Court orders Hobby Lobby to give up valuable ancient tablets

The Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled on Tuesday that Hobby Lobby must give up a set of rare, ancient tablets purchased from an auction house under false provenance, CNBC reported

The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet is one of the world’s oldest written documents, and it includes the Sumerian poem of Gilgamesh. Originally from the area that is now modern Iraq, the tablets were sold to Hobby Lobby in 2014 for display in the company’s Museum of the Bible located in Washington, D.C.

Museum curators later determined the origin of the tablet was different from the information given by the auction dealer. The museum notified officials in Iraq, which eventually led to the tablets being seized in 2019, according to The Hill.

The official details

“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the U.S. art market,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a DOJ release.

“Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department’s dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice,” Polite added.

“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York in the statement.

Kasulis added: “This office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts.”

More to the story?

“I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years,” said Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and founder of the Museum of the Bible, in an official statement issued last year.

“My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world,” Green added. “If I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items.”

The tablets were among several purchased under false pretenses as part of the museum’s collection. Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 concerning the matter.

The rare artifacts are currently being stored in Brooklyn, New York.

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