Thanks to Mike Holmes for notifying me that the latest issue of Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik contains an article by Museum of the Bible curator Brian Hyland that reports what is now known about the purchase of the Green Collection Sappho fragments. The article expands on a preliminary report by Mike Holmes published here in January 2020.
The article is a detailed overview of Hyland’s efforts to get to the bottom of how Scott Carroll, Professor Dirk Obbink, and the Turkish dealer Yakup Eksioglu together brought these fragments from unknown origins into the Green Collection in late 2011 and early 2012. Perhaps the most interesting new evidence in the article are photographs of the “cartonnage” chunks that contained the Sappho fragments. As Hyland notes, it is remarkable that all the Sappho fragments are placed in an orderly fashion right on the surface of the chunks. I reproduce one of Hyland’s figures here:
The clear and sensible fashion in which the Sappho fragments are placed on the surface of the “cartonnage” is very reminiscent of the Green Collection 1 Samuel papyrus that also came from “a Turkish dealer“:
I’ll have more to say as I digest the data in this article.
JSTOR only archives to 2017 for this journal.
I suspect there’s some advance copies circulating; the new issue isn’t even listed at the zpe payfer site yet: https://www.habelt.de/index.php?id=70&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bjournal%5D=ZPE&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Baction%5D=showEBooksListe&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bcontroller%5D=Ebooks&cHash=ecb4d52cdd3b96393f2de6b48cc1022d
It is listed now. The link to the article is https://www.habelt.de/index.php?id=70&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bjournal%5D=ZPE&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bheftnr%5D=218&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bersteseite%5D=001&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Baction%5D=startDownload&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bcontroller%5D=Ebooks&cHash=44e1d81b99e04e381d64cd666f629d84
“Nothing seemed suspicious at the time”. I believe the second part of the sentences must have gone lost: ‘to those who decided not to think about the massive problems under their noses.’ Mainly male noses, as it is often the case.
First of all: Thank you for all the wonderful research you have been doing on the Sappho-papyri. I love your blog (although I am devasted by what has happened with Dirk Obbink).
I am doing research on the (ex-)Green-Collection Sappho Papyri and stumbled on the “ex-“. I read Sampsons excellent articles, where he states, that the Green-Collection Sappho Papyri were part of the papyri, that were given back to Egypt by the Greens: “The Museum of the Bible’s recent announcement acknowledges the “insufficient reliable provenance information” of its papyri — including its Sappho fragments” ( Sampson in https://theconversation.com/lovers-of-sappho-thrilled-by-new-poetry-find-but-its-backstory-may-have-been-fabricated-151176). But he refers to a link (https://www.museumofthebible.org/newsroom/update-on-iraqi-and-egyptian-items) where the MOTB does not say anything about the Sappho-papyri.
Since you also say “ex” I wanted to ask, where that information comes from, that the papyri were given back to Egypt.
Thanks for the kind words. You’re right that the MOTB has not (to my knowledge) said anything publicly about the return of the Sappho papyri specifically. But I have assumed (along with most others, I think) that the Sappho fragments would have been included in roughly 5000 pieces sent to Egypt earlier this year (https://brentnongbri.com/2021/01/28/museum-of-the-bible-papyri-in-egypt/). By the time that material was delivered to Egypt, it was already known that the Sappho fragments in the Green Collection had been bought from the Turkish dealer Eksioglu, who could not provide a plausible story for the origin of the fragments. They would thus be among those that Steve Green described as having “insufficient reliable provenance information” and thus returned to the probable country of origin. As far as I know, Hobby Lobby / the Green Collection / Museum of the Bible now only have about a dozen or so papyri in their holdings: the Bodmer Psalms codex, the (legally bought) Oxyrhynchus distribution pieces, and a couple others.
Thank you for your quick answer! I think it is strange that they did not comment on that, since they know that you and others were looking into it. I was even more suprised, that Hyland – if I am no mistaken – did not mention anything about the papyri being returned in his article (https://www.habelt.de/index.php?id=70&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bjournal%5D=ZPE&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bheftnr%5D=218&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bersteseite%5D=001&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Baction%5D=startDownload&tx_bookshop_mybookshop%5Bcontroller%5D=Ebooks&cHash=44e1d81b99e04e381d64cd666f629d84). If they were returned, why make it a secret? I’ll be looking into that a little bit…
A side note on the number of papyri: I know that Michael Holmes said, that there 5000 papyri in the Green Collection (https://brentnongbri.com/2019/11/26/recap-of-the-sbl-first-century-mark-session/). I wonder what happened to the other 10 000 papyri, that they claimed to have in 2012 (“The Green Collection contains over 50,000 items, and now holds nearly 15,000 papyri acquired from private collections in Europe, and continues to grow.”, https://web.archive.org/web/20140430151756/http:/www.brill.com:80/news/brill-publish-new-papyrus-series-green-collection).
The early estimates of the number of papyri in the collection seem to have been inflated. It appears that Scott Carroll was buying indiscriminately and that the actual process of sorting didn’t take place until well after 2012. In fact, some of the Green Collection literature seems to imply that the main motivating force behind the creation of the “Green Scholars Initiative” was actually the building of a workforce to inventory and identify material (and in light of Moss and Baden’s work, it seems like the main goal in that inventory process was to get that material appraised at a high value and then donated to the Museum of the Bible resulting in large tax write-offs for Hobby Lobby and the Green family).
One of my Emails to the MOTB was finally answered. Charlotte Clay, the Media Relations Manager of the MOTB answered my question as to where P. GC. 105, fr.1-4 was at. She wrote: “Thank you for reaching out to the museum. We can confirm that the items in the care of Museum of the Bible were returned to Egypt. We have no knowledge of the fragments purportedly owned by Obbink.”
And I should add: I could not find any number of payri in Candida Moss’s and Baden’s book “Bible nation” either (I am still reading it, so it might pop up somewhere…). It only says, that they hold about 40 000 pieces without specifying it (p. 59 and p. 172), although there seem to be 10 000 to 15 000 books among it (Trobisch, p. 60).
I was curious whether the returned items were even identified before being returned … very curious whether there are some items known as missing from other collections made their way into the 5000
My guess is that many of the pieces were returned without their contents being identified. I don’t know that a fully qualified specialist in documentary papyri (as opposed to literary papyri) ever had a look at the collections in OKC or DC.