Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reconstructing History In Suffolk

Stour Lighter at University Campus Suffolk
© David Gill
The restored Stour Lighter is now on temporary display at University Campus Suffolk before it makes its way to Sudbury. It is a good reminder how archaeology, through excavation (and in this case painstaking restoration), can help us to visualise the past. The Lighter is part of the Managing a Masterpiece Project.




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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Coins and ethics

VCoins have an important "Code of Ethics". We are told:
VCoins recognizes that all dealers are legally obligated to operate their businesses in accordance with applicable local, state, and Federal laws. A requirement for participating as a dealer on the VCoins site is strict adherence to the VCoins Dealer Code of Ethics. This Code is intended to promote mutual trust between dealers and the public through fairness, honesty, and integrity.
In addition, each VCoins dealer "will conduct [their] business in a professional and ethical manner, and will exercise common sense and courtesy in [their] professional dealings, to ensure that no discredit is brought to VCoins or other VCoins dealers." This is laudable.

I observe that the founding partner of a Zurich based numismatic company pleaded guilty earlier this summer. The same Zurich company has now (September 2012) been welcomed as part of VCoins, although the name of the founding partner has been excised from the literature.

Is the Swiss company ashamed to acknowledge the link with its founding partner? And has VCoins chosen to overlook the guilty plea by the same individual?

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Monday, September 24, 2012

The "dodgy" papyrus and Harvard Theological Review

It now appears that the New York Times was premature in announcing that PDodg. would be published in the January 2013 number of Harvard Theological Review. It has now been stated that "A Harvard University journal says it hasn’t fully verified research that purportedly shows some early Christians believed Jesus had a wife, even though Harvard’s divinity school touted the research during a publicity blitz this week" ("Harvard journal: Research into papyrus with text about Jesus’ ‘wife’ not yet verified", Washington Post September 22, 2012).

The report goes on:
the review’s co-editor Kevin Madigan said he and his co-editor had only “provisionally” committed to a January publication, pending the results of the ongoing studies. In an email, Madigan said the added studies include “scientific dating and further reports from Coptic papyrologists and grammarians.”
HTR could have avoided this apparent turnaround by having a more rigorous publication policy along the lines of the Archaeological Institute of America for the American Journal of Archaeology.

AP quotes Ric Elia who makes the striking point: “If it’s real, it was looted and smuggled, most likely ... If it’s not real, then it shouldn’t even be out there in the discussion.”

This now raises issues about why Professor King publicised PDodg. through the NYT. Was she unaware of the issues relating to recently surfaced material? Why had she not completed scientific studies on the papyrus?

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The "dodgy" papyrus: the Fecht connection

I am wondering about the authenticity of the supporting evidence for PDodg. It seems that the Harvard Gazette tells us "The collector provided King with a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus." (B. D. Colen, "Suggestion of a married Jesus", September 18, 2012). Harvard Divinity School has issued this comment: "The earliest documentation about the fragment is a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus."

However, the New York Times reported: "It came with a handwritten note in German that names a professor of Egyptology in Berlin, now deceased, and cited him calling the fragment “the sole example” of a text in which Jesus claims a wife."

In contrast, the Smithsonian magazine noted:
Among the papers the collector had sent King was a typed letter to Laukamp from July 1982 from Peter Munro. Munro was a prominent Egyptologist at the Free University Berlin and a longtime director of the Kestner Museum, in Hannover, for which he had acquired a spectacular, 3,000-year-old bust of Akhenaten. Laukamp had apparently consulted Munro about his papyri, and Munro wrote back that a colleague at the Free University, Gerhard Fecht, an expert on Egyptian languages and texts, had identified one of the Coptic papyri as a second-to fourth-century A.D. fragment of the Gospel of John.
Munro, like Fecht, is no longer alive. Laukamp was a dealer in Berlin.

The Smithsonian also notes a second piece of correspondence:
The collector also left King an unsigned and undated handwritten note that appears to belong to the same 1982 correspondence—this one concerning a different gospel. “Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment, approximately 8 cm in size, is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife. Fecht is of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage.”
Has anybody authenticated these two more modern letters? A typed letter could be forged. Whose handwriting appears in the second note? When was it written? Is it contemporary with the (purported) 1982 typewritten letter? Or could it be an afterthought added to the dossier when sold to the present proprietor?

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The "dodgy" papyrus fragment: top question

Professor Karen King has been defending the so-called "dodgy" papyrus (PDodg.) in an interview for the Huffington Post (Daniel Burke and David Gibson, "'Jesus Wife': 5 Big Questions About The Discovery", September 20, 2012). Number 1 is "Where did the papyrus come from?"

Looting Matters has been asking much the same thing. So King replies:
We don't know. King says that "nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery," an admission that has raised red flags for other scholars.
... The papyrus now belongs to an anonymous collector who asked King to analyze it. King says three scholars have determined that the fragment is not a forgery, but that further tests will be conducted on the ink. The scholar also says that she will press the fragment's anonymous owner to come forward.
One gets the feeling that King has been surprised by the media interest and the negative impact of the story. The present proprietor is probably wishing that there had not been such a high profile spread in the New York Times.

