Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lingering Questions about First-Century Mark

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I have actively tried to avoid posting too many speculative thoughts about all the new revelations and comments over the past week on the First-Century Mark (henceforth, FCM) ordeal, but a couple of questions are lingering in my mind, so I want to throw them out there. Admittedly, I have not kept up well with what people are saying on Twitter/other blogs, so my apologies if someone has already asked these questions. If anyone has, I am unaware of it and am not trying to plagiarise anyone. I'm happy to amend this post to share a link to someone else asking these questions if anyone knows of it.

1. Did Hobby Lobby pay for FCM or not? There's a Purchase Agreement that sure does suggest that they did pay money for it and other items.

If we assume that they did, in fact, pay money for it:

2. Did they get their money back at any point?

The answer to this second question leads to more questions though.

2a. If they did not get their money back, why not?

2b. If they did get their money back, on what grounds, exactly? Was it an easy process? Was it initiated by the seller when the seller first realised that there was a problem? Was it initiated by Hobby Lobby but went smoothly because everyone realised that there was some kind of problem? Did the process drag out? Were lawyers involved? What was the precise reason given for grounds to get the money back, and how easily/difficultly was this reason accepted?

I guess the thing I keep thinking about is that if you were to return a high-priced item and try to get your money back, I imagine you'd probably have to give a good reason for doing so. After all, the Purchase Agreement that Mike Holmes released reads to me like a binding contract. Even if they never actually paid money for the items in the Purchase Agreement, I would imagine that my question 2b above still applies. It seems to me that there must have been a reason given for why the agreement was broken if it was indeed broken—regardless of whether it was broken by being cancelled or by the money being returned (are there other ways to break such an agreement?). I imagine something like that is not broken easily. Then again, I don't know the legal ins and outs of how buying antiquities works.

If I'm right in my speculation that such a Purchase Agreement would not be broken easily, I would be very interested to know the answers to some of those questions I posed above.

43 comments

  1. Pattengale makes it sound like money exchanged hands. “Eventually, all four pieces were purchased in 2013 for a considerable sum—though at a fraction of their value ”

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  2. Good questions, Elijah. One of the really odd things about the purchase agreement is a little phrase in the last section: "10.5 Completion: Upon completion of the Research Period, the Property will be returned to the Buyer (if in the custody of the Seller)." Isn't that last bit weird? It sounds like the author of the purchase agreement provided for the possibility of not being able to deliver the items physically.

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    1. Thanks, Brent. I took that line in the Agreement to mean that the seller would keep the item(s) and would himself be the one to conduct research (or oversee research) on the item(s)—but only until research is finished. Once the research was completed, if the seller had still not yet delivered the item(s) to the buyer, the seller was to hand it/them over. Now that I have re-read it again, I get what you're saying though. The way it's worded does seem to allow for the possibility that it could be not in the custody of the seller, in which case, not returning it to the buyer would not be a breach of contract. Makes me wonder who wrote the contract and why that line is phrased the way it is.

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    2. Perhaps one option why "if in the custody of the Seller" was added was in view of the possibility that it might be elsewhere on temporary display or sent somewhere for a scientific examination or deposited for safe keeping. Just guessing. Or if found out that it was actually in EES custody. Or in case someone died in the interim. Or if already returned before the end of research. Or a theft. Or a fire. Or... Maybe someone who knows will eventually clarify.

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    3. I think you and Brent may be over-interpreting the purchase agreement, Elijah. Jerry Pattengale has said that he had not seen it before last week; and that its phraseology was the responsibility of Hobby Lobby's purchasing department.

      For instance; I very much doubt that the parchment fragment had indeed been sourced from a cow "ranch raised, in Egypt".

      I imagine that there must have been a documented recored of an agreement as to research responsibilities and eventual delivery of the fragments, arising from the earlier discussions between Pattengale and Obbink (plus images no doubt). But it would seem that all these were lost when Pattengale's laptop was hacked.

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    4. // Jerry Pattengale has said that he had not seen it before last week//

      Is that in the CT article? If so I missed it. Could you quote that part?

