Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford University, was arrested Thursday by Thames Valley police on suspicion of stealing priceless ancient papyrus biblical fragments from a collection at the university, according to a Guardian report.
Thames Valley police received a report on November 12 claiming that the papyrus fragments, which has been stored at the Sackler Library in Oxford and ended up at a biblical museum in the United States, had been initially stolen. The fragments were discovered at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, founded in 2017 by the Green family, billionaire American evangelical Christians who own Hobby Lobby.
Obbink, 63, in response to his arrest, said that the claims against him are a “malicious attempt” to damage his reputation and career. He has since been suspended from his duties at Oxford following an October 2019 investigation into the disappearance of ancient papyrus fragments from the Oxyrhynchus collection at Sackler Library.
“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,” Obbink added.
The owners of the fragments, the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), said they were sold bu Obbink to the American biblical museum. EES director Dr. Carl Graves noted that the Museum of the Bible had been cooperative over the missing fragments, amounting to 13 in total.
“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,” Graves noted.
The fragments come from Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, among others biblical works.