Loot from Iraq and Martin Schøyen (again!)

Report about Martin Schøyen that we published august 27, 2002: http://www.museum-security.org/02/103.html

Again Martin Schøyen appears to be involved in dubious antiquities.

A Norwegian Collector Shows BAR His Rare Inscriptions

Hershel Shanks
(Moderator’s comment: The Biblical Archaeology Review recently published an extensive article about the Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen. This article completely ignores rumours in Norway about the dubious origin of Schøyen’s collection. The largest group of manuscripts in the Schøyen-collection is the approximately 1400 pieces of Buddhist manuscripts that were smuggled out of Afghanistan 5-6 years ago.

The current debate in Norway concerning the Schøyen-collection:

The Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen is the formal owner of the alleged largest private collection of ancient manuscripts in the world. Parts of the collection are presented on a web-page (in English) by the Norwegian National Library: http://www.nb.no/baser/schoyen/
The collection has the last two years been made publicly known through media, e.g. in (Norwegian only): Aftenposten ( http://www.aftenposten.no/ ): http://tux1.aftenposten.no/kul_und/kultur/d169785.htm ; http://tux1.aftenposten.no/kul_und/kultur/d168653.htm ; http://tux1.aftenposten.no/kul_und/kultur/d169783.htm
NRK ( http://www.nrk.no/ ): http://www.nrk.no/litteratur/1432506.html ; http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/kultur/1431072.html ; http://www.nrk.no/distrikt/ostlands__sendingen/lang_lunsj/1438449.html; http://www.nrk.no/distrikt/ostlands__sendingen/lang_lunsj/1449280.html
Nettavisen ( http://www.nettavisen.no/ ): http://www.nettavisen.no/servlets/page?section=4&item=126763 ; http://www.nettavisen.no/servlets/page?section=4&item=184850

The largest group of manuscripts in the Schøyen-collection is the approximately 1400 pieces of Buddhist manuscripts that were smuggled out of Afghanistan 5-6 years ago. The circumstances surrounding the recovery of the manuscripts in Afghanistan and their transportation out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Schøyen’s role before acquiring the manuscripts in London, is not clear. However, Schøyen has kindly made the manuscripts available to researchers, as well as digitally available to the general public. Still, the conservation of the manuscripts may be of some immediate concern.
The Norwegian professor Jens Braarvig (Department of cultural studies, University of Oslo) directs a research group under the Centre for Advanced Study with the aim to investigate and publish the manuscripts (http://www.shs.uio.no/). Information about this research is published in Newsletter 2001 no 2, available in English on the Internet (requires Adobe): http://www.shs.uio.no/Publications/index.html
Martin Schøyen has announced that he wishes to sell his entire manuscript collection at an assumed market price of about 100 million USD. The proceeds are to be donated to fund named in his honour. Various officials in Norway have argued that the Norwegian state should buy the entire collection at market price. The crux of their argument is that the Schøyen-collection should be viewed as a “world heritage”, and as such the Norwegian authorities should take care of the collection because a Norwegian collector currently owns it, and acquiring the collection would offer a unique opportunity of enhancing national prestige.
Up to January 2002 media references to the collection were mostly positive, and supported a policy of government purchase of the entire Schøyen-collection. The media emphasised the national prestige that would fall on a small country like Norway – with few significant cultural attractions of its own if it could own and display such a great collection: an important new cultural attraction would literally put Norway on the map of world culture. One exception is the Internet paper Nettavisen (www.nettavisen.no) that in November 2001 asked if the readers thought it was defensible to buy the Schøyen-collection for the Norwegian oil-money. Many of the readers were, for various reasons, negative: http://www.nettavisen.no/servlets/page?section=4&item=184928&execute=viewComments#comments.
The director of the State Archives likewise took a clear and critical stance (on national television), and made an appeal for a display of the same generosity towards Afghanistan, that the young Norwegian state itself has so often benefited from.

