A federal judge has ruled that Hobby Lobby, the current owners of the Museum of the Bible, forfeit an ancient table that bears part of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
When the Museum of the Bible opened in 2017, it featured a multitude of artifacts, including a small iPhone-sized tablet that bore the writings of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Initially brought to the states in 2003, Hobby Lobby later acquired the relic and displayed it at the Museum until 2019. However, investigators would later determine the item to have been stolen by traders. In a statement to the Religion News Service, the Museum of the Bible's staff stated that "Before displaying the item in 2017, the museum informed the Embassy of Iraq that we had the item in our possession, but extensive research would be required to establish provenance,"
Since then, the Museum has made strides to return several of its artifacts to Iraq for safekeeping and national history. In 2017, Hobby Lobby returned 4,000 artifacts to Iraq as part of a settlement for using stolen artifacts at their Museum. In 2019, the Museum acknowledged that they had bought more than a dozen ancient Bible fragments stolen by the sellers. In 2020, the Museum announced that 11,000 of the clay and papyrus artifacts seemed to have dubious origins and that they would do their best to determine where they should go.
Steve Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby and CEO of the Museum of the Bible, admitted that he had taken lousy advice when it came to collecting ancient artifacts. In a 2020 statement, Green admitted that he had not appropriately handled his artifact acquisition process and that "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 Epic of Gilgamesh, considered one of the grander stories of ancient Mesopotamia, is regarded as one of the oldest religious texts in history. It features the story of Gilgamesh, one of the ancient kings, and Enkidu on a historical journey. It also alludes to the Great Flood, an event often compared to Noah's Flood in Scripture.