Via Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica
Just an update on my last post regarding the supposed discovery of a cache of ancient inscriptions written on metal plates. This find continues to generate interest and a number of biblical scholars, including Margaret Barker, Philip Davies, and Jim Davila, have expressed opinions on the matter, based on what information they’ve been able to get hold of.
On PaleoJudaica, Jim Davila has a link to a DailyMail article, “Are lead tablets discovered in a remote cave in Jordan the secret writings about the last years of Jesus?” This article is quite sensationalist and left me wondering how the content of the plates went from possibly being related to the Kabbalah to being about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Davila is probably correct to suggest that this is a “silly misunderstanding” of the journalist.
The redeeming virtue of the article is that it quotes both Barker and Davies on the topic.
Speaking of Margaret Barker, the articles notes:
She has had access to photgraphs taken of the codices and scrolls, and is wary of confirming their authenticity.
But she said if the material is genuine then the books could be ‘vital and unique’ evidence of the earliest Christians.
‘If they are a forgery, what are they are forgery of?’ she said.’ Most fakes are drawn from existing material, but there is nothing like this that I have seen.’
For Philip Davies:
However, Philip Davies, emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield University is convinced the codices are genuine after studying one.
He has told colleagues privately that he believes the find is unlikely to have been forged, say the Sunday Times.
The DailyMail also notes that:
Two samples were sent to a laboratory in England where they were examined by Peter Northover, head of the materials science-based archaeology group.
The verdict was inconclusive without more tests, but he said the composition was ‘consistent with a range of ancient lead.’
Davila provides links to the Unicode Mailing List of “Menorah- and Hebrew-inscribed lead plates of dubious provenance.” If these list postings are about the same plates, it looks as if there are individuals that are earnestly trying to find scholars who can authenticate the writing on them and are already coming up with some that are offering possibilities. Davila notes that the inscriptions are written in a Paleo-Hebrew script and some of the individuals on the list are suggesting that the dialect may be an archaic form of Samaritan or the Kanaanaean branch of Phoenician.
Davila, who remains skeptical about the discovery, until better analyses come along, posted a preliminary list of nine different criteria that he feels need to be fulfilled before we can start to accept these plates as a true discovery of ancient inscriptions:
1. Publication in a scholarly journal of the metal analysis that shows the lead to be ancient.
2. Publication in a scholarly journal of the carbon-14 tests that show the associated leather to be ancient and of a comparable date to the lead.
Even if the antiquity of the materials is demonstrated, this proves nothing, since ancient materials are sometimes available on which to write fake inscriptions.
3. Publication of the location and details of the supposed discovery and analysis of the site by archaeologists.
4. Analysis of the patina of the script which demonstrates the writing to be ancient. If it is modern and unretouched, this will be obvious. If it has been retouched to seem ancient, this may or may not be detectable (see the controversy over the patina of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash inscription).
5. Full publication of all the texts with good photographs.
6. Analysis of the script by paleographers.
See here for the full list of criteria he outlines and for the complete post.
I agree that it is important to be very careful with this type of find, especially with all the attention and money that these discoveries tend to generate. However, if care is taken to analyze them properly, and, if proven to be authentic, this is potentially an incredibly significant find (especially if the text can be deciphered, but also simply for the value of having additional Jewish texts written on metal).