Thinking about Buying a Papyrus Online? Think Twice!

Best real shopping? Bologna's city centre, no doubt...

Best real shopping? Bologna’s city centre, no doubt! Leave the computer at home and join me this summer…

I have been doing some experiments with online shopping for antiquities recently. I must admit I do not like buying online. I love real, solid, heavy shopping in a selected number of places, where I like to go in person for the ritual and the chatting with retailers and customers. I dislike Amazon and co. cardboard; I prefer nice, handmade packaging. Yes, I am one of those women you see happily carrying shopping bags on the street: old fashioned, I know.

Anyway, I had to try the online thrill in order to understand how it works for a paper I am giving at the annual ARCA conference in Amelia soon. I thought I would give you some ideas about what I found, and a taste of the paper, in case you are not lucky enough to be in Amelia in June, which is a pity for you, I must say, because that is one of the loveliest towns in Umbria.

About one month ago Alin Suciu (Göttingen) sent Jenny Cromwell (Copenhagen) and me a link to the online catalogue for the sale of a Coptic papyrus by Auctionata, one of the many auction houses now operating on the web. Basically Auctionata works like traditional auction houses, but bidding takes place exclusively online. The firm seems big, and covers many types of objects, from antiquities to watches, paintings and other collectibles. They have two main offices, one in Berlin the other in New York, but also agents in other countries.

So on the one hand I asked Jenny Cromwell to give me a quick opinion on the fragment versus the online catalogue description due to her expertise on the monastic material, and on the other I started a conversation via email with the auction house.

I reproduce here the image and the catalogue description both still available through the sale result webpage (the piece was sold for € 1,200 on 20 April):

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 09.02.03

“The present piece is a letter, written on papyrus, originating from Western Thebes, ancient Egypt, dating to the 6th century AD. The papyrus letter is written in Coptic, the latest native form of the language of Egypt. Four lines can be read in contiguous writing in Sahidic, a dialect of the Coptic. On the edges further text lines remain. Therefore, it can be assumed that there used to be at least one more line above and below the present text. The text mentions Phoibamon (sic), a monk and founder of a monastery, who used to live in the monastery above the ruins of the Hatshepsut Temple in Deir el-Bahari (Western Thebes).

The letter is in a very well-preserved condition, considering its age. The main parts of the letter are missing, however, the parts that do remain are very well preserved. The papyrus displays frayed parts and it is partially folded. The corners are strongly frayed. Little fragments within the centre piece of the papyrus are missing. The original edge is only preserved on the left rim, however, strongly frayed. The letter is laid down on a beige textile matte in a dark green wooden frame with gold painted inner frame. The dimensions of the letter are 11.6 x 3 cm (width x height). The total dimensions, including the frame, are 15.3 x 20.8 cm.”

 These are Jenny’s quick notes and comments:

“Beginning of four lines of text, with trace of another line at the top. End of last line preserves epistolary formulae (‘do the [love’ > ‘please’), suggesting this is a letter, which is preceded by at least four lines of text (only a trace of the first survives), including, e.g. the date to the beginning of the month Paremhotep, mention ‘of God on behalf of (?) Mena .[…]’.

The name Phoibammon survives at the beginning of line 4. However, there is nothing to support this as the monastery of Apa Phoibammon at Deir el-Bahri – there is too much lost text between this name and Mena at the end of the previous line. These could be two men.

Also, the description is erroneous in stating that Phoibammon was a monk and founder of a monastery: the monastery of Apa Phoibammon was founded by Apa Abraham, bishop of Hermonthis, at the end of the 6th century / beginning of the 7th. As such, a 6th century date is unlikely, if connected with Thebes. There is nothing here to support a Theban provenance (unless it was actually found there) — the tenuous mention of Phoibammon is insufficient.”

To sum up: the auction house’s expertise is based on a correct grasp on the contents of the fragment, but overstates the interpretation of the name Phoibammon, adding also incorrect information on the founding of the Monastery of Deir el-Bahri. Phoibammon and Menas are in fact two of the commonest male personal name in late antique Egypt. The dating is shaky at best: if it was based on a supposed provenance from the monastery in question, it is misleading because the monastery has a later foundation, as we have seen. As for palaeographical dating, this is a notoriously problematic field, especially for Coptic texts, and not a word is spent in the catalogue to clarify the basis for a supposed 6th century date. As Jenny has pointed out in a following conversation, the handwriting is elementary because the letter was written by an unskilled writer, and this makes it even more difficult to date.

