Exhibits are readied inside the Museum of the Bible, in Washington, DC AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
The Museum of the Bible has been implicated in a seven-year inquiry by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), a nonprofit that manages Oxford Universitys Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, to track down at least 11 ancient Bible fragments that were stolen from its collection. The alleged culprit? Professor Dirk Obbink, a renowned Oxford classicist and MacArthur “genius award” grantee who headed the Papyri Project from 1998 until 2016, when concerns about his involvement with the black market were raised.
Most of the Oxford texts have since been discovered in the Museum of the Bibles collection — including an ancient fragment from the Gospel of Mark, according to the Daily Beast. EES researchers partnered with the Bible museum on the investigation, and the Oxford-affiliated group says the objects “were taken without authorisation from the EES … Eleven of these pieces came into [Museum of the Bibles] care after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor [Dirk] Obbink, most of them in two batches in 2010”.
The Museum of the Bible says only four of the 13 artefacts were the property of the museum while the remainder belonged to Hobby Lobbys Green Collection, amassed by the arts-and-crafts companys president, Steven Green. Earlier this week, the Bible museum said that it would return the fragments to the Egypt Exploration Society. The artefacts were excavated toward the end of the 19th century from ancient trash piles near the ancient site Oxyrhynchus (modern Al-Bahnasa) in Egypt.
On Monday, the Papyri Project released findings from its three-month probe into Obbink, who has not responded to press inquiries about the recent findings. (Last year, he told the Daily Beast that any stories about him trying to sell a fragment from the Gospel of Mark to the Green family were “not true”.)
There may in fact be other artefacts from the Oxford collection floating around. On Monday, EES announced that it “is also pursuing identification and recovery of other texts, or parts of texts, which have or may have been illicitly removed from its collection”.
The missing Bible fragments may include passages from Genesis, Psalms, and an ancient copy of the Ten Commandments, which Obbink is also accused of taking, along with photographs and catalogue cards.