Hobby Lobby Lawsuit Demands Return of More Than $7 Million it Paid for Allegedly Stolen Antiquities
Hobby Lobby has filed a lawsuit demanding the return of the more than $7 million it paid an Egyptian professor to purchase ancient papyri fragments it says were stolen.
The suit filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York June accuses Dirk D. Obbink, who was a lecturer at Oxford University until February 2021, of fraud and breach of contract in connection with seven sales agreements executed between February 2010 and February 2013.
It states some of the fragments were “stolen by Obbink from the Egyptian Exploration Society, the custodian of the largest collection of ancient papyri in the world, including those from the Grenfell and Hunt excavations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the site of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, housed at the University of Oxford, England.”
The suit seeks to recover the purchase price of $7,095,100 together with interest and attorney’s fees and costs.
Hobby Lobby bought the fragments as part of a biblical antiquities collection it was compiling for its Museum of the Bible, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
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Hobby Lobby said that Obbink “acted throughout his career as a private dealer of papyri fragments and other antiquities to the world’s greatest museums and private collectors,” and said the items he was selling came from private collections, a representation the suit called “fraudulently made.”
Obbink admitted in 2017 that he had “mistakenly” sold some Gospel fragments that were owned by his employer, EES, the lawsuit said, and Hobby Lobby demanded the return of the $760,000 it had paid for them.
Obbink expressed at the time that repaying the sum would be difficult, and he would have to sell parts of his collection to refund the money.
The suit says representatives from the EES and the Museum of the Bible met in 2019 and determined that other pieces of papyri also had been stolen by Obbink. It says that to date, 32 items have been identified as having been stolen and that “the investigation continues.”
It’s the latest in a series of cases questioning the provenance of items purchased for the museum.
In April, Afghan officials sought to repatriate a medieval Hebrew prayer book in the Museum of the Bible’s possession they said was looted from their national museum in the 1990s during a civil war.
And in February, the museum repatriated to Egypt and Iraq more than 8,000 antiquities it had purchased for the museum without a reliable history of their origin.