Possibly the earliest Christian writing in existence has been found in a Jordanian cave. A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, has been discovered in Jordan.
Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin. “We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.
My own first reaction was excitement, followed by anxiety that the books might be lost due to cash incentives or religious fervour to cover up the truth these books might reveal.
I was also glad to see at last the kind of sealed book that the writer of Revelation was familiar with. (Notice how it is sealed with sevel seals?). And is this the kind of “little book” that the angel read from in Revelation Chapter 10?
The director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion. “They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls”.
The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings. Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.
One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.
He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”. He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.
“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.
Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.
“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says. “There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”
Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.
There are a couple of early videos on YouTube, and this one has an annoying text-reader voiceover, BUT, it’s still worth watching: