By Jim West
Quartz Hill School of Theology
On 3 March, 2011 the Jewish Chronicle ran a story reporting the discovery of what were then described as ‘lead codices’ from Jordan.1 It stated
Robert Feather is out to prove the sceptics wrong. A metallurgist with a passion for archaeology, he has been asked to help authenticate what he believes could be one of the most exciting religious discoveries since the Dead Sea Scrolls. The West London Synagogue member has previously published a book on the Copper Scroll, the Dead Sea Scroll thought to hold clues about the location of buried Temple treasure.Now he is trying to establish the origins of a mysterious cache of metal books which could be linked to the Kabbalah. The objects belong to Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family's possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago.
The report of any supposedly ancient text from the Middle East always results in a flurry of claims and counterclaims and, normally, such artifacts are submitted to expert evaluation by epigraphers and historians and assorted scientific experts. Accordingly
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), however, has dismissed the idea that the books are of any value. Experts who examined some of them, it said, "absolutely doubted their authenticity". According to the IAA, the books are a "mixture of incompatible periods and styles…without any connection or logic. Such forged motifs can be found in their thousands in the antiquities markets of Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East." Professor Andre Lemaire, an expert in ancient inscriptions from the Sorbonne, was also dubious, saying the writing on some of the codices he had seen made no sense and it was "a question apparently of sophisticated fakes".
That was, it has to be said, the sentiment of many who saw the artifacts. Those who have are, nearly to a person, convinced they are simply little trinkets produced and assembled for tourists so that they can take home something from the Middle East that looks ancient and contains some ‘fascinating’ text to show their friends.
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".
But finding experts to support one’s view is not as difficult as many may suspect. Eventually, given the right incentives, even the worst movie can find an endorser and any suspect piece of allegedly ‘ancient’ artifact can as well.
The IAA remains unconvinced, arguing that the metal could have been taken from an ancient coffin while the messages could have been fabricated later.
And that seems to be the consensus view even now, nearly three years after the ‘discovery’. Indeed, one of the most vocal opponents of the codices has been Dr. Robert Deutsch. He remarked, on 5 April, 20112
I will give a short description of some highlights from the iconography depicted on several “codices” for the “scholars” which are not familiar with numismatics. On a single leaf one can find: the head of Alexander the great copied, or impressed from a coin of his general Lysimachos, a palm tree from the coins of Bar Kokhba and Cartage, the eight pointed stars from the Jewish coins of Alexander Yannay and Hellenistic coins of the Seleucus, the bust of Domitianus from the administration coins minted in Judaea, The “inscriptions” are copied from the Hasmonean and Bar Kokhba coins, inscribed in straight and mirror shape, not to mention Gibberish in greek. Some of the leafs are impressed by a mechanical device and some made by hand, All are sealed with nails, some made of iron. No patina or corrosion is detected on them, but only an artificial brown color. An expert who is familiar with lead rust doesn’t need more than 10 seconds with a magnifying glass to find out the fraud. Let me end with a comment I made a short time ago on Jim West’s Web site: “Scholars are contaminating their academic records with lead poison”.
Daniel McClellan also weighed in a number of times, insightfully noting in a thoroughly expansive examination of the artifacts3 that
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.
One would imagine, then, that with the bulk of evidence against those claiming the codices are authentic, that the matter would have died out several years back. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all. Supporters of the authenticity of the artifacts continue to portray them as valuable pieces of history. But they haven’t stopped there. They’ve also taken to demonizing all who would dare to call into question the ‘artifacts’.
Even as recently as a few weeks, statements were made which demonstrate the lengths to which certain people will go to protect their investment. Claire Palmer, in a lengthy post at a website called the ‘International Times’, wrote4
It’s an odd coalition of characters ranging from the evangelical to the academic: and yet the fact is that they haven’t once offered the general and interested reader the decency of some proper scientific analysis, no breakdown of the historical period, no offering of why the books might be fakes or forgeries. Let alone any enlightening or spiritually uplifting sparks of their own that these exciting discoveries might inspire in the human imagination, which I like to think is their revolutionary intent.
Looking online you’d think the argument was over. ‘Done and dusted guv, they’re fakes.’ It gives the impression of seeming definite, but scratch beneath the surface to look for the defining evidence and all that can be seen are endless blogs offering their version of the truth, but not a shred of data to back up their assertions, sorry – conclusions. The tone is inquisitorial. The mood – collectively dreary. It reminds me somewhat of my Catholic childhood, sitting in church, gazing up at a statue of Jesus and thinking he looked like the most inspiring and magical man who should be heralding forth heroic holy music and beams of light, with something joyous and exciting happening, only to be trapped in some dull, patriarchal monotone ordeal. As if the church had missed or mis-led the message and the point. And the niggling suspicion, even as a child, that I was being lied to.
We need to be able to make up our own minds – the age of religious enforcement is now behind us. Our liberty is hard won and yet self-proclaimed experts are saying ‘Take our word for it, trust us’. But times they are a changing, and thanks to the internet each and every one of us can all ask the difficult questions now – and many of us really want to know the facts rather than the opinions of individuals in order to determine the truth for ourselves – isn’t that the nature of truth?
