April 4, 2011 10:21 am SBrinkmann
By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Archeologists say the face of a figure drawn on the cover of a tiny booklet recently found in a crevice in the wall of a Jordanian cave may be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ created by the hand of someone who actually knew Him.
Photos courtesy of Robert Feather mail AT copper - scroll . com
London’s Daily Mail is reporting that the booklet was found among dozens of tiny lead booklets that were found in a cave by a Bedouin trucker named Hassan Saida five years ago. Saida refuses to sell the booklets because he believes they have magical qualities, but did allow two samples to be sent to England and Switzerland for testing. Results showed that the metal booklets were consistent with ancient (Roman) period lead production and that the metal was smelted from ore that originated in the Mediterranean.
The booklets range in size from smaller than three inches to about 10 inches and each contain eight or nine pages that appear to be cast rather than inscribed with images on both sides. Many of the booklets are sealed on all sides with metal rings, suggesting that they were never intended to be opened.
However, the booklets that have been opened thus far seem to contain more pictures than words. The image suspected of being Christ is on the cover of one booklet and depicts a bearded man who appears to have marks on the brow consistent with those caused by a crown of thorns. There is only a small amount of script in the booklets which experts identified as some kind of Phoenician language which could take years to decipher.
One of the few phrases that have been translated thus far is “Savior of Israel” which was found in one of the booklets.
Sources in Saham told the Mail the booklets were discovered five years ago in a cave in the village of Saham in Jordan, close to where Israel, Jordan and Syria’s Golan Heights converge. The area is well known as having been the site of an ancient refuge for Jews fleeing the bloody revolts against the Roman Empire in the first and early second century. A flash flood in the area washed away the soil to reveal what appeared to be a large capstone. When this was moved aside, a cave was discovered with a large number of small niches set into the walls. Each of these niches contained a booklet.
Saida, 30, who owns and operates a haulage business, claims he inherited the booklets from his grandfather. In this part of the world many people supplement their income by hoarding and selling archeological artefacts found in the caves.
However, the Mail learned of other claims that the booklets first came to light five years ago when Saida’s Bedouin business partner met a villager in Jordan who said he had some ancient artefacts to sell. When he saw the booklets, he apparently becames “entranced” by them. Believing them to have magical powers, he decided it was his destiny to collect as many of them as he could find.
Additional booklets were then smuggled over the border by drivers working for Saida, some of who wore them openly around their neck as charms.
Saida constantly studies the booklets and won’t sell them, even though he’s been offered millions for them. He is supposedly not taking very good care of them, the Mail reports, and is known to be smearing them with olive oil as a “preservative.”
Several years ago, a Palestinian woman became concerned that the booklets would be sold on the black market and contacted a British journalist named Nick Fielding who ultimately approached David Feather, a metallurgist and expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who recommended submitting the samples for metal analysis at Oxford University.
The work was carried out by Dr Peter Northover, head of the Materials Science-based Archaeology Group and a world expert on the analysis of ancient metal materials. The results show the booklets date back to the first and early second century and appear to have been created by an early Messianic Jewish sect, perhaps closely allied to the early Christians, which means the images on the booklets could represent Christ Himself.
However, another theory put forward by Feather is that the books are connected to the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132-136 AD which established an independent state of Israel until the Romans crushed it two years later.
The commander of the revolt, Simon Bar Kokhba, was declared a Messiah. The spiritual leader of the revolt, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, is known as the man who laid the foundations for a mystical form of Judaism known today as Kabbalah, a version of which is followed by stars such as Madonna and Britney Spears. Yochai was known to have hidden in a cave for 13 years and to have written a secret commentary on the Bible, known as the Zohar, which eventually evolved into the teaching of Kabbalah. Feather is convinced that some of the text on the codices carry the name of Rabbi Bar Yochai.
The debate is expected to rage for years over whether the booklets are from early Christianity or early Kabbalah, but experts the world over are calling them one of the most significant discoveries in the history of archeology.
If the booklets are determined to be Christian, then the etchings found within may well be the earliest images we have of the face of Jesus Christ.
