The Inscription from Madaba, Lead Codices, and the Mona Lisa of Galilee

Several new pieces of data have been brought to the attention of the listserv.  One was sent along by David Meadows.  Here (Google translated, since I don’t know Chinese) a blog analyzes the similarities of the Madaba inscription and compares it to the script on the tablet Thonemann looked at.

Dan McClellan takes it a step further and compares the script from that inscription to those Elkington recently has passed around and the inscription from the Madaba tombstone and he has determined that they are indeed by the same hand (and clearly, they are).  Here are some of his comparisons along with those from the Chinese blog:

He also compares the (backwards) yod here (from the lead tablets and the one sent to Thonemann now universally accepted as modern):

And these from the inscription on the tombstone (notice its direction; and Dan also links to a discussion here at Aramaic Designs):

He writes:

It seems the “paleo-Hebrew” script from the codices was also lifted from the tombstone inscription on display in Jordan. There are other letters that clearly share a relationship as well, which I will discuss a bit later. I am hoping to have a photograph of the Madaba inscription itself up shortly. Stay tuned.

The Lead Codices and the Inscription from Madaba « Daniel O. McClellan.

In addition to these, compares the so-called (sensationalized) ‘image of Jesus’ face on one of the tablets to the Mona Lisa of Galilee mosaic.

https://i2.wp.com/www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/art/monalisa.jpg

He does an excellent job comparing the facial features on the cast impression with those of the mosaic.  His case is strong, though I am still not certain it is not from a coin. It is definitely worth pursuing either way.

And one final bit of news, Jim West shares with us another example of why these images and iconography are indeed modern.  Robert Deutsch posted that the image of the chariot and rider in the Thonemann-analyzed tablet (part of the same corpus) was lifted from a modern fake sold to tourists.  Here are the images (click to enlarge).

I had originally thought it was from an ancient chariot on the back of a Tetradrachm (see here) but I now have to admit the fake is a much better analog.

Philip Davies responded yesterday to some comments by Thonemann about the codices.  He reinforces what I’ve known all along, but others have previously fought me on; he writes “I do love a good story and there is one here – not about early Christians, though.”  Anyone who feels he is arguing for their ‘genuineness’ is just not listening (or reading, what have you).  I would argue that this is precisely what the media is guilty of, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall into similar traps.

And perhaps that last comment segues nicely into the tone of a comment I posted yesterday; I think it should be required reading for everyone who is interested in the codices from a lay perspective (so click the link above).

Jim Davila take’s stock:

The Greek is lifted nonsensically from an inscription published in 1958. The forger couldn’t tell the difference between the Greek letters alpha and lambda. The Hebrew script is taken from the same inscription. The Hebrew text is in “code,” i.e., is gibberish. The “Jesus” face is taken from a well-known mosaic. The charioteer is taken from a fake coin. The crocodile has a suspicious resemblance to a plastic toy.

That’s all for this roundup.  More as the information keeps coming in.

Previous Roundups:

Were the Lead Codices Just Sold to an Israeli Antiquities Dealer?

According to this source (I am uncertain about the accuracy of the account; it’s as of now unconfirmed–h/t to Dave Meadows for the link) the lead codices might have been sold to an Israeli antiquities dealer.

Jordanian Official: Ancient Manuscripts Discovered In Jordan Sold On Black Market To Israel Dealer

Dr. Ziyad Al-Sa’d, director-general of Jordan’s antiquities authority, yesterday told a press conference that the Jordanian government had information that first-century BC manuscripts discovered in a cave in the north of the country were several years ago sold on the black market to an Israeli antiquities dealer.

The Israeli then showed them to a British archeologist from Cambridge, who notified the Jordanian antiquity authorities.

Al-Sa’d noted that the manuscripts were vitally important, and could shed new light on the source of Christianity and the New Testament. He added that the Jordanian antiquities authority would take all steps to regain its stolen property.

Source: Factjo,com, April 3, 2011; Al-Dustour, Jordan, April 4, 2011

via The MEMRI Blog – Full Blog Entry.

