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It is alleged that biblical artifacts have been bought by Hobby Lobby for the Museum of the Bible shown here. Source: CC BY-SA 4.0

Oxford Professor Embroiled In Biblical Artifacts Scandal

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An Oxford University professor stands accused of illegally selling rare ancient Bible fragments to a controversial religious US company.

Dirk Obbink was one of the world’s most celebrated classics professors but he is currently the centerpiece in a major scandal after incriminating evidence was found in an investigation by staff associated with Oxford’s  Oxyrhynchus Papyri project. The professor has been accused of selling a number of ancient fragments to the US arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, owned by the prominent Christian evangelical, Green family, who are no strangers to defending high-profile scandals related to the illegal purchasing of biblical artifacts.

The Net Closes

According to a report in The Guardian Hobby Lobby president Steve Green said the family funded Washington’s $400 million Museum of the Bible  in 2017 which exhibits among other things contemporary art depicting the Apocalypse, “there is something here for you, your family, your community”.

Museum of the Bible, funded by Hobby Lobby, has numerous biblical artifacts. (Fishermade / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Egypt Exploration Society (EES), which manages the Papyri project, said it was told by the Museum of the Bible that “11 fragments were sold to it by Obbink” in two separate batches in 2010 and now both the EES and staff at the university have confirmed Obbink is currently under investigation for the alleged illegal sale of the ancient biblical artifacts .

The famous lecturer in papyrology and Greek literature previously denied the allegations but the EES say Obbink’s removal as general editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project was due not only to “unsatisfactory discharge of his editorial duties” but also due to “concerns” that he failed to disclose his alleged involvement in the “marketing” or sale of the ancient biblical texts .

The Fish Is On The Bank

So far we have what appears to be a clean cut case of a professor who saw a way to triple his retirement fund with one dodgy steal and sale, and he must have convinced himself somehow that his actions were for the greater good. Most criminals can easily, and often convincingly, justify their criminal actions. But where this case gets really shadowy is that in EES’s statement they said file records relating to the missing fragments had “been removed”.

Biblical Artifact - Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 24 - Book of Revelation 5:5-8. (Primaler / Public Domain )

Key texts which would have stood as solid evidence had been “taken” without any prior authorization from the EES, and what’s more, the report says in most of the 13 cases the catalog card and photograph are also “missing”. The Daily Beast has long speculated about Obbink’s connection in the sale of the rare biblical fragments of the Gospel of Mark to the powerful Green family. They reference that, New Testament scholar, Brent Nongbri published an email sent by the Museum of the Bible linking Obbink with the sale of this, and three other gospel fragments to the Greens, and they went so far as to publish a copy of the contract.

But It Flips Back In Again

Commenting after the statement made in Monday’s Daily Beast Nongbri said the sale of the manuscripts and the attempt to cover it all up by removing records “is almost unbelievable”. According to EES their investigations have determined 13 pieces in the Museum of the Bible’s collection are the legal property of the nonprofit society and do not belong to one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world.

Gospel of Matthew written 70 AD. Copy from 250 AD. Biblical artifact from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project. (Saiht / Public Domain)

Gospel of Matthew written 70 AD. Copy from 250 AD. Biblical artifact from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project. (Saiht / Public Domain )

Reporting on such occurrences often sets flames of anger and resentment inside one and the aim of the objective reporter is to deliver the facts, without any emotional bias or slant, especially when the accused has not yet been charged with anything. However, while we must at this stage cut Obbink some slack until he is charged and sentenced by a court judge, should we extend the same courtesy to the Green family?

It Was A Fake Rubber Fish All Along

Their museum has been a controversy-generator since day one and it struggles to legally justify how it came to possess many of its acquisitions. In June 2017, according to The Washington Post , Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million for illegally importing “thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts ” and in this instance they falsely labeled crates and threw customs officers off the trail by shipping the biblical artifacts first to the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

A cuneiform tablet illegally imported by Hobby Lobby in 2007. (Bluerasberry / Public Domain)

A cuneiform tablet illegally imported by Hobby Lobby in 2007. (Bluerasberry / Public Domain )

In post-trial comments a Hobby Lobby spokesperson said the company had only erred by relying on artifact dealers who did not understand how to properly ship the items. So let’s say one accepts Hobby Lobby’s blaming of everyone around them, as an excuse for their actions, can the same acceptance be offered knowing that just after this incident the Museum of the Bible had to remove five fragmentary parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were later discovered to be, according to The Guardian , “modern forgeries”?

Top image: It is alleged that biblical artifacts have been bought by Hobby Lobby for the Museum of the Bible shown here. Source: CC BY-SA 4.0

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Pete Wagner's picture

They multi-task it by 1) enriching themselves, and 2) corrupting the truth of our origins.  Fake history is an age old occupation.

Gary Moran's picture

Kinda like grave robbing isn’t it? If they are so brazen as to put artifacts like that on public display, it makes me wonder whether they’ve got other things hidden away in a private collection. 

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