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    5. Peter Williams posted on another thread in this blog a couple of day ago

      "I asked Jerry Pattengale how many people saw the ms. He gave me permission to post his reply:

      “To my knowledge, very few scholars ever saw the “FCM” and other three mss firsthand —at least any scholars from the museum network. The two of us noted in the article, two reps on the OKC business side, and I believe a curator and a research leader. Also, the two other scholars that assessed it only saw images. One of Dirk’s conditions was he would handle the research in Oxford, with his normal partners, so to my knowledge no Museum associates were ever involved. Michael Holmes would know for certain. As for the executed contract, that was a business matter. I saw it for the first time last week.”

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    6. That (Pattengale not seeing it before last week) is in a comment under the boldface PLOT post, conveyed by Peter Williams.
      (I question whether "its phraseology was the responsibility of Hobby Lobby's purchasing department.")
      (In CT, J. P. mentions a contract in Leiden. A different contract with Brill?)

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    7. Thanks Tom and Stephen.

      I have to admit, that bit strikes me as odd. At risk of parsing his words too finely, it may be that he knew about the sale, but merely never actually saw the document prior to last week.

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    8. Maybe Eric;

      My reading is that the contractual conditions by which Prof. Obbink agreed to sell the gospel fragments to the Green Collection were discussed in detail between Obbink and Pattengale in a series of 'meetings' in 2012 (subject to further consultations with third parties, Dan Wallace in October 2012 for instance) ; but that drawing up a contract of sale was a 'business matter', translating what had previously been agreed into Hobby-Lobby-speak. Which would explain the disconnect between the descriptions of the items for sale on the agreement, and the handwritten list from Prof. Obbink that Pattengale kept in his wallet.

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    9. Suppose, for the sake of argument, it was "sold" for the write off. Note Patengale said they were sold for a fraction of their value. Why? Assume for the sake of argument, that these items are bought, at a discount(a fraction of their value) evaluated at their real value once sold. Would it require the buyer to take posession if he was using it for a write off?
      This occured to me while reading Moss, Baden's piece
      https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-the-museum-of-the-bible-exploits-jewish-traditionand-saves-its-evangelical-christian-donors-millions

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  3. Related to your questions:

    After the sale was reversed or nullified or whatever exactly happened (and whenever this did happen, which I don't think has yet been revealed), why did the HL/Green Scholars/MOTB crowd not have a greater interest in clearing the air about the ongoing rumors, not just for all those years before the manuscript's publication, but even after it?

    When Obbink did publish the manuscript, although he must have known that it would be discovered to be the same as the manuscript that had been rumored as a first century one, did he nevertheless think that his sale of it to HL would never be discovered, or at least never proven? After Scott Carroll made that claim here on this blog, and Obbink denied it, did he really think that those associated with HL who knew about the sale would cooperate with him in keeping it a secret? If so why? In Pattengale's article he alleges that Trobisch (then the head of MOTB) was involved in a cover-up. And then Carroll's response to that article seems to hint that Pattengale himself is not entirely forthcoming about the whole affair.

    It's possible that HL/MOTB people kept silent for strategic reasons in wanting to control how and when information became public while making internal decisions about how best to respond. That is what I have believed to be the case. But with the questions raised especially by Pattengale's article, there is now an appearance that some in that organization may need to come clean about what they knew and when they knew it. I would especially like to hear how Trobisch responds to the allegation made in that article.

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    1. What allegations? I think you misunderstand the article. Trobisch said something in a conversation which reflected his ignorance that Obbink had ever offered the manuscript for sale (not that he tried to cover up anything). That made Pattengale totally surprised.

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    2. Anonymous, I'm not sure that I misunderstood it. But you're right that I understood it differently than the way you characterize it.

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    3. That is my understanding of Pattengale's account of the dinner in November 2017. Trobisch knew that the EES had identified one of their papyrus fragments as the source of the First Century Mark rumours, but did not know that the Hobby Lobby had a contract to buy it; Pattengale knew that Hobbyl Lobby had a contract to buy FCM, but did not know that EES were the true owners of the fragment, and were pressing Obbink to publish it sharpish (or as sharpish as these things are done) in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus series.

      When they put their heads together, it became clear that something was very wrong; and it seems that Trobisch then went to see Obbink to get to the bottom of what was true, and what was not. What I find puzzling though, is that although Jerry Pattengale's immediate response was that, "Roberta Mazza, Josephine Dru, Candida Moss, Brent Nongbri, Ariel Sabar, and the host of scholars associated with Tyndale House Cambridge had been asking important questions, and finally some answers were no longer opaque"; neither he, nor Trobisch, recounts having contacted these same scholars to respond to their "important questions" with the "answers that were no longer opaque."

      Did they do so at any time then? Or was it only when Michael Holmes took up the baton this year?

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    4. In order better to show what led me to read that paragraph of Pattengale's the way I did, here it is:

      //However, I discovered a cover-up was in the making. While sitting with Yamauchi at the opening gala dinner at the Museum of the Bible, this whole affair began to unravel. Yamauchi asked a simple question of David Trobisch, then curator of the Museum’s collection: “Dr. Trobisch, Scott Carroll mentioned the first-century Mark fragment. When do you expect its publication?” Trobisch responded, “That fragment was never offered to us for sale, isn’t that correct, Jerry?” I about snorted coffee through my nose, then responded, “Some things are best discussed in other settings.” Then David continued, “A researcher in Oxford, I think a graduate student, discovered an image of it in a museum collection, and it has remained there. It was just a misunderstanding.” You could have hit me with a frozen salmon. Apparently Obbink, or his alleged collectors, were unaware of filmed evidence of this rare piece—dating to the 1980s and rediscovered in 2008! Or someone stole it and just thought the chances of going undetected were worth it.//

      Notice that the way Pattengale tells this story, Trobisch did not merely claim not to be aware that HL had ever tried to buy the manuscript in question. He claimed to have positive knowledge that HL/MOTB never did try to buy it at all. Notice also that after making that assertion, Pattengale alleges that Trobisch tried to goad him into going along with that story, by saying, "isn't that correct, Jerry?". And notice that it was already at this point, and not just after hearing what Trobisch revealed next, that Pattengale became nearly so surprised as to need to decaffeinate his nasal cavity. And then notice also how Pattengale's answer to that question suggests some discomfort on his part with either going along with Trobisch's account or correcting him on the matter then and there.

      And, incidentally, why would Trobisch have chosen to answer Yamauchi's question the way he did anyway? Yamauchi didn't ask about any sale of the fragment, only when he expected its publication? In Pattengale's account it almost sounds as if Trobisch was anxious to distance his organization from the manuscript (with a greater distance than was true, we all now know), rather than simply addressing that particular question.

      And Tom, you are very perceptive to notice that the vague allusion to questions having been asked already by those scholars coming up in the next paragraph in which Pattengale describes his growing clarity about a cover-up. Notice that at least one of the scholars listed had been working under Trobisch at the MOTB up until not long before the time of that gala.

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    5. I admit that Pattengale leaves some need to read between the lines here, as he does at many points throughout the article. He doesn't flatly accuse Trobisch of anything unethical. But he does allege that Trobisch made a particular assertion that was not true. I have a strong suspicion that Trobisch (the director of the Green Collection) was well aware of the existence of the same purchase order that Michael Holmes knew of (note that Pattengale doesn't claim that Holmes only recently discovered the invoice, but that he waited to go public until he had enough evidence). And not only must he have known of the purchase order's existence, but there must have been many internal discussions about FCM and the process by which a sale that had at one point been made came to be reversed or nullified, discussions that would have to have involved Trobisch.

      So, though on its own it may not appear to be a serious allegation, Pattengale does make an allegation about Trobisch. He alleges that Trobisch claimed that MOTB had positively never tried to buy the mansucript formerly known as first-century Mark. Does Trobisch remember that conversation the same way? And if so, would he want to claim that he was merely speaking in ignorance of facts he knew nothing about? And if so, would he now want to stick to that claim and say that even then in 2017 he knew nothing of any such sale or attempted sale having ever taken place (at risk of others who know that he did know those facts saying otherwise)?

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  4. The purchase agreement states that the property is to be delivered to the buyer when the research has been published at the conclusion of the four year research period. Since Obbink could not have handed over the property to the buyer, he would clearly be in breach of contract. That may be the point at which the buyer finally understood that they had been defrauded, and why this has slowly begun to come out over the past year. Obbink could slow roll this for 4-5 years, but he had no way to hide the problem from the buyer once the research had been published.

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    1. Jon, I'm not so sure that the problem could be hidden from the buyer upon publication according to what the Agreement describes as publication, and the 4-year period could be extended (10.1). There doesn't seem to be a limit on the extensions of the Research Period, except that they are in 1-year increments and by mutual written agreement by both parties. The Agreement states (10.3), "Buyer hereby grants Seller the right to publish the results of the scholarly research provided for in this section, the first of which shall be made in the 'Brill Green Papyri Series'". It seems like the expectation was never for the editio princeps to be published in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series but rather in the Brill series (which, by the way, is consistent with what Dan Wallace reported in his infamous debate with Bart Ehrman way back in 2012—a Brill publication, not an Oxyrhynchus publication).

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  5. We know, from the EES statement last year, that the Mark fragment had been consigned to Dirk Obbink in 2011 to prepare for publication. No time limit seems to have been specified; but it may well have expected in 2012/13 that publication could be a decade or more into the future. So the time limit on any deception would not have been the EES, but requirement for publication from Museum of the Bible; likely five years after 2013, or even more. Eventually the money would have had to be given back; but having it for five years would create opportunities for other profitable deals - buying and selling.

    As to the grounds offered for returning the money; the most likely in my view would be the (partial) truth; to reveal regretfully that futher research confirmed a date for the four gospel fragments no earlier than the third century, and that they accordingly no longer corresponded to their descriptions in the agreement of sale. Hobby Lobby could not easily have insisted on completing the original sale agreement in these circumstances; and after all they did not have the fragments.

    Jerry Pattengale's article appears to suggest that, once the deception became apparent in November 2017, David Trobisch was dispatched to Oxford to meet with Dirk Obbink (but not it would appear with the EES unitl much later) to fix some sort of solution. I would not be surprised if that did not involve the immediate return of the money.

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    1. Tom,

      If I am not mistaken, according to the original EES statement, "FCM" was identified by a researcher under Obbink in 2011. It wasn't until the spring of 2016 that EES investigated and assigned "FCM" to Obbink for publication.

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    2. not as I read the statment:

      "The identification of the fragment as Mark was made in 2011 by a researcher working for Professor Obbink, then one of the General Editors of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series. Professor Obbink decided he would himself prepare the text for publication. Editors are permitted, on certain conditions, to take out individual papyri from the collection for study or teaching on University premises."

      This was before the 2016 review; so Prof. Obbink had custody of the fragment legitimately in 2011, and knew at that time that it was the property of the EES. So, if Jerry Pattengale's recollections of the fateful meeting at Obbink's rooms in The House are correct, there should have been no question of this fragment being offered for sale as belonging to a private collection.

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    3. "Jerry Pattengale's article appears to suggest that, once the deception became apparent in November 2017, David Trobisch was dispatched to Oxford to meet with Dirk Obbink..."

      It is worth noting that the Museum of the Bible includes a provenance note saying a book binding tool they purchased from Obbink in 2011 was obtained by Obbink at auction. That private meeting in December 2017 may be the meeting that Pattengale mentioned.

      https://www.museumofthebible.org/collections/artifacts/24188-book-binding-tool#/

      "Notes: [1] Museum of the Bible ascertained in a private meeting with Dr. Dirk Obbink in December 2017 that this object was previously with The Romantic Agony Auctions in Brussels prior to Obbink’s acquisition."

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  6. Some intriguing echoes of an earlier episode. Oxford academic Simon Heighes was jailed for two years for stealing and selling books from Christ Church, just a couple of months after Obbink first took up his appointment there: see https://www.independent.co.uk/news/oxford-don-jailed-for-stealing-books-1525877.html .
    "When Judge Francis Allen said it was extraordinary for Blackwell's to have bought some of the books, Mr McGeorge replied: "They were dealing with a man of eminence and respectability and a trustworthy academic. Heighes was a member of the Christ Church College library and admits he abused the privilege to which he had access."

