Monday 12 May 2014

They Dissolve Antiquities Don't They?

Nothing to Hide
As Thutmose comments on my post "US Christian Apologist Fanatics Destroy Ancient Artefacts":
Absolutely horrifying. I just can't imagine anyone in their right mind doing something like this.
I think that he's not the only one. A cynically-inclined conspiracy theorist might however take a different approach.

- DID the scholars associated with the Green Collection, in fact dissolve more than the two shown in the graphic illustrations pointedly shown at some public talks where it was known that the information was being widely disseminated by video and discussed? How many, when and where?

- A cynic might ask whether arousing shocked discussion and widespread awareness of an unknown scale of hidden-manuscript-producing mummy-mask-trashing going on was not a deliberate ploy.

- A cynic might suggest that, under certain circumstances, a series of secretive purchases of previously unknown yet spectacular finds, freshly surfacing in US collections within a few years of each other might benefit from there being (a) non-disclosure agreements built into their "research programme" on these freshly-surfaced manuscripts and (b) wild rumours about vast numbers of new manuscript fragments emerging from a probable programme of mummy-mask-trashing which its perpetrators are understandably (given the controversy it has aroused), reluctant to discuss.

- Given the state of the antiquities market today, and papyri in general, a cynic might suggest legal, rather than ethical, circumstances where the purchasers of such material would prefer unsubstantiated and uncheckable suspicions of one kind replace suspicions of another.

- Mr McDowell's flowery embellishments of what he saw might lead a cynic to ask whether getting him involved in at least one cartonnage-trashing episode, which he was bound to talk about excitedly (no non-disclosure agreement there, obviously)  was not a calculated step in order to get even more attention to this potential mechanism of "surfacing" of fresh manuscripts, and at the same time distancing the criticism from the scholars involved in the handling of these new manuscripts. 

I, of course, am not a bit cynical about the antiquities market. Far from it, I am sure there must be a perfectly innocent explanation of all of these doubts.

This is why I suggest that in order to allay the concerns roused by potential cynical interpretations of what can be observed going on, the scholars involved in this bout of manuscript-extraction from privately-owned cartonnage should - prior to the publication of the manuscripts themselves - publish online the details of the extraction project. Particularly helpful would be a handlist of all the privately-owned papyrus-based cartonnage fragments purchased (with collecting histories and export procedures detailed), the selection process they underwent after purchase for inclusion in the dissolution project. There can be preliminary documentation of their state and composition, and the date when and place where the cartonnage was dismantled, and by whom.  Finally, transparency would require a list of which manuscripts (catalogue numbers will be fine at this stage) came from which pieces of cartonnage, so that we all know which manuscripts emerged from which source of this nature.

That should stop the cynics and their doubts that something might be being hidden here by US scholars and biblical apologists.

In the earliest known fragment of the Gospel of Mark 4:21–25, we read about the Light "whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open". Perhaps these Christian apologists can apply that sentiment to their own work with these newly-surfaced manuscripts. Moreover, Christ is not reported as adding the words "several years later" to the existing versions of the parable in the Synoptics, but who knows what version US manuscript-mining scholars will find if they "dissolve enough Egyptian mummy masks"?

Just as the cartonnage they are trashing are the archaeological heritage of us all and the manuscripts are the whole world's literary and spiritual heritage, let the scholars handling both be as transparent as humanly possible. they can say they are doing it 'To the Greater Glory of God' if they like, but let them not hide what they are doing as if it was something to be ashamed of. 


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