Possible Coptic Script on the Lead Codices?

Steve Caruso chimed into the discussion with some interesting insights (as usual), and he posits that some of the script on the lead codices (recently supplied by Jim West) might be Coptic.  So I took a look (Caveat: I am not proficient in Coptic, but I’ve studied enough Coptic to have an amateurish grasp of it).  I leave it to the experts to tell me how I did (Marvin Meyer, if you’re reading, or April DeConick, leave a note or two) and offer any additional comments.

(Edit: Steve Caruso alerted me to this file [shown below] examining Coptic script in earlier pictures of the faux codices)

I had noted to myself some similarities to Coptic before but dismissed it when it became clear the tablet iconography were but modern casts.  Returning to Jim’s posted pictures I did see some similarities to Coptic.  Of course there is the shai (Ϣ) and ti (t), and also what might be a fai (Ϥ), but they are all backwards…that is, they are facing the wrong direction.  And this is among other characters I am not familiar with.  I am not sure if this represents an additional instance where the inscriber/forger was simply unfamiliar with Coptic and because of his method of copying, copied them backwards or if this is due to something else.  Either way, there is one important thing to remember: These are also on the same tablet with images which appear to be taken directly from the coins provided by Robert Deutsch (via Jim West’s blog)…

And of course, I share Steve’s frustration and curiosity, and what better way than this?

Background here (post from earlier) and here (Bible and Interpretation article).

How Jim West Solves Math Problems

Bibliobloggers and Lead Codices

It seems all this commotion over these lead codices has taken its toll on the Biblioblogging community.  Everyone has snapped.

“It was…it was just too much..” James McGrath spoke to me yesterday, his tone held a mixture of depression and apathy. “I don’t think I can even muster up a good joke about mythicists…”

Joel Watts informed me that his decision to go into ministry was directly a result of the lead codices.  He told me in confidence, “I can’t do this anymore; all this pressure on us to straighten out the media. It’s just not natural, you know?”

Jim West has stopped mowing his lawn (it’s been nearly a week, some sources say) and he has decided to shred his collection (rather large one at that) of overalls.  When I asked him what was the matter, he shrugged, “It’s completely depraved.  I used to mow my lawn for the peace and solitude it brought me.  I could escape the woes of the world, be more in touch with God.”  A tear rolled down his cheek as he smiled and reminisced the good days.  But sorrow took him, “But now I can’t seem to escape these codices!  Everywhere I go, every news source I go to for my daily ‘Totally Depraved’ articles, all of them have something about these derned lead codices!  I can’t find peace anywhere…”

After Jim West sulked away, I ran into a belligerent Mark Goodacre.  At first I thought he might have been mad over the recent Duke loss in the craziness of March Madness.   It soon became clear to me that he was not at all well.  “Mark,” I asked, “What are you doing?”  He quickly informed me through gritting teeth that every undergrad he ran into at Duke would not stop asking him about the codices.  “I can’t escape these pesky students; it is as if they’ve never listened to anything I have said.”  He pushed me aside and stormed off in a hurry, to where I didn’t ask.

Finally I ran into Dan McClellen who I saw rocking uncomfortably back and forth.  “Dan?”  I asked.  He looked up, clearly shaken.  “What is the matter?” I asked.  He looked around in a paranoid fashion, “Wikipedia doesn’t think I’m an expert.  I was discredited by a Wiki editor!  I’m ruined!  I am thinking about dropping out of grad school and running off to some foreign country where no one has the internet.  Maybe there I can start a new life.”  I looked puzzled, of course.  As would anyone!  After all the work Dan has done in exposing the codices, someone should give him a modicum of credit.  I was shocked to hear that his experience in these matters was so easily pushed aside.  “These codices, ” he began, rocking back and forth even faster now, “they’ve completely ruined me!”

I shook my head and started to walk away once more.  And then, I saw Dan shoot off like a rocket towards a small building.  Following closely behind him, I could see Goodacre, Watts, West, McGrath and other bibliobloggers.  In some bizarre twist, all of them had managed to find several brown leather jackets, fedoras, and whips.  And more than one of them had on some khaki Dockers.   As I approached, I realized what had happened.  “We thought, we might as well join them.”  McGrath said, trying his best to imitate Harrison Ford’s smirk.  For the sake of everyone reading this, I snapped a picture.  I don’t know why, but some of the Bibliobloggers had decided to dress as anime characters as well.  They must have really been effected.

Something must be done to stop this madness… or we may all soon end up like them…

Conspiracy Theorists, Legitimate Scholarship, and Lead Tablets

(Updates at the bottom)

The Biblioblog-o-sphere is run amok with talk over the lead tablets recently publicized by sensational media.  (There is also a Wiki page here, though it has not been updated to include today’s new updates, particularly the note from Margaret Barker about her misquotes by the Media) Unfortunately the reports so far have been pretty terrible.  Aside from being generally confusing, vague, and full of false claims (which we shall see below), we have a few people standing tall behind these tablets who, probably, ought to sit down and let the experts handle them.  In this post I wish to address the subject as a whole while engaging with many of the already brilliant posts made by those throughout the Biblioblogging community and also offer some additional thoughts which seem to have been overlooked by many in their analyses.  But first, let’s discuss the main players behind the “discovery”.

David Elkington, though I do not know him personally, seems to me a bit dubious in character (doctorate in what, exactly?).  Perhaps I’m the last person to suggest that an uncredentialed individual can’t bring something useful to the academic table, and I would be a hypocrite if I did.  So don’t get me wrong, that is not my argument.   However his situation is much different than mine.  First, he is labeled as an scholar, expert, and archeologist who has, himself, been portrayed as someone who deciphered the script (“but experts like David have deciphered images, symbols and a few words.. .”) rather than the actual scholars and experts who were sent unclear, foggy pictures of the tablets and of the script.  And none of them are saying much, other than expressing extreme caution and care in how we frame these tablets which is the appropriate measure everyone should be taking.

Second, his background is in art, not history.  He calls himself an Egyptologist…what?   Then someone posted a comment up over at Unsettled Christianity (Joel Watt’s blog) about David Elkington, calling him ‘Paul’ (apparently his real name) and saying he is a “conman” and “needs medical attention.”  I do not know if this is true, since I’ve never met him (and to be frank, I have no desire to meet anyone with an association with the likes of Andrew Collins or Colin Andrews), but I will say that, upon some investigating, I did find that David Elkington and Paul Elkington are one in the same:

Name: (Paul) David Elkington

Email: (Email Removed)

Subject: Graphics

Dates: 1980 – 1983

Date: 17 May, 2004


BAA was a real inspiration and I’d love to get back in touch with some of the guys I knew there. It was a whole experience that successfully broke my conformist conditioning, even to the degree of finding myself on a lone streak through Corsham town at dead of night!

I’m now a writer/egyptologist and have a few books out at the moment, but studying at Corsham was a great foundation, even though I didn’t finish the course and left somewhat under a cloud which was later identified as ill-health, now cleared, thank goodness. After leaving I had various jobs in film and TV until I got the ‘egypt’ bug and pursued a new career in the field of ancient history and linguistics. I occasionally saw some of the guys in the years immediately after leaving, but I left the country for a couple of years and I’ve seen no one since returning. I particularly remember my room mate at Church Street, Paul Bridger who was a painter. Paul was best man at my wedding in 1986 – I’d love to get back in touch with him again. We had some extraordinary adventures, but who at Corsham didn’t? (Alas, the marriage didn’t last!) I also remember Cathy Humpries and Sheran Hemmings, also painters, John Woodhouse – a year above me in graphics and Mike Smith from the Corsham DIY shop. Can anybody tell me what happened to Bob Craven lately of ‘The Pack Horse’? I can remember having a temporary job back in 1987 as a gardener. One night there was a call for a gardening team to go to the old Beechfield site and ‘tidy things up’. I wish that I had never gone – it was like the opening to Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: mournful and sad now that it was empty of all presence, an echo of the past. Memory flooded into my skull – it was very upsetting, one really grew very fond of the place! I remember my room mates in my first year, Karen Kinton, ceramics and Anthony Parker, Graphics, from Nottingham. Whatever happened to Kate Luck, our Art History tutor? And Robin Whalley? And Julia Garrett? Tutors all.

