Within the span of just one week, a Bedouin's discovery of 70 metal books in a long-forgotten cave has gone from history-altering to rubbish. What many believed could have been the earliest Christian writings in existence are now believed by some to be fakes.
"They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born," the BBC initially reported last week about the astounding discovery.
According to at least one Oxford scholar, debunking the mysterious books' authenticity was simple. After viewing images of the relics, Oxford Prof. Peter Thonemann concluded:
The text was incised by someone who did not know the Greek language, since he does not distinguish between the letters lambda and alpha: both are simply represented, in each of the texts, by the shape Λ. The text literally means ‘without grief, farewell! Abgar also known as Eision’. This text, in isolation, is meaningless.
But not everyone has been so quick to dismiss the books' authenticity. The country of Jordan is fighting to reclaim the relics back after they were believed to have been smuggled out of the country. The Jordanian government insists the "2,000-year-old manuscripts" may represent the "greatest discovery on the eastern banks of the River Jordan."
Director General of Department of Antiquities (DoA) Ziad Saad announced [Sunday] efforts to reclaim the so-called Jordan codices, 70 metal books bound by lead which Jordanian authorities believe date back to the first century AD and may be the earliest Christian texts ever discovered.
The books billed by Jordanian experts as “more historic than the Dead Sea scrolls” are in the possession of Hassan Saeed, an Israeli bedouin who claims that the texts were passed down from his grandfather. “We have every indication that these texts were excavated from Jordan illegally in recent years and smuggled across the border,” Saad said at a press conference yesterday.
With scientific evidence in hand, Saad said authorities are working at every diplomatic and legal level in order to return the books from across the river and into Jordan. According to Saad, the texts and their Jordanian origin were brought to light by David Elkington, a British religious author who was approached by Saeed in 2009 to examine the books’ authenticity.
Saeed travelled to London with two sample books for the scribe’s viewing. When he first laid eyes on the lead codices, Elkington said he knew the texts were no ordinary find. “When I saw it, I knew immediately I knew it in my heart that these were real and it was the perfect discovery,” Elkington told The Jordan Times over the phone from London.