FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Less than a year after acquiring three fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has added three more biblical fragments, making it the largest collection at an institution of higher education in the United States.
The new fragments were obtained from a private collector in Europe through a gift from an anonymous donor and friend of the seminary.
“The acquisition constitutes another significant milestone in the development of our programs in biblical studies and archaeology,” said Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president. “We are especially grateful for the friends of Southwestern who have made these acquisitions, as well as three other fragments, possible.” Patterson also credited his wife Dorothy, professor of theology in women’s studies, and Ph.D. student Candi Finch for having worked “tirelessly to get them to Fort Worth.”
The set of six fragments is one more than those owned by Azusa Pacific University near Los Angeles, which acquired five pieces in 2009. The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago also owns a fragment.
Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the Charles D. Tandy Archaeology Museum at Southwestern, noted that having one fragment would be just as important as owning six.
“It is not a race to see who can collect the most fragments,” Ortiz said. “The goal is to get these out of the hands of private collectors and make them available to the public, especially scholars. …
“Our institution has been entrusted with an important role to play in biblical scholarship and the archaeology and history of ancient Palestine. In addition, since these are some of the oldest biblical texts, Southwestern has a sacred trust to see that these are properly studied and preserved for perpetuity,” Ortiz said.
Southwestern worked with the University of Southern California’s West Semitic Research Project in September to digitally image all of Southwestern’s scroll fragments as well as other rare ancient texts and artifacts in the Tandy Museum for future study and scholarship. Southwestern students were trained in the latest technology and methodology of imaging ancient pieces. Study of the documents is already underway.
“We have hired new faculty members who are trained in Dead Sea Scroll research and archaeology as well as brought the top team to photograph the fragments,” Ortiz said, adding, “We are currently in advisement with the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation to assist in the analysis and publication of these fragments.”
Early analysis shows the new fragments include portions of Deuteronomy 9:25-10:1, Deuteronomy 12:11-14 and Psalm 22:4-13. Psalm 22 is known as a prophetic messianic psalm that describes the brutality of Jesus’ death 1,000 years before He was crucified.
Plans for Southwestern’s new chapel, which is currently under construction, include the secure, climate-controlled Ira Leeta Phillips Library for housing the fragments and a pen made from a palm tree which was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls and presumably was used by the scribes who wrote them. Once the chapel is completed, the pieces will be on display and potentially will travel in national exhibits.
“One cannot overestimate the significance of these valuable artifacts for Southwestern Seminary, for Fort Worth, for Texas and for all the Americas,” Patterson said. “I cannot but express my gratitude to our Lord for enabling us to be a significant part of this ongoing vital research.”
In 1947, Bedouins discovered the scrolls in caves overlooking the Dead Sea near the ancient city of Qumran, east of Jerusalem. Nearly 10 years of excavation in the caves produced fragments from approximately 825 to 870 separate scrolls containing biblical manuscripts, biblical manuscripts with commentary, apocryphal manuscripts and extra-biblical literature.
The Dead Sea Scrolls have made a profound impact on biblical studies, especially in the area of scribal transmission. Dating back to the time of Christ, these documents pre-date the Masoretic Text of Hebrew Scriptures by 1,000 years. When Southwestern acquired the first three fragments in January, Patterson said the discovery of Daniel fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that “it was clear that these were copies of copies of copies so that it established the certainty that Daniel was written when it claims to have been written.”
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).