How Many Oxyrhynchus Papyri Have Been Sold?

Now that the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has found that Oxford Professor Dirk Obbink has clandestinely sold papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection to Hobby Lobby, several questions arise. It will take a while to process this. But let’s make a start. Here is a brief excerpt from the longer announcement made earlier today the EES:

“With the help of photographs provided by the MOTB [Museum of the Bible], the EES has so far identified thirteen texts from its collection, twelve on papyrus and one on parchment, all with biblical or related content, which are currently held by the MOTB (see the attached list). These texts were taken without authorisation from the EES, and in most of the thirteen cases the catalogue card and photograph are also missing. Fortunately, the EES has back-up records which enable us to identify missing unpublished texts…The MOTB has informed the EES that 11 of these pieces came into its care after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor Obbink.”

There is so much to unpack here. The sale of the manuscripts and the attempt to cover it up by removing records is almost unbelievable. But the first thing to note are the words “so far.” We don’t yet know the full extent of this. More items may well have been sold to Hobby Lobby.

It will be interesting to learn who was involved in the sale of the 2 of the 13 pieces that were not bought (directly) from Professor Obbink [[Update 14 October 2019: Mike Holmes of MOTB confirms that the seller of the other two pieces was Khader M. Baidun & Sons/Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel–Candida Moss’s investigations have shown that the Baidun family runs in the same antiquities marketing networks as Prof. Obbink]]. But did Professor Obbink sell pieces to anyone else besides Hobby Lobby? I can say with reasonable certainty that some additional Oxyrhynchus pieces have been sold to other buyers. Items 9 and 10 on the list of stolen pieces are described as follows:

9. Romans 9-10:  P.Oxy. inv. 29 4B.46/G(4-6)a.   [PAP.000425 one part]
10. 1 Corinthians 7-10:  P.Oxy. inv. 106/116(d) + 106/116(c). [PAP.000120 three small fragments]

During public presentations over the last couple years, Scott Carroll has displayed what he claimed were additional fragments of these two items. Below are two slides from his presentations:

Slide from a talk by Scott Carroll showing fragments of a papyrus of Romans; upper portion was part of the Green Collection (PAP.000425), lower portion was not; image source: “Stones and Scriptures”
Slide from a talk by Scott Carroll showing fragments of a papyrus of 1 Corinthians; portion shown on the left was in the Green Collection (PAP.000120), portion on the right was not; image source: “Stones and Scriptures”

According to information inadvertently made public by the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung and announced on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, the non-Green Collection pieces shown here are now said to be part of the Stimer Collection, probably meaning Andrew Stimer, a collector in California and associate of Scott Carroll.

What this most likely means is that there are other Oxyrhynchus pieces sold from the Egypt Exploration Society collection that have made it on to the antiquities market and are currently circulating. It also suggests continued cooperation of some sort between Professor Obbink and Scott Carroll even after the departure of the latter from the Green Collection / Museum of the Bible organizations. The size of this problem is not yet fully known.

[[Update 14 October 2019: In connection to all this, I should add that Professor Obbink seems to have had access to the Egyptian Exploration Society’s collection of mummy masks, and thus the EES collection might also be a source of the masks dissolved by Scott Carroll and others in recent years.]]

[[Update 18 April 2020: I should have updated this post earlier to note that in November 2019, Mike Holmes confirmed that some of the Green Collection mummy masks were purchased from Professor Obbink.]]

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection 1 Corinthians, Green Collection Romans, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to How Many Oxyrhynchus Papyri Have Been Sold?

  1. Sili says:

    I hope it’s not too difficult to go through the catalogue cards and see which ones are missing.

  2. Tommy Wasserman says:

    The information was not made public accidentally on the ETC blog per se, but rather on the webpages maintained by the INTF in Münster (as reported on the ETC blog).

  3. Pattycake says:

    Does MOTB own any fragment piece that’s authentic or was everything acquired in this manner? Makes me wonder.

    • Greg Matthews says:

      I’d like to know what portion of MotB’s collection is legitimate. The Washington Post published several stories a couple of years ago on the MotB with one of them discussing how they had acquired many illegal antiquities. I’m glad they’ve been forthcoming here with theses fragments, but there was irrefutable proof with the index cards and photos. How many do they have where the provenance can never be proven?

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    • Thanks–that last statement seems a little suspect: “Former employees who have not been associated with the museum since 2012 made the decision,” to accept the 13 Bible fragments.” I mean, Obbink had not even signed off on “First century” Mark and the other three Oxyrhynchus gospel fragments until 2013.

      • Greg Matthews says:

        I think that statement is dead on. If you have a subscription to the Washington Post you can search their archives and see where they’ve been reporting on the MotB and their illegal antiquities acquisitions as far back as 2015. I read a very long article in a print edition a couple of years ago that I never can seem to find when I look for it online. I recall from that article WaPo talking about MotB employees from before Michael Holmes’ time flying by the seat of their pants when it came to acquisitions and that (I think) when he came on board they started putting an emphasis on provenance.

      • Greg Matthews says:

        You can delete my previous comment since I see now you were referring only to the Oxyrhynchus fragments. I believe WaPo generalized too much and are referring to the other illegal antiquities MotB was first investigated for by the US back in 2011.

  5. Pattycake says:

    I find it quite amazing that Obbink’s website is still up at the University of Oxford. What’s the deal with them? It’s their turn to make a statement.

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