Recently Emerged Papyri of Dubious Origins: A Working List

In recent days, the Egypt Exploration Society has disclosed that 11 manuscripts from their Oxyrhynchus collection were allegedly illegally sold by Professor Dirk Obbink to the Hobby Lobby organization. Two further fragments of pieces from the Oxyrhynchus collection have surfaced in a different American collection. I’ve been quoted in several news outlets as saying that we don’t yet know the scope of this problem. What I mean by this is that in the decade since Professor Obbink first connected with the Scott Carroll and the Green family’s Hobby Lobby organization, ancient manuscripts of surprising quantity and quality have appeared on the antiquities market. Many of these pieces appeared with no provenance information or with very problematic or dubious provenance stories. I began to compile this list some time ago, taking inspiration from the very useful collection of data on post-2002 “Dead Sea Scrolls” at the blog of the Lying Pen of Scribes project and a list of known Green Collection manuscripts posted to Twitter by David Bradnick. In light of recent developments, it seems like a good idea to make this list “live” now, even in an incomplete state. I’m focusing here on literary manuscripts in Greek and Latin that have shown up since about 2010. I’m starting with some classical papyri (this is not just a “Bible” thing; this mess affects you too, classicists) and early Christian pieces that did not appear on the list of items already known to have been stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society, which can be found here.

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Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Greek Genesis, Green Collection Sappho, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, P.Sapph. Obbink, Passages Speakers Series, Scott Carroll, Van Kampen Collection | 34 Comments

Harold Maker: An Ideal Provenance Distraction

Earlier today, the Institute for New Testament Textual Research published provenance information for two papyrus fragments that are connected to pieces known to have been stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The provenance information was supplied by Andrew Stimer, who is currently in possession of the fragments, and according to this provenance story, the papyrus fragments ultimately go back to a figure named Harold Maker. To be clear, I think the connection to Harold Maker is false. These pieces almost certainly were stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society within the last few years.

So Harold Maker is in all likelihood a distraction. But he’s at least a colorful distraction. In a manner very similar to the way that Professor Dirk Obbink provided “the Robinson Papyri” (a somewhat murky collection established in the 1950s in the USA) as the source of the infamous Sappho papyrus, now the story provided by Mr. Stimer leads us back to another poorly documented collection from mid-twentieth-century America. And it’s interesting that the first time I came across the name Harold Maker was when I was reading a book chapter written by none other than Scott Carroll.

Now, let me tell you a little story.

Scott Carroll has provided a written account of the building of the Van Kampen Collection of books and manuscripts, a task he carried out before he helped to build the Green Collection. Carroll offered up the following brief anecdote in the course of a somewhat confused discussion of Coptic manuscripts he had acquired on behalf of the Van Kampen Collection from a “London dealer”:

“The only clue regarding the manuscripts’ immediate provenance was a lone letter-sized envelope holding a small fragment with the following printed as a return address: Harold H. Von Maker, Stone Eagles, Montclair, NJ. I have asked the London dealer repeatedly about where he had acquired them, but he never revealed his source.” (Scott Carroll, “Biblical Treasures in Private Holdings: The Van Kampen Collection,” pp. 235-293 in John D. Wineland, The Light of Discovery: Studies in Honor of Edwin M. Yamauchi, Pickwick, 2007)

Now, Stone Eagles is an impressive historic home in Montclair. And who is Harold H. Von Maker? There is a Harold Maker of Irvington, New Jersey (about a 20-minute drive from Stone Eagles) who is sometimes mentioned as a collector and dealer of rare books and manuscripts in the 1950s and early 1960s. For instance, the name shows up in the records of Yale’s Beinecke Library as the source of a 15th century Italian manuscript and in the records of the New York State Library as a previous owner of a set of dismembered pages of rare books. The American manuscript collector John M. Lawrence has described this Harold Maker as “legendary and almost mythical.” And, indeed, I find very little online about him. But what about that “Von”? Now things get interesting. There is a figure who shows up in property law textbooks in relation to the case of Porter vs. Wertz (Court of Appeals, State of New York, 3 March 1981). The case centers on a certain Harold Von Maker (a.k.a. Harold Maker, a.k.a. Peter Wertz) who sold a valuable painting he didn’t actually own (sounds like a vaguely familiar scenario. . .).

