Destroying mummy masks: “Since we own, it’s ok”. Maybe not…

A reader of this blog, Beau Quilter, was so nice to edit the long and remarkably boring performance of Josh McDowell on papyri from mummy cartonnage and the truth of the Bible. We now have a two minutes peak that I hope all of you will watch:

I like the words Beau Quilter has added at the end as a comment to a quote of McDowell himself: “Apparently since they own it, it’s ok’.

This sentence underlines two important elements of this sad story. First, the incredible lack of any awareness about the importance of archaeological evidence that this man and others, like Scott Carroll (who apparently dismounted mummy cartonnage for the Green collection and possibly others in the past), demonstrate. The aggressive cultural discourse behind their words and actions would deserve a treatise on its own. People like Josh McDowell and Scott Carroll are a threat not only for the damages they have procured to cultural heritage patrimony, but also for their misuse of ancient manuscripts in public discourses on the Bible. Their faith must be very weak if they need scraps of papyrus in order to prove the value of the Scriptures.

The second element I wish to bring to your attention is that for once there is some truth in what McDowell is saying: from what I have gathered, according to the American and other legislations, the legal owner of an ancient object can dispose of it as he/she wishes. This opens a number of interesting considerations on responsible and irresponsible private collecting that would deserve a longer, separate post. But that ownership must be legal: if it comes out that the object was bought illegally, in this case that the mask does not have clear provenance, everything changes. In principle, the legal owner of these destroyed masks could pursue McDowell and other iconoclasts, and the dealers who sold the objects, in order to be compensate for the loss.

Why Josh McDowell and other owners of antiquities are not revealing names of the dealers they have purchased masks and other cartonnage from, and do not publicly provide documents proving that their acquisitions are legal? Do they fear that the eventual legal owner of those artefacts (e.g. the Egyptian Government) will pursue them in court one day?

11 thoughts on “Destroying mummy masks: “Since we own, it’s ok”. Maybe not…

  1. Being a Christian myself, I don’t approve destroying mummy masks. It’s not up to McDowell or any other zealot to decide whether a mummy mask can be destroyed or not. The real thing is that McDowell wants to prove that the Gospel of Mark was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 AD), so that there is evidence that Christ predicted the destruction. So if this fragment from the Gospel (or proto-Gospel) of Mark could be dated prior to the destruction the evangelical and fundamentalist lobby finally have their precious “evidence”. But I don’t see any reason to become a fundy because of their evidence. There are plenty scholars that date the Gospel of Mark in the 60s and are not fundamentalist.

  2. Thank you for clarifying what ownership entails for ancient artifacts. This case makes evidently clear that a legal act is not always an ethical act. It would be sad if the Green Collection becomes the first in a race of apologetic Christian organizations buying and tearing into historical artifacts for the purpose of “proving” their preconceived notions.

  3. I wonder how these people would feel about an atheist or Muslim, say, buying up early papyri of the NT, only to burn them.

    • Hi Jens, Very interesting question. McDowell wouldn’t have any problem with burning them, because : “since they own it, it’s ok …” (Of course I would be shocked if someone would buy an early NT papyrus and burn it.)

  4. Pingback: First Century manuscript of Mark published! : : Aractus

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