I recently wrote about the ancient Christian ‘books’ discovered by a Jordanian Bedouin. They were hidden from the world, maybe for 2000 years, in a Jordanian cave.
In the earliest data, they were described to be (about) 70 credit card sized ‘books’ made of steel. That information has now been updated and the metal is more likely lead and copper. Carbon dating tests found that a piece of leather found with the scrolls was over 2000 years old.
They were discovered in a cave perched up on a hill that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. One as yet opened book contains what observers believe to be an image of Jesus.
The Jordanian government is demanding the return of what is described as ‘priceless’ Christian relics. An Israeli Bedouin, who now claims ownership, smuggled them across the border into Israel. He says they have been in his family for 100 years or more, but Jordan intends to ‘exert all efforts at every level’ to have them returned.
Our fascination with the discovery comes from remarks by Ziad al-Saad, the director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities who believes the ‘books’ were made by followers of Jesus, just a few decades after His crucifixion.
Robert Piggot, BBC News religious affairs correspondent quoted the director. “They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad. “Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”
To add to their mystery, they contain Hebrew text often in code. This is what the BBC’s Piggot uncovered. “One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum. He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”
He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages have so far not been opened.
Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God. “It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.
“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.
“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”
Further input came from Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University,whp says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem. “As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.
“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”
It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were. “It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.
Dr Margaret Barker, a former president of the Society for Old Testament Study, said: ‘The Book of Revelation tells of a sealed book that was opened only by the Messiah.
‘Other texts from the period tell of sealed books of wisdom and of a secret tradition passed on by Jesus to his closest disciples. That is the context for this discovery.’
Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated. It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.
Some on-the-spot academics say the discovery might ultimately be as significant as The Dead Sea Scrolls.
This story is well worth following.