeat my previous questions: What is on these cards besides photographs and dates? Where are they kept, and who has access to them? It would be great if someone with knowledge of the matter at the Egypt Exploration Society would shed some light on that, while we all await the time when “new evidence emerges.”