Oxford Professor Is Accused of Selling Ancient Texts to Hobby Lobby
An investigation found that Bible fragments in a museum started by the owners of the arts-and-crafts chain had been illegally taken from the university.
LONDON — A trans-Atlantic investigation conducted by a Washington museum and a London-based archaeological group has accused a prominent Oxford University professor of stealing and selling fragments of ancient texts to Hobby Lobby, the arts-and-crafts chain.
The fragments come from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a prized collection of more than half a million pieces of papyrus and parchment dating from the third century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. discovered in Egypt by two archaeologists in the late 19th century. The collection is held at Oxford University and overseen by the Egypt Exploration Society of London.
Thirteen fragments from the collection were found in the Museum of the Bible, a Washington institution founded by Hobby Lobby’s evangelical Christian owners, the Green family. The Egypt Exploration Society began an investigation in June after a director of the Bible museum released a redacted copy of a 2013 contract between the professor, Dr. Dirk Obbink, and Hobby Lobby stores for the sale of six items, including four thought to be from the Oxyrhynchus collection.
The three-month investigation accused Professor Obbink, a member of Oxford University’s classics department, of taking a clutch of ancient fragments of the Bible without authorization and secretly selling them to Hobby Lobby in transactions from 2010 to 2013. In a statement released on Tuesday, the Egypt Exploration Society said that Mr. Obbink had sold 11 of the fragments that subsequently ended up at the Museum of the Bible.
Two other items at the Museum of the Bible that were found to be from the Oxyrhynchus collection were sold to Hobby Lobby by an antiquities dealer in Israel, a spokeswoman for the museum said on Wednesday. “The exact circumstances of how those items moved from Oxford to Israel are unknown to us,” the spokeswoman, Heather Cirmo, said.
According to the Egypt Exploration Society, the catalog cards and photographs for most of the 13 fragments are missing, but the group said in the statement that it had “backup records which enable us to identify missing unpublished texts.”
Professor Obbink, an American, has a Ph.D. from Stanford University and was one of the recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001. He has not so far responded to the claims and did not immediately respond to an interview request on Wednesday.
Last year, Professor Obbink told The Daily Beast that it was “not true” that he had tried to sell a fragment of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, dating back to the second or early third century, to the Green family.
Steps were taken in June to prevent Professor Obbink from gaining access to the Oxyrhynchus collection after his contract with Hobby Lobby came to light.
But Stephen Rouse, an Oxford spokesman, said Wednesday that the professor was still employed by the university.
What's your artifact doing in Boss Kean's ditch?
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