Cover of Stolen Fragments by Roberta Mazza
Stolen Fragments
Black Markets, Bad Faith, and the Illicit Trade in Ancient Artefacts
Roberta Mazza

IMPRINT: Redwood Press

September 2024
272 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503632509


Excerpts and More

In 2012, Steve Green, billionaire and president of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, announced a recent purchase of a Biblical artefact—a fragment of papyrus, just discovered, carrying lines from Paul's letter to the Romans, and dated to the second century CE. Noted scholar Roberta Mazza was stunned. When was this piece discovered, and how could Green acquire such a rare item? The answers, which Mazza spent the next ten years uncovering, came as a shock: the fragment had come from a famous collection held at Oxford University, and its rightful owners had no idea it had been sold.

The letter to the Romans was not the only extraordinary piece in the Green collection. They soon announced newly recovered fragments from the Gospels and writings of Sappho. Mazza's quest to confirm the provenance of these priceless fragments revealed shadowy global networks that make big business of ancient manuscripts, from the Greens' Museum of the Bible and world-famous auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's, to antique shops in Jerusalem and Istanbul, dealers on eBay, and into the collections of renowned museums and universities.

Mazza's investigation forces us to ask what happens when the supposed custodians of our ancient heritage act in ways that threaten to destroy it. Stolen Fragments illuminates how these recent dealings are not isolated events, but the inevitable result of longstanding colonial practices and the outcome of generations of scholars who have profited from extracting the cultural heritage of places they claim they wish to preserve. Where is the boundary between protection and exploitation, between scholarship and larceny?

About the author

Roberta Mazza is Associate Professor of Papyrology at the University of Bologna. She previously held positions at the University of Manchester, where she was honorary curator of the Manchester Museum, and at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Stolen Fragments is at once scrupulously researched and cinematic, reading like a proper detective story but with a renowned scholar as the lead investigator and our guide to the murky world of papyrus hunters. This is the definitive book on the multifaceted mummy-liquefying soap opera, starring the Museum of the Bible and a Dickensian cast of always quirky and often shady characters. Roberta Mazza is a rock star of this field, and her book sings with brilliance."

—Noah Charney, author of The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: The Complete Story of the World's Most Famous Artwork

"Roberta Mazza brings us along as she cuts through the lies and evasions of the collectors who seek to manipulate the past with stolen cultural goods. A dark academia mystery come to life,Stolen Fragments weaves together a history of cultural treasures, with stories about just how poorly we've treated our inheritance."

—Erin Thompson, author of Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments

"Roberta Mazza's book is a revelation, and a romp: an entertaining and infuriating account of the illicit trade in papyri, a blistering expose of the dealers, scholars, museums, and auction houses among whom Mazza has lived and worked. Her diligence, bravery, and wit are all on full display."

—Joel Baden, author of The Book of Exodus: A Biography

"Roberta Mazza has given voice to the thousands of papyri stolen from Egypt, a crime whitewashed under a pretext of scholarship. Her book is a harrowing read as it depicts the violation of a rich cultural heritage, and serves as crucial testimony against those who were complicit and, worse, turned a blind eye. A masterpiece."

—Monica Hanna, author of The Future of Egyptology

"Roberta Mazza charts the murky, tangled webs of the antiquities trade, raising complex ethical questions about the market in ancient papyri. Stolen Fragments is a compelling account of how and why papyrology has been so easily swept into the illicit global trade in ancient objects."

—William Carruthers, author of Flooded Pasts: UNESCO, Nubia, and the Recolonization of Archaeology