Professor Dirk Obbink has issued a public statement emphatically denying the accusations that he sold Oxyrhynchus papyri to Hobby Lobby. The local Texas newspaper to which Prof. Obbink chose to communicate his statement (the Waco Tribune-Herald) is not available online in Europe:
But Geoffrey Smith of the University of Texas at Austin broke the news on twitter:
Another twitter user kindly provided the full text of the relevant portion of the article, including the statement made by Obbink’s attorneys:
I assume the reference to “documents being used against me” means the receipts and invoices in the possession of the Hobby Lobby / Museum of the Bible organization. If that is correct, then the charge that these documents were “fabricated” is further evidence of the complete breakdown of a long and multifaceted relationship between Prof. Obbink and Scott Carroll, Jerry Pattengale, and the Hobby Lobby organization.
I would hope that all parties involved in this dispute have reported their sides of the story to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
If this denial is truthful, it of course raises the question of how the 11 manuscripts made their way from Oxford to the Green Collection in the US. But recall the charges laid out by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) were not just about the theft of manuscripts. The accusations also involved a coordinated manipulation of the card catalog system for unpublished Oxyrhynchus papyri. The EES briefly described this system back in 2018:
“EES records include a photograph and brief record card for each papyrus awaiting publication, which were prepared to assist the General Editors in selecting papyri for future volumes. The cards were created without detailed study of the texts and without access to today’s online search tools.”
Now here is the EES statement about the stolen manuscripts from earlier this week:
“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 [Museum of the Bible] (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 Fortunately, the EES has back-up records which enable us to identify missing unpublished texts.”
That last observation about tampering with the card system would really appear to narrow down the list of people who could have pulled this off. How many people would have the access and knowledge to do this? Past and present general editors of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri series (so, what? about 20 people?), and who else?
As I have noted on multiple occasions, the card system used for the unpublished papyri is very obscure to outsiders and has never been publicly explained. The number of people with both access to the unpublished papyri and detailed knowledge of (and access to) the card system seems to be extremely small. It would be illuminating if someone at Oxford or the EES could say just how many people have had access to that system of cards over the last ten years.
In the meantime, the working list of papyri of dubious origins grows. Papyrus fragments of Exodus and Isaiah have been added today.