The Antiquities Trade in Michigan

In an earlier post working through some of the details in Ariel Sabar’s piece in The Atlantic, I noted that it was news to me that Professor Dirk Obbink had incorporated his antiquities trading company (“Oxford Ancient”) in Michigan in 2012. The company name had been known since Mike Holmes released a series of documents said to be part of an invoice for the sale of four Oxyrhynchus gospel papyri by Prof. Obbink to Hobby Lobby:

According to these documents, the company was based in the UK in Oxford, with no mention of Michigan. Since I made that post about the Michigan connection, some colleagues connected with the papyrus collection at the University of Michigan have contacted me to express their doubts that Professor Obbink ever had access to unpublished materials in the Michigan collection.

In trying to learn more about all of this, I stumbled across a couple oddities–things that didn’t make much sense in the past but now suddenly look quite different.

Back in 2012, the archaeologist Dorothy King had been reporting on large numbers of papyri being sold on eBay from the Turkish seller known as MixAntik, a.k.a. Yakup Eksioglu, who, according to Sabar’s article claims to have been the seller of the Sappho papyri published by Professor Obbink. On New Year’s Day 2013, King reported that MixAntik was selling items that he claimed were coming from Oxyrhynchus. Now, according to Sabar’s report, Professor Obbink seems to have had a good working relationship with MixAntik. Sabar relates a story from Jerry Pattengale (so again, a story from a not-entirely-reliable source) of a visit to MixAntik’s apartment in London arranged by Professor Obbink, who is said to have encouraged the Hobby Lobby team to buy expensive papyrus manuscripts from MixAntik. The alleged connection between this eBay seller and Prof. Obbink does not look great.

But there is more. King reported in that same New Year’s Day post that MixAntik was claiming that some of his papyri were “located” in Michigan. At the time, this claim seemed baffling. King noted that this may have simply been a fabrication, a way of trying to avoid Turkish law enforcement. That could certainly be true. But of all the possible places in the world for a Turkish dealer to choose as a base of operations…Michigan? Seems a little odd.

But it brings to mind the stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri owned by California collector Andrew Stimer. Recall Mr. Stimer’s story of their acquisition:

“I acquired both of the manuscripts in the summer of 2015 from Mr. M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. He bought them the previous year, in April 2014, via a private treaty sale executed by Christie’s London.”

“Mr. M. Elder,” as Candida Moss established, was the business partner in one of Professor Obbink’s other antiquities trading businesses, Castle Folio. And Where is Castle Folio based? Oxford. At the same address as Prof. Obbink’s other business, “Oxford Ancient”:

So, for whatever reason, there does seem to be some kind of link with the antiquities trade in Oxford/London and the greater Detroit metro area. Strange stuff.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink | 5 Comments

The Atlantic Article and Green Collection Cartonnage

I continue to unpack various parts of Ariel Sabar’s informative article in The Atlantic. One of the things that originally piqued the curiosity of many of us about the Green Collection was their seemingly endless supply of “cartonnage,” a term used to describe both mummy casings made of waste papyrus and the waste papyrus that was sometimes use to stiffen the leather covers of ancient books (for the development of the term, see my earlier discussion). The Green Collection seemed to have a wealth of pieces, and Scott Carroll became famous largely by claiming to have extracted New Testament papyri from them. Even though it now seems that Carroll’s claims were just lies, the question of the source of all this “cartonnage” material remains. The Green Collection had both mummy masks and “other” cartonnage.

First the mummy masks. Mike Holmes had previously reported that the Green Collection had eight mummy masks, four of which had been purchased from Professor Obbink. Sabar’s reporting now significantly raises these numbers:

“…It was one of some 20 masks Obbink sold the Greens. A source who has seen the figures told me that on top of the $4 million to $8 million he charged for papyri, the family paid him $1 million to $2 million for a host of other antiquities.”

In addition, the article introduces another fact that may or may not relate to the masks that Professor Obbink allegedly sold to the Green Collection:

“Obbink had once kept hundreds of Oxford’s uncataloged mummy masks in his rooms, as a favor to the university, which was short on storage.”

This last statement raises a couple questions: 1) I wonder if this was the period of time when this sequence of Alamy photos was taken (the credits in the photos say that they were taken in 2005):

Professor Dirk Obbink with mummy masks in 2005; image source: alamy

And 2) Were the masks in Professor Obbink’s care really “Oxford’s uncataloged mummy masks” or were they the property of the Egypt Exploration Society? Note the presence of the characteristic metal boxes used for EES items in the background of these photos. And while we’re on the topic of the background of these photos: The recycling of old wholesale cat food boxes is admirable from an environmental standpoint, but they might not be the best method for storing delicate 2,000 year-old artifacts. And the classification system (“HEADS”) does not seem sufficiently precise for differentiating among the artifacts:

Professor Dirk Obbink with mummy masks in 2005; image source: The Guardian

It is also worth recalling that back in 2014, Scott Carroll stated that Oxford University was one of his sources for acquiring mummy masks.

