Dirk Obbink, Scott Carroll, and a Papyrus of Plato

Past posts on this blog have examined different aspects of Dirk Obbink’s involvement in the trade in ancient manuscripts–as buyer, seller, and consultant to Hobby Lobby. Another key part of the high-end antiquities market is the process of appraisal, assigning dollar values to cultural heritage items. The process is important both for transacting purchases and for making donations of such items, as Candida Moss and Joel Baden have reported. Professor Obbink’s name surfaces in this aspect of the market as well. The story begins back in 2015, when Roberta Mazza drew attention to the website of a firm connected to Scott Carroll called Ancient Asset Investments (AAI). The site contained several documents related to the appraisal of ancient manuscripts. These documents quickly disappeared, and their disappearance was accompanied by a curious note (Thanks to Dorothy King for having the foresight to take a screenshot and for sharing it with me [[Update 17 Aug. 2019: I see now that this notice was also recorded by Paul Barford here]]):

The documents that “incorrectly ascribed information to Dr. D. Obbink, which was incorrect” turn out to be of considerable interest in puzzling out the possible source of at least one of the manuscripts that Scott Carroll has been displaying in his lectures in the last couple years. In a recent remark on an earlier post on that topic, a commenter pointed out that these documents can in fact still be consulted online. This link points to an appraisal, dated June of 2013, for a fragment of papyrus containing Plato’s Phaedo:

Biondi Rare Books & Manuscripts is owned by Lee Biondi. The name will be familiar to those who have followed the “post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls” saga, as Biondi has been involved in the sale of about ten of these fragments, according to the list maintained at the Lying Pen of Scribes site. He has also published with Legacy Ministries International, an organization that was run by Andrew Stimer, another associate of Scott Carroll. This is by now becoming a familiar cast of characters.

In the document, Professor Obbink is identified as the future editor of the Plato papyrus, which is assigned to a date in the second century CE and is said to have been “recovered from mummy cartonnage as is so often the case.” This is a remarkable claim, since inscribed papyrus was not generally in use for mummy cartonnage in that period (recall that Professor Obbink is associated with the extraction of other material from mummy cartonnage). The identification of the papyrus as “VKGrpap.38” calls to mind the Van Kampen Collection, which Scott Carroll also built in the 1990s, but I have been unable to confirm whether this piece was in fact a part of that collection.

The rest of the document includes a transcription and translation of the papyrus and an introduction ascribed (incorrectly?) to “Dirk Obbink, Oxford University.” According to this description, “the papyrus was recovered in papyrus cartonnage in a private European collection. It was acquired in 2011.” The introduction goes on to describe the importance of the papyrus mainly by trying to establish how the Phaedo‘s account of the death of Socrates is relevant for Christianity: “The parallels with the life and death of Jesus Christ are as readily apparent. . .The account has uncanny parallels with the life and death of Jesus Christ. . . [The papyrus] preserves the earliest-known text of this passage and fascinating parallels with the life, teaching and death of Jesus Christ.”

The document also includes a photograph of the papyrus:

This photograph allows us to confirm that this is indeed the same papyrus that Scott Carroll has repeatedly shown off in public:

Scott Carroll displaying an image of the Plato papyrus sometime around January 2016; image source: God’s Word is Truth Lecture

In one setting, the now-deleted “Hearts of Purpose” lecture in March of 2014, he actually brought the manuscript itself, suggesting that he or his associates were at that point the owners (or at least custodians) of the manuscript:

So, what can be learned from this information? For one thing, as I’ve already mentioned, we have identified a potential (though not certain) source for one of Scott Carroll’s classical manuscripts in the Van Kampen Collection. Secondly: If, hypothetically speaking, the information in these documents was not “incorrectly ascribed to Dr. D. Obbink, which was incorrect,” the documents would attest to Professor Obbink’s involvement in yet another aspect of the antiquities trade as a provider of expert opinions for appraisals.

Finally, (if, hypothetically speaking, the information in these documents was not “incorrectly ascribed to Dr. D. Obbink, which was incorrect”), these documents would suggest that after Scott Carroll and Hobby Lobby split up in 2012, Professor Obbink seems to have continued to maintain links with Carroll through this network of dealers and collectors. At the same time, as we have seen, Professor Obbink continued his work with the Museum of the Bible. He would appear to be one of the common threads running through the recent trade in ancient manuscripts in the US.

