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.

Jordan Lead Codices: Case Closed as “Genuine” Forgeries?

And so we are once again brought back to these codices.  Elkington and company will not stop pretending, it seems.  This time they might have unintentionally admitted to their forgeries:

Approximately two months ago, Hassan Saida, the Israeli Bedouin who smuggled the Jordan Codices into Israel, telephoned to inform the team that he and his cohorts had made 500 forgeries of various of the codices and put them into the Jerusalem market.   We didn’t think too much of it as he tells lots of tales; however, one of team members was sent these two photographs by someone who purchased them in Israel. To those who have seen the real McCoy, these were obvious forgeries.   However, even comparing them to the posted photographs, the difference is all too apparent.   Below are some observations made by one of the metal experts assisting the team.  We expect more will materialise in due course.

Steve Caruso notes:

Interesting thing about the above image that came with the release: If it is based off one of the codices, it does not resemble any of the codices released thusfar. At first glance, this one is in a much more obvious Hebrew/Aramaic-flavored script rather than the seemingly “Paleo-Hebrew/Aramaic/Coptic” mix of the others. (Something that their “metal expert” noticed as well. I wish I had a name to put to their words.)

via The Aramaic Blog: Lead Codices: “Genuine” Forgeries?.

And Joel Watts:

David Elkington is not letting this die – as now the Bedouin who first smuggled out the ‘Lead Codices’ is telling everyone that he has created 500 forgeries. Of course, the ‘real’ lead codices is what David has… Do you know the mental mind-flips it takes to state that that guy who is telling everyone that he has made 500 forgeries is now lying and that your copy is the only real copy?

Jim Davila aptly notes:

I think the evidence presented so far is adequately explained by positing that someone in modern times made the fake metal codices, apparently using ancient metal, at least for some of them. If anyone wants to demonstrate that among the now admitted sea of fakes is a genuine ancient inscription, I refer them to my list of conditions that need to be fulfilled here. Take your time, but don’t expect me to hold my breath.

Dan McClellan writes:

Is this an attempt to account for the exposure of other codices as modern forgeries? If so, it falls well, well short of explaining the numerous genetic relationships shared between the script and iconography of the Thonemann codices and the others being promoted as genuine (see my discussion here and here). It also produces a rather unique codex that has little relationship to the other demonstrable forgeries. I can’t say the “team” involved in the promulgation of this hoax is impressing me with their craftiness.

In truth, this seems to me like a part of the bigger lie here.  What better way to validate your claims that these aren’t forgeries than to release real forgeries?  As if to say, “See?  These are the actual forgeries, and we are so incompetent we created terrible forgeries, so these others must be real!” or something to that effect.  In the end, however, Elkington and company have only revealed their hand: they have admitted to having the means and the shop to fabricate, and in a short amount of time, lead codices.  Just because this batch turned out to be crappier than their earlier versions does not make the originals any more authentic or ‘genuine’ than the 500 they admit are forgeries.  The only thing it means is that their workshop has not yet been discovered and they have not yet been held accountable for their lies.

UPDATE (8/23/11, 11:49AM EST):

The Facebook page for the codices has uploaded a new image of a fake:

Just from an initial glance, the iconography on this admitted forgery is identical to the iconography on the ‘genuine’ codices.  That is to say, the same stamps were clearly used.  The menorah, the Bar Kokhba imagery from coins, the palm tree, even the script, is clearly the same.  This further validates my position that the original ‘genuine’ codices were produced by he same shop which replicated these 500 fakes.

See this image from this front tablet:

This is clearly seen in other tablets.  See the same image from this post a few months ago:

Steve Caruso made this animated image of the “fake” codex image over the “original” codex image, and as you can see, the two are identical:

Even the lettering around the stamp is the same (because the script is part of the stamp).  This seals it then, so to speak.  These are fakes and so are the ‘originals’.

Also the interested reader should check out the dedicated page at the Biblioblog Reference Library here.

