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Author Topic: APOCRYPHA  (Read 3781 times)

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patrick jane

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« Reply #26 on: June 04, 2021, 03:01:02 pm »


Hobby Lobby Sues Oxford Professor for $7 Million

Ancient papyri with gospel texts were allegedly stolen.

Hobby Lobby would like its money back, and this time it’s not saying please.

The Oklahoma-based craft store company has filed a federal lawsuit demanding the return of more than $7 million from an Oxford University classics professor who oversaw the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian papyri.

Dirk Obbink, an American who was once awarded the MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” for his skill in rescuing and interpreting papyrus fragments, allegedly stole 120 fragments from the Egyptian Exploration Society’s collection of ancient artifacts held at the Sackler Classics Library at Oxford.

Obbink then allegedly sold 32 of the 120 fragments to Hobby Lobby, as the evangelical, family-owned business attempted to build a world-class collection of biblical artifacts and launch Museum of the Bible.

The professor, now 64, was arrested in Oxford in March 2020. The criminal investigation is ongoing.

Hobby Lobby, in the meantime, would like its $7,095,100 returned, along with lawyer fees and “any further and different relief as the Court deems just and proper,” according to the lawsuit filed June 2.

Obbink frequently worked as a private dealer, in addition to his position at Oxford. He authenticated artifacts for private collectors and occasionally acted as go-between for buyers and sellers.

According to the lawsuit, Obbink first sold papyri to Hobby Lobby in February 2010. The company paid the professor $80,000.

Four months later, Hobby Lobby made a second purchase of fragments and other antiquities, paying Obbink $350,000. In November, it made a third purchase for $2.4 million.

Hobby Lobby bought two more lots of antiquities from the Oxford professor in 2011 for a total of $1.8 million. There was a sixth sale the following year that came to about $600,000.

The seventh and final sale was the largest: Obbink offered Hobby Lobby four pieces of papyri from the first century bearing a few verses each from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Two of the fragments contained the words of John the Baptist, including the passage where he condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:7).

Two contained the words of Jesus, including a passage where he answers the question, “Who are you?” with “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).

The craft store company paid $1.8 million for the four fragments and two other items, bringing their total purchases from Obbink to more than $7 million. It wired the money to a bank in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Obbink, as part of the arrangement, hung on to the gospel fragments for further study. Four years later, in December 2017, the professor emailed his contact at Hobby Lobby to say there had been a mistake. The gospel fragments actually weren’t his to sell. They belonged to the collection he was charged with overseeing for Oxford University.

Hobby Lobby demanded a refund, and heard nothing. Six months later, it asked more firmly for the return of $760,000, and Obbink wrote back that he didn’t have the money, according to the lawsuit.

“I will be able to begin payments in the second half of July and anticipate completing these by late August or early September, perhaps sooner,” he wrote. “I hope this is okay, and I remain committed to making full payment ASAP.”

By September 2019, he had only returned $10,000. He wrote Hobby Lobby again.

“I crave your indulgence to exercise some patience,” Obbink said. “I am convinced that this whole issue will be settled latest by November and if complete payment is not made by then, I will accept whatever actions you decide to take against me.”

The issue was not settled by November. The Museum of the Bible contacted the Egyptian Exploration Society, and after comparing notes, the British organization determined that 32 fragments Hobby Lobby purchased from Obbink rightly belonged in the Egyptian collection.

When the Egyptian Exploration Society examined its holdings of more than 500,000 artifacts, it found another 88 fragments were also missing. Someone had also tampered with the catalogue cards and the photographic records of the documents.

Obbink was removed from the library and put on leave. Students were informed by email that someone else would be teaching their classes. The next spring, he was arrested.

The scandal has led to questions about the Oxford professor’s other work. In 2014, Obbink claimed to have discovered two new poems from the Greek poet Sappho. A 2020 article in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists casts doubt on the story of the discovery and the provenance of the fragments, raising the possibility that the poems are forgeries.

“Scholars must scrutinize new discoveries carefully before conducting or publishing research, and present their findings transparently,” wrote C. Michael Sampson, classics professor at the University of Manitoba. “Scholars [need to be] wary of the antiquities market because academic appraisals add to objects’ commercial value, which can incentivize looting and the illegal trade in antiquities.”

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of the Museum of the Bible, said that when the craft store company started spending millions on biblical artifacts, it placed too much trust in the antiquities market and “unscrupulous dealers.” Hobby Lobby ended up paying for stolen items, forged antiquities, and artifacts looted from the Middle East during war.

The company has returned thousands of objects, paid for extensive investigations, and double-checked the legitimacy of the 60,000 items that remain in its collection. The thorough effort has been praised by top scholars including Christopher Rollston, an expert on the forgery of biblical antiquities, and Lawrence Schiffman, a pioneer in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“The museum deserves to be praised,” Schiffman said. “From the day it opened, the museum told the truth. They have been completely kosher about this.”

