What happens when an academic who has received a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation and has ties to the University of Oxford is involved in an archaeological scandal? The situation papyrologist Dirk Obbink found himself in is complex, involving wealthy donors, conflicting agendas and a controversial museum. In a new article for Atlantic, Ariel Sabar explores a tangled situation involving renowned experts, religious devotion, and the controversial practice of destroying one type of artifact in the hope of finding something else.
At the center of this controversial situation is Obbink, described on the MacArthur Foundation website as “a scholar of the classics and an expert papyrologist whose work opened new windows to classical poetry, society and philosophy”. Sabar’s article describes Obbink’s work with the Green Scholars Foundation, an organization supported by the Green family – also known for its Hobby Lobby ownership. Steve Green is also the founder of the Museum of the Bible, which recently ran into issues with artifacts that turned out to be false.
In the case of the situation described by Sabar, the problem here does not have to do with the forgeries, but rather with how certain materials were obtained. (Also in the mix: the phenomenon of mummy’s masks dissolving in the hope of finding historically relevant papyri, an act that is both disrespectful and largely unsuccessful.) Obbink has sold the Greens a number of artifacts of mysterious provenance. – which turned out to have links. at his job in Oxford.
The whole story is complex, but at the end of the day Obbink can abuse his position for personal gain. (According to Sabar, Obbink hinted that he may have been tricked, but offered no further details.) It’s a gripping tale set at the intersection of science and religion – with plenty of money at stake.
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