The Museum of the Bible is not far from the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. Its a museum created and mostly celebrated by American evangelicals. Yet the Museum of the Bible since opening in 2017 and even beforehand, has been drowning in scandal. The museum has obtained or acquired looted, illegal and often stolen artifacts either before it opened or afterward. The Museum of the Bible exists so Steve Green of Hobby Lobby can take a tax write off. When you think about it the United States government is paying Green to be corrupt. This is an overview of some of the scandal with defines the Museum of the Bible.
The Green family “poured millions on the legal and illegal antiquities market without having a clue about the history, the material features, cultural value, fragilities, and problems of the objects“
Manchester University papyrologist Roberta Mazza
“For Iraq, sadly, the cultural disaster that began in 2003 has been mostly forgotten. And after nearly two decades, I am left making the same pleas I made then, for attention and collective action. Today, small victories are celebrated, but the magnitude of loss seems to pass by with impunity — and it is the Iraqi people who are paying the price.”
University of North Texas Professor on the pilfering of Iraq’s heritage in which he addresses Hobby Lobby giving up the Epic of Gilgamesh.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.“
Matthew 7:12 NLT
Museum of the Bible
This is a post that this blog has been wanting to write for the past two years. It has most certainly been on my radar, plus it deals with a topic in my backyard. I have not visited the Museum of the Bible. One day I hope to do so I can write a review. However a couple of years back I met a pastor who visited D.C. who went through the Museum of the Bible. He asked me if I had gone through it, which I had said no. When I asked his thoughts, he said that it was disappointing. He thought it was expensive to get into (Tickets are $19.00) and thought the card board cut outs in some of the displays cheesy. Not just that but it contrasted with the quality of the Smithsonian’s which were nearby. It was interesting to hear all this. This blog has been collecting news stories and wants to do a deep dive into some of the problems with the Museum of the Bible.
Overview of the Museum of the Bible
The museum was established in 2010 and the Green family of Hobby Lobby purchased a 1923 Terminal Refrigerating and Warehouse Co. building. The museum is owned by the Green family and the National Christian Foundation. It allegedly cost $400 million to update the historical structure. Bricks from Denmark were imported in its refurbishment. The museum says that they will not evangelize but just seeks to be a museum to show how the Bible has influenced culture and civilization. The museum has six floors. The second floor looks at the Bible’s impact on world culture in areas like science, justice and freedom. Another section deals with how the Bible has impacted American influence. The third floor does a general narrative of the Bible from the story of Abraham to Jesus and the creation of the early Christian church. A section on the third floor looks at the Bible and the Jews. The fourth floor looks at the Bible and archaeology. The fifth floor has a performance arts theater and a 500 person amphitheater. The sixth floor is an overview of the National Mall and U.S. Capitol. There is a ballroom that seats 1,000 and has been used by churches and ministries have used it for fundraising purposes.
The Museum of the Bible opened November 17, 2017. The previous evening the opening gala was held at the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. At its opening a declaration from Pope Francis was read. Cece Winians The Mayor of Washington, D.C. was present as was the Chaplain of the United States Senate all participated. Since opening the Museum of the Bible has experienced financial challenges. It started by asking for donations and then changed to $24.00 and is currently at $19.00. Trying to get current estimates of overall attendance is hard. At the end of 2019 over two million visitors attended since its opening in 2017. Keep in mind that the pandemic hit in 2020 and many museums were in lockdown through most of the year. But the attendance numbers for the Museum of the Bible consistently lags behind other D.C. area museums. Michael Kaiser who used to head the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is tied to the DeVos Institute at the University of Maryland has advised the museum. Many scholars and academics have raised deep concerns about the Museum of the Bible. They view the museum as being flawed and a tool for propaganda presenting the view by Steve Green as being the only interpretation of the Bible. Hobby Lobby uses the Museum of the Bible for a tax break. But in addition to those controversies the Museum of the Bible has been front and center over claims of obtaining stolen antiquities and putting forgeries on display. Let’s look at some of these issues.
