The Most Important Discovery in the History of Archeology?

Ziad al-Sadd, the director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, thinks so. Apparently a Bedouin found about 70 books that might reshape the way we think about the life of Jesus and the origin of Christianity. (I think we’ve heard stuff like this before, yeah?) Nevertheless:

[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.”

BBC News, “Jordan Battles to Regain ‘Priceless’ Christian Relics”

Okay cool. The Christian Dead Sea Scrolls? Wowza.

But really, how legitimate is all this? Apparently, if you’re not al-Zaad or Elkington, slim:

Chill, dude.  Take a breath.  OK, I know that you need to puff public interest in support of your efforts to obtain possession of these items (which he alleges were illegally taken out of Jordan into Israel), and I know that you also want to get as much publicity out of this as possible for your institution, but these comments only make you look silly.

[…]

Finally, the incidence of the forgery of artefacts [ed. sic.] is so great that any responsible scholar must express profound hesitation about making any judgement on such items until they have been properly analysed [sic.].  Especially in light of the “Jesus bone-box” drama, we might all take a few deep breaths and simply call for the items to be put into the public domain for competent study before more rash and pointless claims are proffered.

That’s Larry Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology at the University of Edinburgh. He’s a scholar. Here’s another, Dallas Theological Seminary’s Todd Bolen. He sounds thrilled:

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.

Haha! No, seriously:

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.

Bolen also weighs in on this David Elkington fellow, as of yet the only scholar to support al-Zaad’s wild claims:

David Elkington has experience in selling horse dung to gullible audiences.  And it seems to me that he aims to profit off of his role in this affair.  Despite his claims that he “has worked to date entirely on a voluntary basis,” he is smelling the money.  He appears to already be selling photographs of the discoveries (via rexfeatures.com).  He has certainly been careful to watermark with his name the photos he has made available to the media.  More than that, the press release states: “Preparations are being made for a documentary film about the discovery, in conjunction with a leading television network, and the publication of a book.”  If you don’t think he’s planning to cash in, I’d like to talk to you about funding my personal research on international recreational activities.

So, what do you guys think? Legit or what?

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One thought on “The Most Important Discovery in the History of Archeology?

  1. Yes, sure, it all needs to be properly investigated but what’s all that vitriolic bitchiness about, in some circles?? I say some are a tad jelous that the books are not in THEIR hands and it won’t be THEIR documentary, THEIR scientific paper, not money in THEIR account etc.
    Why the anger? Life’s short. Sit back and relax and watch the whole imteresting story unfold!

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