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  7. Here's "The ‘FCM’ scandal: a timeline"
    http://kiwihellenist.blogspot.com/2019/07/first-century-mark-timeline.html
    by Peter Gainsford

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  8. Conspiracy Theory #42:
    Large numbers of Biblical and Classical papyri are excavated illegally in Egypt, and then smuggled out of the country, say, to a dealer in Turkey or some such place. Once a buyer is found, the papyri are packed into cartonnage - that is, added to the insides of existing 'mummy masks,' used to make fake ones, or when time and supplies are short, pressed haphazardly into various shapes to mimic 'industrial cartonnage.' The cartonnage is shipped without arousing suspicion, to be unpacked and dissolved by the recipient, say, in Oxford or some such place. The papyri can now be published, sold, slipped into a collection, etc, and if pressed, photographic evidence could be produced of their having been removed recently from 'seemingly-worthless cartonnage' picked up on the antiquities market.
    Provenance questions on the cartonnage itself would remain, of course, and the world would be left to wonder why the valuable-texts-to-junk ratio for cartonnage has magically skyrocketed in recent years, why Biblical texts are appearing at all given the consensus date range for such cartonnage, why some fragments seem to have more than one origin story, and why respected scholars seem to have no interest at all in the preservation of 'ancient' artwork... But then, on the other hand, maybe no-one would notice...

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    1. Don't forget the Palmolive (or was it some other brand of detergent?).

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    2. Definitely Palmolive. It is also interesting to note that, as I read Dr. Pattengale's article, other persons dismantling cartonnage in recent years all seem to have gotten the idea (and the cartonnage?) from the same Oxford professor in question. As with so many other things in this whole mess, if that is how the leading papyrology expert says you ought to recover texts, who would question?

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    3. I like this theory. It explains the (stupifying) lack of interest in documenting the archival aspect of the material extracted from each "mummy mask". They know it is a false provenance so are not bothered, and indeed an archival analysis might well turn up significant chronological problems. Once extracted the pieces can be shuffled around and treated as random individual papyri - which is basically what we see happening.

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    4. The chronological problem is a bit overstated: as far as I understand it, cartonnage kept on being made out of papyrus (and linen, etc.) for a long time, but sometime early in the Roman period, they stopped making mummy masks out of cartonnage. "Industrial" papyrus cartonnage doesn't raise chronological issues.

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    5. It's been noted previously, just not here, that Obbink was Linked (so to speak) with one Mahmoud Elder: https://twitter.com/candidamoss/status/1143614786757898240
      "More
      5/ According to its incorporation docs (dated Oct 31 2014) Castle Folio was jointly and equally owned by Dirk Obbink and Mahmoud Elder. Elder was the director and Obbink had no "officership" role which is why the connection is not obvious."

      Could the Elder have had Middle Eastern connections? Regarding "42", that is the answer to the question of FCM, but what is the question?

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    6. If I remember rightly, some link also between Dr. Obbink and the dealer described here: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2014/11/mixantik-and-his-connections-with.html

      was mentioned in passing by Dr. Mazza while giving a talk at SBL in 2017 (albeit in a positive light). It would be interesting to know how close and of what sort that connection was/is.

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  9. It seems as though American Evangelicals are reluctant to criticize American Evangelicals here and I can appreciate that. I especially understand not wanting to even mention Billionaires since no one wants a billionaire as an enemy.

    Maybe we should direct our attention overseas to resources that are yet untapped. Roberta Mazza is a Trustee of The Egyptian Exploration Society (EES):

    https://www.ees.ac.uk/Pages/FAQs/Category/board-of-trustees

    Seems like she would be a good person to ask, especially since EES is a British Public charity.

    I also note with interest the annual audit report of EES:

    https://www.ees.ac.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=8ab54493-1ec9-4525-bda3-97871e9f25e2

    For those not possessing CPA certificates, audit reports normally require disclosure of related party transactions and possible illegal actions related to the organization. Were there transactions (in fact or at least appearance) between Dirk Obbink, Senior Editor of EES, and Dirk Obbink Capitalist, and were they illegal? What about between EES and he who shall not be named?

    When an auditor notes or becomes aware of serious deficiencies in Internal Controls of the entity being audited they are also required to issue a Management Letter identifying the issue. It would appear that EES had serious deficiencies regarding Inventory control.

