Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lingering Questions about First-Century Mark

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.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Scott Carroll Responds to Christianity Today Article

Scott Carroll, Dirk Obbink, and Jerry Pattengale
On Elijah’s last blog post, Scott Carroll has chimed in, giving his side of things. I thought I would repost his comment here so it doesn’t get lost in the comments.
As you are aware, I seldom post to blogs, so forgive my intrusion.
  1. Despite what one might think of DO and what he has done (and that is yet to be untangled), it doesn’t feel right to me for someone to use his fall as an opportunity for self-promotion.
  2. The CT editor knew that I hadn’t spoken with the author, JP, for over 7 years (and not because of a binding non-disclosure). You would hope to think that the editor would have vetted many of the things said as only one person’s recollection was critically tied to the piece even though there was another person in the room. It was regrettably filled with misrepresentations, misrecollections, and exaggerations. The mixed narrative doubtless left the uninformed reader confused. I personally hold CT responsible for this.
  3. The basic elements of my recollection of those initial interactions have not changed since 2011. DO showed me the MK 1 papyrus on the pool table in his office. He said it had been dated to the late 1st or early 2nd c and he then went into some paleographic detail why he believed it must date to the late 1st c. It was in this conversation that he offered it for consideration for HL to buy (w/o mentioning a price). I said I would mention it to them which I did. I seem to remember mentioning it to them on occasion, but they never asked me about it or mentioned it to me. With my departure in June of 2012, I never signed a non-disclosure agreement.
  4. These are my recollections based on my brief conversation about the Mk 1 papyrus with DW. I mentioned it to DW briefly in passing. I told him that the dating was based on the opinion of a renowned Oxford scholar. He mentioned a debate, which I knew nothing of, and asked if he could mention it. I said it wasn’t owned by HL so I couldn’t speak for them. I told him he would have to use his own discretion. It wasn’t my debate and how could I possible tell DW (who I did not know) to do something like that? And for what benefit to HL or DO? I did not have pictures of the papyrus. I do not think there could have been any way possible for DW to have seen Mk 1 before debate.
  5. I wondered over the past 7 years why none of these people who knew the truth (non-disclosures aside) could step-up and verify what they knew. Why was the author of the CT article walking around with a scrap of paper in his wallet for 7 years like a memento verifying what happened without mentioning it to me or anyone else? The EES asked over a year ago (loosely paraphrased) ‘Who are we to believe the eminent DO or this nobody SC?’ No one could speak to the truth; afraid of DO and afraid of HL. Truth is never bound by non-disclosures. A year after the publication of Mk 1 and 7 years after the initial offering the CT articles feels more like a cover-up than an exposé. When people see that something is wrong and they don’t speak out against it, they become part of the problem and perpetuate it.
  6. I am sure much more will come out on this and related topics. I would hope to think that everyone will be the better for it. My best.
At this point, the one key person we have not heard from is Dirk Obbink himself. We’ll wait to see what he says.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Palaeography of an invoice

One thing I’ve already seen since Holmes’ email last night (see some discussion by Brent Nongbri here and here) is a questioning of the authenticity of the First-century Gospels invoice. Some have cautioned against taking it at face value. I even had one conservative Christian ask me directly this morning if I think it is real.

I don’t have any reason to doubt that it’s real, but I also think we can quantify that a little bit. Are we not text critics? Is it not part of our job to analyze handwriting on handwritten documents? I don’t mean to make light of a very serious situation, but I do think it could be helpful to post an analysis like this. I freely admit that I am not trained in contemporary forensic handwriting analysis, so my thoughts here should not be taken as definitive. I am only analysing the letters as I would give an informal analysis on the fly if a friend asked me to describe the letters in a Greek NT manuscript. I’m pretty sure the date of the Mark fragment itself is proof that an opinion can change when something is studied in greater detail.

With that in mind, I offer this assessment of the handwriting of two samples. The first is the handwriting on the invoice where it is signed Dirk Obbink, which I designate INV in the discussions that follow. I have not used the signature line in the comparison, because it is qualitatively a different style—it is a ‘signature’ style, rather than a ‘print’ hand used elsewhere.