UPDATE (8/23/11, 4:35PM EST):

Steve Caruso and Dan McClellan were removed from the Jordan Codices Facebook page; both were politely inquiring about the codices in the images and clearly were censored by a nervous hand.  In other news relating to Elkington, the conman himself went on the air today and made some extremely dilettantish comments, showing one and all how little he really knows or, conversely, how good of a liar he is (transcript courtesy of Dan McClellan):

For those of you who didn’t listen to Elkington’s interview on that Coast to Coast radio show, I went ahead and transcribed a couple minutes of it that I found particularly ludicrous (specifically 13:51 – 15:31):

–       Elkington: Um, we, we’re–we’re–we’re performing more analysis now on the translation and the decipherment of the language. A lot of people have said, “Oh, I’ve seen these things on the web, the, uh, language is–is–is–it’s gibberish; it–it makes no sense. It’s a very odd form of Aramaic.” Well, um, actually the news is this: it isn’t Aramaic. The script is a square script, which means it’s Hebrew, and the form of Hebrew that it is, is called paleo-Hebrew, which is very, very ancient indeed, and there are only four or five people in the world who are familiar with it. And we’re working with one of those, uh, professors at the moment, who thinks he’s on the edge of a breakthrough with the language.

–       Interviewer: Wow.

–       Elkington: Some of it’s translatable, but a lot of it is still yet to be, uh, deciphered.

–       Interviewer: Ok, but paleo-Hebrew would date to a specific time that would, at least in my understanding, would come a long time before–before Christ and the Hebrew of the–of the first century as we­–as we know it. Is that not true?

–       Elkington: Yeah, that’s very true. That’s a very astute observation, if I may say so. Um, the use of paleo-Hebrew is extraordinary. It would be rather like you and I using Latin today.

–       Interviewer: Right, exactly.

–       Elkington: It would really make no sense to the large majority of people; but what, actually, it shows, is paleo-Hebrew may well have been the language of Moses, um, Moses on the mountain collecting the ten commandments. So, therefore, the use of it states that it really is like an official temple language, and that they’re using the original words of God, which makes this all the more extraordinary.
But Elkington is quite wrong and rather ignorant.  Let’s break this down a bit.  First, the paleo-Hebrew script is not necessarily that ancient.   For example, such script was used on coins during the Bar Kokbha rebellion (132-135 CE) on coins:

You’ll note, as I have, and Dan McClellan has, and Steve Caruso has, that the script on this coin is identical in many instances to the script on the codices.  In addition, there are other possible types of script as well.  It seems like Coptic (and above), Greek, and possibly other ancient scripts are also on many of these codices.  And there are a lot of scholars out there who are familiar paleo-Hebrew.  Even none-scholars, like educated amateurs, with an adequate grasp of the subject, can translate it.
Dan McClellan remarks (echoing my comments above):
First, scholars have been pointing out it seems to be a meaningless mixture and adaptation of scripts, not just that it is “a very odd form of Aramaic.” Next, a “square script” does not indicate Hebrew, and his claim that the script is paleo-Hebrew actually precludes it being a “square script.” Next, there are far, far more than four or five people in the world who are familiar with paleo-Hebrew. This is the most stunning and flagrant lie of the entire interview. Further, though, the use of paleo-Hebrew actually does not indicate antiquity, since paleo-Hebrew is actually a comparatively modern adaptation of the Old Hebrew script used specifically in texts considered particularly sacred or important. Multiple manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls were written entirely in paleo-Hebrew, and the Tetragrammaton appears in several regular manuscripts in paleo-Hebrew.
Finally, David Meadows takes note with the recent (anonymous) metallurgical testing done on the codices and found this gem:
This in turn suggests that the lead has been re-melted and could well contain a mixture of lead from different sources together with lead from the copper alloy.  In contrast, the lead from the wire has overall much lower levels of impurities, with copper at only 100 ppm, and is much more likely to have come virtually direct from an ingot.
To which Meadows points out:
Later mention is made of the recycled nature of the lead in the sheets … that’s one point that needs to be mentioned if it hasn’t already.
At this point there can be no more disagreement.  These need to be called out for the fakes that they are.
Additional links:
UPDATE (8/27/11; 6:26PM EST):
I have posted up some new finds from Steve Caruso and Dan McClellan here!  Take a look, as it may just be the final nail in the coffin on these codices.
UPDATE (8/30/11; 1:30PM EST)
Steve Caruso and Dan McClellan have posted up some great material today, absolutely fascinating, and it must be shared.
First, Steve Caruso posted up defining evidence that the script on the codices come from the same stamps.  Here are his images:
And this stamps appearance on other codices:
Steve aptly notes:
We can see that in some of the larger plates that they are staggered in such a way to look like a unique sequence of text. This staggered pattern directly demonstrates that there is no attempt to preserve word order of the text itself. To do so, one would have to wrap each individual line until the sequence of characters was complete and this is how it appears on genuine inscriptions, no matter how messy, as it is the recording of the semantic content that is the focus of the exercise.Because of this regularity and pattern, it demonstrates that the “stamps” are the casting unit rather than the “text” itself that is in them.

