Charlotte Higgins has just published a long story in The Guardian on Dirk Obbink. It is a very nice compilation of what we know and how the stories of the Sappho papyrus and the stolen Oxyrhynchus papyrus intersect. It also contains some new revelations:
- Dirk Obbink has been “suspended from duties” at Oxford since October 2019
- “The alleged thefts [of Oxyrhynchus papyri] were reported to Thames Valley police on 12 November. No one has yet been arrested or charged.”
- Mike Sampson (University of Manitoba) has analyzed a Christie’s brochure in pdf format obtained from “an academic source” that offers the London Sappho papyrus for sale; Sampson has determined through the pdf metadata that there were attempts to sell the papyrus privately in 2013 and 2015
- The Christie’s brochure is said to contain images of the cartonnage from which the Sappho papyrus fragments were extracted. Recall that Professor Obbink’s stories about the origins of the Sappho papyrus have changed over time; first it was said to have come from mummy cartonnage, then later from “industrial” cartonnage. The Christie’s brochure contains “images that purport to show how the two different types of cartonnage – mummy cartonnage and industrial cartonnage – were confused. One picture shows a brightly painted blue-and-red piece of mummy cartonnage lying in a ceramic basin beside a brown mass of what appears to be flattened papyrus, described as ‘cartonnage’. The caption recaps the final story reported by Obbink – that the two items were muddled up in a ‘confusion of processing’. However, in the opinion of Sampson, it ‘defies belief’ that the entirely different objects could have been confused.”
- “Perhaps Sampson’s most telling finding, though, is that parts of the Sappho manuscript were shown in public when they were supposedly still undiscovered in a wodge of industrial cartonnage. According to his study of the PDF’s metadata, the photographs of the materials sitting side by side in the ceramic basin, prior to ‘processing’, were taken on 14 February 2012. And yet there is video footage of Scott Carroll brandishing 26 small fragments of the Sappho, those that ended up belonging to the Greens, a week earlier, on 7 February 2012.”
Check out the full story at The Guardian‘s website.
For those not up with the tech – what does analysing the PDF metadata mean? I know what a pdf is, but probably nothing more than that!
Computer files carry different kinds of information. A pdf file of, say, an academic journal article, contains the text and maybe some images (data). But it also contains other information, like when the file was created and when it was modified (metadata). Depending on the type of file and the software you use, you can see more or less of this metadata. If you use a Mac, control+click on a file and then select “Get info.” You will see a very limited set of metadata.
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interesting that sources in the EES now claim to have suspected Obbink as early as 2016; and that the instruction to him to expedite publication was a deliberate attempt to “smoke him out”.
“Obbink always denied that he had been trying to sell Oxyrhynchus items, as a later EES statement made clear. Nevertheless, an official of the society was sufficiently suspicious that he might have been at least trying to sell the Mark fragment that he decided to try to smoke him out – by instructing him, in spring 2016, to publish the manuscript in the next volume, number 83, of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Series. That would get the fragment out in the public sphere. It would also mean it would have to be physically returned to the Sackler classics library so that the editing could be checked by colleagues. In short, if Obbink were indeed trying to sell it, this move would stop him. Or so the EES official thought.”
I think their suspicion was due to the cell phone video of Carroll saying he saw the Mark fragment on Obbink’s pool table.
Yes, that was the sequence of events outlined by Roberta Mazza at the SBL meeting in San Diego in November.
Well didn’t someone once say that you never put a key piece of evidence in the hands of the accused? The idea that because EES suspected Obbink of stealing FCM they insisted on his possessing it strikes me as strange/bizarre/macabre. It’s like an exchange from Get Smart:
Okay Ziegbbink, we’ve got you now. Would you believe that at this very moment you’re being surrounded by 100 Templer Knights.
Ziegbbink: I find that hard to believe.
Okay, how about 3 Evangelical Textual Critics?
Ziegbbink: I don’t think so.
Would you believe a lone blogger from Oslo?
Yes, there’s a particular programme that someone expert in these matters (like Mike Sampson) could run on a document. (It then also takes a certain amount of expertise to read the resultant data.) It can tell you for instance when a photo embedded in the PDF was taken, even on what kind of camera, with reasonable certainty. Much, much more on methodology in Mike’s forthcoming article.
The program I used to extract the metadata from both the .pdf and the .jpg files embedded within it is called Exiftool. It’s freely available for download, and can be used to extract and examine metadata from a variety of file formats. Unfortunately, it’s a command-line application, so there’s no user interface to speak of. That makes it difficult for those of us who are less tech-savvy to figure out.
Hi, extraordinary stuff. Can anyone confirm the current whereabouts of this ‘first-century Mark’ fragment? Great article, Charlotte Higgins. And always thanks to Brent Nongbri for fascinating work.
Yes, the copy of Mark is now with all the recently published Oxyrhynchus papyri, in the Papyrology Rooms at the Sackler in Oxford.
If anyone reading here knows: When Mr. Green bought Sappho fragments, did he know that they were, or were they merely undescribed fragments as part of a bulk deal?
Back in February 2012, the story was that the fragments were “discovered” in a mummy mask by Scott Carroll. See the discussion here: https://brentnongbri.com/2018/12/13/the-green-collection-sappho-papyrus-some-new-details/
Perhaps I am misinterpreting something, but Higgins’s reporting of the events seemingly doesn’t match Pattengale’s recounting of the timeline in Christianity Today.
As I read Higgins’s article, Mike Holmes becomes aware that P137 (formerly called FCM) is part of the Oxyrhynchus collection in May 2018. Describing the events that followed its publication, she writes, “Naturally, there was also consternation in Washington, at the Museum of the Bible. Michael Holmes, the director of the Green Scholars Initiative since 2015, believed that the fragment of Mark belonged to them, not the EES.”
Pattengale, on the other hand, says that he discovered and relayed to MOTB leadership that something was amiss in November 2017. Discovering inconsistencies regarding the P137 narrative, he writes, “After taking a picture of my dinner guests, as I often do, I excused myself and immediately sent a message to the funder and museum leadership outlining the seriousness of what had transpired.” Pattengale adds, “Jeff Kloha and Trobisch (both over curatorial programs at the museum at the time) were immediately sent to the UK to meet with Obbink, and the journey to this week’s release began.”
Is Higgins reporting what Holmes told her? Or is this excerpt an interpretation of the events?
Brent, I am reminded of a question that you asked at SBL/AAR (and in an earlier blog post), which–to my knowledge–has gone unanswered, “How and when did MOTB personnel become aware that ‘First Century Mark’ was an item in the Oxyrhynchus collection?”
My understanding is that Mike Holmes became aware that ‘First Century Mark’ was an item in the Oxyrhynchus collection when volume 83 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri was published (May 2018) and contained the Mark fragment. But Pattengale’s article suggests that Trobisch knew at least as early as late 2017 (in the article to which you link, Trobisch says “A researcher in Oxford…discovered an image of it in a museum collection, and it has remained there.”). When Trobisch found this out is not clear. It seems that communication among those in leadership positions at MOTB has not always been completely open.
Communication wasn’t open due to incompetence or to intention It’s quite remarkable that Pattengale, Kloha, and Green knew that something was awry, but no one bothered to inform Holmes, the Director of the Green Scholars Initiative. Did they conveniently “forget” to pass this information along to him? As Director of GSI, wouldn’t it be logical for him to receive records of all of the manuscripts being studied by various scholars? And what about the Brill series? No one shared its contents with Holmes? Or did someone “forget” to mention certain manuscripts in relation to its contents? Did Holmes never ask about the existence of FCM? That would have been my first question.
latest on the subject from Roberta Mazza