Saturday, 14 February 2015

Manuscript Sales Site Down 'for Maintenance'

A few days ago, a couple of us were taking an interest in a US Evangelist's idea of selling biblical manuscripts for pious profit. Roberta Mazza points out that their website is "down for maintenance". Oh yeah? They promise it will be up again on Feb 25th. Watch this space.

Dr Mazza has ('Marketing the Word of God', Faces and Voices Feb 14, 2015) has identified the scrolls which I did not in my earlier post. It is quite an interesting list:

1) 31 March 2014, Bethel University, St Paul Minnesota. 17th century Torah said to come from Baghdad.

2) 4 September 2014, Multnomah University, Portland Oregon. "somewhere in Eastern Europe during the Reformation"

3) 18 September 2014: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL. A Torah scroll originally from Germany and dating to the late 1400s or early 1500s

4) 30 September 2014: The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley CA. 18th century Torah scroll from Yemen

5) 8 November 2014: Veritas Evangelical Seminar, Santa Ana CA. Torah. Reportedly bought from 'a collector' in Israel but "with scribal characteristics common to those in Germany and in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th century".

6) 5 December 2014: Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas TX. Torah scroll from Morocco but bought in Israel.

7) February 2015: Trinity Western University, Langley Canada. 16th century Torah from Morocco.

It seems therefore that we have a scroll from war-torn Iraq (how and when did it leave?), three which seem to be of central European origin (how and when did they leave the region?) one from Yemen, a country currently in meltdown (how and when did it leave?) and two from Morocco (well-known in collecting circles as a source of illicit meteorites and flint tools as well as fossils - so how and when did these two scrolls leave the country?). Did the recipient institutions obtain a full set of documentation detailing the collecting history of the objects identifying them as licitly-obtained? As I pointed out earlier, it is singularly interesting that as far as we can  see, there has not been a single comment from the students and staff of these seven institutes about where the objects left the source country and how they entered North America. Perhaps North American Christians do not consider such issues concern them. Now what are they going to do with those sacred scrolls? Pray to Jesus over them?

All the donations linked with Ancient Asset Investment and Scott Carroll seem to have the sponsors in common: Ken and Barbara Larson, from Bonita Springs, Fla.,.
An interesting online article (Donald Libenson, in Capital Gazette, 21 October 2014) is shedding some light on the motivations behind Mr Larson’s donation. It explains that Mr Larson “credited a friend who’s an author and speaker with inspiring the gift. Larson described him as ‘an apologist,’ a defender of Christianity based on historical evidence and other philosophical arguments. ‘He told me he had purchased an ancient Torah and he found it to be helpful in his speaking and teaching.
One wonders if this is not referring to Josh McDowell who has a scroll somehow removed from Łódź, Poland.


todd hillard said...

Dear all, this is Todd Hillard, the owner of Ancient Asset Investments. I was pleasantly shocked to see that anyone cared enough about what we are doing to give it such a thoughtful and thorough critique!
Roberta Mazza and I are already in contact and she has posted my response on her blog.
We are a very small company and what we are doing is continually morphing. Yes, the name Ancient Asset Investments, which I don’t care for. But it was either that or Scrolls R Us, so… Actually, we have been redesigning our webite for weeks. When I saw your blog, I immediately had it shut down to avoid further confusion. We hope to relaunch it on February 25. Between now and then I would love to engage in more dialogue. We are open to all criticism and concern and your input will help us do what do better… as long as we all remain objective and don’t speculate.
We are sincerely listening and interest in your perspective on what we are doing and we are ready to alter course. This week, a Cambridge student shared concerns about the way we “coordinate” appraisals. His concerns were valid. We are completely revamping our protocol to ensure that there is neither appearance nor potential for conflict of interest.
So I would love to continue this dialogue with people who care as you all seem to. We really do want to do this right.
First though, let me clear up some simple misconceptions and answer questions you brought up: (see next post)

todd hillard said...

First though, let me clear up some simple misconceptions and answer questions you brought up:
Prior to launching this business, I was a freelance “ghost” collaborative writer on about 20 books. I did not always embrace the focus and passion of some of the authors I wrote for. Steve Green’s book, the Bible in America, however, I can fully endorse. Solid research, interesting history and it tells a good story. I wish it were available in the general market. For now it can be bought at their Hobby lobby stores. I know much of what Steve is doing controversial, but in the year that I worked with the Greens on this book I found them to be good men who were fair and honest and I’m proud of my association with them.
• From a purely business standpoint, we saw AAI opportunity to sell a product at a reduced price and still put food on the table for multiple families. For a personal standpoint, however this business is driven by the vision to place irreplaceable artifacts in the hands of those who can care for them and share them with the world again. We worked with multiple accountants and attorneys over a period of 18 months to make sure this model was sound. Personally I get great joy when I see a scroll that had been gathering dust in a genizah placed in the hands of collectors, professors, rabbis and students who would never, ever have the chance to work with these artifacts were it not for what we’re doing.
• Currently, we are not dealing with any papyri (another reason to update the website) Although we use it as an example on the website, we have never sold papyri from mummy cartonage. I’m with you on that. I’m afraid that greed is going to fuel the “trashing” of masks.
• All of our Hebrew scrolls come directly from Israel. Most originated in different parts of the world and were brought to Israel after World War II. They were used in private homes and synagogues until they were no longer kosher and were “retired” to the shelf and the closet.
• Though not mentioned, we do provide substantial documentation regarding provenance and ownership as far back as we are able.
• Though not mentioned, we handle all export and import issues. The free trade agreement with Israel and the fact that these are not archeological in nature makes the process simple.
• There is no “title” per se on items such as these. We are usually the first to document their existence.
• Any students who work on our materials are paid as interns. Right now we do not have any formal arrangement with a particular university for research, but we hope to.
• All the seminaries in your list received Torahs.

todd hillard said...

So I hope that clarifies things a little. Please fire away if you have more questions or other concerns.
If it’s not appropriate to do this on the blog, please feel free to contact me directly.
PS. I was finishing this post in response to the Commercializing the Assets..” post when I notice the new thread on our site being down for “maintenance” Actually in light of the recent confusion we took it down to update and clarify many of the concern that have been raised.
In answer to your additional questions,
The Iraqi, Yemenite and Morrocan Torahs were acquired in Israel where they were brought by immigrating Jews from their homeland. The Yemenite probably came to Israel during operation “on Eagles wings between 1949-50.
They entered North America through US Customs via FedEx.
Yes, Mr. Larson’s first contact with a Torah was through Josh McDowell. The Lodz Torah was brought to Israel from Poland by Holocaust survivors… we think. Honestly, we rarely know the exact route a scroll has followed, so we must qualify dates and specifics with lots of “probably”s and “possibly”s.

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