Scott Carroll and mummy masks: update

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 08.38.58I’ve just discovered that Scott Carroll, aka Hey Doc, has posted and made publicly available two powerpoint presentations, one on “Dismantling a mummy mask”, the other on scanning mummy masks for retrieving papyri at this address:

The “dismantled” mask as well as the texts recovered are certainly Ptolemaic. An event of this kind and lead by Scott Carroll took place at Baylor University and involved professors and students of the Department of Classics on September 9, 2011, as reported in the Bulletin of the Department (pp. 1-2).

According to the American law, owners of antiquities are free to dispose of their items as they wish. This can be legal, but for me it is a highly questionable practice from an ethical and cultural point of view. Moreover, and once again, where do all these masks come from?

Mummy Cartonnage: An Introduction

Mummy mask of the Ptolemaic period, probably from Hawara

Mummy mask of the Ptolemaic period, probably from Hawara, Manchester Museum 2781.a

As all of you should know by now, I am remarkably pedantic. Therefore when I don’t know much about a topic, I go back to books and sometimes the Internet. Being mostly interested in Byzantine papyri, I had to refresh my knowledge of papyri from mummy cartonnage and related matters, since they have become such a hot topic after the publication of the new Sappho fragments (P. Sapph. Obbink and P.GC.105), and the YouTube adventures of the two Palmolive Indiana Jones retrieving New Testament papyri through mummy masks washing-up. So I thought to share what I have learnt so far.

In lesson one of any course in papyrology or related subject, you would be taught that there are two main sources from where you can legally or illegally retrieve papyri: excavating the remains of ancient cities, cemeteries, deposits or rubbish heaps, and dismounting mummies or book bindings, coverings and similar agglomerations of papyrus and other materials. Papyri can be found in mummy contexts, so to speak, in two main forms. They could have been used for fabricating mummy masks and panels, mixed together with other materials such as linen, and then covered with stucco and painting (the so-called papier mache), or they could have been used for wrapping or filling the mummies themselves. This second case is what B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt found, for instance, in the sacred crocodile cemetery of Tebtunis, and later in other villages in the Fayum when papyrology was in its early days at the beginning of the 20th century. Possibly the first to have done experiments for retrieving papyri from mummy cartonnage was the French archaeologist Jean Antoine Letronne around 1825; he was disappointed by their bad status of preservation and the administrative contents. Sometimes the papyri retrieved from panels covering the feet or the breast of the mummies preserve the shape of the elements they come from. You can see an example of feet-shaped papyri in the Berkeley Tebtunis collection clicking here; you can have an idea of the appearance of mummies covered by such masks and panels from an image of a Ptolemaic one nowadays in the Louvre, clicking here (I know, it is a free-from-copyright image, but mummies scare me to death and I don’t like having a whole one in this post…).

From a rough calculation, I would say that the vast majority of our legal and illegal findings have derived from discoveries in situ; fewer papyri have come from mummy cartonnage or other similar kinds of papyrus recycling. (You will not get percentages from me: I refuse numbers as a form of resistance to a present where everybody knows the price and measure of everything, but the value and meaning of nothing).

Mummy fillings, wrappings and mummy cartonnage are renown for being an excellent source of papyri of the Ptolemaic period, which are fewer in absolute numbers than those of the following Roman and Byzantine periods, and therefore particularly important to scholars of the Hellenistic period. According to standard papyrology manuals, the practice of fabricating cartonnage for mummy masks and panels went on throughout the entire Ptolemaic period, and ended towards the end of the Augustan era, so at the beginning of the first century AD.

The retrieval of papyri from mummy panels and masks presents a number of problems and issues due not only to the technical aspects of the process, but also to the damages it procures to the objects. As you may imagine, there are different views about what comes first, either the mummy masks and panels, or the texts inside them. Therefore papyrologists and conservators have been working hard for finding methods for obtaining papyri from mummy cartonnage that take all these issues into consideration. Nowadays imaging technologies can help not only through the recording of the entire process, but also and foremost through the developing of non-destructive ways for retrieving and reading papyri. However at the moment, as J. Frösén reminds us in a dedicated chapter of the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology (“Conservation of ancient papyrus materials”, p. 88), “the recovery of papyrus from cartonnage is still the subject of controversy. Admittely it interferes with the integrity of the cartonnage as an artifact”.

