Paige Patterson’s ill-fated tenure as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas had one good feature for archaeology nerds like me.

He strongly supported the school’s archaeology program, known as the Tandy Institute.

Not so the new president, Adam W. Greenway, for whom the seminary’s sole focus is the “training of pastors and other ministers of the gospel for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Citing financial hardship, Greenway used the COVID-19 pandemic as a convenient cover for eliminating the entire archaeology program and firing its director, Steven Ortiz, along with the other faculty.

Not to mention leaving 25 graduate students in limbo.

Ortiz, a respected archaeologist and director of the Tel Gezer Excavation Project, was a tenured professor.

That normally offers some job security, but a loophole in the school’s charter allowed Greenway to dismiss even tenured faculty if their entire department is eliminated.

The announcement sent shock waves through the world of archaeology. It was bad enough that social restrictions due to the pandemic had canceled virtually the entire 2020 dig season; now an important player in the field had been sent not just to the bench, but also out of the stadium.

Fortunately, the game isn’t over and there’s a happy ending in sight. Philanthropist Mark Lanier, a longtime supporter of American Schools of Oriental Research, has come to the rescue.

Having both the desire and the wherewithal to do something about it, Lanier contacted Lipscomb University in Nashville. Lipscomb, a liberal arts school affiliated with the Church of Christ, was Lanier’s alma mater.

With financial support from Lanier and his wife, Becky, Lipscomb not only hired Ortiz and classical archaeologist Tom Davis, but also gained rights to the Tandy Institute’s research, some of its archives and study collections, and other aspects of the Master of Arts and doctorate programs.

The new program, to be known as the Lanier Archaeology Center, plans to begin offering degrees in January 2021 and has signed on to be engaged in four field research projects.

Recognizing the value of archaeology as a scientific enterprise that makes invaluable contributions to biblical studies is no small matter; the Tandy Institute’s work will not be buried beneath the accumulating layers of fundamentalist teachings at Southwestern but will live on to shed more light on the biblical world.

Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowery, in a university press release, said, “The world needs the deep thinking and the perspective that archaeology provides, and it broadens who we are as an institution of higher learning across an array of academic disciplines. And, for those in the Christian faith it is archaeology that puts that faith into perspective and that gives us the context and background for what we read and study in scripture.”

Amen to that, and many thanks to those who are making it possible.

Photo: Gil Maestro / ( Cropped.

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