Tuesday, June 24, 2003


Robert Kraft e-mails:

It may be of interest to the paleojudaica site that a problematic precedent has been set (or perhaps merely expanded) by the auction on 20 June 2003 of 29 published papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus, including POxy 1351 LXX Leviticus, that had been donated in the early 20th century to Crozer Theological Seminary (now part of Colgate Rochester Divinity School) by the Egyptian Exploration Fund (now the Egyptian Exploration Society). The materials were divided into 9 lots, and brought a staggering total of $646,000. The most prized piece in terms of bids was Poxy 1780, from the Gospel of John, which went for $350,000. The tiny parchment Leviticus fragment brought "only" $30,000. The names of the successful bidders are unknown to me.

Fortunately, not only were all these papyri already published in the Poxy volumes, but they had recently been included in the American Theological Library Association "Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative" and thus can be viewed publicly on the internet -- http://www.atla.com/digitalresources/ (Search the DataBase, Limit by Collection, check off Oxyrhynchus Papyri and "Submit," keyword "Oxy," click on descriptions and images). The images and descriptions can even be offloaded ("Save As").

The situation was discussed at some length on the PAPY scholarly electronic list, and some late attempts to stop or delay the sale were addressed both to the sellers (the Trustees at Colgate Rochester Divinity School -- the Library that housed the fragments apparently was not complicit in the sale) and the legal department of the agent (Sotheby's in New York City). Egyptian Exploration Society officers issued a statement that emphasized the intent of EES that the materials were for public use, through museums and libraries. I'm not aware that the Egyptian authorities were apprized of the situation or issued any statement, although it could be argued that ultimately, this is Egyptian property. Some have questioned the right of a not-for-profit institution (CRDS) to sell to the highest bidder materials obtained by "donation" from a not-for-profit organization (EEF). It clearly seems to be a "moral" issue, even if its "legal" status remains murky; and a very questionable precedent!

I agree!

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