While these masks constitute one side of the Green Collection’s cartonnage collection, Sabar’s article also offers some insight into the second related but different set of material in their collection–the “other” cartonnage. Among the purchases made by Hobby Lobby were oddly shaped masses of inscribed papyri. These were not parts of mummy casings. Nor do they look like parts of the papyrus pasteboard sometimes used to construct the leather covers of books (see more details about this phenomenon here). They were just randomly shaped wads of inscribed papyrus stuck together. Carroll once aptly classified them as “thingamajigs.”

As Mike Holmes noted in an earlier post, at least some of the Green Collection Sappho fragments that Scott Carroll pretended to remove from a mummy mask actually came from one of these nondescript chunks:

Sabar has uncovered some surprising new information in this regard. It comes, however, from a not-entirely-reliable source, Yakup Eksioglu, a.k.a., MixAntik, the Turkish dealer who is revealed to be the previous owner of the Sappho fragments.

“In a WhatsApp chat this February, Eksioglu told me that he was, indeed, the source for all the Sappho fragments—the 20 small pieces ‘discovered’ at Baylor, and the large sheet with the two new poems. The claim that they had come from cartonnage purchased at a Christie’s auction in 2011 was a ‘fake story,’ he said. When I asked why some of the pieces looked, in photos, like they had been embedded in cartonnage, he suggested that they had been staged: ‘This is a very simple method, you can do it by wetting.'”

As I said, the source is not entirely reliable. But what he says would go a long way toward explaining the bizarre “thingamajigs” Scott Carroll sometimes displayed. There was, for example, the strange cartonnage circle (said to have been bought from a dealer in Istanbul) that very conveniently had the first page of a codex of 1 Samuel right on top:

And then there was the “Demosthenes,” again, right on top of the clump:

If Mr. Eksioglu is being truthful about having manufactured these “cartonnage” clumps himself, then the question arises of where he got the idea to do so (it’s not exactly an intuitive thing to do with ancient manuscripts). And of course there remains the question of where he obtained all these papyri in the first place. Sabar’s article provides some clues there as well, but that is a separate post.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection 1 Samuel, Green Collection Sappho, Mummy cartonnage, P.Sapph. Obbink, Scott Carroll | 3 Comments

Some Additional Thoughts on Sabar’s Atlantic Article

There really is quite a bit to digest in Ariel Sabar’s long piece on Professor Dirk Obbink in The Atlantic. Here are a couple additional interesting selections:

“Though it wasn’t publicly known, Obbink served as more than just an academic consultant to the Greens: Josephine Dru, a former papyrus curator for the Museum of the Bible, told me he was one of their biggest suppliers of papyri. From January 2010 to February 2013, Obbink sold the family more than 150 papyrus fragments—for a total of between $4 million and $8 million, according to a source who has seen the figures and described them to me as a range.” 

It is known that Professor Obbink (legally) sold 9 Oxyrhynchus “Distribution Papyri” to Hobby Lobby in 2010. Professor Obbink is also alleged to be the source of 11 of the 13 stolen Oxyrhynchus items in the Green Collection (the other two stolen pieces are said to have been bought from Khader M. Baidun & Sons/Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel; how Baidun got them remains a mystery). That leaves (at least) some 130 pieces unaccounted for. Which pieces are these? Do they include the Green Collection “mysteries” papyrus? The so-called “unknown Aristotle“? If Prof. Obbink was in fact the source of these other 130+ items, where might these pieces have come from? This is another reason that the Green Collection / Hobby Lobby / Museum of the Bible needs to release the acquisition records for the items they are returning to Egypt so that the wider community of scholars can try to learn more about the networks of dealers behind them.

This leads to another interesting revelation in Sabar’s article:

“On April 10, 2012, three weeks before he parted ways with the University of Michigan, Obbink visited the county clerk in Ann Arbor. He filed paperwork for a new business, listing its principal address as Room 2151 at 435 South State Street—his soon-to-be-former office in the Michigan classics department. The company’s name, he wrote, was Oxford Ancient.”

Oxford Ancient, of course, is the business name on the invoice for the four Oxyrhynchus gospel papyri that Professor Obbink allegedly sold to Hobby Lobby. But the date of 2012 here seems noteworthy. I have to admit that I hadn’t thought that much about the fact that Professor Obbink’s time at the University of Michigan overlapped with his association with Green Collection (Michigan’s website lists Professor Obbink’s period of employment as only including the years 2003-2007). Or that his appointment at Michigan was specifically as Professor of Papyrology, which means that he very likely would have had special access to the extensive collection of unpublished papyri at Michigan.

Office sign for Dirk Obbink’s antiquities company; image source: Grace Watkins, by way of Candida Moss’s Twitter feed

Now, in my experience, the collection at Michigan is one of the most professional, collegial, and best run in the world. You really don’t get any sense of the type of exclusivity and secrecy that created the conditions for the undetected theft of unpublished Oxyrhynchus papyri from the Egypt Exploration Society’s holdings. But the years 2010-2011 would likely not have been quite normal in the papyrology rooms at Hatcher Library. It must have been a particularly difficult period, when the long-time archivist of the collection, Traianos Gagos unexpectedly and tragically died in 2010, leaving the collection without a permanent curator/archivist for a stretch of time.

That Professor Obbink was selling (legally acquired) papyri to the Greens already 2010 means that he was involved in the antiquities trade even before he established his business, Oxford Ancient, in 2012. I wonder if colleagues at Michigan were aware of Professor Obbink’s activities on the antiquities market?

