Additional Papyri Stolen from the Oxyrhynchus Collection

Greg Paulson of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, INTF) has just posted a note further explaining the connection between Oxyrhynchus papyri illegally sold by Dirk Obbink to Hobby Lobby and additional fragments in a collection in California. In particular, he confirms what many of us suspected, that Andrew Stimer is the owner of the “other” portions of fragments of Romans and 1 Corinthians that were among the pieces sold to Hobby Lobby by Dirk Obbink.

What is new here is the incredible provenance story that Mr. Stimer has supplied to the INTF. I reproduce it here in its entirety:

I acquired both of the manuscripts in the summer of 2015 from Mr. M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. He bought them the previous year, in April 2014, via a private treaty sale executed by Christie’s London. The fragments were part of a collection of texts that had been in the Pruitt family since the 1950s. Dr. Rodman Pruitt was an industrialist and inventor in southern Indiana who was known as a collector of manuscripts, books and artifacts of various kinds. He acquired his papyri from Harold Maker, a well-known dealer in manuscripts who was based in Irvington, New Jersey. I am told that the Trismegistos database lists numerous published papyri originally sold by Harold Maker. [Coincidentally, I have another manuscript in my collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.] I contacted Christie’s London to confirm that they had indeed conducted the private treaty sale of manuscripts that had passed by descent through the Pruitt family. I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt, though he was of course restricted in the amount of information he was at liberty to provide to me. The sale included various papyri, in Coptic, Greek and Syriac. I was satisfied that the information I had been given at the time of the acquisition was correct.

Now, the first person mentioned here, “Mr. M. Elder,” provides a direct connection to Dirk Obbink. Over the summer, investigations by Candida Moss uncovered documents showing that an antiquities trading company called Castle Folio was jointly owned by one Mahmoud Elder and Dirk Obbink:

Incorporation documents for Castle Folio (dated 31 October 2014); image source: Candida Moss’s Twitter feed

It seems almost certain, then, that these two fragments were also Oxyrhynchus Papyri taken from the Egypt Exploration Society and sold by Dirk Obbink to Christie’s, then bought from Christie’s by his business partner. Christie’s, with its well-known secrecy policies, effectively laundered these stolen goods somehow transferred from a party with access to the Oxyrhynchus Collection to Mr. M. Elder [[Update 17 October 2019: A couple correspondents who have more knowledge than me about the inner workings of auction houses tell me that this is not how private treaty sales work. So, apologies for my confusion on the matter. Christie’s, for their part, does not deny that a private transaction took place, but they do deny that the two manuscripts in question were part of that transaction. They are quoted in an update to Candida Moss’s article in The Daily Beast as saying the following: “Christie’s documentation from a private sale transaction of a group of Coptic papyrus fragments may have been used to verify, inappropriately, the provenance of two different papyrus fragments in a subsequent transaction in which Christie’s had no involvement.” This seems to be in tension with Mr. Stimer’s report that “I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts [at Christie’s]. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt.” It seems there is more to this story.]] It would be good to learn more from Mr. Stimer about the other “various papyri in Coptic, Greek, and Syriac” that he bought in this transaction.

But then what about the rest of this story, which must be entirely fictional? It’s quite a remarkable tale. I don’t know anything about “Dr. Rodman Pruitt,” except that he seems to have been a real person (27 January 1904 – 11 July 1963) who lived in Seymour, Indiana. I know nothing of him as a collector of antiquities. But I have encountered the famous Harold Maker. I am convinced he is in this instance a red herring and has nothing to do with these papyri, but he is definitely worthy of a closer look in his own right. A post on Harold Maker will follow soon.

This entry was posted in Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Additional Papyri Stolen from the Oxyrhynchus Collection

  1. Robert says:

    Castle Folio, named after his castle in Waco, Texas?

  2. Pattycake says:

    So unbelievable. Brent, you could moonlight as a detective.

  3. Michael Holmes says:

    Re the following: “It seems almost certain, then, that these two fragments were also Oxyrhynchus Papyri taken from the Egypt Exploration Society and sold by Dirk Obbink to Christie’s, then bought from Christie’s by his business partner.”
    1) It is certain that these two fragments are Oxyrhynchus Papyri (EES documentation leaves no doubt in that regard).
    2) There is no evidence that these “Stimer fragments” were sold through Christie’s–only Stimer’s claim about a claim allegedly made by M. Elder. Why should these claims be given any more credence than the claims in the rest of the paragraph? They are likely additional “red herrings.” You have documented a connection between Stimer and Scott Carroll, who in turn is closely associated with Obbink, and there is also the Obbink-Elder connection. Rather than jumping to a conclusion re the alleged Christie’s sale, let’s wait for some evidence and see where it may lead.

    • If I may Mike, ok Scott Carroll is associated with Stimer etc. etc. but he is first and foremost associated with the Green collection and I want this to be brought very much in mind by the audience as I see attempts to move the focus a little bit to much on other protagonists of the story. Also, let us try not to forget that at this point, it is clear that Mr Green provided (voluntarily or involuntarily) a fake provenance for the Romans papyrus fragment in his possession to the CNN in January 2012 and to my knowledge (and if I missed something I apologise) he has not yet released any explanation about how that could have happened and more in general about the provenance of his collection of Egyptian antiquities. Just to give a complete picture to the readers of this blog.
      See the link here:
      https://edition.cnn.com/videos/bestoftv/2012/01/18/nr-hobby-lobby-religious-artifacts.cnn

      • Darrin Stephens says:

        Thank you for saying what I’ve been feeling about all of this and have felt about it since at least 2015. The Greens and MotB doesn’t want to stare too long into the abyss of what they’ve already gotten in trouble for (illegal antiquities) for fear of having to face what else in their collections that might be…troubling.

  4. James Dowden says:

    I would also observe that there is another company called Wistla Limited that includes directors called Mahmoud Elder (with a consistent year of birth to our good friend here) and Alan Baidun:
    https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09195443

    • Candida Moss says:

      Indeed. Baidun resigned from WISTLA the year of the smuggling scandal involving Hobby Lobby. I tried to get in touch with them back in June and they never responded to any enquiries.

      I also contacted Elder’s current company which actually notes its success in the area of antiquities dealing. It describes part of its experience in the following way:

      “An antiquities dealer saw the opportunity to connect his ancient pieces with international collectors, but he needed an expert to handle the expansion.

      Elder-Marini Group worked closely with the dealer to re-brand the business and launch a marketing campaign, meeting on the client’s behalf with businesses throughout the Middle East, Malaysia, New York, Switzerland, and London.

      We expanded the dealer’s online presence to connect with an eager network of buyers, and from the first week of the site’s launch our client reported increased sales and interest both locally and abroad.

      Our goal was to communicate an excellent understanding of the specialty antiquities market to a targeted audience, so when the client proposed a joint venture we saw an opportunity of our own. The rest is current history.”

      The phrase “joint venture” now jumps out at me.

  5. D. Bradnick says:

    To add to the potential connection between Stimer and the Baidun family, Stimer’s collection seems to contain pages from an Armenian gospel of John, which were also being sold by the Baiduns. We also know via Holmes that MOTB bought Oxyrhynchus papyri from the Baiduns. We should consider the possibility that Obbink sold portions of P129 and P131 to the Baiduns who then sold them to Stimer.

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