Honor Among Thieves
The visionary behind the Museum of the Bible, Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green, had participated in a fraudulent scheme organized by three Israelis to illegally smuggle ancient artifacts in violation of the laws of both the United States of America and Republic of Iraq: the National Stolen Property Act, Iraq’s Antiquities Law, and Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Law.
The scheme that Green participated in was uncovered by U.S. Custom and Border Protection when the intercepted packages bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the ancient Sumerian artifacts’ country of origin were Turkey and Israel with falsified package descriptions indicating “Tile Samples” and a deliberate undervalued declaration.
In addition to paying a $3 million fine, Green was ordered by the U. S. Department of Justice to forfeit 3,800 fraudulently obtained cultural artifacts that had been sold to him by the Israeli dealers so that they could be returned to Iraq.
According to Newsweek, “Despite warnings from an ‘expert on cultural property law’ that the objects were likely stolen from Iraqi archeological sites, Hobby Lobby purchased thousands of the antiquities anyway, violating federal law.”
According to the federal government’s complaint, “On or about December 8, 2010, [Steve Green, the President of Hobby Lobby] authorized payment of $1,600,000 million U.S. Dollars for the Order to be wired to seven personal bank accounts associated with five different individuals. Israeli Dealer #1 provided the payee account information to Hobby Lobby. The payees included Israeli Dealers #1 and #2, the UAE Dealer and two other individuals, but did not include Israeli Dealer #3, who was represented in the Invoice to be the seller of the Artifacts.”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the artifacts. When intercepted, the Department of Homeland Security asked Eckart Frahm, an Assyriologist at Yale University to assess the cache of 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and 3,000 ancient clay bullae. They had come from the lost Sumerian city of Irisagrig in Iraq and dated from between 2100 B.C. and 1600 B.C. These were Early Dynastic religious incantations and one religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period.
The theft of a nation’s cultural legacy is the largest form of organized crime. These things do not happen by accident. They are planned and coordinated as outlined in the complaint. Either Green was a naive victim of the Israeli dealers, or a willing accomplice in the organized crime scheme.
According to the complaint filed by the United States of America to seize the artifacts, “The use of multiple shipping addresses for a single recipient is consistent with methods used by cultural property smugglers to avoid scrutiny by Customs.”
Mr. Green claims he never had planned to exhibit the illegally acquired artifacts in his museum. Understandably, they had nothing to do with the Bible or the people of the Bible. Their value was in resale, tax avoidance schemes, and in charitable bequests to governmental institutions such as the Smithsonian to ensure one’s untarnished name endures for generations.
The organized crime scheme, had it played out undetected, might have followed this plausible scenario: Green might have kept a few of the finest artifacts for himself. He then donates remaining artifacts valued at $11.82 million to the U.S. government. The tax write off reduces the tax liability on $4 billion in income. A bill is introduced by his state's congressman for a small near eastern museum bearing the donor's name: the Steve Green Gallery of Sumerian Culture immortalized on the mall in Washington, D.C. Here, a villain would have been transformed into a generational thinking philanthropist. That was not to be.
According to Newsweek, “The Oklahoma-based retail giant [Hobby Lobby] earned $3.7 billion in income in 2015.”
According to National Public Radio, “Israeli police and tax authorities issued a statement saying the [Israeli] dealers provided fictitious invoices for the sales and an American allegedly used the invoices to receive large-scale tax breaks — and paid dealers kickbacks in return.”
About a year earlier, a spokesperson for the National Museum in Iraq had said, “These pieces are very important to us and they should be returned home ... to Iraq, to the rightful owner of these pieces.”
On May 2, 2018, representatives of the U. S. government hand delivered some of the rare artifacts to the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Dr. Fareed Yasseen. Thomas D. Homan, the Director of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement said, “It is a great honor for me to return so many priceless cultural artifacts to the people of Iraq.”
In a statement posted to the embassy’s website the Iraqi ambassador said, “Not only [does United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, US Custom and Border Protection, and US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York] enforce the law, they serve a sense of historic justice, and they help in the fight against criminal and terrorist networks. They serve a sense of historic justice because they are returning items to their natural homes, and to a nation that is very attached to its cultural heritage. They help in the fight against criminal and terrorist networks because they prevent the latter from taking advantage of these precious items to raise funds. The attachment of Iraqis to the witnesses of their rich history is not new. Since the 1920s, Iraq has adopted strict laws to protect its cultural heritage, with a blanket ban on the possession, sale, exporting and trafficking of such items. Iraq will seek to apply all existing legislation to repatriate any illegally exported archeological pieces, but the legal protections in place still include time bars and cut-off dates that prevent us from recovering our cultural heritage.”
When anyone takes away someone else’s cultural heritage, they destroy their history - something the Hobby Lobby and the Green family is apparently not yet sensitive to.
The Palestinians do this all the time. "Solomon’s Temple," they claim, "never existed." The Israeli’s and Evangelical Christian Zionists do it as well. "Palestine never existed," they claim. Never mind that all of the old Bibles with maps label the middle east as Palestine.
Let us remember that the Islamic assault on the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem triggered the First Crusade. How? The Fatimid Muslims desecrated and destroyed the Tomb of Christ. Remove everything, and the historical connection - that tactile and factual linkage with the past - ceases. When the West learned of the barbarity - the crime against our shared Western heritage - something sacred, Pope Urban II called for the Crusades. The Fatimids were ousted and Jerusalem’s legacy of being the place of the Tomb of Christ was preserved. The medieval Latin church served as a faithful witness to cherish, protect, and preserve our shared legacy.
When peoples in the modern world, such as Arabs, are relegated into the class of the demonized other, or the enemy of God’s chosen, it then becomes quite easy to lie and steal given the self inflicted delusion of having divine right or the moral high ground. Ask any Evangelical Christian Zionist their opinion regarding the One State, the Two State, or the No State Solution, and then just carefully listen.
We at Reproduction Bibles took a closer look at Museum of the Bible when their offensive video clip advertisements touted the Jefferson Bible - a butchery of the New Testament by our third president - as if it was worth celebrating and seeing. We also took offense with the museum’s absurd misrepresentations of the Reformation and the reformers. We also took offense with the likes of a Rick Warren as a member of the board of directors. Many visitors leave Museum of the Bible disappointed, because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the central climactic theme of the Bible, is conspicuously absent.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “The [Museum of the Bible] celebrates Jews and Judaism as the noble, beloved and even feared antecedents to Christianity, and argues that its best modern expression is in the State of Israel.”