Bob Kauflin family from Sovereign Grace visiting the Museum of the Bible
The Dead Sea Scrolls are Found to be Forgeries
The Museum of the Bible boasted of having 16 Dead Sea Scrolls. However, there were questions about their authenticity. The museum sent off five fragments to Germany’s Federal Institute of Materials Research. In 2018 the museum announced that all five Dead Sea Scrolls were indeed modern forgeries. To learn more about the fragments and wanting more answers the Museum of the Bible hired Colette Loll from her company Art Fraud Insights and asked her to look into all sixteen fragments. Loll is known for working with governments in recovering stolen art. To the Museum of the Bible’s credit when Loll demanded independence without any interference the Museum of the Bible agreed. After a lot of work and study the team found that all sixteen fragments were indeed modern day forgeries. They were of the wrong material, leather, which is not consistent with other Dead Sea Scrolls work. The final report that is 200 pages of researchers and investigators said that while they consist of ancient leather they were inked in modern times. and modified to resemble the original Dead Sea Scrolls. Loll stated that, “These fragments were manipulated with the intent to deceive.” And the Museum of the Bible bought it hook, line and sinker. National Geographic did a deep dive in looking at the problems with the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll issue. If you want to read that article go to, “‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ at the Museum of the Bible are all forgeries.” BPR also wrote about this situation in, “Museum Of The Bible Says 5 Of Its Most Famed Artifacts Are Fake.”
A Smuggling Scandal with Hobby Lobby and Looted Antiquities From Syria and Iraq. Did Green Family Money go to Supporting ISIS?
As Syria descended into civil war and then saw the rise of ISIS it led to new challenges. Publically the Islamic State was seen destroying artifacts from the Roman or Byzantine periods of history. But ISIS also realized that there was money to be made and they plundered UNESCO World Heritage locations in Syria and Iraq and sold the antiquities to dealers in Europe, Asia and the United States and profited from the plunder of history. As it turns out Facebook is used frequently in the sale of antiquities.
In 2010 Steve Green purchased $1.6 million dollars in Iraqi artifacts from the United Arab Emirates. This included cuneiform, clay bullae, and cylinder seals. Really none of the items had supporting documentation to show when, where and how it was obtained. As it later turned out the Green family had been buying artifacts that came from the National Museum of Iraq which was looted following the March 2003 Iraq invasion by the United States. During the Iraq War many archaeologists, antiquities dealers and academics warned about being approached about items that could have been stolen or illegally excavated in Iraq. Hobby Lobby was shipped the Iraqi Cuneiform tablets under the guise of ceramic tiles in an attempt to mislead and deceive officials who monitor items with customs. The United States government took action against Hobby Lobby in the Eastern District of New York in, “United States of America v. Approximately Four Hundred Fifty Ancient Cuneiform Tablets and Approximately Three Thousand Ancient Clay Bullae.”
The United States Department of Justice wrote the following.
In October 2010, an expert on cultural property law retained by Hobby Lobby warned the company that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq. The expert also advised Hobby Lobby to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify that their country of origin was properly declared at the time of importation into the United States. The expert warned Hobby Lobby that an improper declaration of country of origin for cultural property could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the artifacts by CBP
In July 5, 2017 Hobby Lobby agreed to settle and paid a fine of $3 million dollars and to surrender 5,500 artifacts. But for this blog the question remains. Given ISIL’s work in selling antiquities did the Green family finance a terrorist organization known for its brutal ways of decapitation of Christians? I want that to sit with you as I will return to it below.
The Return of the Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is what is known as an epic poem for its length. Its a unique part of literature from Mesopotamia and is some of the earliest surviving history from the cradle of civilization. This work dates from 2100 B.C. If you would like to read more about the Epic of Gilgamesh go here. The tablet in question was looted in Iraq and purchased by Hobby Lobby in 2014. The United States government seized the tablet from Hobby Lobby and the organization agreed to forfeit it. The item was on display at the Museum of the Bible. After the situation Steve Green called the situation “regrettable.” You can read about this in the following NBC News story, “Authorities announce forfeiture of ancient Gilgamesh tablet from Hobby Lobby’s Museum of the Bible.” This classic is returning to Iraq.
