BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Biblical History at What Cost?

Hobby Lobby, the Museum of the Bible and the antiquities market

Recently, the Hobby Lobby corporation—owned by the Green family—agreed to pay a $3 million fine for the purchase of thousands of artifacts believed to have been smuggled out of Iraq. Given the connection of the Green family and their massive collection of artifacts to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., how are we to understand the significance of this civil case? Cultural heritage expert Roberta Mazza of the University of Manchester explains below.—Ed.


hobby-lobby-tablet

This cuneiform tablet is one of the thousands of ancient objects purchased by Hobby Lobby that was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Photo: United States Department of Justice.

On July 5, 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York issued a press release stating that a civil complaint was filed to forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae originating from modern Iraq and smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel. As explained in the complaint available online, these artifacts (over 3,500 items) were purchased in the context of amassing what is known as the Green collection—around 40,000 objects of various kinds, from ancient papyri to modern prints of the Bible, assembled by the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. This collection was meant to form the core of what is nowadays known as the Museum of the Bible, which opens in Washington, D.C. in November.

While Hobby Lobby is a business, i.e., a for-profit organization, the Museum of the Bible is a non-profit institution to which the Green family and others are in fact donating resources, including ancient objects. Despite the Museum of the Bible’s management pointing out that there is a distinction between the Green collection and the museum, the public is struggling to understand how this is the case, since Hobby Lobby president Steven Green and other members of the Green family fill key roles on the museum’s board, and the museum was in fact a Green initiative, aimed at opening their private collection to the public.

Over the course of several years, many people, including myself, have expressed criticism regarding how the Green family was operating in the antiquities market. Current legislation on the circulation and purchasing of antiquities is very restrictive; museum associations and other institutional bodies have adopted rigorous ethical guidelines on the acquisition and handling of ancient artifacts based on the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and other national and international legislations. The fact that the Green family has been able to gather an enormous amount of items in a very short time (ca. 40,000 objects collected from 2009 to 2012) sets off alarm bells for those who know how rare licit antiquities are on the market.

museum-of-the-bible

An artistic rendering of the Museum of the Bible. Image: Museum of the Bible.

The U.S. attorney’s complaint demonstrates that our worries were more than justified, and that serious and sustained breaches of national and international laws have occurred as well as violations of professional ethics on the part of the curators and other professionals, including the academics in charge of the collections.

What damages have been done?

Those who are concerned about the preservation of the past know too well that one of the most serious threats we are facing is the plundering and looting of archaeological sites and, especially in the case of war-zones like Iraq or Syria, of museums and libraries as well.

Individuals and, more often, specialized groups, including some terrorist organizations (e.g., Isis) and organized criminal associations (e.g., the Italian Mafia), plunder archaeological sites in order to retrieve objects to sell on the illicit antiquities market to make a profit and sustain their activities. Since the early 2000s, hundreds of thousands of archaeological objects have been smuggled from Iraq.1 But the spoliation is taking place everywhere in the world, from the South-Asian continent to the Middle East, from Africa to Latin America, and also in European countries like Italy and Greece. In short, it is a global phenomenon.

In the process, archaeological sites are damaged forever, since looters are obviously using destructive methods to be quick and efficient. The objects stripped from the ground are isolated from their archaeological context, which more often than not is also destroyed. The interpretation and understanding of the past is compromised forever.

Some say that in the case of written documents, the text inscribed is enough for us to appreciate objects without their provenance. But this is far from true. As one example among many, I can mention the Nag Hammadi Codices, the collection history of which is obscure. Of course, the Nag Hammadi Codices are extremely important manuscripts, but imagine how much more we could have learned by excavating them properly. Scholars are formulating various hypotheses on their find spot and the identities of their ancient owners, but the reality is that since they came to us through illicit excavations, we have been deprived forever of the possibility of fully understanding this complex collection of books.

nag-hammadi-codices

The Nag Hammadi Codices. Photo: Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California.

So much for scholarship. But there is a much more important factor to be considered: as mentioned above, looters are very often violent individuals affiliated with criminal organizations. In Egypt, the context of which I am most familiar with, the government’s archaeological guards are constantly threatened by antiquities traffickers, and some of them were recently shot dead. In that country, looters exploit children to dig in shafts, which violates basic human rights; many children have been injured and even killed during these dangerous and obviously illegal activities. Once smuggled, these illicit antiquities are “cleaned” through transit countries and unscrupulous dealers and finally reach the market very often disguised among licit objects.

Collectors who do not pay careful attention to the provenance of the artifacts they purchase and even dismiss the warnings of specialists in the field when they flag up problems, as in Hobby Lobby’s case, are complicit in this circle of spoliation, exploitation and violence.


From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West examines the relationship between ancient Iraq and the origins of modern Western society. This free eBook details some of the ways in which ancient Near Eastern civilizations have impressed themselves on Western culture and chronicles the present-day fight to preserve Iraq’s cultural heritage.


What is the lesson to learn?

hobby-lobby-bulla

Clay bullae such as this one were shipped to Hobby Lobby with a false declaration asserting that the country of origin was Israel. Photo: United States Department of Justice.

This mainstream case is an occasion for all of us, including collectors and dealers, to reflect on how to curb the phenomenon of looting, smuggling and the market of illicit antiquities. It is self-evident that if collectors stop buying unprovenanced antiquities, the market will immediately decrease and slowly disappear. Therefore, the first point about which we should be more aware is documented provenance. By “provenance” we mean the story of an artifact from its discovery (find spot, when known) to its various ownerships (acquisition or collection history); in brief, the biography of an object. To excavate the biography of an ancient object might prove difficult, but due diligence cannot be neglected, and if doubts arise, the object must not be bought and should also be flagged to the police authorities where necessary. I also believe that collections (public and private) must allow academics studying the objects full access to the relevant purchase documents. Academics must be responsible for ensuring that the objects at the center of their study are legal through careful research of provenance before publication; the collection history of a manuscript or other artifact must always be included in their first and subsequent publications.

