Friday, March 04, 2011

Ancient Kabbalistic metal books? I doubt it.

Heavy metal secrets from a Mid-East cave
Israel’s archaeological establishment believes they are a fake. But could a collection of metal books be an early example of Kabbalah?

By Simon Rocker, March 3, 2011 (The Jewish Chronicle)

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.

His collection consists of more than 20 codices (early books), cast mostly in lead and containing cryptic messages in Hebrew and Greek along with symbols such as the menorah. In various places, the Hebrew letters appear to stand for Bar Kochba, leader of the second-century Judean revolt against the Romans; and the talmudic mystic Shimon bar Yochai, who hid from the Romans in a cave for 13 years.

The IAA and epigrapher Andre Lemaire regard them to be forgeries, and apparently crude ones at that. But sure, go ahead and do more tests on them. It can't hurt. And post good photos of them online so epigraphers and textual specialists can evaluate them freely. I would be happy to be wrong, but the case so far does not sound promising.

As for this:
Institutions involved with antiquities tended to be "ultra-cautious", Mr Feather said, "because they have burned their fingers on previous occasions. A classic example is that of the Shapira strips."

Moses Shapira was a 19th-century antique dealer in Jerusalem who acquired some leather strips which he thought were early biblical writings. "Initially they were hailed as one of the greatest historical finds of all time," he said. "Subsequently the British Museum dismissed them as forgeries, largely because the text differed from the biblical version of the time. Shapira was so distraught that he blew his brains out in a hotel in Amsterdam," he said.

"When the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered in 1947, similarities to the Shapira texts made scholars reassess their conclusions. It is now generally accepted that the Shapira strips were probably the oldest known version of Deuteronomy."
I know of no specialist who regards the Shapira texts as anything but forgeries. See the 2009 comments by blogger-epigrapher Christopher Rollston here and this refutation of Allegro's attempt to reopen the question in the 1960s (requires JSTOR access).

UPDATE (22 March): More here and here.