Lead Codices about Jesus— the Latter Years?

There are always claims being made about the supposed latest amazing discovery of game changing and epic making archaeological objects.  One of the most recent are the initial claims being noised about in the news about some lead codices apparently found in northern Jordan by a Bedouin (who else?)  who now lives in Galilee.   Here is a link to an article by a BBC writer on the find—–

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421         Sanity and caution are advised but Philip Davies emeritus professor from Sheffield says he has seen one of the leaves of these bound lead codices and it has an image of Jerusalem complete with picture of Jesus’ empty  tomb!   (And conveniently coming to light just in time for Easter).   As you can tell I think extreme caution must be taken, and many authenticating tests must be done, before we can pronounce the benediction on these being: 1) first century texts in paleo-Hebrew and code;  2) being Christian texts, and 3) being about Jesus’ later years.    Here is a link to a sane first take by Larry  Hurtado—–


Stay tuned.  Things may soon get interesting.

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  • RickC

    Wow! As usual, great stuff! This is where the rubber meets the road! Let’s get the Pb out and get behind the scenes on this. Thank you for taking the time to share, Doc.

    I’ve heard through out this time period of various materials used for writing purposes so this begs the question, when did Pb become a writing material and for what purpose(s)/situations was it normally utilized. In fact how was Pb normally used in the ANE? I know that Romans used it for water conduits but beyond that, I’ve no knowledge. As a side, just makes you wonder what percentage of the Roman populace had Pb poisoning and how involved it was.


  • bob

    They were discovered as far back as 2005, so nothing to do with Easter being a convenience!

  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale

    I think Davies comments and the BBC report were conveniently timed.
    I’d love it if this was an early Christian text. If the BBC report was correct this would confirm that the empty tomb was not a later Christian “apologetic”. But my understanding – and Dr Witherington can keep me right on this- is that codices were not widely used by Christians until the beginning of the 1st Century AD. And if there is a quotation from Revelation, then the date of the codices is probably later than the 1st Century. Which is a bit of a shame really.

    That’s an interesting reminder about lead poisoning Rick! Which also reminds me – wasn’t there a far-fetched suggestion that lead poisoning lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire? Or is my imagination playing tricks on my memory?


  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale
  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    First of all lead was used for communication purposes before lead codices. There were little rolled up curse formulae on lead strips found in Corinth, for example. Secondly, if there is in fact an actual quote from Revelation on this codex we surely must be dealing with something from the end of the first century at best. Thirdly, codexes seem to have come into use in the Greco-Roman world sometime in the first century A.D. So far as I know however, a lead codex is a first. The point of course is so the text will endure, especially in a damp or semi-arid environment, as papyri rot in the wrong place.


  • Danny D

    graham – “If the BBC report was correct this would confirm that the empty tomb was not a later Christian “apologetic”.”

    How “later” do you mean? 1 Corinthians is not doubted to have been written by Paul – as far as I know, there is no one seriously contending that he did not write it. Opinions range from 50-60. In the 15th chapter, Paul makes the role of the resurrection very clear. In fact, he calls it “things of first importance.” So at the very least, we have someone widely teaching the basic necessity of the resurrection by 60AD.

  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale


    O I agree entirely! But Maurice Casey and others still argue that the empty tomb was a later apologetic invention. Later than Paul, in any case. But I don’t agree with them at all! I find their arguments to be astonishingly weak on this point!
    The BBC report seems to suggest that this material is to be dated prior to the Jewish War. It also implies that it could date from between the ministry of Jesus and the letters of Paul.
    But I also notice that the scholars quoted don’t seem to be saying this is the case; I’m not sure why the journalist is making these suggestions.


  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale

    I also think that it’s important to distinguish between Paul’s belief in a physical Resurrection (which implies an empty grave) and the narratives of the discovery of Jesus’ Empty Tomb.
    Jame’s Crossley would argue that the narratives are apologetic fictions, but that Paul did believe in a physical Resurrection. He just didn’t know anything about an honourable burial or Mary’s discovery on Easter morning. Paul wasn’t concerned about these details.
    I find Crossley’s argument implausible, and I think it is driven by an anti-supernaturalistic bias. But he would accept what you say about 1 Cor 15, yet deny that Mark 16 v1-8 describes historical events.
    I’ve an (amateur’s) interest in apologetics, and the Historical Argument for Christianity. So I suppose I have to respond to this sort of objection. It would be nice to have a 1st century codex that saves me the bother; but I’m not holding my breath!


