Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scrolls and codices

Newly discovered ancient texts have been compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls, so let's do a brief review of the earlier find before reading about them:

The Dead Sea Scrolls (fragment, 1st image) were discovered in a series of caves on the now Israeli-occupied West Bank. The 972 ancient texts on parchment and papyrus, dating from roughly 150 B.C. to 70 A.D. were deciphered from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They fall into 3 groups: texts from the Hebrew Bible (40%), Apocryphal manuscripts (30%), and sectarian writings. After an extremely complicated history, the scrolls are being digitized and made available to the public. The Dead Sea Scrolls may be seen in Israel's Shrine of the Book, but Jordan continues to petition for their return.

A collection of ancient lead codices (1st and 2nd images) were discovered 5 years ago in a cave in Jordan. The 70 wire-bound books are small (only a few inches in size), but have huge implications if they are authenticated. Initial tests based on the corrosion of the metal indicate that they may date from the 1st c. A.D. If the dating is verified, the books - which contain images, symbols, and text that appear to refer to Jesus and possibly to his crucifixion and resurrection - would be among the earliest Christian documents, and may even be the lost collection of codices mentioned in the Bible’s Book Of Revelation. British scholar David Elkington, who examined the books (and took the photographs above), says, "It is a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church." Another British scholar, Philip Davies, sees potential evidence of that in a picture map of Jerusalem: "As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image. 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....The possibility of a Hebrew-Christian origin is certainly suggested by the imagery and, if so, these codices are likely to bring dramatic new light to our understanding of a very significant but so far little understood period of history." Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the books have a complicated history and are now in Israeli hands. And Jordan wants them back.

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