I briefly wondered about this when I read the Kathimerini coverage yesterday ... from the Arts Briefly column of the NY Times:

The Greek police have recovered an entire Byzantine chapel in raids on two privately owned villas that netted more than 142 artifacts, Agence France-Presse reported. Greek newspapers have linked the case to the trial in Italy of Marion True, a former curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, who is charged with conspiring to traffic in stolen antiquities. The two raids took place on Wednesday in Psychiko, an affluent suburb of Athens, and on the islet of Schinoussa in the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. George Gligoris, who leads a special police unit that investigates the traffic in antiquities, said the villas belong to Dimitra Papadimitriou, a member of a Greek shipping family who lives outside the country. Greek investigators have established that her brother, Christo Michailidis, who died in Italy in 1999, was an associate of Robin Symes, a prominent London-based antiquarian who provided the Getty with antiquities when Ms. True was curator.

... and just to make things even more interesting, much of the coverage of the Gospel of Judas this past week focussed on the questionable bona fides of the dealers involved. Here's an interesting excerpt from the bit of KTLA coverage:

After Yale declined her offer, Tchacos tentatively sold it to a Cleveland-area manuscript dealer, who stuck it in his freezer and sold fragments, Tchacos told The Times in an interview. When he was unable to come up with the promised $2.5 million, Tchacos recovered most of the manuscript. In 2001 she sold it to Roberty, her attorney, for $1.5 million and a share of future profits.

A year later, she was arrested by Italian authorities in Cyprus on unrelated charges of trafficking in looted art. In an agreement with the Italian prosecutor, she received a suspended sentence of 18 months and gave a lengthy statement about her knowledge of the antiquities trade.

Tchacos' statement has played an important role in the ongoing criminal trial of Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum's former antiquities curator who is accused of trafficking in looted art. Tchacos' willingness to talk has led some dealers to call her the Judas of the antiquities trade.

Records also show that Tchacos sold the Getty fragments of two of the objects Italian authorities are requesting be returned. The Getty returned a third, a drinking cup known as the Onesimos kylix after its Greek painter, to Italy in 1999 after determining it had been looted from Cerveteri, an Etruscan necropolis north of Rome.

True's co-defendant, Robert Hecht Jr., describes Tchacos as an aggressive competitor who "daringly went to Cerveteri and paid cash on the spot." The statement is in Hecht's journal, a key piece of evidence in the Italian investigation.

In a short interview Wednesday, Tchacos said she was never convicted in the Italian case, which she called an "equivocal situation," and she retired from the antiquities trade in recent years because of changing attitudes about its propriety. "I am a dealer who is doing all of the right things," Tchacos said.

The more I think about all this, the more it is clear that there has to be a global change of laws in regards to the sale of antiquities. People are criticizing the National Geographic (I could probably list myself in that category a week or so ago) for getting involved with such folks, but the fact remains that reputable institutions such as Yale turned down the manuscript because of its questionable provenance (translation: they knew it was a looted document). The real importance of the Gospel of Judas is not what it says about the development of early Christianity, but what it implies about the survival of antiquities. It would be extremely interesting to know what other things Yale and other big institutions have turned down because of questionable provenance. Are there other manuscripts crumbling in safety deposit boxes solely because potentially good buyers are reluctant for provenance reasons? And what about other objects? What if all the museums in the museum case didn't purchase the Euphronios Krater or even the Cleveland Apollo? What would have happened to those objects?