  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale

    Dr Witherington

    Thanks for the clarifications!


  • Matthew

    Dr. Witherington,

    Does this find “threaten” Orthodox Christianity? Or does this find lend additional credibility for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ?

  • Jonathan Jong

    I’m not sure a quotation from Revelation necessarily means it’s late, actually. Revelation could be drawing from other earlier sources –including perhaps unwritten bits of liturgy, etc. – familiar to the writers of the lead codex. But this would mean that these weren’t “quotes from Revelation” as such.

  • http://saintsandsceptics@blogspot.com graham veale

    It might not prove much of anything at all guys…



    I have to say, Huratdo has been excellent on this issue.

    He also has posted a lecture he recently gave, in which he argues that the Christians most interested in the physical Resurrection where the Christians most interested in the Historical Jesus.
    Which would leave “Orthodox” Christian texts as the only route back to the Historical Jesus….

    Graham Veale

  • RickC

    A late Jewish Rabbi trying to be a Jewish metallurgist trying to turn lead into gold. Now that is a first. Jewish Alchemy! Sounds like some sort of weird Jazz Combo in downtown New Orleans.

    After looking at the photo of the lead codex I’m wondering why the printing press didn’t come along any sooner than it did? Maybe God, in his some time weird ways, didn’t think Jewish Alchemy and the likes of 15th century Germany were to meet up just yet. But on the other hand, using today’s Wall Street business practices as an example, what has God got to do with anything at all!?

  • ClaudeA

    Not to detract ‘too’ much, but isn’t it interesting that the photo of a cup at the top of this page is that of a StarBucks coffee mug? And, of every dollar spent on StarBucks products, a portion goes to lobbyists who bribe and conjure elected politicians to fund abortion legislation, providers, and propaganda mills!

    Fascinating how religious nutcases talk about their righteous ways, yet it’s little things like this that give away their real fallacies. Sad, too.

  • Saida

    glad the article is of amusement. the books were actually offered as a donation to british library judaica dept who without looking at them refused them as fakes some years back= in fact no one till now was interested! so they were taken back to israel ( there are not 70!) and no one there was interested either
    of note there is more than one owner of the books, the person who is pushing himself forward is a convicted arsonist and hardly your steriotypical bedouin – he drives blacked out 4×4 etc
    the said ” expert: is just a man who tried to get involved some years back and make a buck writing a book

  • Gary Roth

    Every discovery is purported to be game changing. “Interesting” would be a better word. Whatever they say, their dating, etc. will be placed along side of many other codexes, manuscripts, etc. to help us understand what early Christian communities and the faith(s) they proclaimed were like. Early Christianity took many forms, with a variety of beliefs – this could add to the richness of our understanding, if they are legitimate.

    As to the resurrection accounts, it is not simply a matter of being against the supernatural or for it. The greatest arguments in favor of it come from the latest witnesses, which leads one to wonder exactly what the earlier proclamation meant. Paul’s experiences were visionary in nature. There were no direct witnesses of the resurrection, only of the resurrected Jesus; to what point these accounts were theological statements rather than “factual” experiences, we do not know.

  • http://saintsorsceptics.blogspot.com graham veale

    I’m sorry Gary, I’m not following your argument. At least, what you are arguing would seem to lead to some odd conclusions.

    If no one seen Jesus physically rise on Easter Sunday, but they did see his body alive and well several days afterwards, that would not have counted as evidence for a Resurrection?

    And if they testified years later that they followed a Crucified Man because they believed that he had been resurrected, we should not take that testimony seriously? Given the very unexpected nature of the claim, and the object of their faith, I’d have to say we should take it seriously – unless there is evidence to the contrary. But I don’t see any evidence of any other Easter message.

    In any case, that I don’t think I’ve ever read any proponent of the Historical Argument for Christianity who suggested that we just take a reliable witnesses word for it.

    We need to ask “would these witnesses have made exactly these claims, in exactly this way, in exactly these historical circumstances if a miracle had not occurred?” In the case of the Resurrection we must also ask, “would this type of movement, founded on exactly these claims, in exactly this place and time have arisen and survived if the purported miracle had not occurred?”

    And if, after asking these questions, we conclude that there is evidence of a miracle, we need to compare the explanation of a miracle to competing explanations.


