Is the newest-new Sappho a forgery?
As the entangled tale of the origin of the new Sappho fragments is finally coming to light, I have heard increasing voices on Twitter and elsewhere wondering if those papyri are authentic or not. I must confess that I am playing with the idea of a forgery since a while. I have just finished my chapter on the Sappho papyri for the book I am writing, The Secret Life of Manuscripts, and delved into the most amazing world of Sappho papyrology and attributions, so I needed to consider all these possibilities. But then I thought, Houston, we have a problem: any serious investigation about the status of these fragments is at the moment impossible because it needs autopsy! Someone can eventually convince Mr Green to show us his fragments before they will be sent to Egypt, but any access to the largest and in my opinion more problematic piece is simply impossible. We don’t know where the hell P.Sapph.Obbink is at the moment: was it sold through a private sale treaty by Christie’s – a place where the most awkward exchanges are happening as we have recently learnt? Or is it still with the London anonymous owner(s) – that might or might not be Mr Mahmoud Elder and the scholar who gave his name to the fragment? It still is a mystery.
Old and new tales of provenance
In his most gripping article for the Atlantic, Ariel Sabar reveals that he has had access to the Stimer’s collection inventory and two papyrus fragments that had been in fact pilfered from the Egypt Exploration Society collection were given two different provenances in a scholarly report attached to them and allegedly authored by Dirk Obbink: they were said to come from the recent selling of the papyrus collections of the Badè museum of Berkeley Pacific School of Religion and of the United Theological Seminary in Dayton Ohio. A responsible collector would have made some checks in order to have documents corroborating such statements: Stimer did not, and that is not strange in my opinion since the profile of this ‘collector’ is the more and more similar to that of a ‘collector-dealer’ who is interested in profit rather than in the study and conservation of the objects in question. I also found interesting that the two provenances attributed to the above mentioned fragments are the same as those of papyri that Obbink had in fact legally purchased from the two sales.
I have already asked Christie’s to explain the contents of email exchanges I had with their manuscripts curator Eugenio Donadoni back in January 2015, in which he said that he was standing by the provenance of the Galatians and Sappho fragments as coming from the dismounting of cartonnage sold as part of lot 1 of their 2011 auction. I believe that Christie’s has the ethical duty to give some explanations for those statements in the light of what has emerged in the meanwhile about 1. the provenance of the Green Sappho fragments from Yakup Eksioglu; 2. the highly problematic images and contents of the private sale treaty brochure for P.Sapph.Obbink; 3. the recent story of the Gilgamesh cuneiform tablet and its tales of provenance.
A piece of news: the Coptic Galatians fragment provenance
Speaking of Galatians: Mike Holmes has recently informed me via email that the Coptic Galatians fragment – which was on sale on eBay through Yakup Eksioglu/Mixantik account in the Autumn of 2012 – had been purchased by Hobby Lobby on 9 July 2013. The seller was not my friend Yakup, but the Israeli based dealer Baidun. Baidun apparently gave two different tales of provenance to the Green: first a collector that when asked denied to be the source and later the above mentioned famous Christie’s auction lot. Isn’t that amazing?
I now wonder, who is the buyer of this infamous lot 1 of the London Christie’s auction of November 2011 that has been said to be the source of all these fragments almost one year after the newest-new Sappho was announced to the world and I spotted the Galatians fragment among the Green paraphernalia exhibited in Rome? Only Christie’s and the buyer know…
Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
Thank you for continuing to follow this saga closely and push for transparency. The Green family and the Museum of the Bible, are continually finding themselves having to apologize for yet more seedy, unethical purchases of antiquities. If the MOTB were not so heavily invested by fundamentalist Christians trying to “prove” their faith, surely it would have gone bankrupt by now (both financially and morally).
Thank you for reading my blog. It fascinates me that people need a piece of ancient papyrus to prove their faith. I challenged Scott Carroll about it at one of his conventions last autumn, and he was surprised by my question and very defensive. It was amusing.
I do not know Sappho’s Greek well enough to critique the “new” Sappho text. But the circumstances remind me of Morton Smith’s “Secret Mark” Clement letter. Some said Smith’s Greek was not good enough to fake it. But Smith’s letters to Gershom Scholem show that he was working on Clement and on a (never-published) book on Mark for years before 1958. (And he soon showed photos to Scholem and suggested parallels of the Secret Mark Jesus to Sabbatai Zevi.) If such a scholar spends enough time, a mostly-passable fake may result. In the Sappho case, please urge the Green collection to have an autopsy done on the Sappho fragments, including checking the fiber continuations, before returning these to Egypt!