Auctionata’s condition description is carefully crafted; it starts with a bold “The letter is in a very well-preserved condition, considering its age” but as curators and papyrologists know this is just a tiny scrappy fragment (11 x 3 cm); we have thousands and thousands of them stored in collections all over the world. Certainly this is an important piece of our past that must be preserved with care, but there is nothing special about it at all.

The way the auction house attempts to connect it with a famous Christian religious figure highlights how important the Christian manuscript market has become; not a new phenomenon, but certainly one that is increasing as the major enterprise of the Green family’s Museum of the Bible, and the new book and other enterprises of the Christian preacher Josh McDowell in the field of manuscript collecting (and mummy cartonnage dissolving…) demonstrate.

Let’s move on to report on my email conversation about provenance with Auctionata’s helpful and very kind personnel. The first answer to a direct question on the point was simply as follows:

“Lot 146 was part of the collection Bruno Wertz, a high class German private collection. All items of this collection have superb museum quality.”

I thanked them, and explained that what I was asking for was more precise information on documents proving that the papyrus left Egypt legally, or at least before 1972 (that a piece left Egypt before that date does not necessarily mean that it was legally exported, a point people tend easily to forget…). This was the prompt answer:

“We had the possibility to talk with our consignor regarding the documents and the provenance. Unfortunately I have to inform you that we do not have any documents. The Coptic Letter comes from the private collection of Bruno Wertz, who confirmed that the object was bought in the 1960s. Please be aware that we provide every single buyer with our Auctionata Guarantee for all items purchased through Auctionata. The Auctionata Guarantee will apply for a period of 25 years from time to (sic) handover of the purchased item.”

So I checked the guarantee available online; it covers the abovementioned period but provenance is not mentioned anywhere in the terms, or at least I was unable to find it. From the email it seemed that Mr Wertz had confirmed somewhere that he acquired the piece in the 1960s; therefore I asked for an affidavit from him or the present owner stating when and where the pieces were purchased. In fact it could be absolutely plausible that Mr Wertz legally bought a papyrus and other Egyptian antiquities (other pieces were in fact auctioned online recently) in the 1960s without taking care about provenance documents. I have talked with collectors and dealers in these months; as many academics, dealers and collectors too have started paying attention to provenance documents only recently, in most cases in absolute good faith, as a result of the increasing public awareness of the issues at stake, especially after the Unesco convention enforcement in 1972. Auctionata’s answer, however, was brief and depressing:

“We’ve contacted the consignor again, but unfortunately we won’t receive any documents about the provenance.”

The fact that no affidavit would be provided, and the only guarantee is that of Auctionata, which totally ignores the provenance aspect, does not look positive for a potential purchaser.

To conclude: Are you the one who bought the papyrus? Well I am sorry for you, but this was certainly not a good choice and investment.

You have a tiny and scrappy papyrus, written in a very bad handwriting, without a date, without the monk you thought to have and what is worse without documented provenance! If someone will claim the papyrus back one day or Egypt will ask for repatriation, the Auctionata guarantee will probably count for nothing, because provenance seems not to be mentioned among its clauses.

Honestly, far better to have invested those 1,200 euros in a holiday, a decent coat or bag, or – why not? – in a donation to a museum or a library, or else in finding a better papyrus in terms of conservation, contents and provenance, if you really wanted to hang one on the wall – which by the way you cannot do unless the glass is ultraviolet filtered and the room under constant humidity and temperature control. So why not go for a contemporary painting for your empty wall instead? I have a couple of names: nice stuff and a good investment too. Next time you have the impulse, just join me on my Saturday shopping trip and I’ll take control of the money; you won’t be disappointed…

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From Egypt to London Bonhams again?

The inlay sold as Lot 101, at Bonhams Auction 27739 (London 16 April 2015)

The inlay sold as Lot 101, at Bonhams Auction 27739 (London 16 April 2015)

New resemblances have emerged between pieces excavated by the Italian mission directed by R. Pintaudi in Antinoupolis and items recently auctioned by Bonhams. Despite a previous auction was stopped, it appears not much has changed.

