The tale of the lead books

By Simon Rocker
April 8, 2011

A few weeks I wrote about a cache of lead books from the Middle East that has been claimed as a significant archaeologist discovery.

Robert Feather, a London metallurgist and Dead Sea Scroll enthusiast, who believes they could be linked to early Jewish mysticism, is trying to help establish their authenticity.

In the meantime, a rival theory has been doing the rounds of the world’s media that the artefacts are early Christian.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has dismissed the items - said to have been found in a cave in Jordan and which belong to an Israeli Bedouin - as fakes.

But the head of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities reportedly wants to reclaim the items as national treasure.

Now an Oxford scholar, Peter Thonemann, who was shown photos of some of the items purporting to come from the cave by the man who advocates their Christian origin, has poured cold water on the claims of antiquity. A Greek inscription on one of the books turned out to have been copied from a tombstone that has been on display in an Amman museum for 50 years. You can read his article in the Times Literary Supplement debunking the find here.

Mr Feather’s opinion remains that the two books which he has studied in the laboratory and on which mass spectrometry testing has been performed are “of very old provenance and not modern remelted material. Visually the corrosion products on these two books are strongly indicative of aging that has taken place over a long period. My position has always been cautious, saying much more work needed to be done to know what the codices were saying and to verify their authenticity.”


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