Fundamentalist Christian Owners Of Hobby Lobby Ordered To Return Stolen Artifact To Iraq

Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/ George Sheldon/Shutterstock
Gilgamesh tablet hobby lobby

The infamous American arts & crafts chain, Hobby Lobby, is trending on Twitter today after it was announced an ancient tablet that was stolen and later purchased by the retailer is finally returning to Iraq. 

The 3,500-year-old clay tablet, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, was looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago.

It was acquired by Hobby Lobby in 2014 with the intention of displaying it in their family-run Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. 

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Did Hobby Lobby buy stolen artifacts? Inside the Hobby Lobby smuggling scandal. 

When Saddam Hussein's regime lost control of regions of Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, they also lost their hold over regional museums.

In the chaotic aftermath, these museums were promptly looted of the historic artifacts they housed. By 2001, stolen relics found themselves in the hands of a London-based antiquities dealer. 

The U.S Department of Justice stated the artifacts bounced between dealers in the U.S and London until 2014, when the auction house Christie's sold it to the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, for $1.67 million dollars. 

The Greens illegally bought and smuggled "biblical antiques" for themselves since 2009 despite warnings they received.

Federal prosecutors also found the Greens illegally had items shipped to their Oklahoma City headquarters in boxes labeled as "ceramic tile samples." Later, they went on to showcase these artifacts in their museum. 

Hobby Lobby was found guilty of smuggling 5,500 rare and stolen biblical artifacts from Iraq.

Despite the July 2017 guilty verdict, the Green family went on to open their Museum of the Bible in November of that same year. It's been deemed "a Christian ministry disguised as a museum" by critics and skeptics alike.

The Greens managed to open the museum by establishing it as a "non-profit organization" seven years prior.

The building cost $500 million to build and was specifically designed to display the family's massive "biblical artifact" collection.

Despite proof, the Hobby Lobby owners claim they "didn't know" about the artifacts' history.
The New York Times reported that a property law expert "warned company executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law."

The Greens reportedly ignored this warning and the president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, went so far as to travel to the United Arab Emirates to examine "rare Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets."

It was later in 2010 that the family went on to purchase the 5,500 stolen artifacts for a whopping $1.6 billion dollars. 

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Yet Green published a statement on their official site, reading: "In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting."

"It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years. One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. "

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Hobby Lobby has been wrapped up in more scandals.

As if purchasing stolen artifacts wasn't enough, the Greens have been under fire for a multitude of reasons. They reportedly spent millions on stolen artifacts but not on employee benefits.

The Greens, who are Christian fundamentalists, faced backlash when they challenged insurance coverage for employees.

Their high-profile Supreme Court case ultimately ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to "opt out of paying for services that violated their religious principles," which largely refers to contraceptive access for its employees.

Hobby Lobby's also been under fire for their anti-semitism after an employee allegedly told a Jewish customer the company "does not cater to your people." It was also revealed that their museum's entire collection of the "Dead Sea Scrolls" was forged. There were also exhibits featuring pro-slavery imagery.

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Yona Dervishi is a writer who is currently working at YourTango as an editorial intern. She covers topics pertaining to news and entertainment.