LEAD books, which some scholars believe could hold clues to the
origins of Christianity, are to have their own research body.
The Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books was
launched on Tuesday, four years after the first media reports of
their discovery, amid speculation about their authenticity (News, 1
It will be a limited not-for-profit company, and its first task
is to establish an evaluation panel that will "aim to come as near
as possible to unanimous agreement on the origin and meaning of the
David and Jennifer Elkington, present at a press conference in
London on Tuesday, first saw the books in 2007, during a visit to
an acquaintance in Israel. They went to Jordan to locate the cave
where the books were said to have been found, and have since
campaigned for their repatriation to the country.
Media reports of the discovery prompted much online discussion.
Dr Peter Thonemann, Associate Professor in Ancient History at
Oxford University, wrote in The Times Literary Supplement
in 2011 that he "would stake [his] career" on his belief that the
material had been faked.
Dr Margaret Barker, an independent scholar awarded a doctorate
in divinity by Lord Williams in 2008, said on Tuesday that "hostile
bloggers" had caused "major delay" to the study of the books, and
may have caused "irreparable damage to the books and the site where
they were found". The Elkingtons believe that many books have since
been sold on the black market.
Although a few are available for study in the UK - some of them
on loan from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities - research is
currently working with a series of high-resolution photographs of
the books taken by Mr Elkington in 2009.
Matthew Hood, an engineer who has studied metallurgy, suggests
that it would be "extremely difficult to have artificially
manufactured these objects". He said that 12 rounds of
metallurgical tests had already been carried out. Dr Barker
believed that there was nothing to which the books could be
compared. While there should be "no predetermined idea as to what
we should find", she said that many of the images in the books were
familiar to her, including some linked to the Jerusalem temple and
Sukkot festival. Others she could "immediately" set in the
context of the origins of Christianity, such as a series of
diagonal crosses, and faces shining like the sun.
"I was extremely excited at the amount of imagery that coincided
with the Book of Revelation," she said. "It really was quite
Dr Barker will chair the Centre's board, and also sit on the
evaluation panel, which will be chaired by Professor Robert
Hayward, of Durham University. Other members include Professor
Philip Davies of the University of Sheffield, and Dr Samuel Zinner,
an independent scholar formerly of the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. The panel will be funded independently of the
Centre, and no individual or body will be able to donate more than