The difficulties connected with researching an object’s provenance lead me to a second fundamental point: transparency. This is a very complex topic, especially for conflicting legal issues. Current legislation protects anonymity in the antiquities market, especially through auctions. A buyer has the right to remain anonymous for fiscal, security and privacy reasons; but this is at odds with the interests of scholarship and academics, who need access to the objects they study. These objects often disappear once sold to an anonymous collector. As a consequence, some have argued that antiquities belong to museums and shouldn’t be sold. Others (mostly dealers and collectors) disagree. I believe that a shared conversation here would be helpful. I have made some efforts in the past, but there was little real interest in collaboration from the dealers’ side.

The third point to be aware of is control over publication (broadly conceived, including presentations at conferences and exhibits). Many associations and journals have already adopted rules that forbid publishing an unprovenanced manuscript or antiquity. In other words, presenters and authors should ensure that the object in question is licit (i.e., it reached the market through legal channels and did not leave its country of provenance after 1970 or 1972, the years in which the UNESCO convention was respectively adopted and enforced) and should include all the information concerning its provenance when presenting or publishing it.

gospel-of-jesus-wife-papyrus

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife—a Coptic papyrus fragment that contains the text “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”—is now believed to be a fake. Photo: Karen King.

We have seen this rule against publishing on unprovenanced material dismissed too often, ostensibly for the sake of the importance of an artifact: the new Sappho fragments with the Green collection and a London-based collector, and the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus are just two recent examples from a long list. (In the case of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus, provenance was provided, but it was clearly not researched in any depth.) Academics and the media commented endlessly on their contents while the first question that should have been asked was: Where did they come from? We now know that the Jesus’ Wife fragment was a fake with a dodgy history, while we are still waiting for documents proving that the new Sappho fragments (which were first published without any information about their provenance) were from a lot sold by Christie’s in a 2011 auction—a detail that was provided many months after publication of the first academic edition of the fragments.

What should the Museum of the Bible do?

It is not enough to state that an acquisition policy is now in place, as it has been declared by some members of the Green initiative. We know perfectly well that acquisitions started in 2009, so besides talking about future acquisitions, the Museum of the Bible should in fact clarify all its objects’ pasts, and not just release a statement regarding the seized objects. The only way to do this is by immediately publishing a comprehensive list of all objects in the museum’s possession. Of course the list must be accompanied by the provenance of each piece, which should not be difficult to document if due diligence has been followed. Since the museum is going to open in a few months, all this information should be filed and ready, and I cannot see any obstacle that prevents them from releasing a public database, since the institution has immense resources.

If this does not happen, the credibility of the Museum of the Bible will remain weak. I wonder who will visit a museum potentially full of smuggled antiquities, especially considering that the public will have to pay for tickets, the proceeds of which run the risk of funding this illicit circle.2


roberta-mazzaRoberta Mazza is Assistant Professor in Graeco-Roman Material Culture and Papyrologist at the University of Manchester.
 
 
 


Notes:

1. According to cultural policy specialist Lawrence Rothfield, “Archaeologist John Malcolm Russell, who served as senior cultural advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, estimates the number of artifacts ripped from the ground between 2003 and 2005 alone at 400,000 to 600,000, based on the average yield per site. This is an astounding figure, three to four times the number of artifacts gathered from excavations since the 1920s by the National Museum of Iraq (some 170,000—though some of these are not single pieces but sets of shards), and thirty to forty times the 15,000 or so items ultimately determined to have been stolen from the museum.” (Lawrence Rothfield, The Rape of Mesopotamia [University of Chicago Press, 2009], p. 137.)

2. At the time this article was published, The Times reported that Egyptian authorities are investigating whether Hobby Lobby illegally purchased a Coptic papyrus fragment of Paul’s letter to Galatians, which appeared on sale on eBay in 2012 and resurfaced in the Green collection in 2014.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Museum of the Bible in the Spotlight

Museum of the Bible: Part Museum, Part Holy Land Experience

Five Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scrolls Are Fake by Robert Cargill

Archaeological Looting and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage

First Person: Who Owns History?

Sold to the Highest Bidder: Antiquities as Cash Cows
The case of the AIA-St. Louis Society and the Treasure of Harageh

The Antiquities Market—A “Cat and Mouse Game”

“Down the Rabbit Hole”: Owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Unmasked

Endangered Heritage: Archaeological Looting in Turkey

Ancient Coins and Looting


 

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47 Responses

  1. […] have captured international attention. Antiquities looted from sites in Syria and northern Iraq and subsequently trafficked are one of the main sources of funding for the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group referred to […]

  2. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    Roberta obviously believes ancient artifacts are best protected by the Taliban & DAESH type of government.

  3. Barbara Abbott says:

    What’s the point of it all?
    Jesus is the precious one we need to keep our eye on, not stolen stuff stashed in Museums, return it all to where it came from.
    Keep our eyes upon Jesus, look full in his beautiful face
    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
    In the light of His glory and grace.
    Barbara

  4. rickl13 says:

    The Greens have founded a museum allowing people to see ancient items pertaining to early religions. Now a part of the displays may never be seen by the US public. Those objects not all ready dispersed will probably be destroyed. To bad. I think the Greens meant well.
    Rick

  5. Michael Lewey says:

    The Greens’ objective in creating their “Museum” is to simply provide a quantity of materials – effectively decorations – to impart credibility to their notions of Biblical history without caring about the history, provenance or relevance of the objects to their fantasy stories.

  6. jason a says:

    They’re just keeping the truth from the people. They dont want us to know the truth about anything other than what they tell us. The truth shall set all slaves free. Bye slaves, i mean most of the worlds population. Just look around same crap different theme. Its a dang shame.

