Dirk Obbink and the Hobby Lobby Sappho Fragments

In yet another fascinating video unearthed by David Bradnick, “Seeking Sappho,” we see Oxford Professor Dirk Obbink at work on the Hobby Lobby (Green Collection) Sappho fragments:

There are several strange features of this video. First, some of the footage is the same as that which is included in a promotional video released in 2013 for the “Ancient Lives” project. Second, there appears to be some chronological confusion. At the 3:45 mark in the video, the first appearance of the London Sappho fragments is placed in spring of 2015, which cannot be right, as the London fragments had been publicly revealed already in 2014 (full chronology here). But that is just the beginning.

In one segment, the Green Collection Sappho fragments seem to be in the papyrology rooms of the Sackler Library, quite far from their new home in Oklahoma (or is it Washington, D.C.?). The film editing is choppy and odd, but it does seem that the plate of Green fragments was with the scholars at Oxford. I wonder when that visit took place? Watch the clip at about 6:37-7:07:

Finally and most alarmingly, there is a segment that, according to the captions of the video, seems to have been filmed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Professor Obbink works on the Green fragments. The item to the right of them looks like a photograph of the London fragments:

What is alarming is when the camera angle shifts, we see in the lower right corner of the frame what appear to be two tin boxes of exactly the kind that are used to house the unpublished fragments from Grenfell and Hunt’s Oxyrhynchus excavations for the Egypt Exploration Society:

For the purposes of comparison, here are a couple images of this type of box back at Oxford (note the latches):

So, if the caption of the Sappho video is accurate, and if it’s right that the tin boxes in the video are from the EES (big “if”s, I know), it raises the question of what exactly these boxes were doing at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2017.

I would tend to think the caption in the Sappho video is simply a mistake, as the microscope at the desk looks much like those in use at the Sackler and the wood panels in the background also look like those in the Sackler. But that would again raise the question of when the Green Collection Sappho fragments would have made the trip from the US to Oxford. I wonder if any Museum of the Bible staff could clarify?

Lots to ponder with this video (and thanks again to David Bradnick for digging it up). I encourage people to watch the whole video here.

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Dirk Obbink and the Hobby Lobby Sappho Fragments

  1. Pattycake says:

    I know I’ve asked this before, but is part of Scott Carroll’s collection said to be stolen fragments or no?

    I just find it so hard to believe that whoever made these purchases thought that they were stealing. It just doesn’t make sense to have all this video coverage if the purchaser (Carroll?) believed they were stealing it. And the fact that Carroll outed Obbink on the ETC blog saying that Obbink tried to sell him other items.

    It just doesn’t add up.

    • Mike says:

      Unless they figured they could get away with it. When you think about it, it was Carroll’s need to trumpet FCM that brought the house down on them. For my money Obbink is
      the scapegoat for Carroll et al. Im not saying Obbink is innocent, but he makes a nice
      place for all the blame to be placed. BTW, the buying and selling MAY have been more on paper for the purpose of claiming tax breaks

      • Thomas says:

        1. Obbink actually does run a firm specialising in antiquities sales.
        2. Are you saying the purchase agreement produced by the Hobby Lobby family is fake? If so, it is a very good rendering of Mr Obbink’s signature.
        3. Do you really think Mr Obbink does not have the personality for such activity? I only know him second-hand, but nothing I know about him suggests he is of exceptional ethical character.

  2. Pattycake says:

    At any rate, I enjoy each and every episode of The Evangelicals. If any of the key players ends up going to prison, a spinoff series would be in order. I think I’ll call it Orange is the New Black: The Evangelical Edition.

