Tuesday 27 October 2015

“Hand-crafted Clay Tiles” Reportedly Seized in Memphis

No direct route from Iraq to Israel
The Daily Beast has an "Exclusive": Candida Moss, Joel Baden, 'Feds Investigate Hobby Lobby Boss for Illicit Artifacts', Daily Beast 26th October 2015. This concerns the origin of some items in the Biblical antiquities collection of the Green family ("one of America’s most famously Christian businesses"). This has the feeling of hearsay at the moment, let us see what emerges in due course. This blog and others have already questioned the stated origins of a number of Green Collection items (papyri) which seem to involve the same sort of  'fishy story' which purport to legitimise dealers' goods in other cases too. If Moss and Baden's story turns out to be true, this really casts some doubt on the origins of a lot of the freshly "surfaced" objects in the collection (and future Museum of the Bible - and the mummy masks they've been dissolving) and I expect Mr Green's lawyers  will be issuing a statement about what it actually did say on that export documentation accompanying the cunies to Memphis. Meanwhile, let's recall this bragging:

 Be it noted that I was querying an earlier batch of cunies (which apparently made it through US Customs) a few months back: 'Green Collection: "We have one of the largest cuneiform collections in the country"...' Maybe we could get a statement on them too.  Anyway, this is part of what Moss and Baden reported:
 In 2011, a shipment of somewhere between 200 to 300 small clay tablets on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel was seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis.  [...] Their destination was the compound of the Hobby Lobby corporation, [...]. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq. [...]  Both the seizure of the cuneiform tablets and the subsequent federal investigation were confirmed to us by Cary Summers, the president of the Museum of the Bible [...] If the investigation ends with a decision to prosecute, on either criminal or civil charges, the Greens may be forced to forfeit the tablets to the government. [...] One source familiar with the Hobby Lobby investigation told us that [...] the tablets were described on their FedEx shipping label as samples of “hand-crafted clay tiles.” This description may have been technically accurate, but the monetary value assigned to them—around $300, we’re told—vastly underestimates their true worth, and, just as important, obscures their identification as the cultural heritage of Iraq. 

Just what was Mr Green doing buying cunies (presumably of mesopotamian origin) in Israel?  With what kind of documentation was their legitimacy supported when he bought them? Who negotiated the sale? Was it Scott Carroll who we know travelled to Israel at least once in 2011 to acquire objects for the Green Collection ('Scott Carroll in Jerusalem and London')? Who packed the cunies and - most importantly - who filled out that customs 'declaration'? How much was the shipment insured for and by whom?  Why (if the dates are correctly reported) have these items not been released from US Customs for four years now?  No doubt the Museum of the Bible will be issuing a full statement this afternoon clarifying any details they say the journalists got wrong.

If this story is true, the Green collection staff have had this issue hanging over them  in all the time discussion has been going on about potentially dodgy papyri and mummy mask trashing. Where does this leave the academics of the 'Green Scholars Initiative'? It is not very "green" to be mixed up in a setup where the collector admits: "Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible”. In fact against many of the codes of ethics that apply. Yes, I think more than one statement is in the offing.

Update 27th October 2015
See now: 'America’s Museum of the Bible - Hobby Lobby Owners under Federal Investigation for Possibly Trafficked Assyrian and Babylonian Cuneiform Tablets' ARCA blog27th Oct 2015.

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