Go read it all to see the other interesting things he says and more examples of the script!
Dan also posted an excellent blog today with fun images which, again, show quite definitively that we’re looking at fakes.  Dan tracked down the coin which the face of Alexander the Great appears (and is also a known fake–go figure!):
Dan writes:
The use of a number of stamps has been suggested in the past based on the frequent repetition of the menorah, the two different styles of trees, etc. See also the two different versions of the “Christ” face…
You can see the mold was manipulated somewhat after the stamp impression was made and before the casting was done. The images are not identical, but come from the same stamp. I cannot agree that this impression comes from a Mona Lisa image, though. This would require the forger created a three dimensional copy of the Mona Lisa image for the stamp. It would have been much easier to us an existing stamp image, and the helios coins are obviously the closest match (although I have not found an exact match). In the copper codex that was falsified by Peter Thonemann the stamps were just fake ancient coins. Earlier Robert Deutsch felt he identified the exact fake for the chariot scene…
Definitely check out what both Dan and Steve have to say.  Again, I reiterate my statement earlier.  There can be no doubts left against the conclusion that these codices are fakes.
Finally, check out the recent ignorant comments left by Elkington, the man who is pushing these fakes as the real deal.

On the Doherty-McGrath-Godfrey Exchange

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘Why we need to watch our terminology’, but I thought that might have been too vague.  Still, I must wonder why I am seeing so much aggression on both sides.  In my attempt to remain impartial, it seems I have alienated myself from Godfrey.  I’d like to address his criticisms and use this as a tool to highlight the problem with the current position Godfrey takes.  He writes:

Tom Verenna has written (naively, in my view, but that is forgivable) that he equates the scientific method itself with the academic publishing processes. But less forgivable is that, without even having read Rene Salm’s book, he has web-posted the very same sorts of ignorant falsehoods and insults as McGrath has leveled at Doherty and others, also without reading their works or being able to outline their arguments in anything but their own straw man versions.

I’m not sure I’ve equated the scientific method with academic publishing, but I do agree with McGrath, as well as Carrier, that publishing academically is one way in which competency can be judged and tested.  With peer review (especially blind peer review), what you write is subjected to an process whereby other legitimate academics who are certified in the field examine your arguments, your use of the language, the translations you provide, and determine if they meet a level of competency  necessary to publish.  It is not infallible and has at times failed.  I can name a few peer reviewed papers that are quite atrocious, which have the most bizarre arguments, that still make it through.  But doesn’t that make an interesting point?

Doherty and Godfrey have argued that peer review, in an academic setting, is a trend for those who belong to the ‘elite club’ of the white tower of ivory, where those with dissenting perspectives against the status quo of the academy cannot gain access.  Yet many dissenting perspectives not only get through, and published, they get reviewed and they get discussed.  Again, the process isn’t perfect, and at times studies get missed that shouldn’t (like Michael Vines’ great work on the genre of the Gospel of Mark), but overall with continued publishing they will get noticed by the community eventually.  And if the study is good enough, compelling enough, and argued thoroughly enough, the study will prove to change, at least a portion, of the academic community.  And sometimes that is most for which you can ask.  After all, just as any group of people, the community is made up of all sorts from a variety of social backgrounds, with differing opinions, and different politics, and different religious convictions.  You cannot hope to convince everyone, and you’re lucky if you convince anyone.

