Judge rules against Getty over 13th century Armenian Bible

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A judge said Thursday he will not dismiss the lawsuit the Armenian Church filed against the the J. Paul Getty Museum. The church is demanding the Los Angeles museum return pages ripped from a sacred handwritten Armenian Bible dating back to 1256.

Superior Court Judge Abraham Khan denied Getty's motion to dismiss the claim and ordered four months of mediation in an attempt to resolve the dispute between the museum and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, which filed suit in June 2010 on behalf its Lebanon-based mother church.

The church says it had the Bible authenticated in the late 1940s, but it was returned without several painted parchment pages. Those pages once formed the beginning leafs of a larger work called the Zeyt'un Gospels. This, they say, makes the Getty guilty of harboring stolen materials. In the lawsuit the church asked the Getty to return the pages to the Armenian museum in Yerevan so they can be reunited with the rest of the Bible.

Getty officials countered the suit and say the more than half-dozen pages were legally acquired in 1994 for $950,000 from an anonymous private collector.

The Los Angeles Times reports museum attorneys argued Thursday that the lawsuit filing deadline expired decades ago. Still, the judge said he was unclear on the statute of limitations issue, and ordered mediation and another hearing on March 2 if the case isn't settled.

Under California law, lawsuits to recover allegedly stolen artworks from a museum or art dealer must be filed no later than six years after the owner learns of their whereabouts.

"We are confident that we hold legal title," the Getty Museum said in a statement after the ruling.

Church attorney Lee Boyd said afterward that the museum failed to investigate the ownership history of the pages when it bought them from Armenian-American heirs of a man the church says stole the pages in 1916. The Zeyt'un Gospels had briefly fallen into his hands when Turks expelled the Armenian community from Cilicia, then a region of the Ottoman Empire and now part of Turkey.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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