Showing posts with label Museum of the Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Museum of the Bible. Show all posts

November 13, 2017

Same church, different pew: Scott Carroll, religious collectors and the old Jiri Frel playbook

Screen Capture: 2015 - Scott Carroll Lecture
One time curator Jiri Frel, who helped build the J. Paul Getty Museum's collection, was pressured to resign in 1984 when people looked closely into his eyebrow-raising acquisition practices. 

While Frel's transgressions were many, one of the most damning was a tax manipulation scheme through which antiquities dealers sold ancient art to wealthy collectors who in turn agreed to donate the objects to the J. Paul Getty Museum.  Through Frel and associate arranged appraisals which greatly inflated the value of the antiquity, donors were compensated for their philanthropy with  hefty tax write-offs.

Fast forward thirty years later to 2015 and listen in at 25:01 minutes into this Scott Carroll video viewable on Vimeo. 



His talk is concluded with a few words from Dr. Marshall Foster, founder of the World History Institute.

Foster talked with those in attendance about purchasing historic artifacts and how doing so could be helpful to nonprofits.   He then introduces Todd Hillard, who is somewhere out of range of the video and explains that they have brochures for “Ancient Asset Investments,” Hillard's brokerage firm.  According to Hillard's bio the purpose of AAI is "to bring new life to rare artifacts by placing them with “guardians” who will care for them and share them with the world again in order to catalyze a global movement of artifact-drive academia."

Foster explains that donors can purchase "beautiful treasures," like the one being touched by the bare-handed audience in California and when the assessment of its worth comes in, the object's appraisal would be for a much higher value.  He elaborates further explaining that with this appraisal the individual would qualify for a tax write-off for their donation which usually will end up being "at least three times as much" as their original investment.   A second voice, off screen arbitrarily, without any object under consideration echoes the same statement saying "we can guarantee at least three times as much"(for the appraisal). 

For what its worth, their tactics seem to work.  See this previous post for more details on how collectors readily buy up ancient material in the name of practicing one's religion and tax breaks.

Contradictory statements on acquisition roles and methods of Scott Carroll/Green family collection.


Green is the driving force behind his family’s private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts, which purportedly includes somewhere between 44,000 - 50,000 objects depending on whom you as.  Only a small portion of this private collector's objects will make up the core collection which will go on display later this week at the opening of Washington DC's Museum of the Bible. 

Speaking with the journalist, Carroll significantly downplayed the importance of his role in the Greens' antiquities purchases telling the WSJ that it was his job to flag potential objects for purchase, the family eventually greenlighted.   Carroll is even quoted as saying “had no idea an acquisition had been made until the items showed up.” After one trip to Dubai, which according to Carroll's Facebook page occurred between January 11 and January 16, 2010, he claims that he informed Steve Green to end the purchase negotiations because of “issues of provenance.”

But this seeming care for the ethical collecting of antiquities, doesn't quite match up to previous statements Carroll has made publicly in the past.  

In March 2012, while still affiliated with the Green family, Scott Carroll gave several quotes for an article in the Toledo Blade that implied a much more active role in the purchase of the Green's antiquities, as well as his roll for looking for other potential collector/donors.

In that article he was quoted as saying: 




“I work closely with international and national agencies reporting suspicious items that come our way.”


If Green worked closely with international and national agencies, why was his 2010 concerns about the Dubai purchases not relayed to the federal authorities?

Digging further, in a 98-minute lecture on September 6, 2013 at the University of the Nations, published to YouTube and transcribed below in its entirety, there were several more eye-opening statements which clearly portray Carroll as more than someone merely following the orders of the Greens.

It is enlightening to read the entire transcript though I have highlighted portions which emphasize his role in setting up some of these collections.


Date: September 6, 2013 - Scott Carroll Lecture
Event Location: University of the Nations, San Antonio Del Mar, Mexico
Video Length: 1 hour and 38 minutes.
Translated by Madison King – August 01, 2017
2nd Translation and verification by Lynda Albertson – August 02, 2017

- Check against delivery
– Seul le texte prononcé fait foi,

--start of transcript  

Opener: My name is David and I have the privilege of starting us off this evening, and I want to welcome all of you who have come. I would encourage you to probably get in as close as you can on either side because we are going to see some amazing treasures rolled out here on the tables. And you’re here to see things and have them explained that, ah, you’ve never seen before.

We want to welcome everyone who’s watching this streaming. And we’ve been having some amazing days here, during the workshop, and what we are experiencing is, god is calling us to more in several different categories. And one of the things is, ah, a greater love and appreciation and engagement with the word of god.

And, uh, having Dr. Scott Carroll here is a such a wonderful gift. We have already done in previous sessions an introduction to him, but you know he is a man of god with incredible skills in all of these things of antiquities and in ancient manuscripts. As understanding some of the cutting edge technologies too…that are producing some of the archeological discoveries of these days, and understanding the languages of the ancient world. What I love when I get together with this man is his heart, to help people really understand how trustworthy and reliable god’s word is.

And he makes a lot of very amazing academic data accessible for all of us to understand in a transformative way. So, uh, Scott we welcome you this evening. It’s a delight to have you and Denise here with us and, ah, you know your honorary YWAMers [Note: this is an acronym for Youth With A Mission - YWAM] already in our midst. We just…(inaudible)… we just love and appreciate you. So, let’s just commit this time to the lord.

Prayer: Jesus thank you. Thank you for your word. Thank you for the way it has been given, and passed on over the centuries. And I pray that this evening as Scott shares with us that you’ll meet us again. And make your word come alive, so that we can, uh, engage with it and then extend your kingdom.  Blessings on Scott. Amen.

Scott: Thank you.  Oh I have this. Thank you very much. It’s great to be here. And I want to thank you all for the sacrifice of your time. I hope there might be one thing that you leave that you’ll remember (laughs) when you breathe your last breath. (laughs) That’s a tall order. (laughs)  I hope to challenge you tonight. (laughs). Thank you for your help. How many of you were with me earlier today? Thank you, I’d like you to teach the class tonight. (laughs)

Would you mind and pardon me to teach some of the same material again? I think it might be beneficial to repeat it for you, helpful for the people in the streaming video, and also for the rest of the class. You’ve become my students for two hours. There will be a test at the end of this period. The test is, I told the students from earlier, is that when you go out this door and enter life, because we don’t learn or teach for entertainment, but to seek before god, tools and skills that can impact ourselves in the world.

So, I’ll divide our evening tonight into several parts. One would be kind of to describe who I am and my background. Because I have a kind of strange pilgrimage. It’ll help you better understand the things that I do.

Then I’d like to briefly describe some of the discoveries that have been made. And of course we will take time to look hands on, on many of these things.

So I’d ask as things are passed around that you remember they’re real. If you have liquids, that you will put them down on the ground, that you’ll be very careful as you pass them from one person to another. And there will be scrolls that we will roll out across the middle. And when we do, we'll look at them together. So I’ll have you draw in on the middle, so that I can point things out.

In some ways, I hope to be as a teacher, your eyes, so that you learn to see things the same way that I see things. It’s a part of learning.

So, you’ll begin with learning a bit about me. We will talk a bit about discoveries. We will certainly look at some materials and, uh, finally I have some words of, ummm, spiritual encouragement that I’d like to breathe into you.

Well with that said, let me get my computer going. A faithful, trustful ma…, uh, PC. Given straight from heaven. (laughs)

Ah, let’s see here, one second. All right, thank you.

