Blog Menu

Swinging the lead: codices are fake

Note: a follow-up comment to this post can be found here.

Last week the BBC reported on an apparent struggle by Jordan to gain return of small books with pages of lead. Robert Pigott’s article claimed

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

What is surprising is that the Telegraph made an even more extravagant report only today, despite it now being almost certain that these items are fake.

As a number of commentators pointed out, the warning signs were there from the beginning.

  • There were conflicting reports about how long the books (‘codices’) had been known, one saying they were found in the last five years, another claiming they had been in a family’s possession for 100 years.
  • There were even conflicting reports about how many codices were involved, either 20 or 70.
  • Early on, expert comment had cast doubt on them.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), however, has dismissed the idea that the books are of any value. Experts who examined some of them, it said, “absolutely doubted their authenticity”. According to the IAA, the books are a “mixture of incompatible periods and styles, without any connection or logic. Such forged motifs can be found in their thousands in the antiquities markets of Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.”

  • Even the material of the codices raised suspicion; there have been writings on copper and gold, but never on lead, and why would the writing appear to be cast, rather than etched? Iron would turn red on aging as it rusted, but lead should turn white, the colour of lead oxide.
  • Moreover, the individuals associated with the lead codices did not look reliable. Robert Feather, a metallurgist with interests in the Dead Sea Scrolls, has some unusual views on the Copper Scroll. And David Elkington, who with his wife has been involved ‘in a cloak and dagger escapade to safeguard the priceless religious artefacts’, is described as follows on a webpage review of one of his books.

For 20 years David has been led on a revelatory trail through world mythology, linguistics and philology into geophysics, architecture, acoustics, music, neuro-physiology, theology and still further into the all-encompassing, resonant atmosphere of the planet. As his research continued, surprising results emerged. For several years, David has been working with Dr Keith Hearne, the ‘father of lucid dream research’, on a new area of psychology – Geolinguistics – which sees the development of language as a direct result of the Earth’s physical environment.

Given all these things, and the paucity of information being passed on by the intermediaries, it seemed strange that not only the media but some scholars appeared taken in by the extravagant claims of the director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad:

They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Margaret Barker, a scholar in Derbyshire (whose views are well-known in academic circles but do not command a wide following) was quoted as saying the codices were likely to be Christian, and Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, commented:

As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image…It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls…I have seen images and also seen one actual lead sheet. I have said nothing publicly yet, but privately I have said only that I think they are unlikely to be forgeries, but I did not use the word ‘genuine’ because it’s not clear what that would mean.

(He was rather more cautious this morning in a radio discussion with me.)

In fact, it turns out that all the items are almost certainly fake, and that David Elkington has known this for some time. Last September he consulted an expert at Oxford, Dr Peter Thonemann, about some similar bronze tablets, and Thonemann had no trouble demonstrating that they were fakes. The clue was in the writing:

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 [same] shape…The text literally means ‘without grief, farewell! Abgar also known as Eision’. This text, in isolation, is meaningless.

It turns out the section had been copied, without understanding, from a grave inscription that has been exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Amman for the last 50 years. Thonemann concludes his letter to Elkington: ‘This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years. I would stake my career on it.’

Dan McClellan has since shown that the lead tablets include images reproduced from the bronze ones using the same mould.

So, why was this story given any time at all? After all, such forgeries are appearing all the time.

I believe that the most significant reason is the continuing set-up by the media of academic ‘objectivity’ over against gullible faith. This is seen in the headline of today’s article in the Telegraph:

Could this couple’s Bible ‘codices’ tell the true story of Christ’s life?

The implicit suggestion here is that the stories we already have are unreliable. Journalists are looking for a story, and people like the Elkingtons are gasping for the oxygen of publicity for their eccentric ideas. But academics are drawn into this too; Francesca Stavrakopoulou has been parading this idea on BBC 2 for the last three weeks.

It is a strange myth to keep peddling, not least in view of the very large proportion of academics who are themselves working from a faith perspective, both within universities and within theological colleges and seminaries. It is damaging for the churches—but this incident shows it is also damaging for the reputation of theology and biblical studies as academic disciplines. Given the impending shortage of Government funding of Higher Education in the Humanities, this does not look like a smart move.

 

 

, , , , , ,

23 Responses to Swinging the lead: codices are fake

  1. John Byron April 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Ian,

    An excellent summary. I have added a link my post to this one.

    JB

  2. Ian Price April 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    The Mirror started their story last Thursday saying little was yet known, but by the end was suggesting “…if these really are the diaries of Jesus….”. I know a lot of intelligent people who seem easily taken in by this sort of thing. It’s a pity.

  3. Ian Paul April 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Thanks, John. Ian, yes you are right, it is a pity. I think I have mentioned one reason why this is; another, which I have not explored which has been mentioned elsewhere, is the ‘plucky amateur working against the oppressive system’ factor, which is common to conspiracy theories. Interestingly though in this case, there is a sense in which the two factors are mutually contradictory, in that plenty of academics would be keen to question the established church, but are firmly embedded in the established academy.

  4. Will April 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Ian,

    It is indeed an excellent summary of what is known. When the Telegraph labels a couple Indiana Jones you know that there must be some serious issues. Well done Ian.

  5. Andrew April 5, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    The comments beneath the latest article pretty much determine this man as a fake. He’s a dead-beat father who dis-inherited his son at 3 months.
    He uses an alias – as does his partner who is actually American, and more.

    But undoubtedly the reason he’s pushing all this mysetry now is because his the rights to his book (and film) will be up for auction at a book fair next month.

    he’s been shown as a con-man who is hoping to make a big wad of cash, Dan Brown ‘The Da Vinci Code’ style.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8423689/Could-this-couples-Bible-codices-tell-the-true-story-of-Christs-life.html

  6. Jamie Hall April 5, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    I’ve written an article about practical issues around the manufacture of these codices. You can read it on my blog at http://bit.ly/grsl8o

  7. Ian Paul April 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Thanks Jamie–how interesting. It would be great if you could have a closer look at them! (Looks like we are not far away; I am in Nottingham)

  8. Jamie April 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Andrew was so right about Mrs. Elkington. She was born and raised in America and is not an archaeologist. She was never an art historian in Paris. They need to look into this couple more. There is far more to the story than is being told in the media.

  9. Karen Brown April 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    David Elkington, aka Paul Elkington, attended art school in Bath. He is not a scholar nor an archaeologist. He is not even a college graduate. I am shocked that publications are crediting him as such when a simple google of his name will show his academic credentials-or lack thereof. What is he, is a man who desperately wants to be rich and famous. He self published his book “The Lead Codices” last year and tried to sell it on Amazon. He then removed the listing as no one was buying it. His wife is an American public relations specialist who worked for a publishing firm prior to their marriage. They put out a press release about this whole thing themselves , which started all the hype. Later in April, the book will be auctioned at a London book fair. They also have been trying to sell the movie rights. It is a shame that this couple are being enabled by the public, media, etc…

  10. Ian Paul April 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Follow-up (and I hope final) comment on this here http://www.psephizo.com/?p=888

  11. Watt April 7, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Well well well what a pack of baying hounds you are. I have been following this discovery with great interest. I have also been following theses blogs. I find there is an underlying feeling of jealousy. There is also a degree of bullying. This is not the school playground and you are not children although you seem to be behaving like spoilt brats. There seems to be a hate campaign against these two people which seems to have been triggered by a teenage boy. I am sure Mr Elkington is not the first and I know he won’t be the last to leave his family. What his reasons were is no business of mine or anyone else. Do I know these people? No I don’t. Do you know these people probably not but you all seem intent on doing a ‘hatchet’ job on them
    I can see this blog was started by an academic but it seems to have lost its way.
    We are witnessing what could be one on the most important fines in the history of religion. (Pleases not I said could). My only concern is that these artifacts are recovered and put in a place of safety to be analysed and investigated so that an informed decision can be made.
    Please stop this mindless tittle tattle and gossip and concentrate on the important things. So he doesn’t have a degree so what. Most of you seem to be being ‘precious’. By the way I don’t care were his wife comes from either I’m nor racist.

  12. Ian Paul April 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Thanks for taking the trouble to post, Watt. But I think I would encourage you to think again, for several reasons:

    1. I have here (and in my follow-up post) aimed to stick with the facts. (you might find the tone of other blogs different, but I can’t do much about that). And it is the facts don’t look very flattering for the Elkingtons.