The Museum of the Bible has Obtained Other Stolen Artifacts
The items being given up are not just related to the Middle East. The Museum of the Bible also had in its collection a manuscript of the four Gospel in Greek. The item once belonged to the University of Athens in Greece. It was stolen in 1991 and eventually ended up in Sotheby’s. The Green family purchased it and gave it to the Museum of the Bible. It was later found to be stolen and the Museum of the Bible gave the item back to the University of Athens. Jeff Kloha the main curatorial officer quoted Matthew 7:12 as to why the Greek manuscript was given up. If you would like to read more about this situation the Religion News Service discussed it in, “Museum of the Bible returns medieval manuscript after discovering item’s theft.”
Another situation involves the Egyptian Exploration Society and a number of New Testament papyri. An Oxford University professor, Dirk Obbink, had taken the stolen items and sold them to Hobby Lobby. They were sold between 2010 and 2013. The Green family which went on a buying spree obtained 40,000 items in a rather short amount of time. What triggered the revelation was when the Egyptian Exploration Society published a paper about Papyri from the Book of Mark, and the Museum of the Bible produced a contract showing that they owned the antiquity and purchased it from Dirk Obbink. Obbinek was banned for allegedly engaging in theft, but the Museum of the Bible cooperated in the investigation. If you want to read more about this situation the Religion News Service wrote about this in, “Museum of the Bible says Oxford professor sold fragments illicitly.”
Analysis and Closing Thoughts
As I said in the intro into this blog post, I wanted to tackle the issues of the Museum of the Bible. There are many reasons why. Evangelicals are known for being short sighted and often uncaring about the world beyond their noses. Franklin Graham praised Vladimir Putin when Russia passed the most severe religious oppression laws since the days of the Soviet Union and Baptists and other Protestants are being driven from the country. Here in the United States the Green family claims to care about Christians and faith, even bringing a major case before the United States Supreme Court. And while that is going on Hobby Lobby is drowning in scandal with items both from the looted National Iraq Museum, as well as illegally excavated artifacts sold by ISIS to the West. Steve Green talks a lot about faith in the United States and the status of Christianity here in this country. Does the Hobby Lobby CEO care when ISIS decapitated Christians and others to make a statement on their radical brand of Islam. I guess in the end when either the CEO of Hobby Lobby or ISIS talk money that is all that matters.
But why a Museum of the Bible? In the view of this blog its because American evangelicals are deeply insecure and petty. Evangelicals yell, they scream, they want to be the center of attention, and what better than a museum a stone throw away from Air and Space or the National Museum of American History? In my view the Museum of the Bible is as bad as Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter in Kentucky. But think about it. Its only four years old and look at all the scandal that surrounds it? Look at all the artifacts that have had to be given up. And in the interest of whatabboutism which evangelicals have a PHD in I wonder how many are going to try and say, “But the British Museum has this” or “The Neues Museum of Berlin has this..” This ongoing scandal which the Washington Post wrote about the other day really shows that in the end evangelicals are an ethically bankrupt people group. But expect evangelicals who claim to worship Jesus to hold his teaching sin high esteem even while running or putting together a museum? I would tell you to get away from some of the cannabis smoke shops in Washington, D.C.
What the Green family ultimately created is different. Its really a museum of evangelicalism to include the problem of scandal, which in this blog’s view defines evangelicalism. The Green family if you recall also gave land to Harvest Bible Chapel outside Chicago which created many a problem with James MacDonald. This blog wrote about the issues at Harvest and still does from time to time. It seems everything Steve Green touches turns to scandal. Maybe he should be known as the Midas of American evangelicalism. But scandal must be in the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians somewhere. Well if nothing else this blog writer is wiling to help the Museum of the Bible set up an exhibit on how the Bible is used to justify scandal. Oh well Jeff Kloha if you desire you can reach me through my email.