I’m preparing a post on recently emerged Coptic manuscripts of dubious origins to go along with the working list of similarly dodgy Greek and Latin manuscripts. In doing so, I’ve revisited some material put out by the Christian apologist Josh McDowell, who claims to own several very small fragments containing bits of the New Testament in Coptic. But I came across something even more interesting in one of McDowell’s PowerPoint presentations that is available online. It shows images that appear to have been taken during one of Scott Carroll’s cartonnage dismantling sessions held at Baylor University at which McDowell was present (the session recorded in this video that took place on 16 January 2012). The images from McDowell’s presentation were made available in a DropBox folder and highlighted on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog in 2014. During that session, Scott Carroll brought some papyri that were not extracted from cartonnage that day. They are distinguishable because they were mounted between glass panes. This latter group included some pieces now known to have been stolen from the Oxyrhynchus collection, such as the Green Collection fragment of 1 Corinthians, GC.PAP.000120 a.k.a. P.Oxy. inv. 106/116(d) + 106/116(c). Another piece that was displayed on that occasion has a Ptolemaic (or very early Roman) look to it:
I had of course seen this image of the manuscript on the ETC blog back in 2014, but I had not looked closely at it before this evening. Enough of the text is visible to run TLG searches and to be able to say with confidence that the text on this papyrus is not part of the TLG database. The vocabulary, however, overlaps significantly with a commentary on works of Aristotle. It may well be the case that this is the Green Collection papyrus that Scott Carroll has called an “unknown work of Aristotle” and that was displayed at the Verbum Domini exhibition at the Vatican in 2011. The catalog entry from that exhibit reads as follows:
It is difficult to know for sure if this identification is correct when the description is so vague, but the chronology works reasonably well (the papyrus was a part of the Green Collection already in 2011), the handwriting is a reasonable fit (I don’t know if I would say “early 3rd century,” but it looks Ptolemaic to me), and the contents make sense. The reference to “several columns” doesn’t quite work, as I only see two here, but not everything in this catalog is totally accurate.
But even if this identification is correct, we still don’t know the key question: Where did this papyrus come from? The papyrus in the image looks a little too old to have come from the dumps at Oxyrhynchus. We don’t really see many papyri of that age among the published pieces from Grenfell and Hunt’s excavations. The Verbum Domini catalog entry says the “Aristotle” piece was extracted from mummy cartonnage. For a seemingly Ptolemaic papyrus like the one in the image, that is actually a real possibility. But where might such cartonnage have come from? Recall that Scott Carroll stated in an interview in May 2011 that he extracted this mask with a friend: “Recently I would say the most surprising discoveries have come from working with mummy (mask) coverings…A professor from Oxford and I have extracted a lost work of Aristotle…” And “the unusual work on Mystery Religion” mentioned in the same Verbum Domini catalog entry above appears to have been published by Professor Obbink.
As I reported last week, at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Mike Holmes of the Museum of the Bible stated half of the Green Collection’s mummy masks were purchased from Professor Dirk Obbink of Oxford University. And it does seem to be the case that Professor Obbink had access to the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of cartonnage (which includes items from sites other than Oxyrhynchus). Perhaps representatives of the Green Collection or the Museum of the Bible will be able to shed some light on the identity and origin of this papyrus.