Artefacts for Museum of the Bible were looted from Iraq
This autumn will see the official opening in Washington DC of the Museum of the Bible, which, according to this this report, will house over 40,000 artefacts.
Founder of Hobby Lobby, The Green Family, first started off with a handful of items. Now, with multiple resources, and organizations assisting and helping in the work, what is being accumulated is simply breathtaking.
Breathtaking … and in the case of several thousand of the artefacts, totally illegal.
The BBC reports that Christian-owned Hobby Lobby has been forced to forfeit artifacts it had obtained from dodgy dealers and shippers, and pay $3m (£2.3m) in a settlement.
US attorneys say Hobby Lobby violated federal law by importing thousands of clay tablets and tokens as “tile samples”.
Hobby Lobby said it “did not fully appreciate the complexities” of the import process when it began, adding:
The company imprudently relied on dealers and shippers who, in hindsight, did not understand the correct way to document and ship these items.
But prosecutors said the company was warned by an expert that such items from Iraq were likely to have been looted from archaeological sites and needed to be carefully verified. Despite the warning, the company purchased some 5,500 artefacts for $1.6m.
The agent in charge of the customs investigation, Angel Melendez said:
While some may put a price on these artefacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless.
The ancient artefacts were smuggled into the US through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel to Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma offices, with falsified shipping labels claiming the packages contained “ceramic tiles” that originated from Turkey and Israel.
Prosecutors said the purchase “was fraught with red flags”, and the company never met the dealer, working with a middleman instead, and making the payments to seven private bank accounts.
The company’s president, Steve Green, is also chairman of the Museum of the Bible. At 430,000 sq ft (40,000 sq m), it will be one of the largest museums in the city.
The museum’s website says its collections will:
Convey the global impact and compelling history of the Bible in a unique and powerful way.
Hobby Lobby said in a statement:
Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artefacts about the Bible is consistent with the Company’s mission and passion for the Bible. The Company was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process. This resulted in some regrettable mistakes.
Green also said the company never purchased items directly from within Iraq, but has “learned a great deal” from the investigation.
Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this great book.
Hobby Lobby is well-known for being at the centre of a 2014 US Supreme Court battle over its refusal to provide contraception for its female employees on religious grounds.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn