Thursday, July 06, 2017

United States Department of Justice announces Hobby Lobby Cuneiform Verdict

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Earlier today, the United States filed a civil complaint to forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae. As alleged in the complaint, these ancient clay artifacts originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, contrary to federal law. Packages containing the artifacts were shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (“Hobby Lobby”), a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and two of Hobby Lobby’s corporate affiliates. The shipping labels on these packages falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile “samples.”
Read the complete verdict, here.

30 comments :

  1. If possible, can someone clarify exactly who was involved in this illegal activity? The verdict only names "Hobby Lobby," without any mention of individuals by name or even the Museum of the Bible or Green Scholars or anything like that. I don't know the relationship of all these entities.

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    1. Good point Jeff. It seems to indicate a single individual acting on behalf of Hobby Lobby was at fault

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  2. "Mr. Green and a consultant, who wasn’t identified in the court filings, approved the purchases, the complaint stated." Scott Carroll?

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    1. Curiously, I have yet to see his name mentioned explicitly in any of the news articles about this story, even though he was the director of the Green Collection from 2009-12 and these illegal purchases took place in 2010, and there were other unrelated questions about his behavior with other relics such as the mummy masks.

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  3. Technically, it's a "judgment" not a "verdict" (which is the decision of a jury).

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  4. The Museum of the Bible (MOTB) issued a statement that offers a partial answer to some of Jeff Cate's questions:
    "We have been made aware of the settlement between Hobby Lobby and the government. The Museum of the Bible was not a party to either the investigation or the settlement. None of the artifacts identified in the settlement are part of the Museum’s collection, nor have they ever been. The Museum adheres to the current Association of Art Museum Directors standards on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art, as well as guidelines set forth by the American Alliance of Museums. We remain on track to open in November and look forward to sharing our exhibits and displays with the public."

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    1. What is the source for this statement?

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    2. A denial of any connection is not true is it?

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    3. No, Pete, the two entities are not legally tied as I understand it. That is what the MOTB statement is saying. MOTB was not involved in the lawsuit or settlement apparently.

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    4. They keyword being "legally"

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    5. It seems as if this could be legally true and morally and existentially false. It certainly challenges my sympathies.

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    6. Peter Head,
      It could also be legally, morally and existentially true! Especially since this occurred prior to the MOTB.

      TIM

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  5. Hopefully the long-term effect will also be to discourage criminal excavations, cowboy operators, and those who ignore carefully considered advice.

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  6. I have removed a comment which contained an ad hominem attack.

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  7. Is it correct that the Museum of the Bible as a legal entity also postdates the criminal activity and postdates the departure of the 'Consultant' from working with Hobby Lobby?

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  8. John Jackman7/07/2017 11:45 pm

    See https://www.museumofthebible.org/fact-sheet-museum-bible for the facts. The Museum was founded in 2010, at the time when the activities described in the judgement were taking place.

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  9. Here's a good free-market counterbalance to a lot of the Anti-Hobby Lobby rhetoric.
    https://fee.org/articles/the-attack-on-hobby-lobby-is-incoherent-and-unjust/

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    1. very strange "argument" there, in my view.

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    2. It may come down to one's view of the state. If one thinks that human governments have any business regulating the sale and transportation of antiquities (or anything else), one would be less inclined to sympathize with Hobby Lobby.

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    3. Eric,
      I am as sympathetic to Hobby Lobby as one can get. Yet, there seems to be no way to legitimately get around their falsification of shipping documents. No matter ones perspective on regulation by government, this falsification proves HL knew what they were doing violated U.S. law and international agreements.
      What happens to the artifacts now is a legitimate question. Especially when the country of origin is in a war with terrorist who are known to destroy such artifacts. Unlike the article in the link, I don't believe that because HL was the highest bidder and that the artifacts will be available for public viewing is adequate defense for HL's actions. If the motivation had been to save these artifacts, HL could have purchased them and worked with the country of origin to display them at MOTB until hostilities abetted.