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    1. "Roberta Mazza is a Trustee of The Egyptian Exploration Society" - is it possible that while running her own blog discussing all sorts of matters concerning the trade in antiquities Mazza and the other EES trustees have been asleep at the wheel when it came to guarding the antiquities they have been entrusted with?

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    2. Oxford University has had possession of the papyri since the beginning, basically. The EES offices are in London.

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    3. Trusteeship by a group of dispersed people for an organisation based in London for a collection at Oxford - however geography is not the issue. The possible issue is that the lack of oversight that has resulted in the current situation where people are wondering if any papyri are missing and if somebody nearly got away with selling other papyri

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  10. What is interesting with that annual audit report? Can you specify what to look at in that report?

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    1. Well besides the required disclosures that are missing that I explicitly identified, I think the interesting takeaway, if I may be permitted to overuse the word, is the size (here the lack of it) of the numbers. Page 22 of the report shows total EES income for 2018 of about 353,000 pounds. Sounds like this was a fraction of what FCM was "sold" for. On the other side of the ledger total expenses for the year were about 401,000 pounds. Presumably this means that for his expertise as an Editor Dirk Obbink received this (running hands under Italian chin). So in total, a fragment (so to speak) of the value of EES inventory was "sold" for more/much more than EES income for a year.

      Compare to the other side, Hobby Lobby, a private company with estimated annual income of 5 billion.

      A potentially bigger problem for EES than lack of full disclosures in their public audit report is their status as a British non-profit. One requirement of a non-profit is that they do not allow any individual to significantly profit from their organization.

      Perhaps it would have been best here for everyone if in exchange for a significant contribution from Green (to EES or a related non-profit) EES let Green borrow FCM for a limited MOB (Museum of the Bible) exhibit. The purpose of EES is to educate/entertain the PUBLIC and even though MOB has an agenda, that is largely what they are doing.

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  12. Brent asked a question about Term 10.5 Completion. It appears to be related to Term 10.1 Research - probably related to 10.3 Publication Rights made in the Bill Green Papryi Series. I don't see it not being able to ever deliver. From a contract point of view makes total sense. I personally would be more concerned if this Term were not in the contract.

    I have a few questions/comments myself (not sure if they have been asked):

    1) Who is the SELLER? Is it DO or DO on behalf of the University. A university and Dealer Information address are given (I understand some Professors live on campus).

    2) Why would a highly esteemed Professor apparently sell something that clearly he cannot deliver on. The date on the contract is made after the Ehram/Wallace debate.

    3) If it's true that a person was selling property that does not belong to him how could the University still employ that person? In this case, the items were listed as items sold as #17....why such good book-keeping?

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    1. Re. question 3: the University has issued a short statement, included in a recent article by Candida Moss, https://www.thedailybeast.com/did-oxford-scholar-dirk-obbink-secretly-sell-bible-fragment-to-hobby-lobby-family . They appear to have taken no further action to date. Also, I did some hunting on the web. It turns out Mr Obbink is a charity trustee, for both Christ Church College and Cathedral in Oxford and for a charity related to antiquities, The Herculaneum Society: see https://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1104632&subid=0 . He's featured on their website, http://www.herculaneum.ox.ac.uk/about-us/trustees . Maybe someone should ask them if they still consider him to be a good fit for the role. There doesn't seem to be any statement on their website, unless it's in a members-only area.

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    2. Brief answers, proposed to your questions:

      1. the Seller is identified as Dirk Obbink. The University were not involved at all in the sale (whether in legal fact, or in any reconstruction of the ostensible 'facts' as presented to Pattengale and Carroll). Obbink has rooms in Christ Church, which is a college of the University.

      2. Purely hypothetical, since Obbink has made no statement on the matter. But payment of a large amount of money in 2013, when the items purchased are not expected to be delivered for a number of years (potentially extendable), could form a substantial enought reason. That and the opportunity to sell other items on very favourable terms in the meantime.

      3. For the University, there are clear issues of public interest where there have been allegations of dishonesty and serious breaches of academic standards and ethics against a University professor, by a persons of undisputed standing within the academic community (as Michael Holmes undoubtedly is). But nothing yet has been proved or admitted. Indeed it has yet to be established whether there might be criminal legal charges; and if there were to be a police investigation, any action by the University would likely be deferred until that was completed.

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