You can see an amazing collection of artifacts from the time of Christ and earlier in the Clayton Museum of Ancient History. That museum, located on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska, displays artifacts collected by Foster Stanback. One of the first questions we asked when this project began was how he secured the relics. The problem is that many collectors buy artifacts from black-market dealers who have either stolen the artifacts or faked them. Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum wanted to ensure that items we displayed were secured from government-approved sources and validated by qualified experts.
Biblical Archaeological Review published an article (fall 2020 issue, page 6) about artifacts in the Museum of the Bible collected by Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby. Green spent massive amounts of money to secure artifacts that were “unprovenanced,” meaning that their origin and authenticity were unverified. In April of 2020, a study commissioned by the museum proved that all of the supposed Dead Sea Scroll fragments in its collection were fakes. Around the same time, the museum announced that 11,500 artifacts in their possession had been stolen from Iraq and Egypt and would be returned. Three years earlier, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency seized thousands of artifacts and fined Steve Green three million dollars for illegally bringing them into the United States. Green released a statement saying that when buying the items, “I have trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers.”
Unprovenanced relics are an issue for scholars and for people who collect artifacts. You may wonder how all of this affects the Clayton Museum of Ancient History. First of all, Stanback’s collections have all been secured from government-approved sources and have been studied by scholars and proven to be authentic. Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum are working for educational purposes, not financial interests. In the past two years, the museum has added a children’s interactive section. School groups come in regularly to learn the history of the Roman world at the time Jesus lived and the Church began.
Unfortunately, greed and a desire for fame have invaded the antiquities market. We can be thankful that Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum seek to help people understand the history of the time in which Jesus lived.
— John N. Clayton © 2020