Although it is widely known that Dirk Obbink had an association with the Green Collection (and later the Museum of the Bible) going back at least as far as 2010, the recent news that Professor Obbink was also (legally) selling manuscripts to the Greens as early as 2010 casts a somewhat different light on the development of both the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible enterprise.
As is well known, Professor Obbink was one of the first “senior scholars” in the Green Scholars Initiative. It is unclear exactly when and how this relationship began. When Jerry Pattengale introduced a “Passages Speakers Series” talk by Professor Obbink on 13 September 2011, he fondly recalled a history of visits to Oxford:
“There are regular trips that take place, and, um, Steve and Jackie Green, and I think some of the other Greens have actually met with Dr. Obbink there, and some, some very serious discussions have taken place about the scholarship that is transpiring there at Oxford.”
While Pattengale and the Greens did make visits to see Obbink over the years, that history of “regular trips” to Oxford in the early days seems to have mostly involved Scott Carroll. These excursions could for a time be documented by Scott Carroll’s facebook posts. But it appears that these are no longer publicly available. Nevertheless, in his many online lectures, Carroll frequently brought up his stays at Oxford, often mentioning Professor Obbink by name.
But even after the parting of ways between the Greens and Scott Carroll in May of 2012, relations between Dirk Obbink and the Green Collection continued and in some ways deepened. When the effort to publish the results of the Green Scholars Initiative led to a contract with Brill in August of 2012 for a series then known as The Green Scholars Initiative: Papyrus Series, the two editors of the series were Pattengale and Professor Obbink. In the spring of 2013, Pattengale and Professor Obbink again teamed up for a VIP event associated with the Green Collection “Passages” exhibit in Colorado Springs, in which Pattengale and Professor Obbink dissolved mummy cartonnage for an audience:
In fact, such performances were planned to be a permanent part of the Museum of the Bible facilities in Washington, DC. There were plans to build “a laboratory display . . . designed to show how early text fragments are recovered from mummy cartonnage” and in which “visitors will be able to participate in the actual procedure, and others can watch from outside the glass box in the museum.” Professor Obbink was also involved in the annual Green-sponsored “LOGOS in Oxford” conferences designed by Jerry Pattengale. He appeared in promotional material for the program in 2013 and was listed as an instructor as recently as 2016. Even in May of 2015, when Professor Obbink explicitly told Candida Moss and Joel Baden that he was “not involved in the study of [the Green] Collection,” representatives of the Museum of the Bible at the highest levels were still in close touch with Professor Obbink. In fact, members of the organization were in Oxford at that very time. Cary Summers, former chief operating officer and president of the Museum of the Bible, tweeted the following in May of 2015:
Regrettably, the link to the photograph in the tweet is dead, so it is unclear which members of the “team” were meeting with Professor Obbink, but the fact that surrounding tweets indicate that Summers himself was in Oxford at that time suggest he was probably included in the meeting.
In general, Professor Obbink seems to have maintained links throughout this period with the Museum of the Bible and figures in the orbit of the organization. For instance in the image below, Professor Obbink shares some unpublished papyri with Jeremiah Johnston and Craig A. Evans in 2017:
Michael D. Press has shown through tax documents that a financial relationship between the Museum and Professor Obbink continued through 2017. Although the documents cited by Press do not specifically name Professor Obbink, they refer to projects for which Obbink is the principal investigator. The money, however, seems to have gone directly to Professor Obbink personally, since at least one of the projects named seem not to have been sponsored by the Museum of the Bible.
And finally, thanks to Candida Moss, we now know that Professor Obbink’s antiquities business in Oxford, “Oxford Ancient,” even shared an office with the “Museum of the Bible Fellowship”:
The point of all of this is to say that Professor Obbink was involved in a surprisingly broad range of activities associated with the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible over the life of the organization: sale of artifacts, research with Scholars Initiative, academic publication, and publicity.
Furthermore, if the documents provided by Mike Holmes attesting to the sale of the Oxyrhynchus gospels are what they appear to be, the fact that Professor Obbink, in his role as a seller of manuscripts, seems to have insisted that “Buyer and Seller shall safeguard and keep confidential all information regarding the subject matter of the scholarly research” raises the question of whether it was Professor Obbink himself who was the instigator for the culture of secrecy in the Museum of the Bible that has been a source of so many of the Museum’s troubles.
And finally, we must keep in mind that we have yet to learn the full extent of the sales that Professor Obbink made to the Greens. Recall that even on the invoice for the four Oxyrhynchus gospels, two of the items (which, unlike the gospels in dispute, were presumably actually delivered to the Greens) were blacked out. How many more sales did Professor Obbink make to the Greens? Only he or the Green Collection / Museum of the Bible can provide those answers.
[[Update 3 July 2019: A couple other points should be added.
- I did not mention Professor Obbink’s appointment as “Visiting Distinguished Professor of Classics” (I believe in 2015) at Baylor University, which was established early on as “the academic home” of the Green Scholars Initiative (Scott Carroll and Jerry Pattengale also held appointments there as “Research Professor” and “Distinguished Senior Fellow,” respectively).
- A comment by A.K. below points out that Professor Obbink was one of several academics that took part in the study of Museum of the Bible papyri in Oklahoma City in August 2016.
- A comment by Jon on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog points out that Professor Obbink sold the Greens some bookbinding tools in 2011, and the Museum of the Bible provenance records for the items contain a note stating that “Museum of the Bible ascertained in a private meeting with Dr. Dirk Obbink in December 2017 that this object was previously with The Romantic Agony Auctions in Brussels prior to Obbink’s acquisition.” This suggests that the Museum of the Bible was conducting ongoing meetings and work with Professor Obbink to determine (well after the initial sale of the items) issues of ownership history.]]