Auction house covered up false purchase history for Gilgamesh tablet, US Attorney alleges.

Bible Museum Must Send One More Artifact Back to Iraq

Another ancient document is causing controversy for the Museum of the Bible after a federal government prosecutor filed a claim that a six-by-five-inch clay tablet was stolen from Iraq. The US Attorney’s Office of Eastern New York says that Hobby Lobby legally purchased the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet for $1.6 million to loan to the museum, but the papers documenting the artifact’s purchase history were false.

“In this case, a major auction house failed to meet its obligations by minimizing its concerns that the provenance of an important Iraqi artifact was fabricated, and withheld from the buyer information that undermined the provenance’s reliability," said US Attorney Richard Donoghue, who filed a foreiture claim on the Gilgamesh tablet on Monday.

In an official statement to Christianity Today, the Museum of the Bible announced it has cooperated with the investigation and is cooperating with authorities to return the tablet to Iraq. The museum also said Hobby Lobby will sue the British auction house that sold it the tablet. The Museum of the Bible identified the auction house as Christie’s.

The clay tablet is a part of the Gilgamesh epic, which tells the story of a great king who battles with gods and tries to discover the secret to eternal life. It is considered one of the world’s first great works of literature, dating to the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia of more than 4,000 years ago. The epic is also famous for including a flood narrative with similarities to the biblical story of Noah’s flood. This tablet has been dated to around 1600 BC and contains the account of a dream, which is interpreted by the hero’s mother. Department of Homeland Security agents seized it from the Bible museum in September. It is now being held in a US Customs and Border Protection facility in Queens, New York.

The importation of cultural property from war-torn Iraq has been restricted, since nine museums were looted in 1991 during the turmoil of the Gulf War. According to the US Attorney, the cuneiform tablet was brought into the US illegally from London in 2003 by an unnamed antiquities dealer. It was then sold to another dealer in 2007 with false documents saying it was purchased legitimately in a box of bronze artifacts in 1981. In 2014, Hobby Lobby purchased the tablet from an auction house and donated it to the Museum of the Bible.

Museum officials started to investigate the provenance of the tablet in 2017, in what the US Attorney calls “due diligence research.” According to the US Attorney’s office, museum officials took questions about the item to the auction house, but auction house officials repeated the antiquities dealer’s account of where it was purchased, withholding the falsified provenance letter and the dealer’s name. The museum notified the Iraqi embassy that it had the Gilgamesh tablet and committed itself to independently researching the provenance of the item.

In April, the Museum of the Bible announced it would return 11,500 other clay seals and fragments of papyrus to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments because they did not have complete documentation and may have been looted.

A year ago, the museum agreed to return 13 Egyptian papyrus fragments that were stolen from the University of Oxford. And in 2017, the federal government fined Hobby Lobby and ordered it to return thousands of cuneiform tablets and other objects that were illegally taken from war-torn Iraq and brought into the US by a United Arab Emirates-based dealer who falsely labeled the shipments as ceramic tiles.

“I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years,” said Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and founder of the Museum of the Bible, in an official statement in March. “My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world. … If I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items.”


Stealing Ancient Bible Texts from Oxford
Dirk Obbink accused of selling papyrus fragments to Hobby Lobby and California collector.

An Oxford professor has been arrested on allegations of stealing and selling as many as 120 ancient pieces of papyrus, including a fragment of the Gospel of Mark once believed to be the oldest New Testament text ever discovered.

Dirk Obbink, professor of papyrology and Greek literature at Christ Church Oxford, was arrested on March 2. News of the arrest broke last week in the student newspaper TheOxford Blue. Obbink allegedly took the fragments from the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of about 500,000 artifacts discovered in the ancient city of Oxyrynchus. The collection is housed at Oxford’s Sackler Library, and Obbink was one of three scholars charged with overseeing it until he was removed under a cloud of suspicion in 2016.

Obbink has denied the allegations in an official statement and said the evidence against him was “fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career.”

The evidence is convincing, however, to some who’ve worked closely with Obbink.

“It’s difficult seeing this ending well for Dirk,” said Jerry Pattengale, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and one of the founding scholars of the Museum of the Bible. “It’s sad to think that such a gifted mind might have an abbreviated contribution to the field of Greek papyrology.”

Obbink, originally from Nebraska, went to Oxford in the late 1990s and became director of a project to digitize ancient papyri. The Oxyrynchus collection is a massive trove of documents, including many biblical passages, uncovered in the ruins of a Greek city in Egypt in the 1880s. Much like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the fragments have given modern scholars a broad window into the ancient world and affirmed the reliability of biblical manuscripts.

Obbink became one of the trio of editors responsible with publishing the Oxyrynchus Papyri and overseeing the scholars who were given access to the collection. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—known as the “genius grant”—in 2001 for his skill in rescuing and interpreting ancient manuscripts.

