Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The New Sappho Came from Istanbul eBay seller 'Mixantik'?


The 'New Sappho Saga' gets murkier and murkier. Some of the fragments ended up in the ownership of Hobby Lobby (the Green Collection). Now we know more about how. Brent Nongbri has been in contact with the Washington Museum of the Bible and reported some ' Important Developments with the New Sappho Papyrus' (Variant Readings blog, posted on January 29, 2020):
Mike Holmes of the Museum of the Bible has just released some new discoveries from the Museum’s ongoing provenance research to me and several other people via e-mail. There are several important revelations. Especially important are 1) a stunningly sharp observation by MOTB curator Brian Hyland and 2) the news that Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) appears to be the source of the Hobby Lobby Sappho fragments.
We know that on Feb. 7 2012, Scott Carroll displayed the new Sappho fragments at a lecture event in Atlanta claiming that they “came out of a mummy mask I dismantled a few weeks ago”. In the 2016 publication, Dirk Obbink writes of the origins of these papyri:
all of the fragments were recovered from a fragment of papyrus cartonnage formerly in the collection of David M. Robinson [...]. It was one of two pieces flat inside a sub-folder (sub-folder ‘e3’) inside a main folder (labelled ‘Papyri Fragments; Gk’.), one of 59 packets of papyri fragments sold at auction at Christie’s in London in November 2011 [...] The layers of the cartonnage fragment, a thin flat compressed mass of papyrus fragments, were separated by the owner and his staff by dissolving in a warm-water solution.
So not by Carroll? Quite a lot of detail there, where from? The problem is that now it turns out that some of these Hobby Lobby (HL) fragments are visible in the now-infamous 'Green Scholars Initiative' video 'Uncovering the Past, From Mummy Mask to Manuscripts', apparently showing Scott Carroll dismantling a mummy mask, filmed at Baylor University on January 16, 2012. They are clearly seen in the pile of wet fragments from here to here, being sorted in the midst of a chaotic scrum of students in the 'Classics Lounge' at Baylor.  It now seems that this video was partially staged and that the students did not actually sit around waiting while Carroll trashed a mummy mask in a sink somewhere off the Classics Lounge. The pieces being sorted in the second part of the video were not actually from that mummy mask, it seems. Holmes continues:
A purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012, and signed by Yakup Eksioglu is accompanied by (i) an invoice for the following items:
“Ancient Greek-Coptic language Papyrus fragments parobably between 800- 1000 fragment Shown as in the group pictures”
“Cartonagge Masks and other cartonagge fragments Shown as in the group pictures”
and (ii) several “group photographs” of the items purchased, arranged in rows and columns. The “group photographs” clearly show the shape and general appearance of the items, but do not show enough detail to identify the contents of any particular item.
Readers might remember the vehement denials by the MoB/Green Collection that the 'Galatians' papyrus fragment that Roberta Mazza took a great interest in, had come from this eBay seller (Mixantik) in Turkey. And here we have what seems to be a black-and-white record, apparently in the Green Collection archives. Since 2012. Oh well.

Accompanying the invoice was a photo, which matches a second photo that was later being shown round by Obbink (and containing a wad of papyri that includes an identifiable fragment of the New Sappho). The metadata of this picture shows it was taken on Dec 11th 2011, possibly it was part of the sales offer of the Turkish dealer. Perhaps by that time the objects were already in the US 'on approval'.

We may guess that the fragments were bought by Mr Green, on the offchance that there were scriptural texts inside, and then were prised apart by Carroll - nota bene by about a week after the invoice was issued. They then passed to Obbink for reading, and he found out that the texts were not scriptural, but something equally interesting. What a laugh, eh? Rather than a trophy gospel, it seems the ultraconservative Bible-thumping Mr Green found himself inadvertently to be the proud (?) owner of bits of some lesbian poetry book.

The first news started to surface in January 2014, by which time there had been quite a lot of people (Roberta Mazza, Dorothy Lobel King, Candida Moss, ‎Joel Baden, Brent Nongbri  and a whole series of Biblical bloggers and myself) who'd been investigating and writing quite critically of this seller. So the true source of the fragments was hidden. Obbink produced several stories about it coming from some mysterious 'gentleman's collection' (he forgot to say 'in a builder's yard in Istanbul') and a November 2011 sale (so predating the actual sale by Mixantik).

This was probably convenient to Mr Green. After all, he surely by the time he purchased these items from him ("between 800- 1000 fragment"), he would have realised that there was probably something dodgy about a sale of ancient Egyptian papyri from a builder's yard in Istanbul and their export (how?) to the USA. Surely.

They knew. Candida Moss and Joel Baden, 'Did Hobby Lobby Buy a Piece of the Bible Illegally Sold on eBay?' Hyper allergic, Oct. 22, 2017) report about the fragment of Galatians:
Josephine Dru, then curator of papyri for the Green Collection [...] told us that the Greens had not bought it on eBay, but that it had been legally purchased from a trusted London dealer in 2013. That dealer, she said, traced the papyrus back to a large lot of papyri that had been sold at Christie’s in November 2011. And that lot, in turn, had a clear provenance, having originally been part of a collection known as the Robinson Collection, a segment of which had been donated to the University of Mississippi back in 1955—­well before the UNESCO regulations went into effect. Though the appearance of the papyrus on eBay was difficult to explain [no, not really, now PMB], there seemed to be no legal problem with the provenance of the fragment—­at least, everyone at the Green Collection declared themselves to be satisfied.
Hmm. Were they, when they had the invoices? The Mississippi connection also turned out to be a dud. A lot of fog, confusion, deceit and false leads. Peter thrice denied Christ, how many times will the Green Collection deny its own sources and for how long?

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