Friday, December 02, 2016

More on the Jordan lead codices

MORE TESTS: Is this the first written mention of Jesus? 2,000-year-old lead tablets found in a remote cave ARE genuine, claim researchers (Libby Plummer, Daily Mail).
• The lead pages, bound like a ring binder, were first discovered in 2008
• The tablets suggest that Christ was not starting his own religion, but restoring a thousand-year-old tradition from the time of King David
• They also suggest the God he worshipped was both male and female
• New testing said to confirm their age, say authors who have been campaigning since 2009 for the tablets to be recognised and protected
This article presents some extravagant claims about the contents of the lead codices and their importance for Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam. We've heard some of this before and some of it is new. Much of it sounds fanciful. This is a good time to remind ourselves that in the five and a half years since their existence was first announced, not a single peer-review publication on them has been published. Any scholarly discussion of them has yet to begin. Now if someone wishes to defend some of the claims in this article by publishing the evidence in a peer-review publication, I and others will be happy to have a look and evaluate the evidence presented and the arguments for the claims. Unless that actually happens some day, I have no interest in re-engaging with the revival of those claims in the media.

That said, one passage in the article does merit some comment:
Now tests conducted by Professor Roger Webb and Professor Chris Jeynes at the University of Surrey's Nodus Laboratory at the Ion Beam Centre, confirm that the tablet is compatible with a comparative sample of ancient Roman lead unearthed from an excavation site in Dorset.

The experts said that the codex they tested 'does not show the radioactivity arising from polonium that is typically seen in modern lead samples, indicating that the lead of the codex was smelted over one hundred years ago'.

They went onto explain how the testing suggests that the artefacts are indeed 2,000 years old.

'While there may be variations in decay and corrosion that depend upon the environmental conditions in which the objects were stored or hidden, there is a strong underlying theme of decay from within the metal,' said the researchers in a press statement.

'It is oxidising and breaking down at atomic level to revert to its natural state.

'This is not witnessed in lead objects that are several centuries old and is not possible to produce by artificial acceleration (e.g. through heating).

'This provides very strong evidence that the objects are of great age, consistent with the studies of the text and designs that suggest an age of around 2000 years'.

The codex was leant to the Elkingtons by the Department of Antiquities in Amman for testing.

Further crystallisation analysis indicates that the codex is likely to be between 1800-2000 years old.
As presented here, this information does sound interesting. The researchers say that the the lead of the codex they studied had to have been smelted over one hundred years ago and that the internal corrosion indicates that the object is more than several centuries old, perhaps considerably more. It is also claimed in the article (not in a quotation from the researchers) that "crystallization analysis" shows it to be "likely" that the codex is between 1800-2000 years old.

To place the claims about the tests in context, I note that the web page of the Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books has some new posts at its About page that give some further information about the codices and about the tests that have been undertaken on them. Most of the information on the tests is in 2. What are the Jordan lead Books?, although some is in 6. Epigraphy of the Jordan lead Books.

In summary, these indicate that most of the tests on the codices are "consistent with" the lead being ancient (i.e., in the vicinity of 2000 years old). One test gave "inconclusive" results, whatever that means. And one dated the lead to "the earlier part of the High Medieval Period" (apparently the 1100s-1200s CE) and another did find polonium in a codex, suggesting a "nuclear-age dating" of it. This, however, we are told, may apply only to the patina rather than the lead core and is regarded by the testers as inconclusive.

In other words, the situation is rather more complicated than as presented in the Mail article. The tests have produced a range of inconsistent results, although reportedly trending toward the lead being ancient — which we already knew — and perhaps indicating that the manufactured objects are old. Exactly how old is unclear. The inconsistent results so far show well enough that materials testing doesn't necessarily give us conclusive results. The details matter and the full details of all the materials tests on the codices need to be released so that we can see what exactly they show, with what level of confidence they show it, and what range of possible interpretations arises from the evidence they provide.

As I have pointed out before, we have already been here with materials testing of a supposedly ancient artifact (the Gospel of Jesus' Wife), which turned out to be a now-uncontested forgery. At the moment we have a media report and some summaries on a website. The people who have commissioned the tests need to release complete, unedited scans of all the lab test reports. (There seem to be quite a few tests.) The results need to be evaluated by outside experts and digested for their implications in peer-review publications.

Long-term PaleoJudaica readers may recall that when this story broke in March of 2011, the Israel Antiquities Authority had already examined some of the codices and concluded that they were unremarkable forgeries. And the IAA was not impressed by the Oxford tests that indicated that some of the lead was ancient. Ancient lead is easy to obtain. I would be very interested in hearing what the IAA had to say about the lab reports for the new tests. Release them and let's find out.

Cross-file under Fake Metal Codices Watch. I acknowledge that it is possible that some of the current test results may point to some of them being something other than fake, but I remain to be convinced. And in any case, I continue to include this cross-file rubric so that all my posts on the subject can be accessed together.

Background here and many links.

At the Religion Prof Blog, James McGrath has also commented on the story: The Fake Jordan Lead Codices.