Steve Caruso Clarifies the Function of the Lead Codices

Steve Caruso responds to a blog comment which asks “if these are fakes, what is the original object they are making facsimiles of?”  The question is one that has been asked before so their function deserves to be highlighted and exposed.  Steve writes:

Whoever fabricated these is not making copies of a genuine artifact, more than producing fake “antiquities” to sell at a significant profit. As we saw on eBay, one was being offered to the tune of $13,000. That’s not a bad markup for $5 worth of ancient Roman lead.

I have seen the same pattern like this before several times only in “golden letters on leather” where a pastiche of re-used iconography is assembled in a pattern that seems authentic enough to someone who doesn’t know what to look for.

When I’ve been approached by individuals trying to fence fakes it was always a matter of presenting something with enough intrigue to make the sale, and then threatening that time is short to complete the transaction.

Within this method, the sealed book angle, given the Apocalyptic reference, is the icing on the proverbial cake, and what seals (no pun intended) the deal for a potential buyer.

via Blogger: The Aramaic Blog – Post a Comment.


Jordan Lead Codices: Palm Tree Iconography

There are two definitive Palm Tree stamps which were used in the production of the iconography on the lead codices.  The first is a 12-branch palm tree (Type A):

Found on these codices, for example:

The second (Type B) is one that has smaller branches (and more of them) which are shaped in a rounded fashion rather than the pyramid-like fashion from the one above:

Found on these codices, for example:

Now onto the analysis of these palm trees, starting with the one with thirteen-branches.  Right away, their authenticity is called into question.  First the number of branches is simply wrong.  Second, the style of the branches are completely inaccurate from what we would expect of iconography from the period in the region.  Palm tree iconography found on coins from the first and second Jewish wars all feature seven branches with the exception being the fourth year prutah during the first Jewish war which features eight branches:

Here are some examples of seven-branch palm trees featured on coins dating to the Bar Kokhba uprising (second Jewish war):

And even those minted by Roman procurators like Antonius Felix also contained similar palm tree iconography:

You can clearly make out the six branches in the image, even with its poor quality.

Marcus Ambivulus’ (prefect of Judea) coin iconography is the closest match one might find to the iconography of Type A found on the lead codices:

As one can see, the branches are in a wave style, that is that each branch–particularly on the top rows–form a wing-shape or a flattened “v” rather than connecting to a central trunk like the other palm tree coin iconography.  It is likely that these coins, found all over Israel and Jordan (and in museums), were the inspiration for the Type A  palm trees on the lead codices.  Although I have also found this ring with a palm tree on it as well:

This ring, said to be a temple offering during the first Jewish war (the iconography is clearly based on the year four, first Jewish war prutah), bears the same number of branches.  The thing is, Joe Zias has told me that this ring is similar to tourist trinkets he has seen in Israel, peddled by workshops as well.  In other words, if this is indeed fake (and I am inclined to believe it might be), it is remarkably similar to the design on the codices.  The difference, again, is the style of the branches.  This ring has the branhces connecting to a central trunk rather than the wave or winged pattern of the Type A palm tree on the codices and the palm tree on the Ambivulus prutah.  So while this is very similar, it is more likely, in this authors opinion, that the palm tree Type A iconography is based on the Ambivulus prutah.  Now on to Type B.

Type B palm trees like very modern in style.  In fact, the palm tree iconography of Type B is unlike anything I’ve seen from antiquity.  Even on Judea Capta coins, where the palm trees look close (but not nearly close enough), the iconography has more differences than similarities:

Clearly not the same iconography.

The only palm tree iconography I could find which resembles the iconography of the Type B palm trees on the lead codices is the Nerva sestertius:

It is this authors opinion that the Type B iconography is loosely based upon this coin, or a modern equivalent.

And just to throw another wrench into the mix, I have included some fake coins in this lot to show that, not only are modern fakes with palm tree iconography are everywhere in our modern world (and the dies easy to come by), but that these dies are extremely close to the real thing.  Fake coins (with their palm tree iconography) are everywhere and more often than not are purchased by a lot of unsuspecting people.  Chances are you probably can’t tell the difference between the real ones and the fake ones, unless you are trained with a keen eye to spot them!

Bible and Interpretation – Update on the Jordan Lead Codices

My new article on Bible and Interpretation is up!  It is a brief update on the status of the investigation into the Jordan lead codices.  Here is a snippet:

None of the codices that have been released thus far for the public have proven to be authentic (including those which Elkington has supported as authentic) and none have shown to be more than the products of workshops, skilled in peddling fakes to tourists at a hefty price. It is also true that the iconography and even some of the script has roots in actual artifacts but these qualities were repurposed, out of context, from items found in museums in Jordan.

Update _Codices4.pdf (application/pdf Object).

Lead Codices Updates: Evidence of Lifted Script from coins and Additional Updates from Dan McClellan

Steve Caruso made a breakthrough today with this image:

He writes:

Going on the coin inscription lead, I came across a sequence of characters lifted nonsensically from the prutot of John Hyrcanus I (135-104 BC).

via The Aramaic Blog: Lead Codices: Sequence Lifted From John Hyrcanus I Prutah.

Also Dan McClellan made this note as well:

It reads as follows with the Facebook admin’s reading:

. . . לגלשאגתלאלגלגבשאגתל . . .
. . . מבתבלאגתלגשבתבלאגתבב . . .
. . . מסרשאלגבבמסרשאלגת . . .

A small collection of letters are simply being nonsensically repeated (with the occasional accidental word appearing). It is difficult to make out in the photo above because of the blurring, but the first roughly half of the bottom three lines are repeated in exactly the same shape and orientation in the second half of the text. Whatever mold or die was used to create the first half of each of the three lines was simply used again for the second half. Philip Davies’ recent PEQ editorial, available for free here, mentions this repetition and calls the lettering “mostly purely decorative.” This rather conflicts with Elkington’s claim to have the world’s top paleo-Hebrew mind reaching a breakthrough in translation (unless, of course, Elkington doesn’t think Davies is one of the five who can read it!).

via A Preliminary Translation of the Jordan Codices is Offered « Daniel O. McClellan.

He also notes earlier today of the dishonesty of the Elkingtons on their Facebook page:

The admin in charge of the Jordan Codices Facebook group has posted four pictures from what it claims are forensic tests of the codices. He states:

This set of photographs are some examples we took during our forensic work on the codices.

It’s my contention that the photos show no such thing. These are publicity photos taken by Elkington himself (or associates) and passed off as scientific.

In the first photo, the vast majority of the codex has been obscured by the portion of torn-off loose leaf notebook paper. What value does this photo have for a researcher? Absolutely none. In the lower picture a smaller piece of loose leaf notebook paper has been torn off to allow for the visibility of the tree image (and the numbering system is different). This is simply not how artifacts are photographed by professionals. Elkington is obscuring those parts of the codices that have text on them so that people who have the ability to analyze the texts for themselves cannot do so. He wants you to see the tree, though, since it’s pretty and it cannot be shown to be unintelligible.

If there is anyone out there who believes these to be authentic or genuinely ancient, they are either deluding themselves or in on the scam.

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.

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:

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.

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