In my last post on the new information regarding the origin of Hobby Lobby’s Sappho papyrus fragments, I noted some parallels with the claimed mummy mask origins of a papyrus fragment of Paul’s letter to the Romans (now known to have been stolen from the Oxyrhynchus collection). Recall again Steve Green’s description of the fragment from the CNN interview on 18 January 2012:
“This [fragment] has just been discovered within the last 48 hours. Ah, Dr. Scott Carroll, who is a Bible expert that we have been working with was at Baylor and discovered this…This is in part of the acquisitions that we have, that we have, ah, uh, in uncovering layers of papyrus and as we’re pulling layers away, all different kinds of texts show up, and this happens to be, is, as Dr. Scott Carroll has identified it, the oldest portion of the book of Romans known, dating to middle second century.”
As I said, Mr. Green’s statement and one of Scott Carroll’s FB posts very much give the (false) impression that that the Romans papyrus was extracted from a mummy mask at Baylor probably on 16 January. I thus wondered whether the stolen Oxyrhynchus Romans made an appearance that day at Baylor.
I now notice something that I should have noticed earlier. The Oxyrhynchus Romans papyrus does indeed appear to have been among those present at the Baylor event on 16 January 2012. The papyrus shows up in a sequence of photographs of the event presented by the Christian apologist Josh McDowell in one of his talks shortly after the Baylor event (a video of McDowell’s talk was first flagged by Brice Jones in 2014). In the course of giving a list of items discovered at Baylor that day (at about the 30:50 mark in the video), McDowell mentions “Sapphos [sic], some you know the great writer Sapphos [sic]” (were the Sappho fragments identified as such on the spot at the event?) and then displays a series of images on the screen. At the 31:11 mark (slide 59), a partial picture of a fragmentary papyrus appears briefly. Despite the poor quality of the still image from McDowell’s video, I feel safe in saying that it is certainly the same papyrus as the stolen Oxyrhynchus fragment Steve Green showed on CNN:
It looks like there is a little glare coming off the papyrus in McDowell’s photo, which suggests that the Romans papyrus was already mounted between glass plates at the Baylor event and not wet like the Sappho fragments. There were several other mounted pieces at the event, including a stolen Oxyrhynchus fragment of 1 Corinthians and what may well be an unidentified work of Aristotle.
If the Romans fragment was indeed already between glass panes at the event, it’s unclear how exactly it was supposed to be “discovered” on that day. But it’s also not totally clear how many steps of the extraction “process” took place at the event. At one point, McDowell describes what was going on, saying, (31:00) “…and you just peel away. And then of course we put ’em, we put ’em in between paper towels; you dry it, and then we put ’em into glass to protect ’em.” Were “extracted” items also mounted that day at Baylor?
In addition, some of Scott Carroll’s comments at the beginning of the video of that Baylor session now take on a rather different significance (at about the 1:30 mark in the video). As he holds the mask that will be dismantled, Carroll says:
“This will have, because this dates, and we know from artistic evidence and all, um, to the early Christian period, and we know it comes from the region where they use papyri, we also are very certain that there’s Greek papyri that’s in here. And I’ve done some probing, um, as well, to, to see, and we work with different things to try to do this without destroying the mask, and I can tell you, that, uh, we’re in for some interesting things today.”
[[Update 13 May 2020: In an article in The Atlantic, Ariel Sabar demonstrates that yes, the Sappho was identified on the spot at Baylor, and yes, Scott Carroll did in fact plant the stolen Romans fragment to make it appear as if it came from the mummy mask.]]