Last January, Geoffrey Smith, a scholar of early Christianity at the University of Texas, noticed something startling: an eBay listing for an ancient Greek papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John — with an opening bid of only $99.
“I thought, This can’t be allowed to sell on eBay,” Dr. Smith said. “It will just disappear into a private collection.”
Dr. Smith contacted the seller and urged him to halt the online auction — apparently the first on eBay for a Greek New Testament papyrus, he and other scholars said — and let him study the fragment. The seller agreed, and now, on Saturday, Mr. Smith will present his research at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Scholars in Atlanta.
There's a market for this?
Many scholars refuse to study manuscripts that may have left their country of origin illegally, and some refuse to study material in private collections, on the grounds it helps drive the market.
That market is certainly robust. A third-century fragment of Romans on vellum, Dr. Jones noted, sold last year at Sotheby’s for nearly $500,000. The seller of the John papyrus, meanwhile, was “harassed by collectors offering him absurd amounts of money,” Dr. Smith said, declining to cite a specific figure.
|PSST...Wanna buy some papyrus?|