  7. Roberta Mazza says:

    They are prone to plunder because there are collectors in the US and elsewhere who buy what has been plundered. Just to let you know how the circus works.

  8. Robert says:

    I think the British did the same in the earlier days of this century. Let ISIS destroy a heritage or preserve these pieces in a museum. I say let them be in a museum.

  9. David Allen says:

    I wonder who will visit a museum potentially full of smuggled antiquities, especially considering that the public will have to pay for tickets, the proceeds of which run the risk of funding this illicit circle.

    Sadly US Evangelical Christianists of the conservative, ultra-right won’t care about where the items came or how they were acquired. Especially if the items are felt to lend any credence to their interpretation of the Bible and its origins. The end justifies the means for them, even dishonesty and subterfuge is allowed to the greater Glory of their God.

  10. David Carl says:

    As has been noted many times before, the attempts to limit archaeology to items found in “legitimate” ways hampers our knowledge of the past.
    The basic problem is time. Our past is being destroyed. What does a farmer care that these ancient mounds tell us much about his ancestors? His kids need to eat, and leveling those mounds will put food on the table. Those mounds will be gone.
    Some professors want to do some digging? OK, when? 10-100 years? Nope, not going to wait that long. Mounds are still gone. Bureaucrat comes by and says to preserve them? Well, a little bribe, or we wait for him to go back to his office and level the mounds anyway. He may never be back, or the next strong man may not care, or… The mounds are still gone.
    By comparison, the plunderer is a great option. OK, he does a lot of damage we want to avoid, but his object is still to preserve stuff [for sale]. The mounds are still gone, but parts are still there and in our hands. It may not be a good option, but it is our best option.

  11. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    I agree with George. Sounds like Roberta prefers DAESH and Taliban curatorship over that of museums in these United States.

  12. George says:

    I hope the Green family can acquire more pieces of antiquity and bring them to a place of safety. Better they reside in the relative security of the American shores than some location prone to plunderer.

  13. Jolynn says:

    I understand Ms. Mazza that you do not live in the US and may not spend much time thinking on why the US Department of Justice does the things it does, but for a university professor to ask a direct question in an online thread and then answer with a response intended to be insulting and invalidating is surprising perhaps, but only makes my points; which are concerning the query in the last paragraph of your article, few people who want to visit a Museum of the Bible will care about this issue as they already believe any legal action between a wealthy and outspoken religious family who stood on principle and the US government is specious at best, and not likely to reflect any particular concern for the preservation of middle eastern artifacts; after all the artifacts will go back to their country of origin and many likely will just go back down the rabbit hole. And concerning any perceived strike against the museum’s credibility with scholars, well, many of the visitors who care about the bible already believe that the academy is to the bible as adultery is to marriage. Who can blame them.

  14. Roberta Mazza says:

    Hi Jolynn, sorry I cannot help you in this case. I am a papyrologist, not a conspiracy theories expert…

  15. Jolynn says:

    Hi Roberta, yes, I do.

  16. Roberta Mazza says:

    The object of my article has nothing to do with politics except those of antiquities. I am surprised by the fact that in front of specific facts (Mr Green has bought illicit antiquities and cheated on taxes) some readers need to re-direct the conversation towards other topics (national politics), which have nothing to do with this case. Jolynn (26): Do you really think that the attorneys on the antiquities case wanted to punish Hobby Lobby for the Obamacare abortion case? Really?!? WOW! I did not expect Americans to have such a low opinion of their government and institutions. But I am European, we maybe live in a bubble…
    As for the seized objects: they belong first and foremost to the Iraqi people who have been ROBBED of THEIR cultural heritage. There is still a war in that country and the objects, I guess, will stay in a safe place in the U.S. until when the situation will be settled down. You may be also interested in developments on this case:
    http://www.timesofisrael.com/arrest-of-israeli-antiquities-dealers-opens-a-smuggling-pandoras-box/
    Quite a nice gang of rich people robbing the poor and cheating on taxes for living in luxury, I know.

  17. Jo says:

    I’m inclined to agree that Robert (#23) has most likely hit the nail on the head. I think the lawsuit has more to do with politics and what happens to people who dared challenge the obamacare abortion mandate (and win!) than archeology. I also agree with Dennis, Roger, John, David and others that the Green family was attempting to preserve these items from destruction. I would like to see all these protocols mentioned implemented; they seem like a great idea when you’re sitting in an office in North America or Europe, but maybe just a pipe dream when you’re talking about some other places. What happens to the artifacts now? Do they go back to Iraq? If scholars lose access to them or they are destroyed or resold again on the illegal market that would seem to be a Pyrrhic victory for archeology at best. This matter won’t have any effect at all on whether people visit the museum.

  18. Aaron says:

    I agree with your point about illicit artifact purchases supporting unsavory characters and their causes. This should be stopped.

    I also agree that damage is done to sites and possible context lost.

    Where I disagree is with the value this data brings to the process. The entire archeological process is an exercise in speculation and interpretation. The story of an object can’t be known with much certainty. There are just two many variables. While I enjoy the study of these objects and the speculation about their origins, I think archeological community gives themselves far too much credit regarding their ability to know the past.

    I am amused by the seriousness of the storytellers as they present their theories as historic fact.

  19. James G. Keenan says:

    Dr. Mazza should be commended for her courageous stance on this issue, exposing herself to some ignorant and at times vicious or snarky (the all-too-easy “academic citadel” slam) criticism. Let’s consider a parallel: international drug trafficking and its criminal associations, murders, and profits. I assume most of us are appalled by this. But as a simple matter, if there were no market there’d be no business. The Greens, whatever their intentions, have provided an enormously rich (and probably inflationary) market for antiquities and have been careless about law and provenance. That they were new to the game is no defense. That they keep their “trusted dealer” unidentified is suspicious. That they were unaware of the possibly unintended consequences of their activities is surely something they can rectify. But much has already been done and it’s hard to imagine the fallout if the full list Dr. Mazza asks for is ever compiled and published.

