Like many people, I have a number of lingering questions about the alleged sale of four fragmentary gospel papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection. I’ve mentioned a few of them already in other posts. I’m going to go a little deeper with one of these questions: How did anybody think they could get away with this? I’ve already raised the issue of the photograph-and-card record system, which would presumably allow for the manuscripts to be connected back to the Oxyrhynchus collection. But there is more. These were the contents of the papyri allegedly sold by Dirk Obbink to Hobby Lobby:
As Michael Holmes noted in his e-mail accompanying this documentation, all of these manuscripts can be identified with pieces in the Oxyrhynchus collection, two of which were published in 2018. The Mark papyrus can be identified with P.Oxy. 83.5345, and the Luke papyrus can be identified with P.Oxy. 83.5346. Although this fragmentary papyrus containing a few words from the Gospel According to Luke has received less attention, it deserves a closer look. What is interesting is that P.Oxy. 83.5346 has a further obvious connection to the Oxyrhynchus collection. Here is the photographic plate published with the edition of P.Oxy. 83.5346:
Note that on the side of the fragments with vertical fibers (on the right), there are labels in the left margin written at a 90 angle to the text of the papyrus. The lower label appears to read M 10 57 (or is it 59?). The upper label reads something similar (M followed by two 2-digit numerals). This is a system of organizational numbering found on many Oxyrhynchus papyri. For instance, P.Oxy. 4.654, one of the Oxyrhynchus copies of the Gospel According to Thomas, carries the number M 26 36:
This numbering would be pretty much a dead giveaway to anyone familiar with the collection that the Luke papyrus came from Oxyrhynchus. I suppose in the case of the Luke fragments it would be easy enough to just slice off the inventory numbers in the margins if one wanted to obscure the manuscript’s origins in the Oxyrhynchus collection. But the numbers are still there in the photographic plate. Were they there when Scott Carroll and Jerry Pattengale were first presented with the manuscript? (That is presuming this was among the manuscripts that they did see that day in November 2011.) It’s very odd.
What is also curious about the photograph included with Mike Holmes’ e-mail is that the contents of the fragment of Luke are described as “Luke 13:25-27, 28.” But this description only applies to one portion of the surviving manuscript, the top half. Notice the editors’ division of the manuscript into (a) and (b) parts corresponding to the two inventory numbers in the margins. The contents given in the note, “Luke 13:25-27, 28,” are all on the top half (a):
This is strange. Was only the upper half of the papyrus identified at the time of the creation of the note in the photograph attached to Mike Holmes’ documents? If part of the manuscript was sold, and part of it remained in the collection, that would be another giveaway of the origins of the portion that was sold. It just doesn’t add up.
At the same time, it is also interesting to note that other Greek New Testament fragments in the Green Collection exist in an eerily similar situation. Two pieces that were acquired relatively early in the formation of the Green Collection have been assigned the numbers P129 and P131 in the Nestle-Aland numbering system of New Testament papyri. P129, a set of fragments of 1 Corinthians, first came to relatively wide public attention in 2011 when it was announced that Mike Holmes and his students would be editing them. P131 made its public debut in an interview with Steve Green on CNN in January of 2012. Both pieces were assigned by Scott Carroll to the second century. And it turns out that both of these manuscripts have additional fragments that were not (to the best of my knowledge) offered for sale to the Green Collection. I first became aware of these new portions of P129 and P131 in a presentation given by Scott Carroll in February of 2018. Images are below. The more yellow pieces are the Green Collection portions and the brown pieces are the those that Carroll unveiled in 2018.
The new portions of P129 (1 Corinthians) seem to have ended up in the ownership of a museum in South Korea, [[UPDATE: or perhaps not; see David Bradnick’s comment below]] although they are, as far as I know, presently on tour with Scott Carroll in Russia and eastern Europe. The current ownership and location of the new fragments of P131 (Romans) are not known to me.
Now, it is a well known tactic of antiquities dealers to divide up manuscripts to increase profits. So, there is nothing out of the ordinary about this phenomenon per se. But it does seem strangely coincidental that this should occur with two relatively early papyri of New Testament texts both bought by the Green Collection at about the same time (2011-2012). And it’s even more coincidental that the Green Collection allegedly purchased a third early New Testament manuscript, the Oxyrhynchus Luke P.Oxy. 83.5346, at about the same time (2012-2013) that also would have had additional fragments materialize after the purchase. It’s enough to make one wonder whether P129 and P131 might have travelled the same path on the antiquities market, the path almost taken by the Oxyrhynchus Luke and the three other gospel fragments (allegedly).