Philip Davies on Lead Codices | Sheffield Biblical Studies

The following is an update from Philip Davies involving the lead codices.  I would add that while Philip does not think they are ‘forgeries’, by the context here he knows that there are modern impressions on the tablets.   In the same vein, I imagine, that he doesn’t believe they are “genuine”–can we really make any claim as to what these are forgeries of?  I’m merely speculating here.  I am not sure what exactly that means; I imagine we will find out when more information is released about them.

[editorial note: Philip had identified modern images prior to the great online debates]

The following is a general introductory summary by Sheffield Prof. Emeritus Philip Davies on the now famous lead codices (some images are available here):

Having long been involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and in the campaign to force the publication of many of them) I was approached by a British scholar who had been given access to some finds in a Jordanian cave (just like the Scrolls!). Most of them are lead books, some sealed, covered with letters in the archaic Hebrew script, and ancient Jewish symbols – menorahs (7-branched candlestick), date-palms, stars, bunches of grapes. But there is also a portrait of Alexander the Great, of a crocodile, and possibly a depiction of the crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem. I have now looked at about a hundred images, some of which I have shared with colleagues around the world, and I am certainly hoping to make sense of them. I have handled one. They are probably not a hoax or a forgery, but their exact origin remains mysterious. As well as decorative lettering, there is also some writing that looks as if it ought to mean something. So far it can’t be deciphered, but it may be in code.

The urgent problem at the moment is to ensure that the originals remain accessible. Scientific tests need to be done on these to try and establish date and origin, but the present possessor (who may or may not be legal owner) is considering selling them privately for as much money as he can. My colleagues and I are helping the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to recover them and enable them to be properly examined, conserved and displayed.

It is an exciting and mystifyng collection, but I think the time is too early to speculate about what they mean. The only scientific tests so far conducted suggest they are not of recent manufacture. Obviously I hope they are very old, but whatever their origin they should be able to tell us things we did not know before. I plan to continue studying these with my academic colleagues around the world, in the hope that we can begin to make some sense of these curious relics.

Philip Davies

via Philip Davies on Lead Codices | Sheffield Biblical Studies.

New Roundup on Lead Codices and Additional Information

As James McGrath has pointed out on his blog, I have created a Listserv for Bibliobloggers (actual experts) for the purpose of sharing information and creating an accurate Wikipedia page so the correct status of these relics can be disseminated.   It has been an amazing joint effort and everyone has put a lot of time into it–even those who felt that they were giving it too much credit by doing so.  And thus far the collaborating has been very successful.

However I cannot take credit for starting the Wiki page nor its current status (I made some minor edits, like correcting the last section header, removing some misleading information such as the many “supposedly’s” and “apparently’s” concerning emails which were not necessary, but more work needs to be done–the actual article is a credit to Roger Pearse who has done a great job with explaining the situation overall).  I believe this indeed might be the first time this has ever been done.  A great deal of new information has come to light as a result of information sharing.

David Meadows, for example, exposes many of the bizarre loopholes in the various reports of the stories here.   In fact he does such an amazing job, I see no need to rehash any of it.  Every interested reader should go there and check out what he has written.

On top of this, David, Dan, and I have been discussing the many similarities of the cast images on the tablets to coins and other artifacts located at museums in the region.  David has highlighted the similarity between the “face of Jesus” tablet with a bust of Apollo at the Jordan Archaeology Museum.  See below:

Bill Hamblin (with thanks for Dan McClellan for pointing it out to me) also has a blog up about the similarities to Helios coins:

Also highlighted are the similarities between the tablets containing many images (like the alligator, the chariots, the palm trees, and the stars) and coins which are also found at the same museum.  First the palm trees (coins dated to the time of Bar Kokhba):

Then the chariots (coin is a Tetradrachm dating to the 4th century BCE):

Now the stars (the coins date to the reign of Augustus):

There are many reasons to doubt these tablets are authentic, but these similarities are uncanny and supply more weight to the conclusion many of us have already drawn: These tablets are fakes.

But we see more than tablets in these latest reports.  In this picture here, we see what appears to be unrolled lead scrolls:

And these (highlighted by red and black boxes) look a lot like those lead curse scrolls that David Meadows and I had brought up in past posts.