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Aristotle, Green Collection Mysteries Papyrus, Michigan Papyri | 7 Comments

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?

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Romans, Green Collection Sappho, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll | 15 Comments

The Cotton Genesis

I was reminded this week about one of the wonderful early Christian manuscripts that really didn’t get the treatment it deserved in my book God’s Library–the so-called Cotton Genesis. This small parchment codex was part of a collection amassed by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631) and his descendants. Cotton’s library, organized on a series of shelves each with a bust of a different Roman emperor, was moved the Ashburnham House in London in 1730. In a sad twist of fate, a fire destroyed or badly damaged much of the collection just a year later in 1731:

“Among the manuscripts that fared less well in the fire were those shelved under the bust of the emperor Otho. These included the so-called Cotton Genesis (LDAB 3242), a richly illustrated parchment codex containing the book of Genesis in Greek usually thought to have been copied in the late fifth century. It was badly burned and reduced to ‘a charred ruin.'” (God’s Library, 83)

Here is a sample of the “charred ruin”:

“The Cotton Genesis” (British Library, Cotton MS Otho B VI, f. 026v, with illustration depicting Abraham, right, meeting two angels); image source: British Library

The fire seems not only to have burned away large portions of many leaves and discolored the remains, but also caused them to shrink significantly. David Casley, who was deputy librarian at the Ashburnham House at the time of the fire (and who saved the Codex Alexandrinus from the flames) discussed the damage to the Cotton Genesis in a report written in 1734. He noted that it was mostly destroyed and that “the Leaves of what remains, and consequently the Writing in a just proportion, are contracted into less Compass, so that they are now small Capitals.” More on the shrinkage below.

What drew my attention back to this codex this week was stumbling upon a very nice scan of a portrait of Robert Cotton with his hand on the open Genesis codex. The engraving was produced for the Vetusta Monumenta by the Society of Antiquaries of London. It was published in 1747, but the engraving itself is dated (1744). It is based on an oil painting that appears to have been produced in 1626, well before the codex was burned.

Engraving of Robert Cotton with the Cotton Genesis (1744); image source: Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments: A Digital Edition

I knew of the existence of the oil painting and the engraving, which have been reproduced in connection with studies of the Cotton Genesis, but I had never seen a really good high resolution scan of either image before. I didn’t appreciate how detailed the engraving is. You can actually see the codex and its script quite clearly in the image:

Detail of Engraving of Robert Cotton with the Cotton Genesis (1744); image source: Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments: A Digital Edition

But is the picture accurate? The Genesis codex had been collated and its variant readings recorded by John Ernest Grabe (1666-1711) in 1703 before the fire. At that time, the codex consisted of 166 parchment folia and a flyleaf bound (during Cotton’s lifetime) in a red leather cover with Cotton’s coat of arms. The text contained 250 illustrations. Already at that time several pages of the original codex were missing. There are no recorded measurements of the codex from that period of which I am aware, but in 1784 Thomas Astle printed a pseudo-facsimile of the text that gives a sense of the typical line length.

Pseudo-facsimile of the writing of the Cotton Genesis; image source: Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing 1784, plate III, following p. 70

According to Astle, “the specimen here given, was made while the writing was in its original state, and before the parchment was contracted by the fire” (p. 70). But, as far as I can tell, no one seems to know how Astle got hold of this “specimen” fifty years after the fire.

Nevertheless, using this and other surviving data, Weitzmann and Kessler calculated that the original page size was about 33 cm high by 25 cm wide, a fairly large codex that was quite a bit taller than it was wide. Thus it seems that (unless Cotton had exceptionally large hands) the codex in the engraving is not depicted to scale (and the proportions also seem off). Strangely, the reconstructed pages drawn for Weitzmann and Kessler’s edition do not reflect the proportions that they themselves calculated. Rather, they seem to be scaled down to the current (shrunken) size of the fragments. Their drawings thus leave the impression of a more square-ish appearance than the codex seems to have actually had before it was burned.

How exactly the codex came to England is also something of a mystery. The manuscript is generally believed to have been in Venice from the first half of the thirteenth century through the end of the fourteenth century. It is argued that the illustrations in the codex served as models for the mosaics in the atrium of the Basilica di San Marco and for the illustrations in the Histoire Universelle (Vienna Nationalbibliothek, cod. 2576). Its arrival in England can be located at some point before 1575, the date of the death of Thomas Wakefeld [Wakefield], the first Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, whose signature was on the last leaf of the codex. How Wakefeld came into possession of the codex is not known, but a 2002 article by James Carley makes a good case that he probably received it from his brother, Robert Wakefeld, a fellow orientalist and also a known collector of ancient manuscripts. If that is true, it would push the date of the manuscript’s arrival in England back to 1537, the date of Robert’s death. Carley also offers plausible suggestions of how the codex might have come from Venice to Robert Wakefeld (either through the agency of either Richard Pace (c.1482-1536) or Reginald Pole, both associates of Robert Wakefeld known to have visited Venice and been in positions to acquire a book of the quality of the Cotton Genesis. But how the codex came to Venice in the first place is not known. Definitely still some mysteries here.