An FBI agent involved in the arrest of Harold Von Maker wrote a book that includes a full chapter on the Von Maker episode. After his retirement from the FBI in 1994, Thomas McShane became a lawyer and in 2006 published Stolen Masterpiece Tracker, an autobiographical account of his days as an FBI investigator of art crimes. The prose of the book is almost a parody of mid-20th century TV detective talk (“the bad guy had a .357 Magnum with a massive slug that could blow the gams clear off a bony French chick with a single shot”–an actual quote from the book). Nevertheless, McShane’s account of Von Maker is a fascinating tale of fraud and deception in the art world. McShane first encountered Von Maker in the latter’s alias of Prince Harold von Hohenloe, but he also seems to have been known at different times as Dr. Harold J. Maker, Peter Wertz, and David Patterson. Here is McShane’s description of Von Maker:

“The 5-foot-9-inch, balding, pudgy, 42-year-old grifter leased various mansions, which he resided in for only a few months, rarely paying the high rent. Sometimes, he’d do nothing more than gain temporary access to one under the guise of buying it, and would hang around just long enough to have someone photograph him on the grounds. To complete the picture, he usually wore a royal blue jacket with an Ivy League family crest stitched on it. He’d then show prospective marks the photos to support his claims of wealth and power. It didn’t take long to discover his real name, the equally impressive sounding Harold von Maker. Instead of a castle in Austria, however, the 42-year-old hailed from the decidedly unimpressive city of Newark, New Jersey.”

Using these luxury homes as a way of establishing his financial credentials, Von Maker ran a business called Antique Investors, Inc. that specialized in the market for high-end art. But all was not as it seemed. Here again is McShane’s description:

“He had acquired art catalogues from the major auction houses and galleries, and went down the list of great masterpieces for sale around the country. He then contacted the sales agents, gave them his celebrity spiel and nifty address, and somehow convinced a few of them to send him the paintings on consignment in return for full payment within 30 days. Once he gained possession of a valuable painting, he used it in various ways, often as the centerpiece to pawn dozens of fakes he had in inventory. In this sense, he was ‘art kiting,’ stealing the concept of ‘check kiting’ which follows one good check with dozens of bad ones.”

Eventually, the FBI ran a sting operation that resulted in the arrest of Von Maker and the seizure of his inventory.

Image source: Thomas McShane, Stolen Masterpiece Tracker (Barricade Books, 2006)

Von Maker, however, posted bail, fled, and was never seen again. What caught my attention in the story of Von Maker’s arrest and the confiscation of his assets was this statement by McShane:

“We took everything I thought was good, and left the obvious junk fakes. We had to summon a truck to haul them out of there. Among the ‘treasures’ I did take was an ancient Bible manuscript that turned out to be phony. Von Maker was probably marketing it as being written in God’s own hand.”

Obviously, it would be nice to know more about this fake biblical manuscript. I tried to contact McShane a little over a year ago at an e-mail address I found online, but I never got a response.

If I understand McShane’s chronology correctly, Von Maker was 42 years old in 1973. So he would have been in his 20s in the 1950s. Is he the same Harold Maker whose name pops up in the Beinecke records and elsewhere? It seems plausible (it would be quite a coincidence to have two people called Harold Maker selling rare books and manuscripts). The New Jersey connection strengthens the probability (I note that the house in the background of the photo above closely resembles Stone Eagles in Montclair).

Earlier this year, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to review the FBI records for Harold Von Maker. The request was denied. I appealed to the Department of Justice, but they’re otherwise occupied at the moment.

But, to bring it back to Scott Carroll: Some of Von Maker’s wares made their way into the Van Kampen Collection. And according to Mr. Stimer’s provenance statement released today, he has “another manuscript in [his] collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.” It would be interesting to learn more about these manuscripts and how they made their way into the Van Kampen and Stimer collections.

Fortunately, the papyrologist Graham Claytor has been looking into the Von Maker collection (which did in fact include papyri), so more light will be shed on Mr. Von Maker, an intriguing figure (and, for the purposes of these Oxyrhynchus fragments, an ideal distraction).

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Harold von Maker, Scott Carroll | 4 Comments

Additional Papyri Stolen from the Oxyrhynchus Collection

Greg Paulson of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, INTF) has just posted a note further explaining the connection between Oxyrhynchus papyri illegally sold by Dirk Obbink to Hobby Lobby and additional fragments in a collection in California. In particular, he confirms what many of us suspected, that Andrew Stimer is the owner of the “other” portions of fragments of Romans and 1 Corinthians that were among the pieces sold to Hobby Lobby by Dirk Obbink.