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The "dodgy" papyrus fragment: video



Harvard Divinity School has now issued a short video about the "dodgy" papyrus fragment that may or may not be authentic.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "dodgy" papyrus fragment: further comments

Nicole Winfield, writing from Rome, has written an important response to the news about the newly surfaced papyrus fragment ("Doubts over Harvard claim of 'Jesus' Wife' papyrus", September 19, 2012 [available on Bloomberg Business Week). Winfield has interviewed participants at the conference who have questioned the authenticity of the fragment:
Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster ... questioned whether the document was authentic. 
"There's something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. 
Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt. "I would say it's a forgery. The script doesn't look authentic" when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.
Despite concerns about how the fragment surfaced on the market, there is the predictable comment:
AnneMarie Luijendijk, the Princeton University expert whom King consulted to authenticate the papyrus, said the fragment fit all the rules and criteria established by the International Association of Papyrologists. She noted that papyrus fragments frequently don't have a provenance, simply because so many were removed from Egypt before such issues were of concern. She acknowledged the dilemma about buying such antiquities but said refraining from publishing articles about them is another matter. 
"You wouldn't let an important new text go to waste," she said.
Perhaps the International Association of Papyrologists needs to revisit its criteria and recommendations for the "commerce in papyri" (available here). (I note the phrase "observe scrupulously".)

Winfield also draws attention to concerns about publishing recently surfaced antiquities.

I am also quoted: "This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it."

Perhaps King, Bagnall, and Luikendijk have been too quick in associating themselves with the fragment.

Winfield's interview is now informing other reports that have appeared elsewhere (e.g. Daily Mail, Fox News).

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The Papyrus Fragment about Jesus’s Relations: Cambridge comment

I note that Tyndale House in Cambridge has issued a helpful comment by Simon Gathercole on the newly-surfaced papyrus fragment ("Did Jesus have a wife?"). Gathercole makes the point, contra the New York Times, that this fragment is not a gospel and should be known as the fragment about Jesus' relations "since there’s no evidence that it was called a gospel and the text mentions at least two family members".

Christian Askeland has commented on his blog, "Evangelical Textual Criticism", from the International Association of Coptic Studies in Rome where the fragment was presented. Askeland suggests that the fragment "looks like a fake".

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The Gospel of Jesus' Wife from an old German collection

Harvard Divinity School has provided information about a fragment of papyri in an anonymous private collection ("The Gospel of Jesus's Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus"). The Harvard website helpfully informs us "Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt".

Readers of LM will not be asking certain questions. Why is nothing known about its discovery? When was the fragment found? Where was the fragment found? What else was found with it? When did it leave Egypt (if Egypt was where it was found)?

What about the collecting history? Again, the Harvard website tells us more:
Nothing is known about the circumstances of its original discovery or early ownership, but there are some clues about its modern history. The earliest documentation about the fragment is a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus. It now belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted Karen L. King at Harvard Divinity School for help in identifying its contents.
Will the Fecht letter be made public? Has the handwritten letter been authenticated? (Fecht died in December 2006.)

Who is the present anonymous collector?

The New York Times (Laurie Goodstein, "A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife", September 18, 2012) has a bit of publicity for the fragment. It tells us
The collector acquired it in a batch of papyri in 1997 from the previous owner, a German. It came with a handwritten note in German that names a professor of Egyptology in Berlin, now deceased, and cited him calling the fragment “the sole example” of a text in which Jesus claims a wife.
Who was the previous German owner? Was the person a dealer or collector? What is the documentation for the sale?

Professor Karen L. King has been invited to prepare the fragment for publication in Harvard Theological Review. Some journals would not allow the publication given the fragment's obscure collecting history. The publication will no doubt help to add to the fragment's value prior to its acquisition by a proposed new owner.

Professor Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute of the Ancient World (ISAW) in New York, makes an important observation about the fragment:
The piece is torn into a rough rectangle, so that the document is missing its adjoining text on the left, right, top and bottom — most likely the work of a dealer who divided up a larger piece to maximize his profit, Dr. Bagnall said.
In other words Bagnall thinks that a much larger papyrus fragment was cut up to provide this piece that can be flouted as a great discovery (and no doubt a wonderful acquisition from some undiscerning institution).

There are a number of legitimate academic concerns about this newly surfaced fragment, and it is hoped that King will be addressing these prior to any proposed publication.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Cleveland Drusus without a "slam-dunk paper trail"

Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
Newsweek has reviewed the recent criticisms of Cleveland Museum of Art's acquisition of the apparently recently-surfaced portrait of Drusus ("Who Owns Antiquity?; Two U.S. museums wrestle with the provenance question", September 17, 2012). The acquisition is defended by the director, David Franklin, who accepts that "the 2,000-year-old marble head didn't come with a slam-dunk paper trail proving that it could not have been illegally unearthed since the time of the UNESCO convention".

Newsweek should have explored the sale in Paris. How reliable is the reported collecting history that attempts to place the Drusus in Algeria?
Franklin felt this oral history gave him enough to run with: "We did as much if not more than anyone could have done to research this object ... If all the arrows are pointing in one direction, you can make a reasoned assumption," he says. The inevitable risks that this assumption might turn out wrong are balanced, he feels, by the open access that scholars and visitors now have to this wonderful work of art.
Cleveland is clearly now admitting that there is no verifiable and authenticated documentation for the head.

Franklin makes his appeal to James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? Perhaps he needed to read some of the reviews to understand the weakness of his position. I would draw Franklin's attention to the perceptive comments made by Dr Roger Bland of the British Museum.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Crosby Garrett helmet to go on show

The Crosby Garrett helmet is to go on display at the Royal Academy in London from 15 September.

It will form part of an exhibition called bronze. It will be interesting if all the details of the find and the so-called conservation emerge as part of the show.

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