The Christian equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

 

the most ancient Christian texts

 

Archaeologists have discovered some 70 little books with lead pages that may be the earliest Christian texts, dating from shortly after the time of Christ.  Interestingly, they seem to have been made by Jewish Christians–being written in ancient Hebrew, depicting both a Menorah and a Cross, and including a stylized map of Jerusalem, outside of which is drawn a T shaped cross and an empty tomb.

Most of the writing is in code, though, so it isn’t  decipherable, at least not yet.  From the BBC:

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. . . .

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.”

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.

via BBC News – Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics.

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    The reporting on this is so far very sketchy and sensational. Every article I have referenced includes the attempt to connect these to the book of Revelation, for instance. Perhaps it is my memory, but I don’t recall the phrase “I shall walk uprightly” in the book of Revelation. No citation is given in the reporting.

    On the one hand, these do come from the area whither the church of Jerusalem fled before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This is absolutely an exciting find.

    On the other hand, I have noticed that on or around holy week every year, old or obscure archaeological finds are reported by sensational news outlets as “new discoveries that will change everything.” Check the supermarket tabloids over the next few weeks and see if this holds true.

    And bear in mind that these were discovered five years ago. True, they haven’t been studied yet, but why are they suddenly being reported as such breaking news?

  • Dan Kempin

    The reporting on this is so far very sketchy and sensational. Every article I have referenced includes the attempt to connect these to the book of Revelation, for instance. Perhaps it is my memory, but I don’t recall the phrase “I shall walk uprightly” in the book of Revelation. No citation is given in the reporting.

    On the one hand, these do come from the area whither the church of Jerusalem fled before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This is absolutely an exciting find.

    On the other hand, I have noticed that on or around holy week every year, old or obscure archaeological finds are reported by sensational news outlets as “new discoveries that will change everything.” Check the supermarket tabloids over the next few weeks and see if this holds true.

    And bear in mind that these were discovered five years ago. True, they haven’t been studied yet, but why are they suddenly being reported as such breaking news?

  • Jonathan

    Hmm. The first Small Catechism, maybe?

  • Jonathan

    Hmm. The first Small Catechism, maybe?

  • Carl Vehse

    Whether the claims are valid or not, it should really drum up sales for the June release of Prof. Paul Maier’s third book in the Skeleton series, The Constantine Codex.

    According to Amazon‘s pre-publication blurb (which has been online since at least February):

    “Harvard Professor Jonathan Weber is finally enjoying a season of peace when a shocking discovery thrusts him into the national spotlight once again. While touring monasteries in Greece, Jon and his wife Shannon—a seasoned archaeologist—uncover an ancient biblical manuscript containing the lost ending of Mark and an additional book of the Bible. If proven authentic, the codex could forever change the way the world views the holy Word of God. As Jon and Shannon work to validate their find, it soon becomes clear that there are powerful forces who don’t want the codex to go public. When it’s stolen en route to America, Jon and Shannon are swept into a deadly race to find the manuscript and confirm its authenticity before it’s lost forever.”

    Coincidence?!?

  • Carl Vehse

    Whether the claims are valid or not, it should really drum up sales for the June release of Prof. Paul Maier’s third book in the Skeleton series, The Constantine Codex.

    According to Amazon‘s pre-publication blurb (which has been online since at least February):

    “Harvard Professor Jonathan Weber is finally enjoying a season of peace when a shocking discovery thrusts him into the national spotlight once again. While touring monasteries in Greece, Jon and his wife Shannon—a seasoned archaeologist—uncover an ancient biblical manuscript containing the lost ending of Mark and an additional book of the Bible. If proven authentic, the codex could forever change the way the world views the holy Word of God. As Jon and Shannon work to validate their find, it soon becomes clear that there are powerful forces who don’t want the codex to go public. When it’s stolen en route to America, Jon and Shannon are swept into a deadly race to find the manuscript and confirm its authenticity before it’s lost forever.”

    Coincidence?!?

  • Tom Hering

    Books with lead pages are discovered just in time for Japan’s nuclear crisis. Coincidence??!!

  • Tom Hering

    Books with lead pages are discovered just in time for Japan’s nuclear crisis. Coincidence??!!

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    It’s been pointed out to me that scholars are rather concerned about the “public relations” way in which this information is being released. Heavy on extravagant speculation, low on actual scholarly access to the objects.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    It’s been pointed out to me that scholars are rather concerned about the “public relations” way in which this information is being released. Heavy on extravagant speculation, low on actual scholarly access to the objects.

