Hobby Lobby filling Bible museum with ancient artifacts

Hobby Lobby CEO Says It’s ‘Possible’ He Has Illegal Artifacts — And The Feds Agree

What do you do if you want to fill a museum with biblical artifacts? If you’re the Green family — owner of Christian craft store Hobby Lobby — you import said artifacts illegally, at least according to a federal investigation.

Hobby Lobby’s owners are currently under investigation for importing 200 to 300 small clay tablets, shipped from Israel to the Hobby Lobby compound in Oklahoma City, the Daily Beast reported. The shipment was seized in 2011 by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis, Tennessee.

The most successful method for people who’d like to sneak artifacts into the country is lying: about the items’ country of origin, the country of export, the value, and the actual identity of the artifacts hidden inside a shipment. Undervaluing or misidentifying artifacts ensures that the shipment avoids a formal entry into the country — under this process, it would be examined carefully.

The intercepted FedEx box destined for Hobby Lobby was labeled “hand-crafted clay tiles,” with a value of $300. The description is generally correct, but the value is way off. What was really in that box, investigators allege: tablets inscribed with cuneiform (ancient script of Assyria, Babylonia, and modern-day Iraq) that are thousands of years old.

Hobby Lobby filling Bible museum with ancient artifacts
Photo By steve estvanik / Shutterstock

The investigation into Hobby Lobby’s alleged import of these “hand-crafted clay tiles” suggests that the artifacts were looted from the Middle East, and the Greens are now being investigated for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq.

The folks behind Hobby Lobby deny malfeasance, claiming that the artifacts are just held up in customs. The director of the Green’s forthcoming Bible museum, Cary Summers, said the shipment had “improper paperwork … attached to it.” However, customs has been investigating Hobby Lobby and these artifacts for four years, conducting hundreds of hours of interviews.

Steven Green, Hobby Lobby’s CEO, downplayed the investigation, as well, and said he didn’t knowingly do anything wrong, saying “Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible.” And he admitted that some of his family’s huge collection of Biblical artifacts could’ve been illegally acquired.

According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Hobby Lobby has confirmed that a federal investigation into the artifacts is going on, but wouldn’t provide any details or comment, other than to say the family is cooperating and is attached to the Bible museum — the ultimate destination of these clay tablets — through financial donations only.

So what exactly is this museum? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The Museum of the Bible is slated for a 2017 opening in Washington, D.C., and is being funded by the Green family.

The family (who’s worth $4.5 billion, by the way) owns an unbelievable 40,000 ancient artifacts and all of them are destined for this museum. The artifacts include “some of the rarest and most significant biblical texts and artifacts ever assembled under one roof. Highlights of the Green Collection include cuneiform tablets dating from the time of Abraham, Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri and manuscripts, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.”

Hobby Lobby is well-known for its Christian values. Since 1970, their religious beliefs have been front and center in the operation of their business — from the four chaplains in its employ, to the free health clinic, to the time given to employees on Sundays to attend church. Hobby Lobby also takes out full page ads around Christmas, Easter, and Independence Day to share the “real meaning” of each holiday with the public.

Hobby Lobby came to national fame when it fought and won a case in the Supreme Court against an Obamacare mandate that would’ve required the company to pay for certain forms of contraception. Hobby Lobby said the mandate violated their Christian beliefs.

The irony of Hobby Lobby sitting uncomfortably on the other side of the law wasn’t lost on the Beast, who noted that the Greens may be forced to give up the clay tablet artifacts if they’re ultimately prosecuted. A fine wouldn’t put much of a dent in their fortune, either. It may, however, put in a dent in their reputation as highly moral Christians, the news organization pointed out.

[Photo By Justin Sullivan / Getty Images]