Former Oxford Professor Arrested for Allegedly Stealing, Selling Ancient Biblical Artifacts

Amanda Casanova

Police have arrested a professor at Christ Church Oxford for allegedly stealing and selling some 120 ancient pieces of papyrus, including a piece of the Gospel of Mark.

According to Christianity Today, Dirk Obbink, professor of papyrology and Greek literature at Christ Church Oxford, is suspected of stealing the papyrus fragments from the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection at Oxford’s Sackler Library.

The collection houses some 500,000 artifacts from the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus.

Obbink has denied that he stole the ancient documents, claiming that the evidence was “fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career.”

Obbink first came to Oxford in the late 1990s and served as director of a project to digitize ancient pieces of papyrus. Obbink was one of three editors overseeing the publishing of the collection. In 2001, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for his work in rescuing and interpreting the papers.

In 2011, Obbink claimed that he found a fragment of Mark’s Gospel among the collection. He said the manuscript dated to the late first century and referred to Jesus’ baptism where John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Obbink says the book may have been copied within 30 years of the original bible manuscript, making it a rare discovery.

Scholars and experts have since questioned the veracity of Obbink’s claim.

During this time, Obbink reportedly stole 13 bits of papyrus and sold them to Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby. Green was buying thousands of artifacts to put in his Museum of the Bible, which opened in 2017. Green later learned that many of his artifacts were forgeries or stolen. He returned those items.

In 2013, Obbink then allegedly sold Hobby Lobby four more pieces from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, including the rare fragment from the book of Mark.

A police investigation is ongoing.

Obbink lost his position in 2016 and in 2019, he was barred from even accessing the collection and then suspended from Oxford.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Black Quetzal, this is a stock image.

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.