Monday, January 13, 2020

The Oxyrhynchus papyri scandal in the news

THE GUARDIAN: A scandal in Oxford: the curious case of the stolen gospel. What links an eccentric Oxford classics don, billionaire US evangelicals, and a tiny, missing fragment of an ancient manuscript? Charlotte Higgins unravels a multimillion-dollar riddle.

Regular readers are familiar with this ongoing story. I collected some relevant links (especially a post from Brent Nongbri) in my late November post from last year: 120 Oxyrhynchus papyri missing from the Egypt Exploration Society. Follow the links back from there for details. And subsequent relevant posts are here and here. And this post links to potentially relevant posts by Dr Nongbri at his Variant Readings Blog.

Brent also comments on highlights of the Guardian article, as does Peter Gurry at the ETC Blog. The article has some surprising revelations.

As I have said before, I am not going to offer an opinion on what happened. Nor do I endorse or reject anyone else's analysis. I blog and link and you decide. It sounds as though this situation is likely to end up in court. We will just have to see how it plays out.

Meanwhile, Michael Press uses the story as a launching point to discuss the problem of the overabundance of already excavated ancient texts and artifacts that remain neglected by scholars: The Perennial Problem With the Excavation of Ancient Sites. Why chase after unprovenanced — and likely looted or forged — material when so much excavated material lies waiting for study? Excerpt:
Admirable individual efforts to publish are nothing against the mountain of unprocessed material. We’ve known this for some time, and yet we have still failed to change course. More drastic measures are needed. Fields like Near Eastern studies, classics, and more should reevaluate what kind of scholarship they value. Universities and their hiring committees should reevaluate why and how they hire and promote scholars. National antiquities departments should consider tighter restrictions or even a moratorium on new excavations until more old excavations are published.

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