Just When You Thought it was Over…

There is yet more coming out on the Lead Codices.  Jim West highlights, with the help of Robert Deutsch, more photos of the lead codices, just released, with the coins the images were forged from (yes, more coin iconography!).  And yesterday a new article from the JT came out about the 14C dating:

Preliminary lab results indicate that a collection of metal books unearthed in northern Jordan may indeed represent the earliest Christian texts ever discovered, according to experts.

According to the Department of Antiquities (DoA), initial carbon tests to determine the authenticity of lead-sealed metal books billed as the greatest find in biblical archaeology since the Dead Sea scrolls have been “encouraging”.

“We really believe that we have evidence from this analysis to prove that these materials are authentic,” DoA Director Ziad Saad told The Jordan Times.

The tests, carried out at the Royal Scientific Society labs, indicate that the texts may date back to the early first century AD, at a time when Christians took refuge from persecution on the east bank of the Jordan River.

But as I’ve said time and time again, along with others, old lead is common and doesn’t prove the iconography is ancient–just the metal.  The evidence against their authenticity is pretty daunting.  But there are problems with this which again establish quite clearly the lie behind the veil…as Jona makes it quite clear, 14C testing is done on organics (re: biological), not inorganics (like lead).  Even Wikipedia gets it right:

Carbon-14, 14C, or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with a nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleagues (1949), to date archaeological, geological, and hydrogeological samples.

For additional information on dating techniques, though there might be errors (because its on Wikipedia) so consult an actual archaeologist, you can get a quick overview of archaeological dating methods here.  You can also check out this article on dating methods in archaeology from about.com.  From the about.com page:

Although I am hardly a chemist or a physicist, and so will leave the detailed explanations to those who are better at it than I (for example, Anne Marie Helmenstine’s page in About Chemistry), essentially radiocarbon dating uses the amount of carbon 14 available in living creatures as a measuring stick. All living things maintain a content of carbon 14 in equilibrium with that available in the atmosphere, right up to the moment of death. When an organism dies, the amount of C14 available within it begins to decay at a half life rate of 5730 years; i.e., it takes 5730 years for 1/2 of the C14 available in the organism to decay. Comparing the amount of C14 in a dead organism to available levels in the atmosphere, produces an estimate of when that organism died. So, for example, if a tree was used as a support for a structure, the date that tree stopped living (i.e., when it was cut down) can be used to date the building’s construction date.

And any number of books could be accessed to prove this point over and over.  Here are just two:

  • Robert L. Kelly and David Hurst Thomas, Archaeology (Cengage Learning, 2009), 133-136.
  • Herbert D. G. Maschner and Christopher Chippindale (eds.), Handbook of Archaeological Methods (Rowman Altamira, 2005), 307-336

Finally I get to use the background in inorganic chemistry I’ve gained from working in a lab for the past year and a half.  The thing with archaeology is you’re digging it up, so there are bound to be organic traces (contaminants, actually) in everything.  But this really comes down to, say, the actual inorganic metals (like those excavated from a mine).  So you could theoretically test the organic contaminants for 14C but you’re not going to get an accurate reading since it is, after all, contaminants and there is simply no way to now where those contaminants came from and it is only possible (again theoretically–not practically) to test if someone perhaps held it with their hands or scraped off skin cells or something, and even then you’d have to test relatively quickly and the longer something is in the ground, the more improbable it is that you could adequately test it.  And again, these are contaminants on the metal itself and could have come from anywhere.  Since the provenance of these codices are unknown and sketchy it muddies the issue even more.

And testing the metal itself will do absolutely nothing since inorganics can’t contain 14C (it has to, after all, be something that contains carbon).  Now it might be possible to date the lead using other methods and lead does contain different isotopes than other inorganics (so testing for Uranium decay in the lead might actually be useful), but that wouldn’t validate the ‘authenticity’ (whatever that might mean) of the codices as a whole (iconography, status as ‘relics’ for example), it would only validate the age of the lead itself.  And we already know that the ones we’ve seen are modern fabrications.

Jim Davila also weighs in on this new article by the JT (snippet here):

1. The claim is that the new metal codices in the hands of the Jordanian Government are part of the same cache as those announced back in March. I take them at their word, but no proof has yet been advanced.

2. What’s this about “carbon tests” and “carbon dating” on metal plates? Carbon-14 dating is applied to organic material. Is there organic material, such as leather scroll, associated with these plates? Or, more likely, has someone made a careless mistake here?

3. Assuming the latter, it appears that the current tests indicate that the metal of the plates is ancient. It has been known for a long time that the fake metal codices may be made of genuinely ancient metal. The first report, on 3 March, in the Jewish Chronicle (cf. here), reported this:

Undeterred, Mr Feather instead cites the findings of Peter Northover, a metals analyst at Oxford University. Conducting tests on two samples of metal from one book, Dr Northover concluded that their composition was “consistent with a range of ancient lead,” and that it was clear from the surface corrosion that the book was “not a recent production”.

The IAA remains unconvinced, arguing that the metal could have been taken from an ancient coffin while the messages could have been fabricated later.

This test was done privately and has not been published. The IAA has replied adequately: such ancient metal is available and could be used for such forgeries, so the new test does not tell us anything very interesting.


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  3. Tom,

    Here is a citation from the Wikipedia page on the codices:

    “Elkington stated [in his initial press release] that the find was of “up to 70 ring-bound books (codices) made of lead and copper. Many of them are sealed on all sides. **Scrolls, tablets and other artifacts, including an incense bowl, were also found at the same site.**

    Have any of you wags considered the possibility that they tested samples of one or more of those “scrolls, [wood?] tablets” and/or soot from that “incense bowl” supposedly found with the codices?

    I believe what Elkington calls an “incense bowl’ is essentially a lamp. Interesting thing about lamps, is that there are a lot of them out there which can be dated within a century by their style of manufacture. IIRC, one of these distinctive styles for lamps came into vogue in the region right around the beginning of the 2nd century. Mighty convenient, eh?

    You “experts” are being played for chumps. He’s just getting free publicity.

    Dave Hindley (yeah, that guy …)

  4. Hello David,

    I’m not sure I like your tone. First, you should spend more time reading the actual sources than wikipedia. You can also start by reading this article:


    This lays out the case against the tablets authenticity. All the items involved (including the ‘other artifacts’ which means the incense bowl/lamp) have an unknown provenance, and if you check up on all the source details you’ll see they have different origin stories (was it a cave where they were found or somewhere else? Was it discovered only a few years ago or had it been in the Bedouins family for a generation or so?), so it is impossible to know what anything is or where they came from or if the artifacts are also replicas being passed around as ancient with the codices. The scrolls are another matter since the scrolls are also metallic (they look like they are additional lead scrolls, probably curse scrolls…see the images, designated by two red rectangles, here). The only piece that might be carbon dated is perhaps the leather item with the collection, but none of the articles recently claim that has been tested and no actual metallurgical or radiocarbon tests have been released for review to the Academy, so speculating on the dating of the artifacts at this point is moot. The codices are certainly modern productions or close thereto.

    As for being ‘chumps’, I wonder what you would have the academy do? Do you suggest we allow the media to play loose with the facts? It seems indecision, if that is your alternative suggestion, would be far more dangerous a policy. Are we raising awareness to the codices and Elkington? Certainly, we are. Are we exposing him and his ‘find’ for the fakes they are? Yes, indeed.

  5. Tom,

    I was thinking of the tone of many of the blog comments on the matter that prompted me to chose to adopt that tone for my message. You can check me out, I do not believe the codices are real. What burns my buns are the haughty tone taken when referring to these fakes. I just don’t like a look-down-the-nose attitude touting the “folly” of those bumbling fakers.

    If you were to ask me, I would say that Elkington has been orchestrating the media “leaks” to be vague and conflate facts. This is because he knows he has fakes (I believe they were made for tourist consumption before the 1967 war but never made it to market, then “recycled” for this affair), but wants to use them to sell books to the new age market.

    All he has to do is mix in one genuine article, a not too hard to find black market ancient lamp which he knew was 2nd century from the style, to “authenticate” the codices.

    Your (pl) defensive knee-jerk reactions to his planted news articles just plays into his hands. It catches the attention of his target market: the masses of tabloid loving individuals who think they know better than the academy.

    Elkington is playing you.


  6. Elkington’s original press release also says something about findings these things sealed in a niche of the wall of the cave, which was partially exposed by a “flash flood”. Not meaning to be verbose, I do want to point out an interesting parallel to an ancient “discovery” of the Apocalypse of Paul (aka Revelation of Paul, which is not the Gnostic one from the NHL):

    “In the consulate of Theodosius Augustus the younger and Cynegius [388 CE], a certain honourable man then dwelling at Tarsus, in the house which had been the house of Saint Paul, an angel appeared unto him by night and gave him a revelation, saying that he should break up the foundation of the house and publish that which he found; but he thought this to be a lying vision. 2 But a third time the angel came, and scourged him and compelled him to break up the foundation. And he dug, and found a box of marble inscribed upon the sides: therein was the revelation of Saint Paul, and his shoes wherein he walked when he taught the word of God. But he feared to open that box, and brought it to the judge; and the judge took it, *sealed as it was with lead*, and sent it to the emperor Theodosius fearing that it might be somewhat strange; and the emperor when he received it, opened it and found the revelation of Saint Paul. A copy thereof he sent to Jerusalem and the original he kept with him.” (Apocalypse of Paul)

    Just substitute the walled up niche of a cave in Transjordan for the foundation of a house in Tarsus, the sealed lead codices for the marble box containing the revelation of Paul and relics sealed with lead, and the Royal Jordanian Dept of Antiquities for the Emperor Theodosius himself.

    One of the mss sources also gives this little explanation for the late discovery:

    And the angel who was with me led me forth, and said unto me: Lo, unto thee is given this mystery and revelation: *as thou pleasest, make it known unto the sons of men*.

    “And I, Paul, returned unto myself, and I knew all that I had seen [in the revelation]: and in life I had not rest that I might reveal this mystery, but I wrote it and deposited it under the ground and the foundations of the house of a certain faithful man with whom I used to be in Tarsus a city of Cilicia.

    And when I was released from this life of time, and stood before my Lord, thus said he unto me: Paul, have we shown all these things unto thee that thou shouldst deposit them under the foundations of a house? Then send and disclose concerning this revelation,* that men may read it and turn to the way of truth*, that they also may not come to these bitter torments.”

    I bolded those two sentences in the last excerpt because it seems that Elkington sees himself as a sort of prophet explaining mysteries about Jesus and early Christianity. Perhaps this is where Elkington received his inspiration? This is how he was pleased to reveal it.


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