Provenance issues: Information with thoughts to follow

The Galatians 2 Coptic fragment when advertised on eBay, screen shot from  Quaternion blog post

The Galatians 2 Coptic fragment when advertised on eBay in 2012, screen shot from The Quaternion blog post

As many of my readers already know, there was an entire session devoted to issues of provenance at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Diego. Three papers were presented, followed by respondents, and then we had a lively general discussion. I have enjoyed the session, and what has been said has made me re-thinking about many of the issues at stake. But before I’ll write at length about this, I feel necessary to give important updates on the acquisition history of the Sappho papyrus fragments and the Coptic Galatians 2 papyrus on which I have written in the past. I was given the details which follow right before the SBL session, they were swiftly included in my paper, and I think it is my duty now to report them in the blog.

Full information on the acquisition history of the new Sappho fragments will be given by Dirk Obbink in a forthcoming article in ZPE. An entire session at the American Philological Association/Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting in New Orleans (Session 5, 9th January 2015) will be devoted to the new Sappho poems: the first paper by Obbink will address, among others, issues of provenance, as you can read from the program.
The fragments do not come from mummy cartonnage, as previously written by Obbink in his TLS article, but from book binding cartonnage; their provenance is documented, and proofs that they were out of Egypt before 1972. The book binding was dismounted before the papyri were studied and then published respectively by Dirk Obbink (P.Sapph. Obbink) and by S. Burris, D. Obbink, and J. Fish (P.GC. 105).

The Galatians 2 Coptic fragment (GC.MS.000462) was purchased in 2013 by Steven Green from a trusted dealer; the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection archives do have files attesting that the papyrus was part of the David Robinson papyrus lot sold at a Christie’s auction in London in November 2011. The files do not explain what happened to the manuscript between November 2011 and October 2012, when it was on sale on eBay, and how it went from eBay to the dealer who sold it to Green. The only person who would be able to explain how a papyrus legally acquired at a Christie’s auction in London went on sale on an eBay account located in Turkey at this point would be the above mentioned trusted dealer, whose identity remains undisclosed.

I am confident that some form of public access to the acquisition data and hopefully documents of the objects belonging to the Green Collection/Museum of the Bible will be provided in the near future.

Mark strikes back: Mummy cartonnage and Christian apologetics, again…

Slide commented by C. Evans, screen shot from YouTube video

Slide commented by C. Evans, screen shot from YouTube video

I am just back from the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting and planning to report about the interesting discussion we had on issues of provenance. But before that I should report on the resurfacing of the sadly famous papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark from mummy mask cartonnage. In a YouTube video published on 24 July 2014 (below), Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at the Divinity School of Acadia University, reports on a fragment of Mark, allegedly dating to the 80s of the first century AD and in course of publication, retrieved from a mummy mask. In the PowerPoint slide he is commenting on, you can see a mummy mask, although we are not told if the above mentioned papyrus comes from that specific one; any other useful information on the papyrus location and the owner (a private collector?) are as well lacking. This seems to be the same fragment mentioned in the past by Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, although we cannot be 100% sure because nobody answers questions with any clarity. (Sometimes I feel I am talking to members of a gnostic sect rather than Protestant scholars…). In February 2012 the fragment was called into question during a debate between Wallace and Bart Ehrmann; one month later, Wallace posted information on the papyrus as to be published by Brill in his blog. I wrote emails to Wallace in order to know the name of the collection holding the fragment; Brill is the publisher of the Green papyri, but so far I have not been able to understand if this papyrus is in that collection or another one. Dan Wallace has always kindly answered to my emails, but without adding details because, he says, “ I have signed a nondisclosure agreement about the Mark fragment”. Craig Evans’ talk took place at the 2014 Apologetics Canada Conference (7-8 March, Vancouver). It is clear that papyri have officially entered into the rhetoric of apologists as the means through which they sell the idea that we can recover the original texts of the Gospels. These people are not doing any good service to the public and to our cultural heritage patrimony. The audience who attend their talks are told fantasy stories on the retrieval of papyrus fragments and their date, and on the quest for Christian original texts; apologists’ speeches are not only misinformed, but can even encourage more people to buy mummy masks on the antiquities market and dissolve them in Palmolive soap – a method suggested publicly by one of them, Josh McDowell, close friend of the ex-director of the Green Collection, Scott Carroll. All this said, I must confess this pseudo-scholarship is procuring me endless, astonished entertainment…

UPDATE 26 November: Professor Evans has kindly informed me via email that this is the same fragment mentioned by Daniel Wallace and it is his understanding that the fragment will be published by Brill in 2015. He cannot answer other questions I posed on the dismounting of the mask “because of various confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements”.

UPDATE 21 January: my last post on the subject with answers to further questions is this: