The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet

Hobby Lobby is a chain of big-box craft stores in the United States, privately held by David Green. Green is a committed Christian: he is a major donor to evangelical causes and keeps Hobby Lobby closed on Sundays. This stance earned him a certain notoriety back in 2014, when he successfully sued the government to be exempt from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. He was not against contraception as such, just the obligation to fund “Plan B” drugs and IUDs, which prevent fertilized embryos from implanting themselves in the uterine wall, and thus constitute baby-killing, as far as he is concerned. A lot of people were upset about this – but not the sort of people who tend to shop at Hobby Lobby, so the chain abides.

Green’s major vanity project is the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. I certainly think that such an important book is worthy of a museum, although how it is presented will of course be controversial (“It’s not really a museum of the Bible, it’s a museum of American Protestantism” – Biblical scholar Candida Moss). An even bigger problem with the place has been how it acquires its material. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the Arab Spring in 2011, there has been a great deal of instability in the Middle East, and thus a thriving black market for antiquities, which the Museum of the Bible has participated in – even, perhaps, funding ISIS in doing so! In 2018, the Museum returned some 5500 artifacts to Iraq, and agreed to pay a $3 million fine as punishment for illegally importing them. The latest news that the Museum has been stripped of the so-called Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, a clay tablet measuring five by six inches and inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform, which will also go back to its country of origin. This one actually disappeared in the wake of the first Iraq War in 1991, and was purchased at auction at Christie’s in London in 2014, so the Museum is not entirely at fault here. Nonetheless, it would be nice if they applied the same scrupulosity to their acquisitions that Mr. Green does towards contraception.

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