  20. Robert says:

    God bless Hobby Lobby.

    The author has a problem with conservatives- probably still has hurt feelings in the Greens standing up to Obamacare- and fighting for religious freedom.

  21. Michael Henderson says:

    Johanna, I agree with your historical and spiritual lesson. But the “Jesus’ wife” papyrus fragment is a fake, a forgery. Many were using it to show Jesus was a married man to cast disdain toward the Gospels. Others take it in conjunction with other spurious literature to say that He also had children. All lies. God’s word will always stand true. Amen

  22. George Walker says:

    Many Complain about the part that is played by the Owners of Hobby Lobby.

    The Perpetrators of the Robbery of these Cultural Remains, LIKE ISIS ARE SPARED THE REAL ROD AND GENEROUSLY DOLED OUT TO HOBBY LOBBY AND THE GREEN FAMILY.

    If the ISIS ETHICS WERE NOT QUESTIONED, and the Green Family Ethics were so treated, where is the LOYALTY OF THOSE CRITICS OF THE GREEN’s,

    Imperfection of motives generously attributed to Green’s and almost no bad attributes given actual thieves.

    Greens would be much more blessed by giving to Historical Recovery of Ancient Knowlege, if the need for the generosity by Necessity present by NEED to protect History if the IMMorality of ISIS AND OTHERS WERE NOT PRESENT.

  23. Roberta Mazza says:

    Thank you all for this fascinating discussion; I really like to engage with readers. Many of you seem unaware of the fact that the international community has put lots of efforts in the preservation of Iraqi and other countries’ cultural heritage: UNESCO and single nations, including the USA, have sent resources, specialists, soldiers and police forces (I am proud Italy deployed at some point our Carabinieri) to patrol sites and prevent destruction. Of course the situation is difficult and our efforts do not always succeed. If you buy on the illicit market, as Hobby Lobby has done, you not only commit a number of crimes, but also undermine what governments and international organisations are doing in those countries through their soldiers, archaeologists, intelligence, etc. (all paid by our taxes by the way…).
    As for “offering my services to the Green”: actually I gave some advice including on their current acquisition policy. For free. These nosy academics, you never know what they are up to…

  24. Anthony says:

    Looting is a very serious issue but it also needs to be remembered that donors like the Green family do not have evil intent in purchasing these artifacts. Their intent is to promote history and to make ancient artifacts open to the public – in this case, at the expense of the Green family fortune. The Green family was attempting to do something good but did so without caution. The government fine is approapriate given the serious need to remind buyers to be cautious and to avoid funding criminal and terrorist activity. But demonizing the Green family fits into a trend today where no one can attempt doing anything noble without having someone else demonize their efforts, mistakes, and misteps. The net result is less inclination to try and a tendency for many people to sit on the sidelines and critisize. A little more balance and objective perspective is needed to highlight the problem without demonizing good-will efforts.

  25. Eugene says:

    I believe John has identified an important issue in the article to consider: ” I suspect it’s the academic citadel who has their nose bent out of shape, here.”
    I also agree that the author may want to consider offering her services to the Green Family. that way she would actually do something concrete to address her concerns.

  26. Tyler says:

    Can it really be said whoever artifacts the Green family is able to save is a victory in historical and Biblical preservation is the money used to secure them is making its way into the hands of the group destroying these artifacts? I can’t say that is what happened with the artifacts the Green family bought, but it seems the danger of their purchasing, say, an ancient piece of pottery may help groups like ISIS purchase the explosives needed to destroy a diffeent archeological site.

  27. Larry says:

    Thank you to Dennis, Philip and David for important insights into what is really going on with these items. Drastic measures must be taken to preserve as many as possible. The aforementioned protocols may be fine for a stable world but these treasures are rapidly being destroyed by ones who have no cares about what they destroy. One can only hope that more can be rescued.

  28. James says:

    Dennis it doesn’t matter if they break the law than they are committing a sin regardless on how Muslims are handling these artifacts. In fact chances are they’re the ones keeping these artifacts and are selling them to the highest bidder in the black market. Why destroy something that is valuable when you can sell it illegally to fund your activities/?

  29. Joseph Bongiorno says:

    Dennis and Philip: Did you actually read the WHOLE article, or just the first paragraph or two before commenting? No one has a problem with Hobby Lobby rescuing and preserving artifacts if they’re done through legal means, and NOT by paying looters, which will only further exacerbate a terrible situation in which archaeological sites are destroyed and the entire history of the artifact is lost to us. Additionally, looters cannot be trusted (and on a number of levels) as to an artifact’s origins or even authenticity, which is how the bogus “Gospel of Jesus Wife” came to be. If you care about Biblical archaeology, you won’t blindly support Hobby Lobby based on the flimsy excuse that it’s OK for them to employ looters since ISIS is out there.

  30. David Carl says:

    These laws to preserve archaeology are destroying archaeology. They may be well-meaning, but that does not mean the results are well at all.
    Time is not our friend. The statistics of 400,000 removed by unofficial sources in 2 years vs 170,000 by approved sources in nearly a century are open to challenge, but the trend is not. The past is being destroyed at a rapid rate, and we are in a constant state of emergency excavation. Insisting on by the book perfect methods does not mean it is done perfectly, it means it is not done at all. The bumbling amateur whose efforts, legal or not, so horrifies the professional, is still preserving some of the past. To hamper him is just to mean less is preserved.

