While we often note that many issues in Christianity get very little news coverage, there are some things in Christianity that do get lots of media coverage and the discovery of a potential earth-shattering, ancient relic, ranks right up there. Much has been said and documented about the 70 metal books or codices that were found in a cave in Jordan five years ago. These booklets made of metal with pages the size of credit cards are being speculated as being the earliest recorded Christian documents ever discovered. News outlets are stating that this could be a more important discovery than the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are now finally being turned over to experts for the first time and there is speculation that these books could contain details of the last days of Jesus on Earth. And some “Biblical experts” speculated this could even be the sealed book that was mentioned in the Bible as being given to the Messiah only. There is so much excitement surrounding these relics that comparisons So are these metal books authentic nor is this all an elaborate hoax? And if real, what is the implication for Christianity?
Are they real?
The first and most important question is are these codices actually from the first century AD? And do they contain writings that pertain to Christianity at all? The jury is still out on the first question. When it comes to these “earth-shattering discoveries” we must always be patient as there have been many similar hoaxes in the past. One only needs to remember all the excitement last year over the “discovery” of Noah’s ark by an expedition team in Turkey who claimed they had done the appropriate carbon dating and analysis of all the wood of the ship and it dated back some 4,000 years to the time of the flood. And the entire thing was a complete fraud. In fact, it was such a fraud that the con-men even hauled the wood themselves up the mountain to place it in the position of the ark. So again, always view these discoveries with caution until independent analysis is done.
The 70 booklets 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.
According to David Elkington, who is now in possession of the booklets, 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. And if the dating proves to be accurate, these codices would be the oldest Christian document ever discovered.
The initial reaction has been pure excitement. Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, was quoted by the BBC as saying that the find may be more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls (the oldest copy of the Biblical Old Testament which helped confirm the amazing manuscript accuracy of the Bible throughout centuries).
Al-Saad said: “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.” Elkington has called them ‘the major discovery of Christian history” adding, “‘It is a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”
However, not everyone is as excited. Peter Thoneman of Oxford University, a lecturer in ancient Greek and Roman history, not only doubts the authenticity of the codices, but according to his own claims, was approached by Elkington himself last year and asked to review three of the metal pages.
Elkington contacted Thoneman through a mutual acquaintance. The Oxford scholar replied that he would be glad to inspect the metal pages to determine their authenticity. Elkington then emailed photos of 3 pages for Thoneman to inspect:
Thoneman responded the same day and stated that the metal pages were fakes (for the full email exchange and images of the photos which were sent to Mr. Thonemann, see here). His email response was the following:
After having a close look at the photos, I replied later that same day:
A surprisingly easy task, as it turns out!
The Greek text at the top of your photo no. 0556 reads: ΛΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓΛΡΟΚΛΙΕΙΣΙΩΝ, followed by ΛΛΥΠΕ in mirror-writing.
This text corresponds to ΛΛΥΠΕ ΧΛΙΡΕ ΛΒΓΛΡ Ο ΚΛΙ ΕΙΣΙΩΝ, i.e. ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων, followed by the word ἄλυπε again, in mirror writing. The text at the bottom of your photo no. 0532 is the first part of the same text again: ΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓ, i.e. [ἄ]λυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγ…
The text was incised by someone who did not know the Greek language, since he does not distinguish between the letters lambda and alpha: both are simply represented, in each of the texts, by the shape Λ.
The text literally means ‘without grief, farewell! Agbar also known as Eision’. This text, in isolation, is meaningless.
However, this text corresponds precisely to line 2 of the Greek text of a bilingual Aramaic/Greek inscription published by J.T. Milik, Syria 35 (1958) 243-6 no.6 (SEG 20, 494), and republished in P.-L. Gatier, Inscriptions grecques et latines de Syrie XXI: Inscriptions de la Jordanie, 2: Region centrale (Paris 1986), no.118. That inscription reads, in its entirety, as follows,
1 Σελαμαν χρηστὲ καὶ
2 ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων
3 Μονοαθου υἱὸς υἱῷ τειμίῳ τὸ μνῆμα
4 ἐποίησεν ἔτους τρίτου ἐπαρχείας
[Translation] ’For Selaman, excellent and harmless man, farewell! Agbar, also known as Eision, son of Monoathos, constructed this tomb for his excellent son (i.e. Selaman), in the third year of the province’.
This is a stone tombstone from Madaba in Jordan, precisely dated to AD 108/9, on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman.
The text on your bronze tablet, therefore, makes no sense in its own right, but has been extracted unintelligently from another longer text (as if it were inscribed with the words: ‘t to be that is the question wheth’). The longer text from which it derives is a perfectly ordinary tombstone from Madaba in Jordan which happens to have been on display in the Amman museum for the past fifty years or so. The text on your bronze tablet is repeated, in part, in three different places, meaningless in each case.