  • Ryan

    Coul someone inform me on the meaning about ‘sealed books’ and the ‘secret tradition’ of early Christians? I know about the sealed books in Revelation and the OT. I know about the hush hush on Holy Communion in the Early Church, but it’s looks in Acts that the Gospel was very publically proclaimed.

  • Ryan

    Coul someone inform me on the meaning about ‘sealed books’ and the ‘secret tradition’ of early Christians? I know about the sealed books in Revelation and the OT. I know about the hush hush on Holy Communion in the Early Church, but it’s looks in Acts that the Gospel was very publically proclaimed.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You should see how many Mormons are happy about hearing this one.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You should see how many Mormons are happy about hearing this one.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Tom: :^)

    Interesting, and evidently archeologists in Israel are saying they’re fakes already. Hard to figure out how one would have a fraud with 2000 year old leather tying it together, and without translating what’s going on, though.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Tom: :^)

    Interesting, and evidently archeologists in Israel are saying they’re fakes already. Hard to figure out how one would have a fraud with 2000 year old leather tying it together, and without translating what’s going on, though.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Hurtado’s response is best. It is hugely irresponsible for some to make claims prior to submitting the artifacts to open, verifiable analysis. Very poor form.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Hurtado’s response is best. It is hugely irresponsible for some to make claims prior to submitting the artifacts to open, verifiable analysis. Very poor form.

  • http://matthaeusglyptes.blogspot.com Matthew Carver

    I’m with Jonathan. :)

  • http://matthaeusglyptes.blogspot.com Matthew Carver

    I’m with Jonathan. :)

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Mollie Hemingway on getreligion.org points out an article that illustrates a few holes in the more sensational reports. One is the imagery is actually more Jewish in nature, the cross may or may not be Christian. Two these kinds of miniature codices were coming into widespread use in the 3rd Century. Three, Jews did use images of the menorah.

    Also forgery is a real possibility. Read other articles it sounds like they have not tested the codices themselves but rather some leather that was found with them.

    While it would be totally cool to find say Luke’s research notes, I am going to wait until somebody, outside of Joseph Smith, decodes the ancient Hebrew cryptography before I get excited.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Mollie Hemingway on getreligion.org points out an article that illustrates a few holes in the more sensational reports. One is the imagery is actually more Jewish in nature, the cross may or may not be Christian. Two these kinds of miniature codices were coming into widespread use in the 3rd Century. Three, Jews did use images of the menorah.

    Also forgery is a real possibility. Read other articles it sounds like they have not tested the codices themselves but rather some leather that was found with them.

    While it would be totally cool to find say Luke’s research notes, I am going to wait until somebody, outside of Joseph Smith, decodes the ancient Hebrew cryptography before I get excited.

  • Carl Vehse

    A rather long and detailed (and link-filled) internet article, “Lead Codices Silliness,” discusses the timeline on how the “story” has progressed (i.e., hyped) in the press, and includes excerpts from the Jewish Chronicle article, “Heavy metal secrets from a Mid-East cave“:

    The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), however, has dismissed the idea that the books are of any value. Experts who examined some of them, it said, “absolutely doubted their authenticity”. According to the IAA, the books are a “mixture of incompatible periods and styles…without any connection or logic. Such forged motifs can be found in their thousands in the antiquities markets of Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.”

    Professor Andre Lemaire, an expert in ancient inscriptions from the Sorbonne, was also dubious, saying the writing on some of the codices he had seen made no sense and it was “a question apparently of sophisticated fakes”.

    Also pointed out is the claim that “Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they [the 20 codices] have been in his family’s possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago” has transformed into a new version that The treasure trove [now 70 (!) codices] was found five years ago by an Israeli Bedouin”

    Furthermore, it is claimed in the Jewish Chronicle article that a “piece of leather” found with the codices has been carbon-14 dated at 2,000 years old.

