Thursday, June 03, 2021

Hobby Lobby Sues Obbink for $7m


Courthouse News Service reports today that Hobby Lobby is suing Dirk Obbink for $7 million for fraud and breach of contract. The complaint details seven private sale agreements between February 2010 and February 2013 for “fragments along with other ancient objects” for approximately $7,095,100. To date, the complaint says, 32 papyri have been identified as stolen from EES and sold directly to Hobby Lobby.

It also clarifies that Hobby Lobby came into possession of all the sale items except those in the seventh lot, purchased in February 2013 for $760,000. This last sale “contained four (4) papyrus pieces of New Testament Gospels identified as Matthew 3:7–10, 11–12; Mark 1:8–9, 16–18; Luke 13: 25–27, 28; and John 8:26–28, 33–35.” The second of those should look familiar as P.Oxy. 5345, aka “First-Century Mark.” So, we now know that Hobby Lobby did pay for these fragments. Scott Carroll’s infamous Tweet was in December of 2011 and Dan Wallace announced a first-century Mark fragment in February 2012—all before Hobby Lobby bought it. We know from Mike Holmes, that negotiations for its sale started in “early 2012.” 

The complaint goes on to tell us that “On or about December 2017, Obbink informed Hobby Lobby that he had ‘mistakenly’ sold the Gospel Fragments in Purchase #7 and that they were, in fact, owned by his employer, the EES.” The fragment was published not long after, in May of 2018. Surely Obbink had finished editing it for his employer well before then. He did refund Hobby Lobby $10k of the $760k while pleading for more time to pay the rest—which never came.

A number of questions arise from this new wrinkle. The complaint says that $760,000 was the cost of the four Gospel fragments in lot 7, but the entire lot contained that and “other antiquities,” all totaling $1.81m. It does not specify what those other antiquities are or whether Hobby Lobby initially asked for a refund for those as well. The complaint is also mum about the specifics of the other fragments and antiquities sold. 

A last point: if you split $760k four ways, that could mean that “First-Century Mark” sold for around $200k. That actually seems low to me, but what do I know.

It’s safe to say we have not heard the end of this sordid saga.

HT: Hixson

6/4/21 Update: Brent Nongbri has blogged about this here. He’s followed this closer than anybody so read the whole thing. This bit in particular jumped out: “Remember that between the Museum of the Bible and the American collector Andrew Stimer, who is said to have bought 6 stolen EES fragments from a business partner of Prof. Obbink, a total of 40 pieces have been returned to the EES. Now, the EES has said that 120 papyri are missing from its collection. That means 80 Oxyrhynchus papyri remain missing.” 


  1. I came across it here:

  2. "mistakenly" sold the fragments? Guess Obbinik really did believe his own lies.

  3. Hopefully this process sheds more light on the details.

    I'm curious about the sentence: “On or about December 2017, Obbink informed Hobby Lobby that he had ‘mistakenly’ sold the Gospel Fragments in Purchase #7 and that they were, in fact, owned by his employer, the EES.”

    In mid-November of 2017 at the annual meeting of SBL I had a private conversation (or more than one) with someone with inside knowledge about what was only known at that time as the alleged first-century Mark manuscript, and who had first-hand knowledge of the fact that it had been sold to MOTB (or Hobby Lobby/the Greens), having personally seen the bill of sale. One detail that was relayed to me in one of those conversations was that somebody quite high up in MOTB had told this person that as of that time the sale had been reversed. I believe that this person I spoke to was not aware at that time that the manuscript belonged to EES, but was aware that the sale had by then been reversed (or that their source asserted it was). Granted, mid-November could qualify as "about December," and it may be that the process of reversing the sale had begun before that time and finished after it. It may also be that my source's source was not entirely forthright in making that statement to my source. But I can say with certainty that the conversation I had with my source in which that detail was related to me occurred in mid-November of 2017.

    One unfortunate side-point to this detail is that at whatever point the MOTB people knew that the manuscript was not owned by either them or Obbink, they also would have known that any nondisclosure agreements that Dan Wallace and possibly others had signed must have been invalid. My impression of how the events unfolded from that time on was that Professor Wallace was never aware of this until after the publication of the manuscript in the summer of 2018.

    Another side point is that when Scott Carroll posted a comment on this blog in the summer of 2018 claiming that Obbink had sold MOTB/HL/the Greens, the manuscript, and was ridiculed for it, there were a number of people who knew first-hand right then that he was telling the truth (I knew it, but only second hand, and although I did affirm publicly my belief in what he was saying, I did not publicly reveal specific details that I didn't see as my place to bring up). When Michael Holmes publicly shared the bill of sale of the four gospels manuscripts, this was not some obscure piece of paperwork that had been buried and unknown in a stack of receipts somewhere for several years and had only just then been found like the Josianic revovery of the Book of the Law. It was well-known and highly important inside the MOTB (at least among the upper levels) and had been all along. I'm sure there was a reason for the MOTB's delay in corroborating Scott Carroll's claim. It may be that certain legal preparations needed to be made before deciding what to make public. But it wasn't for the lack of definite knowledge that he was telling the truth on that point.