Christian Hobby Lobby Opens Bible Museum After Stealing Middle East History

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A woman looks at a video exhibit during a preview day at the Museum of the Bible in Washington. Reuters

More than 2,800 bible-related artifacts will be presented to the public starting on Friday, as the Museum of the Bible swings open its doors in Washington, D.C. But the fanfare over the capital's newest museum hasn't overshadowed the scandal involving the project.

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts supply store owned by the Evangelical Christian family of CEO Steve Green, has poured about $500 million into a museum that supporters say will be more educational than scriptural. The Oklahoma City-based business also had to pay a $3 million fine this year after federal prosecutors determined it had arranged to bring ancient clay tablets and thousands of other archaeological objects into the U.S. from war-torn Iraq.

"In December 2010, Hobby Lobby executed an agreement to purchase over 5,500 Artifacts, comprised of cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals, for $1.6 million," the Department of Justice announced in July. "The acquisition of the Artifacts was fraught with red flags."

Critics were quick to accuse the evangelical family of hypocrisy, but the looted objects will not be on display at the museum, which is considered the largest exhibition ever dedicated to the Judeo-Christian bible. The museum's entrance will be fashioned from two 40-foot replicas of the Book of Genesis, and the museum will contain items such as the bible owned by rock legend Elvis Presley and a re-creation of a New Testament-era village.

Some critics have suggested, however, that a museum showcasing religion doesn't belong in the capital of a secular country where the separation of church and state is enshrined in law.

Hobby Lobby CEO Green has brushed off the criticisms with jokes.

"Some people think we're coming here to have an influence on Congress. Who doesn't come here to have an influence on Congress?" Green said to reporters. He said the museum's location was chosen because Washington has a high number of tourists.

Green's company has already waded into politics and policy, however. In 2014, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby when it ruled that the Affordable Care Act's mandate that companies provide employees with contraception was a violation of the company's religious freedom.

Critics have said the museum focuses too heavily on Protestantism, and largely ignores Catholic, Jewish and Muslim beliefs. And despite claims that the museum is nonsectarian, the organization's stated mission is to "inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible," according to its federal nonprofit filing.

As visitors peruse the rich collection of items in the museum, experts urge that they take the messaging with a grain of salt.

"Both the traditional and immersive exhibitions start with unstated assumptions: that the Bible is the most important book in the world, that there is concrete archaeological evidence to explain its origins," the art critic Phillip Kennicott wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

"Debates about the meaning of the Bible are confronted openly and without bias, so long as they don't undermine those assumptions."

Christian Hobby Lobby Opens Bible Museum After Stealing Middle East History | U.S.