Wednesday, October 16, 2019

BREAKING: Andrew Stimer’s Pieces of P129 and P131 and Their Fake Provenance

Earlier this summer we reported on two new papyri which accidentally were made public on the webpage of he Institute for New Testament Textual Research. They turned out to be pieces of P129 (1 Cor) and P131 (Romans), respectively. It was the owner, Andrew Stimer, who had sent in documentation and requested that they be registered. With it, he also submitted documentation and a provenance story. In case our readers did not know it, the same Stimer sold a couple of fake Dead Sea Scrolls fragment to the Museum of the Bible (full list of un-provenanced post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls-like fragments at the Lying Pen).

Just minutes ago, an announcement was made by Greg Paulson on the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) Blog, Münster, concerning P129 and P131. Note in particular the part in italics which is the provenance story that Andrew Stimer provided for his pieces (which is obviously fake, but who faked it? Stimer or the person who sold it to him – Obbink?):
There’s been a lot of discussion and speculation in the past few months about two new 2nd/3rd century papyrus fragments, first mentioned by Brent Nongbri as papyri being displayed by Scott Carroll in 2018. We were contacted earlier this year by Andrew Stimer, a private collector in California, who wanted to obtain G-A numbers for two papyrus fragments that he acquired in 2015. The fragments are of 1 Corinthians and Romans. Stimer provided us with unpublished scholar’s reports, which he received in 2016 and 2017: the report for 1 Corinthians was done by Dirk Obbink (who dates the fragment to mid-2nd cent.) and the report on Romans was done by Jeffery Fish (who dates the fragment to the first half of the 3rd cent.).

Through Nongbri’s blog, the INTF was already alerted to the possibility that the papyri in Stimer’s possession were parts of other papyri already registered in the Liste, P129 (1 Cor) and P131 (Romans), which are currently at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB). These numbers, P129 and P131, were assigned to the papyri at MOTB in 2015 so they could include this information in a planned publication with Brill, although this has not been published.

Over the past few months, we’ve been working to (a) verify the authenticity of Stimer’s fragments and (b) decide whether they belong to P129 and P131. The MOTB kindly provided us with images of P129 and P131 so we could make comparisons. We shared images of Stimer’s two fragments with Michael Holmes, and scholars at the Museum of the Bible Scholar’s Initiative were of the opinion that the fragments did indeed belong together. The pieces were analyzed by a number of INTF staff but we still had some lingering questions. We requested expert advice from papyrologist Panagiota Sarischouli at the University of Thessaloniki so we could get an external opinion.

A few weeks ago, Sarischouli graciously provided us with an extensive report confirming the authenticity of the fragments. She noted, “I can say that I have no reason to believe that Stimer’s fragments are fakes; if they are forgeries, they are masterly done!!!” Sarischouli stated, “There can be little doubt that the two fragments (Stimer’s 1 Cor. + P129) belong to the same codex page. Although there are some slight differences between the two handwritings, the hand is identical.” She also agreed with the dates proposed by Obbink and Fish. We are very grateful to her for providing such extensive information about these fragments.
We have now assigned Stimer’s 1 Corinthians fragment to the already registered P129, and have assigned his Romans fragment to the already registered P131 fragment. We can now update the contents of these papyri:

Stimer’s portion of P129 is: 1 Cor 7:32-37; 9:10-16
MOTB’s portion of P129 is: 1 Cor 8:10-9:3, 27-10:6
Stimer’s portion of P131 is: Rom 9:21-23; 10:3-4
MOTB’s portion of P131 is: Rom 9:18-21, 33-10:2

With regard to provenance, Stimer provided us with the following report for his pieces:
I acquired both of the manuscripts in the summer of 2015 from Mr. M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. He bought them the previous year, in April 2014, via a private treaty sale executed by Christie’s London. The fragments were part of a collection of texts that had been in the Pruitt family since the 1950s. Dr. Rodman Pruitt was an industrialist and inventor in southern Indiana who was known as a collector of manuscripts, books and artifacts of various kinds. He acquired his papyri from Harold Maker, a well-known dealer in manuscripts who was based in Irvington, New Jersey. I am told that the Trismegistos database lists numerous published papyri originally sold by Harold Maker. [Coincidentally, I have another manuscript in my collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.] I contacted Christie’s London to confirm that they had indeed conducted the private treaty sale of manuscripts that had passed by descent through the Pruitt family. I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt, though he was of course restricted in the amount of information he was at liberty to provide to me. The sale included various papyri, in Coptic, Greek and Syriac. I was satisfied that the information I had been given at the time of the acquisition was correct.
We recently learned, however, that the two fragments belonging to the MOTB previously belonged to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), see here and were sold without their permission. While many questions still remain regarding Stimer’s papyri, it seems highly probable that his pieces were also once part of the EES collection and were sold without their permission (see here). We have notified Stimer of this and updated the Liste entries in the NT.VMR (P129 and P131) to reflect this. We hope to upload images of Stimer’s papyri and the MOTB papyri on the NT.VMR for public viewing after the issue of provenance has been resolved.
In light of this problematic provenance and so many open questions, we have debated whether to register these two papyri. We are aware that the designation of a G-A number may have the unfortunate side effect of inflating the value of a manuscript on the antiquities market. However, our primary focus when deciding whether to include a new manuscript in the Kurzgefasste Liste has been verifying its authenticity and collecting key data so these manuscripts can be made known to the wider scholarly community. Our hope is that registering these manuscripts in the Liste, where all information is made publically available on the NT.VMR, will enable any unprovenanced manuscripts to be located (or re-located) as effectively as possible.
Update 1: More on “Mr. Elder” and his connection to Dirk Obbink over at Brent Nongbri’s blog here.

