“the biggest scandal that has ever hit … Oxford’s classics department”
January 9, 2020 4:08 AM   Subscribe

A scandal in Oxford: the curious case of the stolen gospel by Charlotte Higgins focuses on the sale of a purported 1st Century papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Matthew, allegedly stolen by an Oxford professor of classics, Dirk Obbink. However, it also touches on another papyrus, known as “P. Sapph. Obbink” which was the source of a new poem by Sappho, which has equally murky provenance, as laid out by professors C. Michael Sampson and Anna Uhlig.
posted by Kattullus (13 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I was following this when it first blew up, but I had no idea how much material we were talking about, or the sums it allegedly went for.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:48 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

I find myself more angry that the Hobby Lobby owners are using company-acquired donations to their private museum as a tax dodge than at the scholar who sold them stolen goods.

A good theft story is fun reading for all. But yet another shady tax dodge by the privileged just pisses me off.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:19 AM on January 9 [11 favorites]

And yes, Oxford’s Sackler Library is that Sackler, of Purdue Pharma infamy. Thieving dons, fundie history stealers and drug pushers oh my.

The article does quite thoroughly destroy the concept of provenance as a cast-iron guarantee. It seems that, if buyers believe in the product enough, providence can be manufactured to match. The only tiny glimmer of hope I got from the story is the possibility that Obbink managed to scam the odious Greens out of their cash while not actually sending them the document fragments.
posted by scruss at 6:45 AM on January 9 [7 favorites]

Dr Dirk Obbink is a good name for a swindling professor in a mystery. (My apologies if anyone out there is named Obbink.) We'll probably find out he's really Kirk Dobbin, the Rib Knob Kid.
posted by pracowity at 7:29 AM on January 9 [20 favorites]

The alleged thefts were reported to Thames Valley police on 12 November. No one has yet been arrested or charged.

I wonder where it goes from here? I can imagine the police or the CPS deciding not to pursue the case, on the grounds that this is all too impossibly complicated to put before a jury. I can also imagine Hobby Lobby deciding not to sue Obbink, on the grounds that a court case might reveal too many embarrassing details about their handling of stolen goods. So I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the whole affair ends as murkily as it began, with a private settlement and non-disclosure agreements all round. I hope I'm wrong.
posted by verstegan at 8:13 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]

This whole thing is just one conspiracy player shy of a Dan Brown novel isn't it
posted by caution live frogs at 9:09 AM on January 9 [7 favorites]

The picture of papyrus being stored in random cardboard boxes on 2x4 shelving was not what I was expecting.
posted by clawsoon at 9:42 AM on January 9 [3 favorites]

"I wonder where it goes from here? I can imagine the police or the CPS deciding not to pursue the case, on the grounds that this is all too impossibly complicated to put before a jury."
Well, the Hobby Lobby sent all of that money somewhere and, unless they did it with suitcases full of cash, investigators empowered with subpoenas should be able to find where that somewhere is. If Obbink is connected to where all that money went, then his whole story will pretty conclusively fall apart right? Maybe this is a stupid question, but if the goal was theft for whoever the thief was, then why can't we just follow the money to them?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:59 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

The Sapphic poem find previously on the blue
posted by Blasdelb at 10:43 AM on January 9 [5 favorites]

... where MeFites were (among) the first to translate the newly (re)discovered fragments.

<3 MetaFilter!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:00 AM on January 9 [3 favorites]

...I think that professors C. Michael Sampson and Anna Uhlig are pointing at us too in that second link in the FPP.

Reading it all back now, it feels like we were all drunk on the excitement appropriate to something of this magnitude being discovered and suddenly available. This is poetry that people have wept over as it was slowly lost for thousands of years! I was certainly swept up in it, I couldn't shut up about it for weeks to anyone who would listen, and I even managed to sneak the amazing poem that ocherdraco wrote about my doctoral work in the style of languagehat's translation into my dissertation.

However, its not like even we didn't have questions back then that we were super happy to brush aside as a community. I think that its pretty clear now that at least several super gross things happened on this poem's journey to us even if we don't know yet what they were. If so then maybe Obbink neglecting to provide the media with his own translation wasn't just a clever way to manipulate the media response by crowdsourcing it, but maybe was also a way to engender communal complicity in whatever his crimes were.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:12 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]

Brent Nongbri, who features in the article, explained why the radiocarbon dates that Obbink provided for the Sappho papyrus don’t make sense.
posted by Kattullus at 12:54 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]

I recall a professor, not coincindentally an eminent papyrologist, from my college days explaining how radiocarbon dating was generally not on simply because the amount one needs to burn to test was generally more than any papyrologist was willing to sacrifice.

That, and the imprecise readings.

Professor Obbink has put out his denial of wrongdoing in the Waco Tribune-Herald, not available in Europe, but reprinted here.
posted by BWA at 4:56 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

« Older The Case For War, By Someone Whose Kids Won’t Die...   |   In a church of their own, Latino atheists fear no... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments