Monday, November 05, 2012

Philip Davies again on the Jordan Codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Philip Davies has another editorial in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly on the codices: Codices from Jordan: the Mystery Remains. (His earlier editorial in the same journal on the same subject is noted here). He sums up the current situation and calls for those who think they are genuine and those who think they are fake to maintain an open mind.

I have explained in detail already, repeatedly (see here with many links), why I think that, although at least in some cases it looks as though ancient lead was used to make them, the codices were manufactured in modern times. I hold this position with considerable confidence because the evidence that they are fake is substantial. Could I be wrong? Sure. But the best working hypothesis by far is that they are fake and I see no reason to keep agonizing over the remote possibility that they are ancient productions. I have called repeatedly over the last year and a half for some significant evidence for their ancient manufacture, and the silence grows more deafening with each passing month. Should tests and analyses that have some bearing on the question ever actually be produced, I will be happy to look at the results, and especially at peer review of the tests and their results by experts in the area. Meanwhile, I think we all have more important things to think about.

Do keep in mind that there are no scholars who are arguing, either in peer-review articles or even in blog posts, that the codices are genuine. Philip Davies has been their most positive proponent and he thinks that we should leave the possibility open, but even he has not tried to make a convincing positive case.

A few specific comments on Professor Davies's latest essay.
The letters used are not consistent in form: they are from various old Semitic scripts used for dialects of Aramaic, with the odd letter inverted and some letters perhaps from Coptic.
This in itself is certainly not inconsistent with forgery. It is true that there are ancient cryptic scripts that mix up different alphabets, but these are used as simple substitution ciphers to encode texts that make sense. No such sensible text can be found in the metal codices.

Philip notes that Steve Caruso and Tom Verenna (among others) have advanced parallels with ancient objects to demonstrate forgery and he responds:
Do these parallels not prove that the codices are modern? Not quite: we need an image from the recent past to prove that. The eclectic choice of script is consistent with a deliberately created similitude of an ancient artifact, i.e. a ‘modern forgery’. But it’s not proof. Other explanations are possible.
First, one of the images on the codices bears a very suspicious resemblance to a coin that is itself a modern fake (see no. 4 here). Second, other explanations are doubtless possible, but how probable are they? What ancient analogies are there for such an eclectic choice of script combined with nonsense text?
However, as made clear in the Editorial, among the items found with the codices are some that are clearly fakes—one made of copper, for example and shown as fig. 3 in the editorial. Again, this proves nothing. Ancient relics might well be seeded with modern creations.
Of course this is possible, but it is farfetched. Why would anyone who had found a real cache of ancient artifacts want to go to the huge amount of effort required to make fake versions of those artifacts to mix in with them? The danger of getting caught and casting doubt on the whole collection (which is what actually happened) would surely outweigh the possibility of some marginal gain in selling them.
This brings us to the next question. Why would these books would have been produced in antiquity? Why would they would have been manufactured recently? The books are numerous (at least 50), probably mass-produced, apparently stored in a rural cave, not an urban warehouse, and manufactured with some care but designed with no meaningful text and an apparently random proliferation of letters and images. They are unlikely products, whether ancient or modern. If ancient, it seems to be likely that they had some kind of magical or ritual use.
I do not see that assigning to them a "magical" or "ritual" (what does the latter mean?) use is of any great explanatory value. We have quite a few ancient magical texts and objects spanning from the earliest literate ancient Near East up through the Middle Ages (and beyond). What specifically about the codices flags them as magical? It is true that nonsense words and apparently meaningless strings of letters are often characteristic of magical and mystical texts from late antiquity on, but these appear as incantations within reasonably coherent texts. Which genuine magical artifacts and texts from antiquity are informative parallels to the codices? I know of none, and this is an area I work in quite a bit. Unless such parallels are advanced, the best explanation for the nonsense letters and words in the codices are that the codices are crude fakes.
If modern, they were presumably designed to make money by selling to gullible customers who would not bother asking what they were supposed to be. So, if they are modern, the problem does not, in my view, stop there. There is more that needs finding out.
I agree that it is worthwhile for someone to try to track down how, where, and when the codices were made. If Philip wants to spend his time doing this, more power to him. But I doubt very much that this will lead to significant evidence that they are ancient productions.
To add some spice to this enigma, there have been images circulating of sheets that look just like these lead books, but in much better condition. A few sceptics have pointed to these as further proof that the collection is not genuinely ancient. But they are so clearly modern copies (see figs 5 and 6). Fakes of fakes? Whatever shall we encounter next?
Yes, a new lot of fake fake metal codices has recently made an appearance. I have seen photos of some of them. For comments on an earlier lot of such, see here. This has no particular bearing on the genuineness or not of the original lot of codices, except that it demonstrates that one or more production facility for such artifacts exists and is in active use at present.
The majority of scholars I have consulted, many of whom have seen one of these codices, have been impressed enough to regard their ancient origin as a possibility.
I have not yet seen one of the objects directly (that may change soon), but that hardly has any bearing on anything. What features could they have that could not be described or shown in a photograph which would amount to compelling evidence for their being genuine?
If, as I believe, we shall at some point be in a position to establish whether they are modern forgeries, or genuine antiquities, or ancient forgeries (if ancient enough, do they become genuine antiquities?), why commit oneself? It’s fine to have an opinion, but a little room for doubt should be left by those committed to either view. At least those who think they are genuinely old are trying their best to establish whether they are right or wrong.
I call 'em as I see 'em. The current evidence does not seem ambiguous to me. If someone wants a different call from me, give me new evidence that makes me reconsider my position.
Let me end with a silence, The silence from Amman. The dog that has not yet barked. Although these items, if genuinely old, would be of value to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Kingdom, ever since its erstwhile Director, Ziad al-Sa’ad made his opinion known there has been complete silence from Amman. Earlier this year, a group of biblical scholars from the UK’s Society for the Study of the Old Testament wrote a letter to the Times asking the Jordanian authorities to make an announcement.

At the time of writing, we are still waiting. Without an initiative from Amman we may never know for sure what these are. Listen out!
Yes, the silence from Amman also grows more deafening as time passes. Remember back in April of 2011 when we were supposed to have tests results in three weeks? I have speculated on possible reasons for this silence here.

Bottom line: such evidence as we now have, which is not inconsiderable, indicates that the Jordan metal codices are fakes. I am prepared to consider any new, reputable (especially peer-reviewed) evidence to the contrary, but failing that, I see no reason for scholars to be concerned about them.

My most recent post bearing on the fake metal codices is here and it leads to many, many links going back to the first announcement in March of 2011.