Further reading:

Carley, James. “Thomas Wakefield, Robert Wakefield, and the Cotton Genesis.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 12 (2002), pp. 246-265.

van der Meer, Gay. “Sir Robert Bruce Cotton and his Illuminated Genesis Manuscript.” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (NKJ) / Netherlands Yearbook for History of
16 (1965), pp. 3-15.

Weitzmann, Kurt and Herbert L. Kessler. The Cotton Genesis: British Library Codex Cotton Otho B. VI. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Posted in Codices, Codicology, Cotton Genesis | 2 Comments

Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 3: Is Cave 1 Really Cave 1?

This is the third in a series of questions relating to the source of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls to appear on the market in 1947. The first post dealt with the Genesis Apocryphon, and the second with the Thanksgiving Scroll.

Now I move on to some questions about the cave itself. The cave we call “Cave 1” is generally regarded as the find spot of the first seven scrolls that showed up on the market in 1947, which we have been discussing:

Rule of the Community (1QS)
The Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab)
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)
The Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHa)
The War Scroll (1QM)
A second copy of Isaiah (1QIsab)
The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen)

What do we know about this cave? It is thought to have been “visited” on several occasions before being excavated by professional archaeologists. Here is an extract from John C. Trever’s outline of events relating to the discovery of the scrolls, The Untold Story of Qumran (1965), pp. 173-180:

1946, November – December (or possibly January – February 1947)Ta’amireh Bedouins (Muhammed edh-Dhib, Jum’a Muhammed and Khalil Musa) happen upon Cave I near Khirbet Qumran and discover three manuscripts in a covered jar. They remove these and two complete jars.
1947, May or JuneTa’amireh Bedouins take [George] Isha’ya to cave. Later [when? — BN] Isha’ya and Khalil Musa secure four more scrolls, three of which they sell to Faidi Salahi, another Bethlehem antiquities dealer. The fourth scroll is kept by Kando.
1947, AugustIsha’ya takes Father Yusif from Syrian Monastery to visit Cave I.
1948, August(?)Apparently during second truce [during the Arab-Jewish conflict] Isha’ya visits cave again and secures Daniel and Prayer Scroll fragments and a few others, which are turned over to St. Mark’s.
1948, NovemberIsha’ya, Kando, and others “excavate” cave and secure many more fragments
1949, JanuaryDr. O.R. Sellers and Yusif Saad seek to locate cave. Isha’ya demands payment, and negotiations cease.
1949, January 24Captain Philippe Lippens elicits aid from Arab Legion to relocate cave.
1949, January 28Captain Akkash el-Zebn rediscovers cave near Khirbet Qumran
1949, February 15 – March 5Cave I (1Q) excavated. Fragments of about seventy scrolls recovered, and pieces of fifty pottery jars and covers.

So, the cave that was excavated by de Vaux and G. L. Harding in February-March 1949 was said to have been “rediscovered” after several visits by looters (and apparently “rediscovered” without the aid of any of the previous visitors). Here is how Harding summed up matters in the first volume of DJD:

“Then a Belgian observer on the United Nations staff, Captain Lippens, who had become interested in the story of the find, raised the question with Major-General Lash of the Arab Legion. Lash offered, …to send a small contingent of men to the area where the cave was believed to be located in order to try to rediscover it. This was done at the end of January 1949, and the cave was actually found by Captain Akkash el Zebn after only two or three days’ search. The discovery was duly reported back to headquarters, and I went down to examine the place. At first I was sceptical whether it could really be the right cave, but the presence of many potsherds and fragments of linen showed that it had at least been occupied and must be investigated. Accordingly on 15 February the Jordan Department of Antiquities in collaboration with the École Biblique et Archéologique Française and the Palestine Archaeological Museum started work there and continued until 5 March 1949.”

Harding was satisfied that they were in the right place by the evidence of occupation. His supposition seemed to be confirmed by the discovery of two small bits of the War Scroll (1Q33) among the fragments in the cave. And yet, the cave was very clearly a contaminated context, as Millar Burrows vividly describes in his account of the excavation in The Dead Sea Scrolls (1955, p. 34):

“Much recent evidence of depredation was found also. Mixed up with the ancient debris were found exasperating remains of the disastrous efforts of the treasure-hunters the previous winter. There were bits of modern cloth, scraps of newspapers, cigarette stubs, and even a cigarette roller bearing the name of one of the illegal excavators, which Mr. Harding returned to its owner.”

I truly love that detail about the returned the cigarette roller. But I am less happy from an archaeological standpoint. The fact that the site was so very contaminated decreases the value of 1Q33 as a connection to the find spot of the War Scroll. Harding’s quotation above certainly makes it sound like the excavators were looking for a single, isolated cave that had housed manuscripts, and they were happy when they found one fitting that description. But as we can tell with the benefit of hindsight, there were actually many caves in the region that held manuscripts (and jars and textiles, etc.). So, what was the potential for other depositions in the immediate vicinity of “Cave 1”?

