Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Curious Case of the Stolen Gospel

Got me some cash
buy me some erudishun
Guardian's 'Long Read' is a cracker:
A scandal in Oxford: the curious case of the stolen gospel
What links an eccentric Oxford classics don, the millionaire US evangelicals with money to burn and a tiny, missing fragment of an ancient manuscript? Charlotte Higgins unravels a multimillion-dollar riddle Thu 9 Jan 2020
The top two thirds sets the scene and recounts things seen on this and other blogs covering this story, I'm a bit miffed in a minor way that the author did not provide a link to something she'd seen ("One archaeologist-blogger posted a different kind of headline: “No-Questions-Asking UK Academic Reads a Freshly Uncovered Ripped-up Papyrus from Unknown Source.”...", guess who that was). But the story hots up after the bit about what she calls "niggling doubts" about the Sappho papyrus and her interview with Christie's about it. Then the tale gets really gripping, even for those who've become somewhat wearied of puzzling through all the smokescreens and false claims thrown out by the various papyrus-fondling factions. I urge readers to go through the whole text for themselves, it is quite thought provoking. A couple of quotes caught my eye:
Holmes [MoB] is trying to improve practices at the Museum of the Bible. Hobby Lobby and the Greens have, he said, declared a halt to what he called “problematic” acquisitions. Only items with fully researched provenances will be bought. Only papyri that have properly established legal provenance will be displayed online and in the museum, and published in scholarly volumes. At present, just over 20 papyri are displayed on the museum’s website, out of 5,000. I asked Holmes whether one can therefore conclude that the Greens own around 4,980 papyri that lack reliable provenance. “In general, yes,” said Holmes. The organisation is now negotiating, he told me, with national governments to return ownership of unprovenanced items to their countries of origin.
Ooops. And from one of the leading critics of the whole series of affairs involving the MoB:
While reserving respect for Holmes’s reforming efforts, Mazza did not pull her punches. The Greens have “poured millions on the legal and illegal antiquities market without having a clue about the history, the material features, cultural value, fragilities and problems of the objects,” she said. This irresponsible collecting “is a crime against culture and knowledge of immense proportions – as the facts unfolding under our eyes do prove.”
And finally, anonymously:
Classicists are by turns gripped by the drama, and horrified by its implications. [...] [A] lecturer in Greek told me that the alleged crime was, in effect, a deeply disturbing perpetuation of the “profiteering and the pillage” of past centuries – just at the moment when the discipline was trying to reflect on a history of complicity with colonialism.
and now it remains to see what the 'investigations' reveal.

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