However, several scholars where not content with the debate, and we decided to write a feature article about the Schøyen-collection. The article raised critical questions concerning the ownership and ethics surrounding the Schøyen-collection. The article was published January 17, 2002 in the leading Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, and is available on the Internet (Norwegian only): http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kronikker/article.jhtml?articleID=259191
The primary focus of our article was the Buddhist manuscripts from Afghanistan. We presented the destruction of the cultural heritage in Afghanistan (primarily through reference to publications by SPACH- members), expressed gratitude to Schøyen for any positive role he might have had in salvaging the manuscripts, and commended him for making his collection publicly accessible. However, we expressed deep concern about the removal of cultural heritage from a country submerged in war, and that such objects should ever be considered the property of the Norwegian state. We suggested that the manuscripts for a period could be cared for and researched on in Norwegian collections (or collections in other countries), but any caretaker should be obliged to return them when conditions permit – whether this takes one or hundred years. We also urged the Norwegian state to ratify the UNESCO 1970 Convention.
After the article was published, media was initially quiet about the Schøyen-collection. However, the magazine Museumsnytt (no. 1, 2002) of the Association of Norwegian museums, wrote five pages with critical views about the Schøyen-collection.
From mid-March 2002 the Norwegian media again started to write about the Schøyen-collection, but now the media has become more critical, and includes a more varied selection of views.
On March 18th the professor of history Hans Fredrik Dahl organized a seminar about the Schøyen-collection were he raised the question: “Who owns culture?”. Dahl invited a panel to discuss the future of the Schøyen-collection: – Bendik Rugaas, former head of the National Library, wants the Norwegian state to buy the entire Schøyen-collection. Earlier he suggested that the foreign aid money could be used to buy the collection. He now suggests the Ministry of Culture or that “oil- money” could by them. See: http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/kultur/1728220.html; http://www.nettavisen.no/servlets/page?section=4&item=184928
– Professor Egil Mikkelsen, the director of the University museum of cultural heritage, Oslo (who would like to have the collection in his museum [!]). – Director John Herstad, head of the Norwegian state archives (who does not at all support any Norwegian claim to the Schøyen- collection). – A representative from the Norwegian national commission of UNESCO (who referred to the UNESCO-conventions).
On the same day (March 18, 2002), the foremost financial newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv, published an interview with the minister of fisheries Svein Ludvigsen where he supported purchasing the Schøyen- collection for permanent Norwegian government ownership. In slightly bizarre terms Ludvigsen told how he had visited Schøyen at his home, and after he had turned over the leaves of a copy of Magna Carta and tried on a ring that had belonged to Tut-ankh-amon, Ludvigsen – a “countryman” (his own words) – was in awe and begged the minister of culture to buy the collection. Associate professor Christopher Prescott was also interviewed, but said that many of the objects in the Schøyen-collection might have been plundered from various monuments and sites, and that ethical if not legal title was questionable. The interview (in Norwegian) is available on: http://www.dn.no/artikkel?ID=EPS_54807
The following day’s media referred sarcastically to the minister of fisheries, e.g., the editor of Dagens Næringsliv criticized Ludvigsen in the editorial and emphasized that Ludvigsen is in charge of fisheries, and not cultural policies: http://www.dn.no/artikkel?ID=EPS_54917
Still, on March 18, 2002 the major evening news on the radio (Dagsnytt 18, NRK) had a debate about the Schøyen-collection. A representative from the Ministry of Culture said it was financially impossible for the ministry to buy the collection at market price. http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/kultur/1728516.html; http://www.nettavisen.no/servlets/page?section=4&item=205724; http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/kultur/1737637.html
On March 20, 2002 the Egyptian ambassador to Norway, Nermine Mourad, said to Dagens Næringsliv that she would demand that the Egyptian objects in the Schøyen-collection were returned to Egypt. She called on the Norwegian Ministry of Culture to make inquiries into how Schøyen came by his Egyptian objects. This request has now been referred to in several newspapers, and a representative from the Ministry of Culture expressed that if the ministry has the authority, it could start an inquiry. The ministry secretary said that similar problems seem to pertain to the Afghani manuscripts. http://www.dn.no/artikkel?ID=EPS_55015; http://www.aftenposten.no/kul_und/article.jhtml?articleID=299952; http://www.osloposten.no/default.asp?pid=2076&item=2459.
On the same day, the Norwegian UNESCO Director in Islamabad, Ms. Ingeborg Breines, said in a radio program that the Buddhist manuscripts in the Schøyen-collection should be returned to Afghanistan: http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/kultur/1731361.html.

Action from SPACH/Afghan authorities/other relevant organisations and institutions?