What is new here is the incredible provenance story that Mr. Stimer has supplied to the INTF. I reproduce it here in its entirety:

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Posted in Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 9 Comments

How Many Oxyrhynchus Papyri Have Been Sold?

Now that the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has found that Oxford Professor Dirk Obbink has clandestinely sold papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection to Hobby Lobby, several questions arise. It will take a while to process this. But let’s make a start. Here is a brief excerpt from the longer announcement made earlier today the EES:

“With the help of photographs provided by the MOTB [Museum of the Bible], the EES has so far identified thirteen texts from its collection, twelve on papyrus and one on parchment, all with biblical or related content, which are currently held by the MOTB (see the attached list). These texts were taken without authorisation from the EES, and in most of the thirteen cases the catalogue card and photograph are also missing. Fortunately, the EES has back-up records which enable us to identify missing unpublished texts…The MOTB has informed the EES that 11 of these pieces came into its care after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor Obbink.”

There is so much to unpack here. The sale of the manuscripts and the attempt to cover it up by removing records is almost unbelievable. But the first thing to note are the words “so far.” We don’t yet know the full extent of this. More items may well have been sold to Hobby Lobby.

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Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection 1 Corinthians, Green Collection Romans, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll | 13 Comments

Breaking: EES Stolen Manuscripts Update

The Egypt Exploration Society has just released a statement regarding manuscripts owned by the EES but sold to Hobby Lobby. So, 13 such manuscripts have been identified. 11 of these 13 manuscripts are said to have been sold by Professor Dirk Obbink. The Museum of the Bible has agreed to return the items. The list is here:

Read the full EES statement here. More to come. Thanks to Mike Holmes for the tip.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 20 Comments

Arthur Hunt, Harold Idris Bell, and Edward Maunde Thompson on the Date of Codex Sinaiticus

When it comes to the question of assigning palaeographic dates to Greek literary manuscripts of the Roman period, British papyrologists in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seem to show some different tendencies. One of the most respected of the early palaeographers, Arthur S. Hunt (1871-1934) tended to favor relatively wide date ranges and often allowed for somewhat later dates for particular manuscripts than did his contemporaries. The equally esteemed Harold Idris Bell (1879-1967) and Frederic Kenyon (1863-1952) tended to approve of narrower ranges and earlier dates (a related point is discussed with regard to a particular cluster of early Christian manuscripts in Roger Bagnall’s Early Christian Books in Egypt, pp. 10-16).

This usual difference between Hunt and Bell makes their evaluations of the writing of Codex Sinaiticus all the more interesting.

Arthur S. Hunt, Harold Idris Bell, and Edward Maunde Thompson; source of images: National Portrait Gallery, London, U.K.

It is worth noting that these opinions were probably expressed when neither man had seen the actual manuscript itself, but only facsimile images.

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Palaeographic Dating: Graphic Difference Does Not Always Mean Chronological Difference

In a few days, I hope to complete a post on the date of Codex Sinaiticus. It has been educational for me to revisit the arguments for the dating of this codex. One quotation that I found especially eye-opening was this admirably forthright comment from H.J.M. Milne and T.C. Skeat’s classic, Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus (1938):

“…the dangers of judging age on grounds of style are nowhere better illustrated than in the Sinaiticus itself, where the hands of scribes A and B present a markedly more archaic appearance than that of scribe D; did we not know that all three were contemporary, D might well have been judged half a century later than A and B.”

Let that sink in for a minute. The quite subtle differences between the writing of copyists A and B and the writing of copyist D would, in other circumstances, have led Milne and Skeat to assign copyist D to a period a full 50 years later than A/B, even though they are in fact contemporary.

This example is a good reminder that minute differences in the appearances of samples of Greek writing of the Roman era are not necessarily indicative of differences in the ages of the writing samples. Other factors, such as the personal tastes or skills of the copyist, could very well account for such differences.

Samples of writing from Codex Sinaiticus: Copyist D, Matt. 16:22 (left) and Copyist A, Mark 8:32 (right); image source:
Posted in Codex Sinaiticus, Codices, Palaeography | 4 Comments