Londoner’s Diary: Professor told to return $7m to US group over ‘stolen’ papyrus fragments

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Papyrologist Dirk Obbink, right, and Greek scholar Apostolos Pierris examines facsimilie images of a 2,400-year old scroll in Thessaloniki, Greece (AP)
Papyrologist Dirk Obbink, right, and Greek scholar Apostolos Pierris examines facsimilie images of a 2,400-year old scroll in Thessaloniki, Greece (AP)

THE CURIOUS CASE of the Oxford classics professor who sold allegedly stolen ancient papyrus fragments to a US group has taken a further twist.

A clerk in an American federal court has ordered that Dirk Obbink must repay $7 million to the Hobby Lobby, the group he allegedly defrauded. The clerk said last month “defendant Dirk D. Obbink has not filed any answer or otherwise moved with respect to the complaint herein”.

Obbink is a former Classics lecturer at Oxford. He was suspended from Oxford in October 2019 after the disappearance of 100 paper fragments from the Oxyrhynchus collection. The papyri are owned by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society (EES), though they are housed in Oxford.

In August and September this year investigators tried to serve Obbink with a legal summons for allegedly selling Hobby Lobby ancient biblical papers that he did not own. He also failed to answer an official letter asking him to respond to allegations, Christianity Today reported.

Court records show he is now living on a houseboat in Oxford. Obbink has previously said: “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.”

Empire state of mind not so kind

Sathnam Sanghera (AFP via Getty Images)
Sathnam Sanghera (AFP via Getty Images)

AUTHOR Sathnam Sanghera is mulling giving up events on his book about Empire because of the regular haranguing he receives. “I can’t say I’m keen to do any more because, especially at live events… there’s always a man of about 70, a white man, actually one time a brown man, coming up and they all shout at me for 10 minutes,” he told a How To Academy event last night. His book Empireland: How Imperialism Shaped Modern Britain received a good press on its release in January, but Sanghera explained: “I have had a lot of racist abuse this year.” The toll of discussing the Empire.

Why Elif wants a whole latte love

Elif Shafak (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Harper's Bazaar)
Elif Shafak (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Harper's Bazaar)

ALL Elif Shafak wants for Christmas is… more words to describe love. “Love is so complicated… The ancient Greeks have at least six different words to describe love in a much more nuanced way,” she told an Intelligence Squared event this week. But in our modern world it seems we have different priorities: “We have many more words to describe coffee than we have to describe love.” The perennially sleep-deprived Londoner thinks that may be no bad thing.

The baby Jesus… next to Batman

TAKING a different tack, all priest and writer Giles Fraser wants for Christmas is more darkness. Fraser argues that the “cultural mash-up” between Christian and secular traditions has become too confused. “A little boy came to our Christmas nativity play dressed up as Batman,” he despairs in Unherd before critcising Band Aid’s song: “Well, there won’t be snow in Bethlehem either.” As for fairy lights: “You can only see the star if you are prepared to sit in the dark, refusing cheap consolation.” Festive despair.

Poached eggs? Nigel’s toast

Nigel Slater (Getty Images)
Nigel Slater (Getty Images)

NIGEL SLATER has a kryptonite when it comes to food — and it’s egg-shaped. The cookery writer told a Fane Online event last night: “If I’m having breakfast with someone and they order Eggs Benedict, I actually have to look away.” If he was on I’m a Celebrity, the Toast author said, “I look at that stuff they eat and I think ‘yeah, ok, maybe’. Ask me to eat a poached egg — I’d walk off set. Just no way.” He also revealed future writing plans. “A heavily disguised memoir as a novel might happen,” he teased. Eggcellent.

Freddie’s determined to look on bright side

ACTORS Joanna Vanderham and Gwilym Lee looked sharp as they hosted the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards at the May Fair hotel last night. In Soho, model Noelle Reno, actor Nicholas Pinnock and DJ Alex Zane were at a Spider-Man showing, while in Holborn actor Freddie Fox told us at a National Brain Appeal carol concert: “This Christmas (if we get there!) is going to be a special one.” The bright side.

SW1A

LABOUR’S Diane Abbott and presenter Andrew Neil appeared on Spectator TV as they got their old act back together post the BBC’s This Week. Their on-screen chemistry was alive and well. “I don’t want to be harsh about Boris Johnson,” Abbott began. “Yes you do,” Neil teased before they erupted into laughter. A new home?

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MP John Redwood complained this morning on Twitter about the BBC’s “usual tricks” after he claimed they cancelled his appearance once they learnt his views. His Tory colleague Julian Smith pointed out Redwood did appear — just in a later slot — and accused him of a “slur” that “corrodes trust”. Oof.

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