However, when one resigns themselves to publish without going through this process, they deserve what they get from the community.  Its a part of paying your dues.  You don’t sell a lot of books, but that isn’t the point.  If Doherty had sought an academic publisher for his book, or even if he had sought publication for a chapter or two, in a peer reviewed journal, his ideas and views would be read directly by the academic community.  He would be subjected to their reviews, both good and bad. McGrath would be forced to interact with these reviews, as they come from the community, and he wouldn’t be able to (or at least, he couldn’t be accused of) gloss over points or misrepresent, or ignore certain aspects of Doherty’s thesis.  There would always be another academic review, whether by RBL or some other reviewing house, which countered him, or which held a more impartial perspective.  But since Doherty has chosen instead to throw stones from his glass house, well outside of the academy, why should McGrath, or anyone else, take him seriously?  It is only by luck that I have the friends I do, where sometimes I am taken seriously (and I have an academic publication forthcoming!).

As for Salm, that is an interesting critique.  Salm sent me six tracts (no bigger than small pamphlets) ‘for scholars’ which I felt not only fell short of what was needed to prove his case, but that he neglected to address the criticisms against his position.  I feel his position, that Nazareth didn’t exist when it is said to have existed, is patently ridiculous as he currently argues for it and we have more than sufficient reason to accept its place in the first century landscape.  If Salm wants to prove his case, he should seek to publish his finds in ASOR, present a paper at a conference for ASOR or some other society (and there are more than a few that would find Salm’s position interesting).  I never said there was no way he could be right, but as he has presented it in the past, and his reluctance to present it in an academic setting now, suggests to me that even he realizes he has no case.  If he did he would join ASOR or some other society and present it.  The change he seeks will not come overnight, but it will be heard, examined, and the academic discussion on the subject can happen.  And when it happens, it will either validate or invalidate his position.

The past and youth are forgivable, but quite some time ago I asked Tom if he still holds these views or wishes to retract them and I am still waiting to receive a reply to that particular query.

Well, Neil, there is your answer.

Tom on his blog has more recently given the same excuse as Stephanie Fisher has given for the likes of McGrath and West: that is, in effect, that these are really very nice chaps when you get to know them personally. I am sure they are. So this excuses their public discarding of basic human respect and scholarly standards when targeging those who hold views they detest? And those who just happen to judge them at their public word are at fault for failing to realize that behind those ad hominems and misrepresentions is really a very nice chap?

No, Neil, you are quite wrong.  I am not ‘giving an excuse’ for their behavior.  Nor am I sanctioning McGraths’ misrepresentations.  Had you bothered to read my blog, you would note I have often gone out of my way to check McGraths’ more hyperbolic comments and have, on more than one occasion, warned him about the fallacious distinctions he sometimes makes.  However, you have not helped yourself, Neil.  You’ve become an isolationist and as a result have caused yourself to have spiteful comments directed towards you.  I will give you the same advice I gave John Loftus.  If you want to parlay with the academic community, you need to grow some thicker skin–especially if you’re arguing against consensus.  I know for a fact that the biggest criticism against my forthcoming book is that I am not certified; and it is a valid criticism.  My hope is that many will look past it, and some might find the arguments more worthwhile than my status

My comments towards McGraths’ personality are quite irrelevant and I’m not sure how you came to associate them with my opinion towards James’ position on historicity of the figure of Jesus and his remarks towards those with opposing views.

And Tom’s reply above pointing to certain mythicists (e.g. Zeitgeists) demonstrates my point about his using the same tactic of politician-speak in his response to me earlier. When I spoke about McGrath’s unprofessional attacks on Doherty’s book and even on Doherty personally, Tom avoids (and thereby implicitly excuses) the issue by replying that “mythicists” have given “historicists” as hard a time as they have received themselves.

