Mike Holmes of the Museum of the Bible has just released some new discoveries from the Museum’s ongoing provenance research to me and several other people via e-mail. There are several important revelations. Especially important are 1) a stunningly sharp observation by MOTB curator Brian Hyland and 2) the news that Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) appears to be the source of the Hobby Lobby Sappho fragments. I post Mike’s text below:
The Hobby Lobby Sappho fragments: some additional information
Michael Holmes, MOTB
Last summer, in response to a question from Roberta Mazza, I informed her that Sappho material was not listed as a specific item on any invoice in museum records, and that it was not at that time possible to identify the seller of the Sappho fragments in the Green Collection. Since then, MOTB curators, in keeping with the Museum’s commitment to research and make available provenance information on artifacts in the Museum Collection and in collections curated by the Museum (see: https://www.museumofthebible.org/collections/provenance), have continued to research the HL Sappho fragments. In recent months, it has been possible to verify some additional information about them. Working in reverse chronological order, I will mention two known points, which will provide context for presenting some additional information.
1. In 2014, images of the HL Sappho fragments were published in an article in ZPE (Bd. 189, pp. 1-28).
2. On Feb. 7, 2012, at a lecture event in Atlanta, Scott Carroll displayed 20+ HL Sappho fragments between glass plates and claimed that they “came out of a mummy mask I dismantled a few weeks ago” (see: https://brentnongbri.com/2018/12/13/the-green-collection-sappho-papyrus-some-new-details/).
Several scholars have commented on the significance of this “sighting,” most recently Mike Sampson (as reported by Charlotte Higgins, in her recent Jan. 9th, 2020, Guardian article).
3. Brian Hyland, an MOTB curator, pointed out to me that about one-third of the HL Sappho fragments are visible in a video filmed at Baylor University on January 16, 2012 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_gwgGcpD1M; this is the well-known video of Scott Carroll dismantling a mummy mask). One example of a visible fragment: in the published ZPE image of the fragments, the small fragment just to the right of the label “Sa.16.5” can be seen at the 6:35 mark of the video.
Some of the Sappho fragments are visibly wet, giving the impression that they were being extracted from the mummy mask at the time the video images were taken—an impression that is, however, almost certainly incorrect, in light of the next point.
4A. A purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012, and signed by Yakup Eksioglu is
accompanied by (i) an invoice for the following items:
- “Ancient Greek-Coptic language Papyrus fragments parobably between 800-
1000 fragment Shown as in the group pictures”
- “Cartonagge Masks and other cartonagge fragments Shown as in the group
and (ii) several “group photographs” of the items purchased, arranged in rows and
columns. The “group photographs” clearly show the shape and general appearance of
the items, but do not show enough detail to identify the contents of any particular item.
4B. A photo, shared by Dirk Obbink with Brian Hyland (via Dropbox on August 17, 2016), is a close-up image of one of the “cartonnage” pieces visible in one of the “group photographs” accompanying the invoice mentioned in 4A above. In the close-up image, the piece of “cartonnage”—more like a wad of multiple layers of stuck-together papyrus—is in the same relationship to the other pieces around it as it is in the “group photographs.”
According to its metadata, this image was taken on December 7, 2011, 3:25 a.m. In this photograph the small Sappho fragment visible in the ZPE photograph just to the right of the label “Sa.16.5” (and also visible at the 6:35 mark in the January 12, 2012, Baylor video) is clearly visible.
To summarize briefly:
- The presence of HL Sappho fragments in the Baylor video definitely moves the date of the earliest “sighting” from Feb 7 to Jan. 16 2012.
- The metadata on the “close up” photo apparently moves the earliest “sighting” to Dec. 7, 2011.
- The HL Sappho fragments were not recovered from a mummy mask.
- Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) is the apparent source of the HL Sappho fragments.
Many questions remain (including, e.g., this one: from whom did Obbink obtain the image he shared with Hyland?), and the MOTB curators are continuing their research. But for now, this note shares the additional evidence that we have been able to confirm to date; additional documentation will be available when a fuller statement is formally published.
The information that Mike and his team have shared raises a number of questions, which we will no doubt be unpacking in the coming days.