This is where the case now stands. The media used to refer to the Schøyen-collection by reference to national pride, but the last two months it has become legitimate to raise critical questions about the collection: how it was collected and where the objects come from, and point out the dubious nature in allowing the Norwegian (or other Western) state to serve as owner or permanent custodian.
At the moment we don’t know what will happen to a potential Egyptian demand for return. However, a request might lead to an inquiry to find out the history of where several of the objects in the collection come from.
As far as the Afghani objects are concerned, it would probably be beneficial if SPACH, or another relevant, legitimate institution/organisation in or outside Afghanistan could address concerns to the Norwegian authorities about the future for the manuscripts. In our opinion, the best route would to initially ask for investigation of the circumstances around the manuscripts, but signal that these might trigger a petition for a return of the manuscripts when conditions allow, if legally tenable. It is to be hoped that addressing the authorities might prevent, or at least postpone, a sale of the collection on the commercial marked, and instigate a more constructive dialogue that focuses on how to best and ethically deal with the manuscripts with Afghanistan’s best interests at centre stage.
The Norwegian embassy in Islamabad is probably the best place to direct an initial query. Their address is:
Royal Norwegian Embassy, H 25, Str. 19, F 6/2, Islamabad, Pakistan. Mailing address: P.O. Box 1336, Islamabad, Pakistan. Tel: +92 51 227 9720/21/22/23/24. Fax: +92 51 227 9726/29. E-mail: emb.islamabad@mfa.no ; http://www.norway.org.pk/cgi-bin/wbch3.exe?html=../publishing/top/index.html&p=1366
We also suppose it would be beneficial to contact the UNESCO office in Islamabad. The director is the above-mentioned Ms. Ingeborg Breines, who has previously argued that the manuscripts should be returned to Afghanistan: http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/kultur/1731361.html.
We suppose you are familiar with the UNESCO office, but we include the address:
UNESCO Office Islamabad
Director Head: Ms Ingeborg BREINES
Mail address:
44000 P.O. Box 2034
Street address:
Saudi-Pak Tower, First Floor, Blue Area, Jinnah Avenue
44000 Pakistan
Fax.: (92-51) 28 25 341
Tel: (92-51) 28 73 308, 28 29 452, 28 29 453
E-mail: islamabad@unesco.org
TC )

The Biblical Archaeology Review report about the Martin Schøyen collection:

If you have a Dead Sea Scroll for sale, you should get in touch with Martin Schøyen (pronounced Skoo-yen) in Oslo. He is a prime prospect. He already owns several Dead Sea Scroll fragments—making him one of the few individuals in the world (I can think of only one other) who own Dead Sea Scroll material.
In his spacious London pied-à-terre, Schøyen also has one of the unusual pottery jars from Qumran in which the Bedouin found the first intact scrolls in 1947 or 1948. He also owns a beautiful bronze inkwell (previously published in BAR) and a small bronze incense altar that purportedly come from the settlement at Qumran, where many of the scrolls were probably written. Schøyen’s principal residence lies amid nondescript farmland at the foot of impressive rock cliffs, about 25 miles from Oslo. Approached by a dirt road, the main house, which he renovated two decades ago, was originally built in 1680. Some of the nearly 3-inch-thick planks in the floor date to the 12th century. His roof is covered with moss, out of which small trees grow, keeping the house cool during Norway’s short summer and warm during the winter (until the leaves fall off). Inside is a warren of small, low-ceilinged rooms filled with books—what Schøyen calls his research library—and parts of his nearly 13,000-item collection, mostly manuscripts. I should say collections, however, because Schøyen has such a wide range of objects—from Viking swords to Buddhist manuscripts to some of the earliest cuneiform inscriptions to antiquarian Bibles. Some of his Hebrew Bible fragments are older than the earliest complete Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex of about 1010 A.D., on which the Biblia Hebraica (the standard critical text) is based. He has a collection of almost 70 book boxes (small book- shaped wooden boxes that once held individual volumes); the second largest collection, he says, numbers six.

