Wednesday 30 April 2014

Christian Apologist Private Collectors of Biblical Artefacts and the Destruction of the Heritage

To the left of
the Crucified.
Brice C. Jones ('On the Green Collection and Private Collectors of Biblical Artifacts', 29th April 2014) discusses several private collections of so-called "biblical" artefacts. The focus is on papyri which have recently been 'surfacing' (from "underground"?) on the market and making some dealers in the US lots and lots of money. From the publicity material of the Green Collection, he points out that  it is clear that the antiquities are being used for apologetic purposes. As an example, he quotes this statement:

"These biblical manuscript fragments will be used of [sic] God to bring many young people to Christ. I plan to take these manuscripts, scrolls and masks with me as part of the Heroic Truth Experience to help provide an “a-ha” experience for young people and their parents, providing hands-on exposure to ancient evidence for the historical reliability of Scripture. Pray with me that these discoveries will be blessed of [sic] God to bring people to Christ and ground believers in the true faith so they can “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have [in Christ]” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). "
Well, for goodness' sake, please somebody explain to me how a scrap of old paper (papyrus, parchment, whatever) can by itself be "ancient evidence for the historical reliability of Scripture". What's the matter with these people? Brice points out that:
The big questions that we are all interested in are: Where are these thousands upon thousands of antiquities coming from, all of a sudden? Who is involved in these transactions? What is the provenance of these cultural artifacts? Will the religious motivations behind the procuration and use of these items restrict academic study of them? 
What archaeological associations are being trashed by the people that dig for this stuff, smuggle it to foreign markets and then split it up for sale on that market?

But it seems that "academic study" is not the only thing these people do with ancient artefacts. They also dismantle them for fun (or is it fund-raising?). Here is a disturbing story which he surmises seems to involve artefacts part of the Collection of Scott Carroll - formerly associated with the Hobby Lobby/Green Collection  ('Scott Carroll Manuscripts and Rare Books' and 'The Manuscript Research Group'*):
On the personal website of Josh McDowell, an American evangelical Christian apologist, there is a very interesting post about an event called "Discover the Evidence," which took place on 5-6 December 2013. At this event, it is said that "each attendee actually participated in the extraction of papyri fragments [sic] from ancient artifacts. This had never been attempted with such a large group before. That was historic!" [...]  What did the "extraction of papyri fragments [sic] from ancient artifacts" actually involve? Extraction from what? And why were (non-specialist?) attendees given hands-on access to unpublished artifacts? The article also mentions that "over 50 papyri fragments out of nearly 200 papyri that were discovered have been identified." 200 papyri? Where were they "discovered?" What is their provenance?
Were these non-specialists taking artefacts apart to see what is inside were supervised by experts in the field? What documentation was carried out, which ancient artefacts were selected for dismantling in this way and on what grounds?

 *"which provides access to scholars who identify and prepare for publication cuneiform tablets, papyri, Dead Sea Scrolls, biblical manuscripts and Torahs of enormous significance."


Anonymous said...

According to an article published in Les Enluminures, Autumn 2013, the Museum of the Bible, which is going to open in Washington DC in 2017, will offer a an experience similar to that of Discover the evidence; page 36 reports:
'Jerry Pattengale, executive director of the GSI and assistant provost at Indiana Wesleyan University, said, “For the cartonnage project, we are careful to dissolve only masks that are quite damaged and have so greatly decreased in artistic value and merit that they are no longer desirable for display in museums as objects in their own right (moreover, the outer surface of the object remains intact in the process).” Visitors will be able to participate in the actual procedure, and others can watch from outside the glass box in the museum. “Our goal is that when you come here you experience it for a long time thereafter, because of the things you take home with you. A trip to our museum is only a step of a long journey of discovery,” said Cary Summers, the museum’s chief operating officer.'

Paul Barford said...

"the things you take home with you"


APE Ancient Papyri for Education?

How do participants know they're not taking home bits of a looted artefact?

In any case, is the prime factor defining archaeological value how pretty something looks in a showcase?


Anonymous said...

RE on 'surfacing' from where: one of the pieces now on display in their Vatican exhibition (GC.MS.000462) was certainly on sale on eBay from the Turkish seller MixAntik in October 2012.

Anonymous said...

Re on surfacing from where: one of the pieces now on display in the Vatican exhibition organised by the Green Collection/Museum of the Bible was on sale on eBay from the Turkish seller MixAntik in October 2012 (GC.MS.000462)

Brice C. Jones said...

Thanks for drawing attention to this issue, Paul.

Paul Barford said...

MixAntik of Istanbul, a dealer discussed here a couple of times on this blog (and elsewhere). Now trading under a new name, and seller of the wrenched-off mummy mask I discussed yesterday. Small world, isn't it?

So the Green Collection has been buying from him? Really?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if they bought it directly from eBay. I posed the question in my blog post and asked the director of the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection via email. I am waiting for answers.

Paul Barford said...

Well, of course the key is not "who" they bought it from, but when and how it left the Egyptian desert. How it arrived in the USA is a secondary issue to that.

The fact we know whose hands it was in, and what else that person has, gives food for thought.

I hope you get a prompt answer from the Museum which resolves all doubts.

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