    2. They approached Philip Davies and Margaret Barker, gave them partial evidence only, and hid from them the fact that they had already consulted someone else, but this person did not give them the answers that they wanted. It would be hard not to construe this as simply dishonest. And the potential is to ruin the reputations of two people who are in good standing after many years of work. Hardly seems fair.

    3. When they have approached the media, they have also given only partial information, hidden at least two sets of expert evaluation (the IAA and Thonemann), and said things which simply do not stack up.

    4. The repeated headline is that ‘this discovering could make us rethink the origins of Christianity.’ I wonder how that makes ordinary believers feel, not least given there is little evidence for this claim?

    So I think it is less a case of being bloodhounds, as saying ‘either put up, or shut up’ in a straightforward and fair way. In the BBC video, David is styled as a ‘scholar of religious archaeology.’ Well, there are lots of scholars out there who have had to work hard, over many years, to earn this title through peer-reviewed study, public accountability and a genuine contribution to the discipline. I only think it is fair that someone who claims to be part of this professional, academic body be asked the minimum of demonstrating his credentials.

    If you want the artefacts properly evaluated, the best thing would be to eliminate from discussion the Elkington’s wild and ill-informed claims.

  13. Cheri Phicked April 8, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Dear Mr Watts.Much as you would like to believe that Mr.and Mrs D. Elkington are being hounded unfairly you do admit to never having had the pleasure of meeting them. Many of the disparaging comments that have been made about them have been made by people who have sadly been more then generous to their plight in the past.However when your rent is not paid, your equiptment has been abused, when the dept collecters arrive on your doorstep looking for Mr Elkingtons latest car, or the police arrive to question you about the last time you saw them you may just feel duped. When you discover that Lord/Prof./Dr/David/Paul and Dame Jennifer Solignac de Compte Elkington are just a pair of self seeking reprobates you might just feel a real fool. If you have the gall to chase after them with or withiout the help of the police you will be treated to the purely pernicious side of this duo who will retaliate with extraordinary malice. This is because they are trying to cover up for the fact that if we are talking ‘fakes’ here, the ones not made of lead are obviously the most vulnerable. They are BOGUS, and perhaps what is worse is that they are utterly shameless. Mr Watts join the long line of good natured people who have been beguiled…………… but don’t contradict the Voice of the Elkingtons, for to do so is to do it at ones own peril.I write on behalf of us all who will no doute also agree with me that your insensitive comment about Edward Lawerence is completely out of order.

  14. onlooker April 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    A thought –
    Could it be that “Watt”(above)might be Mr Elkington himself or his wife?
    Why does “Watt” talk of “jealousy” and “bullying” unless perhaps there is some personal or emotional involvement? S/he also says “So he doesn’t have a degree so what” – how does this person know that unless personally involved or “in the know”? We public have never been told anything of his qualifications.

    Also “Watt” said above “We are witnessing what could be one on the most important fines (finds?)in the history of religion…..My only concern is that these artifacts (note the non English spelling of artefacts)are recovered and put in a place of safety to be analysed and investigated so that an informed decision can be made” – almost word for word what was said by Mr Elkington in the press recently? Just exactly why is this discovery quite so important to “Watt” who says that s/he does not know the Elkingtons? I am puzzled!

    “Hatchet job” is also not a common English phrase, or is it? (And as an aside, I personally find the tone of “Watt’s” comment quite patronising to all – “well,well,well what a pack of baying hounds you are …”This is not the school playground and you are not children”…Please stop this mindless tittle tattle and gossip…” Who does s/he think s/he is!

    I simply cannot understand this person bothering to leap to Mr Elkington’s defence in this very emotive way unless personally involved perhaps,in much the same way as his son reacted instinctively and emotionally to do the opposite at the start of all of this?

    This “Watt” looks to be the same “Watt A Moron” who has posted here too: http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2011/04/whats-really-behind-these-codices-the-divine-revelation-by-david-elkington/

    and s/he doesn’t appear to have much sympathy for Mr Elkington’s son, but is more concerned with us needing to have compassion for Mr Elkington because he is not getting support from his family – how does this person know that if they are only an observer? And why does s/he care so much?

    If the comments about them are a “hate campaign” as “Watt” stated, I for one am wondering what the Elkingtons might possibly have done in the past to deserve it?

    Perhaps all will be revealed very soon? I do hope so.

