FORT WORTH (BP)—Pieces of papyrus sold as rare fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary a decade ago are “likely fraudulent” and the seminary might seek financial restitution, the school announced in a statement April 6.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls fragments were acquisitions of the prior administration,” the statement said. “Because we have had very little confidence in their authenticity, the fragments have never been on public display since the arrival of the new seminary administration in February 2019.”
The six fragments were purchased in two separate acquisitions in 2010 during the presidency of Paige Patterson, with seed money from Gary Loveless, a Texas businessman and then a trustee of the seminary. While the former and current seminary administrations have declined to reveal the purchase price, comparable pieces—although revealed to be forgeries—have sold for millions of dollars. Loveless could not be reached for comment.
Southwestern Seminary made the statement in response to a media inquiry from Christianity Today.
“The fragments are in a secure location and have not been available to the general public in some years,” the school stated. “The current administration’s lack of confidence in the fragments’ authenticity has been confirmed by an October 2018 report prepared for the seminary’s board of trustees by faculty associated with studying the collection. That report, which was recently provided to the current administration, found that by as early as 2016, some seminary faculty had become convinced at least some of the fragments were possible forgeries.”
Southwestern Seminary also announced it would discontinue its archaeology program “as part of campus-wide budgetary reductions necessitated by the financial challenges associated with COVID-19.” More details on the program’s discontinuance are anticipated after the seminary’s board of trustees meeting, scheduled online April 7.
Patterson touted fragments as ‘valuable artifacts’
Patterson did not respond to requests for comment made through several channels. But while president of the seminary, he lauded the acquisition of the fragments.
“One cannot overestimate the significance of these valuable artifacts for Southwestern Seminary, for Fort Worth, for Texas and for all the Americas,” Patterson said in October 2010. “I cannot but express my gratitude to our Lord for enabling us to be a significant part of this ongoing vital research.”
Patterson was terminated by Southwestern Seminary’s board of trustees in May 2018, according to a statement released then by the school, over his “handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during his presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the board of trustees that are inconsistent with [Southwestern Seminary’s] biblically informed core values.”
Adam W. Greenway was elected to succeed Patterson, becoming Southwestern Seminary’s ninth president, in February 2019.
Shared provenance with fakes sold to Museum of the Bible
The seminary announced the purchase of the first fragments in January 2010. Southwestern shares provenance with five fragments purchased by the Museum of the Bible, which were later revealed to be fake. The statement from Southwestern said the school is considering its options to recoup certain expenses related to the purchases.
“We are contemplating legal remedies to seek restitution of payments made by the seminary, as authorized by the prior administration,” the school said in the statement.
Dead Sea Scrolls, first discovered in 1947 by Bedouin shepherds, are believed to have been buried in caves in Qumran along the Dead Sea for 2000 years, predating the earliest scriptural manuscripts previously available. Only a few scrolls were found intact; other specimens were only fragments, which are rare.
The statement from Southwestern Seminary said results from an independent investigation into the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls collection, which found its fragments were not authentic, “gives us even less confidence in our collection.”
It said the seminary “would welcome” an independent investigation into its own fragments, though it added that the school would not be able to fund an investigation.
“Given that significant institutional resources were expended on the acquisition and promotion of the likely fraudulent fragments,” the seminary stated, “it is not prudent for the seminary to spend further precious funds on them.”
Forgeries of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments have been seen since 2002, according to CNN.