Ah, I will begin here and I, as with the earlier seminar, would just like to call this reason to believe.

I, there’s a double entendre with that saying. So, the idea that God has both given us both reason and I believe he’s kissed us with evidence. Like an incarnation of sorts, and with that, with that said, this for me is like my work space. And the man holding his head was a very famous scholar at Cambridge of Hebrew manuscripts.

And I understand what he smells, what he sees, and why the poor man’s holding his head. Literally in this collection, for those who are biblical scholars in here, this is the famous Cairo Genizah. [NOTE: The Cairo Genizah is a collection of some 300,000 Jewish manuscript fragments that were found in the genizah, or storeroom, of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, or Old Cairo, Egypt.]  It took well over a hundred years to work through this material. I know both the joy, the thrill, and the anguish of this.

This is typically what my desk looks like. OK, tell me, the same?

OK, my Phd is in a very narrow, unmarketable area. (laughs) Yes, it’s not posted normally on monster.com.

My training is in ancient languages, archeology, history. I think that we were required in my program to have 13 ancient languages, of which some I read well, others I don’t.

Ah, because of my language skills I work with unknown ancient manuscripts. I suspect I have seen more things, my wife, my lovely wife is here. I suspect I have seen as much or more than anybody alive.

So I see unusual texts all the time. All the time. So I’m very comfortable in an undefined setting. Um, I like looking at things that are unknown.

Because of my language training, people with collections began to come to me from Europe. And they wanted to know what they had. They would have collections passed down by relatives. Of course defining what you had brought value to it.

So it opened up to me a world of collectors and items. And so for over 30 years I’ve been working with collections of this sort. I have also had the privilege to meet people who collect such things. They’re wealthy people who have strong passions about collections. Which can be problematic if it’s mixed with issues of religion.

Strong passions, money, power. Um, I’ve been blessed in my career to build the largest collection of biblical manuscripts in the world. 

Twice.

And, um, it has meant this last time, spending over 70 million dollars in three years. And assembling over 55 thousand items. And this means building around that, the scholarship necessary, academic associations, and, um, exhibits for the public.

So, ah, it’s a lot of work, but it, it’s what god has done in my life. So we’ve expanded these things and worked in these areas …(inaudible)… Um, it has furthered my knowledge of items that are out there to be acquired.

Up until a year and a half ago, I was commissioned by very wealthy families to represent their interests buying things. So I would go into a collection like this, and literally, I see these things every three weeks like that. And in a matter of a day, sort through everything of interest, assess its value, talk to the collector, offer some money, and acquire everything. Knowing exactly what its financial value would be at auction.

A year and a half ago we shifted to work with the seller and not the buyer. Our services were gladly welcomed by people who had things. Because oftentimes they sold things, almost always not knowing what they had. Let’s say a little text like this.

This was originally a roll. I showed portions of it at Kona several months ago. Since that time it’s been apportioned out properly. This came from a mummy mask. And the person who owned it would have been happy to sell it for a small amount, but we knew that the text inside was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more. So my representing the collector brings value to them. And I work with a team of people who do.  So we all specialize in different languages; different writing styles, different texts, and everyone is the best person in the world at what they do.

And we go through a pile like that, maybe in Istanbul, Tel Aviv, the UK, and in a matter of days, know exactly what’s of value inside that collection. I’ll tell you right now that biblical texts came out of the pile, and this happens on a regular basis, so this is my job as a professor.

I’m going to ask my wife, and if we can go table to table with this, and I’ll let her handle it because this is worth just under two million dollars. Ah, this work is an author quoted in the New Testament. Only three other texts of this play survive in the world. This, ah, this is the earliest of the four, three others and this, by 800 years. This is the earliest writing in Greek you will ever see in your life. Because it’s survived in a mummy mask, uh, it, was preserved. And  uh, that’s why it’s as early as it is.

It, it is a witness to the kind of writing from the lost library of Alexandria. So when we look at this pretend, I mean for real understanding, that you are seeing writing from the lost library of Alexandria.

And it’s an example of just the work I do, that’s all I’m showing it to you for. Now while she’s going around with that, let me continue to show you some other things I do.

Ah, this is myself lecturing at Cambridge University. Professors, they don’t like to be lectured to.

Uh, I’m with a friend who published the dead sea scrolls, …(inaudible).. I’m the one with the hair. (laughs)

Um, we did an exhibit a year ago in St. Peter’s Square, at St. Peter’s Basilica. You can see a banner, black, beige, black, on the left. It goes all the way back to St. Peter’s Basilica.  I’m not the one with the hat. (laughs)  But you can see the exhibit on the right.

It was the largest exhibit on the Bible, ever, at the Vatican. I’m just trying to help you understand the odd things I do.

You remember, when this was being planned, we were together at Cunningham’s. Praise God, huh, it happened, huh!

So this is me, not the one with the red hat. And I’m with the director of the Vatican library. This is part of the exhibit showing cardinals and archbishops at the exhibit.

The book that was written on the exhibit was given to the Pope and distributed to all of the cardinals. And some went many times to the exhibit. Some, ah, went, they, ah, viewed and I’m going to show you things today that would be the kinds of things that would have been on exhibit at the Vatican.

This may be very hard for you to understand, but the scrolls that were exhibited there, were so overwhelming in their spiritual presence, people fell on their face, were slain by their presence, of the scrolls, it’s just unbelievable.  They would go in, tens of thousands in a day pressing in, and people falling down and people stumbling over ‘em! (laughs)

So, ah, and then there is an exhibit in the US that we had that we created that is travelling the US.

Now where do I find these things? I said that some are found in mummy masks, watch this before you buy any on eBay.

Um, I do dissolve texts from mummy masks. The masks in some places were made using discarded papyrus. But we know that the time they did that, the place they did that, and the language it was written in. For the most part they have nothing in them, and the process that we’ve developed is a proprietary process. My wife will laugh and say she remembers the times we started, that she would walk into the house and smell mummy on the stove. (laughs) Nothing like the smell of mummy on the stove. (laughs)

Oh, so we start with this ooooooh, yeah sometimes that’s what’s inside. Actually, no there are no bodies inside, but this is an example of the papyrus on the inside, that was used like papier-mâché. And so let me show you here and give you an example of how this works.

This will only take a minute. This was done at Baylor University where I had an appointment. And it’ll show you just very quickly the, um, a process that actually lasted six to eight hours.

The solution that’s used is a special solution that won’t, um, destroy the ink. You’ll see the outside of this gradually go away and you might say what a destructive process, but I would remind you that all archaeology is a destructive process.

Uh, we actually have--I’m working with a professor in the US on a polymer that is placed as an application over the outside of the mask and preserves it intact while we extract the inside.

So here we are gradually dissolving the mask. And this will take a few minutes, you’ll gradually see portions of the text appear and the face disappear.  They would put a piece of linen over where the face was.

See text beginning to come out and the face goin’ away. Oh, that’s not my hands with the bracelet. (laughs)

This per…(inaudible)…with the masks that we target, are masks that date after the time of the Library of Alexandria. They’re Greco-Roman masks because they will yield Greek texts. So this is 150 B.C. Did we go past it?

So did you see at the end all of the texts laid out? Those texts fit into an entire scroll, or half a scroll. Now I, I should say to you, that, one second (laughs) oh crud…let’s see, let’s do it this way, sorry. Um. Oftentimes the text that are found are just common everyday texts. But five percent are important.

Ah, we found last year, I found the earliest known text of Romans, the earliest known texts of First Samuel, lost works of Sappho, tons of Homer. So this is one area where we find text, another area, is working with technology and patents. You can see the text is actually a recycling of a text. The text that’s in black, is actually, you’re viewing upside down, but you see the two columns that are underneath that are faint. So how do you read the column that’s the two columns underneath?

With a professor at Oxford, developed a scan across the light spectrum, 20 different stops. And pixel by pixel made a decision about the best, the best way to view each box.

Look closely at the text, now this is the application of our process. The text that you’re looking at now is the earliest account of the last supper in Jesus’s language. The, this manuscript is 300 pages long.

So we work with mummy masks, we work with piles of ancient texts, and with ancient technology, and with technology with ancient texts.

Here’s another one real fast. 800 pages, completely damaged by water. Said to the same optical physicist from Ukraine, professor at Oxford. How do you think we might be able to see this? Do you think maybe the stylus of the scribe left an indentation in the parchment?

He took a few seconds and drew a picture, he said I’ll get back to you in two weeks. He said let’s look closely at this area. He bathed it with lasers, and was able to create a shadow in the grooves.

Ok so there’s a text. There’s the area that we are looking at, there’s his process. (laughs) I really have a fun job! (laughs) So it’s a use of technology, and the use of contacts, working with things. If you ever think to pray for us, please do!
Someone said, well what’s your ministry, coming by our booth.  I, I don’t know. We kind of do research and stuff. All right, now let me very quickly show you discoveries that have been made in the last year and a half.

OK, ah, we’re looking at 14 texts of Homer, including one of the earliest known texts of Homer ever found, including a very early text of Homer found yesterday.

Ah, I don’t know if you know who Sappho is but, but, look what I’ll briefly go down on this list. What you need to understand is the Times, the London Times Literary Supplement, that thirty of these items would be front page news when they’re published. Just, so, we have Sappho here, we have, ah, Euripides who’s quoted by Jesus in the New Testament.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a text of Euripides to display. I have one from a mummy mask and my wife will pass it around. It’s interesting to know that the New Testament authors use popular culture. Jesus quotes from a tragedian poet while he’s knocking Saul off his burro, and Sa…and Saul the Pharisian [sic] Sanhedrin understands the texts that’s being quoted.

The other text that was passed around, Menander, was quoted by Paul. Ah, so we have accounts by Plato, accounts by Aristotle, this account by Demosthenes was written within, within 20 years of his death.

Ah, all kinds, I figure about 65 classical texts discovered in the last year and a half. Biblical, Biblical manuscripts, dead sea scrolls. Um, I had mentioned this as well, this is, this is a month ago. A leather robe, worn by a high priest in Israel, dating 100 years after Daniel, written with Aramaic scripture around the collar.
I, I hope you understand how unbelievable that it is. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it with me, (laughs). We’re still working on it.

These are all texts of Genesis, of Exodus. We have the earliest text of Exodus 24 here. Um, so, earliest, yeah there’s nothing earlier in the world. This is the earliest in the world. And you might not believe it, or you wonder how do you know.

Please understand that the world I work in, people demand that you know. No one will pay 1.1 million dollars for that text that is in his hands, unless you know for sure it dates to when it dates to. The Vatican library will not want to do an exhibition with you unless you know the dates of something. So, if you look on the screen you see texts discovered of almost, well many of the Old Testament books. With New Testament books, most of the gospels. Including a first century text of the Gospel of Mark. That’s the earliest, that will be the earliest text of the New Testament.

• Audience Question, …(inaudible)…most people would not…(inaudible) what was the oldest …(inaudible)…

The earliest text of the New Testament before that was of the Gospel of John and dated somewhere between 120 and 140 AD. We’re looking now at a text of Mark that dates between 70 and 110. And there’s even something more important than that. That I’ve not even told David Hamilton and I’m not going to.

But I do have here, the earliest text of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb of Jesus. And if you look carefully at the bottom of the writing, clear written page, at the end of the second to last line to the right, is the, is the name Maria, and then on the bottom left, the bottom line on the far left is Magdalene. Alright, um, there are early texts of Luke, I have the second earliest text.

Scott, that’s the oldest.

That’s the oldest anywhere in the world of that portion of Matthew 27 and 28. Ah, while we’re passing around texts, this is the earliest text in the world of Luke 16. And the second earliest text of the gospel of Luke. Please make sure I get them all back. Um, there are texts of every conceivable book. I was with my wife eating Thai in Oklahoma City when I got a text from a, from a collector in the Middle East. It was a box of broken papyrus. While we ate our good food, I noticed that the text was all written by the same hand. Looked like some of the pieces may fit together.  Thought it looked like 1 Corinthians. Turned out to be 20 pages of 1 Corinthians. Under, it’s now owned by a German collector. It was appraised for over 7 million dollars, and sold for somewhat less than that. Underneath that text was this. And two weeks ago I had time to look at that. Two weeks ago. And it turns out to be the earliest text of Timothy in any text. So let me pass this around as well.

…(inaudible)…Audience Question

Oh Codex, a codex is from the Latin word for book, so these things are scrolls. Many of you are looking at texts that have no writing on the back, they were scrolls. Christians popularized the mechanism of the book. It actually became a visual image of Jesus himself. It was economical because you could write on both sides of the writing material, apart from a scroll mentioned in Ezekiel in Revelation written on both sides, which was very uncommon. They would usually write on one.

So still looking at our thing, oh, in addition now to twenty pages in 1 Corinthians, two months ago I found--my wife is giving me a signal.

Yeah, yeah, no pictures of the papyrus please, they’re not published. We have, just understand the value of these things are enormous. There are, ah, professors who, from North America would send students here.  They would pay their tickets and send them here, to do two things: to take pictures of the texts for them to publish, and number two to discredit you and us because they’re in your hands.

We found also 2 Corinthians chapter 6 through Galatians 3, so these are big finds, I think over 2…over 200 texts biblical texts, of one sort or another of importance. And the rest of the stuff is just other stuff we worked on discovering.

Alright so! I won’t labor this--belabor this more than to show you some quick pictures of these things. So these are--these are of Homer. This is Sappho, more stuff, more stuff, more stuff.

Genesis, here I was showing some in the earlier class. Can you see my…here this is Ishmael, the earliest text in the world of Genesis 17. This is Mo…mosis…Moses, this is Exodus. Pharaoh…pharaha…pharaoh, these are fragments of Numbers and Deuteronomy, Genesis and Leviticus. This is unbelievable.

Ok, first you can see Jezebel here right?

This is the earliest text of 2 Kings 9. But see up here, ánthrōpos, man, person. You might not see down here if you don’t know Greek, this is child, paideía. This text came from a mummy mask. Here’s ánthrōpos, their, and it turns out to be the earliest and only second known text, early text, of 1 Samuel. The person being mentioned is, ah, Samuel’s mother, praying for her child.  That’s the child being mentioned, and that’s what’s preserved in the text.

Audience question.  What was under it?

What was under it? Homer’s Iliad, (laughs) I love it! It’s classical text, biblical text, all put together in a mummy!

Texts of psalms. We had mentioned this with David Hamilton yesterday. This is the earliest text of Psalm 3 and 4. You can see it’s written in a book form. So who used it, Jews or Christians? Christians did, right.

Text of, ah, Psalms, text. People ask me often, the most incredible thing I’ve discovered. Very wisely I say, having met my wife in high school. (laughs) Yeah, there she is. Actually, the most moving discovery was this text of Isiah on the left. The second earliest known text of Isiah in the world. It’s in the messianic section and tell me why, that God kissed us to discover it on Good Friday. It’s just…In my home office.

Audience question …(inaudible) You had mentioned that…(inaudible)….classics with some of the…(inaudible)….was it likely …(inaudible)…

Yes. Ya, completely unintentional. They sent some young mortuary priest, out to the dump and gathered up whatever scraps he could pick.

Audience question …(inaudible)

No, it, discarded papyri, that’s it. One community had discarded Samuel and the other community discarded Homer and they end up together in the mortuary. But isn’t that so surprising about their culture. Living together, interfacing, these texts and all. Wow, it’s neat.

Audience question …(inaudible)

Yeah, it was thrown away and they used it as garbage, recycled. Literacy was clearly not as high, certainly higher among the Jews. Perhaps as high as 30% among the Greeks in Alexandria.  Over a thousand known books were discovered amongst the Dead Sea scrolls. And many unidentified fragments. If you’ve ever been there, in the desert, a library of ten thousand, a library of thousands of books.  So they did have texts, but literacy was not as high as what it is today.

Okay, so on the left up here, right now, until Mark was published, is the second earliest text of the New Testament. But it’s…but it’s not published yet. This. So no one in the world knows about it.  It’s Matthew 12. On the righthand side is also Matthew and Luke dating to around 150. On the lefthand side, again unpublished, is the earliest account of the nativity of Jesus. Luke 2 dating to around 140. On the right hand side is Luke 12 dating to before 200. On and on and on. This is an early text of John 3. On the left up there is the earliest text of Acts 19, the revival in Ephesus.

Audience speaking…(inaudible) that’s are devotions tomorrow morning.

Yeah. Really? Well this is the, ah, so you don’t need to go, this is the speech of Demetrius. On the righthand side is an early magical text. The kind that they would have burned. Earliest text of Romans found in a mummy mask.  Earliest of Romans 14. This--I’m almost done and then we’re gonna look at scrolls. This is the earliest copy of any of Paul’s writings. 1 Corinthians 9, uh, this…sorry?

Audience Question

Uh, that dates around 150, 140-160 something like that. Now if you can look at this and imagine 1 Corinthians in 20 pages that’s what it looks like. And then 2 Corinthians 6 to Galatians 3 is another 15 pages, 35 pages of scripture.

Audience question

It was found in a box. No…yeah…dating. It’s done--each of the specialists in the language work with the paleography and then set a plus or minus 30 or 40 years.

Audience question.

Paleography is the minute changes in writing, when I roll…I’ll show you with the scroll when I roll it out.

Audience question

You can but too much is destroyed. Not as much, not as much is gained as we know by the handwriting. Furthermore, the carbon dating will just tell you the date of the object not the writing. We have some other ideas that we are working with our people, like the Ukrainian guy, but were not there yet.

All right, early text of Ephesians, early text of Hebrews. I mean…okay, by the way this is what a letter would look like. So, you think of Philemon, Onesimus, they would be carrying a little thing like this. All right, there’s too much to talk about. Let me…I would like to roll out a scroll and let the scroll speak to us about how it was written and created. And point out some things as I see with the scrolls.

I want you to understand that the largest collection of scrolls in private hands ten years ago was about 100. And I had the privilege of organizing that. Now the largest collection is--I also had the privilege of organizing--is 4,500 scrolls.

So, we’ve been blessed to work with scrolls. A lot of things that we learn and we talk about, about how God’s word was transmitted. We talk about things we think happened with scrolls. We say when the, don’t we, when the scribe copied the name for God, he washed himself, changed his pen, changed his ink. How many have heard that before?

Sure. Of over five thousand scrolls I’ve looked at carefully, I’ve only seen one where that’s evidenced.

Now it may be more, I have a close friend who is a Jewish scribe. How about the one where if they’ve made a mistake or two mistakes or three mistakes they would destroy…they would either destroy the skin or destroy the scroll. Anybody hear that?

Sometimes we create these legends that we think gives authority to the Bible. I think it is very important that, ah, teachers of God’s word have a clear understanding, how God preserved his own word.

Like many of you, I live in a Muslim context. I have a number of friends who are Muslim. So often I hear of stories of Christians going in and not being able to answer questions of errors and variations and translations in the Bible. And what I’d like to show you is just what the evidence says.

We don’t need to make up pharositical rules and laws and regulations around the scripture. I often think about scripture being like a humongous T-Rex and I’m at the very toe of its claw, right at the end of the claw, and I have a wisp of straw in my hands and the wisp is broken. And as people come near the T-Rex I say don’t worry, stand away, I’ll protect you. And the T-Rex, God in his omnipotence smiles and says Go at it boy. (laughs) You know you’ve heard the expression before “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” That’s completely wrong. It’s just “God said it, that settles it” It doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not that makes it right. Right, so what I’d like to do here is, ah, maybe before rolling out the scroll I have an Isaiah scroll with me. As far as I now there are less than 10 of these in the world. Even that date to this modern time.

The earliest text that we have on how a synagogue operated is Luke 4. Jesus as second Adam comes victorious out of the wilderness. He goes into the synagogue, now they had a special person and they still do, who rolls the scroll to the right place.

They don’t have chapters or verses. In fact, I will open this to 53 approximately and hold it on its sides on…by the curls here and pass it around. And why don’t you…you each look at it carefully. Why don’t we do it for sake of time 2 at a time, look at it together.

So, Jesus and Luke IV comes into the synagogue. The scroll is opened up. We know from later sources exactly the order of reading of texts that supported the Torah. If those medieval rules were in place in the time of Jesus we can predict actually the day that he was in the synagogue.

Now while it gives chapter and verses today for the readings. There are no chapters and verses in the scroll. So, the way the rules worked is you could read anywhere it was opened to.

You tracking with me on this? So, we think that the reading was Isaiah 58 but it was opened wide enough for Jesus to come up and read 61 which was a proclamation about his own authority. So, can you see that happening, do you understand that?

As 53 is going around, you think of the Ethiopian unit pondering on this. So, it’s all of great interest.

Let me ask my wife to be of help with me on this, please. And we are going to roll out a scroll. If you’ll hold onto this end, I’m going to take it down. This scroll is--you can tell a different color, than the other one that was rolled out. It’s done in calfskin just like the other one. Um, except this is dyed.

This process was done by people called Sephardic Jews and it’s, ah, slightly different than the other process. And what I’ll ask you to do is, if you imagine each…each of these are skins. Are you on the end there? Yeah, great. Pull it all the way to your way please. Yeah, great. These are made with skins. They would process the skin. They would line it. They would put pinholes down the sides. They ran strings across it. They lined it with a dull knife. They made their own ink. They would take a quill, oftentimes a quill made from goose feather and they would sit and begin to write and it would take one year.

The first time I had the opportunity to work with an ancient manuscript, I was in a collection and holding it and turned to the Gospel of John, and I read that the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

And for me it was nearly a sacramental protestant moment. You know, I’m holding this and I was thinking, what would an ancient person think. So, you’re looking at kind of a living text, now when I call you to come up, and I want to make sure that the papyrus is away, and, uh, we will have opportunity to finish out with Isaiah, trust me. Or you can come to see if afterwards.

