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UK News

Oxford professor arrested accused of stealing and selling rare Bible fragments

by Premier Journalist

A distinguished Oxford professor has been accused of stealing ancient Bible fragments from a university library. Professor Dirk Obbink is suspected of removing 11 missing fragments of Biblical papyrus from the Sackler Library in Oxford - part of a collection owned by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES).

The precious texts - which include extracts from parts of Genesis, Exodus and Romans - later appeared at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., leading police to believe that Obbink may have sold them to the US. 

Obbink, 63, has denied any wrongdoing and insists that the claims are "malicious attempt” to destroy his career. He told the Guardian: “I would never betray the trust of my colleagues and the values which I have sought to protect and uphold throughout my academic career in the way that has been alleged. I am aware that there are documents being used against me which I believe have been fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career.”

In addition, the Museum of the Bible claimed to acquire the artifacts "in good faith" and said it was committed to the "ethical handling of all items in its care and its approach to collections research." 

Dr Jeffrey Kloha, Chief Curatorial Officer at Museum of the Bible, said: "We have collaborated with EES in the investigation, have shared all relevant documentation with them, and will continue to assist them in recovering other items that may have been removed without authorisation from their holdings." 

Obbink, who is an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature, has been suspended from his academic position since October 2019, when the alleged theft first came to light. 

Dr Carl Graves, the EES director, said the society is cooperating with police and noted that the Museum of the Bible has since returned the stolen fragments to their collection in Oxford.

Graves explained: “These are early fragments of the gospels or biblical fragments. They are testament to Egypt’s early Christian heritage and are early evidence of biblical scripture. We don’t value them monetarily but they are priceless and irreplaceable.”

With some of the fragments in the collection only containing one word, Graves said that it had taken decades of hard work to piece them all together. 

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