  15. Cheri Phicked April 10, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    2004 ……….Memories from the Corsham “streaker”….(and first vain attempt at promoting his “few books”…(a-hem, just the one).By 2007 David had become a Professor, (google David Elkington Bath….scrool to Monacco Symposium 2007)……How?

    Name:
    (Paul) David Elkington
    Email:

    Subject:
    Graphics
    Dates:
    1980 – 1983
    Date:
    17 May, 2004

    Comments
    BAA was a real inspiration and I’d love to get back in touch with some of the guys I knew there. It was a whole experience that successfully broke my conformist conditioning, even to the degree of finding myself on a lone streak through Corsham town at dead of night!

    I’m now a writer/egyptologist and have a few books out at the moment, but studying at Corsham was a great foundation, even though I didn’t finish the course and left somewhat under a cloud which was later identified as ill-health, now cleared, thank goodness.
    After leaving I had various jobs in film and TV until I got the ‘egypt’ bug and pursued a new career in the field of ancient history and linguistics. I occasionally saw some of the guys in the years immediately after leaving, but I left the country for a couple of years and I’ve seen no one since returning. I particularly remember my room mate at Church Street, Paul Bridger who was a painter. Paul was best man at my wedding in 1986 – I’d love to get back in touch with him again. We had some extraordinary adventures, but who at Corsham didn’t? (Alas, the marriage didn’t last!) I can remember having a temporary job back in 1987 as a gardener. One night there was a call for a gardening team to go to the old Beechfield site and ‘tidy things up’. I wish that I had never gone – it was like the opening to Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: mournful and sad now that it was empty of all presence, an echo of the past. Memory flooded into my skull – it was very upsetting, one really grew very fond of the place!

    I fell in love at Corsham and the feeling of it has never left me, I often raid the memory of it all for ideas in my writing and I am sure that some people out there will recognise themselves as characters in certain of my forthcoming books. Long live Corsham, it was a great privilege and it was a joy.

  16. Robin Whitlock April 16, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    There is a lot of information on this couple, which unfortunately I can’t release at present for obvious reasons, however, the hounds are in pursuit and I am convinced all will be revealed in due course. The lead codices aren’t the main issue (they’re fake anyway), the people involved are.

  17. Muzaffar April 19, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    For details of other Leaden Books please consult:
    1.An Inquiry into the Nature and form of the books of the ancients… 1873 London Pp 28-35
    2.Septuaginta-Studien. II. 1904 Pp.14-17
    3.The Gnostics and their Remains. London Pp.147-153
    4.Une Excursion Gnostique en Italie.Paris 1852. Plate I till plate.xii
    5.The Septuagent in context. Brill 2000. Pp.267-268
    6.Ancient Jewish Magic. Pp.114 and 144-146 etc.
    7.Curse Tablets and binding spells from the ancient world.Oxford. 1992
    and many more

  18. Ian Paul May 1, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Muzaffar, thanks for these links. I still it is the case that the format of these raised eyebrows, and other lead codices in the past have been fakes. Interestingly, reading one of these introductions, (the 1992 volume) it occurred to me what a good medium this would be to make a fake in!

  19. steven jackson October 28, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Robin Whitlock..if you could send me your email,i need to talk with you

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ancient book found to be fake | Will Cookson's Blog - April 4, 2011

    [...] Paul has done a very interesting post looking at the claims and coming to the conclusion its a hoax. Its well worth reading and a [...]

  2. Swinging The Lead: Fakes? - April 5, 2011

    [...] find it interesting when potential fresh light can be shed on antiquity, especially Biblical. This article by a theologist says more about this, does anyone else have a view or more info? [...]

  3. [ad hoc] Christianity , Archive » Episode #14: Blogosphere roundup, April 6, 2011 - April 8, 2011

    [...] O. McClellanPeter Thonemann on the Lead CodicesIan Paul at Psephizo » Biblical StudiesSwinging the lead: codices are fakeTom Verenna at The Musings of Thomas VerennaNew Roundup on Lead Codices and Additional [...]

  4. A New Translation: The Earliest Christian Documents: AD 49-100 | churchministrynews.com - April 13, 2011

    [...] converging thoughts…. First, the lead codices are presumably fake, but they raise an interesting hypothetical question, nevertheless: How different would our [...]

Leave a Reply


× 5 = five