The people she singles out as responsible for attempting to hide the ‘truth’ of the codices from the poor hungering public are Jim Davila, Danny McClellan, myself, Larry Hurtado, Bob Cargill, Joe Zias, Mark Goodacre, Tom Verenna, Dot King, and, in short, anyone who dared call into question the codices. We are, it seems, all members of a secret society aiming to hide the truth of these things from the public and if only we were privy to the true scientific results we would deem them authentic.
That, curiously, is Palmer’s contention. She supports it with a few out of context quotes from the blogs:
However, all dignity is lost when we read the following:
‘I just threw up in my mouth: on David Elkington and the lead codices. Seriously, I have to go brush my teeth now.’
Dr. Robert Cargill, The University of Iowa, Media Chair ASOR
‘The Codices are modern trinkets and everyone but those with a financial interest in pimping them realizes this. Nevertheless, since they, like a continuously returning bad penny, have arisen again, like a piece of excrement that just won’t flush.’
Dr. Jim West, Zwinglius Redivivus blog site
This is remarkable stuff coming as it does from highly placed academics in positions of responsibility. From this point on it can only get slanderous, no holes barred:
‘Let us not forget that these are the metallurgical tests that Elkington himself altered in order to obscure doubts expressed therein… I for one am disappointed that Barker has thrown her lot in with Elkington and his manipulative methods.’
Daniel O. McClellan, Brigham Young University, FLDS
Palmer provides numerous ‘citations’ along those lines- and wrongly describes many of those she quotes. For example, she calls Cargill ‘Media Chair ASOR’. That’s incorrect. Earlier on she calls me ‘Media Director ASOR’. That’s patently false. And she calls Danny FLDS. I’ll let Danny speak for himself, since he responds:
I object vehemently to my characterization here as a slanderous and libelous academic oppressor (also, I am neither FLDS nor employed by or a student at Brigham Young University). Anyone reading is free to visit my blog or any others mentioned in this article and decide for themselves who is doing sober academic analysis and who is hiding facts and suppressing information. All the Elkingtons have provided are promises that there really are secret scholars out there that will one day release all the facts, as well as a soon-to-be-released book that may or may not provide more information. Just fork over $50 and you can find out!
That is where the tale stands today. The Lead Codices continue to find supporters in the murky recesses of the internet among persons who believe scholars are hiding the truth from the public (for who knows what reason).
In spite of hopes that the question of their authenticity had long ago been put to rest, they have, unfortunately, reappeared along the fringes and in the hinterlands; championed by persons without academic or scholarly standing.
For scholars who are actually familiar with such things, the case is closed on the Lead Codices from Jordan. But for conspiracy theorists, they remain a valid object of adoration. This, I suspect, will never change. There is, as we all well know, an ignorance which it utterly invincible and impenetrable.
1 http://www.thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/46028/heavy-metal-secrets-a-mid-east-cave (accessed 20 Jan , 2014).
-the-lead-codices/ (Accessed 20 January, 2014).
-codices/ (Accessed 20 January, 2014)
Your glancing reference to Margaret Barker led me to an article (2011) in the Economist which made a couple of points.
One was that analysis of metal tells us much less than analysis (or attempts to analyse or make sense) of the inscribed letters. This for my money is a true and valuable point.
The other was that even a Victorian forgery would be of interest. This time I would say yes and no. A Victorian forgery would not tell us much about the ancient world. Understanding the techniques of Victorian forgers would perhaps be helpful in an oblique sort of way. I'm one whose cast of mind is to see forgeries 'everywhere;. I suspect that forgers are much cleverer in their way than honest academics and that it is possible that some Victorian forgeries, having got sanctified in the literature, are bamboozling us to this day. Think how long it took for the crude Edwardian forgery of Piltdown to be exposed.
#1 - Martin - 01/25/2014 - 15:09
I'm surprised there's no mention of Philip Davies roll supporting the codicies.
#2 - Jordan Wilson - 01/31/2014 - 11:00
Thanks. I agree- I'm of the same bent, I think, as you. So many things have been faked that it's hard not to have a suspicion about everything. Especially, though, when they lack provenance. 'A dealer who isn't named' sets off all sorts of red flags.
Hey Jordan- the reason I didn't mention Philip is because, as I recall, he has from the very start been agnostic on the question of their authenticity. He is, if I remember, (though of course he can speak for himself), uncommitted either way.
#3 - Jm - 01/31/2014 - 18:12
And, Jordan, quickly, it would be 'role' rather than 'roll'. (Sorry, sometimes I can't take off the 'editing' cap).
#4 - Jm - 01/31/2014 - 18:13
Jim, on your blog Davies said "My position too is just that they should not yet be dismissed as ‘forgeries’. I think they are worth taking seriously for the time being."
It would seem a prominent Sheffield professor lending credence to the finds would be worthy of a mention? Or do you consider him one of those "persons without academic or scholarly standing?"
#5 - Jordan Wilson - 02/01/2014 - 00:52
hi=i like the comment about the greek gibberish=to me a greek jew wrote the page during the reign of domitian=the palm tree and the star were both greek and jewish astronomy signs of that period==the page makes perfect sense to a greek jew living in 94ad=i wish we could see the whole book
#6 - steve lapointe - 09/13/2014 - 22:05
Does anyone have the source of the comments by Cargill, West, and McClellan? They were amazingly vitriolic. Or, is that the norm for archaeology? Any update on the authenticity of the codices since 2014?
#7 - Rodger Schoonover - 12/11/2015 - 05:27