I fell in love at Corsham and the feeling of it has never left me, I often raid the memory of it all for ideas in my writing and I am sure that some people out there will recognise themselves as characters in certain of my forthcoming books. Long live Corsham, it was a great privilege and it was a joy.

So to some extent, the poster was correct.  Granted, we must be careful when it comes to anonymous posters since they have intentions of their own, and one can never be certain of that agenda.

Now the other individual, Robert Feather (whom Rogueclassicism rightly points out is metallurgist and not a scholar either), of so-called ‘Holy Lance‘ fame, who is championed in these reports is also portrayed as an expert.  Bob Cargill called Feather out on Bible and Interpretation not too long ago:

Others, like author Robert Feather, have written several books touting the Copper Scroll’s connection to treasures from Egypt. The fact that most scholars have wholly dismissed claims by the Barfields, Golbs, and Feathers of the world has not stopped the latter from publishing books and raking in money from a public more than willing to entertain speculation and sensationalist claims over scholarly consensus and sound academic research.

While Feather might be a great metallurgist, he does not have a background in history (he writes technical manuals).  So the fact that he and Elkington have bizarre, if not outright tragic, beliefs about the past (see Elkington’s odd beliefs here and here) which are more “New Age-y” than real scholarship leads me to automatically wonder on the authenticity of these tablets.  In other words, we’re talking about dilettantes and I’m sure Jim West agrees.

Now, the only thing keeping my interest at all is the involvement of legitimate scholars (like Philip Davies and Margaret Barker) whom I respect; but while Philip has admitted to seeing only pictures and one tablet slab, he is urging caution until a more thorough investigation beyond his (seemingly) cursory involvement–and rightly so.  He writes:

I have seen images and also seen one actual lead sheet. I have said nothing publicly yet, but privately I have said only that I think they are unlikely to be forgeries, but I did not use the word ‘genuine’ because it’s not clear what that would mean.

I do not know what these are are, or exactly how old. Like everyone else, I am waiting to see what further scientific tests show.

I am not so sure I agree with Margaret Barker’s assessment that these are evidence of Christian teachings as early as 33 CE, since that is rather specific for something that has not yet been dated and presented to the Academe.

But that is part of the problem, isn’t it?  There are all these absurd claims being made by the media and it is impossible to know which is true and which is false; we already know Philip Davies was misquoted in one of the earlier press articles as saying the tablets were “genuine”, a statement rather unlike Philip to those of us who have the pleasure of knowing him.  So what can really be gleaned from all of these sensational news articles?

As April DeConick pointed out, there is a lot of confusion here.  An example she uses is the claim to the number of codices found–is it 70 or 20?  But there are so many other discrepancies.  When were these plates discovered?  Was it 5 years ago or 2 years ago?  Is the provenance known or were they found by a Bedouin and kept for years?  Were they smuggled out of Jordan or were they there the whole time?  And what’s up with the code?

That is something odd.  Why is this script in odd forms and code?  And why is there more than one type of script (paleoHebraic and Greek, some have said)?  “Coded script” has meant “spellbook” for many scholars studying magic and mysticism in antiquity, even for early Christians, particularly in the second and third centuries, which raises another problematic aspect of the date of composition given by Barker.  Philip has said there is a “T” shaped cross which he felt was especially “Christian”.  But the cross was not a Christian symbol until, at the earliest possible dating, the second century (Hershel Shanks, one of the individuals who got behind the James ossuary–also proved to be a forgery–actually is less forgiving about the date than I am, suggesting that the cross was not used until the fourth century); it would make no sense for the first Christians to have used the cross as a symbol only to abandon it and then bring it back two hundred years later.  So are these Christian spellbooks from the second century?

