Fr Stephen Smuts

Jordan: Ancient Sealed Books Found (Update)

with 16 comments

I see that the BBC has today caught up with the story of the secret hoard of ancient sealed books that were found in Jordan. 

BACKGROUND: We covered the story here with a full press release here.

Almost predictably, they’ve put a political spin on it:

Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics.

But the details and photos are good:

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.

A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.

A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.

That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin.

The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years.

Jordan says it will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

The texts might have been written in the decades following the crucifixion

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

The books were bound by lead rings

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

“We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.

“[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

It is by no means certain that all of the artefacts in the collection are from the same period.

But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that the books were not made recently.

The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.

Little is known of the movement after Jesus’ crucifixion until the letters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spread of Christianity outside the Jewish world.

Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.

UPDATE I:   A video of the above here.

UPDATE II:  Is this the first ever portrait of Jesus?

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Written by Fr Stephen Smuts

March 29, 2011 at 14:03

16 Responses

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  1. My goodness, somehow I missed all of this…

    Stuart

    March 29, 2011 at 14:15

    • Where have you been my friend? ;)

      Fr Stephen Smuts

      March 29, 2011 at 14:18

      • I’m asking that of myself. This is the second – or third – major story that has slipped by me recently….

        Not like me at all.

        Anyway, have linked to you on this.

        Stuart

        March 29, 2011 at 14:20

      • Thanks Stuart!

        Fr Stephen Smuts

        March 29, 2011 at 14:22

  2. We need a lot more information before we get excited about this. But if everything is genuine excitement is in order.

    Peter Stockwell

    March 29, 2011 at 15:36

    • This is very true! Most of us are anxiously awaiting further details and authentication. The biggest problem here of course in the provenance of the find self, having not been found in situ.

      Fr Stephen Smuts

      March 29, 2011 at 16:08

  3. Hello, Thanks for this information saw it in todays metro
    newspaper in London look forward to hearing much more about this story yours GEORGE

    george mcgowan

    March 31, 2011 at 00:07

  4. Shouldn’t you be providing a link to the article on the BBC site rather than breaching their copyright by posting the contents of their article?

    Peter McCourt

    March 31, 2011 at 13:47

    • Are you out of your mind sir? The first 5 letters up and to the word BBC in the post is the link. Press it. Moreover everything taken from their site is in direct quotation.

      There is no monetary gain derived from this blog – just a lot of work and time spent keeping up with the news relevant to the Christian faith.

      A really petty observation you make and in any event, I care precious little for the anti-Christian biased British Broadcasting Corporation. They just happen to have the most up to date info on this particular archaeological find. But I’m sure, other, better, news sources will catch up.

      Fr Stephen Smuts

      March 31, 2011 at 14:02

      • Just a note to say in regards to the smug poster who incorrectly chided you for “stealing” the news story: “GOOD FOR YOU, FATHER! I love a little righteous indignation with my afternoon tea.” Thank you for your info here and all those you bless by letting it be read.

        Radene Marie

        April 21, 2011 at 01:15

      • Thank you Ma’am.

        Fr Stephen Smuts

        April 21, 2011 at 12:25

  5. [...] Another account with photos here [...]

  6. When these texts are cleaned up and deciphered, found to be in perfect harmony with The New Testament, it will not influence the doubter to believe. If the existing scriptures are not enough, nothing ever will be. When the remains of Noah’s ark are proven, that wont make any difference either. There are none so blind as those……

    Ed Nieter

    April 1, 2011 at 02:42

  7. Really great job Sir,

    Glenn Beck mentioned this on Fox today. I guess I live under a rock. I have never heard of any of this at all. It seems most of our American news networks depise anything Godly, good, right, or true these days???

    I would love to know more about this as I’m sure many others would.

    S. Durham

    April 1, 2011 at 04:43

  8. Is the text written in Hebrew or Market Greek as it would be very unusual for a Jewish person to write about Christians at Jesus time of death. If anyone know this then let me know and we should be able to understand if they are pro or anti christian, most probably antichrist as was most of the society in N African region at this time period. Also if written in a form of code, if so possible written well after Jesus time and most probably a Gnostic sect.

    Francis

    April 1, 2011 at 18:29

  9. Glory be to God as he reveals to us the Prohesy’s that were fore told to us! Give Him Praise and Glory,In Jesus’s Name Amen

    Thomas Bacigalupi

    April 7, 2011 at 01:01


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