Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Jordan Department of Antiquities disavows the lead codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Antiquities agency chief says Jordan Codices fake. Jamhawi accuses British researcher of disseminating false information (Jordan Times).
AMMAN — The Department of Antiquities (DoA) on Thursday announced that the lead codices it seized with the help of security authorities around seven years ago have not been proven to be authentic so far, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

DoA Director General Monther Jamhawi said that a national team of researchers and specialists scanned the area of the alleged cave where the codices were allegedly found but did not find any relevance between the codices and the cave, particularly as no cavities in the cave’s walls were found.

The department described the findings of British scientist David Elkington as baseless, stressing that the cave was not found and the pictures he has have nothing to do with the cave that was visited, which indicates that his insistence on the originality of the codices is groundless and not credible.
This is the first time I recall seeing any comment from the Jordan Department of Antiquities on what they found when they explored the cave where the lead codices were supposed to have been found. According to this report they found no connection with the codices and they do not consider a case to have been made for their authenticity. The article continues:
Jamhawi said that modern technology can be used to create confusion since it can use old materials and draw on it to make almost unrecognisable fake antiquities.

Thus, the DoA said all the talk in Elkington's recent lectures on the issue is not accurate or objective, Jamhawi said, noting that the scientist’s visit to Jordan and addressing the issue without permission is "a clear violation" of regulations.

The DoA chief called for taking information from authorities, noting that the DoA would inform the public of solid data about their national heritage as long as they were proven authentic.
So, according to this article, Mr. Elkington's current visit to Jordan is unwelcome to the Department of Antiquities. Mr. Elkington continues to make claims such as the following:
"The Jordan Codices are the earliest Christian documents ever discovered, dating back to the time when Jesus Christ was still alive in 30AD; whereas the Dead Sea Scrolls date back to 75AD," according to a video published on the "Jordan Heritage" Facebook page and shared by Elkington's official page "Jordan Codices".
This is a good opportunity to sum up my current views concerning the Jordanian lead codices. The following are my own opinions. I speak here as an internationally respected specialist in ancient Judaism and related matters who has worked for many years with ancient texts, ancient manuscripts, and ancient inscriptions, and who has edited and published some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

First, all the photographs and descriptions I have seen of the codices so far point in the same direction. The codices look like clumsy modern attempts to create ancient-looking objects. Here, briefly, are some of the main reasons. Both the lead and copper codices quote a nonsensically out-of-context line from a second-century-CE tomb inscription that has been in a Jordanian museum since the twentieth century. And the codices make considerable use of motifs that were clearly lifted from ancient coins whose dates range over a period of centuries. The natural conclusion is that these codices are modern forgeries, because a clumsy modern forger would have found museum inscriptions and ancient coins as ready sources to use (ineptly). But an ancient person would have had many other resources for crafting artifacts. And imagine the many ancient stone epitaphs in the region that perished in the desert winds, while against all odds the one quoted so oddly in the codices survived, badly abraded but still readable. Were we really that lucky, or did someone copy from it in the museum?

(I acknowledge, though, that these codices could just conceivably be modern productions without being intentionally deceptive forgeries.)

Second, the materials tests that have been done on the codices — including the latest round of tests done at the University of Surrey in 2016 — are interesting and potentially could point to there being more to the codices than first meets the eye. But all we have are second-hand reports about the tests. No lab reports have been released. The information that has been made public is far from compelling. The tests on the lead have produced results consistent with it being ancient (mostly), but also medieval and modern. All three. That is unhelpful.

I am not an expert in this area, but that is why I want the lab reports to be released. I want to see what uninvolved experts (metallurgists) say about them. As things stand now, I can only say that the materials tests are inconclusive.

Third, for some years the scholars at the Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books have been studying such information as they have on the codices, which seems to be considerable. They all seem to agree that there is more to the codices than being modern forgeries. That said, there doesn't seem to be any great agreement as to what the "more" consists of. Some of the codices may be ancient or medieval productions, or even modern Kabbalistic ritual art. Or something.

I know some of the people on the evaluation panel very well and I respect their opinions. If they think there is more to the story, I am certainly prepared to look at their case and to rethink my position accordingly. If there is important unpublished information, I want it to be made public. Dr. Samuel Zinner is reportedly working on a monograph on the codices and I look forward to reading it when it is available. But for now I am going to believe my own lying eyes, which tell me the objects I am acquainted with so far are clumsy modern productions.

Fourth, there is the matter of Mr. David Elkington, who has been involved in the story from early on. Mr. Elkington freely acknowledges that he does not have specialist training in areas relevant to the scholarly evaluation of the codices. He presents himself as one giving an overview of the work of specialists. Fine. But what are we to make of his historical claims about the codices in his current lecture tour in Jordan (see the quote above etc.)? They certainly sound fanciful (cf. here), and they do not come across as well informed. Case in point: notice that the Dead Sea Scrolls were all written before 75 C.E., and many of them were produced generations before the time of Jesus. That's quite an error.

And whose scholarly work is he presenting an overview of? The Lead Books Centre has disavowed (scroll down) any connection with him. Now Jordan's Department of Antiquities is reported to have done the same. Unless Mr. Elkington can produce specialists who support his claims, it is very difficult to take them seriously.

At present, no one is much interested in the codices. It is true that Mr. Elkington has mustered a blip of attention in Jordan, but the statement of the Jordan Department of Antiquities is likely to put an end to that pretty quickly. The evidence that is currently available is unconvincing, as per my first point above. And the metals tests do not do much to change that, as per my second point.

As things stand, I fear that Mr. Elkington is doomed to fade into irrelevance, while the specialists at the Lead Book Centre do the best they can with what they have. But it need not be that way. There is a mystery story here and he still has a role to play in it. If he wishes to make a real contribution to the study of the Jordan lead codices, the most constructive thing he can do is make public his full, and apparently substantial, archive of photographs of them. This can be done easily and inexpensively by posting them online under something like a creative commons license. He seems to have backers who believe in the codices and I am sure they would be happy to cover whatever small expense was involved.

There is a limit to how much Mr. Elkington can present himself as representing research on the codices and he is, in my opinion, rapidly reaching that limit. I am sure he does not want to be forgotten or, worse, only remembered as someone who had crucial information but held it back. Especially when he could be remembered otherwise, as the one who provided specialists with evidence that at least advanced the inquiry and perhaps even provided the solution.

It is not in his power to be a specialist, but this is in his power. This is how he can step into a widely respected role in the story. And if he has a story of his own to tell about his own experiences, people will be more likely to listen.

Likewise, his supporters and his financial backers would benefit from a full release of all the photographs, because they want to see the mystery solved too.

Anyway, that is my opinion. The photographs, of course, are his, and he is entirely free to do what he wants with them. But I hope he gives the matter some careful thought.

As always, watch this space. For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Jordanian metal codices, start here (cf. here) and follow the links. The first post on the subject was here, just a bit over six years ago.