Wednesday 13 May 2020

"An Extensive Collection of Unpublished Papyri in Michigan"

A potentially important new direction of enquiry in the Dodgy Green Papyri case - Brent Nongbri, 'Some Additional Thoughts on Sabar’s Atlantic Article', Variant Readings May 13, 2020.  Dirk Obbink was an academic consultant to the Greens during their collecting spree and was one of their biggest suppliers of papyri.
From January 2010 to February 2013, Obbink sold the family more than 150 papyrus fragments—for a total of between $4 million and $8 million, according to a source who has seen the figures and described them to me as a range.” It is known that Professor Obbink (legally) sold 9 Oxyrhynchus “Distribution Papyri” to Hobby Lobby in 2010. Professor Obbink is also alleged to be the source of 11 of the 13 stolen Oxyrhynchus items in the Green Collection (the other two stolen pieces are said to have been bought from Khader M. Baidun and Sons/Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel; how Baidun got them remains a mystery). That leaves (at least) some 130 pieces unaccounted for. [...] If Prof. Obbink was in fact the source of these other 130+ items, where might these pieces have come from?
Nongbri then looks at the chronology as reconstructed by Sabar of Obbink's relationship with the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford and his registration (in 2012 Ann Arbor in Michigan) of a new business, "Oxford Ancient". [note that at some stage after this, Oxford Ancient began operating from an Oxford, UK address (alongside the 'Museum of The Bible Fellowship'). Although OA remains active, it was later followed by another business in Oxford called "Castle Folio" in 2014, which Obbink co-founded with a Michigan man named Mahmoud Elder]. Nongbri continues:
I have to admit that I hadn’t thought that much about the fact that Professor Obbink’s time at the University of Michigan overlapped with his association with Green Collection [...]. Or that his appointment at Michigan was specifically as Professor of Papyrology, which means that he very likely would have had special access to the extensive collection of unpublished papyri at Michigan. [...] That Professor Obbink was selling (legally acquired) papyri to the Greens already 2010 means that he was involved in the antiquities trade even before he established his business, Oxford Ancient, in 2012. I wonder if colleagues at Michigan were aware of Professor Obbink’s activities on the antiquities market?

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