They are, and they have.  I fail to see how one as smart as you might fail to see the problems associated with your own arguments and the rhetoric you use in your own posts.  You seem to ignore the fact that your argument is really not academic.  It isn’t even credible.  This is a very serious charge in the academic community.  Doherty is in the same position.  Sans his degree, which is noteworthy, he is not published and he is arguing a point which is strongly unsupported in the community.  There are ways of doing things, as there are in any field, and you have both, as well as others, ignored the rules of engagement.  If you have a case, publish it.  It will either stand for itself or crumble under the weight of scholarly examination.  But you can’t expect McGrath, nor anyone, to presume to take you seriously when you don’t event take your own arguments seriously enough to seek to present them in an academic manner.

And this is where McGraths’ point is solidified.  When he compares you to creationists, he isn’t speaking about the idea that Jesus might not have existed historically.  He would not levy such a criticism against those who are agnostic about the historicity of such a figure.  No, he is lobbying against your unrealistic approach.  You complain that scholars don’t take you seriously, but you don’t do anything ‘scholarly’.  You don’t publish, you don’t use caution in your conclusions (you and Doherty state that affirmative that Jesus never existed rather than the more agnostic approach), you don’t appreciate the scholarly process, and then you wonder why scholars ignore you.  McGrath is absolutely correct: this is just the same approach that creationists take.

This is what I meant by remaining silent in the face of clear, demonstrable and unequivocal abuse of one’s status as a public intellectual.

Being a public intellectual doesn’t mean you’re right, or that you automatically deserve respect.  Respect is something to be earned, not given freely.

Tom’s silence when faced directly with this question implies complicity. His apparent failure to renounce his own irresponsible and ignorant attacks on Salm’s book without even having read it is as reprehensible as anything we see from McGrath himself. (Sorry, no it is not as bad as McGrath’s standards. McGrath is a fully qualified academic and professor.)

I’ll ignore the subtle ad hom, but I will not excuse your abuse of my integrity.  I have indeed read Salm’s tracts on Nazareth, which he sent me.  I will gladly upload pictures of the tracts I have.  I remain unconvinced because he refuses to engage scholarship directly.  I can’t accept his conclusions at face value without knowing the other arguments, but I can’t know them since most archaeologists are unaware or simply don’t care because he hasn’t published them where they can read them and examine them as a community.   My criticism of Salm remains the same now as it did when I first pointed a finger at him, which is surprisingly the only argument I still feel compelled to agree with myself on from that period in time.  “I consider … Salm’s book on par with that of Joe Atwill’s book, Caesar’s Messiah. It’s the same sort of poor scholarship and ridiculous misuse of the evidence. Both present extreme theories with little regard for the authorities. Both make claims that are really unbacked by scholarship. Both, to my knowledge, never went through peer review. Both have been confronted by scholars and both refuse to revise their arguments based on those criticisms that cannot be countered.  As I said – they could be right, and … Nazareth [may] never have existed [after all]…. Even worse is that scholarship is against them in almost every regard,… the evidence is stacked in opposition. And it’s not because their position is an impossibility, but simply because there is no good reason to accept their position based on probability. Bluntly, the only conclusion one can draw from the evidence is that Nazareth existed.”  I don’t think I was unclear (even though I believe I write better now than I did then).  I don’t think I’m being unclear now.

I am quite sure Tom, James et al are all very nice people to have a drink and discuss the weather with, and that they are the most congenial of folks at conferences and, by and large, hold themselves to the right professional dealings with one another. But when faced with outside critiques — like people who have one respectable persona in their public lives but have “issues” when back at home — outright intellectual dishonesty and malicious slander are, well, not unknown.

Intellectually dishonest?  Slander?  I haven’t slandered anyone, nor have I been intellectually dishonest.  If you feel that way, Neil, I have to believe you are deluding yourself.

I understand that if one wants to get ahead in a guild one must play the game. Hoffmann has acknowledged that the reason the question of the nonhistoricity of Jesus is not more on the agenda among scholars has more to do with concern for security of academic appointments than “common sense”.