Report of major discovery
Obbink attracted the attention of some evangelical scholars in 2011 when he informally shared news about a fragment of Mark’s Gospel found in the collection. Obbink told Pattengale and Scott Carroll, two scholars who were working with the Museum of the Bible at the time, that the fragment dated to the late first century. The manuscript included a bit of the text of Jesus’ baptism, where John the Baptist tells the crowd, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1: 8 )

According to Obbink, the words might have been copied down within 30 years of the date of the original biblical manuscript. There are no known biblical manuscripts from earlier than the second century, so this was a major discovery. (The fragment is now believed to date to the second or third century.)

Carroll passed the news to Daniel Wallace, executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and Wallace mentioned the purported discovery in a public debate with Bart Ehrmann, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in February 2012.

The news created a buzz but wasn’t followed by any additional information. There was no academic paper substantiating the claims. A number of scholars who said they had seen the fragment told other scholars at the time that they were not allowed to talk about it because of non-disclosure agreements. Questions about the Gospel discovery went unanswered.

Alleged antiquities sales
At about the same time, Obbink reportedly took 13 bits of papyrus and sold them to Hobby Lobby. The sale did not include the Mark fragment but did include parts of Genesis, Psalms, and Romans, according to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES).

Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, was buying thousands of artifacts for the Museum of the Bible, which he launched in 2017. He ultimately ended up with a collection of about 60,000 objects, including about 17,000 tablets, seals, and fragments that were likely looted from Iraq and Egypt; 16 pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were later discovered to be forgeries; and 13 bits of papyrus that were improperly taken from an Oxford library. (Green has recently apologized, and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, is in the process of returning all the stolen artifacts and developing an exhibit on antiquities forgery.)

Then in 2013, Obbink allegedly sold Hobby Lobby four more fragments from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each from “Egypt Circa 0100 AD,” according to the purchase agreement that appears to be signed by Obbink. The amount paid for the fragments is unknown, though Pattengale called it a “considerable sum.”

The purchase agreement stipulated that the physical documents wouldn’t be transferred to Hobby Lobby for four years but would stay with Obbink for research. During the period, news that the Museum of the Bible owned the exciting new discovery of a possible first-century fragment of the gospel of Mark prompted EES to clarify that the papyrus was not for sale and had never been for sale. Then the Museum of the Bible produced the purchase agreement, and an investigation began.

Internal investigation
EES launched a systematic check of the collection, to see what else might have been stolen. They found that not only were more than 100 fragments missing, someone had removed the catalogue cards and the photograph recording the items location in the collection.

Seven were found in California, in the private collection of Andrew Stimmer, chairman of Hope Partners International, an evangelical ministry serving children in Costa Rica, Kenya, and India. To date, it is not clear how Stimmer got the texts, which included bits of Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and 1 Corinthians. He has agreed to return them to Oxford.

Obbink was not reappointed to his editorial position in 2016. In June 2019, EES blocked Obbink from even accessing the collection, and in October, Obbink was suspended from Oxford. The next month, local police received a report that as many as 120 artifacts were stolen from the Oxyrynchus Collection at the Sackler Library. The police investigation is ongoing.

It is not known how much the stolen antiquities are worth. Carl Graves, director of EES, said he doesn’t think of the objects in those terms.

“They are testament to Egypt’s early Christian heritage and are early evidence of biblical Scripture,” he told the Guardian. “We don’t value them monetarily but they are priceless and irreplaceable.”

Money corrupts
According to Pattengale, however, the money the Green family spent acquiring artifacts for the Museum of the Bible caused a number of people to seem to go crazy. “We were approached by dealers … in the oddest of ways,” he wrote in CT.

“After speaking at Liberty University, I went to shake a fellow’s hand at the end of the greeting line. Instead, he pulled out a paper tube from beneath his trench coat and tried to show me a Megillah (Esther scroll) he wanted to sell. … One fellow kept calling about a buried boxcar of antiquities in Texas, another claiming ownership of something from Jesus’ birth stable, and yet another with plaster casts of the first-century tomb in Jerusalem.”

Obbink may have also been motivated by the possibility of the money. But unlike most people, had access to half a million antiquities.

Christopher Rollston, professor of Semitic languages and literatures at George Washington University, said money has done a lot of damage to the study of biblical antiquities.

“The antiquities market is a blight on the field,” Rollston said. “It is corrosive and destructive, and scholars, museums, and the public must have nothing to do with it. Those who do, do so at their peril, as this tragic story demonstrates in spades.”

patrick jane

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« Reply #27 on: December 22, 2021, 07:43:32 am »
Revisiting the Apocrypha

During the Reformation, Martin Luther and Protestant Christians argued that everyone should be able to read the Bible in his or her own language. When they went back to the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, they realized that the Latin Christian Bible included a number of books that Jews did not consider scripture. 

The Reformers stripped these books from the canon, calling them the “Apocrypha” or hidden books.  We'll take a look at these books that the Reformers hid away and consider why they made it into the early Christian canon and not the Jewish canon.

1 hour 37 minutes


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