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:
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.