By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

A January 18th special report on CNN prompts one to wonder, where in the world would the largest collection of export permits exist?  The report itself is not of course about export permits—that would hardly attract the producers of a major news medium.  It is a report about the astounding collection of some 40,000 Biblical artifacts assembled by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green.  Mr. Green is a consummate collector, to be sure, and is presently laying claim to a fragment of what he and his expert advisor believe is the earliest manuscript known of the Book of Romans.

biblical artifacts The Worlds Largest Collection of Export Permits?Collecting biblical artifacts must be a legal minefield since there are few objects that could better qualify as cultural property. Anyone who would assemble 40,000 objects of cultural property in today’s environment must certainly understand national patrimony laws, Memorandums of Understanding, the National Stolen Property Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the nuances of bureaucratic overreach that exceed the actual provisions of any of these controls.

Mr. Green must know better than anyone how important provenance and export permits are, because his massive collection is stewarded by Biblical Archaeologist Dr. Scott Carroll of Baylor University.  According to his RBC Ministries website bio, Dr. Carroll was founder and executive director of the National Bible Museum, listed in Manta as a private company.  The museum was apparently to be based on the Green collection.  That affiliation was however disclaimed in an official Green family release in 2010.  The details are obscure.  In any case, Dr. Carroll is apparently still engaged with the Green collection and from some press reports remains involved in organizing a private museum under some other name that presumably will be based on that collection.  Meanwhile, active and ongoing primary research based on objects from the collection is being conducted at Baylor University where Dr. Carroll is on staff.

The art and archaeology departments at Baylor ought very well to know about provenance and the transfer of cultural property.  A fellow member of the academic staff at Baylor is Dr. Nathan Elkins who has become a vocal advocate for controls over cultural property and is very critical of private ownership of artifacts without legitimizing provenance.  Elkins is a proponent of the view that collecting is a primary cause of looting and has lobbied for import restrictions at the past two Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearings in Washington.  One might assume that archaeologists at Baylor would follow the AIA mandate not to research or publish anything unprovenanced from a private collection.  Therefore, the objects being studied at Baylor must by their own academic standards and ethics be accompanied by firm provenance back at least to 1970.  This would, in itself, be an impressive collection of documentation and one has to wonder if the export permits, invoices and trail of legal ownership will be placed on display or cited along with these objects when Baylor returns them to the private museum that Green and Carroll ultimately conceive.  I rather doubt that is going to happen.

In any case, the relationship between Baylor and Mr. Green seems to fly in the face of two things that the archaeological community covets—national ownership and academic stewardship.  It would appear that for the sake of access, Archaeology’s philosophical line in the sand might have been temporarily redrawn.  Is the lofty perch of academic elitism only invoked when dealing with rank and file citizens?  If common ancient coins struck in the millions are so important to history and heritage that they must be controlled, then one would certainly think that the history of Christianity is equally important.  I think the word for that disconnect is hypocrisy and it seems very odd when one sees its manifestation among those who promote themselves as being politically correct.  I’m sure that Dr. Elkins will bring his influence to bear in straightening out any misguided archaeologists down there in Texas.

 

 

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