  31. Ross Duff MD says:

    I will visit the museum. Any large collection of antiquities from Bible lands is worth visiting. I would respect their expert opinions as much as yours. All archaeologists are in fact looters, but also preservers. An object in a glass case owned by Hobby Libby stands will most likely be with us 500 tears from now. An object in front of an ISIS terrorist has a about 50/50 chance of being blown to pieces or sold to people who are not afraid to admit they are protecting the object for generations to come. Provenance is always suspect and can never be proven for sure. I learned that on my first dig at Gezer in 1968. I only know for sure if something was dug up at a certain place if I dug it up.

  32. Jon says:

    I have to say that, at first blush, it appears the self-appointed gatekeepers of “things archeological” do not approve of the Green family efforts. Perhaps it’s the family’s overtly Christian worldview that bothers them? Or, the tension between a “for profit business” and a “museum”, which is supposed to be above such things? But, I suspect it’s the academic citadel who has their nose bent out of shape, here. A by-the-book provenance means very little amid the insanity and violence (and, corruption) that grips areas like Iraq. Of course, corruption and insanity can also exist in so-called “unbiased” academia no matter what country it’s from. I’m sure that Isis is just as outraged at the Green family as the professional archeologists. Then, again…. Sarcasm aside, maybe the author should offer her services to the Green family? If she can help with verification and authentication, then she should. If she chooses not to, well…..that’s on her.

  33. Joe Cantello says:

    I have visited the traveling exhibit (Passages) and if the Bible of the Museum is of the same quality, then I am sure the museum will be a success. I pray that the Greens’ efforts in preserving these antiquities will be rewarded. Of course, one thing they could do would be to not display any items of any questionable origin.

  34. Rick says:

    Yeshua’s wife is Israel! Remember Song of Solomon? We goyim are grafted into the Jewish tree. Do not forget your roots! The Last Supper, better Lordly Supper, was a Passover Seder. Yeshua was explaining what Yehovah had commanded Israel to do for 1500 years! Yeshua was to be the last Passover sacrifice. It is a Parable! For even Messiah our Passover is sacrificed for us.

    As to the question at hand, what would have happened to these antiquities if Hobby Lobby had not acquired them?

  35. Johnna Houseman says:

    Jesus wife is the Church. Just like a Jewish wedding , the groom gives the bride a glass of wine who thus drinks and the groom says he will not drink till he returns for her as he goes to his fathers place to prepare a home for his bride. Jesus did everything Jewish accordingly to His culture including His marriage to the Church at the Last Supper.A Jewish Bride then waits 1-3 years or so till the husband returns at dusk with his friends with torches lit up appearing like a celebration at night with shouting and singing for joy at the coming for the wife. Jesus comes with ten thousand times ten thousands of His Saints to get His Wife/Bride and then share the wine. Study a Jewish wedding and then read up on the Last Supper and you will see Jesus wedding to the Church ,so when we read things pertaining to Jesus’ wife ,its about the church. Blessings everyone.

  36. Joseph Krill says:

    Ms. Mazza writes,
    “Individuals and, more often, specialized groups, including some terrorist organizations (e.g., Isis) and organized criminal associations (e.g., the Italian Mafia), plunder archaeological sites in order to retrieve objects to sell on the illicit antiquities market to make a profit and sustain their activities. Since the early 2000s, hundreds of thousands of archaeological objects have been smuggled from Iraq.1 But the spoliation is taking place everywhere in the world, from the South-Asian continent to the Middle East, from Africa to Latin America, and also in European countries like Italy and Greece. In short, it is a global phenomenon.”

    Doesn’t she realize that without families like the Greens who are trying to preserve these artifacts they would just rot in place. I think a 6 month stint working at McDonalds would put a little common sense in her head.

  37. Philip Shaw says:

    It seems as though Hobby Lobby is an easy target. I agree with Dennis that Hobby Lobby is “rescuing and preserving” these artifacts. It doesn’t seem as though anyone has either the will or the means to prevent ISIS from either destroying or selling captured artifacts to fund their activities. Why isn’t the accusatory light being shined on them, or are we so afraid of them that we pick an easier target to attack; one whose methods may be suspect but whose results are preserving our cultural history?

  38. Virginia Bailey says:

    I don’t quite see your argument . That is the way the middle east and the third world work. At least they saved the articles. Western values don’t work over there and we have yet to learn it. Anyway we can keep anything from being blown up or destroyed needs to be applauded. Thank you Hobby Lobby. Sounds like our Bible people have some issues to resolve among themselves.

  39. George A. Makrauer says:

    Hobby Lobby is not necessarily the protector of biblical history of choice… certainly far superior to the Muslim destroyers of non-Islamic sites, relics and artifacts. However, HL has a decidedly discriminatory record against anything non-Christian, as openly reflected in its commercial sales policies:

    https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/190461/hobby-lobby-to-jews-we-dont-cater-to-you-people.html

  40. Roger Reece says:

    The author totally disregards the safe preservation of these items by the Green initiative versus the nearly certain destruction of them should ISIS or any other radical muslim regime gain power in the region, e.g. what they did in Afghanistan to the Buddhist statues.

  41. Joe says:

    I agree with the author. The Greens should undergo criminal prosecution.

  42. romad says:

    I support Hobby Lobby rescuing and preserving these items. Iraq has shown it does not have the means (or the will) to protect Moslem let alone non-Moslem cultural items.

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47 Responses

  1. […] have captured international attention. Antiquities looted from sites in Syria and northern Iraq and subsequently trafficked are one of the main sources of funding for the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group referred to […]

  2. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    Roberta obviously believes ancient artifacts are best protected by the Taliban & DAESH type of government.

