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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10 thoughts on “Papyri: It is a wild, wild life…

  1. Re. the non-disclosure agreements, I suppose the issue is what exactly they concern. If they say scholars are not supposed to divulge images, texts, etc. before or outside of the definitive publication, fair enough (perhaps); if they say that no info on provenance and ownership history can ever be divulged, that’s all another pair of sleeves, as it were… I agree I’d really like to see what these agreements say!

  2. Nice to encounter a post that sees the possibilities!

    I hope people won’t allow sniffiness about “rednecks” or the bible belt to get in the way. Papyrology is chronically underfunded. It’s worth remembering the public subscription that funded the Oxyrhynchus dig, precisely because of the bible link. US Christians have lots of money. Why shouldn’t they be encouraged to get interested and funding it?

    The non-disclosure agreements sound very Gospel of Judas to me – not in the public interest at all. Wonder what’s behind them? I’m afraid that my experience of the skullduggery up to publication leaves me with little sympathy for academics who are slow to publish.

    Enjoying your posts and obvious enthusiasm for it all!

    • Thank you Roger. I would say funding without destroying and open access to both items and acquisition circumstances, not only for bible belt collections, but also for those in the rest of the world. In most public collections the main problem for full open access is funding. So I’d suggest all these millionaires to give their money to already existing collections for digitising papyri, instead of funding all these Indiana Jones madness. In fact I’d be curious to check how much money Van Kampen, Green and similar magnates have wasted with these self-defined experts. I wonder who really made money from all this mummy dissolving and eBay surfing. Anyway everybody is free to waste money as he prefers…
      Thanks also for having filed all the Gospel of Judas material for us: definitely a very useful background in these days!

  3. Roberta,
    There was a non-disclosure agreement for participants to an (invitation only) conference in Oklahoma City in April on dating issues for papyri. There is genuine mistrust among believers of scholarship that dates Christian texts later than they would like them to be, with inevitable accusations of “bias.” This can be traced back to Bart Ehrman’s prominent attacks on the reliability of the NT text, not to papyrologists per se. Such bias claimants are, naturally, unfamiliar with the maxim “recentiores non deteriores,” being unfamiliar with Plato papyri written within a century of Plato’s death than preserve a worse text the medieval mss.

  4. (editio correctior)
    Roberta,
    There was a non-disclosure agreement for participants in an (invitation only) conference in Oklahoma City in April on dating issues for papyri. There is genuine mistrust, among believers, of scholarship that dates Christian texts later than they would like them to be, with inevitable accusations of “bias.” This can be traced back to Bart Ehrman’s prominent attacks on the reliability of the NT text, not to papyrologists per se. Such bias-claimants are, naturally, unfamiliar with the maxim “recentiores non deteriores,” being unfamiliar with Plato papyri, written within a century of Plato’s death, that preserve a worse text the medieval mss.

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