The Return of Ancient Artifacts to their Nations of Origin

The Return of Ancient Artifacts to their Nations of Origin September 25, 2020

I am writing a book in my Still Here series on biblical eschatology about the Bible’s prediction that the ancient city of Babylon, located in present central Iraq, will become the foundation of the greatest city in the world and then instantly disappear from sight at the end of the age. It is in the last book in the Bible, the apocalyptic book of Revelation, in Revelation 18. In recent times, many scholars have interpreted this portion of scripture as having a non-literal fulfillment back during the ancient Roman Empire. But I think it will be literal and pertain to the yet distant future. Of course, this will take many years from now before it will happen, and it will have to be a development over a lengthy period of time.

The ruins of ancient Babylon lie next to Hillah, Iraq, located about 60 miles south of Baghdad. It is the capital of Babylon Province and a city of about 455,000 people that lies on the Euphrates River. Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein was trying to restore Babylon’s ruins to their former grandeur before the Iraq War imposed largely by U.S. President George W. Bush. IMO, this activity will someday be resumed to make these renovated sites some of the most popular destinations for tourists. It’s because Iraq contains over 20,000 sites of antiquity that reach back thousands of years, places that we read often about in the Bible’s Old Testament, such as the great cities of Babylon and Nineveh. Iraq has way more ancient ruins than Egypt does, though most are still buried in sand.

In modern times, archaeologists have been digging up some of these ancient sites, discovering valuable artifacts and removing them to some of the elite museums of the world, especially in Europe. But some Americans have gotten into the act as well. One most recently has been Steve Green, president of the very successful arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby. Evangelical Green is also founder and chairman of the board of Museum of the Bible, located in the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Since 2006, Steve Green has been collecting ancient artifacts from the Middle East, especially those relating to the Bible. Many of them are now housed in Museum of the Bible, which opened in 2017. But some of these activities by Mr. Green have been exposed as scandalous.

For instance, in 2017 the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that Mr. Green had to return 3,800 clay tablets and cylindrical seals with cuneiform writing on them, that date back as far as 3,500 years ago, to their countries of origin–Iraq and Egypt. And he had to pay a U.S. fine of $3 million. In March this year, Green agreed to return 11,500 more such artifacts. Yet he had hired an antiquities expert back in 2010 who warned him that many of these items had been looted from sites in Iraq and may have to be returned. Now, another such Iraqi collection of Green is under the same scrutiny.

When the Museum of the Bible opened, in 2017, it also housed purportedly sixteen leather fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls. But the next year, in October, 2017, antiquities authorities declared that five of them were fraudulent. And in March this year, such investigators hired by Mr. Green declared that the remainder of this collection were also counterfeit.

In September, 2-19, U.S. federal authorities seized The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, which contains portions of the famed Epic of Gilgamesh from 1700 BCE, from Mr. Green’s collection and returned it to Iraq where it was first discovered in 1853.

Steve Green has since admitted, “I trusted the wrong people to guide me and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years.”

A hundred years ago and more, no one thought the discovery of ancient artifacts and removal from their nation of origin was illegal. But that began to change decades ago. In recent times, there has been a movement of the return of materials of antiquity to their country of origin. I believe this movement will contribute to the restoring of sites of antiquity in the Middle East, especially in Iraq where the ancient city of Babylon will someday be restored to become part of “the great city” in the world (4x in Revelation 18, in vv. 16, 18-19, 21). And then this city will be destroyed “in one hour” (3x in vv. 10, 17, 19).

How will this happen? Iraq has some of the largest oil and gas deposits in the world. Moreover, bitumen is very plentiful there as well. I suspect that something like an earthquake will occur, resulting in this great city of Babylon catching on fire due to these underground deposits heating up, causing the city to sink out of sight. For we also read, “Babylon the great . . . will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her” for having become “a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, . . . For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her formication, and the kings of the earth have committed formication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury” (Rev 18.8, 2-3). Babylon “will be thrown down, and will be found no more,” like a great millstone being thrown into the sea (Rev 18.21).

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