Jerry Pattengale on Dirk Obbink and the Mark Fragment

Elijah Hixson draws attention to an article that appeared online today in Christianity Today by Jerry Pattengale, one of the core team who developed the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible: “The ‘First-Century Mark’ Saga from Inside the Room.” The article recounts his involvement with Professor Obbink and the Mark fragment. There is a lot to digest here, both in terms of new information and new questions raised. These are my initial reactions.

Pattengale recounts Obbink’s initial presentation of the fragments to Scott Carroll and himself in 2011. According to Pattengale, Professor Obbink showed them four gospel fragments, one of which dated to the first century. Pattengale states that Professor Obbink told them “he was selling the manuscripts on behalf of a private collection—a common practice.” After a further period of time and in an effort “to maintain our due diligence,” Pattengale consulted Dan Wallace (as is well known) and Peter Head. Although doubts arose about the first-century dating of the Mark fragment, the pieces were bought anyway:

“Eventually, all four pieces were purchased in 2013 for a considerable sum—though at a fraction of their value (even taking the later dates our researchers suggested).”

Then comes a series of statements that I think require some further explanation in light of the statements made by the Egypt Exploration Society both in 2018 and in recent days. Pattengale writes,

“As news of a “First-Century Mark” surfaced, it eventually became obvious it was a piece in the Oxyrhynchus collection (P.Oxy. 83.5345; P137)—which, at the time, was under Obbink’s purview in Oxford.”

I’m still not clear on exactly how and when it “became obvious” to the Egypt Exploration Society that “First Century” Mark was P.Oxy. 83.5345. According to the EES statement of 2018:

“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.”

I’m unclear as to what people would recognize the fragment both as “First Century Mark” (a description that would presumably only be known to Obbink, Carroll, Pattengale, Wallace, and a small circle of Hobby Lobby people) and as the item in the photograph associated with the record card produced by Revel Coles in the 1980s. But I digress. In their statement from earlier this week, the EES said:

“We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.”

Now into this mix, Pattengale writes that:

Before the EES became aware of this particular case, that the “First-Century Mark” was actually its own, Obbink reported to Steve Green (chair of the Museum of the Bible’s board) and me that the EES gave him an ultimatum to sever all public ties with our museum or be fired.”

This raises a couple questions–When exactly did this all take place? Before 2016? And why? Was the EES somehow unhappy with Professor Obbink before then? And what is meant by being “fired”? I don’t think Professor Obbink was ever an employee of the EES. He was on the Managing Committee of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection and was one of the general editors, and he was still publishing Oxyrhynchus papyri as recently as 2018.

Pattengale goes on to note that in November 2017, David Trobisch, who was at that time director of collections at the Museum of the Bible, apparently didn’t know that gospel papyri had been purchased from Professor Obbink. The culture of secrecy at the Museum of the Bible is truly astounding. Matthew 6:3 comes to mind (“. . . do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing . . .”)

There is much more that could be said, but for now, I just want to highlight two particular points that stood out to me. First, Pattengale describes himself and Carroll as seasoned experts in working with manuscripts:

“Through the decades, we handled thousands of ancient manuscripts in various parts of the world; had helped host exhibits in the Vatican; met in the manuscript bowels of Monte Casino [sic]; stayed in the Coptic papal residence in Wadi Natrun, Egypt; stood on a Persian rug in a bomb shelter covering a trove of antiquities in Jerusalem . . .” and so on.

He describes encountering a variety of sellers peddling their wares but being savvy enough to disperse them by calling for legal documentation:

“One fellow kept calling about a buried boxcar of antiquities in Texas, another claiming ownership of something from Jesus’ birth stable, and yet another with plaster casts of the first-century tomb in Jerusalem. Of course, once I ask to see the Israeli Antiquities Authority documentation, the conversations usually change.”

Fair enough. So at what point in the “First Century” Mark saga was Obbink asked for such documentation about how these papyri left Egypt? I missed that part of Pattengale’s account. And were such questions asked about the other Green Collection papyri, like the fragment of the Gospel According to Matthew that Pattengale used to carry in his pocket (also, incidentally, dated by Dirk Obbink)?

And finally, this sentence:

“The extent of Obbink’s involvement in other sales is yet to unfold.”

The only reason that the story of some of those sales “is yet to unfold” is because the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible continue to withhold sales records and ownership histories for many of their fragments (what ever did happen to that Coptic Galatians fragment that was on e-bay?). The picture that Pattengale paints of himself and Carroll being tricked by Professor Obbink is plausible, but the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible, with their insistence on secrecy, do not help matters. The release of these documents by Michael Holmes is a step in the right direction, but there is more to be done.

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

19 Responses to Jerry Pattengale on Dirk Obbink and the Mark Fragment

  1. Tom Hennell says:

    “I’m still not clear on exactly how and when it “became obvious” to the Egypt Exploration Society that “First Century” Mark was P.Oxy. 83.5345.”

    My reading of the EES statement is that they were prompted to entertain the possibility that ‘“First Century” Mark might be P.Oxy. 83.5345 by noting the dating indicator I/II on Revel Cole’s record card.

    One point that is not discussed at all in Jerry Pattengale’s (otherwise full to overflowing) account, is that the EES have maintained that the intial meeting of Scott Carroll (and Jerry Pattengale) in Dirk Obbink’s rooms at Christ Church in 2011 was ostensibly to discuss papyrus fragments from the EES collection being loaned to the Green Collection for inclusion in a special showing of their ‘Passages’ exhibition at the Vatican in Easter 2012. The implication being that this discussion was with the prior knowledge of the EES. Since Scott Carroll was widely associated with the internet discussion about FCM; it would have been logical for the EES to wonder whether one of the papyrus fragments that they thought had been viewed (and maybe photographed) in assocaition with this proposal, might not be the source of the FCM images access to which was known to be strictly restricted by non-disclosure agreements on behalf of the Green Collection.