  3. Barbara Abbott says:

    What’s the point of it all?
    Jesus is the precious one we need to keep our eye on, not stolen stuff stashed in Museums, return it all to where it came from.
    Keep our eyes upon Jesus, look full in his beautiful face
    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
    In the light of His glory and grace.
    Barbara

  4. rickl13 says:

    The Greens have founded a museum allowing people to see ancient items pertaining to early religions. Now a part of the displays may never be seen by the US public. Those objects not all ready dispersed will probably be destroyed. To bad. I think the Greens meant well.
    Rick

  5. Michael Lewey says:

    The Greens’ objective in creating their “Museum” is to simply provide a quantity of materials – effectively decorations – to impart credibility to their notions of Biblical history without caring about the history, provenance or relevance of the objects to their fantasy stories.

  6. jason a says:

    They’re just keeping the truth from the people. They dont want us to know the truth about anything other than what they tell us. The truth shall set all slaves free. Bye slaves, i mean most of the worlds population. Just look around same crap different theme. Its a dang shame.

  7. Roberta Mazza says:

    They are prone to plunder because there are collectors in the US and elsewhere who buy what has been plundered. Just to let you know how the circus works.

  8. Robert says:

    I think the British did the same in the earlier days of this century. Let ISIS destroy a heritage or preserve these pieces in a museum. I say let them be in a museum.

  9. David Allen says:

    I wonder who will visit a museum potentially full of smuggled antiquities, especially considering that the public will have to pay for tickets, the proceeds of which run the risk of funding this illicit circle.

    Sadly US Evangelical Christianists of the conservative, ultra-right won’t care about where the items came or how they were acquired. Especially if the items are felt to lend any credence to their interpretation of the Bible and its origins. The end justifies the means for them, even dishonesty and subterfuge is allowed to the greater Glory of their God.

  10. David Carl says:

    As has been noted many times before, the attempts to limit archaeology to items found in “legitimate” ways hampers our knowledge of the past.
    The basic problem is time. Our past is being destroyed. What does a farmer care that these ancient mounds tell us much about his ancestors? His kids need to eat, and leveling those mounds will put food on the table. Those mounds will be gone.
    Some professors want to do some digging? OK, when? 10-100 years? Nope, not going to wait that long. Mounds are still gone. Bureaucrat comes by and says to preserve them? Well, a little bribe, or we wait for him to go back to his office and level the mounds anyway. He may never be back, or the next strong man may not care, or… The mounds are still gone.
    By comparison, the plunderer is a great option. OK, he does a lot of damage we want to avoid, but his object is still to preserve stuff [for sale]. The mounds are still gone, but parts are still there and in our hands. It may not be a good option, but it is our best option.

  11. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    I agree with George. Sounds like Roberta prefers DAESH and Taliban curatorship over that of museums in these United States.

  12. George says:

    I hope the Green family can acquire more pieces of antiquity and bring them to a place of safety. Better they reside in the relative security of the American shores than some location prone to plunderer.

  13. Jolynn says:

    I understand Ms. Mazza that you do not live in the US and may not spend much time thinking on why the US Department of Justice does the things it does, but for a university professor to ask a direct question in an online thread and then answer with a response intended to be insulting and invalidating is surprising perhaps, but only makes my points; which are concerning the query in the last paragraph of your article, few people who want to visit a Museum of the Bible will care about this issue as they already believe any legal action between a wealthy and outspoken religious family who stood on principle and the US government is specious at best, and not likely to reflect any particular concern for the preservation of middle eastern artifacts; after all the artifacts will go back to their country of origin and many likely will just go back down the rabbit hole. And concerning any perceived strike against the museum’s credibility with scholars, well, many of the visitors who care about the bible already believe that the academy is to the bible as adultery is to marriage. Who can blame them.

  14. Roberta Mazza says:

    Hi Jolynn, sorry I cannot help you in this case. I am a papyrologist, not a conspiracy theories expert…

  15. Jolynn says:

    Hi Roberta, yes, I do.

  16. Roberta Mazza says:

    The object of my article has nothing to do with politics except those of antiquities. I am surprised by the fact that in front of specific facts (Mr Green has bought illicit antiquities and cheated on taxes) some readers need to re-direct the conversation towards other topics (national politics), which have nothing to do with this case. Jolynn (26): Do you really think that the attorneys on the antiquities case wanted to punish Hobby Lobby for the Obamacare abortion case? Really?!? WOW! I did not expect Americans to have such a low opinion of their government and institutions. But I am European, we maybe live in a bubble…
    As for the seized objects: they belong first and foremost to the Iraqi people who have been ROBBED of THEIR cultural heritage. There is still a war in that country and the objects, I guess, will stay in a safe place in the U.S. until when the situation will be settled down. You may be also interested in developments on this case:
    http://www.timesofisrael.com/arrest-of-israeli-antiquities-dealers-opens-a-smuggling-pandoras-box/
    Quite a nice gang of rich people robbing the poor and cheating on taxes for living in luxury, I know.

  17. Jo says:

    I’m inclined to agree that Robert (#23) has most likely hit the nail on the head. I think the lawsuit has more to do with politics and what happens to people who dared challenge the obamacare abortion mandate (and win!) than archeology. I also agree with Dennis, Roger, John, David and others that the Green family was attempting to preserve these items from destruction. I would like to see all these protocols mentioned implemented; they seem like a great idea when you’re sitting in an office in North America or Europe, but maybe just a pipe dream when you’re talking about some other places. What happens to the artifacts now? Do they go back to Iraq? If scholars lose access to them or they are destroyed or resold again on the illegal market that would seem to be a Pyrrhic victory for archeology at best. This matter won’t have any effect at all on whether people visit the museum.

  18. Aaron says:

    I agree with your point about illicit artifact purchases supporting unsavory characters and their causes. This should be stopped.

    I also agree that damage is done to sites and possible context lost.

    Where I disagree is with the value this data brings to the process. The entire archeological process is an exercise in speculation and interpretation. The story of an object can’t be known with much certainty. There are just two many variables. While I enjoy the study of these objects and the speculation about their origins, I think archeological community gives themselves far too much credit regarding their ability to know the past.