Among the conservators who have worked in the field of papyri from mummy cartonnage there is Michael Fackelmann, a conservator active in Vienna in the seventies-eighties of last century. Fackelmann is an elusive figure, I have discovered, although he wrote important contributions on papyrus restoration that you find in the standard papyrology bibliography. Interestingly, he became also a collector and dealer of papyri, which were sometimes sold to university collections worldwide besides to private collectors. In those years there was much less awareness of the importance of papyrus archaeological provenance and acquisition circumstances than nowadays; I have been constantly reminded recently of the long history of the issues of ‘provenance’, and how much they are embedded in our disciplines and even in the birth of papyrology. I think historical awareness does not excuse present practices, and above all invites future change for better ones.

In any case, what I have realized is that some of the papyri connected with Fackelmann’s activities are particularly important in the history of dismounting mummy cartonnage, because they challenge the above-mentioned standard chronology of papyri from this kind of source. In other words, there have been cases of papyri that are said to come from mummy cartonnage and to date after the Augustan period, other than the recent Sappho fragments, dated to the 3rd century AD by their editors on the basis of C14 analysis and palaeographical considerations, and the New Testament texts that the Palmolive Indian Jones declare they found dissolving mummy masks. On these and other papyri challenging the traditional chronology we’ll talk in future posts.

New Testament papyri from mummy cartonnage: accounts don’t balance

After all the information we have been recently given on New Testament papyri retrieved from mummy cartonnage, I have decided to do some serious research on the topic. I made a check on the usual catalogues of manuscripts of the New Testament and on the Leuven Database of Ancient Books (very convenient, since it includes information on cartonnage when available as explained in the Help page), and also read some bibliography on papyri of the New Testament, but I was unable to find a single case of New Testament papyrus coming from mummy cartonnage.

So I did what you must never do in serious research, but everybody always does: I googled the term, and guess what? The Green Scholars Initiative came up on top of the results list. In one of the many webpages dedicated to papyrology in the Green house, I have found a nice image portraying the director of the GSI, Jerry Pattengale, and Jeffrey Fish, papyrologist at Baylor University and member of the GSI, working on fragments (usual, boring question: from where?) surrounded by students. The caption below the picture explains:

“Drs. Pattengale and Fish describe a papyri project under research at Christ Church, Oxford, where scholars are dismantling mummy cartonnage dating to the third century B.C. (BCE). Approximately 25 percent of all early New Testament papyri comes from similar cartonnage research conducted over the past two centuries”

I am very worried about the education of these students, first of all about their math, secondly their papyrology and thirdly their New Testament philology, which is supposed to be the core business of the Green Scholars Initiative and its patron Mr Green. As I said, to my knowledge, there is not a single case of New Testament papyrus coming from mummy cartonnage attested so far (correct me if I am wrong…). Unless the writer meant ‘cartonnage research conducted over the past two years’ and we count the discoveries mentioned by Scott Carroll and Josh McDowell (but then the years should be three since all started in 2011). And what have third century BC mummy masks to do with the New Testament by the way, since Jesus was not even born? Two centuries of papyrology? I thought papyrology just turned the century, as Pete Van Minnen explained us in a very interesting paper 21 years ago (“The Century of Papyrology: 1892-1992,” BASP 30 (1993), 5-18).

My brain confusion is increasing so I am looking forward to reading about the project at Christ Church, Oxford, in Brill’s forthcoming publications. In the meanwhile I’d suggest to join the talk of Jerry Pattengale and Dirk Obbink for the Green collection exhibit Passages, in Springfield Missouri next 16 December 2014: “Unveiling Cartonnage: The Practice and Value of Dissolving Reused Papyri Manuscripts for Biblical Studies.”

