Could the pages of this ancient collection of 70 tiny books made of lead, unlock some of the secrets of the earliest days of Christianity?
Recorded on pages about the size of a credit card, words, symbols and images, that appear to refer to a “Messiah” and perhaps to his Crucifixion and Resurrection!
However their authenticity is yet to be established, but if verified, they could prove to be as significant a discovery as the Dead Sea Scrolls were in 1947. Though the chances are pretty good, as metallurgical tests indicate that some of the books could date back to the first century AD.
Their dating is based on the corrosion that has taken place, which experts believe would be difficult to achieve via artificial means!
Since many of the books are sealed, scholars speculate that they’re actually the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Bible's “Book Of Revelation,” predating the writings of St Paul.
The books were discovered as recently as five years ago in a cave in a remote part of Jordan to which Christian refugees are known to have fled after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. Around that same period, important documents had previously been found there, though some have turned out to be sophisticated fakes!
However, scholars are hopeful that they could contain contemporary accounts of the final years of Jesus' life.
If they are authentic, they could be 'the major discovery of Christian history' per David Elkington, a British scholar of ancient religious history and archeology, and one of the lucky few to have examined the books.
“It is a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church,” Elkington mused.
There is one catch -- the books are missing. After their discovery by a Jordanian Bedouin, they changed hands as an Israeli Bedouin bought them, only to be smuggled illegally across the border into Israel, where they supposedly remain.
The Jordanian Government is currently doing their best to repatriate and protect the collection.
Philip Davies, an emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield University, is confident that the books have a Christian origin as the plates also contain a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.
“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck,” he said. '”That struck me as so obviously a Christian image. 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.”
“There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem. It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls.” Could they also be a plaintive record of crucifixions in general, as carried out by Romans who used it for punishment across the board?
Davies continued to say that “the possibility of a Hebrew-Christian origin is certainly suggested by the imagery and, if so, these codices are likely to bring dramatic new light to our understanding of a very significant but so far little understood period of history.”
Their current owner claims that the books have been in his family for 100 years, denying charges that he is looking to sell some of the books on to the black market, or destroy them. What would be the going price for such a collection?
Dr Margaret Barker, a former president of the Society for Old Testament Study, said “the Book of Revelation tells of a sealed book that was opened only by the Messiah.”
“Other texts from the period tell of sealed books of wisdom and of a secret tradition passed on by Jesus to his closest disciples. That is the context for this discovery.”
Elkington is also coordinating British efforts to have the books repatriated to Jordan, saying that “it is vital that the collection can be recovered intact and secured in the best possible circumstances, both for the benefit of its owners and for a potentially fascinated international audience.”
Though several of these sturdy pages are actually dog-eared like their paper counterparts, one thing is for certain, the fact that they were created in metal and in such great detail, they were destined to stand the test of time as a testimony of a vital part of history!