Sunday, November 06, 2016

New tests on the Jordan codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: ‘Lead Sea Scrolls’ row reopened (Richard Brooks, Sunday Times [of London]*). A report of some new materials tests on those lead codices:
The debate has been given new impetus after tests on one of the books at Surrey University’s Ion Beam Centre found the lead was at least 150 years old and could date back 2,000 years.

Professor Roger Webb, the centre’s director, said that while the metal was difficult to age, lead less than 150 years old was slightly radioactive and emitted alpha particles but “the page of the book we tested had no alpha particle emissions”.
It is not clear why this is news. Back in 2011 when the discovery of the metal codices was first announced, one had already been tested at Oxford and shown to have been manufactured from ancient lead. That does not by any means exclude the possibility that they are forgeries. More on that below.

I was already aware that some new tests on the lead of the codices had been undertaken, but the results that had been reported to me are a little different from what is indicated above, so they may have referred to other tests. I understand that a number of tests have been done.

If anyone involved with the tests thinks they are of any real interest for the study of the Jordanian lead codices, they should release full scans of the lab reports, so we can see exactly what they say and outside specialists in ancient metallurgy can evaluate their claims. Complete scans please, not excerpts and not retyped transcripts.

Meanwhile, this article seems particularly interested in the fact that Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, "has called for a fresh examination" of the codices and has said, "'The books are well worth a second glance. If I were a forger, I would frankly forge something more mainstream.'"

I have the greatest respect for Dr. Williams as a premier theologian and church leader, but his opinion as reported here does not count as a specialist evaluation of the codices — nor does he claim that it does.

It's fine to call for a reexamination of the codices, but to make this worthwhile, we need some new evidence that makes some kind of difference. Indeed, when I heard the news of the lab reports some time ago, I went back over all the evidence I have available about the codices to see if I wanted to change my mind on anything. Having done so, I remain fully convinced that they are not ancient artifacts (i.e., they are not two thousand years old or anywhere near that). My judgment is that the evidence against their being ancient is decisive and compelling. Most of the evidence is fully covered in archived past posts on the subject and I see no need to rehearse it again here.

If some of the lead codices turn out to have been manufactured a century or a century and a half or so ago, that does not exclude forgery. Forgers were around in the nineteenth century and some of them were pretty good for the time. And if the codices are forgeries, which I think very likely, they are not all that good.

I do not rule out the possibility that some of them could be that old, but I have seen no definitive evidence yet that requires them to be that old, and some of the evidence points toward some of them having been manufactured more recently. That is about as specific as I can be at present.

Back in 2015 an independent scholar named Samuel Zinner posted a draft article on that argued that the codices are modern amuletic art objects that were misunderstood when rediscovered as either ancient objects or forgeries. I am skeptical about this, but I encouraged him to try to publish the article in a peer-review journal so that other specialists in that area could evaluate his argument. (It is outside my areas of expertise.) The essay has been removed, but has not yet been published. Still, I am open to the possibility that he could be correct. But I cannot see how the codices could be ancient artifacts.

The Times article also quotes the views of Classicist Peter Thonemann of Oxford University and New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre of Duke University. Both were involved in the early discussion of the codices and neither thinks they are genuine ancient artifacts. The reporter also asked for and received a statement from me, but he did not use it. I have used a few bits of it in this post.

As for the tests, materials testing can be an important tool for evaluating the authenticity of unprovenanced artifacts, but modern forgers are very sophisticated and know to use ancient materials, etc. Materials tests initially seemed to support the antiquity of the infamous Gospel of Jesus' Wife papyrus, yet it has now definitively been shown to be a modern forgery. The new test results on the codices may turn out to be of interest, but I want to hear more about them and hear what independent specialists in ancient metallurgy make of them.

If there are people who want skeptical specialists to change our thinking on the metal codices, they need not only to release the lab reports, but also to make the full archive of photos available to art historians specializing in Jewish iconography and to palaeographers specializing in ancient Hebrew scripts. Their research should then be published in peer-review journals. I have been calling for years for this to be done. This is how scholarship advances, not through popular reports in the media.

I am prepared to listen to any scholarly case for what the codices are and to rethink my understanding of them if the evidence requires it. But I remain skeptical at present that they are anything but forgeries.

Background here, with many links going back to March of 2011.

*The Times article is behind a subscription wall, but you can read it with a free registration.