Roberta Mazza proves that you can have a graduate degree and specialized academic expertise and still be a total imbecile with respect to markets, governments, and reality.
We academics must help protect the objects we study. Some of my colleagues believe that scholarship comes first, or say that texts have no guilt, so we should be faithful to them. They publish what emerges from the market. I disagree. To publish papyri with suspicious â€” if not illegal â€” provenance is unethical. It lends a new identity to those artefacts and feeds the illicit market.
Looting and illicit excavations in Egypt not only destroy the archaeological landscape forever, but also have also caused deaths and injuries to Egyptians, including children, employed to dig in narrow shafts. In 2016, two archaeological guards, Ashrawy and Mustafa Ali, were shot dead by looters in action. And there is good reason to believe that many crimes go unreported in the current political and economic climate. (That said, in the UK, academics who facilitate exchanges of improperly-obtained antiquities can be charged for money laundering.)
So what should we do with all of these suspiciously-sourced fragments? They should be immediately returned to the legitimate owner: Egypt. (Egyptian authorities may eventually reach a deal with the collectors for study and publication before repatriation.) Those who study papyri must exercise due diligence before publishing anything, and academics should exercise an active role in educating collectors and keeping an eye on the market. Would you knowingly buy a stolen bike? Why would you buy â€” or publish â€” a stolen manuscripts?
Ms. Mazza, firstly, suffers from the self-entitlement and inclination-to-control-the-universe syndrome which characteristically afflicts credentialed members of the academical elite. That naturally combines with uncritical left-wing statism, producing a pathological hostility to free markets and the voluntary and organic interactions of ordinary mortal human beings who lack badges, official positions, and doctorates, along with an uncritical bias in favor of the State, even when the State consists of a corrupt Third World kleptocracy and dictatorship.
The rational reader learns from Dr. Mazza’s article that this small papyrus fragment was offered for sale on Ebay by a source one might not want to invite home to meet the parents, but in the end a little way down the road, what do you know! was evidently purchased by some capitalistic plutocrat and donated to a museum, where it is obviously being carefully preserved and kept available for study and research.
Her problem, of course, is the absence of a good provenance. But Dr. Mazza expects everything her own way, and refuses to reflect on causes and effects and the nature of reality. Why is there no provenance? Obviously a provenance is lacking, because this papyrus fragment could not be bought and sold openly. It had to travel from valueless, totally inaccessible, probably dangerous occult obscurity to its resting place in a prominent collection via the black market.
Why the black market? Obviously because greedy, pompous, grasping primitive governments like that of Egypt despotically claim total ownership of all antique, archaeological, and historically valuable material found, discovered, unearthed, or passed along in some chain of private or corporate possession in their territory. Better that artifact lie buried in the ground than that some Egyptian peasant carry on the millenia-old antiquities hunting trade, find it, profit privately, and let the item go to some institutional collection in a civilized Western country. No, no, no, that would be a theft from, and an affront to, the People’s Collectivist State.
Obviously, if in a different world, a world in which academicians looked objectively at economic reality, Human Nature, and the legitimacy, ethical qualities, and level of sophistication and culture of different governments and societies, those academics would do the really ethical thing and dismiss out of hand the insolent claims of ephemeral contemporary brigandish regimes to the inherited legacy of mankind generally, and they would insist that private initiative and market forces be permitted to operate freely, recognizing the former as by far the most efficient, effective, and reliable mechanisms, those being actually in accord with individual self interest, for the recovery and preservation of antiquities of every kind.
In a free market situation, instead of being covertly offered on Ebay, a valuable papyrus fragment would have been advertised widely with every bit of documentation and provenance possible in order to maximize the object’s value and to bring it to the attention of every possible interested individual and institutional collector. The missing provenance isn’t the fault of market processes. It is the fault of over-reaching, oppressive Statism.