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The business of biblical antiquities, which has been described as murky and even seedy, is dealing with another scandal. After a six-year investigation, University of Oxford officials revealed that “First-Century Mark,” reportedly one of the oldest Bible fragments, apparently had been looted from its collection by a renowned professor. That fragment and 12 other biblical artifacts eventually ended up with the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and founders of the Washington, D.C.-based Museum of the Bible.
The investigation points to Dirk Obbink, a highly regarded classics professor and recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant.” Obbink, who’s still working at Oxford, is suspected of the “removal and alleged sale” of items from the university’s Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, excavated in 1896 from an Egyptian garbage dump. The non-profit Egypt Exploration Society (EES) owns and curates the Papyri Project, which is housed at Oxford’s Sackler Library. The EES insists the materials were never for sale.
Week - EES - Items - Authorization - Care
This week, the EES said the 13 items “were taken without authorization,” and 11 ended up in the care of the Museum of the Bible “after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor [Dirk] Obbink, most of them in two batches in 2010.” (Two items were sold by another buyer.) Obbink, who has previously denied the allegations, has been banned from accessing EES archives.
Along with the artifacts, identifying materials such as catalog cards and photographs of text also disappeared. Through backup records, the EES was able to identify what was missing.
Museum - Bible - Artifacts - Faith - Items
The Museum of the Bible, saying it purchased the artifacts “in good faith,” confirmed the items were “sold illegally” to them by a “known expert.” Four of the items are currently property of the museum, and the rest belong to Hobby Lobby as part of its Green Collection. Although the artifacts weren’t on display, some were part of...
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