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  • W. Andrew Smith

Arrest at Oxford over stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri


There was no way to predict that the announcement of the so-called "First-Century Mark" fragment at a debate between Dan Wallace and Bart Ehrman would be so far upstream in a scandal involving the theft of over a hundred items from the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection housed at the Sackler Library of Oxford University. At least two stories announce the arrest of Prof. Dirk Obbink on 2 March 2020 "for alleged theft of ancient papyrus from the Sackler Classics Library in Oxford":


Christ Church professor arrested over scandal of stolen papyrus


Oxford professor arrested on suspicion of ancient papyrus theft



Prof. Dirk Obbink (2016).

At the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in San Diego last November there was a session in the New Testament Textual Criticism program unit titled "Postmortem on the So-Called First-Century Mark Fragment." The presenters included Bart Ehrman, Elijah Hixon, Brent Nongbri, Roberta Mazza, Jill Hicks-Keeton, and Michael Holmes. Based on the timeline of events presented by Hixon and the summary of the Museum of the Bible's story of the purchase of the stolen manuscripts, it was difficult to understand why some kind of an arrest had not already taken place.


Oddly, the world of manuscript studies has a number of stories that involve drama and intrigue. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices takes place in the midst of a blood feud in a well-known story that involves murder-by-pickaxes. The court proceedings for this case will put New Testament manuscripts in some front-page news, though perhaps this is not the image we really want to project for the discipline. It will be interesting to see what else is uncovered in court and where have all these other missing manuscripts gone? With only 19 of the manuscripts recovered, there have to be a number of impacted collections out there...

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