  3. Pingback: Dirk Obbink and the Hobby Lobby Sappho Fragments – Variant Readings | Talmidimblogging

  4. The title about the Green Collection of Washington DC came just after Dirk Obbink mentioned the Green Sappho fragments, so I guess it was intended merely to indicate ownership rather than physical filming location, somewhat like the other title mention of the Egypt Exploration Society that indicated ownership rather than location in London.
    Though Obbink clearly said he recognized the “London” poem as Sappho “immediately” the narration maybe could—if one misses the caveat, a tad quickly spoken, “but the full text”—give the impression that only upon use of MSI did that become apparent; but that’s a nitpick. More importantly, the narration mentions technology “that Dirk had already used so effectively on recent Sappho fragments,” but which fragments are meant is not clear. Perhaps “other Oxyrhynchus texts” was intended? Green fragments? Or just that they were reenacting the previous procedure?
    The “London” Sappho, rather than a photo of it, may appear to be the original, between glass, unlike the Green Sappho fragments, on top of glass, and the photo to the left, with no glass.

  5. Tim Skorick says:

    Rewatching the video and listening to the dialogue that accompanies these images above to see if there is any elucidation.

    Regarding the papyrus on Obbink’s desk to the right of the fragments: 1) its coloration and lack of depth make it look more like a detailed image of a papyrus fragment than a fragment itself, 2) when discussing the location of the newly discovered poem within the book roll he points to this and says “we do know that the poem following it begins with the letter pi” so it would seem that it is an image of a previously known fragment, and 3) he gestures to this same item later when saying “in the Green fragments,” so we might assume that it’s an image of a fragment from the Green collection.

    A few seconds after this first mention of the Green fragments, the text appears “The Green Collection, Museum of the Bible, Washington DC.” This seems more like a case of a video editor strangely attempting to explain what Obbink is referring to when he says “Green fragments” rather than to suggest that he’s anywhere other than the Sackler Library.

  6. Mike Sampson says:

    An interesting metrical blunder: at 8:10 he states the total number of verses for Book 1 is 3,700. But the colophon from P.Oxy. 1231 to which he refers has the figure ΧΗΗΗΔΔ (= 1,320, i.e., 330 Sapphic stanzas). It’s weird that, in addition to the “Spring 2015” error, there’s another one so obviously wrong.

  7. In this video sequence the Green fragments are shown atop one large sheet of glass, then between two identical size large clipped-together sheets of glass, then back to atop one sheet.
    The “London” ms (the original rather than photo?) is on the desk to the right between two sheets of identical size, smaller, unclipped, glass, the top of which slipped at about 6:10-12 when moved.
    Both different looking than the photo on the far left.
    If the “London” Sappho was quickly recognized as Sappho from its (convenient?) top lines (ancient ink, I guess, or not), were the fragments to its left identified as such later because of that, if one assumes more ragged, worn pieces on top of the cartonnage? Even though the Green fragments–less easily identified as Sappho?–may have been shown in public earlier than the “London” part? Or cartonnage need not follow text order and the smaller bits could have been inside the wad after of the “London” piece? Or the reverse could have been true if the wad were disassembled starting on the other side?

  8. Anon. says:

    De Gruyter has just this month published a new article by Professor Obbink on these Sappho fragments. Unfortunately it is behind a paywall, but the editors of the volume (Peter Burian, Jenny Strauss Clay, Gregson Davis), the publisher, and the peer reviewers (if any) were apparently content for Professor Obbink to address the concerns raised on this blog and elsewhere in a single footnote (n. 5): “For demonstration of legal provenance of the fragments see Obbink 2015, 5-6; id. 2016b, 35-39.”

  9. Anon. says:

    It’s interesting to see that Brill has finally reacted to the furore: at the end of their introduction, the editors of the open-access 2016 volume “The Newest Sappho: P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, Frs. 1-4”, Anton Bierl and André Lardinois, add a defensive postscript dated June 1, 2020 (https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004314832_002): “In the past years, following the first publication of this book, serious doubts have been raised about the reported provenance of the papyri discussed in this book, especially in Chapter 2: See M. Sampson, “Deconstructing the Provenances of P.Sapph.Obbink,” in Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 57 (2020, forthcoming). These questions about the provenance do not affect the authenticity of the fragments themselves – they appear to be authentic.” But “serious doubts” had of course already been raised long before the book was first published.

  10. Pingback: The Capitoline Sappho | Variant Readings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s