I’ve posted about the discovery of the Jordanian lead plates two times now, and have been following the news stories closely over the last few days. As I have said, extensive investigation must still be done to verify the authenticity of the find, and determine facts such as precise dating, who made them, and their meaning. Unfortunately, the details keep getting stranger and stranger.
I’m usually one who likes to believe. Joseph Smith once taught, “I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.” But the facts seem to be stacking up against this one.
Here’s the current state of things.
Details favoring authenticity:
- Initial metallurgic research on the plates shows they “look” about 2,000 years old, based on their type of corrosion, which they say “would be impossible to achieve artificially.” ((http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110330/ts_yblog_thelookout/could-lead-codices-prove-the-major-discovery-of-christian-history))
- Carbon dating on a piece of leather found with the plates, with the image of a crocodile on it, had results indicating its about 2,000 years old. ((http://www.thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/46028/heavy-metal-secrets-a-mid-east-cave))
- Scholars who have examined them are cautious but interested, believing they could be early Christian writings – Dr. Margaret Barker and Professor Philip R. Davies. ((http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421))
- Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, and its director Ziad al-Saad, has expressed great interest in the plates, saying they could date from early Christianity. The Jordanian government is working to repatriate them. ((http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421))
- The plates contain a number of true ancient symbols, including menorah, palm trees (lulav), eight-pointed stars, archaic Hebrew characters, etc.
Details favoring forgery:
- Initial metallurgic research is not based on the composition of the metal, but appearances. Who did this metallurgic research?
- Who did the carbon dating on the piece of leather found with the plates?
- Conflicting reports on their source – were they founded by a Jordanian Bedouin between 2005-2007, or are they an Israeli’s family possession over 100 years old? (Another alternate history has also emerged placing their origin in Alexandria and being found in northern Egypt.)
- The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has dismissed the discovery as forgeries. They “absolutely doubted their authenticity. The IAA has said they 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.” ((http://www.thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/46028/heavy-metal-secrets-a-mid-east-cave))
- Initial reports stated there were twenty codices in the collection ((http://www.thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/46028/heavy-metal-secrets-a-mid-east-cave)). Later reports state there are up to seventy ((http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421)).
- Most ancient plates with writing that have been formerly discovered were engraved with their inscriptions into the metal. I’m unaware of any that were cast with metal in molds, such as this one, resulting in raised figures.
- Most ancient plates that have been found were made of copper, gold, or bronze, not lead.
- There were similar plates found in the 19th century that were also cast in lead with a mixed unknown language inscribed on them, known as the Sinaia Lead Plates. These are considered by archeologists today to be modern forgeries.
- Another discovery of lead plates called the Lead Books of Sacromonte were writings on circular plates, bound with lead wire, and are now considered by experts to be 16th century forgeries. They were also a mix of languages, and cryptic texts.
- David Elkington, the archeologist that is spearheading the recovery effort, is not widely known among archeologists, and has published a questionable, almost new-age type, book called In the Name of the Gods.
- David Elkington already has a lengthy 320 page book and documentary film in the works about the Jordan plates discovery. The websites say the book was published in May, 2010. Most significant discoveries are only followed years later by detailed books and documentaries.
- In an interview with David Elkington, he mentions that the eight-pointed stars found on the plates are surely Messianic signs, and representative of the star of Bethlehem, neither of which is really true. ((http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9439000/9439430.stm)) Such a star can represent a god, but is not necessarily Messianic.
- An expert in ancient inscriptions, Professor Andre Lemaire, said the writing he saw on the codices didn’t make sense, and it was “a question apparently of sophisticated fakes”. ((http://www.thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/46028/heavy-metal-secrets-a-mid-east-cave))
- Much of what is being said about the dating of the plates is that they are first century AD. Multiple things seem to suggest a later 3rd or 4th century date however, including the appearance of a cross (only began to be used as a symbol by Christians centuries after the crucifixion), and a menorah (was typically forbidden to be represented by Jews until Late Antiquity).
- Detailed high resolution photos of the plates have not been released publicly for expert scrutiny.
- Other recent communications have shown that David Elkington may be in possession of other certain forgeries, claimed to be part of the same collection.
All-in-all these things lead me (no pun intended), and others, to believe that the plates are probably a very elaborate and careful forgery. Whether they are a modern forgery or an ancient forgery is yet to be seen. If they are an ancient forgery, they may still yield interesting insights into ancient times.
As Dr. Margaret Barker initially said of the findings:
If they are a forgery, what are they are forgery of? Most fakes are drawn from existing material, but there is nothing like this that I have seen. ((http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1368252/Are-artefacts-discovered-remote-cave-secret-writings-years-Jesus.html))
I wouldn’t be surprised if someone let loose the joke on us all tomorrow. Surely archeologists have April Fools pranks too. If that’s it, this one certainly takes the cake!
UPDATE: The Deseret News has published an article detailing the weaknesses of the discovery also.