The right (see note at the end of the post) left half of a glass inlay sold in London on 16 April 2015 for £ 15,000 (on the left) looks remarkably similar to the one recently published in Analecta Papyrologica (p. 372, reproduced below).

Right half of a mosaic inlay excavated by the Italian mission at Antinoupolis, and recently published.

Right half of the mosaic inlay excavated by the Italian mission at Antinoupolis, and recently published.

However, according to the auction catalogue the inlay comes from the “Scheps Collection, Switzerland, formed in the 1930s-1960s.” It would be interesting, among other things, to understand how the two halves came to be reunited in case it will be ascertained that the Bonhams right one is the same as the one found in Antinoupolis. Pintaudi has denounced both robberies from the mission’s storage and looting on the excavation site.

A spindle whorl sold by Bonhams in April 2014 has also been identified by Pintaudi as coming from the Antinoupolis material. In this case the provenance given in the catalogue was “UK private collection, formed during the late 1950s and early 1960s.”

If all this will be confirmed, we will have another proof of the fact that auction houses seem not to take enough care of provenance checks, while they have the ethical and professional duty to do so. I would say, they do not even care after alarming events and the continuous appeals in view of the wider situation in Egypt and elsewhere. I am confident that Madeleine Perridge (Head of Antiquities, Bonhams) will comment on the episode and will give us information on Bonhams provenance policy and practices, besides details on the acquisition history of the pieces in question. At my conference last October, she and other auction houses representatives and dealers not only pointed out the difficulties connected with provenance documentations, but also manifested their disappointment on what they defined as a criminalising attitude of the academics towards the antiquities market. Fair enough, but honestly what should we think after all these cases? As I asked in that occasion, is there a way to collaborate in order to stop what is happening, e.g. exercising a more careful control over the material on sale, providing images to experts in the field before sales take place? By the way, to provide images would be possible only if auction houses systematically take and archive them, which as we have learnt recently from Christie’s representatives is not as common as you might think, quite the opposite…Unless dealers and auction houses will take serious steps on checking provenance documents from their sources, nothing will ever change.

Besides provenance, the price of Bonhams lot 101 raises questions since it seems incredibly high and unjustified to me: £ 15,000 for a little inlay, not particularly rare? Really? Why, if I may ask: for the restorations it went through? What’s going on here? I would recommend buyers to consider the fact that auction houses sellers do get percentages, so inflating prices since the very beginning can easily occur. Indeed high prices could end being a more general advantage for both sellers and purchasers when antiquities are subsequently donated to a public institution with a consistent tax write-off and a millionaire looking like a public benefactor while he or she is first and foremost a benefactor to his or her own pocket. Or is it the high price just due to the fee oligarchs are ready to pay these days for the pleasure to own a piece of antiquity sold in the elegant rooms of a famous London auction house? I could not believe a museum has eventually paid this sum, but with so many new and well funded institutions spreading all over the world you never know.

Finally in case the provenance from the excavation site will be confirmed, I wonder how these pieces have crossed the UK borders without much troubles.

Correction 10 May 2015: I have been informed via email by Rosario Pintaudi that the side of the Bonhams’ inlay on which he has moved questions is not the right, as I reported initially, but the left. The image produced in the recently published article (available here) and reproduced above would correspond to the Bonahms left half although reversed since these glass inlays look ‘readable’ on both sides.

From Egypt to London: looting in Antinoupolis (el Sheikh ‘Abadah)

The glass tessera recovered from Bonhams

The glass inlay recovered from Bonhams

The last issue of the Italian academic journal Analecta Papyrologica publishes an interesting report on episodes of illegal excavations and looting in the area of Antinoupolis (“Latrones: furti e recuperi da Antinoupolis”, Analecta Papyrologica XXVI 2014 pp. 359-402). Rosario Pintaudi, director of a long-running archaeological mission on the site, and his collaborators document robberies and plundering, but also some recoveries of objects, in the area since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011. Some papyri, inscriptions and other pieces were recovered locally, but the most significant event reported is the recovery of an early Roman glass inlay stolen from the excavation site and later found on sale in an auction catalogue. This little and beautiful piece traveled from Egypt to the showrooms of Bonhams in London, where the sale was stopped by the police, after the object sold for about £ 5,000.

