The Odyssey of an Iliad Papyrus

A Homer papyrus was sold today through Aguttes Auction House, France, for 35,000 euros. The papyrus, a fragment with lines from the beginning of the Iliad, is an old friend of us as it is linked with Dr Scott Carroll, Director of the Green Collection from 2009 to 2012, and now CEO of his own business, the Manuscripts Research Group, and connected with various other entities.

The Iliad papyrus surfaced in a video of a presentation given by Carroll at an evangelical Christian charity event of 2016. The video is still available on Youtube (below), and was reported also by Brent Nongbri in his blog. As usual, Carroll did not explain where he sourced this or any other papyrus in the slides. Can we imagine an origin similar to that of the Green papyri, mostly acquired during his direction and which were all given back to Egypt, apart from a bunch of legal provenance?

The next public appearance of the Iliad papyrus was on the Pinterest account of Aristophil.

Aristophil – a very debated business, that traded in virtual quotas of rare manuscripts and books – went through a series of legal cases. Following court decisions, Aguttes has been involved in the liquidation of the Aristophil collections, as it is explained in a website presenting the lots and sales.

But how did this papyrus end with Aristophil? It was acquired in 2013 from Les Enluminures, rare manuscripts, books and antiques business owned by Sandra Hindman. Possibly the papyrus was handled for a client – hard to know since the rules of discretion regulating the market. The only information available through Aguttes is that the papyrus came through Hindman, was in private ownership since the beginning of the XXth century, and had been studied by Dr Dirk Obbink and  Dr Scott Carroll, as explained via email to my colleague Michael Sampson.

I contacted Aguttes via email last June to flag the papyrus without success.

Evangelical trade in Biblical antiquities in the United States: It is still happening

Would you like to see plenty of “Biblical” antiquities of unknown provenance including some forgeries too? Then download the two pdf brochures that a Mr Brandon Witt is circulating to institutions and individuals for sale (the second version seems to imply that some items have been indeed sold).

Many of the pieces seem related with Scott Carroll and other evangelical dealers/collectors/morons. Cuneiform tablets, the usual Ptolemaic papyrus from cartonnage, a post-2002 Dead Sea scroll fragment and late antique parchments. Real, forgeries or replicas? Who knows? Only Torah scrolls seem missing from the cabinet of curiosities, probably none has been left after Hobby Lobby and later Ken and Barbara Larson swept the market.

I sent an email to Mr Witt to fix a call and listen at the story of how he came in the possession of this remarkable assortment, but he says he has “a couple other big deals” which are taking up a lot of his time – frightening, as I can’t imagine what else he is trying to sell.

To me it is a mystery why American evangelicals seem entitled to sell their unprovenanced and forged Biblical trinkets without any consequences.

I had thought to speak about the past at next week conference on The Market for Biblical Antiquities (1852-2022), but then the present is so remarkable I will have to discuss it, too…

Details on how to participate here:

Josh McDowell, Scott Carroll and the Green Collection

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 08.40.36Evangelical apologist Josh McDowell has uploaded new interesting material on his  “Discover” webpage. There is now a link for downloading an enlightening pdf booklet, Discovering a Living Treasure, in which he explains how he started his papyrology training under our Indiana Scott Carroll (I retrieved this information from Brice Jones’ blog). At page 2 of the booklet, McDowell says that his first dismounting mummy mask experience took place at Baylor and the papyri were extracted for the Green Collection by Carroll: if this is true, images and explanations of the extraction method will be certainly published in the first volume of the Brill series.

McDowell adds that he has then purchased cartonnage through Scott Carroll for starting his own collection to use for his ministry. I recognise that Scott Carroll must be a terrific teacher because McDowell has very clear ideas on cartonnage, and is able to distinguish mummy masks, panels, and book-binding (p. 4), a topic that has recently confused even well-trained people. Despite the promising cartonnage lesson, what follows are some (hilarious) out of focus images of papyrus and parchment fragments allegedly bearing lines form the Scriptures, and this I must say is not very promising in terms of credibility.

I am not a law expert, but it appears that in the United States owners of antiquities are entitled to do whatever they like with them, including dissolving mummy masks in Palmolive soap, as long as they have been legally acquired. However, in case the ownership is later discovered to be illegal the legal owner (e.g. the Egyptian government) in principle could ask for restitution and damages.

Can we see the acquisition documents of antiquities owned by Josh McDowell and other private collectors as I have already asked in my yesterday post? Would you trust people who dismount cartonnage and then refuse to explain from where the original artefacts came from?