This is quite incorrect.  The reason why the historicity of Jesus is not considered in modern scholarship has nothing to do with ‘playing it safe’ but, rather, has everything to do with there not being a study published which raises the question.  And yes, there is a game to be played.  It’s called the game of method and exposure.  You follow the methods and show them through exposure to the community.  If you are that insecure about your conclusions, then I can’t help you and nobody else can either.

So I understand that to be accepted into the club one must learn to think a certain way.

How naive and ignorant.  Nobody is forced to think a certain way; if that were the case, we would still be uttering church law and dogma at all academic conferences and at the beginning of every paper.  And rather than discussing the intricacies of intertextuality in the Gospels we would be singing hymns and praises towards the miracles of Jesus.  This is a completely fallacious and slanderous statement about the status of current scholarship, and speaks volumes about ones own understanding and misgivings about the academic process.  The whole PhD process is bent around producing a new and unique work in the field.  Quoting the so-called ‘status quo’ is not going to get one anywhere.  It won’t even get them by a PhD board.  They’ll probably be cited for plagiarism.  The ‘status quo’ argument is nothing more than a myth, idealized by those who refuse to do what is necessary to earn respect.

And the only thing one must do to ‘join the club’ is to be realistic.  You’re being ‘anything but realistic’ in your analysis.

But that club is only showing its tribal side when some of its members can crucify certain targeted incorrect outsiders while the rest of its members find excuses to remain silent.

Again, if you believe I’ve been silent, Neil, you’re delusional or just not paying attention.

Joe Zias’ Reaction to BBC Article

Joe was goodly enough to pass along this comment to me, posted with his permission:

First thing one has to see is who is promoting it.  Englishman who broke the story called me a few yrs back wanting to meet with me here in Jerusalem, over a book he was writing on Qumran.

We met and he asked me about a skeleton from tomb 18 at Qumran as he was told, so he says, by the French priest who excavated the tomb that it may be John the Baptist. As I know the material quite well I told him that the skeleton there has a head and I would provide the photo of the grave the following morning which I did. A short time later the book The Secret Initiation of Jesus at Qumran appeared and lo and behold, the story of the headless skeleton appeared.

I might add that he also helped authenticate on the basis of the patina that the lead coffin, originally discovered by BAR in Qumran was  ancient. A short time later it was determined that it was zinc not lead and then  after it was published at least three times, that it was coated with Barium-Titanium paint, patented in the 1920’s to prevent oxidization on zinc. That unique, one of a kind, first, was, as I told them probably a Bedouin water trough which morphed into a ‘ancient’ coffin lid. Shanks brought this to public attention in BAR with the headline ‘Jews, Save the Bones of your Ancestors’ and the money flowed in. As for the ‘bones of the ancestors’ c-14 dates  from AZ, showed that  two of the three, were from the late Pre-historic period, pushing , literacy, the DSS and Abraham and the clan back thousands of yrs.

Soon you will see something similiar this time it’s the $ign of Jonah, the Profit. National Geog.  same cast of characters as Talpiot tomb of Jesus (2007)  with a little help from folks at UNC-Charlotte.

Joe Zias
Science and Antiquity Group – Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel

Reactions to the BBC Report on the Lead Codices

For those who don’t know, the BBC has finally put out an article refuting a story they had published a few months ago on the Lead Codices, and for those of us who have been ‘on the case’ since the beginning, we feel it is about time.  There are some very useful parts to the article.  For example, on the lead codices in general, Kevin Connolly writes:

And they are astonishingly heavy. Some are no larger than a credit card but some are the size of large-format modern paperbacks. The largest that I handled probably weighed 4 or 5kg (about 10lbs).

You can see why the publishing industry was eventually won over by the flexibility and portability of paper.

But that is where the supply of undisputable concrete fact about the collection – which some people refer to as the “Lead Codices” – more or less runs out.

Indeed.  But there are some troubling bits.  I am aware that journalists have to give some consideration to bias and attempt to give a ‘balanced’ report when possible, but why does ‘balanced’ have to mean speculation?

Mysticism and magic swirl in the dark air as Mr. Saeda enlarges on the possibilities he sees in the codices.