    Schøyen began collecting in 1955, when he was just 15. On a trip to Florence with his parents he purchased an old printed book (published in 1592) from a streetseller for the equivalent of a quarter. After taking it home, he noticed fragments of French sermons from about 1300 coming out of the spine. The fragments had been used to bind the later book. Not until 1986 did he make his second major book purchase—a 15th-century Latin Bible that had once rested on a church lectern at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Adrian in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. That Schøyen has acquired his world-class collection in only about 15 years is remarkable. As he himself boasts, his is the largest private manuscript collection formed in the 20th century. In 1986, when Schøyen acquired the Geraardsbergen Bible, he was engaged in the management of a bus company, of which his father had left him a major share. Now, at 61, he is retired, except for the boards of directors he sits on. He devotes himself almost completely to his collections. At first, Schøyen acted like any other ordinary collector—browsing in antiquarian bookstores, personally bidding at important auctions and sniffing out the availability of items that come on the market from private collections. He has a “good nose,” according to Richard Linenthal of the 153-year-old antiquarian London bookseller, Quaritch’s, in whose vault Schøyen keeps part of his collection. Schøyen acquired some of his Dead Sea Scroll fragments by using his nose. When the Archimandrite of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem, Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, took four of the original Dead Sea Scrolls to the American School in Jerusalem (now the William F. Albright School of Archaeological Research) in 1947, they were partially photographed by the young John Trever; the head of the American School at the time was Yale University’s John Brownlee. Forty years later, Schøyen reasoned that Trever and Brownlee must have acquired at least a few fragments themselves, so he tracked them down—and purchased fragments from each of them. He also managed to acquire a few fragments from Mar Samuel.
    What motivated Schøyen? The desire to build a unique collection. And, he admits, “the thrill of the chase.” But gradually something happened to him, he says. Now it is responsibility to posterity that motivates him. Or to fill in the occasional gap in one of his collections. It is no longer the thrill of the chase. As Schøyen’s collections grew, so did his interests—and they went back earlier and earlier in time. Soon he was looking not only for early Bibles, but for cuneiform tablets; even the Dead Sea Scrolls were not old enough for him. The history of writing has become one of his specialties. His collection includes the earliest examples of Sumerian proto- cuneiform pictographic writing, Egyptian proto-hieroglyphic writing, Chinese characters and Indus Valley script. He notes that all four of these writing systems developed along rivers—Sumerian cuneiform along the Tigris and Euphrates, Egyptian hieroglyphs along the Nile, Chinese characters along the Yangtse and Hwang Ho, and Indus Valley script along the Indus River. The development of alphabetic script occurred, however, in riverless Canaan, and Schøyen also has examples of this—two 14th-century B.C. tablets in alphabetic cuneiform from Ugarit. Schøyen has one pre-3000 B.C. clay tablet that records an order for barley placed by the brewery of the Inanna temple in Uruk (modern Iraq). The center of the tablet face shows an ear of barley; reading from right to left, we then see the brewery—a mudbrick structure with a chimney on top—and a bottle or jar of beer with the barley inside. Above the jar is the signature of one Kushin, the official in charge of the brewery. Other marks denote the amount of barley and the span of time over which it is to be delivered.
    Among the more unusual “texts” in Schøyen’s collection is a small bronze branding iron once applied to the foreheads of runaway slaves. In Old Babylonian cuneiform, dating to the beginning of the second millennium B.C., it reads, “I am his slave.” While cuneiform texts describing the branding of slaves are known, this is the only actual cuneiform branding iron ever discovered. The ever-popular Gilgamesh epic is not only the world’s oldest literary work of any length, it also includes details of a flood story that were incorporated into the Biblical account in Genesis. The Gilgamesh epic has survived in copies from a number of different periods, but Schøyen has the oldest—a Sumerian version from about the 19th century B.C. Two later tablets in his collection also contain parts of the Mesopotamian flood story. Another tablet in his collection contains part of the earliest known law code, 300 years before Hammurabi’s. Hammurabi ruled Babylonia from 1792 to 1750 B.C.; since his law code was discovered in 1901, parts of older law codes have been unearthed—including the laws of the city of Eshnunna, which date to about 1800 B.C., and the laws of King Lipit-Ishtar of Isin, dating to about 1930 B.C. The Sumerian Ur-Nammu Code in the Schøyen Collection takes us even farther back, to King Shulgi’s reign—2095-2047 B.C. Parts of eight of the original ten columns of text have survived. We might expect the earliest code to be the most primitive, but that’s not so. Unlike the crude lex talionis (law of retaliation) incorporated in Hammurabi’s Code and in the Bible—”life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:24-25)—the law of Ur-Nammu, like more modern legal systems, provides only for compensation to a wronged party: “If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out one-half a mina of silver.” Schøyen wondered aloud whether the Bible would have been different had the Biblical writer read the clay cylinder the collector held in his hand. The great ziggurat of Babylon, on which the Biblical Tower of Babel is probably based, was restored and enlarged by Nebuchadnezzar II (ruled 605-562 B.C.), the same king who destroyed Jerusalem, including Solomon’s Temple, in 586 B.C. Alexander the Great in turn partly destroyed Babylon’s ziggurat on a campaign to the east in 323 B.C. Until Robert Koldewey’s German excavation in the early part of this century, we had only literary descriptions of the tower; but Koldewey not only excavated what remained of the ziggurat, but also found, in levels associated with the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, a small black stone stela that depicts Nebuchadnezzar’s restored and enlarged edifice. Koldewey found the stela broken in three pieces; the upper two—the most important pieces—are now in the Schøyen Collection. (The third part is believed to be somewhere in the United States; Schøyen would like to acquire it.)
