A professor at Oxford University has been accused of selling more than 11 Egyptian papyrus scrolls from an ancient Bible to an American billionaire.
The scrolls, which were housed in the archives of the University of Oxford, were spotted later in the Museum of the Bible in Washington.
Classics professor Dirk Obbink has been accused by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) of selling 11 pieces from its Oxyrhynchus Collection to American billionaire Steve Green, who spent about US$500 million to set up the museum and open it in 2017.
The ancient texts, dating back to the third and seventh centuries, are part of the Oxyrhynchus Collection, which consists of 500,000 pieces of papyrus and parchment (a material made of cowhide or other animal skin), discovered in an Egyptian dump by British explorers in 1890.
The Papyrus texts document writings from everyday life, including shopping lists, and also contain copies of the New Testament (the second part of the Christian Bible).
A contact was signed in 2013 between Professor Obbink and Greene, the son of the founder of Hobby Lobby stores, for the sale of six items, including four thought to be from the Oxyrhynchus collection.
The texts were taken without permission from the Oxyrhynchus Group, who are now investigating whether any other documents are missing from its Oxford University archive, according to an online statement from the UK’s Egyptian Exploration Society.
Founded in 1898, the Egypt Exploration Society has since been active in exploring archaeological sites in the Delta and the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan.
Some reports indicated that the museum was “caving in” to the EES’s right to property and would return the ancient texts immediately.
In August 2016, the EES abandoned Professor Obbink’s supervision of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri group, primarily because of his poor performance of editorial duties and because of concerns about his alleged involvement in the marketing of ancient texts, particularly the texts of the poet Sappho.
The EES said Oxford University was investigating the sale of old texts from the university’s archives.
The Daily Mail quoted a spokesperson for the museum as saying: “The items referenced were acquired by Hobby Lobby Stores in good faith between 2010 and 2013, but sold by a known expert from Oxford University.”
Professor Obbink told the Daily Beast in 2018 the claim that he sold the fragment of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark to Hobby Lobby “is not true.”
“A year after the alleged sale, Obbink is said to have bought a castle in Texas and sold it this year for around 400,000 euros,” Daily Mail said.