New Article on Dirk Obbink in The Atlantic

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?

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Romans, Green Collection Sappho, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to New Article on Dirk Obbink in The Atlantic

  1. Robert says:

    Wow. Reminds me of Bullwinkle’s magic tricks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx3sOqW5zj4

  2. Mary Hartman says:

    Tons of new info in that article! Definitely puts Carroll in a new light as quite the huckster. I know you and the guys at the ETC blog don’t want to insinuate much about SC or JP but even before this article I think it’s been clear enough that SC has had a ton more involvement in all of this than he let’s on and imo possibly the same can be said about JP.

  3. Rick Bonnie says:

    Ariel Sabar did again a marvellous job of investigative journalism — impressive! Brent, your “what’s next?” is spot-on. As always, I expect the story will get weirder and complex.

    One thing I found strange in the story is that it kind of implies as if in 2012 Eksioglu is brought into contact with Scott Carroll, even though the Eksioglus’ and Carroll were publicly Facebook friends already since 2009 and Carroll visited them in Dec 2009.

    Another thing that still bothers me is where did all the millions go that Dirk Obbink supposedly received by the sales? They cannot simply vanish, his lifestyle does not seem too crazy, and only a few years later it seems that he cannot or does not want to pay it back.

    • Yes, I think that relationship goes back to the Johnny Shipman days. Mr. Eksioglu remains elusive even after this article. But the lines between him (in his role as “anonymous London owner” of the Sappho) and Professor Obbink bring to mind some disturbing possibilities. Also, the note about modern manufacture of cartonnage goes some way toward explaining the chronology of the Green Collection 1 Samuel papyri, I think.

  4. Patty Floyd says:

    Scott Carroll only pretended to write books. Obbink took his daughter dumpster diving. Someone needs to make a Netflix series out of this!

  5. Patty Floyd says:

    We still don’t know who told Obbink to publish the Mark fragment. Or why the EES waited so long to get answers.

  6. Jon Henke says:

    > “His aim, he said, was to teach students how to identify papyri, not how to dismount a mask.”

    What was his aim in the Facebook post in which he said, “One less mummy mask BUT new papyri texts of Homer, Euripedes, Thucydides, the earliest-known text of Romans and numerous large sections of the most-illusive and valuable of all Greek works–the lyricist SAPPHO!!”

    https://brentnongbri.com/2020/01/30/contextualizing-the-new-sappho-information/

    This isn’t even a plausible lie.

    • Yes, over the years Carroll has in many public presentations referred to his “discovery” of the Sappho fragments from mummy cartonnage.

      • Jon Henke says:

        I have a couple questions about Carroll.

        1. Given how many people and institutions have been conned by Carroll — Baylor, the Greens, McDowell, various other apologists and conferences, and possibly even Obbink, to some extent — why has he largely skated by so far without any lawsuits or charges?

        2. Carroll seems to have been incredibly casual with priceless artifacts. In some videos, he was passing them around to be handled. In this Atlantic story, he appears to have been putting them into soapy water. Surely this is an incredibly risky, even damaging, way to treat ancient manuscripts, right? And if so, why did none of the scholars around him ever (so far as we know) point out that he was being incredibly careless with these artifacts? That seems like a sign that should have been very obvious to, for instance, all of the Baylor people, the early Museum of the Bible folks, or any of the other scholars he brought around to look at manuscripts.

      • These are good questions. With regard to the soaking of cartonnage: I do think the “imprimatur” of Professor Obbink probably gave some credibility to the procedures Scott Carroll was undertaking. In his speech in the Baylor video, Carroll discusses some of these issues in a way that makes the soaking process seem like a standard, time-tested scholarly practice. And I think his own mode of self-presentation also plays a role. If you watch enough of these videos, you can see that he works hard to cultivate a kind of “smartest guy in the room” persona (usually through various forms of humblebragging). And we shouldn’t discount the fact that people are “wowed” by large amounts of money and people who are in proximity to it.

  7. Pingback: The Atlantic Article and Green Collection Cartonnage | Variant Readings

  8. Frank Rabinovitch says:

    Was Carroll trying to create provenance for papyri lacking it, such as the Romans fragment?

    Perhaps his intent wasn’t to deceive the students, but to cover someone’s tracks.

    From the Atlantic

    “Two days later, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green went on CNN to talk about the Romans fragment, which he presented as the oldest known copy of the Pauline epistle. “This has just been discovered in the past 48 hours,” Green said. In truth, an internal review of sales records would later conclude, Hobby Lobby had purchased it 18 months earlier—from Dirk Obbink.”

    Perhaps Green was misled, but he evidently bought in to the created provenance.

  9. D. Bradnick says:

    It seems that Baylor people knew several clues to this puzzle but have remained silent.

    “The fragments are of 1 Corinthians and Romans. Stimer provided us with unpublished scholar’s reports, which he received in 2016 and 2017: the report for 1 Corinthians was done by Dirk Obbink (who dates the fragment to mid-2nd cent.) and the report on Romans was done by Jeffery Fish (who dates the fragment to the first half of the 3rd cent.).”

    https://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/intfblog/-/blogs/updates-to-p129-and-p131

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