Oxford University probes ‘sale’ of ancient Bible fragments originally from Egypt

The Oxford University confirmed it was seeking to verify the sale. (Reuters)
Updated 16 October 2019

Oxford University probes ‘sale’ of ancient Bible fragments originally from Egypt

  • The university is investigating wether an associate professor unilaterally sold about a dozen fragments to the US retailer Hobby Lobby
  • The artifacts were part of the Oxyrhynchus collection owned by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society

LONDON: Oxford University said Wednesday it has launched an investigation into claims that one of its professors sold ancient Bible fragments to the controversial US company of a billionaire evangelical Christian.
The renowned British university confirmed it was seeking to establish if Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature, unilaterally sold about a dozen fragments to the US retailer Hobby Lobby.
The arts and crafts chain was founded by Steve Green, who is also chairman of the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, and has courted controversy for supporting conservative causes.
The artifacts were part of the Oxyrhynchus collection owned by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society, which initiated its own probe earlier this year after it emerged its items may be held by the museum. 

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project is a collection of centuries-old manuscripts recovered from an ancient Egyptian rubbish dump during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“We can confirm we are engaging with the Egypt Exploration Society with regard to the allegations concerning papyri from the Oxyrhynchus Collection,” an Oxford University spokesperson said.
“The University is conducting its own internal investigation to seek to establish the facts.”
Obbink did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.
In a statement, the EES said it had been working with the museum to clarify whether any texts from its collection had been sold or offered for sale to Hobby Lobby or its agents.
That followed the emergence of a copy of a redacted 2017 contract purportedly between Obbink and the retailer for the sale of six items, “including four New Testament fragments probably of EES provenance.”
The EES statement added the museum had subsequently provided photos identifying 13 texts from its collection which had been “taken without authorization” and were now being returned.
“The (museum) has informed the EES that 11 of these pieces came into its care after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor Obbink, most of them in two batches in 2010,” EES said.
The society noted it had not re-appointed Obbink in August 2016 as a general editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project partly due to concerns “about his alleged involvement in the marketing of ancient texts.”
It added he was then banned from any access to its collection “pending his satisfactory clarification of the 2013 contract” which he had yet to provide.
“We cannot comment here on any broader legal issues arising from these findings, except to note that they are under consideration by all the institutions concerned,” EES said.
It is not the first time both Hobby Lobby and the Museum of the Bible have been caught up in an artifacts controversy.
The company was forced to pay a $3 million settlement in 2017 and give up 5,500 artifacts — including ancient clay cuneiform tablets from Iraq — that the US Justice Department said were illegally imported.
Meanwhile the museum last year announced that five items it had said were fragments of the ancient manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were in fact fake, and would no longer be displayed.


Long-evasive Afghan peace deal to be signed on Feb. 29

In this photo taken on February 17, 2020, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a military exercise at a base in Guzara district in Herat province. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Long-evasive Afghan peace deal to be signed on Feb. 29

  • America-Taliban 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ to start on Saturday

KABUL: A seven-day period of a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan, a key condition by the US to sign a peace deal with the Taliban, will start at midnight Afghan time, a government spokesman confirmed on Friday.

The reduction in violence, which is not a cease-fire, follows months of talks between the US and the armed group to sign an agreement that would pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue and initiate the departure of US troops from the country.
“It begins on Saturday at 12 a.m., 22nd of February,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told reporters. “We are hoping that the other side (the Taliban) will reduce violence as per the commitments. Required and necessary guidance has been given to Afghan forces in this regard,” he added, but gave no further details.
Interior Minister Masood Andarabi earlier this week spelled out parts of the plan. “The Taliban have committed to preventing (not conducting) suicide attacks, blasts and rocket strikes during this period and will observe a significant reduction of violence,” he said.
The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission will also hold back on its operations but will back Afghan forces if they are attacked, according to two security sources unauthorized to talk to the media. A US-Afghan monitoring team will observe Taliban activity during the period.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Thursday that President Ashraf Ghani discussed issues related to the Afghan peace deal and details of the “significant reduction in violence” with Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator, who has been in Kabul for the past two days. But Ghani has been excluded from talks because the Taliban sees his administration as a “puppet” of the West.

FASTFACT

The reduction in violence, which is not a cease-fire, follows months of talks between the US and the armed group to sign an agreement that would initiate the departure of US troops.

Hours after the violence reduction announcement by Faisal, the Taliban said in a statement that it would sign the peace deal with Washington on Feb. 29.
“Following lengthy negotiations between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the United States of America, both parties agreed to sign the finalized accord in the presence of international observers on the 5th of Rajab Al-Murajab 1441 (Hijri Lunar) corresponding with the 10th of Hoot 1398 (Hijri Solar) and 29th of February 2019 (Gregorian),” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
The Feb. 29 date was also cited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” he said. “Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter.”
The violence reduction plan and push for signing the deal comes days after Ghani was officially declared the winner of last year’s disputed presidential polls.
The declaration resulted in further political turmoil, with Ghani’s archrival Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah blasting the result and threatening to form his own government.
Ghani and Abdullah have been at loggerheads ever since they first assumed power in a joint national unity government formed through a US-brokered deal following the disputed 2014 election.

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