There are two important points emerging from the article. Firstly the searching of antiquities involves Egyptian local communities due to both the serious political and economic crisis, which makes life very hard for people, and the awareness that there is a flourishing and easily approachable market for these objects. It must be underlined that the core of the market is in Europe and elsewhere: as always the real money are made outside Egypt that remains a source, exploited country. Secondly, Pintaudi alerts the scholarly community on the sudden, recent appearance on the cultural scene of new big collections and a number of important, recently published papyri in the hands of anonymous collectors. Obviously there is no final proof that these two facts are directly linked to the situation in Egypt, but the Bonhams episode demonstrates that there is an absolute need for collectors and academics to be extremely careful when acquiring and publishing new texts and objects. As often happens, in the auction catalogue provenance was recorded as “English private collection, acquired in the late 1960s.” I wonder on the basis of which documents.

Bonhams catalogue entries for lot 64 and 65. The fish is remarkably similar to the glass tessera from Antinoupolis.

Bonhams catalogue entries for lot 64 and 65. The fish is remarkably similar to the glass inlay from Antinoupolis.

There are merchants in the temple: selling and buying ancient Biblical artefacts

Homepage of Ancient Asset Investments (screenshot)

Homepage of Ancient Asset Investments (screenshot)

As I pointed out in previous posts, papyri and more in general ancient manuscripts have become very popular among North American Christian apologists and I have found another interesting prove of what is happening.

Ancient Asset Investment is a firm which aims at bringing together collectors who wish to sell their artefacts and potential purchasers. The business website explains the process in simple and clear terms; this is a world where everybody is nice and have good manners, according to a terminology where prices are never mentioned, only values.

Those who sell, defined as clients, “have the unique opportunity to leverage the value of ancient artifacts to the greatest advantage, be it personal or financial”. Purchasers are not normal collectors, but “guardians” who “share irreplaceable antiquities with the world while protecting them for future generations.” The firm provides access to scholars who can provide “research” and “appraisals“: and guess who are these scholars? Of course the Manuscript Research Group (MRG) that as you already know is the creation of my myth: Scott Carroll.

“AAI has an exclusive business relationship with Scott Carroll Manuscripts and Rare Books. Dr. Carroll is a leading expert with unparalleled access to undocumented and unidentified artifacts in the overseas markets”

Among other things, an interesting YouTube presentation is mentioning “street-level foreign sources” for acquisitions. This sounds intriguing (or sinister, depending on your point of view on the matter).

As for the “guardian” model, this is another high profile character of my blog: Josh McDowell.

Yes, we have reached a new level….

Josh McDowell as a testimony for AAI - screenshot from AAI website

Josh McDowell as a testimony for AAI – screenshot from AAI website

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?

Mummy masks, papyri and the Gospel of Mark

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

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

Do we need to comment on the last articles about professor Craig Evans and the Gospel of Mark fragment? We do, it seems, from the many questions posed by readers of those articles, this blog and many others. But first, I wish to thank all the journalists who have given time and space to this topic and helped to raise questions on what is happening.

 

So here’s a re-cap with some explanations and a couple of new thoughts:

1) There is not a single New Testament or early Christian papyrus published so far coming from mummy cartonnage. Correct me if I am wrong, please. Mummy cartonnage = a sort of papier-mâché constituted by various materials sometimes including recycled papyri and used for fabricating masks and other covering panels for mummies.

2) According to current scholarship and archaeological finding, the use of recycling papyri for making mummy masks and panels ended in the early Augustan period, i.e. when Jesus was not even born or just a child. So what reported under point 1) is unsurprising. We have hundreds Ptolemaic papyri coming from mummy cartonnage, very few from the Roman period, and at the moment all dated inside this span of time. On the standard dates see e.g. D. Obbink, ‘P. Artemid.: The Artefact’, in: K. Brodersen, J. Elsner, Images and Texts on the “Arthemidorus Papyrus”, Stuttgart 2009.

Of course we would be very excited to learn that there is a massive shift in the current state of research, but without access to the evidence of this shift (images, data and publications) it is impossible to comment if this is really happening or not. These are not conditions in which a serious public debate on the topic can take place. These are perfect conditions, however, for the flourishing of ignorance and propaganda as a consequence.

