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-Earliest Christian Writings in Existence Found in a Jordanian Cave?

by Dr. D ~ March 31st, 2011

Petra's caves

(Image by kyle simourd via Flickr)

A group of 70 or so lead “mini-books” were apparently discovered by Bedouins in a remote valley of northern Jordan sometime between 2005 and 2007.

The small books, or “codices”, appear to be made of cast lead and bound by lead rings with each page or leaf approximately the size of a credit card and each contain images and text written in Ancient Hebrew. See the pictures.

Scholars who have examined the relics believe that they are early Jewish Christian artifacts possibly dating from the period between the crucifixion of Jesus and the early writings of Paul. If so, these writings could do for early Christian studies what the Dead Sea scrolls have done for early Judaism and OT Hebrew Bible scholarship.

The artifacts found in a remote cave in Jordan are now in the possession of a Bedouin who lives in Israel and the Jordanian government is trying to get them back.

Response: The possibilities are exciting. However until scholars are able to procure the relics and subject them to proper testing all of the sensational claims in the various articles about them are just that. Unsubstantiated claims.

Also, the codices are written in a code which has yet to be deciphered so we really don’t know what they really say yet. Plus they haven’t really been dated yet except in a very cursory way. The entire early Christian placement is still quite speculative.

Nevertheless it would be an incredible discovery if they were proven to be from the first century and really are relics of early Jewish Christianity. They also could become quite controversial if the writings are representative of an early Jewish Christian group like the Ebionites who rejected the Apostle Paul and Gentile Christianity and deviates from current Christian teaching.

The last time I was really excited about the possibility of a discovery of 1st century early Christian writings was when I was in Seminary. In 1972 the contends from a jar marked “from Rome” in Greek from cave 7 at Qumran was dated circa 50 AD/CE. Several of the writings were identified as coming from the New Testament including one fragment that was thought to possibly represent Mark 6:52-53. However, the manuscript had disintegrated into such tiny pieces that most scholars rejected that possible designation and nothing has really come of that discovery. In fact it seems to have been literally covered up since the cave collapsed and the Israeli Antiquities Authority has refused to re-excavate the site and continue the exploration.

Then there was a copy of the Gnostic ‘Gospel of Judas’ that stimulated a great deal of discourse in 2006 but it all turned out to be nothing more than a tempest in a teapot.  All sorts of sensational claims were made at the time about how the book was going to change Christianity which on the face of it was ridiculous since it turned out to be a 4th century translation of a 2nd century book. Here’s a synopsis of the articles on it I wrote at the time.

Point is, there is a long way to go before this is proven to be an early Christian writing from the 1st century. Nevertheless it is exciting but all the claims should be taken with a grain of salt until the objects are translated and subjected to the proper testing followed by a complete evaluation and vetting by the best available scholars.            *Top

 

More references on the lead Codices:

-Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics

Are lead tablets discovered in a remote cave in Jordan the secret writings about the last years of Jesus?

More on the Lead Codices

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