Finally, I would like to highlight the additional email updates from Philip Davies, Mark Goodacre, Margaret Barker, and R. Joseph Hoffmann here and here.  Both instances show that not only were Philip and Margaret unaware of the fake tablets, but that they have begun to reflect upon the possibility that there are indeed fakes in the lot.  Daniel McClellan has argued, in my opinion persuasively, that it makes no sense to send the modern fakes (which Paul/David Elkington and company would have known about) to Thonemann for analysis rather than those which were authentic:

I don’t know why someone would add fake additions to an original find and then send out photos of the fake additions for authentication, only to ignore their falsification and again send out pictures of the fake additions for publicizing. Next, people who create molds for mass production are those concerned about efficiency. Forgers aren’t concerned with efficiency. In fact, forgery often involves excruciatingly inefficient processes. Notice, however, that I say the two plates come from the same “die or mold.” The copper plate image has rounder edges and may have been pressed or stamped, but the lead plate image has much sharper edges, and is more likely to come from a mold. I don’t know for sure, though, which is why I leave it open. What’s clear, however, is that the copper codex is a forgery and at least one of the lead codices shares the same provenance.

Dan also provides a very good explanation of the modern forged tablet in his most recent post here.  His analysis is highly recommended reading and conclusions are quite wise:

In light of these considerations, the burden of proof must lie exclusively with those who wish to assert any of these plates are authentic, and until some scientific analysis can show anything ancient is connected with these plates, I see no reason to give the question of their authenticity a second glance.

That about sums up the latest information from the group and from the Blog-o-sphere.  More to follow, as more information is released.  The biggest threat right now is the media’s failure to catch up with the scholarship going on.  Still reports continue to surface about these tablets taking their authenticity for granted, whereas the discussion of these tablets has been ongoing for weeks now with strong evidence for their status as fakes has been argued everywhere.  This is why Wikipedia is such an important site to update with the collaboration of experts in the field.

More Updates from Margaret About “Jordan” Codices

Margaret and I have had a pretty decent exchange over the codices over the past few days.  Margaret is a pleasant and knowledgeable person with a lot of useful information.  She writes the following:

Of course you may publish this.  I wish the newspapers were as courteous as you are.  I have just been reading all sorts of things [!], including a major piece about myself in our local paper about which I was not consulted at all. It was all cobbled togther from blogs etc, and then proudly declared to be copyright when there was not an original line in it.

I cannot vouch for the formal/ relevant ‘qualifications’ of anyone involved in this  apart from certain of my scholarly colleagues whom I have known for years.   And not all scholars are either ‘right’ or honourable.

‘Backdoor and vague’,  as you call it, is one of those curiosities. Any firm statements are said to be premature, anything less precise is vague. How does one win?

I have used the Scrolls fiasco as a warning of what happens when a certain type of scholar gets hold of something.  The result there was that fellow scholars had to wait for 50 or so years for full publication.  Philip Davies had personal experience of this, not being allowed even to see what was thought to be the missing part of the text he was studying for his PhD. With these metal books which may or may not be genuine, that will not happen, and the time scale will not be measured in years.

And you may publish anything from this piece too.

best wishes

Margaret B.

I responded with the following email:

My concern though is that there seems to be more to this than just what you and Philip have been consulted about.  The issue with Thonemann, for example, is deeper than simply duplicated tablets. Thonemann raises an important problem with at least one of the tablets; that is to say, the text is lifted directly from an inscription from a tombstone in a museum.  The translation has absolutely no context beyond this.  So it is quite clear that at least one of the tablets is indeed a modern fake.  That might not mean all of them are (I think I saw some lead curse scrolls in a picture featured on the daily mail…two unwound scrolls of lead with pierce marks in them), but that does call into question some of the involvement of others outside the field.

And do not mistake me for an elitist.   Just so you have some background, I am an undergrad who is still working on his BA in the field, so I am not one to cast a shadow on those uncredentialed.  I have the pleasure of having some very amazing friends and thankfully will soon be published through CIS with Thompson in December.  But I am concerned that many whose opinions I respect might be caught up in an elaborate scam they might not know all the details about.  This has happened before (I reference Speiser’s Nuzi Tablets here and also the recent fiasco with the James Ossuary that took forever to get through).