Looking at a typical map of the Qumran caves, the obvious answer would be “Cave 2”:

Map of Qumran region adapted from Philip R. Davies, George J. Brooke, Phillip R. Callaway, The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Thames & Hudson, 2002)

Cave 1 and Cave 2 really are quite near one another:

Qumran Caves 1 and 2; image courtesy of Qumranarchive © Alexander Schick, Sylt /

So, now comes my first question. When we read about Cave 2 in the traditional story of the scrolls, it is described as not being “discovered” until February of 1952–e.g. in Trever’s timeline: “1952, February: Ta’amireh Bedouins discover Qumran Cave II (2Q) close by 1Q.”

First question: February 1952 is when archaeologists first learned of Cave 2, but is there any actual evidence for the date when looters found it? Might it have been before February 1952?

When archaeologists did arrive at Cave 2, it was thoroughly picked over. In the words of one of the excavators, “signs of illicit digging were very much in evidence” (William L. Reed, “The Qumrân Caves Expedition of March, 1952,” BASOR 135 [Oct. 1954]). In his discussion of the excavation, de Vaux put matters more starkly: “The cave had been entirely emptied” by clandestine diggers (DJD 3, p. 9). Elsewhere (Revue Biblique 60, 1953, p. 553), de Vaux mentions two small manuscripts found in the spoils left behind by the looters.

Second question: Is it right to say that only two of the texts that we call “2Q” can actually be archaeologically connected to the cave we call “Cave 2”? And what are these two?

It seems at least possible that “Cave 2” materials could have been confused with “Cave 1” materials at some stage on their travels through the antiquities market. And to judge from the results of the survey of caves undertaken in 1952, there were at least a few other places in the neighborhood of Cave 1 that could have been sources for “Cave 1” materials. There are several other areas in the vicinity of Cave 1 that de Vaux identified as having been “utilized by the community at Qumran” (Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls). These sites are highlighted in red in the map below.

Adapted from Roland de Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (British Academy, 1973)

In DJD 3, de Vaux noted the types of finds in these areas, which include “Qumran” style ceramics. So it appears again that Cave 1 is not the only possible source of some of the well preserved scrolls generally associated with that cave. And there is some further confusion in the early stories.

It is well known that Muhammad ed-Dhib changed his story about the date of the discovery. After relating to Harding and others in 1949 that he had found the first scrolls in 1947, in a later interview (conducted in 1956) Muhammad ed-Dhib claimed he found the scrolls in 1945. Once again Trever sifted the relevant evidence in an article and confirmed the date of discovery as spring 1947.

John C. Trever, “When was Qumrân Cave I Discovered,” Revue de Qumrân 3 (1961), 135-141

It seems to be less frequently noted that in the 1956 interview Muhammad ed-Dhib also identified a different place of discovery. As Trever pointed out in the article on multiple occasions: “His description of the entrance to the cave is clearly not that of Qumrân Cave I…Again he is not describing Cave I.” Trever was referring to the fact that Muhammad ed-Dhib’s account did not at all match the “Cave 1” excavated by archaeologists in February and March of 1949, with its distinctive rock formations and openings. Could Muhammad ed-Dhib have misremembered? Trever mentions a conversation he had with de Vaux:

“On May 15, 1958 I discussed the matter with Father R. de Vaux at the École Biblique in Jerusalem, and he told of sitting with adh-Dhib on a large rock within a few feet of the entrance to Cave I and listening to his account of the discovery…”

Sidenote: I wonder if this was the occasion of this photograph of Muhammad ed-Dhib at “Cave 1”:

Alleged discoverers of the first Dead Sea Scrolls at the entrance to “Cave 1”; image source, Gary & Stephanie Loveless Present: Dead Sea Scrolls & The Bible: Ancient Artifacts Timeless Treasures (Southwestern /baptist Theological Seminary 2012)

What are we to make of the messy state of the archaeological evidence and these conflicting stories? In response to the suggestion by Weston Fields that some of the scrolls normally associated with Cave 1 might have been found elsewhere, the authors of a recent thorough and informative treatment of the assemblage from Cave 1 (Joan E. Taylor, Dennis Mizzi, and Marcello Fidanzio) dismissed the idea in a footnote:

“While Fields (2009) has done an excellent job in documenting the evidence, his final conclusions that there may have been scrolls from a different cave that has been confused with Cave 1Q seems unnecessary to us, and creates complexity as a result of affording weight to less reliable anecdotes.”

Unreliable anecdotes are one thing. But the seemingly widespread archaeological contamination at the relevant sites is not so easily brushed aside. When it comes to the first seven scrolls, we are dealing with looted materials, and as a result, unreliable anecdotes are all we have. That and a couple scraps of the War Scroll that were found in a thoroughly disturbed site in close proximity to several other sites that were occupied at the same time, potentially by the same groups of people.

So, third and final question (for today): On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident should we be that all seven of the scrolls on the market in 1947 came from the cave that we now call “Cave 1”?

Posted in Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls, Find Stories | 10 Comments

Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 2: The Thanksgiving Scrolls

I continue to pose a set of questions about the materials said to have been found in Qumran Cave 1. In the first post, I discussed the ambiguous status of the Genesis Apocryphon roll. This post will turn to 1QHa, the Thanksgiving Scroll.