Update on the new Sappho fragments and the Green Collection

So-called Sappho from Pompeii (Naples, MANN 9084) From Wikicommons

So-called Sappho from Pompeii (Naples, MANN 9084)
From Wikicommons

The director of the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection, David Trobisch, has kindly informed me via email that the collection is going towards full digitisation and open access. As it happens in many other collections, “in some cases items are put on reserve and not accessible until the research has been done.” He writes that information on the acquisition circumstances of the Green Sappho fragments and their relation with the London Sappho will be provided in a forthcoming publication by Dirk Obbink.

As for the acquisition circumstances of Galatians 2 (GC 462), the Green collection has purchased it “through a trusted dealer that we have done business with over many years”.

I thank David Trobisch for the answers he is constantly providing; it is clear that his arrival is a dramatic step forward for the Green Collection. My only comment is that this dealer must not be so trustworthy since the papyrus was on sale from e-Bay Turkish seller MixAntik in 2012.



Papyri: It is a wild, wild life…

What an exciting period for papyri. In just a couple of weeks we have seen one papyrus on sale on eBay by Turkish seller MixAntik in 2012 resurfacing among the items of the Green Collection on exhibit in Vatican city. We then have found the former director of that collection, Scott Carroll, now head of Scott Carroll Manuscripts & Rare Books Inc., explaining in a video freely available on line how to dismount mummy masks for obtaining papyri and showing the papyri themselves with the assistance of his wife at an event in Mexico. In the video he shows slides with some of the images certainly taken at Baylor University, where he had a position in the past and collaborated with scholars on the Green Scholars Initiative.

Then we have been informed by Brice C. Jones on the great interest of the evangelical Christian apologist Josh McDowell in papyri: not those on display or that can be consulted in most public and private collections, but the new ones that these experts in the US seem able to retrieve very easily from collectors who are happy to submit their antiquities to them.

Biblical scholars, finally provided with good quality images of the papyri showed in the slides that Scott and Josh have used in their events, have discovered to their dismay that in fact these papyri were those Green collection fragments that some of them accepted to publish many months ago under the supervision of the Green Scholars Initiative specialists as they are reporting and discussing in the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

From this blog and other sources, we have been also informed that the Green Collection/Green Scholars Initiative asks editors of their papyri to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I am now dying to read a copy of this previously unknown type of contract. This is unheard before: please give me parallel cases if you can. Scholars who work in papyri collections know that images, copyrights and editions are serious matters, but I’ve never heard of a collection asking editors to sign such documents. Why is that document necessary for the Green Collection? I really don’t know, since what I have seen from the above mentioned images and in the exhibition do seem very normal papyri (a part the one that comes from eBay, of course). I am surprised that academics usually so much and rightly concerned about independence of research are signing such agreements in order to publish: what a strange world!

We also read the director of the Green Scholars Initiative, Jerry Pattengale, criticising on the Wall Street Journal the scholars who have worked with Karen King on the so-called Wife of Jesus Gospel papyrus for their signing of a non-disclosure agreement (must be a new American trend at this point), among other issues. Has the Green Scholars Initiative the exclusive right to use such agreements? Very confusing…

But to oddities there’s no end: in fact today we have been provided with a new video where a man in his seventies talks to an audience about the truth of the Bible and dismounting mummy masks, wearing a pink shirt, tight blue jeans, red All Stars, and a belt with the symbol of Superman.