3) Papyrologists have developed various methods for recovering papyri from cartonnage, which nowadays do not necessitate the complete dissolving or destroying of the masks or panels. If you pay attention to what Evans say in the video and interviews it seems clear that he does not know what he is talking about: he and the team he mentions are not experts on the matter since they apparently are not updated on the current methodology and need to destroy artifacts in order to get the fragments out (keep your cartonnage away from them!).

Although as I said technology is less invasive than it used to be, it still is at some extent. It is the case to remind the audience that any kind of intervention on ancient artifacts, even conservation, presents problems and before being performed teams of experts – in this case papyrologists, conservators, Egyptologists, etc. – evaluate pros and cons in order to decide if and how to proceed. Precise protocols are followed and the process is documented through imaging, recording and publishing. Nothing of this kind has happened yet in this case. We have not seen anything except slides with masks dating to the Ptolemaic – v. early Roman period as those previously shown in other videos – featuring Scott Carroll, director of the Green collection from 2009 to 2012, Josh McDowell and others – which we are carefully archiving since one year by now. Those slides and videos are very alarming: I will change my opinion on what has happened so far the day I will be given access to solid information not only on the process employed, but also on the legal acquisition circumstances of the cartonnage dissolved.

What is also alarming for someone who is supposed to teach and write on a history subject, is the way Evans approaches archaeological objects and their significance: he is reassuring us that “We’re not talking about the destruction of any museum-quality piece,” as if all the rest of our ancient evidence has no importance whatsoever. Do we need to comment further on this? I do not think so.

On mummy cartonnage dismounting and conservation I recommend J. Frösén “Conservation of ancient papyrus materials” written for the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Check out also the webpage of Helsinki University dedicated to the topic: http://www.helsinki.fi/hum/kla/papupetra/papyrus/cartonnage.html.

4) Why this obsession for cartonnage? This is indeed a fascinating question on which I am pondering since a while. For sure this is a means through which speakers (e.g. Christian apologists and academics) may evoke a sense of mystery and adventure that appeals so much to the media and the public. The oldest fragment of the Bible, new lines of famous classical authors, the expertise of the team…have you got a pale idea of everyday life in a papyrus collection? What we mainly recover are tax receipts, accounts and letters of people who ask to send donkeys up and down the Nile and then attach greetings for the entire village: and I mean name by name, and the names are odd. It is super cool, but it would hardly have any media coverage, right? Even more dramatically, academics are far from cool, trust me: badly dressed, usually unfit and clumsy, always exhausted. They spend most of their time in small untidy offices dealing with bureaucracy with the mirage to sit in a dusty library or a museum. There are the archaeologists, true, but I am mostly told unedifying stories of insects, diarrhea, and bad sweat smell. Yes, we are miles away from Indiana Jones…

Anyway, dealers should be quite happy about all the recent cartonnage advertisement. The Christian papyri stories, and the Sappho fragments news too, must have increased the appeal of cartonnage on the market: I am very curious to keep an eye on prices in auction catalogues, eBay and elsewhere. Taking aside nice masks and decorated panels, these materials are not very attractive for the average collector: the promise of hidden gems could be a good way to pack them nicely for sale.

Finally, I start thinking that cartonnage may represent a very convenient way for collections and collectors to do some papyri laundry. Let’s consider this scenario: you are a collector who buys mummy cartonnage and other Egyptian antiquities on the market with solid acquisition history and records. For instance, you go to a London auction and purchase a collection of mummy panels or other cartonnage (book-coverings and similar), with legal acquisition records (e.g. documents attesting that the pieces were already in a European collection in 1950). You do buy a lot of this stuff because you love Egypt, the mummies, the paintings on the panels, and papyri of all sorts, or maybe you are planning to open a museum or a library. Then you or someone working for you find some dodgy papyri on sale let’s say in Egypt, Turkey, or on eBay, and since you have some training in papyrology or you have an expert on your payroll, you do realize that these are fragments from a Gospel or from a famous classical author. (And they are a bargain in comparison to those sold by auction houses, or London and New York antiquities shops). Surely, for these you will never get good acquisition circumstances records. But as long as all of those involved in the transaction will keep their mouth closed, you could always pretend that those dodgy papyri come from the cartonnage you bought in London and later dismounted with your staff. You can even be so lucky to have made the regular purchase from a dealer who does not keep images or records of the pieces on sale, especially when they appear in the shape of insignificant papyri glued together (book coverings and other recycled papyri) or small pieces of mummy panels. We have learnt that even a big auction house like Christie’s happens not to keep images and records of pieces of this kind in some cases.