And why is it made out of lead?  Lead?  Really?  While some have pointed out the irregularity of lead tablets (April DeConick and David Meadows, as well as others), lead curse tablets are well known to classicists (see also Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World by John G. Gager for Christian examples from the second-sixth centuries; cf. Night’s Black Agents by Daniel Ogden, 138-145, and Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook by Ogden, particularly Ch. 10, 210-226 for a great deal of translated tablets).  Ogden remarks that often in tablets from Egypt and the Near East, even if written in Greek, Hebrew names and words were used, though garbled, as well as images (not unlike those found on other lead tablets).  And these do not have to be curses in a negative sense, but binding spells and prayers have been found on lead slabs as well.  This practice goes back 2400 years.

And what of this supposed talk of resurrections?  I have not read anything from either Philip or Barker of ‘resurrection’ language.  I have to wonder if, these are indeed curse or binding tablets, this language refers to the same sorts of language about the resurrected spirit (rather than a body) which is meant to read the tablets after they cross over.  After all, we know from other lead curse tablets that the spells or prayers are meant to be enacted by those who have crossed over (i.e. ghosts or those from the underworld, or those in heaven or by angels or God, etc…) beyond life.

So is it possible these tablets are not necessarily ‘forged’ (though apparently it is possible that some scholars have already staked their career on them being forged–and Daniel O. McClellan has posted photos of the tablets from the emails which do indeed look to be faked) but are simply being hyped as something they aren’t (i.e. early Christian texts dating to the life of Jesus instead of being lead spellbooks or curse scrolls from late Antiquity)?  I don’t know if either are the case here.  Of course I can only speculate with everyone else since nothing of substance is known.  Even if there are only 20 codices and all of them have several lead tablets in each, the press and those involved have only given the description of perhaps a handful.  So for those who want answers directly, the news is pretty bleak–and bleaker still if there in fact 70 books, since that would greatly increase the amount of information we don’t have.

And of the information we do have, I don’t even think we can say with certainty these are Christian tablets–something I have been saying since the very beginning.  Even with the inclusion of a “T’ symbol and certain messianic images, I’m certain that most scholars (not the rag-tag band of pseudoscholars discussed at the beginning of this article) recognize that these sorts of symbols predate Christianity and there are more sects of Jews from the second temple period than for what we have records (we know of at least 33 sects by name, but there were many, many more we don’t have names for and probably more we don’t even know about).

So it is quite possible that these are easily Jewish rather than Christian, and I’m not so sure that the verdict is easily drawn at all from the evidence.  I highly doubt that the media has more information than the scholars and experts out there, so the seasonal (Easter is around the corner!) drive to promote Christian artifacts is quite strong, it seems, since the first claims made by BBC and others were that these were the “secret writings of the last years of Jesus”–yet Jesus is not even discussed in any of the press releases!  And then there is the claim that these are indeed Christian documents and are probably the earliest yet found!  Again, it’s rubbish.  And unfortunately those most likely to fall prey to these sorts of bogus claims are those without any knowledge of the historical background and information–so everyday laypeople which make up most of the population.

And now on top of that you have the conspiracy of it all, so eloquently pointed out by David Meadows:

Of course, it wouldn’t be for a metallurgist dabbling in a field he seems to have no real credentials in, and once again we are presented with the ‘outsider taking on the establishment’, which the press seems to love so very much.

And it is one that laypeople seem to love as well.  Now add this kook’s crazy story about violence and threats, and you might as well be reading a Dan Brown novel:

I met with British Archeologist David Elkington who heads the British research team investigating the find during early March 2010 and was sworn to secrecy about this discovery and the huge implications that could follow. There is still much more going on behind the scenes than has so far been disclosed. David and his wife, whom I also met had been given armed protection which was the result of both of them being shot at during this investigation and also receiving more death threats. Someone it seems does not want the information on these tablets released.

I must again restate that David/Paul is not an archaeologist.  That aside, this is beyond dubious.  I feel like this is all one big April Fools prank.  When will Philip come out and say “Surprise, I got you!”

In conclusion, I will again stress caution and agree with Larry Hurtado and what he recommends: “Chill, dude.  Take a breath.”  But not only must we be cautious in our speculations and our excitement with this very odd, rather specious find that seems to reflect a tabloid newsreel rather than scholarship, but we must also be careful with our language.  These are not Jesus scrolls, or messianic tablets, or anything really–they’re nothing but inscribed lead tablets until the whole of the Academe can examine and weigh in on them.  They might be elaborate forgeries by two dilettantes or they might be legitimate finds but dated much later than what the dilettantes and newsreels are claiming.

