Over the course of a few years, the craft supply and kitschy-shit store bought over 5,500 relics from dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Some of the relics came with bullshit customs information that described them as ceramic tiles or tile samples, with the hope, I suppose, of seeing them slide through customs smooth, like poop through a goose. It was a great idea, except for the fact that, back in 2010, an expert warned Hobby Lobby that it wasn't.
One of these relics was a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh, written in Akkadian on a 6-inch by 5-inch cuneiform tablet — which the US Department of Justice just announced that they had seized from the Museum of the Bible back in September 2019, calling it smuggled contraband. It's not exactly clear how old this piece of literary history was, but it's certainly rare and valuable, with quite a storied history, as the DOJ explained in a press release this week:
In 2003, a U.S. antiquities dealer (the Antiquities Dealer) purchased the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, encrusted with dirt and unreadable, from the family member of a London coin dealer. The Antiquities Dealer and a U.S. cuneiform expert shipped the tablet into the United States by international post without declaring the contents as required. […]
In 2007, the Antiquities Dealer sold the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet with a false provenance letter stating that the tablet had been inside a box of miscellaneous ancient bronze fragments purchased in a 1981 auction. This false letter traveled with the tablet as it was sold several times in different countries, and a later owner provided the letter to the Auction House in London. In 2014, the Auction House sold the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet to Hobby Lobby in a private sale and an Auction House employee carried it on a flight from London to the United States and then transferred it to New York. Hobby Lobby consented to the tablet's forfeiture based on the tablet's illegal importations into the United States in 2003 and 2014.
Hobby Lobby smuggling an early copy of Gilgamesh. What a time to be alive.
Rare Cuneiform Tablet Bearing Portion of Epic of Gilgamesh Forfeited to United States [US Department of Justice]
Image: DangApricot / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)