The recent upheaval in the Middle East has precipitated an unprecedented level of looting and illegal sale of antiquities from the region. There is a clear paper trail that displays how ISIS has profited from the lucrative sale of these items. The terrorist organization and self-proclaimed caliphate, holds the extreme view that any artifact or text that indicates a pre-Islamic history is pagan or blasphemous, and thus, is offered no protection. For this reason, ISIS has no qualms about destroying and selling off the collective heritage of the region. Ironically, many of these artifacts end up in the collections of Americans and Europeans.
Hobby Lobby, the chain of discount crafts stores, first garnered national attention in 2014 when its owners, the Green family, won a Supreme Court case exempting the company from providing certain types of birth control to its employees. Steve Green, the president and son of the founder, explained that he does not distinguish work from prayer. “G-d’s given us the ability to be very successful in our business,” he said in an interview with the Atlantic, “and I think to some degree it’s providential.”
The prosperity that the company, and the Greens have enjoyed has allowed the family to devote resources to various causes they deem worthy. The largest, and most expensive of their philanthropic efforts, however, is one they have just taken on: the construction of a Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., to accompany the other museums on the National Mall.
In order to prepare for the creation of this museum, the Green family began collecting antiquities. In the last six years, they have accumulated over 40,000 biblical artifacts, including ancient Torah scrolls and cuneiform tablets. The pace at which they assembled these items, as well as several of the pieces themselves, have led many to question where and how the Green family acquisitioned the vast collection. For instance, an incantation bowl with Aramaic inscriptions dated to the first millennium C.E., appears to be one of many that were looted from Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War.
Aside from the likelihood that the Greens have amassed some of their collection illegally or unethically, they are also facing criticism from academics. The mission of the Museum of the Bible is to present one narrow perspective of Christianity and its foundational texts, with an emphasis on the King James Bible. One scholar remembers a conversation with David Green in which he explained to the company founder that one of the recently purchased manuscripts indicated that a portion of the Gospel of John in the King James Bible might not have been included in preexisting versions. The notion that the King James Bible might have been doctored clearly irked Green, who replied, “You will not use this collection to undermine the King James Bible.”
Perry Fein is a contributing writer and editor to Jlife magazine.