CLEVELAND - A lawyer charged with raising money to pay off the bankruptcy debts of an art and antiquities dealer offered a glimpse Wednesday of several small, brown bits of papyrus that may be part of the ancient Gospel of Judas.
Potential historical and religious significance aside, R. Scott Haley's court-appointed task is to pay Ohio collector Bruce Ferrini's creditors. Whether the fragments that ended up in a bank vault in downtown Akron are genuine remains in question.
Haley said he has no immediate plans to go through a time-consuming, expensive authentication process. He also said he wants to draw attention to Ferrini's assets, but hopes the fragments will not have to be sold and can be returned to him.
"I think there is obviously enormous historical interest in these items," Haley said, displaying a few of the fragments, some with text visible, in a law office conference room.
A roughly 1,700-year-old text about Judas, one of several such documents found in the Egyptian desert in 1970, was preserved and translated by a team of scholars, then made public by the National Geographic Society about two weeks ago.
The announcement drew worldwide attention, telling a far different version than that in the four Gospels in the New Testament. It portrays Judas not as a sinister betrayer but as Jesus' confidant, chosen to be told spiritual secrets that the other apostles were not.
Haley said a National Geographic photographer who saw the Gospel of Judas pieces also saw the ones in Akron and made the link. National Geographic spokeswoman M.J. Jacobsen, however, was not willing to draw any such conclusion.
"The fragments (in Akron) would have to be authenticated, and I don't know if that's happened, so I don't really have a comment," she said Wednesday.
Haley took control of Ferrini's properties in order to pay creditors, including FirstMerit Bank, where the fragments are stored. He said he can't try to sell them until a tug-of-war over ownership is resolved. The Geneva, Switzerland-based Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art also claims ownership.
Mario Roberty, who leads the Maecenas Foundation, said he was informed about the bank vault discovery Tuesday. It was unclear if any of the fragments corresponded specifically, but a number of the fragments clearly came from a volume of papyrus documents sold and later recovered from Ferrini, Roberty said.
Roberty promised to fight any attempts by Haley to sell the fragments, saying Ferrini had agreed to a complete return of his purchase to a Zurich, Switzerland-based art dealer who worked with the Maecenas Foundation.
"We have immediately announced a claim," he said in a telephone interview.
At issue is whether Ferrini returned all the materials he had in his possession. Ferrini contends the fragments in Akron are from another source, not the foundation, Haley said.
Roberty said Haley had cooperated in allowing photographs to be taken of the fragments. He said translators are examining those photographs to see where they might fit in as missing pieces to the gospel.
If the fragments are sold, Haley said their worth could be enormous.
"It would be the kind of thing that you would see a private collector or museum show interest in, and as you know, in the antiquities market that value is only determined once you start obtaining offers," he said. "It certainly could be in the millions of dollars, if we got to that point."