**UPDATE 4/1/11**

The email from Peter Thonemann, posted over at Daniel O. McClellan’s blog is indeed authentic.  This severely hurts the case for the tablets authenticity and makes Elkington look even more suspect.

Also Margaret Barker responds to my inquiry about her statements about the tablets here.

** UPDATE 4/4/11 **

I have posted a new roundup from the weekend, including picture-comparisons from where some of the images on the tablets might have come.  I believe we can now say that the tablets we have been allowed to see are indeed fakes.


Complete ‘Press Release’ of the ‘Messianic Sealed Books’


This coincides with the continuing discussion on this blog here and here.  I now have to accept that, if the provenance is correct and the books are indeed not forgeries, and if they can be dated to the period in which the press release claims, these are probably early Jewish-Christian in origin.  However the implications cannot be known until more investigations can be done and, moreso, a study is published with the full findings.

Philip Davies on the ‘Newly Discovered’ Messianic Plates

Philip did respond to my inquiry earlier this morning with a similar statement, but I shall repost Jim’s since he appears to have permission from Philip (I didn’t ask and feel it irrelevant now to do so).

This is precisely what I had expected of his response, however. It is in line with what the appropriate academic response should be–one of caution, of curiosity, rather than one of carefree assumptions that the title of the article would imply. I especially like that Philip has clarified the difference between “doesn’t appear to be a forgery” and “genuine” as there are different implications to both statements, and he is right to show the distinction.

We shall watch this story closely to determine what precisely can be said and what shouldn’t be said of these artifacts and whether they can have any bearing on the origins of Christianity or on Jesus specifically (which, at this point, seems doubtful).

I shall also be keeping an watchful eye out for the misuse of this information, since such things abound on the interwebs. Which internet/televangelical apologist will jump on these first, I wonder?

Philip writes concerning the news media’s mention of some newly ‘discovered’ materials purported to shed light on the life of Jesus- I have seen images and also seen one actual lead sheet. I have said nothing publicly yet, but privately I have said only that I think they are unlikely to be forgeries, but I did not use the word ‘genuine’ because it’s not clear what that would mean. I do not know what these are are, or exactly how old. Like everyon … Read More

via Zwinglius Redivivus

I also think we should be cautious with the terminology as well.  Should we really be calling these ‘Jesus slabs’ or ‘Jesus Scrolls’?  Do we have any information these are related to Christianity at all?  I haven’t read any study saying anything like that (just the article where the nonexpert sensationalized what appear to be eschatological beliefs of the scroll author).  Perhaps we might best be suited to call them ‘Messianic plates’ or something quite similar, which best reflect the data we have now, until we can determine the full extent of the translation of the ‘script’?

Possible Contemporary Evidence of Jesus or Another Hoax?

In lieu of the impending discussion over yet another unprovenanced find with possible links to contemporary evidence for the figure of Jesus, I post this (a few snippets from the main article, click the link to read it all):

Artefacts discovered in a remote cave in Jordan could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus.

The find of scrolls and 70 lead codices – tiny credit-card-sized volumes containing ancient Hebrew script talking of the Messiah and the Resurrection – has excited biblical scholars.

Much of the writing is in code, but experts have deciphered images, symbols and a few words and the texts could be 2,000 years old.

Some academics are sceptical about the discovery because there have been numerous hoaxes and sophisticated fakes produced over the years.

Many of the codices are sealed which suggests that they could be secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra – an appendage to some versions of the Bible.

Texts have been written on little sheets of lead bound together with wire.

The treasure trove was found five years ago by an Israeli Bedouin and may have been around since the 1st century, around the time of Jesus’s crucifixion and Resurrection.

There is a thriving market in Middle Eastern antiquities and many shadowy figures involved. One archeologist has allegedly received death threats.

Ms Barker said: ‘There has been lots of shenanigans. Vast sums of money have been mentioned with up to £250,000 being suggested as the price for just one piece.’

She has had access to photgraphs taken of the codices and scrolls, and is wary of confirming their authenticity.

