Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jordanian Lead Codices Probably Fakes

Two weeks ago several media sources covered the story of a collection of metal codices supposedly discovered in a cave in Jordan five years ago. Some speculated that this discovery could be as important as that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that the codices might be the work of early Christians writing in the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This ancient collection of 70 tiny books, their lead pages bound with wire, could unlock some of the secrets of the earliest days of Christianity. Academics are divided as to their authenticity but say that if verified, they could prove as pivotal as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.

On pages not much bigger than a credit card, are images, symbols and words that appear to refer to the Messiah and, possibly even, to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Adding to the intrigue, many of the books are sealed, prompting academics to speculate they are actually the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Bible’s Book Of Revelation.

Several of my fellow bloggers picked up on the story as well. Gordon at Rune Soup mentioned the discovery in his notes for the week, while David at Occult View issued a warning regarding their possible association with the Book of Revelation.

Is this discovery a Christian Pandora’s Box? In Greek myth Pandora’s Box contained the world’s evils, all its devils, and when Pandora opened the box this evil was unleashed on the world. If one of these sealed codices is actually the book mentioned in Revelation, could breaking the seals usher in the end of the world?

One of the sealed books pictured has seven rings sealing it, along with rings acting as a hinge on one side. Let’s hope they are forgeries! If not, then the appearance of these codices may not be a literal Pandora’s Box, but instead may be a sign, a portent, and an omen of doom. To break the seals may be a fulfillment of prophecy! If so, I suggest we don’t break the seals, and let the books remain sealed, mysterious artifacts.

As it turns out, over the last couple of weeks experts investigating the books have concluded that they most likely are forgeries.

One of the scripts found in the book was dated to the second or third century, meaning that the books could be no older than those of the New Testament. Furthermore, according to Aramaic translator Steve Caruso mistakes in the script suggest that it was probably copied from other sources. Archaeologist Peter Thoneman agrees with this assessment, adding that the codices may have been engraved as recently as within the last 50 years.

"I noticed there were a lot of Old Aramaic forms that were at least 2,500 years old. But they were mixed in with other forms that were younger, so I took a closer look at that and pulled out all the distinct forms that I could find," Caruso told Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. "It was very, very odd — I've never seen this kind of mix before." The youngest scripts he identified, called Nabatean and Palmyrene, date from the second and third centuries, proving the documents could not possibly have been written during the dawn of Christianity, Caruso said.

Even the oldest scripts were written by someone who didn't know what he was doing, the new analysis shows. "There were inconsistencies in how they did the stroke order, which you would never have seen. Scribes had very specific ways of doing things," Caruso said. Furthermore, several characters appeared "flipped" — a mistake that would imply they were hastily copied rather than original.

Caruso's new analysis of the text corroborates the recent findings of a Greek archaeologist at Oxford, who said the images appearing in the codices, including one of Christ on the cross, are anachronistic. "The image they are saying is Christ is the sun god Helios from a coin that came from the island of Rhodes. There are also some nonsense inscriptions in Hebrew and Greek," Peter Thonemann told the press. He believes the codices were forged within the past 50 years.

One of the codices' few remaining advocates is David Elkington, who has been working with the Jordanian government to retrieve the books. But Elkington's qualifications as an archaeologist have come under scrutiny as the discovery of the books has attracted media attention.

Elkington and his team have argued that the codices show images of Jesus with God, as well as a map of Jerusalem, and text discussing the coming of the Messiah. Furthermore, they say the books were found near where early Christian refugees are thought to have camped.

The team even identified a fragment of text reading "I shall walk uprightly," a possible reference to Jesus' resurrection.

However, Elkington's credentials may not have been questioned thoroughly enough by the media outlets that gave him a platform. "The 'British archaeologist' who is named as apparently trying to get these things into a Jordanian museum and who is one of the few who has actually seen them, one David Elkington, is not an archaeologist," said Kimberley Bowes, a Greek and Roman archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

"He doesn't seem to occupy any post or other academic position, and his writings on how acoustic resonance is responsible for major world religions wouldn't be accepted by any academic or scholar I know," Bowes told Life's Little Mysteries.

So it would seem that these are not the seals of Revelation, and that opening them will only reveal more garbled Aramaic, nonsensical inscriptions, and out-of-place images. On the one hand, it would be fascinating to get a glimpse into the world of early Christians that so far has eluded historians. On the other, though, seeing the Horsemen of the Apocalypse unleashed upon the Earth certainly sounds other than fun.

UPDATE: Kalagni over at Blue Flame Magick has more on the colorful career of David Elkington, who is apparently either a real-life Indiana Jones or completely full of it. You be the judge.

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Anonymous said...

Bah! I just wrote a post on exactly this that I was going to post tonight. I've seen too much support for these texts and not enough critical analysis or basic research. Thanks for sharing, you did have some sources I didn't catch yet.

Ananael Qaa said...

I liked all the dirt you dug up on David Elkington. Because everybody knows that to be an archaeologist you don't need a degree or a University position, just a bullwhip and a cool hat!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I was surprised how many people, journalists and readers alike, didn't pick up on the fact that data was missing.