Bible Places.com via the ever vigilant Joseph Lauer:
This article in the Jordan Times has some new information about the metal codices, particularly with regard to the seven books recently recovered by Jordanian police.
Authorities are set to send the recently recovered books to three separate labs for further analysis – in Britain, the US and at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman – in order to determine if the texts are indeed “the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea scrolls” or little more than sophisticated forgeries.
According to Saad, it will take experts three weeks to complete the tests on the recently recovered texts.
“Our position is quite clear; we need to make sure these pieces are authentic before moving forward with our case,” Saad added.
Hassan Saida, the Israeli bedouin farmer who is currently holding the cache at an undisclosed location near his home in the village of Um Al Ghanem, insists that the lead-sealed texts were passed down from his grandfather, who stumbled upon the cache while tending to his flock in northern Jordan in the early 1920s.
Saida has dismissed the department’s claims that the books were illegally excavated from Jordan some four years ago as a “publicity stunt”.
“They [the Jordanian Department of Antiquities] are going about making all these claims about these codices and they don’t even know what they are,” Saida told The Jordan Times recently.
Rather than the records of the earliest Christians, Saida claims he has proof that the books date back even earlier – predating the time of Christ – and are strictly “ancient Hebrew texts” which he intends to place in an Israeli museum.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has previously cast doubt over the books’ authenticity and denied any interest in the texts.
The full article has more details.
Although the post is written from a LDS (Mormon) perspective, it is interesting nonetheless (and might well cheer up those severely disillusioned by the recent ‘fake’ Jordanian lead codices):
Since the recent events surrounding the seeming forgery of the Jordan Lead Codices, I thought it would be good to bring back to mind the authentic discoveries made within the last century of ancient writings on metal plates. There are literally hundreds of examples of such plates all around the world…
Today it is becoming commonplace to find such ancient texts, which is why in the dozens of media reports on the emergence of the lead plates this past week, not one questioned the fact that the writings were on metal. In fact, one scholar specifically noted that there were examples of ancient metal tablets made out of copper, bronze, and gold.
Here is a summary of only some of the most prominent findings…
- The Etruscan Gold Book
- The Pyrgi Gold Tablets
- The Copper Scroll:
- Diamond-Cutter Sutra Gold Plates
- The Silver Scrolls
- Darius I Persepolis Gold Plates
- The Orphic Gold Plates
- The Achaemenid Golden Codex
Check the above out here.
And to think that there may be many more authentic finds out there!
Far from being a favourite scholar of mine, I have to say I’m rather pleasantly surprised by Prof Philip Davies’ observations:
The following is a general introductory summary by Sheffield Prof. Emeritus Philip Davies on the now famous lead codices (some images are available here):
Having long been involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and in the campaignto force the publication of many of them) I was approached by a British scholar who had been given access to some finds in a Jordanian cave (just like the Scrolls!). Most of them are lead books, some sealed, covered with letters in the archaic Hebrew script, and ancient Jewish symbols – menorahs (7-branched candlestick), date-palms, stars, bunches of grapes. But there is also a portrait
of Alexander the Great, of a crocodile, and possibly a depiction of the crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem. I have now looked at about a hundred images, some of which I have shared with colleagues around the world, and I am certainly hoping to make sense of them. I have handled one. They are probably not a hoax or a forgery, but their exact origin remains mysterious. As well as decorative lettering, there is also some writing that looks as if it ought to mean something. So far it can’t be deciphered, but it may be in code.
The urgent problem at the moment is to ensure that the originals remain accessible. Scientific tests need to be done on these to try and establish date and origin, but the present possessor (who may or may not be legal owner) is considering selling them privately for as much money as he can. My colleagues and I are helping the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to recover them and enable them to be properly examined, conserved and displayed.
It is an exciting and mystifyng collection, but I think the time is too early to speculate about what they mean. The only scientific tests so far conducted suggest they are not of recent manufacture. Obviously I hope they are very old, but whatever their origin they should be able to tell us things we did not know before. I plan to continue studying these with my academic colleagues around the world, in the hope that we can begin to make some sense of these curious
HT: Dr Jim West
The image is eerily familiar: a bearded young man with flowing curly hair. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine. But in a certain light it is not difficult to interpret the marks around the figure’s brow as a crown of thorns.
The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices – booklets – found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are clamouring to get their hands on the ancient artefacts.
If genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.
The tiny booklet, a little smaller than a modern credit card, is sealed on all sides and has a three-dimensional representation of a human head on both the front and the back. One appears to have a beard and the other is without. Even the maker’s fingerprint can be seen in the lead impression. Beneath both figures is a line of as-yet undeciphered text in an ancient Hebrew script.
Astonishingly, one of the booklets appears to bear the words ‘Saviour of Israel’ – one of the few phrases so far translated.
The owner of the cache is Bedouin trucker Hassan Saida who lives in the Arab village of Umm al-Ghanim, Shibli. He has refused to sell the booklets but two samples were sent to England and Switzerland for testing.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that the artefacts were originally found in a cave in the village of Saham in Jordan, close to where Israel, Jordan and Syria’s Golan Heights converge – and within three miles of the Israeli spa and hot springs of Hamat Gader, a religious site for thousands of years.
