Hobby Lobby sued a former Oxford professor over the sale of stolen Bible fragments.
Dirk Obbink, a former lecturer at Oxford University and general editor of the school's Egyptian Exploration Society (ESS), sold a number of Bible artifacts which include fragments of the Christian Gospels, to the retail company for $7 million. But on Wednesday, the Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against the professor, seeking to recover its payment for the items found to have been stolen from the university, Courthouse News reported.
A 2019 New York Times article said that 13 fragments of Oxford's Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a collection of papyrus and fragments discovered in Egypt which date back from the third century B.C. to the seventh century A.D., were found at the Museum of the Bible in Washington. The museum was founded by Hobby Lobby in 2017. ESS said that 11 of these fragments were sold by Obbink. While the two others were purchased from an antiquities dealer in Israel, the museum's spokeswoman Heather Cirmo revealed.
"The exact circumstances of how those items moved from Oxford to Israel are unknown to us," Cirmo said at that time.
Also in 2019, Oxford started investigating the professor for the sale of these ancient artifacts, after the ESS secured a copy of the contract.
In its June 2019 statement, ESS uncovered that Obbink entered into a January 2013 contract with Hobby Lobby, agreeing to the delivery of ancient Biblical texts to the retail company. These include one parchment fragment of Matthew and papyrus fragments of the books Mark, Luke and John, which the professor claimed were dated circa 100 A.D.
In March 2020, Obbink was arrested for the alleged stealing of 120-piece ancient papyrus owned by the university.
In the complaint filed last week through its lawyers from Pearlstein and McCullough, the retail company states that "to date, thirty-two (32) items have been identified as having been stolen by Obbink from EES and sold directly to Hobby Lobby."
"The fact that some unknown number of the fragments were stolen renders all the fragments unsalable and worthless to Hobby Lobby, which stands to lose both the fragments and the entire value of the purchase price it paid to Obbink," the complaint further says.
The arts-and-crafts store wanted to be refunded in full, stating that Obbink had fraudulently claimed ownership of all the items he sold to the company.
The former professor has yet to comment on the lawsuit filed by Hobby Lobby as of writing time. However, in a statement to the Waco Tribune-Herald released through his lawyers in 2019, Obbink denied the accusations.
"The allegations made against me that I have stolen, removed or sold items owned by the Egyptian Exploration Society collection at the University of Oxford are entirely false. 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," he said.
Further, he stated that the documents used against him were "fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm [his] reputation and career."