The other is the handwriting of the paper note, which I designate PAP.
Descriptions for each letter are below the screenshots of them.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Invoice for the sale of First-Century Mark (and more)


I pass along here (with permission) an email I and the other members of the First-Century Mark panel just received from Mike Holmes. Brent Nongbri has already posted this, so be sure to see his website and the comments there, too.

Dear Bart, Roberta, Brent, Jill, and Elijah,

I am sending you this note because (1) we are all members of the SBL panel scheduled to discuss P.Oxy. 5345, otherwise known as “1st c. Mark” (FCM), at the SBL Annual Meeting in November, and (2) earlier this year I acquired some additional information regarding this document—information that I feel obligated to communicate to you, in your capacity as fellow panelists.

You will recall that in the aftermath of the publication of P.Oxy. 5345 in mid-2018, one of the lingering questions centered around the role of the Green Collection (owned by Hobby Lobby Stores) in the matter. Given that the Egyptian Exploration Society (EES) repeatedly (and rightly) affirmed that the fragment has never been for sale, why did representatives of the Green Collection seem to think that the Collection had acquired the fragment?

The answer is relatively straightforward: Prof. Dirk Obbink sold it and three other allegedly early Gospel fragments to the Green Collection, the result of negotiations that began in early 2012 and continued into early 2013, when a purchase agreement was executed.

Accompanying this email is a file containing two items. The first is a redacted copy of the purchase agreement between Prof. Dirk Obbink and Hobby Lobby stores, which documents the sale of four Gospel fragments—one each of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each allegedly dated “Circa 0100 AD.” The second item is a photograph of a list written by Prof. Obbink himself (and in the photograph held down by his fingers) that specifies the contents of these four fragments: Matthew 3.7-10, 11-12; Mark 1.8-9, 16-18; Luke 13.25-7, 28, and John 8.26-8, 33-5. The two items together document the fact of the sale and the identity of the items sold.

In the agreement Obbink clearly asserted (in item 1) that he was the owner of the property described therein. The fragments in question, however, were and remain the property of EES. This is certainly the case in regard to the Mark and Luke fragments, which were published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 83 (2018) as P.Oxy 5345 and P.Oxy 5346, respectively. It is almost certainly the case in regard to the Matthew and John fragments: an EES representative has confirmed to me that EES also possesses fragments of Matt 3.7-10, 11-12 and John 8.26-28, 33-35.

It is worth noting that the Green Collection, though having received title to the fragments (see point 10 of the purchase agreement), never took physical possession of the fragments. Instead, in accordance with other terms of the agreement (see points 10.1-10.2) the fragments were left in Obbink’s custody for research and publication (the intended venue of initial publication being specified in 10.3).

It seemed advisable to consult with the EES about the FCM matter before sharing the information mentioned above more widely, so earlier this month I met in London with representatives of the EES and discussed with them its significance and implications. I am now sharing it with you. You, in turn, are free to share with others or post in your blog (a) the information contained in this letter, and (b) the accompanying document.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

I’ll try to keep my thoughts as brief as possible.

1. It seems that Obbink was selling items without the knowledge or consent of the Egypt Exploration Society (EES). Admittedly, the EES say that none of the unpublished fragments are first-century, but neither were the Mark and Luke fragments, despite appearing as such on the invoice.

2. Dan Wallace revealed last year that his non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was at the request of the seller, so Obbink appears to have been the one who requested that Wallace sign a NDA.

3. This particular invoice is numbered 017. Does that mean Obbink had made 16 other sales before this? I think it would be wise initially to treat all items sold by Obbink while he had access to the Oxyrhynchus Collection as suspect. It could be that these four fragments were the only things he ever allegedly sold that came from the Oxyrhynchus collection, but there could be more. One thing about which I would be curious is whether Obbink sold papyri to anyone else.

