Today, I came across a followup on Yahoo! News regarding the 70 credit card sized lead codices which were found in Jordan and thought to be of Christian origin. Many are quick to call this discovery equivalent (or even superior) to the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the jury is still out on just how important (and more importantly how authentic) these codices are to the archaeological and religious world, they are garnering an extremely high interest.
I happened to look at my Google Analytics report for today, and my site visits looked like a parabola. As of 5:00pm today my blog had received over ten (10) times my normal visits, 90% of which hit my site because they were looking for information on the lead codices. My highest entry page was my post on the lead codices, which raised the question as to whether they were Kabbalistic in origin as some have reported, or Christian as most seem to be favoring.
Anyway, back to the followup. According to this article, the codices seem to find an affinity with first century Christianity. It states,
Philip Davies, emeritus professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, told Pigott he was “dumbstruck” at the sight of plates representing a picture map of ancient Jerusalem. “There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city,” Davies explained. “There are walls depicted on other pages of these books, too, and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.
Quite a description. But is it too good to be true? Only time will tell. I would love to hear your thoughts…
In Israel, a new archaeological “discovery” of sorts is buzzing and making bold claims that they may be the next “Dead Sea Scrolls.” They include a collection of scrolls as well as 70 lead codices (ancient scripts bound in book form, rather than as scrolls). However, we have conflicting reports on the nature of these “newly found” artifacts. They are owned by “Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family’s possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago.” Although there is still a lot of skepticism surrounding these artifacts, there are some strong voices that are willing to attest to their authenticity, wanting to avoid another possible Shapiro Affair.
Christian or Kabbalistic?
Right now we seem to either have two camps on the theory of origins and contents of these manuscripts. However, this may be a result of the various text which may be present among the collection. According to one source, these manuscripts “could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus.” According to another source, they appear to be Kabbalistic with references to Bar Kochba and Shimon bar Yochai, and “the nature of the content indicates a magical incantation style of writing.” Both reports confirm that the manuscripts are not just comprised of Hebrew or Greek text, but images and symbols which are in need of deciphering. Some of these codices are also said to be sealed and have created speculation that they may possibly be “secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra.”
How can these theories be so divergent? Just look at the early theories surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and all of the controversy and imagination that has lead to cloak & dagger speculation in the last half a century, including John Allegro’s laughable “The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross.” When indecipherable manuscripts come to light, it seems sensational imagination rules the roost.
One legitimate reason for the diverse interpretation may simply be there are multiple types of documents contained within the cache, not dissimilar to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The different scholars are merely examining two different texts, which contain seemingly polar information. The quick evidence I see for this is the one article’s description of the codices, compared to the photo made available in the other article (the photo I have included at the top of this article). In the first article, the codices are described as being “tiny credit-card-sized volumes.” However, in the photo you can see that this particular codex is much larger than this.
Either way, we will have to wait and see what turns up by way of translation and authentication. Either way, it will be an exciting journey. Hopefully, the reports will be out sooner than later, and the texts of these discoveries will find their way to the public much sooner than the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Cairo Geniza Fragments or the Oxyrhyncus Papyri.
Update: Further Reading
I have just been made aware of these other (and more extensive) articles on this discovery:
According to new research based on a discovery of an existing fragment of a Jewish garment from Masada, scientists have resolved the debate that the biblical blue (tekhelet) of the priestly garments and the ritual fringes (tzitzit) worn by every Israelite was made from the Murex trunculus, a sea snail living off the coast of Israel. The Talmud states:
“The hillazon is this: its body is like the sea, it’s creation is like a fish, it comes up once in 70 years and with its blood one dyes tekhelet – due to this it is expensive” (Men. 44a).
It is known from the Talmud as “hillazon,” and is not only responsible for creating the blue of the tekhelet, but also the expensive purple used for royalty.
The dye was also prohibitively expensive to make: hundreds of snails were used to make even a small batch, and some in ancient times claimed it was worth 20 times its weight in gold.
This explains the costliness of this dye in ancient times. It also sheds light on the occupation of Lydia from the New Testament:
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:13-15 ESV)
From Purple to Blue
Several years ago I remember reading an article somewhere about the discovery of this mollusk as the source of this dye. Those working with the mollusk attempting to reproduce the dye at first were not able to create the “sky blue” which we have today. The color they were able to produce was only purple. By “accident” (Divine providence?) they left a container of the mixture sitting in the sun a little longer than they intended, and when they applied it to the wool, the color was drastically different. Here is an account of this:
But if the snail we collected was identical to the one described by the rabbis over two millennia ago, why did it not produce the proscribed blue for our fringes? Why were we seeing only purple? The amazing answer to this conundrum, which baffled 20th-century scientists for decades, was discovered in the chemistry lab. In order to use this odoriferous dye, the snail extract must be reduced to achieve a solution. When this process is performed indoors, the result is a purple dye. But if, while in its reduced state, the dibromoindigo is exposed to the sun for a few minutes, the bromine invisibly breaks away from the molecule, leaving behind only indigo, the brilliant biblical blue.
According to Ptil Tekhelet, probably the authority on producing this dye, the resulting color of the dye is determined by the amount of ultraviolet exposure it receives.
This blueish dye would have been the same dye Jesus would have worn on the corners of his garments according to the commandment in the book of Numbers:
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41 ESV)
This would have also been what the woman “with the issue of blood” would have reached out and touched on the “hem” of Jesus’ garment in Luke 8:43-48, which resulted in her healing.