Update 2: Note Mike Holmes comments over at Brent Nongbri’s blog:
Re the following: “It seems almost certain, then, that these two fragments were also Oxyrhynchus Papyri taken from the Egypt Exploration Society and sold by Dirk Obbink to Christie’s, then bought from Christie’s by his business partner.”
  1. It is certain that these two fragments are Oxyrhynchus Papyri (EES documentation leaves no doubt in that regard).
  2. There is no evidence that these “Stimer fragments” were sold through Christie’s–only Stimer’s claim about a claim allegedly made by M. Elder. Why should these claims be given any more credence than the claims in the rest of the paragraph? They are likely additional “red herrings.” You have documented a connection between Stimer and Scott Carroll, who in turn is closely associated with Obbink, and there is also the Obbink-Elder connection. Rather than jumping to a conclusion re the alleged Christie’s sale, let’s wait for some evidence and see where it may lead.


  1. The EES statement said that photographs and catalogue records had been removed for most of the papyri that were sold to the MOTB, but that they had backup records. Would there be a backup record that could contain photographs of P129 and P131, and would these photographs be datable?

    As long as we are in the realm of speculating possibilities, it seems at least possible in theory that someone could have removed those bits and sold them in the 1950s, such that Stimer's provenance statement could actually be true. I know that's unthinkable that someone could have/would have done that in the 1950s, and I know it's possible to launder papyri by slipping unprovenanced fragments into established collections (that is to say, I do know what this looks like for Stimer's papyri), but at the same time, it looks like a lot of unthinkable things have happened recently. I wouldn't want to ignore a possibility simply on the grounds that it's unthinkable. If a photo exists in the EES backup records that was taken more recently than the 1950s that shows all the pieces of those papyri together, that could prove that the provenance of Stimer's fragments is indeed fake. A lack of such a photo wouldn't prove that Stimer's provenance statement is true though.

    To be clear—I'm not advocating either way on the authenticity/inauthenticity of Stimer's detailed provenance statement, and I'm not suggesting where any discrepancies may have come from. I'm just holding in my head multiple possibilities at the same time and trying to think of possible ways to narrow them down.

    1. I try to clarify matters a bit here:

    2. Thank you so much; I just got the email to come through. Yes; it does not look good for Stimer's provenance statement.

  2. It is interesting, among all this craziness, that Sarischouli agreed with a mid-second century date for P129. I would suggest that Obbink's report was written to maximise the potential value and that it would be good to question this.

  3. Holmes writes, "there is also the Obbink-Elder connection," referring to that connection as though it is a known thing. Is this just something that MOTB people like Holmes know about because of their connections with the network of dealers that Obbink apparently belongs to? Or is there there anything publicly known about who M. Elder is and his connections to other dealers in Obbink's circle?

    1. Eric,
      please read Nongbri's blog post ("Additional Papyri Stolen from the Oxyrhynchus Collection"): he prints, in the middle of his post, the document (first revealed, I think, by Moss) that establishes the Mahmoud Elder/Obbink link.
      Mike Holmes

  4. There is also a potential connection between Stimer and the Baidun family. Stimer's collection seems to contain pages from an Armenian gospel of John, which were also being sold by the Baiduns. We also know via Holmes that MOTB bought Oxyrhynchus papyri from the Baiduns. We should consider the possibility that Obbink sold portions of P129 and P131 to the Baiduns who then sold them to Stimer.

    Scott Carroll was aware of the existence of both portions of P129 and P131 as early as 2018. What did he know and when did he know it? It's also shady that he was displaying Stimer's portion of P129 in Belaurs in 2018, falsely claiming that it was from a museum in South Korea and that he had discovered the fragments in mummy cartonnage. These events also call into question the other papyri and parchment on display in the Belarus and Russian exhibit.

    1. I know in March 2013 the MOTB portion of P129 was on display in their traveling exhibit because I saw it in person, and was able to decipher that I was looking at the side showing 1 Cor. 9:27; 10:1-6. Incredible to me to think back on that event and now realize I was looking at a stolen manuscript.

  5. Do we know for certain if *any* NT papyri were ever actually extracted from mummy cartonage?... or was that all a ruse to launder the provenance of stolen papyri?

    1. P135 is in the MOTB collection, fragments of Galatians, and it is not on the EES 'stolen' list. But I have idea if they have said anywhere how they obtained it.

    2. "But I have NO idea..."