She replied:

Yes, I am aware of all this.  I was invited to comment on the images in the pictures I was shown, and I have seen a couple of metallurgists’ reports.

If the very worst comes to the very worst, I can confirm that they were good fakes!

Due to health problems, I have been unable to travel and see any of these exciting things/places/ people for myself, and so have had to rely on photos.

I hope this is not just an Indiana Jones story, but it might be.  The tablet copied from a tombstone in a museum is a fake almost certainly, but it and others similar might have been added to the ‘find’ and then used as a decoy for the authorities who would then release the others as all fakes.   I was all too aware of the anitiquities market being rather too interested! Things, however, keep coming into my mind. Why did St John emphasise that the sealed book opened in Revelation was a little book??

What worries me is that this business has brought to the surface some very unpleasant currents in contemporary scholarship.

The debate will continue.

best wishes

Margaret B

I will of course keep everyone posted on additional information, as it becomes available, and with the permission of those expressing their views.  I am glad to see that Margaret, like Philip, has come to accept the possibility that we are indeed talking about fakes.  This shows that there is still a huge level of uncertainty.  That Margaret has only seen photos also leads to the conclusion that there has, as of yet, not been any thorough examination of the codices by an authority–not even those who have been cited, falsely, in news reports.

Lead Codices Updates from Margaret Barker and Philip Davies

Some new emails have come in and I’d like to share them with everyone.  Margaret Barker wrote me this morning with some additional clarification to her previous email which I will post here in its entirety.  I do not believe she has been made aware of the email discussed over at Daniel McClellan’s blog along with the bronze vs. lead plates which look identical, so I sent her a followup with some discussions and links and look forward to hearing back from her.  Here is her email:

I have just read someone quoting yr blog, and what comes over is not what I intended. This was my fault for being so brief.

No known Xn iconography from the first generation is a fact, but there are verbal images which give a good idea what any Xn iconography wd have been.   There is plenty in the lead codices that corresponds to the verbal imagery of the first Christians: they are sealed books for a start, the overall theme of Revelation; there are palm branches; seven branched lamps; patterns of eight pointed ‘stars’  or similar;  and other images that cannot be identified with certainty.   I will not add to the current speculation.

Sorry about this

MB

I believe her last line is most relevant, of course.  I think we all need to be watchful of such things.  I think we need to also be careful that we don’t rush to any hasty conclusions about them (not the least of which because they appear to be fakes after all); especially which where the symbols and imagery are concerned.  Joe Hoffmann remarked in an email:

I fail to see how the iconography will be dispositive for an early date since these would then need to be the earliest known, sine qua non, examples of the images.  So, Huh?  Everyone backing away from preliminary hasty judgements does not bode well for the profession!

Mark Goodacre also brings news from Philip Davies.  Mark left a comment on my blog earlier this morning with the following important information:

I mentioned the Thonemann analysis to Philip Davies over on the Biblical-Studies list and he replied, “Many thanks – I had tried to read ‘Alexander’ but was frustrated by the confusion of letters. This makes very good sense. What is disturbing is that I was not told of this deciphering. But it adds to some evidence I am collating that some at least of these are pretty modern, after all.”

Margaret Barker Responds on Lead Tablets

So not only has Philip been misquoted, but Margaret Barker has also been misquoted.  I wrote her an email last night and she responded promptly, giving me permission to repost here:

Alas, I was not quoted correctly. I am discovering all sorts of things that I am supposed to have said.

My points are that they are codices and not scrolls, and ‘what are they forgeries of’ if they are forgeries.

Everything else is media generated.

No known Xn (Christian – ed.) iconography from the first generation,   code was used in some Dead Sea Scrolls, also the old script.

General answer is ‘nobody knows yet what they are’.

best wishes

On top of that Daniel O. McClellan has informed us that 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.  So there you have it.  The news media cannot be trusted and unfortunately those who don’t have access to the information are the ones suffering most.  See the other updates as well as the rest of the roundup here.

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

Comments:

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.

 

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