      Tim

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    4. //I am as sympathetic to Hobby Lobby as one can get. Yet, there seems to be no way to legitimately get around their falsification of shipping documents. No matter ones perspective on regulation by government, this falsification proves HL knew what they were doing violated U.S. law and international agreements. //

      That may well be true. I don't know enough of the facts to say personally. But let's go with that and say you're 100% correct.

      What one thinks about such actions has a lot to do with what one thinks about the the U.S. law and international agreements that you mention.

      Consider a different situation where somebody ships something and puts a false label on it, not to trick government agents, but would be thieves (e.g. I once wrote, "Grandpa's bedpan, rags, etc.," on a box of electronics I checked onto a plane). Nobody would have a problem with that, because nobody thinks would-be thieves have any right to know what's really in the box in the first place.

      Granted, most people think more highly of most national governments than they do of the would-be thieves of my example. But that's an assumption on their part that I think is bound to shade how they conceive of all this. I would be interested in seeing a discussion of the ethics of antiquities trade that is based on more basic ethical principles without assuming that laws invented by politicians are necessarily right, and that reflects a level of knowledge about all three of archaeology, economics, and ethics, that goes beyond what most people have, even people who may specialize in one or the other of those three fields.

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  10. May I kindly ask people in this thread who are Green scholars if anything has changed in their relationship with a patron, Mr Steve Green, who has behaved in the way described in the civil complaint (see the link posted by Christian) and still has a major role in the Museum of the Bible as well as e.g. Cary Summers and Jerry Pattengale who collaborated with Carroll? This last tends to be seen as a scape goat but clearly he did not operate in isolation. We are told 5,000 artefacts have been seized. This is not small matter. And what about the provenance of the rest? Did you pose questions or raised concerns?
    Thank you in advance for the answers.
    Roberta

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    1. Roberta, I am travelling and have bad internet connection right now but responded on your facebook today and will respond here again as soon as I get a better wifi.

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  11. Roberta, I think it is unlikely that individuals will be able to address these questions easily in this context. I think this blog as a whole has been both appreciative and critical at different times.

    The very first mention of the Green collection that I can find is this post: http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/early-manuscript-of-hebrews-discovered.html
    If you read the comments there you'll find that we stood for transparency and concern for legality and provenance. See e.g. my comment from 13.4.2011:
    "So any way the implication behind this announcement is that the Green group have been purchasing unidentified literary papyri (Dr Carroll is working on publishing 15). I wonder where from. Fresh material from Egypt would be an option, but not exactly on the legal side of the spectrum. Literary texts already in Western collections and up for private sale are unlikely to have remained unidentified unless in the hands of someone who didn’t care or know what they were. It could be an interesting story."

    Most recently we covered the first publication of the Brill Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scrolls volume (http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/first-museum-of-bible-volume-released.html) with comments about both the troubling lack of provenance information in that volume and the issue that one of the editors thinks that these fragments are modern forgeries.

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  12. The official documents are included in this blog (http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com/2017/07/cultural-property-forfeiture-hobby.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CulturalHeritageLawyerRickStHilaire+%28Cultural+Heritage+Lawyer+Rick+St.+Hilaire%29). The Statement of Fact attached to the Stipulation of Settlement provides the most detail.

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  13. Interview with the person who gave the legal advice to Hobby Lobby: https://chasingaphrodite.com/2017/07/10/hobby-lobbys-legal-expert-speaks-i-cant-rule-out-they-used-my-advice-to-evade-the-law/

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  14. This is also interesting (http://www.marketmassdestruction.com/hobby-lobby-2/), including an apparent acceptance fo the President's explanation: "It has all the hallmarks of a sophisticated white-collar operation aimed at separating dishonest action from intent, but might instead just be the work of a bunch of bumblers. In this case, it does look to have been the work of a bunch of bumblers – innocent bumblers."

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  15. That post is a continuation from http://www.marketmassdestruction.com/hobby-lobby-1/

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  16. Some interesting thoughts on the legal background and strategy: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/why-hobby-lobby-verdict-1021247

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