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Jordan lead books' authenticity to be tested

20 March 2015

david elkington

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 April 2011).

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 lead books".

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 extraordinary."

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 £500.

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