Image source: E. L. Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem: Magness Press, 1955), fig. 15

The question here is more straightforward. I mentioned in the last post, that it was my understanding that the War Scroll (1QM) was the only one of the first seven scrolls on the market in 1947 that was also represented among the fragments that excavators actually found in situ in Cave 1 (in the form of 1Q33). Yet, in his thorough account of the early years of Scrolls research (The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History, 2009), Weston Fields on a couple of occasions states that portions of the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHa) were also found by excavators during the 1949 campaign:

p. 103: “It is true that fragments found by Harding and de Vaux in Cave 1 connected the War Scroll and the Thanksgiving Scroll to that cave.”

p. 111: “The official excavation found fragments from Sukenik’s scrolls only. These were fragments of the War Scroll (1QM) and the Thanksgiving Scroll I (1QH). This means that the official Cave 1 was connected archaeologically to Sukenik’s scrolls, but not to Metropolitan Samuel’s.”

p. 113: “…there is no official archaeological evidence connecting Isaiaha, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Manual of Discipline, the Genesis Apocryphon, and Isaiahb with the “Cave 1″ excavated by Harding and de Vaux.65

Endnote 65 offers some clarification:

“65. Even the two fragments of the Thanksgiving Scroll do not contain sufficient text to make a conclusive paleographic analysis of the connection between them and larger parts of the scroll. One must also allow for the possibility that the same scribe could have written parts of two scrolls which ended up in two different caves. On the other hand, as Sukenik points out, two scribes wrote the scroll. The second scribe began on line 22 of column 11. (See Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University, pp. 18, 38-40 and figures 29 and 30)”

The reference to Sukenik is informative. At the time Sukenik’s edition of the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHa) was published in 1954-1955, it was commonly believed that 1Q35 was a part of 1QHa, as the plates in Sukenik’s edition indicate:

Image source: E. L. Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem: Magness Press, 1955), fig. 30

But to the best of my understanding, this identification was rejected already in the early 1960s, which gave rise to the typical distinction between Sukenik’s large scroll (1QHa) and the excavated pieces designated 1Q35 (1QHb). And I don’t think there is any question here of scribal identity between either of the copyists of 1QHa and the copyist of 1QHb.

So my questions for today are: Has anyone since the early 1960s seriously believed that 1Q35 was a part of Sukenik’s Hodayot scroll? And if not, why was Fields, in 2009, presenting this view as if it was the scholarly consensus?

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dead Sea Scrolls | 5 Comments

An Update on the Case of the Stolen Oxyrhynchus Papyri

H/T Roberta Mazza: According to this article in The Oxford Blue, “Christ Church professor Dirk Obbink was arrested on 2nd March 2020 for alleged theft of ancient papyrus from the Sackler Classics Library in Oxford.” Further on, the article quotes Thames Valley Police: “A 63-year-old man from Oxford was arrested on 2 March on suspicion of theft and fraud. He has been released under investigation.”

[[Update 18 April 2020: The original story has been removed and replaced.]]

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 10 Comments

Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 1: The Genesis Apocryphon Roll

One of the many events called off in the general shut down of activities last month was a meeting at the University of Agder associated with The Lying Pen of Scribes project, On the Origin of the Pieces: The Provenance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was scheduled to present a paper called “From the Outside, Looking In: Some Questions from a Novice Regarding the Contents of Qumran Cave 1.” I had been looking forward to having the experts answer some of my (potentially silly) questions about the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls to appear on the market. But since I couldn’t do it in that forum, I’ll pose my questions here over a couple posts.

My questions concern some of the most famous of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, the seven scrolls that were the first to appear on the antiquities market in 1947:

Rule of the Community (1QS)
The Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab)
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)
The Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHa)
The War Scroll (1QM)
A second copy of Isaiah (1QIsab)
The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen)

These pieces are regularly described as coming from “Cave 1,” a cave first identified and excavated in early 1949 by Father Roland de Vaux, director of the École Biblique in Jerusalem, at the request of Gerald Lankester Harding, director of the Antiquities Department of Jordan.

My overarching question is: How many of the manuscripts can actually be archaeologically connected to the the space now known as Qumran Cave 1? As best I can tell from the literature, the excavators of Cave 1 found portions of only one of these manuscripts, the War Scroll, in the cave (1Q33).

If I understand the scholarship correctly, none of the other six manuscripts have a physical link to the materials actually excavated by archaeologists. This raises the question of which of these manuscripts travelled together on the antiquities market? (Potentially, though not necessarily, manuscripts that circulated with the War Scroll could also have a connection to the same find spot.)

The War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Hymns, and 1QIsab were bought by Eleazar Sukenik in November and December of 1947. The Community Rule, the Habakkuk Pesher, the Great Isaiah Scroll, and the Genesis Apocryphon were sold in July of 1947 to Mar Samuel of St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Monastery. So, there appear to be two groups of scrolls. But there seems to be some question regarding to which of these two groups the Genesis Apocryphon belongs. Mar Samuel acquired it, but it is sometimes said to have been associated with the other group of scrolls on the market.