They might contain the real story of the destruction of the Jewish Second Temple by the Romans, he says.

Or they could fill the gaps in our knowledge of the early Christian movement. They might even hold the key to universal happiness.

But they don’t give us this; no translations have been released to the public by any authority and nobody knows–least of all Mr. Saeda–what the translations will reveal.  But the translations are irrelevant.  Why?  Because these are fakes.  They are poor fakes at that, and many scholars have already noted the signs of this on their own blogs.

Still, Joe Zias makes an appearance in the article, where he remarks:

The golden rule in archaeology, he says, is simple – when you hear extraordinary claims, ask for extraordinary proof.

Mr Zias says the world of archaeology has changed since Hollywood gave us first Indiana Jones and then the Da Vinci code.

No longer is the archaeologist a nerdy toff with a shovel and a Shorter Oxford Dictionary of Latin. Suddenly he or she, is a swashbuckling figure solving the sinister mysteries of antiquity.

They are still searching for the Holy Grail of course – except that now the Holy Grail is not just the find itself but a story of danger and adventure in the process of searching that secures you a deal for a book or a documentary.

Give the whole article a read, but be sure to come back.  Back now?  Good.  Here are some of the reactions from the academic community on the Biblioblogosphere about the article.

Jim West writes:

The BBC may be slow, but when they finally get around to the topic they do a far better job than the Discovery Channel and the History Channel do!

Jim Davila remarks aptly while echoing my own feelings:

The BBC has known for a long time that the codices are fake. It looks to me as though they are trying to squeeze the last dregs out of the story, while laying the groundwork for eventually correcting it with the truth. They should have done that months ago and their conduct has been reprehensible.

Mark Goodacre chimes in:

One of the disappointing things here is the lack of reference to the earlier article by Robert Pigott, which needs explicit correction. After that article appeared on 29 March, I wrote a friendly email to Robert Pigott (5 April) explaining that the consensus among experts was that the codices were fakes, and offering to point him in the direction of some clear, helpful blog posts and articles by experts. He never replied.  Nevertheless, progress is progress even if it is done in this way by a different writer apparently unaware of previous mistakes.

I suspect more reactions will appear as the story circulates.  As for now, I’d like to direct everyone to my article on Bible and Interpretation as it contains all the details and links about this subject: Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History.

Simcha and Goodacre on the Crucifixion Nails of Jesus

Joe Zias was goodly enough to post that Simcha Jacobovici had posted up an article on James Tabor’s blog in response to the critics (really, those ‘critiques’ are the actual academic response to his sensational ‘find’ of the ‘crucifixion nails’ of Jesus.)  You can read Simcha’s response (if you are feeling particularly masochistic or if you feel like throwing up a little in your mouth) here.

Mark Goodacre wrote up a reply on the Biblical Studies message board (cited with permission) in response to this which I feel is quite astute as it is erudite (and polite–more polite than it should be):

Simcha’s response (now published on James Tabor’s blog) illustrates
something quite interesting about strategy, to my regret. Although he
spends much of the essay berating the ad hominem nature of the attacks on
him, the fact is that on this occasion he *has* posted a detailed response
to his critics. And this is the frustration: those of us who have, in the
past, engaged in a kind of patient, calm, detailed response to his claims
have been ignored. It is only now that abuse and ridicule have been
directed towards him that he has responded. To illustrate further: I
listed seventeen errors and inaccuracies on the “Jesus Family Tomb website”
over four years ago on my blog. From time to time, I draw attention again
to the list. They include serious, egregious errors, nonsense,
misstatements and so on. To this day (and I checked again last night),
every single one of them is still there on the site.

I say this with regret because I share that naive belief that academics
sometimes have that non-academics might respond to correct errors when they
are pointed out in a patient and friendly way. Sadly, and on repeated
occasions, this is not the case.


So true, Mark.  SO true.

Must-Read Additional Links:

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.