I don’t want to drop or stumble over anything when we come up, a stampede to the altar or something. Ah, but, I would like you to come up to look at certain things.

And I’ll go to the end and you gather on both sides and there will be far too many people over here so go on both sides and even out. And I’ll start asking you to look for certain things.

Okay, come, come along. Go ahead. Anywhere. If…now I don’t know if we can, ah (inaudible)--is there any way to get different lighting in here, so they can see better? Let there be light? They’re saying no. Let there be light.  No? No, that’s it, alright, okay.

As you look at this, first on the edge, not on the ink, but on the edge go ahead and feel. Can you see the faint hints of lines? The pe…the people on my left are looking at it properly.  You probably noticed that people on the right…right…yeah?

I want you to look to tell me if you see any small circles in the columns in between. Does anybody see any small circles? Say here if you see any.  Here? Any others? Do you see them? Let me tell you what they are. Those are all corrections, made by a…they are marks for corrections made by a corrector. You can oftentimes see the correction in the text itself corresponding to it.

This particular manuscript was first copied around 1400, I’ve already said I’ve worked with a lot, right. You trust me? There may be 30 in the world earlier. So, we have a very early testimony here.

Those circles were not made by the original scribe. How many of you wear glasses in here, you can’t see without them. Eyeglasses were invented about the time this scroll was written. So, I know you do. So, even today they copy and correct and correct--how many of you…how many of you would put the quill down and walk away and say I got it right.

I don’t think so and please understand that the people who are marking in the columns are the sons and grandsons and great grandsons of the original scribe. Yes! It’s a family tradition. Imagine them correcting the writing of their father that’s been read in the synagogue.

But don’t ever again presume that these texts were passed around magically without mistake! Better than that, they were corrected! God, God used our frail inabilities and worked with us.

We’re...This, this isn’t the Koran. See this is the Bible, God working graciously through fallen people to protect his word. So you don’t need to create or continue far-fetched stories that don’t match the evidence.

Now you…you probably can see many erasures as you look at it and corrections. Here, they’re--they’re all over the place. But…but, you know, it’s often not more than one or two a column. And actually when all of the manuscripts are compared, 98 percent of them are the same.

But does that--but do we need to create some kind of unrealistic, superstitious, kind of argument for the preservation of the scriptures? No. The, um, the breaks that you see, in between the lines, are sections. They’re ruled by tradition as well. It’s one of the ways that we date how early a particular manuscript is.

And…and they all…in the synagogue, read the same passages, from end to end throughout the Torah every year. You might…you might see on the left hand side of every column, do you see letters that are extended and made long? Down there at the end, do you see some?

The reason they’re doing that is to make sure they justify the line and stay exactly on the same line as they copy the text down. It’s a lot, it’s an internal way of making sure it’s copied correctly.

Now, this is the most moving part of the Torah. If I can…if you…if you all will just move here for me. You’re at the end of Genesis here--if we move this, go ahead and give me some slack, by the way the lighting is bad, but we’ve got two different scribes here.

Do you see the two different writings themselves? The parchments are different. What’s happened is they’ve had some kind of damage on the original scroll and replaced it with a slightly later scroll.

Look at that big correction. Sometimes they actually will, um, this is okay here. That’s good, right there. Sometimes they will actually cut out text. Um, this is the Ten Commandments, and this is the most important part of scripture.

It’s…it’s…um, written like poetry and it’s actually called the song of the sea, written by a woman, alright men. And they have it laid out like a brick wall. Because it symbolized to them a truth that would stand like a wall. That God would destroy his people’s enemies and deliver his people. And so they are not gonna write it the same way, they are gonna write it to look like a brick wall. I challenge you to take your favorite verse and write it like a brick wall.

So there are all sorts of interesting facets I could talk to you about with the creation of the scroll. What I’d like to do is overlay on top of this the other scroll. We’ll take time for pictures, hold tight here. Denise could you get that one? Thank you. If you bring it down here, please. This is the one that was laid out in yesterday’s. Thanks.

Audience Question

This--the one on the bottom was written around 1400-1450. But where we have the transition here it’s about 1500-1550. You’re back to 1450 here, but back to 1550 there. Do you see the difference? It’s just an area where it’s been corrected. Alright. So pass that up there.

Audience question …(inaudible)

No, no, the Septuagint was copied, ah, well it wasn’t always, those of you that saw--that’s good there--those of you that saw the exodus it was a scroll.  So it was done as a scroll. But, but it would never be read like this in a synagogue, so it was different.

I do know by the way, the Jewish traditions of the Middle Ages, but they applied to how they copy books and I think how they hope to copy scrolls.

What is it, have you heard the expression before, that you have, ah, oh I’ve forgotten, day, um, according to law and according to reality, the Latin phrase. I don’t know, but the issue is often in life we have like one thing that we express that things really are, but then there’s the way things really are and there not always the same. Alright let me move this way please.

Alright there are a couple mechanisms on this scroll that are really interesting. The handwriting is slightly different because it’s a different tradition. This is open to another song, called the song of Moses, which is right here.

Some of you will notice that in the last column there’s a large Alif, A. Do you see how it’s larger than the other letters? This happens throughout certain scrolls, where they will make letters larger to emphasize a verse.

Here’s something else that they did…some of you who are standing here with me can see that all these letters have dots on top of them. Can you see those?
They would mark words and phrases and there are only a few with dots to show that there may be a problem with that word in the original text. But they never change the word. Never. So, they mark it and by tradition maintain the accuracy of the marking without, it’s a great way to argue for the accuracy of the text because they wouldn’t change it, they would mark it. It’s just really cool.

Audience Question ...(inaudible)

No, the vowel points don’t occur in Torahs, Um, that Isaiah scroll doesn’t have vowel points either. Vowel points are typically under the letters but they can occur above the letters too, depending on the tradition.

This…if you know Hebrew and you look at the last column, the last few columns, you’ll see certain unusually shaped letters. Like the letter P or pay, and these are very early, it shows they’re copying from an early text.

So, in some ways what I like is trying to understand what they are looking at. Ah, another point of interest is in column 1,2,3,4,5, the sixth column from the end…4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12, thirteenth line from the bottom, you’ll see actually a correction where they cut the text away.

Let’s look at the back and verify, yep. So, they were so serious about the text being right, that they would completely cut it away. It’s just completely counter to what we think about these things. This…this particular one dates to about 1500. So imagine it talking to you about what it’s seen. Imagine it telling you that it hears about Martin Luther and his anti-Semitism. Imagine the people that looked at this and this was the last view of scripture they had before going to Hitler’s ovens. Let me show you one more thing. Denise, could you bring the small scroll here please. And then we’ll take our seat and we’ll see if there are any questions, and I’ve got something spiritual I want to tell you.

Audience Question ...(inaudible)

This is done on animal skin, just like the others. It’s just a different tradition and a different process. Um, by far and away, the most valuable scroll that we have with us and one of the most valuable scrolls in the world. Do you see if open to the brick wall? It’s a Torah scroll, on sheep skin.

It’s not valuable because it’s old--it dates to about 1750--it comes from an interesting area, though. It comes from a place where two hundred and fifty thousand Jews were killed. This Torah--there were records of it from the 18th century, famous teachers wanted to read from it.

We know who owned it before WWII. Did he die in Hitler’s ovens? He was put into a concentration camp. How did the scroll survive?

