More on the Lead Codices
A few days ago on the blog site of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins, I mentioned news reports of a cache of lead codices (http://cscoedinburgh.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/lead-tablets-news-story/). The BBC have now picked up the story of the recently “discovered” miniature lead codices that some early (and insufficiently cautious) voices have mooted as possibly first-century Christian artefacts. Here’s the link, which includes the best pictures of samples of these items that I know of at present:
With nothing more to go on than what the news outlets have provided (all, of course, carefully managed by those who have possession and/or access to the items), I’ll offer some reasons for caution in the face of the extravagant claims made by some. E.g., the director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, is quoted as saying, “They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” and “maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”
Chill, dude. Take a breath. OK, I know that you need to puff public interest in support of your efforts to obtain possession of these items (which he alleges were illegally taken out of Jordan into Israel), and I know that you also want to get as much publicity out of this as possible for your institution, but these comments only make you look silly.
The reported symbols inscribed in the items seem as/more readily to point to a Jewish origin. E.g., contra Mr. Elkington, the menorah is a frequently found item in ancient Jewish art (often in grave art). Philip Davies claims to have seen what he takes to be a representation of Jerusalem and a reference to crucifixion. That might mean a Christian-produced item, but by no means necessarily.
The writing is reported as some kind of Hebrew but coded. Until the items are competently read, we don’t even know what their contents are. The items are miniature codices, of a size that suggests private usage, and, so far as I know, suggests a date much later than the first century (there seems to have been an upswing in the production of miniature codices from ca. 3rd century CE onward).
Finally, the incidence of the forgery of artefacts is so great that any responsible scholar must express profound hesitation about making any judgement on such items until they have been properly analysed. Especially in light of the “Jesus bone-box” drama, we might all take a few deep breaths and simply call for the items to be put into the public domain for competent study before more rash and pointless claims are proffered.