According to sources in Saham, they were discovered five years ago after a flash flood scoured away the dusty mountain soil to reveal what looked like a large capstone. When this was levered aside, a cave was discovered with a large number of small niches set into the walls. Each of these niches contained a booklet. There were also other objects, including some metal plates and rolled lead scrolls.
The area is renowned as an age-old refuge for ancient Jews fleeing the bloody aftermath of a series of revolts against the Roman empire in the First and early Second Century AD.
The cave is less than 100 miles from Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and around 60 miles from Masada, scene of the last stand and mass suicide of an extremist Zealot sect in the face of a Roman Army siege in 72AD – two years after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
It is also close to caves that have been used as sanctuaries by refugees from the Bar Kokhba revolt, the third and final Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in 132AD.
The era is of critical importance to Biblical scholars because it encompasses the political, social and religious upheavals that led to the split between Judaism and Christianity.
It ended with the triumph of Christianity over its rivals as the dominant new religion first for dissident Jews and then for Gentiles.
In this context, it is important that while the Dead Sea Scrolls are rolled pieces of parchment or papyrus containing the earliest-known versions of books of the Hebrew Bible and other texts – the traditional Jewish format for written work – these lead discoveries are in book, or codex, form which has long been associated with the rise of Christianity.
The codices seen by The Mail on Sunday range in size from smaller than 3in x 2in to around 10in x 8in. They each contain an average of eight or nine pages and appear to be cast, rather than inscribed, with images on both sides and bound with lead-ring bindings. Many of them were severely corroded when they were first discovered, although it has been possible to open them with care.
The codex showing what may be the face of Christ is not thought to have been opened yet. Some codices show signs of having been buried – although this could simply be the detritus resulting from lying in a cave for hundreds of years.
Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, the lead codices appear to consist of stylised pictures, rather than text, with a relatively small amount of script that appears to be in a Phoenician language, although the exact dialect is yet to be identified…
… the British author and journalist Nick Fielding was approached by a Palestinian woman who was concerned that the booklets would be sold on the black market. Fielding was asked to approach the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and other places.
Fielding travelled to Israel and obtained a letter from the Israeli Antiquities Authority saying it had no objection to their being taken abroad for analysis. It appears the IAA believed the booklets were forgeries on the basis that nothing like them had been discovered before.
None of the museums wanted to get involved, again because of concerns over provenance. Fielding was then asked to approach experts to find out what they were and if they were genuine. David Feather, who is a metallurgist as well as an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, recommended submitting the samples for metal analysis at Oxford University.
The work was carried out by Dr Peter Northover, head of the Materials Science-based Archaeology Group and a world expert on the analysis of ancient metal materials.
The samples were then sent to the Swiss National Materials Laboratory at Dubendorf, Switzerland. The results show they were consistent with ancient (Roman) period lead production and that the metal was smelted from ore that originated in the Mediterranean. Dr Northover also said that corrosion on the books was unlikely to be modern.
Meanwhile, the politics surrounding the provenance of the books is intensifying. Most professional scholars are cautious pending further research and point to the ongoing forgery trial in Israel over the ancient limestone ossuary purporting to have housed the bones of James, brother of Jesus.
The Israeli archeological establishment has sought to defuse problems of provenance by casting doubt on the authenticity of the codices, but Jordan says it will ‘exert all efforts at every level’ to get the relics repatriated.
The debate over whether these booklets are genuine and, if so, whether they represent the first known artefacts of the early Christian church or the first stirrings of mystical Kabbalah will undoubtedly rage for years to come.
The director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, has few doubts. He believes they may indeed 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,’ he says. ‘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.’
If he is right, then we really may be gazing at the face of Jesus Christ.
There is a lot more here.
Things are becoming more than a little bizarre now, it has to be said.
HT: Thanks to Billy in a comment here.
My attempts to avoid this grand discovery have not gone well, to judge from the number of emails I have received suggesting that I must not have seen this story. It’s foolish to think that I can somehow temper enthusiasm by ignoring the report, so I am succumbing to the requests to note the discovery here. If I had delayed one more day (April 1), I would have at least felt some measure of justification in spending my time on this.
The discovery is a collection of 70 ring-bound books made of lead and copper. Other artifacts were made at the site of discovery, including scrolls and tablets.
In a nutshell, the problems with this discovery include the facts that (1) we don’t know who owns the artifacts; (2) we don’t know where they were found; (3) the artifacts were not excavated by archaeologists but stolen by thieves; (4) nearly all information about the discovery so far has come from a single source of dubious reliability; (5) claims have been made that this find is more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls; (6) the source of information appears to be positioning himself for fame and fortune…
And from the conclusion:
There may be something to this discovery, but first the artifacts must be confiscated by the officials and assigned to reputable scholars. In the meantime, I would not trust anything coming from the mouths of antiquities thieves or Mr. Elkington.
Read on here.
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.
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?