Hobby Lobby, the craft store made famous by winning a Supreme Court case on “religious freedom and government mandates,” may be guilty of looting ancient artifacts from the Middle East.

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According to Candida Moss and Joel Baden at The Daily Beast, store CEO Steven Green and his family “have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq” since 2011. The antiquities in question are a collection of 200 to 300 clay tablets “inscribed in cuneiform—the script of Ancient Assyria and Babylonia, present day Iraq—and were thousands of years old.” Apprehended in Memphis, the shipment of small tablets was on its way to “the compound of the Hobby Lobby corporation.”

Cary Summers, president of the Museum of the Bible, located in Washington, D.C. and scheduled to open its doors in 2017, confirmed to The Daily Beast “both the seizure of the cuneiform tablets and the subsequent federal investigation.” The Green family is funding the new museum.

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If the Greens are prosecuted, they will likely be compelled to hand over the tablets to the United States government. But Summers, The Daily Beast reports, “made it sound as if the ongoing federal investigation was simply the result of a logistical problem...‘incomplete paperwork.’” Yet there have been to date “hundreds of hours of interviews” conducted over this matter, suggesting far more complex and significant circumstances.

Moreover, the tablets were tremendously undervalued at $300, a ploy often used when “someone looking to bring antiquities into the U.S. knows that the artifacts should never have left their country of origin.”

Green has already been approached on this subject, but has remained noncommittal in his response. “Is it possible that we have some [illicit] artifacts? That’s possible,” he told Moss and Baden for a forthcoming piece in The Atlantic.

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Jezebel will keep you updated as more details regarding this investigation unfold.


Contact the author at rachel.vorona.cote@jezebel.com.

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Image via Getty.