At this point, you have to wonder if the Museum of the Bible has anything worthwhile in the building because all we ever seem to hear about are the imitations and fraud. Not exactly a good way to guide people to Jesus.
The evangelical Green family, which founded the museum and owns Hobby Lobby, once owned over 5,500 artifacts that were smuggled via a black market that may fund ISIS — which they returned while paying a $3 million fine. They returned a “lunar” Bible supposedly taken to the moon in 1971 after finding out it was never taken to the moon. They admitted last year that all 16 of their fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls were forgeries. And shortly after that, we learned biblical fragments made of ancient papyrus, on display inside the building, were in fact stolen from Oxford University.
In May of 2020, we added one more item to that list: The “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” bought by the Greens at auction for $1.6 million. The problem was that the tablet was actually owned by the nation of Iraq, according to a complaint issued at the time by the U.S. Justice Department:
The Gilgamesh epic is a Sumerian poem believed to have been written at least 4,000 years ago. Sections of it mirror details of the Great Flood and the Garden of Eden stories from the Old Testament, which it predates. A 12-tablet version of the poem, written in the Akkadian language, was discovered in the ruins of the library in a palace of Nineveh in present-day Mosul, Iraq.
Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations seized the tablet last year from the Museum of the Bible, which, it said, cooperated with the investigation…
Yesterday, the Justice Department announced the next step in this process, officially taking control of the relic from the Museum of the Bible. (Last year, they just took the property away from the Green family. Now, it’s officially a possession of the U.S. government.)
“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the U.S. art market,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department’s dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice.”
“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York. “This office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts.”
The Green family appears to be fully cooperating in this investigation. But the bottom line is that they’re once again in the news for getting their hands on what appears to be an illegally acquired item. They seem to have done this inadvertently, but in their quest to stock their museum with artifacts, and despite having plenty of wealth, they relied on a whole bunch of shady middlemen to do all the work.
At this point, the family behind Hobby Lobby is just a criminal enterprise that sells crafting material on the side. If they were more interested in acting ethically than doing whatever it took to draw people to the Bible, maybe their museum wouldn’t be such an embarrassment. But for now, that place is nothing more than a punchline that keeps making headlines for all the wrong reasons every few months.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)