We know from documented evidence, he hid it in his stuff. So, because of the verified fact of that story, this is of enormous value. We know this survived Hitler too, but not like this. This was brought to Israel and by the man himself. And it was sold, it was given to his son, and then eventually sold to an art collector.

I knew it was in this private collection and was friends with the collector, so I arranged for a collector in Alaska to purchase it. He is not a believer. He is a, um, a cancer doctor. So he sees death all the time. He put it in his office, so when people came in and said there was no hope, he could point to the scroll and say, let me tell you the story of that scroll.

This…this…this….this guy, I should tell you has many troubles….as God reminds you…pray for him, as God reminds you…pray for him.  I was in contact with him in between my early lecture and this lecture.

And he then, ah, donated it to our nonprofit and we got it. I used this lecturing in a Kona, it’s some big…anybody here from Kona? It’s one of your big Thursday night things.

A lady came up after and said that she was from…this was written in. And that her mother was in a concentration camp. And that she had been converted and held the scroll and had her picture taken with it. So, I can’t talk about the twists and turns of God’s provenance, but this has been preserved for you to see. I know that’s true, and I hope it’s to inspire you to know that God’s word will be preserved. He desires you to know him, and he loves you with unfailing love. Now, I’ll see what questions you have and then I’ve got one more thing to tell you, and are we close to being done?

Audience Answer 20 minutes.

Fantastic! Alright go ahead have a seat. And we’ll keep these all open for photographs and everything afterwards. What kind of question do we have. Yes?

Audience Question …(inaudible)…can you tell us the story….private party?

Yes, how in the world did a person in Turkey get something like that? It’s actually very common. Collections were amassed in the nineteen hundreds, nineteen twenties.  Passed down through several generations of a family, usually a big argument over money, and they decide to sell some of it.

The, ah, there are very strict laws that we have to be aware of about antiquities dealing and antiquities sales. So, we vet those carefully to know that we’re not dealing with anything that’s underground. But I’m not ever surprised learning that there’s some collection, of something, somewhere.  Amazing things turn up all over the world.  Yes?

Audience Question …(inaudible)…

(laughs) Well, no. Yeah, they’re corrections.  They’re errors. They’re not intentional errors they’re not malicious errors. Let…let me…let me just ask a question about the text to you. If you had a digital text and you had a printed text, and you had a handwritten text, which one would be easier for me to corrupt?

Somehow, we think it’s the written text but it’s not! It’s the hardest one to mess up and to change around. I’m kind of a sadistic professor. I’ve made my students actually have to determine why the corrections were made. It’s usually they skip a line forward, skip a line back, skip a phrase, skip the next word, simple things.
The scribe is writing away before God. Are you married? And his kid runs through, he skips a word and he goes to the next letter or thing, but they’re non-malicious variations that have been corrected over time.

I, literally, teaching for many years in graduate school and undergraduate, and even now lecturing in Asia for graduate school, I make my students by candlelight copy texts and scripture. And I say to them, if you make one mistake, I will fail the entire class. See, they don’t know me well enough--they think I’m telling the truth but I’m not.

If…If you teach your sbs’, or dts’, or abc’s or whatever you’re teaching, I would strongly recommend giving that as an exercise. Let them copy something. They will…they will get a deep appreciation for how God’s word was preserved.

I had a class tell me, professor we love you we’ll never make a mistake, you’ll see; the first word, the first word was a mistake. So, it’s we understand that this is a human process in which the God of wonders works magnificently in and through us and all our frailty to preserve a word.

And you should leave here going, ah, I’m glad that’s true. And I’m speaking to you out of a pile of evidence; this is exactly how it is. And I think if you’re in a, um, an interfacing with a Muslim culture, that the kind of honesty of that interface will be accepted. Alright, so other questions? Yes.

Audience Question …(inaudible)

Yes, the ancient--that’s the issue. Um, If you mean by dead sea scrolls, …yeah really old, I don’t know what that means, let’s just say it means dead sea scrolls, I don’t know. My grandmother was really old alright…haha…so I don’t know, really old, um, let’s just say dead sea scrolls for starters, of 10,000 fragments in the dead sea scrolls that were found, 1,000 have been identified. And if you go to a text book or read online, they’ll tell you 220-230 are the Bible. And it’s Old Testament we’re talking about, not New Testament.

We know another 30 dead sea scrolls, they’re not even counted in that. And then we know the family that owned the original dead sea scrolls and they have a vault in Zurich and it has more scrolls in it. So, let’s just say there are 300, there’s only one complete one and it’s of Isaiah. They’re many small fragmentary ones. There’s one of Genesis that nobody knows about that has 3 columns. I’ve seen it because the family was trying to sell it.

If you have 70 million dollars you can still get it if you are still interested.  I think I’ll wait till they come down in their price.

Then you have early Greek texts of scripture. If you were to ask me how many fragments of all the ancient languages before 1000. I would say there are over 30,000 Old Testament scriptures. Some are Latin, some are in Syriac, some are in Aramaic.

Of the New Testament there are about 25,000. And because we don’t want to double count, because some are in the same manuscript, I try to advise apologists like Josh McDowell and people I get, there are probably 40,000 manuscripts.

Now, a way of arguing for the accuracy and authority of the Bible. There…there are thousands of copies of the Iliad. Which was--it had nothing to do with Brad Pitt. It…it was the Bible for the classical world.

When we look at the texts of the Iliad, it’s copied with 95% accuracy. So that’s a fun way to argue for the authority and transmission of the Bible, by saying…let me…let’s forget the Bible, how was the Iliad copied? Would any of you go to get your taxes done by someone who failed math? Besides the US Government. No, someone who does accounting is good at math. Someone who copies texts is good at copying text.

So, yeah, questions.

--end of transcript 

Yeah, lots of question.

By:  Lynda Albertson


August 27, 2017

Conference - Authenticity, forgery, provenance, and ethics at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


The 2017 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, will be held in Boston on November 18–21, 2017 and will feature an interesting panel on legitimacy and forgery and the ethical and unethical trade and publication of historic archaeological material with limited or no provenance. 

The title of the panel is:  Avoiding Deception: Forgeries, Fake News, and Unprovenanced Material in Religious Studies

Session date and time:  November 19, 2017 from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Rome and Location: Orleans (Fourth Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP)

Invited speakers include: 


According to the annual meeting program book this session will delve into the following: 

Why is provenance important? Although the forgery of documents and artifacts has always been a primary concern in religious studies, recent events surrounding the colloquially designated “Jesus’ Wife Fragment” and various unprovenanced fragments touted as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls have propelled scholars into a new era of forgery studies. While some may suppose that scholars are easily able to identify and disprove such items as forgeries, the complicated landscape in which such materials surface and are distributed has necessitated the adaptation of scholarship to remain diligent in preserving authentic items of history for study. This panel will address the challenges facing scholars in identifying and disproving forgeries in our current era. Invited speakers will similarly offer a space to examine the complexities and current status of forgeries in religious studies, identifying ways scholars can navigate the field without perpetuating erroneous materials in their scholarship. Time will be left following the panel for students and faculty to meet and mingle, in order to facilitate networking between scholars interested in similar material.

July 21, 2017

Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Hiring Plan at the Museum of the Bible

Long before the news broke about a US Civil Complaint requiring forfeiture of thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, or Egypt's more recent concern about its trafficked papyrus, the Museum of the Bible's decision-making regarding who to hire and for what purpose was a bit off center.

