It is important to have a hobby. The crafts store Hobby Lobby surely knows this because they have two: discriminating and buying stolen stuff from Iraq. It is also annoying when someone gets in the way of your hobby, perhaps by smashing your model trains or unravelling your knitting. This is probably how Hobby Lobby feels now that it no longer owns a 3,600-year-old cuneiform tablet engraved with a section of the Epic of Gilgamesh — the Mesopotamian poem about a king and a mythical “wild man” sent to destroy him, who nevertheless forge a friendship after the latter somehow learns to read by hiring a prostitute — which Feds claim was (you guessed it) stolen from Iraq.
The Department of Justice ordered the crafts store to forfeit the tablet on Tuesday, after seizing it in 2019 on claims that it had been illegally smuggled to the United States from Iraq in 2003. The hobby lobbying firm bought the tablet in 2014 to display in the Museum of the Bible in D.C., which its owners mostly fund, alongside such gems as Elvis’s bible and probably a few more stolen things. Unlike whoever sold the work to Hobby Lobby, the DOJ paid more than $1.6 million for the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” which describes a scene where the titular king tells his mom about his dreams.
Hobby Lobby has claimed they didn’t know the dream-rock was stolen, because its dealer had supplied them with a fake letter claiming it had been found in 1981 among an array of “bronze fragments.” But this is not the Lobby’s first round in the stolen item boxing ring. Four years ago, the store had to turn over 5,500 other artifacts that had also been looted from Iraq and pay a $3 million fine. And just last year, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green grudgingly handed over another 11,500 pieces to Iraq and Egypt. He pleaded ignorance of their provenance, suggesting that he “knew little about the world of collecting.”
But maybe HL can take some solace in the message of the stolen tablet they bought and forfeited. After Gilgamesh tells his mom about his dreams, she predicts that “a new friend will arrive,” as Forbes put it. There will always be more people selling stolen stuff from Iraq. “You will see [them],” the mom says, “and your heart will laugh.”