Bible Archaeology

Jordan: Ancient Sealed Books Found (Update)

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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Church

The ‘Deterioration’ in Relations Between Israelis and Palestinians

Is indeed cause for concern, as Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, reflects:

When politics is at a standstill, the “languages” of violence and mistrust enter the conversation, according to the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land.

Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa shared this reflection with Vatican Radio, in response to the new increase in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

A terrorist bombing March 23 at a bus stop in Jerusalem killed one person and wounded more than 50 others; such an event has not occurred in Jerusalem since 2008, when a Palestinian extremist entered a rabbinical school and killed eight students.

The Israeli air force launched attacks against three sites in the Gaza Strip the next day, as at least 11 rockets were fired into Southern Israel.

“I hope that it’s not a going back and a reopening of a strategy of terror, as we saw in recent years,” Father Pizzaballa said. “I hope it will remain an isolated incident. Nevertheless, it’s true that there has been a sort of deterioration, first of all in political relations and then, consequently, in everything else.”

The Franciscan characterized political leaders as seemingly “paralyzed.”

“From my point of view, they are afraid, or at least, they don’t have the strength to take big decisions, because courage is necessary on both sides, and this creates a climate of ever greater mistrust, with reciprocal accusations, which then creates a situation, I’m not saying of barbarization, but of deterioration,” he said…

There is more here.

Church

Fr Corapi Investigation Update

Via the Catholic News Service:

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A representative of the media company owned by Father John Corapi challenged the action to place the popular speaker on administrative leave from priestly ministry, saying that it was illicit under “several points of canon law.”

Bobbi Ruffatto, vice president of operations at Santa Cruz Media, Inc., in Kalispell, Mont., charged in a posting on Father Corapi’s Facebook page March 25 that Bishop William M. Mulvey of Corpus Christi, Texas, acted improperly, according to canon lawyers consulted by the company.

The statement offered no specific citations of canon law.

However, Marty Wind, director of communications for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, disputed Ruffatto’s claim that Bishop Mulvey placed Father Corapi on leave. He said the action was taken by officials of the priest’s order, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Robstown, Texas.

“We have been clear from the beginning that the bishop of Corpus Christi was notified by the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity that the administrative leave was imposed by the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, not the bishop of the diocese,” Wind told Catholic News Service March 25.

Father Corapi was placed on administrative leave following an accusation of misconduct by a former Santa Cruz Media employee.

The priest denied any wrongdoing in a statement on his website March 18. He gave little information about the accusation except to say a former employee had “sent a three-page letter to several bishops accusing me of everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several adult women.”

Father Gerard Sheehan, regional priest servant for the society, said March 28 he had not yet seen Ruffatto’s posting and that no formal discussion within the order about it had occurred.

The investigation into the former Santa Fe Media employee’s claim has yet to begin, Father Sheehan added, because the two priests who will conduct the probe had not yet been named. Bishop Mulvey instructed the religious community to ask two priests who are not diocesan clergy and who are not members of the order to investigate the allegations.

Father Sheehan said he was waiting for clarification from the diocese before choosing the priest investigators.

Wind said that although Father Corapi was placed on leave, “it’s been the position of the Diocese of Corpus Christi from the outset that the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise is of the highest importance.”

Calls and emails from Catholic News Service to Santa Cruz Media requesting comment from Father Corapi and Ruffatto were not returned.

Online records with the Montana secretary of state list John Corapi as the registered agent for the company. A company with the same name also is registered in Nevada and online records in the secretary of state’s office there indicated John A. Corapi holds the office of president, treasurer, secretary and director.

Ruffatto’s six-paragraph statement referenced the U.S. bishops’ zero-tolerance policy as outlined by the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and called for it to be changed “because of false accusations like this.”

Father Corapi has been an outspoken critic of the charter in interviews and during his public presentations.

“There is no evidence at this time that Father Corapi did anything wrong, only the unsubstantiated rant of a former employee, who, after losing her job with this office, physically assaulted me and another employee and promised to destroy Father Corapi,” Ruffatto said.

“We all continue to pray for this person and we ask you to do the same,” the Santa Cruz executive added.

Ruffatto said the company would continue selling the books, DVDs, and other video and audio recordings of its owner as the investigation unfolds. Ruffatto said the purchases of customers would allow Father Corapi to continue his work as well as pay for legal expenses to fight the allegation.

“We are a secular corporation and not affiliated with the Catholic Church in any way,” the company official said. “As such, we are not under the jurisdiction of any bishop or other official in the Catholic Church, although we have the utmost respect for church authority.”

After the 63-year-old priest was placed on leave, EWTN suspended broadcasts of his widely viewed television program. In an unsigned statement on its website, the Catholic broadcast network said officials took the step “with much prayer and careful discernment.”

“In EWTN’s 30 years of existence the network has never knowingly aired programming featuring any priest whose priestly faculties have been suspended,” the statement said. “The network has always responded consistently and immediately in such situations by removing such programs from the air. We are obliged to do so in obedience to the discipline of the church.”