  • Danny D

    Gary – in addition to what Graham said, Paul was not alone in this claim – again in 1 Cor 15 he mentions that hundreds of others saw the same resurrected Jesus. By claiming “most of them” were still alive, we get the impression that Paul expresses that they could be contacted as well. In effect, he’s calling on hundreds of witnesses. This idea that there was a disconnect between “theological statements rather than “factual” experiences” does not hold water for this same chapter. Concerning the ‘theological’ idea of the resurrection, Paul would say, “we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.”

    This section is then very clear: Paul says of basic knowledge for the Christian is that Jesus died, was buried and was raised, then seen by over 500 people, most of whom still live to tell the tale. He says this under the assumption that if he is wrong, he has lied about God and is the most pitiful of all people. This would include his voluntary bouts with poverty, imprisonment and violence based on his believe that this resurrection occurred.

  • Dark Lord

    Regardless folks we will never know the true contents of such finds… real or fake….

    A damn joke…

  • http://americanvision.org/4122/if-there-cant-be-a-christian-nation-can-there-be-anything-christian-at-all/ Gary DeMar

    We should withhold judgment until additional study is made of the material. On the Revelation citation. Too many Christians assume wrongly (in my estimation) that Revelation was written late in the first century. This is an unproven assumption. It’s more likely that Revelation was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The time is said to be ‘near’ (1:3; 22:10). The temple is still standing (11:1-2).

  • Thomas S.

    In my opinion, too many Christians assume that Revelation was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. The evidece at hand seems to suggest otherwise. By the way, there is nothing in Rev 11:1-2 indicating that the Jerusalem temple is still standing — cf. M. Bachmann’s essay in NTS 40 (1994), pp. 474-480.

  • Vlad

    Interestingly, Paul says that Jesus appeared to him as well as the other Apostles. However, the “appearance” to Paul was a vision, not a resurrection.

    2ndly, I’d like more support for the historicity of Acts of the Apostles. If the Acts accounts are true, then there were thousands of the believers starting with the Pentecost AND they were all together, sharing meals, etc…

    AND we see that even after the persecutions, which drove most of the believers out of Jerusalem (but into Judea, Samaria Acts 8) Jerusalem Church remains prominent, so much so that the 1st council was held at Jerusalem (acts 15).

    Yet, why is it that the first post Apostolic Fathers are from Turkey and Syria and why don’t we have any letters to the Churches in Galilee, Judea, etc…? (sure we have Hebrews, which was disputed and James and Jude, but whom were these written to? Why don’t we have the letters to the Jewish Churches?)

    Perhaps the Nazarenes were the earliest Christians but nothing is known about these until the 4th century based on the polemics of the Church Fathers. WHY?

  • http://americanvision.org/4122/if-there-cant-be-a-christian-nation-can-there-be-anything-christian-at-all/ Gary DeMar

    I’m glad you can admit that there are many Christians who believe Revelation was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That’s progress. Let’s see, John is told to “measure the temple” that has worshippers in it (11:1). The context is that the temple is still standing in Jerusalem: “the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8). See J. Christian Wilson, “The Problem of the Domitianic Date of Revelation,” (1993). Bachmann argues for a heavenly temple. So who are those who “are outside the temple,” a place that “has been given to the nations” (v. 2)? It seems rather strange that following the measuring of the temple that we are told that the nations “will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months” (v. 2). Does this, too, take place in heaven? There is a corresponding “temple in heaven . . . that was opened” (11:19). This seems to be different from the temple John is told to measure.

  • http://saintsorsceptics.blogspot.com graham veale

    Did John literally measure anything?

  • Bryant

    Did Ezekiel? Sounds familiar

  • Marty

    Very interesting. It seems both sides are in such a hurry to pass judgement with none of the facts. Sounds very much like the American Congress and Judicial Branch. The Executive Branch died years ago.

  • Thomas S.

    Dear Gary DeMar,

    Not so “many”, but “too many”!

    Furthermore, I do not believe that John would indicate that parts of the Jerusalem Temple would not be destroyed (“given over”) when Jesus had indicated that all parts of the temple would be destroyed The interpretation of Rev 11:1f. suggested by J. Christian Wilson (and others) makes John’s testimony of John in conflict with the “Little Apocalypse” (Matt 24; Mark 13; and Luk 21). I do not find such a position plausible.