4. I think if I were buying things, and I decided to work with someone of Obbink’s stature with the kinds of genuine credentials he has, and that person was who offered to sell me something, I don’t know that it would have even occurred to me not to trust him or her about whether or not the item(s) had a clean provenance. Yes, hindsight’s 20/20, and yes there is an element of taking responsibility for your actions, but what it looks like to me is that the Greens were indeed trying to do that by going through a well-credentialed and respected Oxford scholar, and their biggest fault in this specific situation was that they may have trusted the wrong person.

5. It looks like the evangelicals were telling the truth here. It seems to me that some of the people who suggested or otherwise accused the Greens, Scott Carroll, Dan Wallace, etc. of lying when compared to statements made by the EES and others might owe some apologies. Such reactions probably stem from the same cause of all this (if I’m right on point 4, above), that it is unthinkable that someone from the EES could be telling anything other that the truth. If anyone does need to apologise, I hope they have the integrity to do so.

Here is the full PDF that Holmes sent.

[Updated for typos and things]

Update: The EES have issued a statement here in which they confirm that Holmes did approach them earlier with this information. Some points of interest (quoted from their statement):

"The four fragments listed in the photograph do fit with catalogued EES texts because the combinations of surviving verses on the front and back of the fragments are distinctive. The Mark and Luke must be the texts published recently as P.Oxy. LXXXIII 5345 and 5346. The Matthew and John fragments are currently being prepared for publication."


"We are grateful to Professor Holmes for sharing with us in advance the newly revealed contract and photograph, and we are working with him to clarify whether the four texts in the photographed list, or any other EES papyri, were sold or offered for sale to Hobby Lobby or its agents, and if so, when and by whom. This may take some time, and unless and until new evidence emerges, there is no more we can say."

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Gospel of Mark Movie in Koine Greek

From the folks at and the Lumo Project comes a high production quality movie of Mark’s Gospel completely in Koine Greek. Here’s the announcement, with the video of Mark 1 posted below. (I note they got Mark 1.1 correct.)
I first made contact with the LUMO project and Faith Comes by Hearing last fall about the possibility of doing a Koine Greek narration for the excellent Gospel films that LUMO has produced. After many months of work, I am now pleased to finally announce the release of—as far as I know—the first full-length Gospel film in the original language in a restored Koine pronunciation. This first release (of chapter one) is viewable via the YouTube channel. I will try to release one chapter of it per week over the next several months. This first release is chapter one. I am making Greek captions/subtitles for each portion as well so that with each release you will also be able to follow along by reading the text as it is narrated. Click on the captions button to turn Greek captions on/off.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Text and Studies Series (Gorgias) Hosted by De Gruyter

Gorgias Press has entered a partnership with De Gruyter for the electronic hosting of the Texts and Studies volumes, which means that individual chapters are now available for each volume.

The chapters of “Early Readers, Scholars and Editors" (2014) and “Commentaries, Catenae and Biblical tradition” (2016) are available free of charge at:

Chapters of  “Textual Variation: Theological and Social Tendencies” (2008), “Transmission and Reception” (2006) and “Studies in the Early Text” (1999 repr. 2013) are available for download at £23 each:

The most recent volume (“Liturgy and the Living Text”) will be available at a later stage.

(HT: Hugh Houghton)

Friday, June 07, 2019

Romans 16.3 as window into Codex Vaticanus

I’ve been enjoying leading some seminars for the Logos Summer School in Oxford. Yesterday we looked in some detail (!) at a page of Codex Vaticanus and enjoyed reading some of the text of Romans. Some interesting details are seen in one small portion of the page we were looking at (page 1460 according to the codex; page 1464 according to the online images).

The NA28 text has: Ἀσπάσασθε Πρίσκαν καὶ Ἀκύλαν τοὺς συνεργούς μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, οἵτινες ὑπὲρ τῆς ψυχῆς μου τὸν ἑαυτῶν τράχηλον ὑπέθηκαν.

Feel free to discuss this in the comments: ‘what do you see here?’