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.”

13 thoughts on “New Testament papyri from mummy cartonnage: accounts don’t balance

  1. Pingback: How to scam a scholar – the ps.Gospel of Jesus’ Wife affair at Roger Pearse

  2. Pingback: Worrying questions about the supposed new NT papyri from mummy cartonnage at Roger Pearse

  3. These are very sound questions – well done.

    Have you seen Peter Head’s comment on the Gospel of Jesus Wife at ETC? On what we can learn? The forger targeted Karen King because she was predisposed to believe in the authenticity of the fragment. Did he target the Green collection with this material, because they would be predisposed to believe it?

    • I do not know what to think yet, but I have some hypotheses I am thinking about. I am very curious to read the scholarship that soon or later must come out. On the Gospel of the Jesus Wife my only comment is that I really hope that Karen King will make the name of the anonymous owner as a recent article on the NYT seemed to suggest.

      • I shall read your posts with much interest. I like the way that you’re thinking about how to test the story. That was a good point about no NT material *at all* from cartonnage.

        I do hope the Green collection people are being careful and scholarly. If there are indeed exciting finds there, the last thing we want is any unnecessary question-marks over their authenticity.

        I think the name of the “owner” would be interesting indeed.

    • With dozens of photos of the mummy masks and the papyri being made public, the authenticity of the papyri being extracted from the cartonnage doesn’t seem to be in question, only the process of artifact destruction and the acquisition of these Egyptian relics in a legal manner.

      • Unfortunately it is certainly possible to fake mummy masks.

        The process of extracting cartonnage should certainly be carried out in a professional way.

        I don’t myself subscribe to the curious novel idea that all antiquities in (e.g.) Britain automatically belong to David Cameron as head of the state established by the invading Angles after the Roman collapse.

  4. I wouldn’t myself link these two on the basis of forgery. Perhaps one could make a comparison on the basis of the natural tendency of any person to give credence to things that fit with their prior convictions.

    • In the case of the Green I do believe they targeted collectors and dealers and not the other way round. I suggest to read and listen carefully Scott Carroll, you’ll learn a lot about manuscripts dealers. The economy surrounding all these manuscripts’ movements would deserve a long chapter of a book, a blog post it’s not enough…

  5. I suspect that the quote about 25% NT papyri coming from cartonnage is a botched quote by whoever posted the image and wrote the caption on the Demoss PR page for the GSI and Bible Museum. Waste papyri, such as those from Oxyrhynchus, may have been misunderstood as cartonnage, even though they’re not the same thing and they make up more like 40% of the NT papyri.

      • Well, to exchange waste papyri for papyri from cartonnage keeps me extremely worried about papyrology skills and you confirm me that the math is bad in any case. Posting without proofreading on a topic like this? Interesting practice I’ve never heard of in serious academia. Maybe the Green think papyrology is so unimportant that proofreading doesn’t matter? Not a good sign, again. And what about propaganda? We have seen people like Josh McDowell and Scott Carroll going to Christian institutions and/or events spreading incorrect information on all these topics. This is not a good service to early Christian study, biblical studies and again papyrology.

  6. Pingback: P129, P130, and P131: A Couple More Observations | Variant Readings

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