Children: The Unforeseen Victims of Family Radio

And let’s be blunt about this:  Adults have the ability to make rational decisions with their lives, their money, their property. This includes adults who recognize the farce that Camping was running, the dilettantism, the failure of his predictions.  Children, however, are far less capable of determining the difference between fiction and reality.  And unfortunately they are the victims of this whole fiasco, more than the adults who should have known better anyway:

Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping, 89, had predicted that the rapture would take place on May 21, 2011, at 6 p.m. based on time zones. Not many people took Camping’s claim seriously, including workers at his Family Radio. But some of his devout followers emptied their bank accounts to pay for ad campaigns warning about the day.

Among his followers on the East Coast is the family of Adrienne Martinez, 27, who decided not to attend medical school after she listened to Camping on Family Radio. Martinez and her husband, Joel, quit their jobs and moved from New York City to Orlando to spend the last supposed year they had on Earth reading the Bible, distributing tracts and spending time with their two-year-old daughter.


And what of this unborn baby?

‘Judgment Day’ came and went on Saturday, and John Ramsey hasn’t been able to sleep.

The 25-year-old Harrison, N.J. resident had rearranged his life in recent months to devote himself to spreading a fringe California preacher’s prediction that May 21 would bring worldwide earthquakes and usher in a five-month period of misery before the world’s destruction.

His family nervously huddled in their apartment living room Saturday, holding their Bibles open, switching between CNN, Facebook and Google for news of quakes in the Pacific.On Sunday, a dejected Ramsey said he faces a “mixed bag.”He has to find a new job. So does his mother. His 19-year-old brother, who had quit high school the year prior (“It’s pointless to graduate,” the brother had said), is thinking of re-enrolling or finding employment.

His wife, Marcia Paladines, had come to accept that she might never meet her unborn baby, whom she and Ramsey had named John Moses. Now, she’s praying for a healthy birth. The child is due as early as Friday.

“Life goes on,” Ramsey said Sunday. “I get to live. I get to be a dad.”

Personally, and this is just my opinion, anyone who puts his family in this sort of predicament should never reproduce.  Now his baby will be born into a state of near poverty, unless a miracle happens–but then we have to ask, does this person deserve such a favor?

“It’s not [Camping’s] fault,” said Ramsey, who added he also won’t ask for his money back. “Nobody held a gun to my head. I read the Bible. The math added up. I don’t think anybody would do something like this without meaning it.”

What about your child?  Did you ever stop to think that your actions had consequences?  That, if this prediction turned out to be wrong, you might not be able to provide for your family, your child?  How selfish.  And finally, you’re a dilettante.  Reading is easy; exegesis is not so easy and requires schooling, knowledge, reasoning skills, something that Camping doesn’t seem to have.  “The math added up.”  Yes, and what it adds up to is a negative balance in your bank account and your failure as a parent.  Next time put your trust in scholars who know better.

And just last week I learned of this (dated but relevant) incident:

Absolutely tragic.

Family Radio’s New Homepage

Can anyone say… “Well, that was fast!”

Click for Larger Image

Notice three things:

  1. It was updated on May 22, 2011.
  2. No mention of judgment day.

Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History

I have a new article published at Bible and Interpretation.  Here are some snippets:

Two months ago an article hit the media streams hard and fast, announcing that new artifacts had been discovered by a Bedouin containing the earliest known Christian writings, possibly even the words of the figure of Jesus himself.1 With a headline like that, anyone with even a modicum of academic interest in the historicity of the figure of Jesus would have looked over the article for any mention of a peer reviewed journal where they could read about the discovery, any translations of the script, or any dating methods used. To their dismay, they would have found nothing of the sort.

More scandalous is the complete lack of journalistic integrity, honest research, and thorough fact-checking. These codices might never have been heard of if the authors of the reports for BBC and Fox News (among others) had just checked with the academic community before publishing the “find”. At the very least, the journalists might have used less authoritative language, expressed more caution, and exposed the controversy rather than simply stating, as if doing so made it fact, that these codices were “the earliest Christian texts” and that they held “early images of Jesus.”

via The Bible and Interpretation – Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History.

Many thanks to those involved in the email group for their useful contributions not only to this article but to the investigation into these lead codices as well.  Everyone dedicated a lot of time and effort over the past few months and it has definitely paid off.

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