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Professor sued for £5m by Museum of the Bible over alleged sale of stolen papyrus fragments

by Kelly Valencia

A distinguished former classics professor at the University of Oxford is being sued for £5 million for allegedly selling stolen biblical papyrus fragments to The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. 

Dirk Obbink has been accused of stealing the fragments from the university's Sackler Library, which are part of a collection that belongs to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES).

In March 2020, the 64-year-old was arrested on suspicion of theft and fraud but was later released while an investigation into the accusations continues. He resigned as professor of papyrology and Greek literature in February this year. 

But Obbink is now facing a lawsuit by US retail chain "Hobby Lobby", an arts and craft company owned by an American evangelical family who also owns the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. 

In its claim filed in New York, Hobby Lobby claims that the professor had gained a reputation as "one of the world's leading scholars of ancient papyri" but had parallelly been dealing papyrus fragments and other ancient objects throughout his career. 

The company says Obbink sold to them fragments of the New Testament and other artefacts worth $7,095,100 during seven private sales between 2010 and 2013 which the retail chain alleges the professor stole from EES.
Some of the texts include fragments from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. 

Obbink was also the General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project at EES, a group of scholars looking after "the largest collection of ancient papyri in the world", until August 2016.

The professor has not made any comments in the present time but in March last year he told The Guardian: "The allegations made against me that I have stolen, removed or sold items owned by the Egypt Exploration Society collection at the University of Oxford are entirely false." 

"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."

Earlier this year, The Museum of the Bible returned 13 fragments sold by Obbink to the EES.

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