The only possible explanation is that the text on the bronze tablet was copied directly from the inscription in the museum at Amman by someone who did not understand the meaning of the text of the inscription, but was simply looking for a plausible-looking sequence of Greek letters to copy. He copied that sequence three times, in each case mixing up the letters alpha and lambda.
This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years. I would stake my career on it.
All good wishes,
This alone should raise some serious red flags. The first academic who reviewed these supposed “secret books” was able to debunk it and identify it as a forgery in a matter of hours! Thonemann has gone on to say he would stake his entire career on the metal booklets being forgeries.
Additionally, the translations of the inscription on the three pages sent to Thonemann do not seem to even be coherent, much less relation to the life of Jesus Christ.
“Shedding New Light on Christianity”
Among all of the frenzy surrounding the codices is this idea that somehow these ancient writings will give a new perspective or new information on Christianity. But why would this be the case? If anything, these suggestions are misleading because it assumes there are not already large amounts of ancient evidence supporting the life of Jesus and the Bible. There are over 24,000 ancient manuscripts still in existence today and the writings of Plato, Socrates and other ancient legends combined do not come close to the New Testament in terms of the amount of manuscript evidence. And in a cross-comparison of the various manuscripts, there was 99.5% accuracy across the board. What this means is that the New Testament we have today (at least the King James version), is a faithful interpretation to the ones printed in the first century.
So the idea that these codices hold some special Biblical “key” or “code” or some special Scriptural point is not very sound. The descriptions and details of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels already has an abundance of consistent evidence. So even if this codice presented different details, why would one metal booklet outweigh 24,000 documents? And this is not taking into account that we do not know who wrote the codices. Were they Biblical authors? It has not been stated or even mentioend. Again, from a scholarly standpoint, this does not add up. And why would David Elkington, who by his own statements has not even translated all of the booklets yet, claim that this is going to change our whole perception of Christianity? We will answer that below.
Also fueling all the intense crazy about the ancient relics is the speculation that one of some of the codices, which have been sealed shut are possibly one of the sealed books mentioned in the Book of Revelation:
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.’
There is indeed a book in the Bible which was opened only by the Messiah. But a brief study of Scripture will show that the metal codices are not the book:
Revelation 5:1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
As can be seen from the actual text, the book that is opened by the Lamb, Jesus is opened in Heaven. It is not a book that was lost. It is a book that is in the hands of God the Father. So to think that these metal codices could be that book is just incompatible with what the Bible states. Not to mention, that many scrolls and texts were sealed in ancient times. It was a very common way of securing that only certain parties could read a document. So this part of the story is really more wild speculation than anything.
Furthermore, what “other texts from the period” was Dr. Barker referring to? She does not say. But this is again an example of the unscholarly approach being taken to this entire find. Jesus had no secret tradition that was passed on. This again sounds like what the people behind this “find” are doing is trying to sensationalize a story and cast more doubt on actual Biblical Christianity.
Who is David Elkington?
David Elkington is an author, researcher and adventurer who definitely a proponent of the New Age Movement. In the publisher’s note on his book “In the Name of The Gods” it is noted that divine beings are basically comprised of sounds vibrations and that the “title” Jesus was just a function of a certain type of sound. To no surprise, the official book description states: “This book will forever change your view of religion and spirituality.” So he is not a Christian or a Christian theologian. In preparing his announcement regarding the relics, instead of first presenting his findings to archeological experts, he hired an advertising firm to do a media blitz promoting his find before it received any critical, scholarly review. Additionally, Mr. Elkington and his wife are already working on a book deal and documentary regarding his quest for the metal booklets. All this seems to point in one direction: money.
From the early signs, it seems that the 70 metal booklets are in fact forgeries. And like the DaVinci Code, “Tomb of Jesus” project done by director James Cameron that was debunked, the numerous books and series on the Gnostic Gospels (which were never part of the Bible) and other heresies, this falls in a long line of efforts to try and cast doubt on the Bible. For Christians, the call here is to use discernment and consider a matter carefully before speaking on it, as we are instructed in Proverbs.We have the full sum of wisdom in the Bible (and more specifically the King James Bible, which is by far my preferred and favorite Bible version to read and study). Yes, archeological evidence related to Jesus and the Bible is exciting. But we must make sure we are careful in evaluating it as being authentic and that it falls in line with what the Bible states.
And for those who doubt the Bible or question Christianity, the real issue is: how much scrutiny did you place on this amazing discovery? Did you ask the same amount of questions about this find, or the Da Vinci Code book or other anti-Christian works to make sure they were verified, substantive and true? I hope so. And if you did, you would see that the Bible still stands as these fraudulent efforts get exposed. And in that hopefully you will see that God, Jesus and eternal life are real as well. And they are all waiting for you in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is by far the greatest discovery in the history of this world.