Ariel Sabar has published a fascinating account of the saga of Professor Dirk Obbink and the Green Collection in The Atlantic. I encourage everyone to check out the whole story here.
For me, the most interesting new details have to do with the activities of Scott Carroll, especially his well known dismantling of a mummy mask at Baylor on 16 January 2012. Earlier this year, Mike Holmes presented evidence suggesting that Carroll had planted the famous Green Collection Sappho papyrus fragments in the mummy mask he took apart that day. This raised the possibility that he had also planted stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri in mummy masks. Sabar’s new research now confirms this, even getting a confession from Carroll:
“[Carroll] filled a sink in the classics lounge with warm water and Palmolive dish soap, plunged a mummy mask into the suds, and began swishing it around. Then he withdrew a wet fragment and presented it to awestruck students.
“He said, ‘Whoa, now take a look at this, and see if you can read it,’ ” recalled David Lyle Jeffrey, a medieval-Bible scholar and former Baylor provost who helped manage the school’s relationship with the Greens. The fragment turned out to be a piece of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. “The kids were bamboozled: ‘Wow! Wow!’ ” It was the kind of eureka moment any professor might hope to inspire in undergraduates.
Jeffrey might have been just as floored, were it not for something he’d noticed when students were first gathering in the room.
Before his demonstration, Carroll had discreetly set a piece of papyrus beside the sink, and Jeffrey had glanced at it. When Carroll withdrew the wet Romans fragment from the mummy mask, Jeffrey recognized it as the piece he’d seen beside the sink. Carroll, he realized, had only pretended to pull it from the mask. …
“When I told Carroll what I’d discovered, he acknowledged planting the Sappho and Romans fragments in the mask at Baylor that day. His aim, he said, was to teach students how to identify papyri, not how to dismount a mask. Unsure of what he’d recover from the mask, he decided to mix in some exciting pieces from the Green Collection. “At the time, I didn’t feel that it was duplicitous.”
Carroll’s comment is pretty breathtaking. One wonders what, if anything, he might actually “feel was duplicitous.” It’s also somewhat disturbing that Professor David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University knew about this deception from the start and remained silent until now.
This story just boggles the mind. It’s pretty remarkable to see this whole thing come crashing down in the way it has in recent weeks. Fake “Dead Sea Scrolls.” 5,000 papyri bought without provenance. And now stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri soaked in a sink in order to deceive students. What’s next?