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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:4, Fall 2020

Strata: The Summer Lipscomb University Saved Biblical Archaeology

On a dark day in April 2020, he received the news. Sheltering in place due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) precautions, archaeologist Steve Ortiz, a tenured faculty member at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and Director of the Tel Gezer Excavation Project, was terminated from his position at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. A loophole at SWBTS allows a tenured faculty member to be dismissed if his entire department is eliminated for financial reasons. At the direction of the new president, Adam W. Greenway, and citing the financial hardship created by the COVID-19 pandemic, SWBTS cut funding for its entire archaeology program and for the Tandy Institute of Archaeology and Museum, fired Professor Ortiz and other colleagues, and left the fate of 25 archaeology graduate students unresolved.

When Christianity Today published the details of the termination, the world of biblical archaeology was stunned.

Ortiz was not surprised—but still could not believe that the seminary had actually pulled the trigger. It was widely known within SWBTS circles that the newly appointed president did not support archaeology with the same enthusiasm as the former president, Paige Patterson. The Tandy Institute was Patterson’s baby, and, despite the acknowledged expense of archaeology as a discipline, he had been committed to keeping it funded. He viewed biblical archaeology as an important, scientific component of biblical studies, as well as a powerful recruiting and marketing device that attracted students and contributors who sought evidence of and firsthand experience with the places otherwise only read about in the Bible.

But with the departure of Patterson went the security of biblical archaeology at SWBTS, which was ultimately sacrificed to budget cuts as a luxury that could no longer be afforded.

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