Hobby Lobby and the stolen Iraq artifacts

The crafts company Hobby Lobby has been fined $3 million and asked to return over 5,000 stolen artifacts to Iraq. The name of the company may be familiar to some because they were behind a victorious lawsuit that went all the way to the US Supreme Court because they argued that the religious beliefs of the owners of the company should allow them to not provide contraceptive coverage in the employees’ health insurance policies. Yes, the family that owns the company consists of religious zealots.

So why would a craft company want to purchase antiquities from Iraq? Because the owners want to build a Bible museum near the National Mall in Washington, DC and they needed stuff to show there. Of course, being the pious types they are, they are shocked, shocked I tell you, that they were indulging in illegal activities when they purchased these items of dubious provenance from shadowy figures.

The company’s president, Steve Green, is the chairman and founder of the Museum of the Bible, which is under construction in Washington, D.C.

The artifacts being forfeited include cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals. Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets.

“At no time did Hobby Lobby ever purchase items from dealers in Iraq or from anyone who indicated that they acquired items from that country,” Green said in his statement. “Hobby Lobby condemns such conduct and has always acted with the intent to protect ancient items of cultural and historical importance. …

“We have accepted responsibility and learned a great deal,” Green added, saying that the company has now “implemented acquisition policies and procedures based on the industry’s highest standards.”

That plea of ignorance may have been plausible except that experts had warned them of the dangers of buying looted items and to be careful. But being the good Christians they are, they said the hell with it and ignored those warnings in their greed to get their hands on potential museum items.

Federal prosecutors say that when Hobby Lobby, which is based in Oklahoma City, began assembling its collection it was warned by an expert on cultural property law to be cautious in acquiring artifacts from Iraq, which in some cases have been looted from archaeological sites.

Despite that warning and other red flags the company in December 2010 purchased thousands of items from a middle-man, without meeting the purported owner, according to prosecutors.

Instead of antiquities, the Bible museum should instead mount screens all over that show Eddie Izzard clips about religion and Christianity, such as the one below.

If Ken Ham had put in clips where Izzard talks about the Ark into the Ark Museum in Kentucky, that would be a lot more fun and ensure higher attendance than the numbers Ham is complaining about.


  1. says

    Well, I’m just surprised that Hobby Lobby didn’t invoke the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for their defense and claim that they had a sincerely held religious belief that Jeezus wanted them to have those artifacts for their museum.

    And given the current make-up of the Supreme Court, that might even have worked.

  2. cartomancer says

    Surely they must have known that these were artifacts from Iraq. Yes, cuneiform script was used across the ancient Near East, but different peoples used it to write down different languages. You can tell where it came from by which language the script was used to write. Hittite texts would be from Turkey. Ugaritic texts would be from Syria. Old Persian or Elamite texts would be from Iran (as would the handful of Aramaic texts written in cuneiform, rather than the Syriac or Phoenician scripts). If they were in Akkadian, Sumerian or a Neo-Babylonian language then the chances they were from somewhere other than Iraq are vanishingly small.

    Unless of course the people at Hobby Lobby didn’t know what language the texts on the artefacts were in. In which case they have no business opening a museum with them in the first place.

  3. Dunc says

    You don’t even need to know where the artifacts are from. If you’re buying a job lot of antiquities at bargain prices, they’re looted. The only possible defense I can see here is one of monumental stupidity.

  4. blf says

    (Cross-posted from poopyhead‘s…)

    Whilst the provenance isn’t known, it is not impossible some of the artifacts were looted and/or sold via daesh or al-qaeda, both of whom are known to deal in similar specimens as one source of financing.

  5. secondtofirstworld says

    @Dunc #3: I highly disagree. There’s a “lucrative” niche market for the forgeries of the antique, so if a person is well by fortune they made, it would be just too logical to authenticate them before it turns out to be expensive crap, even if it’s not war loot.

    Speaking of which, I don’t quite get, why this isn’t a bigger story. It’s well documented, that artifacts from regions currently or formerly under ISIS or Al-Qaeda control are being sold to sponsor terrorism, so the FBI Counter-terrorism Unit should be all over this, like 6 years ago.

  6. rjw1 says

    Christians don’t seem to be troubled by the fact that deciphering of the cuneiform texts revealed the extent to which the Bible authors plagiarized earlier Sumerian myths.

    @2 cartomancer,

    Akkadian was, for centuries, the diplomatic language of the Near East, so it’s an exception to your generalization. I’d agree that the Phillistines at Hobby Lobby would probably have no idea of the language, provenance or antiquity of the texts.

  7. says

    So, Daesh “destroys” Palmyra, by which they mean loot it and sell it off to the highest bidder.
    Conservative Christians claim this is evidence all Muslims are evil.
    Conservative Christians buy the artifacts and help Daesh kill more Muslims.

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