Have scholars been lying about P137?

Aractus 12, June, 2018

On his blog, well-known bible scholar Larry Hurtado gave me a public dressing-down while laying out his reasons for not publishing a comment I made to his previous blog post. He didn’t name me, but I will confirm it is my comment he is talking about. He didn’t abide the use of the word “lie”, and felt I shouldn’t be labelling bible scholars as liars, and wouldn’t publish such a comment. I actually thought my language was quite considered. It could well be a cultural difference – we have different expectations in different cultures when exercising free speech and dialogue. Keep reading and I will tell you exactly who I think has been lying. I’m not intending to criticise to Dr. Hurtado at all, and I don’t have any gripe with him, this is just to illustrate the different way that insiders are outsiders are viewing this episode. He could well have information I don’t have as an insider, and he isn’t involved in this sad affair other than as a commentator much as myself and other bloggers.

I’m very proud of my previous blog entry here, I think I did a very good job. I gave, as complete as I could, an overview of where this all started and where it got to. And I gave a LOT of links to the primary information, if you need a directory of P137 information then it should certainly suffice! I’ve been following this story for a long-g time – since the start. Well almost the start anyway, since Dr. Wallace made the claim in the debate in 2012. I thought it was incredible, I was taken back. Dr Wallace was a highly credible scholar – not as extreme as some of the really fundamentalist US scholars. I thought that his claim must have been valid.

So I take it personally that I was lied to. And that while Dr. Ehrman got an apology from Dr. Wallace, I did not. As I mentioned in my previous post – he only apologised to Dr. Ehrman, he didn’t apologise to the debate audience and his website viewers – i.e. to me. Furthermore in his apology, he blames others but refuses to name names. That’s something that I will not accept – Dr. Ehrman graciously accepted Dr. Wallace’s apology, however before I could accept an apology (if he ever makes one to us) I would need to see him name who is culpable. If you’re going to pass the buck you have to name names. You can’t simply say “well someone told me it, and then I signed an NDA”. That’s horse-shit.

A few hours ago Dr. Wallace posted an update on his blog. This provides some helpful information, but significantly he still has yet to name the person he is shifting the blame to. That aside there are some significant developments offered. We now know that the NDA was indeed signed with Jerry Pattengale (at the time Director of the Green Collection). Dr. Wallace says Jerry was representing a “major collection that was interested in purchasing the papyrus” – i.e. the Greens. This corroborates what Dr. Scott Carroll said… i.e. that P137 was being offered for sale to the Greens. Most significantly of all, Dr. Wallace says the forgone sale of the papyrus was the reason for the NDA, and that he has the documents to prove it (the original NDA and the email attached to it). And that the NDA was requested not by the Greens or the buyer, but by the seller.

Let that sink in for a moment.

In my last entry I noted that Dr. Carroll had doubled-down on his allegation that Dr. Dirk Obbink was trying to sell the papyrus fragment to the Greens. Now we have Dr. Wallace also doubling-down on this same allegation – although he doesn’t mention Dr. Dirk Obbink specifically. Dr. Wallace even admits on his blog that it will be difficult for an outsider like you or I to take his word (and the word of Carroll) over that of the EES. And he’s right things are not adding up.

What’s not adding up?

To start with, Dr. Wallace suggests these points do not add up with EES’s statement. (a) Why was he asked to sign an NDA if it was never for sale? (b) Was was he asked by the prospective buyer to evaluate the item? (c) If the content was known in 2011 why did it take seven years to publish? (d) Why did the EES not make an earlier statement regarding the publication – they waited until someone stumbled upon it (Elijah Hixson via the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog) before doing so. There is another point, not mentioned by Dr. Wallace, that only makes sense if the manuscript was offered for sale – why in 2014 at an Evangelical Conference did Dr. Craig Evans say that they recovered the fragment from a mummy mask? The explanation that makes sense to me is that the Greens were going to purchase the fragment, and then claim that it came from their efforts dismantling mummy masks to give their “project” some much-needed legitimacy, when really it came from the Grenfell and Hunt excavation in 1903. That means in all likelihood the Greens were conspiring to construct a fraudulent narrative of the manuscript’s discovery.

Let that sink in. I’ll repeat it: it appears to me that the Greens were conspiring to construct a fraudulent narrative of the manuscript’s discovery. It is entirely possible that the 2014 conference presentation is what caused EES to back out of the sale. Unfortunately this is not a foregone conclusion, this is simply speculation at this time.

As I said in my previous post, this fiasco has shown the true light of fundamentalist/evangelical NT scholars. Several of them have been intentionally lying. The two scholars I am convinced have been intentionally lying are Dr. Craig Evans and Dr. Gary Habermas. Dr. Evans as I already mentioned, while raving like a fundie maniac, claimed in a presentation he made at a 2014 conference that the manuscript came from a mummy mask. Almost a year later in early 2015 Dr. Evans doubled-down on his claim by giving this interview in January 2015 to Owen Jarus of Live Science, and within a couple of days posted this facebook post where he said that the Live Science article is accurate. Significantly in that interview he also claimed P137 had been carbom-14 dated. Let me repeat: Dr. Evans claimed that (a) the Mark fragments dates to the first century and (b) that it came from an Egyptian mummy mask, and he repeated the claim in 2015 and (c) he also claimed it had been carbon-14 dated. That’s an egregious lie that someone has fabricated and as Dr. Evans hasn’t blamed anyone else for it, and refuses to say anything at all about it, I’m going to believe that he is the liar.

Dr. Habermas in February this year while giving a presentation on “evidence for the resurrection” in a university lecture hall, said the fragment dates to 80-110 AD and that he says this date was “just given”! So far, like Dr. Evans he has refused to give any explanation. Again, we now know what he said was a lie – there’s absolutely no question. So I want to know how those two scholars are still employed by their institutions after they made their lies. In any other academic field they would be fired on the spot. Or they would have to provide evidence of who was culpable and that person would be fired. It must be a symptom of a systemic problem in the culture of American evangelical bible scholarship. Now I could be wrong – there could be an innocent explanation forthcoming, and I hope there is and if there is I will publish an apology to Dr. Evans and Dr. Habermas. For me, the jury is still out on all the other people involved – but mark my words some of them are culpable for intentionally spreading lies, and more broadly speaking, bringing academia into disrepute. And I want to know who they are.

It is not acceptable that no one has been fired!! To give you but one example, in 1998 Dr. Wakefield and his twelve (!) colleagues published a scientific study they undertook into whether the MMR vaccine could be a trigger for autism. It has since become one of the most infamous academic papers of the last century. It was later proven beyond all doubt that Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues intentionally fabricated data and falsified facts. They perpetrated a fraud. Those aren’t my allegations, they’re written in peer review papers that justifiably scandalise Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues! Dr. Wakefield rightly lost his job and academic career – I would hope and assume that the other 12 co-authors also faced the same disciplinary action and expulsion from academia. Perhaps one of the most important things that Wakefield 1998 can teach us is that sociopathic liars will never admit to wrongdoing – to this day Dr. Wakefield refuses to admit wrongdoing, he still claims he’s correct, and he claims he’s the victim of a conspiracy. You know who else is a sociopathic liar and fraud? Lance Armstrong. Not only did he lie and cheat, he sued the investigative journalist David Walsh who outed him, and most significantly of all we now know this was a part of a toxic culture that enabled doping in US cycling and prevented clean athletes from competing. And that guy has spawned, can you just imagine what his wife had to explain to their children “daddy’s a no good dirty rotten liar”? I feel sorry for them, imagine the shame and stigma they have to live with all because daddy was a liar.

This affair has completely shattered my trust in American evangelical bible scholars. If I don’t see a strong response from the institutions that are employing some of these people who have clear culpability, then I’m not going to believe that American evangelical scholars have any valid academic contributions to make towards bible scholarship. It looks to me like symptoms of a toxic culture, one that prioritises things like apologetics over academic integrity.

3 comments on “Have scholars been lying about P137?”

  • pask says:

    Hi, I’m a complete layman on the field, but I do have my two cents to contribute.

    If you are worried about what evangelistic* scholars do on religiously relevant fields, you have many fields to look at to see what you can expect.

    You could for instance look into this paper:
    and in particular have a laugh/cry at the review process it went through:

    I remember the same guy publishing also another paper in the same journal with a just-as-outrageous review process, so this isn’t just an exception.

    Another field of interest might be “origins” (biology, abiogenesis, geology, cosmology etc), there you’ll find a number of people working for Creation Ministries, Answers In Genesis, Discovery Institute and the like that have an actual PhD and are on a paycheck while denying the very basics of their scientific fields. These people sometimes manage to keep their academic occupation and status (having care not to show their creationist side when on the wrong chair and to abuse their academic credentials while on the other).

    I think there’s a pattern to be found here, so… be vigilant.

    Best regards,
    * by evangelistic I mean people that are strongly religious, have an affiliation to a religion and are publicly involved in it, either as ministries of cult or apologists. It’s not just evangelicals, there’s also other sorts of religious denominations that incur in these tendencies. Not limiting to christians ofc.

  • Patty says:

    I agree. It seems like nobody cares, and we’re just supposed to deal with it.

  • Patty says:

    If more people like us would demand answers, they would have to provide them. Not sure if there are enough of us. :-( I know if I made grandiose claims at my job that proved to be lies, I’d be canned so fast it’d make your head spin.

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