    The “Lead Codices Silliness” goes on to discuss a lot more “alarm bells” ringing from the claims about this alleged archeological find and states:

    To sum up, it seems clear to me that this supposed ‘discovery’ stinks on a number of levels:

    - the ‘code’ content aspect is suspicious
    - the subject matter is suspicious
    - the material and method of manufacture is suspicious
    - the story of the find is suspicious
    - some of the people involved are suspicious (I’m sure things might be said about all those involved, but I don’t have time to dig)
    - the opinions of the IAA and Andre Lemaire are pretty much being ignored at this point in the story’s development

    It also notes that the “scholar,” David Elkington, has written a book, The Lead Codices (320 pages, Harper Publisher, ISBN-10: 0061996599, ISBN-13: 9780061996597), which is not yet available. Hmmmmm…

  • Carl Vehse

    A rather long and detailed (and link-filled) internet article, “Lead Codices Silliness,” discusses the timeline on how the “story” has progressed (i.e., hyped) in the press, and includes excerpts from the Jewish Chronicle article, “Heavy metal secrets from a Mid-East cave“:

    The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), however, has dismissed the idea that the books are of any value. Experts who examined some of them, it said, “absolutely doubted their authenticity”. According to the IAA, the books are a “mixture of incompatible periods and styles…without any connection or logic. Such forged motifs can be found in their thousands in the antiquities markets of Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.”

    Professor Andre Lemaire, an expert in ancient inscriptions from the Sorbonne, was also dubious, saying the writing on some of the codices he had seen made no sense and it was “a question apparently of sophisticated fakes”.

    Also pointed out is the claim that “Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they [the 20 codices] have been in his family’s possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago” has transformed into a new version that The treasure trove [now 70 (!) codices] was found five years ago by an Israeli Bedouin”

    Furthermore, it is claimed in the Jewish Chronicle article that a “piece of leather” found with the codices has been carbon-14 dated at 2,000 years old.

    The “Lead Codices Silliness” goes on to discuss a lot more “alarm bells” ringing from the claims about this alleged archeological find and states:

    To sum up, it seems clear to me that this supposed ‘discovery’ stinks on a number of levels:

    - the ‘code’ content aspect is suspicious
    - the subject matter is suspicious
    - the material and method of manufacture is suspicious
    - the story of the find is suspicious
    - some of the people involved are suspicious (I’m sure things might be said about all those involved, but I don’t have time to dig)
    - the opinions of the IAA and Andre Lemaire are pretty much being ignored at this point in the story’s development

    It also notes that the “scholar,” David Elkington, has written a book, The Lead Codices (320 pages, Harper Publisher, ISBN-10: 0061996599, ISBN-13: 9780061996597), which is not yet available. Hmmmmm…

  • rlewer

    I never interpreted the “sealed book” in Revelation as an actual historical sealed book. That doesn’t fit the context of the verse and the nature of apocolyptic literature.

  • rlewer

    I never interpreted the “sealed book” in Revelation as an actual historical sealed book. That doesn’t fit the context of the verse and the nature of apocolyptic literature.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    J. Dean,
    You beat me to it. The next thing we are going to be told is that these are in “reformed Egyptian” and we need seer stones and top hats to translate them.
    of course, then the code will be broken, and we will find it has nothing to do with the book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith, but they won’t care because their bosoms caught on fire and after all, “I know what I felt.”
    In any case, I imagine more problems with this for them then anything solved. As it is going to become apparent and quickly how little text is practical on a “metal plate.”

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    J. Dean,
    You beat me to it. The next thing we are going to be told is that these are in “reformed Egyptian” and we need seer stones and top hats to translate them.
    of course, then the code will be broken, and we will find it has nothing to do with the book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith, but they won’t care because their bosoms caught on fire and after all, “I know what I felt.”
    In any case, I imagine more problems with this for them then anything solved. As it is going to become apparent and quickly how little text is practical on a “metal plate.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan Kempin (@1) +1.

    Bror (@14), wait, are you saying you don’t have a top hat? I thought you got a top hat when you graduated from seminary. What, indeed, is the point of going to seminary if you don’t get a top hat?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan Kempin (@1) +1.

    Bror (@14), wait, are you saying you don’t have a top hat? I thought you got a top hat when you graduated from seminary. What, indeed, is the point of going to seminary if you don’t get a top hat?

  • Leif

    Dr. Luther @21

    “One is the imagery is actually more Jewish in nature,”

    Wouldn’t that make a bit of sense if this is as early as they say and that most of them (early Christians) would have been Jews anyway? It seems that the symbols, iconagraphy, etc. would carry over for quite some time until new symbols sprung up to meet the new concepts.

    I’m not saying that this is real/true either way, just wondering.

