25 Jun 2019

EES statement: Professor Obbink and sales of papyri to Hobby Lobby

A response to discussion of the recently revealed contract

In a recent blog post, Dr Brent Nongbri has made public two documents supplied by Professor Michael Holmes of the Museum of the Bible:

First, a redacted copy of a contract of 17 January 2013 between Dr Dirk Obbink and Hobby Lobby Stores for the sale, for future delivery, of 6 items to Hobby Lobby Stores, including, according to the appended list, one parchment fragment of Matthew and one papyrus fragment each of Mark, Luke and John, all dated by the seller to circa AD 100.

Second, a photograph of a list in pencil on a scrap of paper, of uncertain date (the metadata of the PDF in the blog may not record the original date), apparently written by Professor Obbink, of four gospel passages, one each from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The four fragments listed in the photograph do fit with catalogued EES texts because the combinations of surviving verses on the front and back of the fragments are distinctive. The Mark and Luke must be the texts published recently as P.Oxy. LXXXIII 5345 and 5346. The Matthew and John fragments are currently being prepared for publication.

The EES re-affirms our previous statements on the Mark text (5345) and on our unpublished New Testament papyri. At present we cannot confirm or deny that the four texts in the photographed list are the same as the four texts summarily described in the appendix to the 2013 contract. As we said in our statement of 8 March 2019, no known unpublished New Testament fragments in our collection look earlier than the late second to early third century AD, but the seller’s indicative dating of the texts to c. AD 100 is open to doubt. In our statement of 4 June 2018 we simply reported Professor Obbink’s responses to our questions at that time, in which he insisted that he had not sold or offered for sale the Mark fragment to the Green Collection, and that he had not required Professor Wallace to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement in relation to such a sale. We are grateful to Professor Holmes for sharing with us in advance the newly revealed contract and photograph, and we are working with him to clarify whether the four texts in the photographed list, or any other EES papyri, were sold or offered for sale to Hobby Lobby or its agents, and if so, when and by whom. This may take some time, and unless and until new evidence emerges, there is no more we can say.

We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.