Genesis Apocryphon before unrolling; image source: Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, Treasure of Qumran: My Story of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hodder and Stoughton, 1968), p. 165

The most thorough treatment of the assemblage from Cave 1 is a really rich and informative article by Joan E. Taylor, Dennis Mizzi, and Marcello Fidanzio. Regarding these two groups of manuscripts, the authors write (p. 301):

“At the same time, the Bedouin famously removed and sold on two lots of manuscripts, well preserved in jars they opened: the first one being the great Isaiah Scroll, the Pesher Habakkuk, and the Community Rule/Serekh ha-Yaḥad (1QIsaa, 1QpHab, and 1QS), and the second lot being the Genesis Apocryphon, the Rule of the Congregation, the second Isaiah Scroll, and the Hodayot Scroll (1QapGen ar, 1QSa, 1QIsab, and 1QHa) (see Fields 2009, 23-113).”

[[Sidenote: I’m a little confused by the absence of the War Scroll (1QM) from their list and the presence of the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa). I think this must be an error?]] So, the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) is grouped with the Sukenik rolls rather than the other scrolls with which it was sold to Mar Samuel. The sources cited for this information are the first two chapters of Weston Fields, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History: Volume One, 1947-1960 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009).

Fields mentions this division of manuscripts on several occasions. Unless I miss something, the only time he cites an actual source is on p. 29:

“In the meantime, probably May-June 1947, Jum’a [that is, Jum’a Muhammed Khalil, one of the initial looters of the first scrolls] returned to the cave (or perhaps another cave, a question we take up later) with George [Isha’ya Shamoun, a Syrian orthodox Christian], and removed four more scrolls. Three of these they sold to Faidi Salahi, the Bethlehem antiquities dealer who had seen the first three. Three of these latter four were later bought by Professor Sukenik: the second Isaiah Scroll (Isaiahb), the War Scroll, and the Thanksgiving Scroll.41 The fourth was kept by Kando (Genesis Apocryphon, an Aramaic work in which the major characters of Genesis retell their own stories in the first person).42 It should be noted, therefore, that the Genesis Apocryphon belonged to the second set originally; it was acquired only later by the Metropolitan Samuel from Kando, and became associated with the first set (Isaiaha, the Manual of Discipline, and the Habakkuk Commentary) from the time they were shown to [John C.] Trever onward.”

The relevant endnotes would seem to be 41 and 42:

“41. Known from the beginning as ‘Thanksgivings,” plural or Hebrew Hodayot(h). I have chosen to use ‘Thanksgiving,’ in the collective sense of a scroll characterized by songs of thanks.
42. William Brownlee, ‘Foreword,’ in A. Y. Samuel, Treasure of Qumran, 12.

The first note is not helpful. The second at least provides a lead. But, if we check p. 12 of the “Foreword” to Mar Samuel’s Treasure of Qumran, we find no mention at all of the discovery or purchase of the Genesis Apocryphon. When Mar Samuel himself writes about his major purchase later in the book, there is no indication of a different origin for the Genesis Apocryphon. So, what is the source for this grouping?

The answer seems to be found in John C. Trever’s book, The Untold Story of Qumran (1965). Trever had access to interviews with the alleged finders and the sellers of the scrolls conducted in the early 1960s. These interviews allowed him to reconstruct the events in this way (p. 106):

“In the meantime [between April and July 1947], having been urged by Metropolitan Samuel and Kando, Isha’ya persuaded the Bedouins, Jum’a and Khalil Musa, to take him to the cave. According to Jum’a (see Appendix I), the three of them went together in a taxi from Jerusalem to the point where the Dead Sea road branches from the Jericho road. From there they hiked for an hour to reach the cave. Nothing seems to have been taken from the cave on that visit, but Jum’a said that before they left Isha’ya made a cairn of rocks to mark the site. Some weeks later Jum’a met Isha’ya and Khalil Musa in the Bethlehem market place, and they were carrying two more scrolls from the same cave. Khalil Musa, when interviewed independently,27 agreed that he went a second time to the cave with Isha’ya but asserted that they secured four scrolls from under the debris on the floor of the cave at that time.28

These four scrolls were taken to Kando, who has confirmed the fact that four scrolls were brought to him by Isha’ya and Khalil before any scrolls had been sold to St. Mark’s.29 Kando kept only one of this group, however, as payment for the advance he had made to Isha’ya on expenses for the two trips to the cave.30 Khalil Musa and Jum’a wanted to keep the other scrolls since, as Kando put it, ‘they were partners’ in the deal. It seems likely that the scroll which Kando secured at that time (probably in May or June 1947) was the Syrians’ ‘Fourth Scroll,’ now called the Genesis Apocryphon’ (1QApoc).31

The story seems fairly straightforward. In the footnotes, however, we get the actual (somewhat messy) data: p. 196, note 28: “Although in the interviews of November 24-25, 1961, Jum’a indicated that this [his trip back to the cave with Isha’ya] and a subsequent visit to the cave took place after the sale of the first scrolls to St. Mark’s Monastery (i.e. after July 19, 1947),” which would mean the Genesis Apocryphon would belong to the first group of scrolls Jum’a brought to Kando (1QS, 1QpHab, and 1QIsaa). In addition (p. 197, note 31), Kando, when presented with a photograph of the Genesis Apocryphon roll, “was quite certain that it was one of the scrolls which he delivered to Metropolitan Samuel. He seemed to think, however, that it was one of the scrolls that Jum’a had brought on his first visit.” Again, a primary figure in the story associates the Genesis Apocryphon with the first set of scrolls. Trever ably explains away these statements in light of other interviews and a later, revised statement by Jum’a.