In 2015,  I created a list of known persons who had identified themselves as Museum of the Bible employees using available open source data out of growing concern for their collection practices.  At that time, only a limited number of the individuals had any formal museum or curatorial background, and the few that did were frequently at the nascent stage of their professional careers.  None of those I documented listed anything in their backgrounds that would have attested to having had experience in ethical collection management. 

 

Additionally, only one employee was listed as a conservator/restorer.  Given the size of the future museum, and its burgeoning collection, one would assume that personnel with experience in both these important skillsets would have been required and should have been a top priority for a museum with a growing and extensive collection of objects and manuscripts.

Instead, the restorer of record had no formal conservation training, and listed his university degrees as having a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Journalism. One curator of Cuneiform tablets had no museum experience at all and listed his former posting as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative. Another curator, of Medieval Manuscripts, had been a summer intern at the Smithsonian.

Revisiting this list, to see who may have come and who may have gone since the first list was compiled, I also came across two newish job announcements.  The first is for a registrar, and includes some normal registrar duties as well as a hodgepodge of other duties:


The second job posting however was extremely specific and was not your run of the mill typical museum vacancy.  It seemed the Museum of the Bible was looking for an Intelligence & Investigations Specialist, "to obtain and evaluate intelligence concerning threat information and conduct investigations into possible illegal activity against Museum of the Bible (MOTB), to ensure the security and safety of MOTB assets and interests."


While museums and their museum security risk managers routinely look at threat levels as part of their wider risk assessments, this job description seems to be a lot more specific.

  • Conduct predictive threat analysis to support domestic and international Executive Protection operations for VIPs, designated individuals, and MOTB staff as directed.

But enough on potential new hires.  Filing away those that have worked for the Museum of the Bible in the past and have subsequently left the Green's museum behind,  I thought I would also try to see where former collaborator Dr. Scott Carroll has been keeping himself over the last year since parting ways with the Washington DC apologists.

Instead of dissolving mummy masks in Palmolive soap...


In April of this year he also spent a bit of time at St. Andrew's Church in Hong Kong giving some inspirational talks with some of his old friends including Josh McDowell and colleague Todd Hillard.  Carroll identifies himself as the CEO of the "Inspired" exhibit, a travelling showcase of religious-themed objects where attendees are "immersed in the finest collection of biblical artifacts that had ever been in the city: Papyrus fragments, cuneiform tablets, medieval manuscripts, stunning Hebrew scrolls, and some of the most important early translations of the Bible in the world."  

Does the melody to this song sound familiar?

One of the objects in this travelling exhibition was this Taj Torah, purportedly produced in Yemen in the 17th century.

https://www.facebook.com/lhmhk/photos/a.171038406282348.48921.166677980051724/1486097368109772/?type=3&theater
While in Hong Kong Carroll also popped in for a dedication ceremony at Evangel Seminary, affiliated under the Evangelical Free Church of China, where a Torah scroll was being donated by Ken and Barbara Larson.



The Larsons, founders of the family-owned furniture chain Slumberland, have purchased Torah scrolls as apologetic tools for establishing the reliability of the word of God with the intention of giving many of them to evangelical seminaries.  

Torah's are normally retired to a Genizah, a vault, or a protected receptacle, in which holy things which are posul are kept until burial. When holy objects are no longer in use as according to Jewish law, they cannot be destroyed, but should be treated with the same respect and care allotted the deceased.


One of these, the Larson-Bethel Baghdad Torah dates predominantly to the early 17th century.


Carroll states the Torah dedicated to Evangel Seminary in these videos “comes from Eastern Europe, very likely from Germany”  and “dates to the 18th century.”


According to statements in the video, the Larson's currently list their donation count at 36. 

Carroll's next 2017 stop was Bangkok, Thailand, where he recently concluded a teaching assignment on Bible Backgrounds and Ancient Cultures in early July.   Sadly none of these religious outreach visits seemed to include any mention of the ministry of collecting ethically. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 8, 2017

Thou Shall Not Covet thy Neighbor's Cuneiform

Op/Ed By:  Lynda Albertson

As the US press and social media came alive in condemnation as a result of the Hobby Lobby smuggling case, I couldn't help but notice that while the hashtag #HobbyLobbyisISIS is noticeably attention-grabbing, (as well as probably inaccurate), the more important facet of the "is-that-object-looted" puzzle was still being overlooked. 

I asked myself, instead of simply rewording the press release announcement released by the government, why hadn't US news organizations dug deeper into the development of the Green Collection in ancient art.  Especially since everyone now seems hellbent, (excuse the pun) on crucifying the fundamentalist Christian collector or finding some way to tie Hobby Lobby to Da'esh.

This is a case that has been widely publicized since 2015, and it's not the only time the Greens or their large collection have come under scrutiny or been accused of acquiring objects through untrustworthy channels with illicit ties.  

In June 2014 Dr. David Trobisch, Director of Collections for the Museum of the Bible even attended ARCA’s annual art crime conference where he heard concerns made by Dr. Roberta Mazza, a papyrologist and ancient historian from the University of Manchester about the Green Collection's unprovenanced papyrus fragments.  Those fragments however were not mentioned in this current civil complaint. 

While this US civil forfeiture case underscores that illicit traffic in cultural objects contributes to the despoliation of a country's ancient heritage and causes irreparable loss to the world's heritage knowledge, why is it then that the public only wakes up and takes notice when ISIS ties are tangentially inferred?

Are trafficked Middle East artifacts only worthy of the world's indignation when they are looted to fund terrorism?  


As the general public responded to the press coverage over the last two days most of the grumbling I've come across was either ISIS-funding related or centered on whether or not the punishment fit the crime.   I use the word "crime" here loosely because no criminal charges were filed for the looting and theft of the 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and 3,000 ancient clay bullae which ultimately were the subject of this civil forfeiture.  

In civil cases, the object of the law is the redress of wrongs by compelling compensation or restitution.  As those following this case closely are painfully aware, civil law deals with the disputes between individuals, organizations, or between the two, in which compensation can be awarded to the victim.  Criminal law is the body of law that deals with crime and the legal punishment of criminal offenses.

A civil fine is not a criminal punishment.  

Civil case fines are primarily sought in federal investigations in order to compensate the state for harm done to it, rather than to punish a wrongful conduct, something many like myself would have liked to have seen happen given the Green's less than stellar record when it comes to vetting antiquities for inclusion in their collection.   In this case, Hobby Lobby only suffers so much harm as is necessary to make good the wrong they have done (to the state). 

Civil penalties, in this case a $3M fine, do not carry any jail time or other legal penalties.  This fact illustrates why no one from Hobby Lobby was criminally charged, despite the large number of objects seized and subsequently forfeited.

This may also explain the absence of any noticeable public remorse on Hobby Lobby's part for their role in this antiquities smuggling affair.  The lack of regret can also be seen in the unrepentant statement by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, in his company's press release after the federal civil ruling was publicized. 


Was new to the world of acquiring these items?  Did not understand the correct way to document and ship these items?

Let's look at his statements more closely.  

While Hobby Lobby, may be "new" to the world of acquiring antiquities, the fact that it has purchased more than 40,000 objects since November 2009 does not in any way make it a neophyte collector of ancient art.  

In addition to the cuneiform tablets seized in this well publicized case, the Green Collection already had in its possession the third largest holding of cuneiform tablets in North America (over 10,000 pieces). This means Green and Hobby Lobby by proxy had ample prior opportunity to explore what could and should go on any customs declaration for objects that contain writing first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia between 3500-3000 BCE.  

