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One of the biggest and best-preserved hoard of ancient sealed books, which had been secretly hidden for centuries, has been discovered in Jordan. These could be relics from the Jerusalem Church of the first century. Early indications are that the books date from the first century CE/AD and could be some of the earliest Christian documents. Leading academics consider the find to be even more pivotal than the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.
The hoard consists of a collection of ring-bound books (codices) made of lead and of copper. Many of them are sealed on all sides. Scrolls, tablets and other artefacts, including an incense bowl, were also found at the same site. Some of the lead pages are written in a form of archaic Hebrew script with ancient messianic symbols. Some of the writing appears to be in a form of code.
It is known that early Christian writers used sealed books as a code for secret teaching, but no actual book has ever been found. They were heavily persecuted and needed to protect their knowledge. The codices were found in an area to which Christian refugees are known to have fled before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. The existence of a significant sealed codex is mentioned in the Book of Revelation: and other Biblical books mention metal plates for the use of Temple based documentation.
There is likely to be considerable academic and political debate about their authenticity, meaning and interpretation.
Initial metallurgical tests (spectrographic and crystallographic) indicate that the books made of lead could date from the first century AD, based on the form of corrosion which has taken place, which experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially.
The discovery was made by chance some 5 years ago by wandering Bedouin shepherds in a cave within a militarized zone in remote Northern Jordan. The hoard was subsequently acquired by an Israeli Bedouin, who smuggled them across the border where they remain hidden under his protection.
However, legal experts have confirmed that because it was originally discovered in Jordan, the find qualifies as treasure trove and, under Jordanian law, is rightly the property of the Kingdom of Jordan. The find has come to light only now because the British team leading the work on the discovery fears that the Israeli „keeper‟ may be looking to sell some of the books on to the black market, or worse, destroy them.
David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious history and archaeology, has led the team involved in bringing the find to the world‟s attention. David has been supported by his wife Jennifer and a small team of leading international academic experts, including Dr Margaret Barker, Co-founder of the Temple Studies Group and former President of the Society for Old Testament Study, and Professor Phillip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University and an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Much further investigation is now needed to confirm the authenticity, meaning and full significance of the find. David and Jennifer Elkington have already briefed the Jordanian Government about the discovery and have offered their help in retrieving the find and in supporting its further investigation. Preparations are also being made for a documentary film and book about the discovery.
It is hoped that an educational foundation can be created to promote long-term research into the wider significance of this find and related discoveries to enable greater understanding of the fragmented, and often conflicting, origins of Christianity and other religious groups, for the benefit of the whole world. David Elkington said: “It is an enormous privilege to be able to reveal this discovery to the world. But, as ever, the find begs more questions than it answers. The academic and spiritual debate must now commence, and this needs a calm and rational environment in order to be productive. So it is vital that the collection can be recovered intact and secured in the best possible circumstances, both for the benefit of its owners and for a potentially fascinated international audience”. Commenting on the discovery, Dr Margaret Barker 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. So if they are forgeries, what are they forgeries of?” Professor Philip Davies said: “My own scrutiny suggests to me and to several of my colleagues that the form of the archaic Semitic script corresponds well to what was used in the era 200BCE-100CE. However much of the writing appears to be in code and many of the images are unfamiliar. The possibility of a Hebrew-Christian origin is certainly suggested by the imagery and, if so, these codices are likely to bring dramatic new light to our understanding of a very significant but so far little understood period of history. The adoption of a codex format may also be relevant: it is known to have been adopted by Christians from about the first century CE.”
Note to Editors
David Elkington has been shown many of the artefacts by the current possessor of them, who wished to understand their significance, and was allowed to photograph some of them in their present location for research purposes. But he makes no claim of ownership, which based on the legal advice he has received, rightly rests with the Kingdom of Jordan.
Given the controversy and competition which the discovery of ancient artefacts always promotes – both academic and commercial – David is keen to ensure that the find can now be properly and professionally investigated, in a safe and secure place, with the full support of the Kingdom of Jordan and with the benefit of access to the world‟s leading experts. David has worked to date entirely on a voluntary basis, with the support of many friends, alongside the generous help of many leading experts in this field.
Particular observations from some of the codices include:
The codices show many symbols of the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot, which was associated with the enthronement of the ancient Davidic kings in Jerusalem, and later with the coming of the Messiah. There are clear images of the menorah (the seven branched lamp), leafy branches and etrogim, the large citrus fruits used at Tabernacles. There are also fruiting palm trees, well known from coins of the late second temple period and the time of the Bar Kochba war. There are blocks of paleo-Hebrew script, which could be from the Hasmonean period, 2nd-1st century BCE, but the experts consulted to date believe these to be in code.
Further information will be released in due course once the security of the artefacts has been assured.