Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Test results on the new Jordan metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: News from the Jordan Times:
Tests support 'Jordan texts' authenticity

By Taylor Luck

AMMAN - Preliminary lab results indicate that a collection of metal books unearthed in northern Jordan may indeed represent the earliest Christian texts ever discovered, according to experts.

According to the Department of Antiquities (DoA), initial carbon tests to determine the authenticity of lead-sealed metal books billed as the greatest find in biblical archaeology since the Dead Sea scrolls have been “encouraging”.

“We really believe that we have evidence from this analysis to prove that these materials are authentic,” DoA Director Ziad Saad told The Jordan Times.

The tests, carried out at the Royal Scientific Society labs, indicate that the texts may date back to the early first century AD, at a time when Christians took refuge from persecution on the east bank of the Jordan River.

The codices, which were retrieved by Jordanian security services from the black market last month, are believed to be part of a greater cache of 70 lead-sealed books allegedly uncovered in Jordan and smuggled across the River Jordan into Israel.


Efforts to repatriate the texts from Israel are pending the final results of the carbon dating, currently being carried out at the University of New Mexico, the Getty Conservation Institute and Sheffield University.
This needs to be taken apart piece by piece.

1. The claim is that the new metal codices in the hands of the Jordanian Government are part of the same cache as those announced back in March. I take them at their word, but no proof has yet been advanced.

2. What's this about "carbon tests" and "carbon dating" on metal plates? Carbon-14 dating is applied to organic material. Is there organic material, such as leather scroll, associated with these plates? Or, more likely, has someone made a careless mistake here?

3. Assuming the latter, it appears that the current tests indicate that the metal of the plates is ancient. It has been known for a long time that the fake metal codices may be made of genuinely ancient metal. The first report, on 3 March, in the Jewish Chronicle (cf. here), reported this:
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".

The IAA remains unconvinced, arguing that the metal could have been taken from an ancient coffin while the messages could have been fabricated later.
This test was done privately and has not been published. The IAA has replied adequately: such ancient metal is available and could be used for such forgeries, so the new test does not tell us anything very interesting.

4. As has been noted here and elsewhere many times, one of the codices in the original cache is a clumsy, transparent fake. Some of the other codices in this cache have their own problems that cast serious doubt on their authenticity and most or all of them have stylistic and iconographic features that tie them closely to each other and to the obvious fake codex. In other words, at least most of them are fakes, although quite possibly fakes inscribed in the modern period on ancient metal.

5. If the current reports that these new codices are from the same cache is correct (and aside from this vague assertion we have been told nothing else about them), all indicators are that they are fakes too.

6. I have summarized the case against the authenticity of the first set of metal codices here. It is telling that no one defending the authenticity of these texts has made any effort to reply to these problems. Mr. Elkington did make the ridiculous assertion that Dr. Thonemann was not qualified to comment because he is a Greek classicist rather than a biblical scholar. In case you're wondering, Greek classicists are generally considered qualified to comment on (purportedly) ancient Greek texts. Also, biblical scholars mainly take interest in texts that have some clear connection with the Bible, which these metal codices do not. Oh, and Mr. Elkington also said that the photographs are not very good. And whose fault is that? In any case, the forged Greek text is entirely readable, despite the forger's poor knowledge of Greek.

So, to sum up, the fake metal codices are still fake (see the first link in point 6 above for nuancing), and if the new discoveries are part of the same cache, it is likely that they are fakes as well, albeit fakes inscribed on ancient metal.

Recent background here, here, and here and follow those links.

UPDATE: Tom Verenna fills out the point about C-14 dating. His link to "Jona" is here. He also notes that Jim West and Robert Deutsch have new photographs that raise further doubts about the authenticity of the plates.