Hobby Lobby has been fined $3 million for purchasing stolen ancient artifacts and having them shipped the United States. Reaching a decision Wednesday, July 5, 2017, a court in New York ruled the artifacts should be confiscated and the craft supply company fined.
Steve Green, the President of Hobby Lobby, traveled to the United Arab Emirates in 2010 to inspect the artifacts. Meeting with two Israeli dealers and one from the UAE, Green was told the artifacts were legally purchased in the 1960s and belonged to the family of a third Israeli dealer who was not present.
In January 2011, Customs and Border Protection seized five of the packages making their way to Hobby Lobby headquarters. It didn’t take much for CPB to discern the customs forms contained false information that “substantially undervalued the pieces,” as an article by the Atlantic reports.
The artifacts in question—some 450 cuneiform tablets and 3,000 clay bullae—were purchased between 2010 and 2011 via wire transfers (totaling $1.6 million) to seven different bank accounts. The artifacts were then shipped to various corporate addresses held by Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in packages labeled “Tiles (Sample).” Green admits, “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”
Compounding the issue is the fact that the antiquities expert the company hired to help them with the purchase advised against it. In a memorandum to the company, the expert wrote, “I would regard the acquisition of any artifact likely from Iraq…as carrying considerable risk.” The expert cited the fact that “an estimated 200-500,000 objects have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq since the early 1990s,” and the objects most commonly looted are “cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets.”
By way of explanation, Hobby Lobby released a statement about the “Artifact Import Settlement,” which states the reasoning behind the purchases (and others like it) was to try “to preserve these items for future generations, to provide broad access to scholars and students alike to study them, and to share the collection with the world in public institutions and museums.” Further, the statement expresses the company’s commitment to adhere to standards established by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) going forward.
And go forward they intend to do. “Our passion for the Bible continues,” Green says, “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.”
It is this desire to preserve and present the history of the written form of God’s word that prompted the Greens to partner with other evangelicals to erect the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., this fall. Green is the founder and chairman of the board for the Museum of the Bible.
The question arises if artifacts to be displayed in the Museum of the Bible were acquired illegally since Green and Hobby Lobby were so instrumental in the museum’s genesis. Steven Bickley, the vice president of marketing, administration and finance for the museum states they “don’t have any concerns about our collection” since “the artifacts that were referred to were never in our collection.”
Green and Hobby Lobby seem to be chalking this whole episode up to a lesson learned. “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,” the statement reads.