What can we say at the end of the day? If Trever’s reconstruction is right, then, in addition to the second Isaiah Scroll (1QIsab), and the Hodayot scroll (1QHa), the Genesis Apocryphon might also have been found along with the War Scroll (1QM), which is archaeologically connected to Cave 1. But it seems to me worthwhile to note just how delicate this whole reconstruction is.

So, my question is: Am I missing any crucial evidence here?

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls, Find Stories | 9 Comments

Statement on the So-Called Dead Sea Scrolls of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

A couple days ago, Christianity Today reported that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is closing what it calls “the nation’s leading evangelical archaeology program.” At the same time, the Seminary itself issued a statement explaining the shuttering of the program, but the bulk of that statement focused on the fate of the Seminary’s supposed “Dead Sea Scrolls,” which the Seminary (along with most scholars) now suspects are fakes:

“The current administration’s lack of confidence in the fragments’ authenticity has been confirmed by an October 2018 report prepared for the seminary’s Board of Trustees by faculty associated with studying the collection. That report, which was recently provided to the current administration, found that by as early as 2016, some seminary faculty had become convinced at least some of the fragments were possible forgeries. More recently, the independent investigation of the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls collection concluded its fragments were not authentic, which gives us even less confidence in our collection since they share a similar provenance to the MOTB collection. We would welcome an independent investigation of the seminary’s fragments, although the institution is unable to fund such an effort.” 

The statement notes that the fragments were purchased by “the prior administration” and that “significant institutional resources were expended on the acquisition and promotion of the likely fraudulent fragments.” The prior administration was headed by former Seminary president Paige Patterson, depicted below (with his wife Dorothy) (and their dog) in a stained glass window (recently removed from the Seminary).

Stained glass depiction of Paige and Dorothy Patterson; image source: Fort Worth Weekly

Where did the Pattersons acquire these fake fragments? There is a rather detailed account of the acquisition of many of these fragments by the Pattersons and a group of wealthy donors in a short book written by Armour Patterson, the son of the former Seminary president (some of the story is summarized here). Årstein Justnes has quoted several telling passages in a recent publication (available open-access here).

According to the younger Patterson’s book, the seller of the fragments was William Kando, son of the more famous Kando, Khalil Iskander Shahin, the dealer through whom many of the real Dead Sea Scrolls were purchased. The younger Kando, however, seems to be the ultimate source of many of the fake scrolls currently in circulation. But as was frequently the case with the sales of these fragments, academic authenticators were involved at an early stage. According to Patterson:

“On the evening of July 4, 2009, the Pattersons, their small tour group, and SWBTS archaeologist Steve Ortiz met at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem with Dead Sea Scrolls specialists, Hanan and Esti Eshel. There they compared the lists of fragments and photographs given to Dorothy by William Kando with the list in the hands of the archaeologists in Jerusalem. The list in the hands of the Eshels matched perfectly the list the Pattersons had been provided by William Kando, a crucial first step in authenticating the fragments. Weston W. Fields also verified the affirmation of the Pattersons that the Kando family could have genuine fragments and that they were trustworthy.”

Thus, the Eshels (Bar-Ilan University) and Weston Fields (executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, which funded the publication of recent volumes of the DJD series) seem to have been involved in “authenticating the fragments” that other scholars would come to regard as forgeries.

As Justnes has pointed out, the Seminary’s collection contains perhaps the most brazen of the forged fragments, a piece that was seemingly tailor-made for an American evangelical Christian buyer. It is a single tiny fragment that, remarkably, is said to contain parts of two (non-continuous) chapters of Leviticus that both happen to be highly important to conservative American evangelical identity politics, Leviticus 20 and Leviticus 18, which both treat the topic of sexual relations (the fragment is number 17 in the list maintained by The Lying Pen of Scribes project).

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary “Leviticus” Fragment; image source: Gary & Stephanie Loveless Present Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible. Ancient Artefacts, Timeless Treasures: Exhibition Catalogue (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012), p. 86

According to a 2012 report in The Houston Chronicle, this particular fragment cost at least a half-million dollars.

The topic of prices brings us back to another important feature of the Seminary’s announcement, the possibility of legal action against the dealer:

“We are contemplating legal remedies to seek restitution of payments made by the seminary, as authorized by the prior administration.”

As far as I know, this is the first public suggestion that any of the purchasers of fake Dead Sea Scrolls might seek redress in the courts. At first, I was surprised that we haven’t seen more of this, but upon reflection, I think I can see the reasons. In the case of the Green family and Hobby Lobby, a lack of legal action might be understandable. They presumably already regained all the money they spent on the fake fragments along with a hefty profit (at the expense of American taxpayers) by donating the items the the Museum of the Bible and claiming a deduction for charitable giving. In the case of the Seminary (and presumably also Azusa Pacific University), the purchases seem to have been made without the extra step of donation (although I am unsure about this). But if any of these other buyers do take legal actions that make it to trial, we may get more insights into the inner workings of the antiquities market and the trade and production of forgeries.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dead Sea Scrolls, Fakes and Forgeries, William Kando | 4 Comments