An Oxford Scholar Has Been Arrested for Allegedly Stealing Ancient Biblical Texts to Sell to Hobby Lobby

Dirk Obbink, professor of papyrology and Greek literature at Christ Church Oxford, was arrested on allegations of stealing a Gospel of Mark fragment thought to be the world’s oldest New Testament text among 120 other ancient pieces of papyrus.

Obbink was one of the three scholars in charge of looking out for the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of ancient artifacts but was removed from the post in 2016 as suspicion grew regarding his role in providing ill-gotten items to the Museum of the Bible’s collection. Obbink has denied the allegations.

But Christianity Today spoke with one of Obbink’s former colleagues, who found the evidence pretty convincing. “It’s difficult seeing this ending well for Dirk,” Jerry Pattengale, an Indiana Wesleyan University professor and founding scholar at the Museum of the Bible. “It’s sad to think that such a gifted mind might have an abbreviated contribution to the field of Greek papyrology.”

Obbink’s work in the field of ancient manuscripts is renowned and even merited a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001. But last year, officials released the results of an investigation into Obbink and accused him of looting eleven Bible fragments — including the prized Gospel of Mark fragment — and selling them to the Green family. The Greens, of course, are the owners of arts-and-crafts megachain Hobby Lobby and also operate the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.

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Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, has since apologized for early sloppiness in antiquities collecting and is in the process of returning stolen artifacts.

Several of Obbink’s discoveries have fallen under scrutiny along with the ancient antiquities market in general, which is shrouded in secrecy and frequently subject to corruption.

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