Hobby Lobby's "passion for the Bible" may have made it a bit overzealous when it came to purchasing antiquities from other lands. The arts and crafts retailer obtained thousands of illegally smuggled artifacts from Iraq in 2010—then subsequently agreed to send them back—and now that day has come. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced that 3,800 of the 5,500 ancient items purchased from dealers in the UAE and Israel will be sent back to Iraq on Wednesday, per NPR. The cuneiform tablets (some from the ancient Sumerian city of Irisagrig), cylinder seals, and other items are "mostly legal and administrative documents, but also include an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period," an ICE statement notes.
"These pieces are very important to us and they should be returned home … to Iraq, to the rightful owner of these pieces," an Iraqi Embassy official tells NPR. The DOJ had filed a civil action complaint in July 2017 after Hobby Lobby purchased the artifacts for $1.6 million, with the intention of displaying them in the Museum of the Bible it opened last fall in Washington, DC. That purchase was made despite the company being warned by an archaeological ace that the artifacts could be stolen and that Hobby Lobby should make sure to definitively identify them. Some of the artifacts that came into the company's possession were mislabeled on either their contents or place of origin. It's not clear if Hobby Lobby, which said it made "regrettable mistakes" during the purchase, knew the artifacts were obtained illegally, or the status of the other 1,700 artifacts it purchased in the 2010 deal. (Read more Hobby Lobby stories.)