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  • 21 août 2018 - 08:00
  • Mark A. Kellner, RNS/Protestinter 4951 signes
ProtestInter

Le Musée de la Bible à Washington restitue un objet volé

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Le manuscrit grecUn manuscrit du Nouveau Testament en grec et datant de l’époque médiévale sera rendu à l’Université d’Athènes. Le musée de la Bible à Washington l’avait reçu alors qu’il avait disparu de l’institution grecque.

Photo: Le manuscrit grec © RNS/MOTB

Par Mark A. Kellner, RNS/Protestinter

Un an après que la famille Green - propriétaires de la chaîne d’artisanat Hobby Lobby et principaux sponsors du Musée de la Bible à Washington - ait accepté de payer une amende de trois millions de dollars pour importation illégale d’Irak, le musée restitue un manuscrit du Nouveau Testament à l’Université d’Athènes. Le document avait été volé à l’institution grecque.

Cette restitution fait suite à une enquête menée par le musée sur la provenance et l'origine de plus de 3000 articles de sa collection. Mi-août, le musée de Washington, qui a ouvert ses portes en novembre 2017, a annoncé qu'il renverrait le manuscrit grec des quatre évangiles datant de l’époque médiévale à l'Université d'Athènes. Cette décision marque «le premier retour d'un objet en raison de sa provenance», a souligné la porte-parole Michelle Farmer de DeMoss à Religion News Service (RNS).

Un manuscrit disparu

L’article, connu sous le nom de «Manuscrit 18» et datant des années 1100, avait disparu de la bibliothèque de l’Université d’Athènes en 1991. Sept ans plus tard, il avait été vendu aux enchères à Londres par la maison Sotheby’s à un acheteur inconnu. Ce n'est qu'en 2010 que Steve Green, président de Hobby Lobby et propriétaire de l'une des plus importantes collections privées de textes bibliques et d'objets anciens au monde, a acheté le manuscrit. La famille Green, principale bailleuse de fonds du Musée de la Bible (MOTB), en a fait don à l’institution en 2014.

Jeff Kloha, conservateur responsable, a affirmé que la décision de rendre l'article avait été facile. «Nous sommes un musée de la Bible, nous faisons pour les autres ce que nous voudrions qu’ils fassent pour nous», a-t-il expliqué, citant l’évangile de Matthieu (7:12). Le conservateur a précisé que le musée suivait les règles établies par l'Alliance américaine des musées (American Alliance of Museums) et l'Association des directeurs de musées artistiques (Association of Art Museum Directors). «Nous voulons agir de manière éthique en aidant une institution sœur. C'est une opportunité pour nous d'agir de manière responsable et de démontrer que nous sommes un musée» qui respecte les normes.

Jeff Kloha a ajouté que le MOTB cherchait à s’accréditer auprès de l’Association américaine des musées, et que faire les choses conformément aux normes faisait partie de ce processus. L'accréditation reflète le professionnalisme d'un musée. Elle  aide à obtenir des œuvres en prêt auprès d'autres institutions.

Officiellement rendu le 1er octobre

Le manuscrit 18 est actuellement présenté au Musée de la Bible dans le cadre d’un accord avec l’Université d’Athènes. Il sera officiellement rendu le 1er octobre. Le manuscrit a désormais été «numérisé et mis en ligne» afin que le public puisse le voir. Jeff Kloha, titulaire d'un doctorat de l'Université de Leeds en Angleterre, a étudié les différents endroits où s’est trouvé le manuscrit entre le début des années 1900 et aujourd’hui. «C’est très clair. Ce n’est pas un manuscrit hasardeux, il a des liens intimes avec l'université et appartenait à sa collection».

L’un des ces liens directs est Spyridon Lambros, un historien grec du XIXe et du début du XXe siècle, également Premier ministre de septembre 1916 à avril 1917.  Spyridon Lambros a enseigné à l’université pendant 23 ans et a fait don du manuscrit à l’institution.

Retrouvé sur une base de données

Après la donation du manuscrit 18 par la famille Green, le Musée de la Bible l’a inscrit dans une base de données de l'Institut de recherches sur le Nouveau Testament de l'Université de Münster en Allemagne. Cette liste a attiré l'attention de Theodora Antonopoulou, professeur de littérature byzantine à l'Université d'Athènes. Ses recherches ont montré que le manuscrit avait été retiré de l'école sans sa permission. En déterminant que l’objet appartenait à l’université, les responsables du MOTB ont décidé de le rendre.

L'avocat Thomas R. Kline, chargé de cours en études muséales à l'Université George Washington et consultant au MOTB, a souligné que la restitution «reflétait l'engagement du conseil d'administration pour une approche éthique au plus haut niveau». Ces normes ont été révélées en 2017, alors que la famille Green a restitué des milliers d’objets anciens déclarés illégalement importés par des fonctionnaires américains et a payé une amende de trois millions de dollars.

Certains universitaires estiment que l'incident va ternir la réputation du MOTB. D'autres mettent en évidence les difficultés de provenance inhérentes aux collections d'objets anciens.

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