Indeed a wild, wild life…

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Another Indiana Jones? Josh McDowell, mummy cartonnage and biblical papyri

Washing mummy masks with Palmolive soap? Josh McDowell's explanation on how to dismount mummy masks (screenshot from the video)

Washing mummy masks with Palmolive soap? Josh McDowell’s powerpoint slides on how to dismount mummy masks (screenshot from the video)

In a freshly published blog post, Brice C. Jones comments on a freely available video where the American evangelical Christian apologist Josh McDowell shows slides attesting the dismounting of mummy cartonnage for retrieving papyri. There are many questions we would like Josh McDowell and the scholars collaborating to his project Discover the Evidence (Daniel B. Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, for instance, and Scott Carroll who are listed in the Discover the Evidence webpage as “Event Speakers”) to answer to the public: where do these mummy masks come from? Where did the dismounting process take place? Who are the other unnamed scholars mentioned in the course of the talk as taking part to these most extraordinary discoveries?

On the webpage dedicated to Discover the Evidence we read that the event took place on 5-6 December 2013. A month later two of the event guests, Scott Carroll and Christian Wiedener, are reported to have performed some scanning on an Egyptian mummy mask of the 2nd century BC at South Dakota State University on the website of the University Foundation. The mask is said to belong to a private owner. According to the press release,

Carroll will return the mask to its owner along with the report about where the texts are located. Then the decision will be made about when and how to remove the texts—either surgically or through different types of washes, he explained. Carroll’s research group retains the right to publish the texts they find. Their experts work with professors and their students to document their findings. “Our discoveries bring enormous value to the owner,” Carroll added.”

This is for sure, what I doubt about is that their discovery will bring any value to serious research as long as nothing has been published. Not to mention the many questions we have already posed on the provenance and acquisition circumstances of all these mummy masks and panels suddenly surfacing from nowhere.

6 May 2014 Update: Daniel B. Wallace comments on his participation to Josh McDowell’s Discover the Evidence in his blog:

On the belonging of some of the items in the powerpoint slides to the Green Collection/Museum of the Bible see this thread on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog:


Papyri retrieved from mummy cartonnage: a video

"I figured about about 65 classical texts…"Dr. Scott Carroll in Mexico, September 2013

“I figured about 65 classical texts…”Dr. Scott Carroll in Mexico, September 2013

As the readers of my blog know, I am a big fan of Dr Scott Carroll, formerly on the payroll of the Green Collection (2009-2012) and recently collaborating with the evangelical apologist Josh McDowell, as you can read in a recent post of Brice C. Jones. I am fascinated by this Indiana Jones of Biblical Studies, as I have explained in an old post, and desperate to meet him in person.

At the moment, I am just following his adventures on the web. I know that a meeting with him would be an amazing experience, as I understand while watching the faces of people gathering en masse for his talks in the videos I am now religiously collecting for my amusement.

However, I found this particular video of an event organised by the University of the Nations for a workshop in Mexico last September 2013 a bit concerning. Here Scott, after having explained what his and his wife’s organisation (I guess the Scott Carroll Manuscripts & Rare Books and The Manuscript Research Group) do, starts moving around what do seem glazed papyrus fragments and other artefacts. Then he addresses the fascinating topic of papyri from mummy cartonnage. He jokes about the smell of mummy cartonnage over the house stove to the despair of his wife, and alludes to the scams you may find on eBay looking for cartonnage. Finally, he explains how to extract papyrus fragments from mummy cartonnage showing images from his computer. He says that the procedure he shows through what seems to be powerpoint slides – that you can see in the screen shots I took from min. 24:40 onwards in the video (see below), but I really recommend to watch the video itself – was performed at Baylor University (Texas) where, he asserts, he had an appointment. Unless he is lying, which I cannot believe because he is a good Christian, he must refer to the days when he was working for the Green Collection and the Green Scholars Initiative, since Baylor University has been collaborating with both at least from September 2011. In fact, an event lead by Scott Carroll consisting into the dismounting of a mummy mask for obtaining papyri took place at Baylor University and involved professors and students of the Department of Classics on September 9, 2011, as reported in the Bulletin of the Department (pp. 1-2).

Can you help me tracking down this Indiana Jones of Biblical Studies for an interview (and a picture with autograph, obviously)? Can you add details, corrections or integration to the information retrieved so far? Were you part of the public for any of these scholarly or wider audience events? I’d love to hear from you…

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