In 2010, a year before the seized cuneiform tablets arrived in Memphis, the Greens had also already consulted with Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, a cultural heritage law expert with DePaul University 's College of Law, about import restrictions for ancient antiquities who is reported to have advised them about their need for deeper due diligence in their collecting.   Given Gerstenblith's impeccable familiarity with the cultural heritage law, it can be assumed that the Greens as collectors were not as ignorantly naive to the road they were embarking down as the firm's press statement this week seems to imply.

But setting aside the intricacies of import and customs documentation specifically related to ancient antiquities coming from Iraq, Hobby Lobby itself has some 32,000 employees, 750 stores in forty-seven states, and $4 billion in yearly revenue, much of it based on imported items. 

It's corporate headquarters include a 9.2 million-square-foot manufacturing, distribution, and office complex in Oklahoma City.  Its warehouse has an hourly employee base of 2500+ employees with 80+ members of management, headed by an Assistant Vice President of Warehouse Operations, who reports to the Senior Vice President of Distribution.

When importing merchandise from foreign countries Hobby Lobby is fully aware there are certain trade laws and regulations, and that U.S. Customs oversees the compliance of those laws. They even have an international department responsible for training and compliance to ensure the import process go smoothly, not to mention a manual outlining laws and regulations, valuation, assists, and country of origin requirements which can be downloaded here

So to imply to the public that Hobby Lobby "imprudently relied on dealers and shippers who, in hindsight, did not understand the correct way to document and ship these items" seems a bit unapologetic coming from an apologist.   

Especially given Green's business thrives on supply-chain distribution members in its shipping department who would have to have, given the large scale operation of receiving imported cargo from across the globe in support of Hobby Lobby's national operations, sufficient knowledge of what the legal requirements are for import.  If they didn't, they certainly knew who to ask. 

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the estimated 40,000+ objects in the Green Collection equates to acquiring 6,666 objects per year or collecting a whopping 18 new objects per day.  Compare that acquisition rate to the number of employees working on the Green's or the Museum of the Bible's payroll who are tasked with historic object provenance and one can easily surmise that an object's ethical collection history has never been either group's overriding priority.  

Emphasis instead has been on filling the Museum of the Bible, Washington DC's about-to-be-opened 430,000-square-foot, eight story massive red brick museum located over the Federal Center SW Metro station.  To put that into perspective, one NFL football field is 57,600 square feet.  The Museum of the Bible has seven and a half football fields of space it needs to fill. 

Given the scale of archaeological theft in biblical area source countries and the number of objects with questionable origins which have already been identified by various researchers following the Green Collection prior to this forfeiture, it's time for Hobby Lobby's founders to do more than just open their wallets, purchase, and if caught, pay civil fines and forfeit the objects in question.

Opening their wallets has been the crux of the problem, as the Green's appetite for unprovenanced antiquities, and the profits to be had from this appetite, have likely been a motivating factor for others to loot, thereby destroying whatever context the objects may have had.

It's time for the Greens to fulfill the promise previously made by their employee. 

In 2014 the director of Collections at the Museum of the Bible, David Trobisch, informed Dr. Roberta Mazza that the Green Collection was going towards full digitisation and open access.  This has yet to happen. 

They should also make every effort, before making any further acquisitions, to ensure that the objects they are purchasing have been legally obtained and been legally exported from their country of origin.  

If the Greens truly want to make amends, they should fill their future Museum of the Bible with acquisitions collected ethically, and make the details of their past purchases open to researchers and investigators so that they can start to set things right by restituting any objects previously purchased without sufficient moral and ethical consideration. 

Exodus 20:15 and 17 King James Version (KJV): 

“Thou shalt not steal." 

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

I think that includes cuneiform tablets, clay bullae, incantation bowls and papyrus fragments.

July 6, 2017

Civil Complaint requires forfeiture of thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, but is that enough?

Cuneiform Tablet - Image Credit U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York
By: Lynda Albertson


At the heart of the investigation, were import irregularities related to ancient artifacts shipped to Hobby Lobby, Mardel, Inc. and Crafts, Etc! The firms Mardel, Inc. and Crafts, Etc! were affiliates of Hobby Lobby and both maintained their principal corporate offices adjacent to Hobby Lobby’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.  

The antiquities were shipped to Hobby Lobby and their associates by dealers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), all of whom have been left unnamed in the civil complaint.  The objects were shipped without required customs entry documentation being filed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and bore shipping labels that falsely and misleadingly described their contents and their value, in some cases as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).” In truth, the mislabeled objects were ancient clay and stone artifacts that originate from the area of modern day Iraq, which had been smuggled into the United States after their contracted purchase in the Middle East. 

Hobby Lobby's growing Green Collection is purported to be the largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts worldwide and is estimated to be made up of more than 40,000 biblical-related antiquities, purchased and assembled by the Green family, who are founders of the national arts and crafts chain.  The bulk of this collection is intended to be displayed in their 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in Washington DC in November of 2017.

As is often the case with illicit antiquities smuggled around the globe, the intercepted packages, destined eventually to join the museum's collection, had their shipping labels intentionally mislabeled, stating the country of origin as imports from Turkey and Israel, not Iraq.  The shippers also used multiple shipping addresses for objects destined for a single recipient.  This too is a technique used by smugglers of all types, not just illicit antiquities, as it is a means of avoiding scrutiny by customs authorities. 

In the DOJ press release Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Karin Orenstein, Assistant United States Attorney, of counsel, announced that Hobby Lobby Stores has agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts believed to have been smuggled in 15 shipments, 5 of which were stopped by the CBP on their way to the Greens.   

Hobby Lobby had executed an agreement to purchase the objects, despite their likely illicit origins, in 2010 for $1.6 million.  They paid for the antiquities via wire payments to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of five individuals.  This despite noticeable suspicious irregularities in the objects purported provenance and no direct contact with the objects' "owner.  The civil complaint also outlines conversations related to the purchase and import which indicate intentional changes to invoices and shipment to disguise the objects' value, and in some cases to change to purported seller. 

As DOJ documents state Title 19, United States Code, Section 1595a(c)(1)(A) provides that “merchandise which is introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law . . . shall be seized and forfeited if it . . . is stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced.”

Legal measures specific to Iraq also make it a violation of U.S. law to import any cultural objects removed from Iraq since August 1990, unless exported with the permission of Iraqi authorities.  Illegally importing objects that meet this criteria are subject to criminal penalties and fines.

Equally important Under Article 3 of Iraq’s Antiquities Law No. 59 of 1936 (as amended in 1974 and 1975), all antiquities found in Iraq, whether movable or
immovable, on or under the ground, are considered property of the state. Under Article 16 of Antiquities Law No. 59, private persons generally cannot possess antiquities. Article 26 of the same antiquities law prohibits the export of Iraqi antiquities and defines “antiquities” as movable possessions which were made, produced, sculpted, written or drawn by man and which are at least 200 years old.  Southern Mesopotamian objects definitely fall into this category as any collections management expert in Near East antiquity would be aware of.


Is a $3 million fine and the forfeiture of 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and 3,000 ancient clay bullae enough?

As a result of this investigation, Hobby Lobby has agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.


So much for remorse. 

NB: No one has faced criminal prosecution (read: jail time) for their actions.