But she said if the material is genuine then the books could be ‘vital and unique’ evidence of the earliest Christians.

‘If they are a forgery, what are they are forgery of?’ she said.’ Most fakes are drawn from existing material, but there is nothing like this that I have seen.’

Two samples were sent to a laboratory in England where they were examined by Peter Northover, head of the materials science-based archaeology group.

The verdict was inconclusive without more tests, but he said the composition was ‘consistent with a range of ancient lead.’

However, Philip Davies, emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield University is convinced the codices are genuine after studying one.

He has told colleagues privately that he believes the find is unlikely to have been forged, say the Sunday Times

The remote desert caves in Israel which yielded The Dead Sea Scrolls. They were found between 1847 and 1956 hidden in pottery jars. Experts say the intrigue surrounding the artefacts is similar to the black market secrecy associated with discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls

via Are artefacts discovered in a remote cave the secret writings about the last years of Jesus? | Mail Online.

I just don’t buy it.  Jim West has made some appropriate and fitting comments about the find on his blog:

A bevy of tests need to be administered, the ‘script’ needs to be deciphered and translated, and the materials must be independently authenticated as ancient before we can even begin to talk about some astonishing discovery.  And even then, since the little objects were ‘found’ and no archaeological context for their discovery is available, they will nonetheless always remain tainted as untrustworthy.  Without provenance, without context, there is no meaning.  This is true of both texts and artifacts.


I believe his last point is the most apt.  More tests have to be run and much more must be discussed before we can label these authentic or inauthentic.  Is it possible these were written by early Christians?  Yes, of course.  Were they contemporary to the figure of Jesus’ life?  Perhaps, but that is yet to be concluded.  I have asked Philip to make a guest post on my blog about the findings, if he is willing.  I’d be interested to seeing what he has to say rather than what someone else says he said.

In any case, the article is misleading in that (a) it assumes contemporaneous composition with the figure of Jesus, (b) that it was written by a Christian sect (references to messiahs and resurrections might have been more common than we give credit; we only know of 30+ sects of Jews in antiquity by name, and there were definitely many more than that which we simply know nothing about, all holding different views about the messiah–if any were expected by them at all–and different eschatological views as well), and (c) it assumes it trustworthy to some degree even though it is unprovenanced.

Before anyone asks, if these do turn out to be authentic and contemporaneous, that will obviously effect my perspective of the historicity of the figure of Jesus in a big way.  But I’m not holding my breath.

***UPDATE 3/22/11*** An official press release of the find has been published and I have blogged it here.  Also Philip Davies offers additional comments here.  Jim Davila offers the following here:

Reader Justin Kerk has referred me to a 2007 discussion on the Unicode mailing list of “Menorah- and Hebrew-inscribed lead plates of dubious provenance.” These may be the plates currently in the news.

Follow the rest of the blog post as there are some interesting observations along with pictures of some of these codex plates (assuming they are the same).

What Jim West Did as a Youth

More depravity from Jim West comes to light after years of being kept hidden:

GARY, Ind. — Northern Indiana police have arrested a 14-year-old boy who allegedly stole a church van and drove it to school because he didn’t want to walk from his nearby home.

A Gary police officer was driving behind the van Friday but didn’t notice that a boy was driving the vehicle until a school employee pointed it out to him. The officer says the West Side Leadership Academy student circled the school parking several times before parking.

The Times of Munster says the boy’s mother said her son most likely got the keys to the van while attending choir practice at Evening Star Missionary Baptist Church in Gary earlier in the week.

Police say charges are pending against the boy.

via Police: Boy steals van, drives to school – Local News – Indianapolis, IN – msnbc.com.

Jim West on Simcha’s New Docu-sational TV Broadcast

Jim West is on the ball again:

Good heavens the time for talking and planning and thinking about a response surely must be over by now and actions put in place to debunk the bunk or the bunk peddlers will win and the public will be as ignorant about the bible and archaeology as they are about other meaningful things.

via Simcha’s At it Again: Meanwhile Actual Scholars Slumber.

Jim West’s Anti-Depravity, Anti-Dilettante Suit


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