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:


13 thoughts on “Another Indiana Jones? Josh McDowell, mummy cartonnage and biblical papyri

  1. Pingback: Problematic Papyri

  2. When Scott Carroll mentions Sappho he straight away mentions the TLS in the next thought. I think this is the source of both Obbink’s Sappho and the GReen Collection Sappho which Obbink refers to. In which case it is not some anonymous London collection.

      • Obbink’s ZPE Sappho article said that the Green Collection Sappho and his private collection Sappho were written in the same hand, format and line-spacing. In his TLS article Obbink said: ” The authenticity of the ancient mummy cartonnage panel, from which the papyrus was extracted, having been recycled in antiquity to accompany a burial, has been established through its documented legal provenance.

  3. Thank you Peter, I remember that passage from the TLS well. As you probably know I have asked in the New Sappho blog and elsewhere to receive more information on the Sappho fragments and their connections. I also asked about acquisition circumstances in view of the fact that I have discovered in the meanwhile that one papyrus of the Green Collection (GC.MS.000462) was on sale from the very discussed Turkish eBay seller MixAntik in 2012 (see my review of Verbum Domini II in this blog). I have not received any information yet, but I must say that David Trobisch, current director of the Museum of the Bible, has kindly informed me via email that these data will be available in future publications; nothing was answered about the above mentioned 2 Galatians, again I hope ‘yet’.
    As you and my readers know, I am interested in questions and issues related to the access to acquisition circumstances and their publication since a while. I’d like to remind here that it is uncommon nowadays for papyrologists not to give both ancient provenance and archaeological history of a papyrus, including acquisition circumstances, in publications, or not to explain why these are impossible to be retrieved. When this happens, most of us are not so well impressed. I can understand that for you and others that brief statement on documented legal provenance may be enough, however I was expecting much more details on acquisition circumstances in the ZPE articles, especially in a period when illicit trafficking in antiquities has increased for the Egyptian political crisis. Not to mention the importance that the features of the mummy cartonnage panel and the other fragments that must have been retrieved with the Sappho’s ones may have for the dating and interpretation of those papyri.

  4. I’ve edited a shorter cutting of the McDowell video with what I consider to be the most egregious attitudes towards the artifacts. Look for statements like:

    “Scholars die when they hear, but we own ’em so you can do it.”

    “See most scholars have never touched a manuscript, you have to have gloves on and everything … [giggle] … We just wash ’em and hold ’em in our hands. We don’t even make you wash your hands before. See?”


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