Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Vanitas, Sappho, Mixantik and the eBayers

In the above text about the 'New Sappho Saga' getting murkier and murkier, I did not have space to mention two other aspects. Brent Nongbri has published information (from MoB's Mike Holmes) that reveals the real source of the new Sappho texts published in 2014-6 by Dirk Obbink. This revelation is rather cathartic (' Important Developments with the New Sappho Papyrus', Variant Readings blog, posted on January 29, 2020). It now turns out that Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) in Istanbul appears to be the source of the Hobby Lobby Sappho fragments. The information that he publishes has a lot of implications, but (apart from the muddle caused by a litany of denials and false 'provenances/collecting histories' by those involved with this brewing illicit antiquity scandal), three are of especial importance:

1) The  purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012 in the MoB archives signed by Yakup Eksioglu is accompanied by an invoice (for an undisclosed sum) for:
“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”
Thus at least 800-100 fragments of papyri and 'other cartonnage fragments'  in the Green Collection came from Mixantik.  We know about what ONE of them contains, we are getting closer to understanding the collecting history of ONE of them, what about the other 999+ fragments Mr Green bought at the same time? When are we going to see the full details of these? Will we? Or will MoB skip their responsibilities to be fully transparent about the items that have been part of the Green Collection for, already, eight years? Will they now they've been found out, just send the whole lot back to Egypt to wash their hands of the whole affair?

2) Wherever Mr Eksioglu got them from, there is no guarantee that he (or his suppliers) kept the whole batch of material together. Somewhere there was in antiquity some cartonnage that used the other parts of the Sappho-containing document that we now have just 20 odd fragments of. A broken part of that cartonnage object was dug up and sold by a shady Turkish ebay seller to Mr Green. Where is the rest? In the ground still?? Where? Or were other bits sold to other buyers on eBay? Is the rest of Sappho hanging on the wall of some wannabe-nerd in some cheap tatty frames from the local DIY shop ('Come, be Impressed by My Papyri', PACHI Thursday, 1 November 2012)? Or split up and sold to goodness-knows-here by another dealer with a 'plausible-sounding provenance' (The Hamdy Sakr Collection of Egyptian Artefacts' PACHI 5th December 2014)? 

For eight whole years a greedy and careless collector has sat on the information, false information has been released, and by now any trail there might have been has gone cold. 

So which eBayer has the rest of Dirk Obbink's Sappho, and will we ever know?

Pieter Claesz, Vanitas, still life 1630
3) A US collector set out to create 'the biggest' collection he could of a certain type of material. Although it is believed he was advised of the problems this would involve in the case of certain types of cultural property, he went ahead and - we now know - incautiously bought a lot of things that were caught up in the very issues that collecting antiquities on the black and grey market involves.

My question is, what was he thinking? If you want to create a Bible Museum to present to the public (for whatever reason), especially one that turns out in fact to be full of multimedia and gimmicky showpiece 'reconstructions', why do you "need' shoeboxes (or whatever) full of papyrus scraps that can only be read by specialists and range in sizes between that of a postage stamp and a playing card? What actual display function would they serve? What was the thinking behind this purchase and similar ones, such as the thousands of cunie tablets? Modern museums do not attempt to overwhelm with rooms and rooms full of case after case of duplicate similar-looking objects.

It seems to me that this Green Scholars Initiative (now apparently abandoned) and the purchase of huge roomfulls of objects owned by Mr Green for them to pore over, was nothing other than an enormous vanity project of the collector. I really cannot think of any other, logical, explanation for this. For perhaps he was misled by the likes of Carroll into believing that Carroll and his associates if they bought up enough loose material and trashed enough objects and sites to get it, they might find that ultimate collectors' trophy, an elusive Gospel or Epistle manuscript fragment that is nearly contemporary with the author of the Scriptural text. That might explain buying on spec 1000+ loose and unprovenanced papyrus fragments. It would not explain the cunies.


Unknown said...

Hi Mr Paul what is the problem about shappo fragment ?

Paul Barford said...

It just turned up from nowhere, and nobody seems very willing to be transparent about where its from and how it got there... which (given the current state of the antiquities market) is very suspicious.

growltiger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Barford said...

"This comment has been removed by a blog administrator" by mistake, can you repost?

growltiger said...

Seems to me that the problem about shoe boxes full of duplicate similar looking objects was solved by Candida Moss and Joel Baden (September 2018 article on Torah Scrolls). The missing link is the US tax system, whereby the objects, once purchased, can be written up to a higher value before being donated to a charitable institution/museum, with tax deduction on the written-up value.

Paul Barford said...


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