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Scholars ask BYU to investigate professor's ties to Hobby Lobby after artifact-smuggling scandal

Published July 19, 2017 9:59 am

Query • The business recently was fined for obtaining artifacts potentially looted from Iraq.
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An anonymous group of "scholars of archaeology" is calling on Brigham Young University to investigate ties between an assistant professor of ancient scripture and Hobby Lobby, which recently become ensnared in allegations of antiquities smuggling.

In a letter sent to The Salt Lake Tribune and to BYU's administration and Office of the General Counsel, faculty member Lincoln Blumell is accused of violating professional standards by preparing to publish documents obtained through Hobby Lobby President Steve Green's Museum of the Bible.

Green and Hobby Lobby recently agreed to pay a $3 million fine over the acquisition of clay tablets and other artifacts potentially looted from Iraq.



"It is unclear whether or how much Dr. Blumell knows about the potential legal and ethical issues raised by his association," the letter states. "Adding value to these artifacts and legitimizing their seizure by publishing them, even in reputable presses by trained scholars, contravenes professional standards of ethics."

The coordinator of the letter declined to speak on the record, due to fear of retribution for himself and eight co-authors who have current or previous associations with BYU.

The writers are urging the Provo school to conduct an "impartial inquiry" into Blumell's work with Hobby Lobby and the Green family.

"These activities not only violate the professional standards of virtually all relevant organizations," the letter states, "they also jeopardize the reputation of Brigham Young University, its students, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," which owns and operates the school.

Reached by email, Blumell said he was unaware what publication the letter writers were referencing. He acknowledged conducting research on items in the Green family's collection, but added that they were separate from the Iraqi tablets and artifacts identified by federal prosecutors.

"I have identified some Greek Byzantine texts in the Green collection associated with Hobby Lobby," Blumell wrote, "but they are of a completely different find and provenance than the cuneiform tablets" at issue in the Iraqi case.

Blumell did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead confirmed receipt of the letter, but declined to comment on whether its allegations, if true, would be a point of concern for the university.

"We did receive an anonymous letter," he said, "and we will consider it as we do with all other feedback to the university."

Earlier this month, Hobby Lobby released a statement by Green describing the company as "new to the world" of antiquities and vulnerable to "regrettable mistakes."

"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Green said. "Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today's settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved."

According to Associated Press reports, federal prosecutors described activities that suggest willful theft and lies, including the use of several intermediary distributors who relied on false invoices, shipping labels and paperwork to bypass U.S. Customs regulations.

In addition to the $3 million fine, Hobby Lobby agreed in its settlement to return thousands of artifacts acquired between 2010 and 2011.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

 

 

 

 

 

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