Sunday, April 3, 2011

Discovery of Ancient Metal Books in Jordan?

Easter is coming. This time of year I always experience a mixture of joy and uneasiness. The joy is because I will be celebrating the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The unease because every year at this time there is always a series of sensational and provocative news stories, articles, or documentaries –usually based upon rogue or outdated scholarship- that confuse, challenge, or try to redefine the content of Christian faith. Time magazine, The History Channel, and others inevitably give press to some scholar from the Jesus seminar or some audacious pet theory of an obscure researcher that undermines the gospel. This year (as we have in some past years) we get bonus material because the marketing people at many news organizations decided to publicize the alleged discovery of around 70 metal books in a cave in Jordan that may date to very early in the Christian era.

Over the past week or so there have been reports about this flying all over the place. The artifacts apparently came to light about 5 years ago but seem to have been in the owner’s family for some time. The claims being made about these documents are bold even claiming that it is possible that these are the oldest Christian documents ever found, that they may be as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls, that they may contain the earliest known images of Jesus etc. Here are just a couple of examples of what I am referring to:      Daily Mail              Examiner

It is possible that these books are a significant find but until they are examined by multiple qualified scholars we cannot really know what exactly they are. There are, however, a number of things about them that are suspicious. First, the documents are de-contextualized. They were supposedly in the possession of a family for many years which makes it impossible to evaluate them in relation to the other artifacts that they were allegedly buried with. Second, they are metal. This makes it likely that they are later than some of the reports are claiming. Third, they were apparently not intended to be read because at least some of them had metal rings on all sides sealing the books. The idea of having hidden knowledge or holy words that should not be read is inconsistent with the normal approach of the early church which reproduced and distributed thousands of copies of their holy book. These books, if old, may be associated with a Gnostic or Jewish mystical sect but they would seem to be out of character for early Christian documents. Finally, although scholars have not yet been able to examine them and give peer reviewed opinions some have translated the portions of the books that have appeared in various photos and indications so far are that the documents are faked.

If you are interested in reading more about the reaction to these books by people who specialize in ancient texts (and therefore know a whole lot more about this than I do) you may find the following articles of interest.

 I will be waiting to hear more about this discovery but until people who know what they are talking about (not journalists) have a chance to look at these books I am going to get back to planning for Resurrection Sunday and studying the one text I know for sure is absolutely authentic… my Bible. 

1 comment: