Lead or Mislead—- The Curious Case of the Lead Codices

Meet Hassan Saida.  By day a truck driver, by night a cave crawler.   He lives in the northern part of the Galilee, and claims he found these lead objects in a cave (where else) northeast of the Sea of Galilee near the conjunction of  Israel Jordan and Syra, near the town of Saham, Jordan.   Jordanian officials naturally want these object back and are making large claims about their importance in regard to Jesus and the history of his earliest followers.   The region, to be sure is a place where Jews on the run did hide from time to time, for example during and after the first Jewish war in the 60s and the Bar Kokhba revolt in the early second century.  Could this cave have been a stopping off point for Christians fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem, say headed to Pella, as tradition says?    It’s not impossible.  But what do we have, and what do we really know about what we have here?   Not much thus far.

We know that the codices range in size from 3 inches by 2 inches, to 1o inches by 8 inches and that some of them are sealed, and that there seem to be an awful lot of them— up to 70.  Was their a scribal archivist busily creating these things, or carrying them as Jews or Christians were fleeing?   Who knows.   Some scholars have already identified one of the pictures as that of Jerusalem,  and one has even said, complete with picture of the empty tomb of Jesus!  Well,  we shall see about that.  The point is we have to abide our souls in patience.  Much scholarly work needs to be done before any firm conclusions can be drawn.  It does look like we have some sort of paleo-Hebrew or Aramaic script on some of these lead plates, but there also appears to be some code and one conjectures is that actually we have  Phoenician script here.   (Maybe this was the Syro-Phoenician woman’s personal library—— just kidding).   One plate seems to have palm trees, bits of walls, and maybe a menorah.   It’s hard to tell.

For one thing, we are simply taking Hassan’s word for where these codices came from.  They are officially unprovenanced since they were not found as a part of an archaeological dig, and apparently no one but Hassan was present at their discovery.    This is one of the reasons scholars are rightly warning we must not jump to conclusions about this find.  Careful interpretive work, including studying the epigraphy and translating by relevant experts is required, and will take time. Still what we can see thus far is intriguing,  including the stamped out image of a bearded man on one plate (see below). Already the conjecture is it is Jesus with a crown of thorns.  It could just as easily be a bearded emperor like Nero or a hero like Herakles  (Hercules) with the radiant crown suggesting divinity.    Here is the link to the story in the Daily Mail, which naturally also makes out-sized claims that are only conjectures at this point.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1372741/Hidden-cave-First-portrait-Jesus-1-70-ancient-books.html#        The press of course loves to jump to conclusions.   Scholars should look before they leap.  All I am prepared to say is this stuff looks interesting.  It needs to go through a battery of authenticity tests as to age etc.  Epigraphers need to analyze the language.  Historians of art need to analyze the images.  And Hassan needs to be carefully cross-examined by a bunch of scholars.   Then the codices need to be placed into the hands of a panel of competent scholars to study at length, if and when the authenticity tests show they are ancient, and not yet another modern hoax.   As the old saying goes— ‘fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.’   (Thanks to James Foster for the link to the story).

  • http://www.psephizo.com Ian Paul

    Prof Witherington, I have offered an overview summary at my blog http://www.psephizo.com, drawing on all the more technical discussions, in case you are interested. There seems to be quite a strong consensus emerging amongst some bibliobloggers…

  • http://www.nobusiness.org Jeremiah

    Very interesting stuff indeed. Thanks as always for keeping us abreast of such happenings!

    Have a great day




  • http://www.epignosis.info Bob

    A number of posts came up the other day with rather solid evidence of them being fakes. Here’s one that seemed pretty thorough.


  • ilan

    It would be helpful to get your facts straight
    Hassan’s ” Business partner” whom he later stole the books from originally acquired the books. He bought them from a Jordanian taxi driver not knowing what they were. he carried them legitimately over the border and was even stopped by customs in Israel without problem. He also flew to Europe with some of them
    Later Hassan became involved and if there are any fraudsters Nick Fielding, Robert Feather and indeed David Elkington do not come with clean hands . They in association with Hassan’s lawyer Bar Oz ( who represented Hassan when he was convicted of arson) fraudulently obtained an export letter from the Israelian authorities by showing them fakes of the books which were not the same as those analysed
    David only went off on his Jordanian crusade when he was thrown out of the mix and wanted to publish his book
    For several years no one was interested Perhaps Robert Feather thought he was on to something as he “hid the books ” from all the authorities in his north london home…