    I am amused by the seriousness of the storytellers as they present their theories as historic fact.

  19. James G. Keenan says:

    Dr. Mazza should be commended for her courageous stance on this issue, exposing herself to some ignorant and at times vicious or snarky (the all-too-easy “academic citadel” slam) criticism. Let’s consider a parallel: international drug trafficking and its criminal associations, murders, and profits. I assume most of us are appalled by this. But as a simple matter, if there were no market there’d be no business. The Greens, whatever their intentions, have provided an enormously rich (and probably inflationary) market for antiquities and have been careless about law and provenance. That they were new to the game is no defense. That they keep their “trusted dealer” unidentified is suspicious. That they were unaware of the possibly unintended consequences of their activities is surely something they can rectify. But much has already been done and it’s hard to imagine the fallout if the full list Dr. Mazza asks for is ever compiled and published.

  20. Robert says:

    God bless Hobby Lobby.

    The author has a problem with conservatives- probably still has hurt feelings in the Greens standing up to Obamacare- and fighting for religious freedom.

  21. Michael Henderson says:

    Johanna, I agree with your historical and spiritual lesson. But the “Jesus’ wife” papyrus fragment is a fake, a forgery. Many were using it to show Jesus was a married man to cast disdain toward the Gospels. Others take it in conjunction with other spurious literature to say that He also had children. All lies. God’s word will always stand true. Amen

  22. George Walker says:

    Many Complain about the part that is played by the Owners of Hobby Lobby.

    The Perpetrators of the Robbery of these Cultural Remains, LIKE ISIS ARE SPARED THE REAL ROD AND GENEROUSLY DOLED OUT TO HOBBY LOBBY AND THE GREEN FAMILY.

    If the ISIS ETHICS WERE NOT QUESTIONED, and the Green Family Ethics were so treated, where is the LOYALTY OF THOSE CRITICS OF THE GREEN’s,

    Imperfection of motives generously attributed to Green’s and almost no bad attributes given actual thieves.

    Greens would be much more blessed by giving to Historical Recovery of Ancient Knowlege, if the need for the generosity by Necessity present by NEED to protect History if the IMMorality of ISIS AND OTHERS WERE NOT PRESENT.

  23. Roberta Mazza says:

    Thank you all for this fascinating discussion; I really like to engage with readers. Many of you seem unaware of the fact that the international community has put lots of efforts in the preservation of Iraqi and other countries’ cultural heritage: UNESCO and single nations, including the USA, have sent resources, specialists, soldiers and police forces (I am proud Italy deployed at some point our Carabinieri) to patrol sites and prevent destruction. Of course the situation is difficult and our efforts do not always succeed. If you buy on the illicit market, as Hobby Lobby has done, you not only commit a number of crimes, but also undermine what governments and international organisations are doing in those countries through their soldiers, archaeologists, intelligence, etc. (all paid by our taxes by the way…).
    As for “offering my services to the Green”: actually I gave some advice including on their current acquisition policy. For free. These nosy academics, you never know what they are up to…

  24. Anthony says:

    Looting is a very serious issue but it also needs to be remembered that donors like the Green family do not have evil intent in purchasing these artifacts. Their intent is to promote history and to make ancient artifacts open to the public – in this case, at the expense of the Green family fortune. The Green family was attempting to do something good but did so without caution. The government fine is approapriate given the serious need to remind buyers to be cautious and to avoid funding criminal and terrorist activity. But demonizing the Green family fits into a trend today where no one can attempt doing anything noble without having someone else demonize their efforts, mistakes, and misteps. The net result is less inclination to try and a tendency for many people to sit on the sidelines and critisize. A little more balance and objective perspective is needed to highlight the problem without demonizing good-will efforts.

  25. Eugene says:

    I believe John has identified an important issue in the article to consider: ” I suspect it’s the academic citadel who has their nose bent out of shape, here.”
    I also agree that the author may want to consider offering her services to the Green Family. that way she would actually do something concrete to address her concerns.

  26. Tyler says:

    Can it really be said whoever artifacts the Green family is able to save is a victory in historical and Biblical preservation is the money used to secure them is making its way into the hands of the group destroying these artifacts? I can’t say that is what happened with the artifacts the Green family bought, but it seems the danger of their purchasing, say, an ancient piece of pottery may help groups like ISIS purchase the explosives needed to destroy a diffeent archeological site.

  27. Larry says:

    Thank you to Dennis, Philip and David for important insights into what is really going on with these items. Drastic measures must be taken to preserve as many as possible. The aforementioned protocols may be fine for a stable world but these treasures are rapidly being destroyed by ones who have no cares about what they destroy. One can only hope that more can be rescued.

  28. James says:

    Dennis it doesn’t matter if they break the law than they are committing a sin regardless on how Muslims are handling these artifacts. In fact chances are they’re the ones keeping these artifacts and are selling them to the highest bidder in the black market. Why destroy something that is valuable when you can sell it illegally to fund your activities/?

  29. Joseph Bongiorno says:

    Dennis and Philip: Did you actually read the WHOLE article, or just the first paragraph or two before commenting? No one has a problem with Hobby Lobby rescuing and preserving artifacts if they’re done through legal means, and NOT by paying looters, which will only further exacerbate a terrible situation in which archaeological sites are destroyed and the entire history of the artifact is lost to us. Additionally, looters cannot be trusted (and on a number of levels) as to an artifact’s origins or even authenticity, which is how the bogus “Gospel of Jesus Wife” came to be. If you care about Biblical archaeology, you won’t blindly support Hobby Lobby based on the flimsy excuse that it’s OK for them to employ looters since ISIS is out there.