  • Leif

    Dr. Luther @21

    “One is the imagery is actually more Jewish in nature,”

    Wouldn’t that make a bit of sense if this is as early as they say and that most of them (early Christians) would have been Jews anyway? It seems that the symbols, iconagraphy, etc. would carry over for quite some time until new symbols sprung up to meet the new concepts.

    I’m not saying that this is real/true either way, just wondering.

  • Leif

    and by @21 I clearly mean @11

    oops.

  • Leif

    and by @21 I clearly mean @11

    oops.

  • Grace

    Dan – 1

    “Every article I have referenced includes the attempt to connect these to the book of Revelation, for instance. Perhaps it is my memory, but I don’t recall the phrase “I shall walk uprightly” in the book of Revelation. No citation is given in the reporting.”

    “walk uprightly” may not be in Revelation, … it would take more research to see if there is another word to replace “walk” and “uprightly” in Revelation. However there are two, elsewhere.

    For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalms 84:11

    He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. Proverbs 2:7

    There are two verses that use ”

    For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalms 84:11

    He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. Proverbs 2:7

  • Grace

    Dan – 1

    “Every article I have referenced includes the attempt to connect these to the book of Revelation, for instance. Perhaps it is my memory, but I don’t recall the phrase “I shall walk uprightly” in the book of Revelation. No citation is given in the reporting.”

    “walk uprightly” may not be in Revelation, … it would take more research to see if there is another word to replace “walk” and “uprightly” in Revelation. However there are two, elsewhere.

    For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalms 84:11

    He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. Proverbs 2:7

    There are two verses that use ”

    For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalms 84:11

    He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. Proverbs 2:7

  • Grace

    Sorry for the double print of Scripture.

  • Grace

    Sorry for the double print of Scripture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Unfortunately I still have yet to graduate from the Theological School of Lund, tODD. Where I do believe the top hat, and a tux is actually the academic garb. none of this gown and miter board. I am working on that.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Unfortunately I still have yet to graduate from the Theological School of Lund, tODD. Where I do believe the top hat, and a tux is actually the academic garb. none of this gown and miter board. I am working on that.

  • Porcell

    Veith: The Christian equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

    Good question. The answer is that so far we have a bunch of vague speculation on the matter.

  • Porcell

    Veith: The Christian equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

    Good question. The answer is that so far we have a bunch of vague speculation on the matter.

  • http://journeytoluther.blogspot.com/ moallen

    Am I missing something? It looks like a lot of pictures rather than text in what I have seen covered elsewhere. I was not aware of an image based writing system in New Testament times? Perhaps it was an easy reader version of the NT for the non-literate? Or maybe not, we’ll see.

    I too thought of the “golden plates” of Mormonism when I first read about this. Too bad Joseph Smith is not around, I am sure he would have them translated by now and added to the Book of Abraham.

  • http://journeytoluther.blogspot.com/ moallen

    Am I missing something? It looks like a lot of pictures rather than text in what I have seen covered elsewhere. I was not aware of an image based writing system in New Testament times? Perhaps it was an easy reader version of the NT for the non-literate? Or maybe not, we’ll see.

    I too thought of the “golden plates” of Mormonism when I first read about this. Too bad Joseph Smith is not around, I am sure he would have them translated by now and added to the Book of Abraham.

  • helen

    My version is that Paul Maier “found these” in honor of his new book.

    Also, we’re about halfway through Lent 2011 and haven’t had our “distraction of the year” till now. :(

  • helen

    My version is that Paul Maier “found these” in honor of his new book.

    Also, we’re about halfway through Lent 2011 and haven’t had our “distraction of the year” till now. :(

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  • bob foote

    This is way to early to conclude anything. Look at the controversy about the Shroud and it has had many scientific tests.
    blf

  • bob foote

    This is way to early to conclude anything. Look at the controversy about the Shroud and it has had many scientific tests.
    blf

  • Carl Vehse

    Nick Pryer of the Daily Mail must figure there more hype to squeeze out in his article, “Is this the first ever portrait of Jesus? The incredible story of 70 ancient books hidden in a cave for nearly 2,000 years.”

  • Carl Vehse

    Nick Pryer of the Daily Mail must figure there more hype to squeeze out in his article, “Is this the first ever portrait of Jesus? The incredible story of 70 ancient books hidden in a cave for nearly 2,000 years.”

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