Monday, April 04, 2011

don't get excited

Earlier today, I read an article that breathlessly talks about how archaeologists may have found the first-ever image of Jesus.

The image is eerily familiar: a bearded young man with flowing curly hair. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine. But in a certain light it is not difficult to interpret the marks around the figure’s brow as a crown of thorns.

The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices – booklets – found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are clamouring to get their hands on the ancient artefacts.

If genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.

Not so fast. We've been through this nuttiness before, as the article itself notes:

Most professional scholars are cautious pending further research and point to the ongoing forgery trial in Israel over the ancient limestone ossuary purporting to have housed the bones of James, brother of Jesus.

While the discovery of these codices may be exciting on one level, I'd say that caution and skepticism are warranted. There's a ton of research to be done, and while the dust may eventually settle, the academic and religious controversies won't. Because these relics may have strong religious resonances, you can expect plenty of crackpot theories to arise.

What I found funny was the fact that these codices have been around for a while, right under everyone's noses:

The books are currently in the possession of Hassan Saida, in Umm al-Ghanim, Shibli, which is at the foot of Mount Tabor, 18 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

Saida owns and operates a haulage business consisting of at least nine large flatbed lorries. He is regarded in his village as a wealthy man. His grandfather settled there more than 50 years ago and his mother and four brothers still live there.

Saida, who is in his mid-30s and married with five or six children, claims he inherited the booklets from his grandfather.

However, The Mail on Sunday has learned of claims that they first came to light five years ago when his Bedouin business partner met a villager in Jordan who said he had some ancient artefacts to sell.

The business partner was apparently shown two very small metal books. He brought them back over the border to Israel and Saida became entranced by them, coming to believe they had magical properties and that it was his fate to collect as many as he could.

The arid, mountainous area where they were found is both militarily sensitive and agriculturally poor. The local people have for generations supplemented their income by hoarding and selling archeological artefacts found in caves.

More of the booklets were clandestinely smuggled across the border by drivers working for Saida – the smaller ones were typically worn openly as charms hanging from chains around the drivers’ necks, the larger concealed behind car and lorry dashboards.
[italics added]




JSA said...

FWIW, it appears that esteemed bibliobloggers have shown the recent lead codices to be forgeries, but the media hasn't yet picked up.

Kevin Kim said...

I'm excited that I get to remain unexcited, then.

Charles said...


Wait, what?

John said...

"Saida, who is in his mid-30s and married with five or six children...

Well, which is it? Did Saida not know, or was the reporter unable to count that high?