Exposé of New Testament Papyrus Fraud and Theft

After a few years ago writing a fascinating exposé of the forger (Walter Fritz) behind the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and his duping of Karen King at Harvard, just yesterday Ariel Sabar published an equally fascinating exposé about stolen and misrepresented New Testament papyri, including many from Oxford’s Egyptian Exploration Society (EES) and its famous Oxyrynchus papyri collection.

This time the players are numerous:

  • Classicist Dirk Obbink, previously famed for his work on reassembling papyrus fragments from Pompeii and previously holding faculty appointments at Oxford and U Michigan, stole dozens of papyrus fragments from EES and misrepresented several of them as unknown and very early (late 1st century) all in an effort to get the Steve Green (Hobby Lobby) family and Green Scholars Initiative (Museum of the Bible) to buy them while he was under their employ
  • Scott Carroll, hired by Baylor as part of its playing academic home to the Green project, making fraudulent claims and in-class demonstrations (!) of finding papyrus fragments embedded within Egyptian burial masks, fragments he had planted
  • Yakup Eksioglu, a Turkish dealer of antiquities, supplying and coordinating sales with Obbink for numerous papyri (NT and Classical) without provenance
  • the Green family and some of their lead employees at the Museum of the Bible, who ended up eventually recognizing the pervasive antiquities theft and fraud and returned “almost every papyrus in his collection”

It’s not only a testament to greed leading to the compromise of academic integrity. It’s also a testament to how a Christian Fundamentalist religious agenda–the visceral need for there to exist early autographs (original manuscripts) of the New Testament–can motivate the waste of millions of dollars, fuel black markets in antiquities, and destroy legitimate academic careers and talent in the process.