    The upper two pieces of the stela show a profile of the ziggurat with seven clearly marked steps, as well as what looks like a temple complex at the base. This may be the very temple Koldewey excavated south of the ziggurat. Also pictured on the stela is Nebuchadnezzar himself, holding a spear in his left hand and, in his right, an architectural plan for rebuilding the tower. At the top of the stela is a plan showing the outer walls and interior layout of the temple that was to be rebuilt on top of the ziggurat. The surviving cuneiform inscription clearly identifies the edifice: “The Foundation of Heaven and Earth, Ziggarat in Babylon.” Just to put the icing on the cake, Schøyen also has a brick from the tower inscribed with the Babylonian ruler’s name! The seven-line inscription reads “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, guardian of the temples Esagila and Ezida, firstborn son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon.” The Bible tells us that the Tower of Babel, like the real ziggurat of Babylon, was constructed of bricks rather than stone and that the bricks were held together by bitumen—asphalt or tar—rather than mortar (Genesis 11:1-9). Schøyen’s brick still has traces of bitumen on the back. Less than three percent of the Schøyen Collection has been published. But, consistent with the obligation he feels to be a responsible collector, Schøyen has plans to remedy that. He intends to publish a series of volumes that will in effect make the collection public. Approximately half—more than 6,000 items—have already been assigned to world-class scholars. The first two folio volumes—the first on newly discovered Buddhist manuscripts and the second on Coptic papyri—are now out. Schøyen anticipates that the series will eventually include between 40 and 50 volumes—more even than the official series of volumes in which the Dead Sea Scrolls are published.* The Schøyen Collection also includes more than 40 fragments from six different Dead Sea Scrolls, including the Biblical books of Joshua and Daniel, the Qumran sect’s Manual of Discipline and the Genesis Apocryphon. Schøyen would dearly love to acquire an intact scroll. He has never seen one, aside from the well-known ones that have been published and are publicly owned. Despite the rumors that have circulated about such a scroll (or scrolls) existing in private hands, he has followed all the leads and they have all turned out to be “ghosts.” Of one well-known scholar’s worldwide search for more scrolls, Schøyen says that “all he did was raise a lot of dust.” Yet Schøyen cannot dismiss the idea that there may yet be some scrolls locked away in a vault, increasing in value each passing day.
    Schøyen insists, however, that he does not buy looted objects. And while he will try to get the “best price” at auction or from a dealer, if he is purchasing from a private party who does not know the value of what is offered for sale, he will pay the fair market value. That provision is included in his own published code of ethics. A devout churchman, he says it is the Christian thing to do. Even at a public auction, Schøyen will not bid against a national library or a public museum; only when the institution drops out of the bidding will he enter the lists. He will, however, purchase a looted item if a museum or scholar asks him to “rescue” it. As for the looting problem, Schøyen says it would be solved if every country adopted a law that assured the finder of unexcavated antiquities the fair market price for what is dug up, provided he or she notifies the authorities of the find and the site is then scientifically excavated. Up to half of the objects discovered on the site could be taken by the government, but the finder would be paid fair market value even for those items. The balance of the objects would go to the finder, who would be free to keep or sell them.
    At 61, Martin Schøyen is at the height of his powers. But he is already thinking of the inevitable. At one time, he would have been satisfied to have his collection auctioned off piece by piece, giving each new owner the pleasure he had in owning the object. Now he is thinking of his responsibility to the public. His collection, he has decided, will remain together. And it will remain together not as a gift, but as a sale. Already museums are coming to him, not the other way around. He rattles off the four great museums in London, Paris, Rome and New York—the British Museum, the Louvre, the Vatican and the Metropolitan—that would outshine his own. That is why he does not want his collection to go to any of those four cities. His collection, he says, would put any other city “on the map.” It would be the fifth great collection. The current going price for his collection is $110 million. A loyal Norwegian, Schøyen would clearly like the collection to remain in Norway if proper arrangements, including exhibition rooms, can be made. For most of his life, Schøyen was a bachelor. He married five years ago, but he and his wife have no children. So what will happen to the proceeds from the sale of the collection? It will go into a charitable foundation he has set up, the Martin Schøyen Foundation for Human Rights. Human rights is defined in the broadest possible terms—from curing diseases to protecting the environment, from ensuring freedom from gender discrimination to eradicating political suppression and terrorism.
    Clearly, Schøyen is thinking about the future almost as much as about the past.
    For more on the Schøyen Collection, see http://www.schoyen.net.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.