Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Josh McDowell Collection of Biblical Papyri Fragments

"Would you trust people who dismount
cartonnage and then refuse to explain
where the original artefacts came from?
Roberta Mazza
The Evangelical apologist Josh McDowell has uploaded a link to a pretty cringeworthy pdf, a booklet called Discovering a Living Treasure, it is an eye-opener (Roberta Mazza and Brice Jones also discuss it). It turns out that (p. 2) at Baylor papyri were extracted for the Green Collection by Scott Carroll. McDowell adds that he has then purchased cartonnage through Carroll for starting his own collection to use as trophy show-and-tell props for his saving-American-souls ministry (for "Raising up Heroic Truth Champions"). The story of where he was told they come from will quite likely raise a few eyebrows:

So, Carroll had an excavation permit to search for artefacts in ancient structures and sites to take back to sell to the "Josh McDowell Ministry"? Who from? Does it not strike McDonnel as odd that if he was to take a shovel to Anasazi "structures and sites" in the Four Corners Area, he'd get locked up (well, a few weeks' probation at least)? So why does he think people can get away with doing abroad things which he cannot do in the US? He has either got the wrong end of the stick, or is lying. In both cases both he and his material are poor witnesses.

These artefacts were then dismantled in a mass artefact-destruction event hosted by "the McDonell ministry" where 250 people watched it happen on December 5-6, 2013. This is described in an extremely muddled way in a document called "The Bibliographical (sic) Test Update". I suspect that the purpose of doing it like this would have been two-fold, I bet it was fund-raising and secondly these folk were there (like Joseph Smith's witnesses) to prove these fragments were actually obtained from the cartonnage. However the showbusiness seems from the photos (showing scrum-conditions) to have got in the way of the 'science'. The size of the fragments photographed is much smaller than the pieces you'd expect in a piece of cartonnage sheetwork. In any case, the whole premise of this vandalism seems to be that these people all think that the "truth" of the Bible is "proven" by the fact that there are earlier manuscripts of it. Jesus really did, they say, curse a fig tree because we have a manuscript copied out from a copy close in time to the autograph of the original story told by its first teller. 

According to these two documents, McDowell now is the proud owner of seven 'Biblical papyrus' fragments, just like Mr Green. They do not all come from the mummy masks he purchased. In the brochure are some pathetic fuzzy photos of what he says are the 'Biblical papyri' in question. This is done "for copyright reasons" he says - meaning nobody else can check the epigraphy which he uses to date the tiny fragments or his reading of the dozen or so letters which is what they mostly contain (there can be no question here of alternative textual readings being explored on the basis of these bits).
#5: Matthew 6:33/Matthew 7:4:  "Last half of fifth cent AD" or "Late 4th - 5th century AD" " Found "in a parchment cluster" (elsewhere [mis]described as "came from manuscript cartonnage" [he appears to misunderstand the term 'cartonnage']). This is a strip cut from a codex leaf, size unknown (p. 15-16) ["In this early time period, fragments of texts that are written on parchment are called papyrus. Parchment is referred to as papyrus if it’s a small fragment. Technically written on parchment, but considered papyrus"] + 12 other fragments of lesser  interest to evangelical apologists....

1 John 2:21 "350-430 AD", size unknown
Jeremiah 33:24 5th century AD, size unknown + a load of other fragments of lesser  interest to evangelical apologists....
Mark 15:9 "350-430 AD", size unknown
John 14:28 "350-430 AD", size unknown
A sermon that quotes from Acts 5th century AD, size unknown
Galatians 4:17 - "4th - 5th century AD", size unknown
Barnabus - "5th century AD", size unknown + a load of other fragments of lesser  interest to evangelical apologists....
From the photos, its not clear why these roughly broken "plates" are not just fragments of mummy covering that have lost their painted surface through past mistreatment. We are told however that they "were used for collecting memorabilia on papyrus of a person’s life". I suspect that Mr McDonnel and his supplier Carrol were misled here by a concocted story of a memorabilia notepad included in a burial as a memento which was just a dealer's ploy to shift unsaleable goods.

"These rolls are composites of texts. This “roll” was for a baby. At burial they would place them under the neck. This roll consists of fragments of Coptic literary texts — none of which could be identified".
I am not sure where the buyer got the 'scroll of coptic nonsense under a baby's neck' story from. I bet it is not from this scroll being from an actual recorded burial. Perhaps somebody else has come across references to this type of artefact outside the trade. If they were used in burials, what about as a plug up a bodily orifice to stop leakage?
“All the following findings came out of the above mask and date to Ptolemaic times (the time of the great Library of Alexandria) and are royal accounts, decrees and correspondences.” “They tell us about the world prior to the emergence of Christianity. The Jews were very active in Alexandria during this time period.” This mask was completely lined with papyrus. No biblical or classical fragments were discovered in this mask.
A second Ptolemaic mask was also purchased,
“ A reconstructed, gold, gilded mummy head covering lined with linen and papyrus. 2 - 1c BCE from a private collection in Europe. Acquired in 2013. ” Through 3-D imaging and CT scan, there have been 20 Greek papyri manuscripts identified embedded in the mask throughout the forehead and face. However, no New Testament biblical manuscripts will come from this mask because it was probably constructed in B.C. There is also little probability that any manuscript fragments would be Old Testament or classical texts.
Note the last is the only object in the collection to be explicitly mentioned as 'from an old European collection'. We are led to conclude that the other items were all obtained not-on-the-black-market through "searching structures and sites" by Dr Carroll. No doubt then the excavation permits and finds allocation protocols will soon be surfacing on Mr McDowell's website to prove the legitimacy of the finds, and that they are not Bazaar Archaeology (in Muscarella's terminology), but are we;ll and truly 'grounded'. Only THEN can they have any validity as legitimate witnesses to whatever "truth" one wishes to place on them. Matthew 13:44, Mr McDowell, it is not the finding of the Treasure that counts, but taking possession of it by the proper legal means.

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