  30. David Carl says:

    These laws to preserve archaeology are destroying archaeology. They may be well-meaning, but that does not mean the results are well at all.
    Time is not our friend. The statistics of 400,000 removed by unofficial sources in 2 years vs 170,000 by approved sources in nearly a century are open to challenge, but the trend is not. The past is being destroyed at a rapid rate, and we are in a constant state of emergency excavation. Insisting on by the book perfect methods does not mean it is done perfectly, it means it is not done at all. The bumbling amateur whose efforts, legal or not, so horrifies the professional, is still preserving some of the past. To hamper him is just to mean less is preserved.

  31. Ross Duff MD says:

    I will visit the museum. Any large collection of antiquities from Bible lands is worth visiting. I would respect their expert opinions as much as yours. All archaeologists are in fact looters, but also preservers. An object in a glass case owned by Hobby Libby stands will most likely be with us 500 tears from now. An object in front of an ISIS terrorist has a about 50/50 chance of being blown to pieces or sold to people who are not afraid to admit they are protecting the object for generations to come. Provenance is always suspect and can never be proven for sure. I learned that on my first dig at Gezer in 1968. I only know for sure if something was dug up at a certain place if I dug it up.

  32. Jon says:

    I have to say that, at first blush, it appears the self-appointed gatekeepers of “things archeological” do not approve of the Green family efforts. Perhaps it’s the family’s overtly Christian worldview that bothers them? Or, the tension between a “for profit business” and a “museum”, which is supposed to be above such things? But, I suspect it’s the academic citadel who has their nose bent out of shape, here. A by-the-book provenance means very little amid the insanity and violence (and, corruption) that grips areas like Iraq. Of course, corruption and insanity can also exist in so-called “unbiased” academia no matter what country it’s from. I’m sure that Isis is just as outraged at the Green family as the professional archeologists. Then, again…. Sarcasm aside, maybe the author should offer her services to the Green family? If she can help with verification and authentication, then she should. If she chooses not to, well…..that’s on her.

  33. Joe Cantello says:

    I have visited the traveling exhibit (Passages) and if the Bible of the Museum is of the same quality, then I am sure the museum will be a success. I pray that the Greens’ efforts in preserving these antiquities will be rewarded. Of course, one thing they could do would be to not display any items of any questionable origin.

  34. Rick says:

    Yeshua’s wife is Israel! Remember Song of Solomon? We goyim are grafted into the Jewish tree. Do not forget your roots! The Last Supper, better Lordly Supper, was a Passover Seder. Yeshua was explaining what Yehovah had commanded Israel to do for 1500 years! Yeshua was to be the last Passover sacrifice. It is a Parable! For even Messiah our Passover is sacrificed for us.

    As to the question at hand, what would have happened to these antiquities if Hobby Lobby had not acquired them?

  35. Johnna Houseman says:

    Jesus wife is the Church. Just like a Jewish wedding , the groom gives the bride a glass of wine who thus drinks and the groom says he will not drink till he returns for her as he goes to his fathers place to prepare a home for his bride. Jesus did everything Jewish accordingly to His culture including His marriage to the Church at the Last Supper.A Jewish Bride then waits 1-3 years or so till the husband returns at dusk with his friends with torches lit up appearing like a celebration at night with shouting and singing for joy at the coming for the wife. Jesus comes with ten thousand times ten thousands of His Saints to get His Wife/Bride and then share the wine. Study a Jewish wedding and then read up on the Last Supper and you will see Jesus wedding to the Church ,so when we read things pertaining to Jesus’ wife ,its about the church. Blessings everyone.

  36. Joseph Krill says:

    Ms. Mazza writes,
    “Individuals and, more often, specialized groups, including some terrorist organizations (e.g., Isis) and organized criminal associations (e.g., the Italian Mafia), plunder archaeological sites in order to retrieve objects to sell on the illicit antiquities market to make a profit and sustain their activities. Since the early 2000s, hundreds of thousands of archaeological objects have been smuggled from Iraq.1 But the spoliation is taking place everywhere in the world, from the South-Asian continent to the Middle East, from Africa to Latin America, and also in European countries like Italy and Greece. In short, it is a global phenomenon.”

    Doesn’t she realize that without families like the Greens who are trying to preserve these artifacts they would just rot in place. I think a 6 month stint working at McDonalds would put a little common sense in her head.

  37. Philip Shaw says:

    It seems as though Hobby Lobby is an easy target. I agree with Dennis that Hobby Lobby is “rescuing and preserving” these artifacts. It doesn’t seem as though anyone has either the will or the means to prevent ISIS from either destroying or selling captured artifacts to fund their activities. Why isn’t the accusatory light being shined on them, or are we so afraid of them that we pick an easier target to attack; one whose methods may be suspect but whose results are preserving our cultural history?

  38. Virginia Bailey says:

    I don’t quite see your argument . That is the way the middle east and the third world work. At least they saved the articles. Western values don’t work over there and we have yet to learn it. Anyway we can keep anything from being blown up or destroyed needs to be applauded. Thank you Hobby Lobby. Sounds like our Bible people have some issues to resolve among themselves.

  39. George A. Makrauer says:

    Hobby Lobby is not necessarily the protector of biblical history of choice… certainly far superior to the Muslim destroyers of non-Islamic sites, relics and artifacts. However, HL has a decidedly discriminatory record against anything non-Christian, as openly reflected in its commercial sales policies:

    https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/190461/hobby-lobby-to-jews-we-dont-cater-to-you-people.html

  40. Roger Reece says:

    The author totally disregards the safe preservation of these items by the Green initiative versus the nearly certain destruction of them should ISIS or any other radical muslim regime gain power in the region, e.g. what they did in Afghanistan to the Buddhist statues.

  41. Joe says:

    I agree with the author. The Greens should undergo criminal prosecution.

  42. romad says:

    I support Hobby Lobby rescuing and preserving these items. Iraq has shown it does not have the means (or the will) to protect Moslem let alone non-Moslem cultural items.

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