Obviously, these are all fantasies. In the real world people are never too brilliant and would certainly commit many mistakes. So do not try to embark into a criminal career following these suggestions: you will go to jail soon or later, I bet…

5) To conclude: will this Mark fragment be ever published? Does it even exist? Good questions: who knows? Well some people do actually know, but will not speak because they have signed non-disclosure agreements (another recent innovation, unheard in our fields before all this started): for instance Evans and Daniel Wallace, who both apparently saw or were informed about the papyrus in question. But also the Green collection team should know something, at least if Evans is telling us lies when saying that the fragment will be published by Brill, the publisher of the Green papyri (has Brill anything to say on this?). Mike Holmes, director of the Green Scholars Initiative, has posted an elusive answer on his blog after I and others pressed him with questions.

The lack of information does not help. What a mess!

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: https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/mummy-masks-papyri-and-the-gospel-of-mark/

To publish or not to publish? A multidisciplinary approach to the politics, ethics and economics of ancient artefacs

FlyerThe John Rylands Seminar in Papyrology

25 October 2014, Christie Room, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester

A brief introduction on the aims of the seminar is available from here: Aims

 

PROGRAM

10:45-11:00 Welcome/Introduction: Roberta Mazza (University of Manchester)

11:00 -11:30 David Gill (University Campus Suffolk): What does ‘provenance’ mean?

11:30-12:00 Neil Brodie (University of Glasgow): The role of academics

12:00-12:30 Stuart Campbell (University of Manchester): Mesopotamian objects in a conflicted world

12:30-13:30 Lunch

Chair: Roslynne Bell (University of Manchester)

13:30-14:00 Roberta Mazza (University of Manchester): Who owns the past? Private and public papyrus collections

14:00-14:30 Chris Naunton (Egypt Exploration Society, London): Association policies: the case of the Egypt Exploration Society

14:30-15:00 Coffee Break

15:00-15:30 Vernon Rapley (V&A Museum, National Museum Security Group, London): ‘Working together.’ Law enforcement and cultural sector, intelligence sharing and cooperation

15:30-16:00 James Ede (Charles Ede Ltd, London): Dealers: trade, traffic and the consequences of demonization

16:00-16:45 The way forward: round table

Discussants include David Trobisch (Director of the Green Collection, Washington DC), Marcel Marée (The British Museum), Nikolaos Gonis (UCL), Campbell Price (Manchester Museum), Nicole Vitellone (University of Liverpool), William Webber (Art Loss Register), Donna Yates (University of Glasgow)


Everybody is welcome!

UPDATE 23 September: Due to unexpected growing interest, I now kindly ask people who wish to attend to confirm it to me via email due to space limitations: roberta.mazza@manchester.ac.uk


This conference and research project have not been funded by The British Academy.

Looting: A Call for Action

In these days we have been given important reports on the illegal market of antiquities from Egypt. If you haven’t yet, read the article by Bel Trew on the Daily Beast and watch this impressive video featuring among others Monica Hanna, a brave Egyptologist who has done a fantastic job in these years to stop looting:

It is remarkable that the mechanics through which the illegal, ongoing antiquity market is flourishing are still those of the colonial era. Dealers exploit the poverty of local populations for obtaining their collaboration, and then at the end of the supply chain they earn a thousand time more than what local looters received. As the authors of the above mentioned reports underline, it is the high demand for antiquities from collectors mostly based in North America, Europe, China and the Gulf that is nurturing these activities. We are still living in the age of empires under many respects.

It is a shame that we, scholars, have the power to help contrasting. We can do two simple things. First, as Erin Thompson has recently reminded us from the pages of the New York Times, we can help changing the mentality of collectors. For instance, if a wealthy collector invites you to collaborate to the formation of a new Museum of the Bible, instead of accepting suggest him to divert his money on helping existent libraries, museums, and cultural institutions to maintain, study and publish their already existent collections. Second, we can ask editorial boards, professional associations, museums and other institutions to enforce stricter rules on the publication and exhibition of Egyptian antiquities of recent acquisition.

If we really think we want the world to change, let’s be the first to change!