Update 3 September 2019: David Bradnick has found another image of this papyrus apparently taken in 2013 (the 2018 date of this facebook post seems to reflect the date that these images were reposted):

David also notes that the person who posted the image of the Plato papyrus on facebook also wrote a thesis supported by the ACLS on a Coptic bifolium apparently owned by Andrew Stimer, which was one of the pieces in the Belarus exhibit discussed earlier on the blog (and also included in this sequence of photos along with the Plato papyrus):

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Mummy cartonnage, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Dirk Obbink, Scott Carroll, and a Papyrus of Plato

  1. Pattycake says:

    Another great episode of The Evangelicals. (I’ve deemed it a drama series)

  2. Rob says:

    In early 2018 I recall a meeting in the Aitken conference room at MOTB – there were 4 men in the meeting. As I recall it was Cary Summers, Jerry Pattengale, David Trobisch, and who I now know is Dirk Obbink.

    • Rob says:

      Or it may have been the Eliot Conference room

    • Interesting. By the end of 2018, all of them were no longer in their positions with MOTB, right? (I know Obbink never had an official position, but he was being paid by the organization).

      • Rob says:

        Brent,
        That’s harder for me to say. I left the employ of MOTB in early Oct 2018. At that time, Marwan Rivka was rolling off as interim CEO, Ken McKenzie had been publicly announced as new CEO (01-Oct may have been his 1st day on payroll), Cary had been in his new position (for several months) as Director of Partnership Relations (ie fundraising/advancement), David and Jerry seemed to still be involved in some way (although not officially) and Dirk, I don’t know.

  3. D. Bradnick says:

    I find the timeline and potential connection to the Van Kampen Collection (VKC) interesting and problematic. Maybe I am overlooking something. Carroll left the VKC in 1997. Robert Van Kampen passed in1999, and the Collection was moved to Orlando, FL in 2002. Biondi’s document states that this text was acquired in 2011. But who acquired it at this point–the VKC or its most recent owner?

    Was this text was part of the VKC prior to 2011, sold by VKC, and acquired by a subsequent owner in 2011? If this is the case, and if the claim that it was recovered from cartonnage is suspect, then why would someone fabricate its recovery from cartonnage? Wouldn’t they simply reiterate the provenance provided by the VKC? Or did the text lack provenance when it was added to the VKC and a provenance needed to be generated for its post-VKC sale?

    Alternatively, was the text in question originally added to the VKC under the guise that it came from cartonnage? And why, at no point, is the VKC never mentioned in Obbink’s (?) report?

    It’s also interesting that Biondi’s document claims that it came from mummy cartonnage, but Obbink’s (?) portion only states that it was recovered from “papyrus cartonnage.” As we know, Carroll is notorious for making exaggerated claims of recovery from “mummy” cartonnage.

  4. Jon Henke says:

    Dirk Obbink’s Wikipedia entry received an intriguing update in mid-2017. The editor, whose IP address geolocates to the UK, made a minor edit (“is” to “was”) and explained the update with “He was the head in the past. Due to issues around the provenance of the Sappho Papyri, he is no longer head and has no independent access to the Sackler facilities.”

    Is it known when Obbink lost “independent access” to the Sackler facilities, and has that been publicly connected to the Sappho manuscript provenance? The impression that has been given is that Obbink lost his position(s) due to the scandal around First Century Mark and the Museum of the Bible association.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dirk_Obbink&diff=797617421&oldid=787386712

    • Thanks for the information and the question. I do not know the circumstances of Prof. Obbink’s privileges at the Sackler, but I am definitely curious about the question of when and why they were suspended. To my mind, this is one of the central questions of this whole episode: When and how, exactly, did the EES become aware that the “first-century Mark” of internet fame was in fact the fragment that was eventually published as P.Oxy. 83.5345? What the EES has said so far on that point is highly obscure, even obfuscating: https://www.ees.ac.uk/news/poxy-lxxxiii-5345

  5. D. Bradnick says:

    For what it’s worth, it just struck me this morning that Carroll had this papyrus fragment with him at the University of Jos (Nigeria) in 2013. I have a screenshot if you would like to add it to your records. It appears that Carroll was providing some texts to students to study along with the help of Prof. Danny McCain.

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