  • bert

    it’d be reassuring to see all these accusations of forgery made against the people responsible for these finds actually coming from credible news sources. so far i’ve only read it coming from independent people invested in their own religious corners of the blogosphere…

  • http://historyhuntersinternational.org/ Solomon

    The Lead Codices and leaden minds
    “The codices were either faked, or if genuine, smuggled out of Jordan and so, either way, it is likely that criminal activity is involved. The images do not look ‘right’ to me and to Thonemann, the texts are definitely fake. I don’t believe the background offered by Elkington, nor accept the opinion of the biblical scholars. The news media speculation has been more appropriate to the gutter press, aimed at selling the story – and the artefacts. The BBC at least should do better than that.

    “This is but the latest in hyped stories for artefacts supposedly of an early-Christian character and they all ignore this: there is no clear, unambiguous archaeology for the terms ‘Christ’ or ‘Christian’ before the fourth century. This is for a reason and both historians and archaeologists treating this period would do well to learn how this is so. That is, before they make further fools of themselves and their discipline.”

  • ilan

    I repeat, The books in the beginning were legitmately bought or traded, the Bedouins are Hay Traders from a TAxi driver in Israel and for years no one knew what they were. There is no crime in finding or buying an artefact in the same way you could stumble across something at a garage sale.
    David and Co were paid by the bedouins as were many ” greedy types” vast sums for their ” help”
    They had the books in the UK for a year and made no effort to return them to any authority

  • http://www.yahwehyeshua.com James the Just

    “The point is we have to abide our souls in patience. Much scholarly work needs to be done before any firm conclusions can be drawn. “ VERY true words. Everyone is looking for the face of Christ and I don’t think they want it to be true for the right reasons. Many in today’s world need a prop, a piece of art to shore up their fading faith. This could be the Da Vinci Code part 2 or something a lot more dangerous. I would not be surprised if it’s the atheist messiah, Simon Bar Kochba,. I say that because so many detractors of the faith say Jesus’ origins came from Simon Bar Kochba. After all, one of his images was a palm tree and these books have palm trees all over them. Would this be good for the faith or bad?

  • Rick C

    Way back in really, really ancient times about the year 2007 I attended an art exhibit at the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. Great exhibit! The exhibit is/was the History of Christian Art exhibit. Well worth the 15 dollars I had to cough up to attend, additionally I bought the book that attended the display. There were some FABULOUS pieces on display dating as far back as A.D. 600 though if I recall correctly some to the pieces went back in time farther than that. I’ll have to check the book for the dates. The majority of the pieces were metal sculptures, jewlery, plates made of silver, gold etc.. bejewled crosses of gold or silver or both small fresco type paintings, ceramic type pieces and painted ceramic as well, etc. I mean, this was work to behold! All of it related to Christianity either through depiciton of biblical scenes or use of the cross or perhaps something written in Greek or Latin. Many of these pieces were extraordinarily ornate and as you went down the timeline the pieces became much, much better in design and production. Nothing could be photographed and there were security staff almost by every piece it seems like. The point of all this is that there was nothing on display that is like these codices here being evaluated. As extensive as archeology has been in finding some of the pieces that were on display in this exhibit one would think that something similar to the codices would have been found in the digs of the Holy Land of antiquity. Though that is not necessarily a hard fast rule to go by. Also either associated with the exhibit or an ancillary display was the discussion of the cross as we christians use it today. This URL is sort of what represents the discussion.


    And then way, way, way back in ancient times about the year 2002 or 2003 we had here in my home town a limited one time showing only in this town a display of art time work from the Vatican Archives. This was mostly paintings dating back to really ancient times, 4th and 5th centruy A.D. maybe a bit earlier. Fascinating stuff but nothing similar was seen like this Pb plates. And to top that off the King Tut Egyptian Display at the Dallas Museum of Art had nothing like this on display or listed in the book.

    So, it makes one wonder about the authenticity of the plates based on some of these other very professionals displays that are out there in our world to see.