    But was there ever a discussion of termporary loans; or was it just a smokescreen directed to the EES to hide the same fragments actually being offered for sale?

    • Greg Matthews says:

      Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I think this whole thing broke because, regardless of EES’s statements, questions were being asked about what else Obbink might have tried to sell or actually sold that in fact belonged to EES. Just my opinion, but the release of the purchase agreement and now this article by Jerry Pattengale in which MOTB is put on a pedestal, the same MOTB for which Hobby Lobby smuggled stolen antiquities, is a smoke screen in which MOTB washes its hands of Obbink in an effort to get out in front of this story.
      To Brent Nongbri I say: MOTB asked for provenance from Obbink just like Hobby Lobby did for all those antiquities they imported where they had no record of previous ownership or source of acquisition. Wink wink nudge nudge.

  2. Greg Matthews says:

    The way he goes into apologist / silver-lining mode at the end of his article made me immediately wonder what was being glossed over.

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  4. Michael says:

    If Pattengale took the picture that Holmes provided (and those’re Pattengale’s fingers in it), why or how did Holmes assert that they were Obbink’s? Without a close connection between that list and the invoice, it’s conceivable that two different sets of Gospel papyri are in question. (Though I actually doubt that, and there’s a pretty easy way to be sure: the invoice tells us the Matthew text is on parchment, and we have chapter and verse numbers from the piece of paper. If the EES “papyrus” matching the chapter and verse is actually parchment, not papyrus, then that’s pretty much a smoking gun.)

    • Sili says:

      I just spent twenty minutes looking for images of Obbink’s hands …

    • David says:

      I find the Pattengale note in Christianity Today extremely surprising. What was first posted by Nongbri and others was a communication from Michael Holmes, containing an extremely truncated and suspicious looking copy of a supposed contract between Hobby Lobby and Dirk dated Jan,-Feb. 2013, agreeing to buy something from Dirk and leave it with him for four years to work on it. As there were 10 paragraphs and paragraphs 3-9 and an attachment describing the goods were cut out, it was impossible to see what that something was. There was also a photo of a completely separate and undated item, a torn piece of lined paper listing four gospel texts by chapter and verse without comment, which Holmes claimed was in the hand of Dirk himself and clutched by two of Dirk’s fingers. Fortunately, Peter Gainsford sent a comment on this post immediately, in which he id’d the photo of the torn paper as totally separate from the truncated supposed ‘contract’, because metadata showed it was from November 2017 and from a 2016 IPhone Plus.
      Immediately after Nongbri published this Pattengale wrote ChristianityToday that the photo of the torn paper was actually taken by Pattengale himself on Nov. 20 2017, and that the clutching fingers were his own. He had kept this torn paper, written God knows when, in his (Pattengale’s) wallet since–2013?–and was somehow inspired to photograph it by something he heard at the dinner in Washington DC celebrating the opening of MOTB Nov.17, 2017. And he adds that ” I sent the picture to the museum for its files before my retirement, realizing it might be a helpful artifact in this case. Many of my digital files and most photos were lost after a malicious ransom locker virus fried my computer.” What good fortune that the torn piece of paper was in Pattengale’s wallet, then.
      So until we are shown the complete contract with an attachment describing the goods bought and sold, and not a piece of poorly copied text combined with another poorly copied torn paper in pencil, with all the relevant pages and attachments left out, and shown what if anything the list on the torn piece of paper has to do with it, we have nothing. Or so it seems.

      • Thanks for the comment, David. It would definitely be better to have an un-redacted version of the purchase agreement and invoice, as well as the missing pages. The story from Pattengale and the comment from Carroll provide their recollections, but Professor Obbink has already flatly denied the substance of their accounts in the 2018 EES statement. To say, however, that we “have nothing” as a result of the materials released by Mike Holmes doesn’t seem quite right either. In recent days, it has been established that 1) Prof. Obbink apparently did (legally) sell papyri to the Green Collection as early as 2010:
        and 2) that he is and has been part of companies that trade in antiquities:

        Perhaps you and others were aware of these things already, but I would say this constitutes “something” rather than “nothing” relevant to the present allegations.

  5. John Thomas says:

    Scott Carroll has now commented on the ETC blog article that you have cited as to his perspective on the entire issue, very interesting:

    • Pattycake says:

      He says he did not buy items for HL???

      • I think that could be technically true. He located items that the Greens bought.

      • Jon says:

        Daniel Wallace said his source prior to the debate was “A representative for who I understood was the owner of FCM…” At the time of the debate, the alleged “owner” of FCM was Dirk Obbink. So, was Carroll representing the Greens, Obbink, or both?

  6. Pattycake says:

    So was it Pattengale who showed Dan Wallace an image of Mark?

  7. Sili says:

    I know the recommendation is to suspect cockup before conspiracy, so perhaps this attempted scam is just incredibly incompetent.

    But the invoice was not the first, so it’s hard not to consider this brazenness. From what I understand scammers are caught because they keep repeating a successful scam. It looks to me like Obbink has done this before and got away with it. In this case he got sloppy or overly arrogant and got caught.

  8. Pattycake says:

    I noticed Carroll isn’t answering any questions. Anybody else notice this? I tried to put a comment through…It just said “Google Account” so I don’t know, I may have to repost. I think we should press him and the others for answers.

    • Pattycake says:

      Finally got my comments through ETC’s site. No one is talking, but they owe us answers—straight answers. I made a few comments, but there needs to be more.

  9. Peter Head says:

    Thanks Brent

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