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com
More important links:
29 March 2011 Last updated at 01:30 ET by Robert Pigott BBC News religious affairs correspondent
They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.
A group of 70 or so "books", each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.
A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.
A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.
That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin.
"As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck” - Philip Davies
The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years. Jordan says it will "exert all efforts at every level" to get the relics repatriated.
The director of the Jordan's Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion. "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."
They seem almost incredible claims - so what is the evidence?
The books, or "codices", were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings. Their leaves - which are mostly about the size of a credit card - contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code. If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance. 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 of those which have so far 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."
Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, 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. Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin. "We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found," she says. "[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity."
The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.
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. While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection. It is by no means certain that all of the artifacts in the collection are from the same period. But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that the books were not made recently. The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.
Little is known of the movement after Jesus' crucifixion until the letters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spread of Christianity outside the Jewish world.
Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.
Story behind ancient lead codices to be published
David and Jennifer Elkington are
preparing for the publication of a book telling the remarkable
story behind one of the biggest and best-preserved hoards of
ancient sealed codices ever found.
David Elkington was initially shown photographs of the unexamined and unverified artifacts discovered in Jordan, before he began research into what he quickly realised may be the earliest discovered Christian documents, predating the writings of St Paul. He is now working to get the 70 ring-bound lead codices safely into a Jordanian museum.
Early indications suggest that the books could date from the first century AD, making them the first bound books ever discovered. Leading academics believe the find could be as pivotal as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. The existence of a significant, hidden collection of sealed codices is mentioned in the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation and in other biblical books.
In announcing the find, 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 to be most 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”.
In addition to the forthcoming book, there will be a documentary film about the find and its significance to the study of early Judeo-Christian relations.
News of this discovery broke on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, on which David Elkington was interviewed.
Could this be the biggest find since the Dead Sea Scrolls?
For scholars of faith and history,
it is a treasure trove too precious for price.
This ancient collection of 70 tiny books, their lead pages bound with wire, could unlock some of the secrets of the earliest days of Christianity.
Academics are divided as to their authenticity but say that if verified, they could prove as pivotal as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. On pages not much bigger than a credit card, are images, symbols and words that appear to refer to the Messiah and, possibly even, to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Adding to the intrigue, many of the books are sealed, prompting academics to speculate they are actually the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Bible’s Book Of Revelation. The books were discovered five years ago in a cave in a remote part of Jordan to which Christian refugees are known to have fled after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. Important documents from the same period have previously been found there. Initial metallurgical tests indicate that some of the books could date from the first century AD. This estimate is based on the form of corrosion which has taken place, which experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially. If the dating is verified, the books would be among the earliest Christian documents, predating the writings of St Paul. The prospect that they could contain contemporary accounts of the final years of Jesus’s life has excited scholars – although their enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that experts have previously been fooled by sophisticated fakes.
David Elkington, a British scholar of ancient religious history
and archeology, and one of the few to have examined the books,
says they could be ‘the major discovery of Christian history’.
‘It is a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects
that might have been held by the early saints of the Church,’ he
But the mysteries between their ancient pages are not the books’
only riddle. Today, their whereabouts are also something of a
mystery. After their discovery by a Jordanian Bedouin, the hoard
was subsequently acquired by an Israeli Bedouin, who is said to
have illegally smuggled them across the border into Israel,
where they remain.
However, the Jordanian Government is now working at the highest
levels to repatriate and safeguard the collection. Philip
Davies, emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield
University, said there was powerful evidence that the books have
a Christian origin in plates cast into a picture map of the holy
city of Jerusalem.
As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck,’ he said. ‘That struck
me as so obviously a Christian image. 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 a Christian
crucifixion taking place outside the city walls.’ The British team leading the work on
the discovery fears that the present Israeli ‘keeper’ may be
looking to sell some of the books on to the black market, or
worse – destroy them.
But the man who holds the books denies the charge and claims
they have been in his family for 100 years.
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.’ Professor Davies said: ‘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.’ Mr Elkington, who is leading British efforts to have the books returned to Jordan, said: ‘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.’