    Rev 11 should be read in a post-70 CE perspective. Like S. Giet (1957), I think Rev 11 reflects the Jewish War. John has looked back and used impressions from this great war for the prophetic vision in Rev 11. I suggest you re-read Bachmann’s essay. Giblin (“Revelation 11:1-13. Its Form, Function, and Contextual Integration”, NTS 30 [1984]) is also good regarding Rev 11:1-2.

    There may also be an allusion to the Jewish War in Rev 16:19 — cf. J.-P. Ruiz’ study: Ezekiel in the Apocalypse: The Transformation of Prophetic Language in Revelation 16,17-19,10 (1989).

    Best regards


  • http://www.realdiscoveries.org Simon Brown

    This seems a coincidence to me that on these led books just discovered it is talking about a TOMB STONE in Jordan
    Well I discovered a Great stone in Jordan only weeks ago that is most definitely the Great stone told in all 4 gospels Mark

    16:4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. The Great Missing Rolling Stone From The Garden Tomb which Joseph of Arimathaea Cut for his own New Tomb
    Has Now Been Discovered.

    And this stone I discovered is in Mount Nebo Now could this be the link. We know that this great rolling stone was found at a Byzantine Monastery in the old village of Faysaliyah seven kilometers west of Madaba, Mount Nebo. If you’re not familiar with mount Nebo, it is the very famous mountain the Lord led Moses to just before he died, to see the promised land. On a clear day you can see right across to Jerusalem. TO READ THIS ARTICLE CLICK HERE http://www.realdiscoveries.org/modules/articles/item.php?itemid=264


  • James Deitrick

    The codex containing an image of a person who is presumed to be Jesus is a replica of a photo that prolifrerates on the Web of the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. If the leaf from this “codex” is a forgery fabricated in recent years, the rest of the “codex” and the entire collection of “codices” are most likely forgeries, too.

    See my blog, decide for yourself:



  • Shelama

    Since Christian hope, theology, messianism and soteriology are obviously inventive, synthetic knock-off’s of the Hebrew, artificially attached to the Jewish life and Roman death of Jesus, there’s no chance that any new archaeological find will ever ‘confirm’ the Gospel accounts or lead credence to their historicity.

    It’s more than a little interesting that what should have been far-and-away the most memorable event in all of human history – the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – show no common memory. Original Mark has none, and Matt, Luke & John all go their own, merry and wildly-divergent and irreconcilable ways. At the very best, Paul is ambiguous, but is completely understandable as not believing in any empty tomb or bodily resurrection. Neither were necessary to Paul’s gospel. Had Jesus been totally consumed by Roman fire or Roman lions, Paul still could have experienced his Jesus “appearances;” no walking, talking corpse necessary or even vaguely important.

    I’d love to see Q unearthed but doubt there’s any chance. In any case, the creation of Christianity from out of the life & death of Jesus is one of the greatest stories ever told. The Christ myth and its creation was brilliant and seductive, at least for people ignorant of Hebrew scripture and messianism. Christianity will endure for as long as it can adapt to a messiah who never comes back.

  • Erik

    The fact is that if these books are authentic and reveal supporting evidence about Jesus Christ and the Gospel then certainly they would be top secret. The media is going to be told that they are fakes. It’s easy explaining to the world that evidence proves that they’re fake. The powers of darkness would not what the whole world to know the Good News about our redemption in Christ. I’m not accepting the “rumors” of their authenticity. Perhaps we’ll never know if they’re real or not but when Christ returns in all his glory, who then can deny the truth……..God bless you all.

  • Mark

    Shelama, the slight differences in the 4 Gospel accounts gives it authenticity and shows that it is not an organized attempt of a unified controlled message. Which they could have easily done.

    In regards the lead plates, I heard on Coast-to-Coast that the lead impurities were corroding including the cast letters. The metallurical experts place the lead age at 1800 – 2000 years old and is consistant with lead the Romans used.

    The writing is old Hebrew and this style of writing disappeared after Jerusalem fell in 70 AD.

    Now the copper plates are probably fakes with bad Greek writing and other gibberish.

    Anyway they could be real – with the old Hebrew writing and the lead confirmed to be very old and they did a carbon 14 test on some leather as well to date it around 60 – 80 AD.

    Anyway that what I heard early this morning May 1, 2011.

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