    Just sayin, I’m not a professional in this field, period. I just like the archeology of it all. Of course there is the written account of one of the first century BC leaders of Anatolia or there about that murdered the Roman Envoy to his province by pouring molten Pb down the guys throat. Can’t blame the guy in some ways though, Rome didn’t always treat it’s provinces equitably. Grafting and all that sort of stuff that went on decimated many of the provinces.

  • Ben Witherington

    Solomon I don’t know what kind of spiked Koolaide you have been drinking, maybe of the Zeitgeist sort, but there is plenty of evidence from the first century A.D. itself for calling Jesus the Christ, and not just in early Christian documents. You need to get your facts straight. There are second century A.D. papyri that say this clearly, and that’s just what we have found. Tacitus the Roman historian also mentions this, so I would suggest you go back and take a proper course in early Jewish and Christian and Roman history because honestly— you have no idea what you are talking about! I don’t really care that the lead codices may be forgeries. They are irrelevant to the point that there is plenty of evidence about the historical Jesus— archaeological, historical, literary etc. Even if we only had Christian ossuaries from the second century A.D. we would know about Jesus and his being called Christos.


  • interested

    Ilan, I am interested in your comments, and what you know about this. I would be intrigued to know more, and hear how you are connected to these people.

  • ilan

    I live in Shibli Village and know every one personally
    what is a secret ” revealed to you Guys” we have all born witness to for years
    Allow me to share a thought
    The person who came across the relics is from Shibli Village which as you may know ( Mount Tabor) has biblical connections
    The residents however are all museums and aside from driving tourists up to the Mount know little on ” the last writings of Jesus” or indeed any one , nor care
    They are however friendly and approachable with contacts for Hay Trade and other activities in Jordan, and Palestine
    They are always ” finding” stuff and trading stuff without knowing its history or real value
    The Bedouin who came across the first codices was quite simply at work on the Jordanian Border met and befriended a taxi driver and as the items had jewish symbols decided to buy them ” for luck” – His greedy partner the far richer ( and convicted arsonist Hassan Saida) was convinced they could hold “magic powers” – in line with say lead curse tablets
    hence his interest to acquire more
    As they contained metal they were stopped and searched many times at Israeli border points but no one ( including the Bedouins knew what they were)
    They also travelled quite freely to Europe
    The Uk Journalists became involved much later and were paid for their work
    The Bedouins also paid for all the metallurgy testing and travelled extensively later at their own cost
    It is quite normal therefore that they should be recognised and thanked for their ” discovery”
    Elkington was ” thrown out of mix ” for being too greedy
    He was never threatened just ignored hence his own self serving campaign
    happy to answer more questions and add photos

  • interested

    Thank you Ilan for that information perhaps you could post some photographs too?

  • Joe

    Re: “For one thing, we are simply taking Hassan’s word for where these codices came from. They are officially unprovenanced since they were not found as a part of an archaeological dig…”

    Prof. Witherington, heal thyself!

    You should’ve have taken your own word when before you bet and lost your credibility on the phony so-called “James Ossuary,”

    Like this: For one thing, we are simply taking Oded Golan’s word for where the ossuary came from. It was officially unprovenanced since it was not found as a part of an archaeological dig.

  • James Deitrick

    I posted this info earlier today in regard to your former post on the subject, having overlooked this more recent post.

    The codex containing the 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.

    Please, see my blog. The evidence speaks for itself.



  • http://historyhuntersinternational.org/ Solomon

    bw3: you are wrong on each point. To learn a little more, try ‘The vacuum of evidence for pre-4th century Christianity’

  • Scott


    I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack, but I do like looking at different sides of issues and seeing them interact with each other. For that reason Solomon’s link was an interesting read. But I’d like to find also any rebuttal that might exist to the specific claims made at the historyhuntersinternational site. But in my search online I haven’t found anything as yet.

    If no one is going to address Solomon’s points specifically, I’d appreciate any link someone might have to any response made to the particular evidence presented at that site.

    Thanks !

  • 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.

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  • Bretfox

    I agree with you Ben.

  • Bretfox

    You have no proof that the codices are fake. You have no proof that the codices were smuggled out of Jordan. Who cares what you think of the images since you are not a professional. The text has not been released to the public so your comment “the texts are definitely fake” is a lie. You have not seen the text.

    You have no crediblilty. Move on little doggie.