"They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls," Ziad al-Saad, the director of Jordan's Department of Antiquities, told the BBC, who said they could be "the most important discovery in the history of archaeology."The story is neither very clear nor very encouraging. My reaction at present is that if it sounds too good to be true — and this find certainly does — then it probably isn't true.
Jordan's quarrel is not with the Israeli government, but with Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in the Galilee, who has possession of the codices and is keeping them in hiding.
According to the Elkingtons, Mr Saeda received the artefacts from a Jordanian Bedouin who discovered them in a cave at some stage between 2005 and 2007, much in the same way the Dead Sea Scrolls were found 64 years ago.
Mr Saeda denies the claim, saying the codices have been in his family's possession since they were found by his great-grandfather, an assertion challenged by the Jordanian government, which said it would "exert all efforts at every level" to get the artefacts repatriated.
Israeli archaeological sources have been dismissive of the find, suggesting that Mr Saeda has appeared "every few years" trying to sell the codices. They said examinations had shown them to be forgeries.
That said, the Dead Sea Scrolls also sounded too good to be true, but were real anyway, so let's just keep an open, skeptical mind.
One has to ask also, if they are forged, Cui bono? Who stands to benefit? As Richard Bauckham pointed out to me in a private communication, the claim of the Jordanian Government makes it unlikely that anyone is going to make any money from the plates if they are accepted as genuine. So if they are forged, the forger seems to have botched up. (Or, I might add, to have had a motivation that didn't involve making money, which seems unlikely.)
Today's Daily Mail also has a new article on the plates. The content is old news, but there are new pictures that give a clearer view of some of the iconography, but not the writing. There is also a picture of the inside of the cave where they were supposedly discovered. It seems pretty clear now that the texts posted on the Unicode mailing list in 2007 must be from the same corpus.
UPDATE: Larry Hurtado to the director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities: "Chill, dude. Take a breath." Indeed.
Doug Chaplin comments here, notably on the reported credentials of David Elkington.
UPDATE: David Meadows recaps how we got here, with much skeptical commentary: Lead Codices Silliness.
UPDATE: David M. now notes that Gawker has taken up the story: Possible Da Vinci Code Prequel Unearthed.
UPDATE (31 March): More here.